By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
GAME 12: DEC. 3, 1972 – MIAMI at NEW ENGLAND
After beating the expansion Miami Dolphins 20-14 in Miami in 1966, the Patriots went on to lose to the Dolphins for 19 – – – yes, – – – 19 consecutive years in the historic Orange Bowl. Patriots’ fans consider it one of the great jinxes in sports history! That streak stands as an all-time NFL record for consecutive losses in the same stadium on a yearly basis. However, in recent years, New England has held a decisive edge in this AFC East rivalry, winning six of the last seven contests, including the last four in a row. After the 2011 season, Miami led the all-time series 50-43.
Three weeks prior to this game, the Dolphins slaughtered New England 52-0 in what remains the most lopsided game in the history of this rivalry. Soon after the defeat the Patriots’ management fired head coach John Mazur and promoted former Green Bay Packer Phil Bengston to the position of head coach. Very few observers thought this game would be close. But Bengston promised to work his players hard, stressing football fundamentals, a positive attitude and the avoidance of mistakes. Bengston knew that, historically, Miami had difficulty playing in colder climates. He hoped that, with a little luck, New England could be competitive.
Miami’s offensive coordinator, Howard Schnellenberger, knew that Bengston had not made significant personnel changes on defense. He told his offense “We scored 52 on them last time. There’s no reason why we can’t have a similar output this time.” It seemed like the Dolphins moved the ball almost at will in the first half. In the first quarter, Morrall advanced the ball deep into Patriots’ territory. But an untimely penalty and a busted play moved them backwards. Garo Yepremian’s 36-yard field goal gave Miami a 3-0 lead after one quarter. In the second period, Morrall mixed running and passing plays, controlling the clock and eating-up plenty of yardage. But, again, another long Dolphins’ drive stalled, this time at the Dolphins three yard line. Yepremian’s chip-shot field goal increased the lead to 6-0. Meanwhile, Jim Plunkett was having another difficult day against the “No Name Defense.” Young Vern Den Herder and Manny Fernandez were terrorizing the Pats’ offense. Again, New England punted. Again, Morrall led his offense on another sustained drive. This time there were no botched plays or penalties. Jim Kiick’s one-yard touchdown run gave Miami a 13-0 advantage. Just before halftime, Plunkett moved his offense past midfield. Under a ferocious pass rush, Plunkett moved to his right and delivered a perfect strike to Tom Reynolds, who took it all the way for a 36-yard touchdown play! It was 13-7, Miami, at intermission.
Shula was livid in the halftime locker room. He told his team they were being outplayed by a 2-9 team. And he told them there would be “no Perfect Season and no Super Bowl if we keep playing like this!” On the third play of the third quarter the game changed drastically. 6-foot-6 Vern Den Herder intercepted a Plunkett pass and rumbled down the field. “I’d never intercepted a pass in high school or college, so I kinda had to think,’What do I do now’?” Den Herder showed surprising speed as he sprinted down to New England’s 11-yard line. Three plays later, Morrall tossed a three yard TD pass to Jim Mandich and Miami was in clear control 20-7. Miami’s next drive produced yet another Yepremian chip-shot field goal. A few minutes, later, some tough running by Csonka paced a drive to the Pats’ 14. From there, Morrall threw a 14-yard strike to Marlin Briscoe and the Dolphins were decisively ahead by a 30-7 margin after three quarters.
Don Shula was aware that, in the previous Dolphins-Pats game, Miami’s Jim Del Gaizo had thrown two long bombs in the final quarter, raising the score from 38-0 to 52-0. He knew the Patriots were unhappy with this. So, after Hubert Ginn sprinted eight yards for another TD early in the fourth quarter, Shula yanked some of his star players and turned to a more conservative offense, leading 37-7. Phil Bengston decided to replace Plunkett with back-up QB Brian Dowling. The Yale product passed for one score and ran for another, making the final tally 37-21, Miami.
One of Miami’s stars this day was their top back, the 237-pound bruiser himself, Larry Csonka. “Zonk” ran for 91 yards, giving him over 1,000 yards for the second straight year. Prior to this day, only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Leroy Kelly, Joe Perry and Jim Nance had ever run for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in NFL history. Csonka was in some very elite company! And the Dolphins, as a team, also were in elite company. They were closing in on the all-time NFL record of 2,885 yards rushing by a team in one season, held by the 1936 Detroit Lions. Soon, the Dolphins would break that record. In fact, they would break many NFL records during the Perfect Season!
Next up: at the dangerous 7-4 New York Giants in Yankee Stadium. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were now 12-0.