FINAL PASSING STATISTICS
Quarterback Rating: 183.6
The Best Steelers Team Ever?
This was quite possibly the best overall team performance in
Steelers history for a single game. Many people (including a large
contingent of the Steelers players from the 70's) consider the '76
version to be the best of those Steelers teams, and from a sheer talent level, this was probably the best football team ever assembled. In any case, the injuries
suffered by Rocky and Franco in this game unfortunately kept them
from playing in the AFC Championship game against Oakland the
following week, preventing a Steelers three-peat in the Super Bowl.
High-Flying Steelers Crash Colts, 40-14
By Glenn Sheely, The Pittsburgh Press
Baltimore, Dec. 19, 1976 -- Look, up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a Terry Bradshaw pass. It's the Steelers, soaring toward Oakland with a 10th straight win.
No, it's a plane.
"I thought it was a kamikaze pilot from Oakland," laughed Ray Mansfield.
Presumed John Banaszak,"It was a guy who bet his plane on the Colts and was trying to collect the insurance on the thing."
Actually, it was a guy named Donald Kroner who had been buzzing Memorial Stadium all week and finally flew his single-engine Cherkee into the upper deck about 19 minutes after the Steelers crashed on the Baltimore Colts, 40-14, in yesterday's AFC divisional playoff game before 60,020 fans.
Bradshaw, throwing over the barren turf, commonly referred to as Astro-Rock, put on an air show that flew the Steelers into the AFC Championship game against the Raiders in the Oakland Coliseum next Sunday.
Franco Harris, rambling for 132 yards before Joe Ehrman butted his ribs early in the second quarter, an offensive line that decided to conduct its own Pro-Bowl balloting and Lynn Swann and the Steeler defense provided the remaining ingrediants in the shocker.
Baltimore quarterback Bert Jones wished he was Kroner's co-pilot. Chuck Noll, a pilot whose team has now been given clearance to land on Al Davis' strip, moaned about several critical injuries, but couldn't help smiling. Not nearly as broadly as he did when Mansfield placekicked for the first time in 14 years and converted on an extra point, but broadly enough.
Asked about his passing game at a press conference last week, Noll answered,"What passing game?" Yesterday Colts coach Ted Marchibroda or conerback Jackie Wallace, who was burned like a new bride's toast, knew the answer to the question. Bradshaw, injured and frustrated much of the season, completed 14 of 18 passes for three touchdowns and 264 yards and Bombed a Colt defense that never recovered from his 76-yarder to Frank Lewis on the opening series.
"People were wondering where our passing game was," Noll Smiled.
Bradshaw, who is the passing game, could also laugh. After a regular season of watching rookie Mike Kruczek hand off to Franco Harris and Rocky Blier, Bradshaw set individual completion percentage and yardage records.
"It feels good,"Bradshaw said in the locker room, spitting tobacco juice into a paper cup. "It was one of those games where you say,'Hey, I really need a good one,' and you go out and get it."
Noll said the Steelers had presumed the Colts' secondary was vulnerable. But even Bradshaw was shocked at Coach Conservative's call that sent Lewis on a fly pattern and the Colts into a fatal nosedive.
"Never since I've been here, have we ever opened up with a bomb," he said.
Bradshaw, shaky in the Central Division clincher at Houston last week, his first start since spraining his wrist three weeks before, admitted his problems were more mental than physical.
"I had my mind off worrying about getting injured," he said. "Chuck took a big gamble last week, and it helped."
What also helped yesterday was his offensive line, providing him with sufficient time to spot even secondary receivers. "The protection was outstanding," Bradshaw said. "526 yards?... In a playoff game... That's phenominal."
Equally phenominal were the Steelers---who use the run like Bert Jones usually uses the pass---imitating the Colt offense. Their 40 points were the most relinquished by Baltimore this year and the Steelers' highest ever in postseason play.
"We stuffed 'em," Mansfield said with considerable accuracy.
Said conerback J.T. Thomas, who combined with the rest of the Steeler secondary to limit Jones to 11 completions in 25 attempts,"Man, I wouldn't have wanted to play against our offense today."
Swann, who caught three touchdown passes and faked conerback Lloyd Mumphord out of his sanitary hose on an 11-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter, finished with five receptions for 77 yards. With the offensive line blowing the Colts halfway to Towson, MD, the Steeler passing game performed as Harris did until bruising his ribs. Noll inserted three new plays, used one on a single occasion and bagged the other two.
I knew we had a super football team, but I didn't know we had anything like this," said guard Jim Clack. "I knew we could score like that, but I didn't think we would."
Said Noll,"That's the best Terry's been in a long time."
Harris also had been doing his predictable playoff number until Ehrmann, on a late hit, jammed his ribs with 10:22 left in the third quarter. For the Colts, the hit was about two periods too late. Breaking outside on a 50-yard run aided by a Swann block in the second quarter, Harris took the Steelers to the Colt 3. Ironically, Reggie Harrison, who replaced Harris superbly by rushing for 40 yards and two TD's, fumbled on the 2.
But that was about all the Steelers botched. Rookie Theo Bell returned a first-quarter Toni Linhart kickoff 60 yards and set up Harrison's 1-yard TD early in the second quarter. The game was over at the half, when the Steelers led, 26-7, and the Colts were about to be eliminated by the Super Bowl camps for the second straight year.
With Noll's offense clicking with unusual explosiveness, the defense, which shut out five of its last eight opponents, rested and ravaged. Colt running back Lydell Mitchell, a 1,200-yard man, was granted only 55 yards on 26 carries. Jones threw two interceptions and was sacked five times.
Defensive end Dwight White, fuming about Colt defensive tackle David Taylor calling him a "bush-leaguer," was awesome.
"They pissed me off," White said. "He called me a bush-leaguer. Now do I play like a bush-leaguer?"
Defensive tackle Joe Greene, who had vowed to play his finest game of the season, promised the Steelers "would put it together,"and said "the best team will win," emerged as a sound prophet. Several Colts thought it was particularly humorous when Steeler rookie Ernie Pough was hurt on the opening kickoff and Greene and crew seethed.
"The best team won," Greene smiled, smelling the scent of Super Bowl cash.
Greene pointed to Bradshaw's locker. "We ain't gonna lose when he's hot," Greene said.
And quite naturally, Steeler thoughts turned to the nemesis Oakland Raiders and Sunday's AFC Championship game which threatens to blow the needle off the Richter scale.
Said Clack,"It would be the biggest Christmas present you could have. Three little wins is all it takes to win the Super Bowl."
Ed. Note: I have an audio recording of this game, and it's simply brutal! The announcers are the local Baltimore guys (including Art Donovan, who is hillarious), so the commentary is definitely not pro-Steelers. But by the end of the game, even they can't help but sing the praises of one of the best football teams to ever take the field. Man, the announcers are absolutely stunned when Bradshaw hits Lewis for the 76-yarder on his first pass... the play took the wind out of them just as it did the Colts players. What a crushing victory!