1974–75 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1974 season began on December 21, 1974. The postseason tournament concluded with the Pittsburgh Steelers defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX, 16–6, on January 12, 1975, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.
This was the last season in which the sites for the playoff games annually alternated by division.
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||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Central winner||Pittsburgh Steelers||Minnesota Vikings|
|West winner||Oakland Raiders||Los Angeles Rams|
|Wild card||Buffalo Bills||Washington Redskins|
- Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation. Had the 1974 playoffs been seeded, the AFC divisional matchups would have been #3 Pittsburgh at #2 Miami and #4 wild card Buffalo at #1 Oakland; the NFC matchups would not have changed, although #1 Los Angeles would have had home field for the NFC championship game due to its head-to-head victory over #2 Minnesota in week 11.
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl IX|
|December 22 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|December 29 – Oakland Coliseum|
|December 21 – Oakland Coliseum|
|January 12 – Tulane Stadium|
|December 22 – L.A. Coliseum|
|December 29 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|Los Angeles Rams||19|
|Los Angeles Rams||10|
|December 21 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|St. Louis Cardinals||14|
December 21, 1974
AFC: Oakland Raiders 28, Miami Dolphins 26
In a play that became known as the Sea of Hands, the Raiders' Clarence Davis somehow caught the winning touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in the game among "the sea of hands" of three Dolphins defenders.
The game began when rookie receiver Nat Moore returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a Miami touchdown. Miami defensive back Dick Anderson then intercepted a pass from Ken Stabler, but fellow safety Jake Scott was hurt on the play and would miss the rest of the game. Oakland's defense made a stand in their own territory to force a punt. Later on, the Raiders tied the game with Stabler's 31-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith. But with 1:01 left in the half, Miami's Garo Yepremian kicked a 33-yard field goal to put the Dolphins back in the lead.
The Raiders scored on their opening drive of the third quarter with Stabler's 13-yard touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff, who managed to haul in the ball with one arm along the right sideline and barely tap his feet in bounds through tight coverage by cornerback Tim Foley, giving them a 14–10 lead. Aided by a 29-yard pass interference penalty against the Raiders on third down, Miami struck back with Bob Griese's 16-yard touchdown pass to Paul Warfield. But Oakland lineman Bubba Smith blocked the extra point attempt, keeping the Miami lead at just 2 points, 16–14.
Early in the fourth quarter, Yepremian increased Miami's lead to 19–14 with a 46-yard field goal. Later in the period, Oakland got the ball on their own 17-yard line. Stabler started the drive with an 11-yard completion to Biletnikoff. On the next play, he threw a pass to Cliff Branch at the Dolphins' 27-yard line. Branch made a spectacular diving catch and then got back up and ran the rest of the way to the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown reception, giving the Raiders a 21–19 lead with 4:37 left in the game. With 2:08 left to play, the Dolphins took a 26–21 lead with a 68-yard, 4-play drive that ended with Benny Malone's 23-yard touchdown run, evading four tackle attempts by Raider defenders on the way to the end zone.
Following a 20-yard kickoff return by Ron Smith, the Raiders got the ball on their own 32-yard line with 2 minutes left to play and all three timeouts left. After a 6-yard completion to tight end Bob Moore and a short run, Stabler went deep to Biletnikoff, completing two consecutive passes to him for gains of 18 and 20 yards. Then after a 4-yard catch by Branch, Frank Pitts made a bobbling first down catch at the Dolphins 14-yard line. On the next play, Clarence Davis ran the ball 6 yards to the 8-yard line, where the Raiders called their final timeout. On the next play, Stabler dropped back to pass and looked for Biletnikoff in the end zone, but he was tightly covered. With Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder dragging him down, Stabler threw a desperate pass to the left side of the end zone into a "sea of hands", where Davis fought his way through the Dolphins defenders to make the touchdown catch.
Trailing 28–26, the Dolphins got the ball back with 24 seconds left. But on their second play of the drive, Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano intercepted Griese's pass at the Raiders 45-yard line, allowing his team to run out the rest of the clock.
"This has to be the toughest loss I've ever suffered", said Miami coach Don Shula, "The Raiders are a great credit to professional football", he added. "They needed touchdowns to win and they got them." Moore finished his first career playoff game with 184 all-purpose yards (142 KR, 40 Rec, 2 PR). Biletnikoff caught 8 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. Stabler completed 20 of 30 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 30, St. Louis Cardinals 14
Aided by the Cardinals' turnovers, the Vikings scored 16 points in less than 7 minutes in the third quarter. On their first possession of the game, St. Louis drove to the Vikings 35-yard line, but lost the ball on a failed 4th and 1 conversion attempt. St. Louis eventually got onto the scoreboard first with quarterback Jim Hart's 13-yard touchdown pass to receiver Earl Thomas, but Minnesota countered when quarterback Fran Tarkenton completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to John Gilliam. The 7-7 tie would last till the end of the half. The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead with a 56-yard drive to the Vikings 6-yard line, but Jim Bakken missed a 23-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
On the third play of the second half, Vikings defensive back Jeff Wright intercepted a pass from Hart and returned it 18 yards to set up Fred Cox's 37-yard field goal, giving his team a 10-7 lead. Exactly 60 seconds later, on the Cardinals' ensuing drive, Terry Metcalf lost a fumble while being leveled by Vikings linemen Alan Page and Carl Eller. Cornerback Nate Wright picked up the loose ball and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown that increased Minnesota's lead to 17-7. A few minutes later, Tarkenton finished off a 16-point quarter with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Gilliam. In the 4th quarter, Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, who finished the game with 114 rushing yards and 5 receptions for 54 yards, recorded a 4-yard touchdown run to give Minnesota a 30–7 lead. By the time Metcalf rushed for an 11-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, the game was already out of reach for the Cardinals.
December 22, 1974
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 32, Buffalo Bills 14
Running back Franco Harris led the Steelers to the victory by scoring 3 touchdowns in the second quarter. Pittsburgh outgained the Bills in total yards, 438-264, and first downs, 29-14.
Pittsburgh scored on their first possession with Roy Gerela's 21-yard field goal, but later on, a poor punt from Bobby Walden gave the Bills a first down on their own 44, where they proceeded to drive 56 yards to a 7-3 lead on Joe Ferguson's 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Paul Seymour.
The Steelers took over the game in the second quarter, scoring 26 unanswered points with an NFL playoff single quarter record 4 touchdowns. Early in the period, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw rushed for 8 yards on 3rd and 7 and later picked another 12 yards on a scramble before finishing the drive with a 27-yard scoring pass to running back Rocky Bleier, giving the team a 9-7 lead after Gerela's extra point was blocked. Following a Bills punt, the team increased their lead to 16-7 with a 66-yard drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Harris. Then Buffalo running back Jim Braxton lost a fumble on a combined tackle by Mel Blount and Mike Wagner, which linebacker Jack Ham recovered for Pittsburgh on their 42. Bradshaw subsequently completed a 19-yard pass to Bleier and 35-yard pass to Lynn Swann as the team drove to a 22-7 lead (due to another blocked extra point) on Harris' 4-yard score. With 16 seconds left before halftime, Harris scored his 3rd rushing touchdown to cap a 56-yard drive, upping his team's lead to 29-7.
Buffalo managed to cut the score to 29-14 in the third quarter with Ferguson's 3-yard touchdown pass to running back O. J. Simpson, but Gerela's 22-yard field goal in the final period would be the only other score of the game.
In the only playoff game of his 11-season Hall of Fame career, Simpson was held to 49 rushing yards, 3 receptions for 37 yards, and a touchdown. Ferguson threw for 164 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions, but completed just 11 of 26 passes. Bradshaw completed 12 of 19 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 48 yards on five carries.
NFC: Los Angeles Rams 19, Washington Redskins 10
at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles
Linebacker Isiah Robertson returned an interception 59 yards in the fourth quarter to clinch the Rams victory in a brutal defensive battle in which both teams combined for just 444 total yards.
Los Angeles scored on the opening drive of the game with quarterback James Harris' two completions to Harold Jackson for 35 total yards setting up his 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bob Klein. However, the Redskins scored 10 unanswered points before halftime. First, Billy Kilmer's 41-yard completion to Charley Taylor got the team moving on the way to a 35-yard Mike Bragg field goal, making the score 7–3. In the second quarter, the Rams forced and recovered a fumble from Kilmer on the Washington 38, but the Redskins defense made a stand to prevent the Rams from scoring. Later on, Pat Fischer's interception of Harris set up Moses Denson's 1-yard rushing touchdown to give Washington their first lead at 10–7.
Two Washington turnovers in the second half set up two field goals by Rams kicker David Ray. In the fourth quarter, coach George Allen replaced Kilmer with Sonny Jurgensen. With the Redskins driving for the possible tying field goal, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen pressured Jurgensen into throwing the game clinching interception to Robertson, who weaved his way back and forth across the field as he ran to the end zone. The extra point kick failed, but Olsen then recorded two more sacks, preventing any hopes of a Redskins comeback. Joe Theismann was returning punts for the Redskins at this time.
December 29, 1974
AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Oakland Raiders 13
After trailing 10–3 at the end of the third quarter, the Steelers scored three touchdowns in the final period to earn their first championship appearance in team history.
The first half was controlled by both defenses. Oakland got a big opportunity in the first quarter when they recovered a muffed punt by Lynn Swann on the Steelers 41-yard line, but Mel Blount's deflection of a 3rd down pass by Ken Stabler forced them to settle for a 40-yard field goal from George Blanda. Meanwhile, the Steelers managed to get close to the Oakland end zone twice, but each time they had to settle for Roy Gerela field goal attempts. He missed his first one from 20 yards in the first quarter, but kicked a 23-yard field goal in the second to tie the game at 3 going into halftime.
Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert blocked a Blanda field goal in the third quarter, however, the Raiders eventually took a 10-3 lead with Ken Stabler's 38-yard touchdown pass to Cliff Branch. But Pittsburgh tied the game again six seconds into the fourth quarter with Franco Harris' 8-yard touchdown run at the end of a 61-yard drive. Then linebacker Jack Ham intercepted a pass from Stabler (his second interception of the day) and returned it to the Raiders' 9-yard line, setting up Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown pass to Swann. Oakland responded with a drive to the Steelers 12-yard line, featuring a 45-yard reception by Fred Biletnikoff, but on 3rd down, a blitz by defensive back Mike Wagner forced Stabler to throw the ball away, and the team to setting for a 24-yard Blanda field goal, and the Steelers still led, 17–13.
Oakland managed to get the ball back for a chance to drive for a go-ahead touchdown, but J. T. Thomas made a clutch interception and returned the ball 37 yards to the Raiders 24. Harris then scored on a 21-yard rushing touchdown to put the game away.
Harris rushed for 111 yards and 2 scores, while Rocky Bleier added 98 rushing yards and 2 receptions for 25. Branch finished the game with 9 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown.
NFC Championship: Minnesota Vikings 14, Los Angeles Rams 10
On an unusually balmy day for December in Minnesota, the Vikings were able to hold onto the ball for the final 5:37 of the game to preserve a 14–10 victory. After a scoreless first quarter, Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton threw a 29-yard touchdown to Jim Lash. Rams kicker David Ray later added a 27-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7–3 before halftime. In the third quarter, Los Angeles advanced the ball from their own 1-yard line to the Minnesota 1-yard line. The big play on the drive was a 73-yard pass play to Harold Jackson, who was finally pushed out of bounds at the Vikings 2 by safety Jeff Wright. With the ball inside the one yard line, Rams guard Tom Mack was controversially called for illegal procedure (replays showed Mack did not move). Moved back to the six yard line, the Rams were forced to pass for a touchdown on third down but the pass was deflected and Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg intercepted the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Minnesota then went on a 15-play drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock to score on Dave Osborn's 4-yard touchdown run. With 7:15 left to play in the game, the Rams then cut the deficit to 14–10 with Harold Jackson's 44-yard touchdown reception. Then after forcing the Vikings to punt, Los Angeles drove to the Minnesota 45-yard line. But a third down sack forced the Rams to punt again and the Vikings kept the ball to run out the clock.
Super Bowl IX: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
|“||There he is... fading... looking, looking, looking... he's under the gun, this time, he throws... it is...||”|
|“||Oh... He caught it! He caught it! He caught it!||”|
|“||TOUCHDOWN! UNBELIEVABLE! UNBELIEVABLE!||”|
|“||Back to pass goes Stabler... looking, looking, looking... he runs, he's at the 15, he throws, it is... it's TOUCHDOWN RAIDERS! TOUCHDOWN RAIDERS! I can't even see the receiver. Clarence Davis, it looks like Clarence Davis, he's being mobbed.||”|
- 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)