The Baltimore Colts backed up their claim that they are legitimate contenders for the AFC's Eastern Division title by defeating the Miami Dolphins, 30-17, in a passing spectacular before 50,631 in the Orange Bowl today.
Colt quarterback Bert Jones threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns, picking apart an inexperienced Dolphin defensive backfield that had just eight games of NFL experience entering the game. Jones' counterpart, veteran Bob Griese, performed almost as well, completing 21 of 37 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
Griese led a Dolphin comeback in the second quarter to tie the game after Baltimore had taken a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on Jones' 25-yard pass to Roger Carr and a 45-yard field goal by Steve Mike-Mayer.
Baltimore scored its touchdowns on drives of 80, 81, 71 and 36 yards, all the scores set up by Jones' sharp passing and Joe Washington's clutch first and second-down running. Washington ran for 74 yards in 13 carries, most of the yardage coming in the fourth quarter when the Colts used a ball-control offense.
Miami scored twice in the second quarter on a Uwe von Schamann 24-yard field goal and a 15-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Nick Giaquinto after Delvin Williams kept the drive alive with a fourth-and-one, two-yard plunge to the Colt 16.
Miami actually led, 17-10, at the half as Griese methodically completed six consecutive passes in a 67-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass to Tony Nathan, who had dropped two apparent scoring passes earlier and fumbled in the fourth quarter to set up Baltimore's final touchdown.
"We just did a lot of things well today," said Jones, who completed 18 of 26 passes, bringing his five-game total to 90 of 156. Jones has not been intercepted by Miami since November 1973. But he had not played in the last four contests against the Dolphins, who had beaten the Colts five straight times.
"This is one of the few times I can remember getting out of here with a win," said Carr, who had six receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Carr's eight-yard scoring catch gave Baltimore a 24-17 lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, not long after Jones' three-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Dickey into the right corner of the end zone.
Jones, who has been trying not to scramble after absorbing so many punishing licks in his eight years, sprinted nine yards for the final Colt touchdown.
"Everybody I wanted to go to was covered and I saw the opening," Jones said. It was just his second run of the year.
Also on the receiving end of two crucial Jones passes was Raymond Butler, whose 41-yard reception set up the scoring pass to Dickey.Butler's 16-yard reception in the fourth quarter preceded Carr's second touchdown. Both of the rookie's catches were acrobatic, despite good coverage by rookie cornerback Don McNeal.
"I had played against McNeal in college so I knew I could go one on one against him," Butler said. "He was trying to swing me inside on the long pass reception so I took him back out. He wasn't getting much help from the safeties (Don Bessilieu and Glenn Blackwood) because they were biting a lot on the play-action fakes."
The usually stingy Miami secondary missed veteran Tim Foley (leg injury) and Gerald Small played, but was obviously in pain.
"You could tell they were hurting a little bit on defense," said Jones, who denied his pass plays were designed to pick on McNeal. "This team is the best-coached defense in the NFL. You don't pick on one corner unless there is an overwhelming player on the other side because the safeties are usually going to help out." But today they didn't.
Almost overlooked in defeat was a Griese milestone, which came in the second quarter on a nine-yard pass to Nat Moore.
"What does passing for 25,000 yards mean? It means I've been around a long time," Griese said with a smile. The 14-year veteran from Purdue became only the 14th quarterback in NFL history to pass for that many yards.
Griese was sacked only once, but spent much of the afternoon cowering from a strong pass rush from Colt defensive ends Fred Cook and Mike Ozdowski.
"Griese is one of the smarter quarterbacks around, let's admit it," said Cook. "He knows how to move the ball and use the field as well as anyone."
Most of the praise, however, was reserved for the Colts, who raised their record to 3-2. Their two losses, to Pittsburgh and Houston, hardly shameful defeats, were by a total of eight points.