The Baltimore Colts, getting a break when quarterback Bert Jones fumbled near the goal line but the ball was whistled dead, scored a touchdown on Don McCauley's three-yard run with less than three minutes remaining today to defeat the New England Patriots, 30-24, and win the AFC East Division title for the third straight year.
The Patriots already had been eliminated from the playoffs, but a New England victory would have given the division title to the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots took a 70 lead in the second quarter on a 70-yard drive that began in the first period. Tight end Russ Francis caught a five-yard pass from Steve Grogan for the touchdown.
Grogan passed 18 yards to wide receiver Stanley Morgan and the Patriots moved to the Baltimore 32-yard line on a penalty against defensive tackle Mike Barnes, who was called for roughing Grogan. Don Calhoun ran 17 yards to the Baltimore eight to set up the scoring catch by Francis. John Smith kicked the extra point.
The drive followed a missed 38-yard field goal by Toni Linhart of the Colts, but he later kicked a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Bert Jones had passed 31 yards to tight end Raymond Chester, then was sacked. But on third and 16 at the New England 25, Jones dropped deep, scrambled and hit running back Lydell Mitchell with a 14-yard pass to set up Linhart's three-pointer.
The Patriots ran their advantage to 14-3 with 28 seconds remaining in the half on a one-yard sneak by Grogan and Smith's second conversion.
The Patriots went 69 yards for that touchdown with Sam Cunningham surpassing 1,000 yards rushing in a season for the first time in his career.
A 10-yard pass-interference penalty against cornerback Norm Thompson, who was covering wide receiver Darryl Stingley in the end zone, moved the ball to the one-yard line.
Raymond Clayborn ran 101 yards for a touchdown with the kickoff opening the third quarter, and Smith converted to raise the Patriot lead to 21-3.
The Colts then went 61 yards, scoring on a 14-yard pass from Jones to wide receiver Glenn Doughty. Linhart converted.
Jones' run of 18 yards and a personal foul called against Patriot defensive end Greg Boyd had moved the ball to the New England 14.
The Patriots made it 24-10 on a 30-yard field goal by Smith after Grogan's pass for Stingley at the goal line was nearly intercepted by cornerback Thompson on third down.
The Colts suddenly struck again on third and 18 from their 22, when Jones beat a safety blitz and lofted a pass to Chester.
Chester caught the ball a few yards in front of safety Prentice McCray at the New England 38 and went the rest of the 78 yards before being tackled over the goal line.
Linhart's conversion attempt was blocked by safety Tim Fox, leaving the score at 24-16, Patriots. Linhart also missed a 46-yard field goal with a minute remaining in the quarter.
Cornerback Norm Thompson intercepted a pass by Grogan in the fourth quarter and ran 20 yards to the New England 46.
Jones threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Freddie Scott and Linhart converted to cut the Patriot lead to 24-23, with 11:27 remaining.
John Patrick of the Patriots punted 64 yards to the Baltimore one-yard line, but Jones passed 57 yards to the New England 39, then 18 yards to Mitchell to the New England 13.
Then came the biggest play of the game, Jones messed up a handoff at the New England five-yard line and, as he was hit from behind, dropped the ball. But the ball was awarded to Baltimore, with a yard loss for Jones.
Don McCauley scored from three yards out on third down, with 2:44 to go and Linhart converted to give the Colts a 30-34 lead.