50-Year Phiniversary: Morris’ Late TD Tops Jets, Keeps Dolphins Perfect

by Mike Ferguson
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As many are aware, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the proud owners of the only perfect season in NFL history. Along the way, however, there were many close calls.

In each of their two playoff wins before the Super Bowl, Miami was forced to rally in the final quarter. The last time it had to do so during the regular season came on this day 50 years ago.

Early in the final period, it was Mercury Morris’ second touchdown run of the day that was the difference as the Dolphins rallied past the New York Jets, 28-24.

Setting the Stage

The Dolphins were a perfect 9-0 as they arrived at the friendly confines of the Orange Bowl on Nov. 19, 1972. Fresh off a 52-0 win over the New England Patriots, Miami had defeated the Jets earlier that season at Shea Stadium by a 27-17 score.

At 6-3, the Jets had won four of five since the loss to the Dolphins. Like Miami, they were coming off a blowout of a division opponent. New York defeated the Buffalo Bills the week prior, 41-3.

Morris Saves the Day

The Dolphins wasted no time taking the lead as Earl Morrall’s opening drive touchdown pass to Howard Twilley got the scoring started. The Jets, however, answered with 17 straight points, thanks to a touchdown run by John Riggins and a 29-yard touchdown pass from Joe Namath to Rich Caster.

Morris found the end zone from a yard out to cut the lead to three at halftime. In the third quarter, the 38-year-old Morrall showed he still had wheels on a 31-yard touchdown scamper.

Trailing 21-17, the Jets responded with a methodical march. Namath had big completions to Riggins and Don Maynard before finding Wayne Stewart for the go-ahead 4-yard touchdown toss.

New York took a 24-21 lead into the final quarter and maintained it after Miami’s Garo Yepremian missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. Two plays later, however, the Jets gave the ball right back.

Miami’s Dick Anderson recovered a Cliff McClain fumble inside the Jets’ 30-yard-line. Four plays later, the Dolphins were ahead for good as Morris weaved and powered his way 14 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with just over 11 minutes remaining.

The Jets would not again reach Miami territory. Morris led the Dolphins with 107 yards rushing — half of Miami’s total. Jake Scott and Nick Buoniconti each recorded interceptions for the Dolphins’ defense.

Box score:
Miami Dolphins Communications

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In Hindsight

For the Jets, the loss would begin a downward spiral. New York lost four of its last five games to finish 7-7 and miss the playoffs.

The Dolphins’ last four victories all came by double digits as it completed a perfect 14-0 regular season before winning three postseason games and the franchise’s first world championship. The final fourth-quarter comeback of that magical regular season came courtesy of a late Morris touchdown and on this day a half-century ago.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Focus on Sport

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.

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