1973–74 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1973 season began on December 22, 1973. The postseason tournament concluded with the Miami Dolphins defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII, 24–7, on January 13, 1974, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Like the previous NFL seasons, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road.
Within each conference, the three division winners and one wild card teams (the top non-division winner with the best overall records of all remaining teams in the conference) qualified for the playoffs. The NFL did not use a seeding system until the 1975 season, and instead home teams during the first two rounds of the playoffs alternated by division. Thus it was possible for a team to host another club with a better regular season record. For the Super Bowl, the third and final round played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|East winner||Miami Dolphins||Dallas Cowboys|
|Central winner||Cincinnati Bengals||Minnesota Vikings|
|West winner||Oakland Raiders||Los Angeles Rams|
|Wild card||Pittsburgh Steelers||Washington Redskins|
- Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation. Had the 1973 playoffs been seeded, the AFC divisional matchups would have been #3 Oakland at #2 Cincinnati and #4 wild card Pittsburgh at #1 Miami; the NFC matchups would not have changed, although #3 Dallas would have had to travel to #2 Los Angeles, and #1 Minnesota would have had home field for the NFC championship game.
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl VIII|
|December 22 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|December 30 – Texas Stadium|
|December 23 – Texas Stadium|
|Los Angeles Rams||16|
|January 13 – Rice Stadium|
|December 22 – Oakland Coliseum|
|December 30 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|December 23 – Miami Orange Bowl|
December 22, 1973
AFC: Oakland Raiders 33, Pittsburgh Steelers 14
The Raiders outgained Pittsburgh in total yards 361 to 223, forced three turnovers without losing any on their side, and scored 16 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Steelers.
After forcing the Steelers to punt on the game's opening drive, Oakland drove 82 yards in 16 plays, including a 20-yard burst by running back Marv Hubbard, to go up 7-0 on Hubbard's 1-yard touchdown run. In the second quarter, Pittsburgh drove into Raiders territory, only to lose the ball when Terry Bradshaw's pass was deflected by Otis Sistrunk into the arms of linebacker Phil Villapiano for an interception. A 21-yard completion from Ken Stabler to receiver Mike Siani on the ensuing drive set up a 25-yard field goal by George Blanda, increasing the Raiders lead to 10-0 with 8 minutes left in the half. The Steelers were forced to punt on their next drive, but their defense subsequently forced the Raiders to go three-and-out. Then safety Glen Edwards returned Ray Guy's 40-yard punt 20 yards to the Oakland 45-yard line. On the next play, Bradshaw completed a 24-yard pass to running back Preston Pearson. Bradshaw eventually threw an incomplete pass on third down, but a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty gave the Steelers a first down on the Oakland 7. Following a 3-yard running play, Bradshaw finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown toss to Pearson, cutting the score to 10-7 going into halftime.
Oakland dominated the second half with 16 consecutive points. After Clarence Davis returned the second half kickoff 30 yards to the Raiders 32, a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty against Pittsburgh and a 17-yard completion from Stabler to Hubbard led to Blanda's 31-yard field goal. The Steelers had to punt on their next drive, and George Atkinson returned the ball 13 yards to the Oakland 43, sparking a drive that ended with another Blanda field goal that gave the Raiders a 16-7 lead. Pittsburgh seemed primed to respond with Frank Lewis caught a 17-yard reception that put them in Raiders territory, but on the next play, Willie Brown intercepted a pass from Bradshaw and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. With the Steelers now facing a 23-7 deficit, the situation continued to unravel as Bradshaw was intercepted again on the next drive, this time by Atkinson, who returned it 8 yards to the Raiders 37. Oakland running back Charlie Smith then took off on a 40-yard run to the Steelers 22, setting up Blanda's third field goal that gave them a 26-7 lead..
With 9:12 left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh got one last chance to get back in the game as Bradshaw's 26-yard touchdown pass to Lewis cut the score to 26-14. But after a punt from each team, Oakland put the game away, mainly due to Hubbard, who rushed for gains of 16, 15, 9, and 2 yards before finishing the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Raiders a 33-14 lead with 14 seconds left on the clock.
Stabler completed 14/17 passes for 142 yards. Hubbard rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching a 17-yard pass. Smith added 73 yards rushing and 10 yards receiving. Bradshaw was held to just 12/25 completions for 167 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Future hall of fame running back Franco Harris was held to 29 yards on 10 carries.
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 27, Washington Redskins 20
Quarterback Fran Tarkenton threw 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead the Vikings to a victory. After a scoreless first quarter, Minnesota scored first on kicker Fred Cox's 19-yard field goal. But then a fumbled punt set up Larry Brown's 3-yard touchdown run to give the Redskins a 7–3 lead. The Vikings then took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 79 yards to score on Bill Brown's 2-yard rushing touchdown. After the Redskins retook the lead, 13–10, with 2 field goals, Tarkenton threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to John Gilliam. Nate Wright's interception then set up Gilliam's 8-yard touchdown reception. Although Washington quarterback Billy Kilmer threw a 28-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, Cox kicked his second field goal to close out the scoring.
December 23, 1973
AFC: Miami Dolphins 34, Cincinnati Bengals 16
The Dolphins outgained Cincinnati in total yards, 400–194, and first downs, 27–11, while also scoring on three of their first four possessions and shutting out the Bengals in the second half. The Dolphins racked up 241 yards on the ground, including 106 from Mercury Morris and 71 from Larry Csonka, while receiver Paul Warfield caught 5 passes for 95 yards and a score.
Miami dominated the game early on, scoring on their opening drive with Bob Griese's 13-yard touchdown pass to Warfield. Morris racked up 33 rushing yards on the way to Miami's next first quarter touchdown, a 1-yard run by Csonka. In the second quarter, faced with 3rd and 1 from his own 44, Griese completed a 48-yard bomb to Warfield that set up Morris' 4-yard touchdown run. Miami's three touchdowns came on drives of 80, 80, and 73 yards, while all Cincinnati could manage in the first 26 minutes of the contest was 24-yard field goal by Horst Muhlmann on their first drive of the game. Even that drive caused a major setback for the team, as running back Essex Johnson, the team's leading rusher during the season with 997 yards, suffered a game-ending injury after picking up 14 yards on his first carry.
Facing the prospect of going into their locker room with a 21-3 deficit, the Bengals suddenly stormed back with 13 points in the final 3:26 of the second quarter. First, defensive back Neal Craig intercepted Griese's pass intended for Jim Mandich near the sideline and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Then the Bengals defense forced a punt for and got the ball back on their own 33 with less than two minutes left. It took nearly all of that time for the team to cross midfield, but quarterback Ken Anderson finally got them into scoring range with a 22-yard scramble to the Dolphins 38, where Muhlman made a 46-yard field goal that cut the score to 21-13. Now with just 8 seconds left until halftime, Morris fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which Bengals linebacker Jim LeClair recovered on the Dolphins 3-yard line. On the next play, Muhlman kicked a 12-yard field goal that sent both teams into their locker rooms with a score of 21-16.
However, Cincinnati's hope of a comeback was quickly crushed in the second half. On the third play of the third quarter, Anderson tried to connect on a deep pass to tight end Bob Trumpy, but it was intercepted by Dick Anderson, who returned the ball 19 yards to the Bengals 28. Seven plays later, Miami went up 28-16 with Griese's 7-yard touchdown pass to Mandich. Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian put the finishing touches on his team's victory with field goals from 50 and 46 yards.
NFC: Dallas Cowboys 27, Los Angeles Rams 16
The Cowboys avenged a 37–31 regular season loss to L.A. as two Rams turnovers in the first quarter gave the Cowboys a 14–0 lead. Lee Roy Jordan's interception of a John Hadl pass on the first play of the game led to Calvin Hill's 3-yard touchdown run. Mel Renfro then recovered a Lawrence McCutcheon fumble on the L.A. 35-yard line to set up the Cowboys again which later resulted in Drew Pearson's 4-yard touchdown reception.
In the second quarter, Toni Fritsch then added a 39-yard field goal to increase Dallas' to 17-0. However, a 40-yard reception by Rams receiver Harold Jackson set up David Ray's 33-yard field goal that made the score 17-3. Ray would miss three field goals throughout the game, but made two more to cut the score to 17-9 in the fourth quarter. Then Hill lost a fumble that LA converted into Tony Baker's 5-yard touchdown run, making the score 17-16 with 10 minutes left in regulation
Ever since taking their 17-0 lead in the second quarter, the Cowboys had managed just four first downs and had not crossed midfield, as Staubach faced a relentless pass rush that sacked him seven times (2½ by Jack Youngblood, 2 by Merlin Olsen). But when faced with third down and long after an Olson sack on the ensuing drive, Staubach threw a short pass over the middle to Drew Pearson, and as the Rams were about to stop Pearson for a short gain, defensive backs Dave Elmendorf and Steve Preece collided and fell, allowing Pearson to scamper untouched for an 83-yard touchdown that effectively clinched the game. Fritsch added another field goal for the 27–16 final.
December 30, 1973
AFC Championship: Miami Dolphins 27, Oakland Raiders 10
Running back Larry Csonka led the Dolphins to a victory with 117 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Miami scored on their first drive of the game when quarterback Bob Griese's 27-yard run set up Csonka's 11-yard rushing touchdown. Csonka scored again late in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run to make the score 14–0 at halftime. However, after the teams exchanged field goals, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Siani to cut the lead, 17–10. In the fourth quarter, after Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian made a 26-yard field goal, the Raiders were faced with fourth down and inches and were forced to "go for it". But the Miami defense stopped Oakland, and the Dolphins used their running game to take time off the clock and set up Csonka's third touchdown to clinch the game.
NFC Championship: Minnesota Vikings 27, Dallas Cowboys 10
The Vikings forced 4 interceptions and recovered 2 fumbles in the second half while also holding Dallas to 152 total yards en route to a 27–10 victory over the Cowboys.
With the loss of running back Calvin Hill and defensive tackle Bob Lilly to injuries, Dallas' offense could not get anything going. Minnesota jumped to a 10–0 lead by halftime with a Fred Cox field goal and an 86-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Chuck Foreman. The touchdown drive included Fran Tarkenton's completions to tight end Stu Voigt for gains of 16 and 7 yards, a 2-yard run by Foreman on 4th down and 1, and a 12-yard scramble by Tarkenton himself.
What followed would be an amazingly sloppy second half in which both teams combined for 10 turnovers. Three minutes into the third quarter, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach threw an interception to Bobby Bryant on the Vikings 2-yard line. But the Cowboys defense forced a punt and Golden Richards returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, cutting the score to 10-7. Tarkenton quickly struck back, throwing a 54-yard touchdown pass to John Gilliam, who managed to outrun single coverage by Cowboys future hall of fame defensive back Mel Renfro. Dallas responded with Toni Fritsch's 17-yard field goal cut the lead to 17–10.
Then a wave of turnovers began. On the ensuing possession, Dallas got a huge opportunity to score when Charlie Waters forced a fumble from Foreman that safety Cliff Harris recovered on the Minnesota 37. However, the Vikings took the ball right back when Staubach threw a pass that was deflected into the arms of linebacker Jeff Siemon. An even better scoring chance awaited the Cowboys at the end of the Vikings next drive, as Tarkenton threw an interception to Waters on the Minnesota 24. But Dallas fared no better this time, losing the ball again when Jim Marshall knocked it out of Staubach's hand as he wound up for a pass, and defensive lineman Gary Larsen recovered it. The offensive futility continued with Minnesota, as their next drive ended with fumbled handoff exchange between Tarkenton and Foreman that Dallas lineman Larry Cole recovered on the Vikings 47-yard line.
A few plays later, Dallas faced 3rd and 3 with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Staubach attempted a pass to Bob Hayes near the right sideline, but Bryant intercepted the pass and raced 63 yards for a touchdown that put the Vikings up 24-10. Then on Dallas' next drive, Staubach tried to connect with Drew Pearson, but a devastating hit by Nate Wright caused the ball to bounce off his hands and into the arms of defensive back Jeff Wright, who returned the ball 13 yards to set up Cox's 34-yard game clinching field goal.
Both teams combined for a net total of just 163 passing yards. Tarkenton completed only 10/21 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown with one interception, while also rushing for 16 yards. Staubach had one of the worst postseason performances of his career, completing just 10/21 passes for 89 yards and throwing 4 interceptions, though he did rush for 30 yards. Foreman was the top offensive performer of the day with 76 rushing yards and 4 receptions for 28, while fullback Oscar Reed added 18 carries for 75 yards and an 8-yard catch.
Super Bowl VIII: Miami Dolphins 24, Minnesota Vikings 7
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)