The Baltimore Colts ended one of their most tumultuous seasons today with a predictable, and fitting, 21-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
The Colts scored first on an 83-yard touchdown drive, on which the Bills gave them four first downs on penalties, and again on a bizarre 26-yard broken-play touchdown pass from half-back Joe Washington to wide receiver Mike Siani.
In between, Buffalo scored three touchdowns.
The defeat, Baltimore's fifth straight, tied the Colts with the Bills in the AFC East with 5-11 records. The Colts were awarded sole possession of the cellar because the Bills beat them in both meetings this season.
Baltimore Coach Ted Marchibroda, whose future with the Colts is uncertain, said, "It's been a long year for us, a tough year."
Indeed, it has.
In his first three seasons as the Colt coach, Marchibroda, a disciple of George Allen and former offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, led Baltimore to a 31-11 regularseason record and three straight playoff appearances.
This season, which he thought before it started would be his best, was a nightmare.
A shoulder injury to quarterback Bert Jones which limited his playing time to one full game and parts of only two others, the trading of tight end Raymond Chester, the contract hassle and eventual trade of running back Lydell Mitchell and a host of other injuries all had a heavy bearing on the Colts' fortunes this eason.
Owner Robert Irsay's questionable behavior in handling the Mitchell situation and his continual second-guessing of Marchibroda divided the team even more.
Irsay was mum today. There was no second guessing or firings, and Marchibroda was left eagerly looking to next season.
"Defensive help and a great deal of leadership will be our top priorities in the off season." Marchibroda said. "We have a good football team when we are healthy, but we have to be totally healthy to win."
The injury to Jones was the one that did in the Colts, but there were others, to the defense and in the offensive line.
"It hurts to lose and maybe you have to be a coach to understand this, but with the injuries we had, sometimes we went out on the field so decimated that we didn't give ourselves a decent chance to win." Marchibroda said.
This was not an ideal day to play football. The wind was a steady 30 miles an hour with gusts up to 45, making passing a difficult chore.
Buffalos' Joe Ferguson completed only three of 13, but one short one as the Colts blitzed went for a 39-yard touchdown by Frank Lewis.
Baltimore's Bill Troup was four of 15 for 45 yards and an interception.
Lewis' touchdown reception put Buffalo on top, 14-7, and Bills rookie Terry Miller broke a 60-yard run for a fourth-quarter score to increase the lead to two touchdowns.
Miller ran for 123 yards, giving him 1,060 for the season.
Washington, who turned out to be virtually the entire Colt's offense this season, ran for 70 yards on 21 carries, giving him 956 yards for the year. He also returned three kickoffs for 88 yards today and for the season was Baltimore's leading pass receiver.
Washington's touchdown pass was his second of the season.
The play started as a simple sweep to the right, from the Bills' 26-yard line, but the Bills jammed it up and Washington bumped into his own blocker, Dn Hardeman, and dropped the ball. It squirted back to the 38-yard line. Washington raced after it, picked it up and started to run to his right and then back to his left. Then, with nowhere to run, he suddenly stopped at the 41 and threw a perfect spiral to Siani, who was all alone at the 15-yard line. Miraculously, there were no Colt linemen downfield and Siani walked into the end zone.
"It was a running play all the way," Marchibroda said. "I have no idea why there weren't any linemen downfield."
Just as disheartening to the Colts' management as the defeat was the attendance at Memorial Stadium - 25,415, the lowest since 1954 when 19,893 showed up to see the San Francisco 49ers.