Two weeks earlier, the Miami Dolphins narrowly escaped the historic Orange Bowl with a 24-23 win over the Buffalo Bills. As they prepared for the rematch head coach Don Shula asked offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger, “What do we do best against Buffalo?” “That’s easy. The thing we do best is running the football.” said Schnellenberger. “Then THAT’s what we’re going to do,” said the Don of Miami. Together, the two coaches developed a strategy they originally sprang on the Houston Oilers in week #2; the “3-Back Attack.” A few new wrinkles were added to the mix. But the philosophy was “We’re going to run the ball until forced to do something else.”
One of the three backs, Eugene (Mercury) Morris, had his own private rivalry with Bills’ star back O. J. Simpson. “Back in college, O. J. beat me out two years in a row for the NCAA rushing title,” said Morris. “Simpson always seems to beat me out. When we both turned pro, he was an instant starter; I was on the second team.” Morris continued, “O.J.’s always in the limelight. But, today, things will be different. My team, and my performance, will grab the headlines.” Morris’ prophecy came true. On Miami’s second play, Mercury Morris swept around right end and ran 33 yards down to the Bills’ 20. Yepremian’s 33-yard field goal gave the Dolphins a quick 3-0 lead. Buffalo responded. A 13-yard touchdown pass, Dennis Shaw to Randy Jackson, put the Bills ahead 6-3 after a missed PAT. Now was the time to put the “3-Back Attack” into high gear. On the next drive, Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka combined for four carries for 25 yards. Then Morrall connected with tight end Jim Mandich for 13 yards to the Buffalo 22. Next, Morrall handed-off to Morris on a play designed to go off right tackle. The hole was jammed, so Morris sprinted outside and burst to the 10 where the Bills’ Robert James and Maurice Tyler were waiting for him. Morris juked James, bounced-off Tyler, and sped into the end zone for a 10-6 Miami advantage!
A pair of Yepremian field goals, set-up by the “3-Back Attack,” gave the Fins a 16-6 lead. But Buffalo’s Tony Green intercepted Morrall and returned it for a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 16-13 at halftime. The huge Buffalo crowd roared its approval! Would there be another heart-stopping finish to a Dolphins-Bills game? Would this be the end of The Perfect Season?
In the halftime locker room, Shula told his offense “We get the ball to start the third quarter. We’ve GOT to send them a message. If we score a touchdown on our first possession, we’ll put them in a hole they’ll never crawl out of!” Shula’s words came true. The “3-Back Attack” moved the Dolphins steadily down the field. With the Bills’ defense deployed to stop the run, Earl Morrall calmly tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marv Fleming, capping an 80-yard drive. It was 23-13, Miami.
Buffalo came back later in the quarter to register a John Leypoldt field goal. Going into the fourth quarter, Miami led 23-16. It would be Miami’s (and Morris’) quarter. After a Dolphins’ drive stalled, the “No Name Defense” stymied Buffalo’s attempt to tie the game. Then the Dolphins drove for what would prove to be the game-clinching touchdown. The Miami running game got the ball to the Buffalo 29. Even a field goal would put the game out of reach. Instead, Morrall found none other than Mercury Morris scooting up field closely guarded by a defender. Without breaking stride, Morris reached behind, snared the ball, and ran all the way to the Bills’ 3 yard line! Two plays later, Morris exploded through a hole created by Norm Evans for the clinching touchdown! The “3-Back Attack” had worked to perfection, producing a 30-16 Miami victory.
Even O. J. Simpson was impressed. “It’s going to be tough for them to get beat. I think they’re the best team in football, “said the former Heisman Trophy winner. (Simpson would NEVER know the joy of beating Miami. His Bills would lose an NFL record 20 straight games to the Dolphins in the decade of the ’70’s!) The numbers of this game told the story. Simpson had 13 carries for a paltry 45 yards and no touchdowns. Quarterback Dennis Shaw was 12 for 25 for only 125 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The “No Name Defense” did its job, giving up only 9 points to the potent Bills’ offense (the other 7 points were the result of an intercepted pass returned for a TD). Miami’s “3-Back Attack” produced mind-boggling numbers. Larry Csonka had 17 carries for 72 yards; Jim Kiick ran 12 times for 63 yards. And Mercury Morris clearly outperformed Simpson by tallying 106 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries. All told, the Dolphins ran the ball 45 times for a FRANCHISE RECORD 254 YARDS! Mercury Morris was given the coveted game ball. Head coach Don Shula had a huge smile on his face. Offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger lit-up his traditional “victory pipe!” The future head coach of both the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University believed this Dolphin team was unstoppable.