Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1968: Wayward Lateral Dooms Raiders
AFL Championship Game: Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets
Signing Alabama QB Joe Namath for the 1965 season not only changed the future of the New York Jets franchise but also the future of professional football since the bidding wars for draft choices forced the National Football League to enter into negotiations with the American Football League for a merger. The immediate results were a common draft and a championship game each season between the NFL and AFL champions.
The Jets improved from 5-8-1 in Namath's first season to 6-6-2 in '66 and 8-5-1 in '67. All the pieces were in place by 1968 for Weeb Ewbank's club to contend for the American Conference championship.
Namath's celebrity status had grown to legendary proportions. He was easily the most famous and most popular player in pro football, as well as the most controversial. On the negative side, concern about his gimpy knees had also increased.
The 1968 Jets had the offensive/defensive balance needed to contend for the champion­ship. Joe had two Pro Bowl receivers in 33-year-old Don Maynard (57 receptions for 1,297y) and George Sauer (66/1,141), two bruising runners in Matt Snell (747y) and Pro Bowler Emerson Boozer (441y), and a solid offensive line led by Pro Bowlers Winston Hill and Dave Herman.
"Our first goal was pass blocking," Herman recalled. "That isn't to say we didn't work on our run blocking as much as anyone else, but we knew how important pass blocking was because of Joe. We had to give him time and try to keep him healthy."
The Jets made even greater strides on defense. Three of the front four made the Pro Bowl: DE Gerry Philbin, DT John Elliott, and DE Verlon Biggs. They were joined by MLB Al Atkinson.
Owner Al Davis's Raiders, the defending AFL champions, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFL West Division title. Sporting the most prolific offense in pro football, the Raiders clobbered the Chiefs in the playoff game 41-6. That earned them a trip to New York to play the East champion Jets for a berth in Super Bowl III. The Jets had the benefit of a week off.
The Jets had lost to the Raiders in Oakland in November in the famous "Heidi Game." The weather would be decidedly different for the rematch on the East Coast with 37° tem­perature and wind gusts up to 50mph. Both quarterbacks, Joe Namath, the AFL MVP for the Jets, and Darryle Lamonica for the Raiders, would have passes sail or die in the wind, especially in the first half. Furthermore, footing would be treacherous on the muddy Shea Stadium field that was almost devoid of grass after a long season.

Joe Namath passes over Ben Davidson to WR George Sauer.
Jets Capitalize on Short Punt
The Jets scored the first time they got the ball with less than four minutes gone in the game. Mike Eischeid's punt for the Raiders against the wind traveled only 28y to the Oakland 44. Two plays later, the Jets were on the 20 after Namath hit WR Don Maynard for 14y and then an interference call on the second snap. Following FB Matt Snell's 6y run, Maynard faked a post pattern to the inside, cut outside as DB George Atkinson slipped, and caught Namath's pass on the goal line. 7-0 Jets
Near the end of the quarter, the Jets' lead increased to 10-0 on Jim Turner's 33y field goal.
The best opportunity the Raiders had to score in the opening 15 minutes was thwarted when George Blanda's field goal attempt from the 45 hit the crossbar and bounced back.

Daryle Lamonica passes as Gerry Philbin (81) puts pressure,
and Verlon Biggs (86) gets around OT Bob Svihus.
Raiders Get on the Board
With the wind behind them, the Raiders fought back in the second quarter. They mount­ed an 80y, eight-play drive that culminated in a 29y scoring strike from QB Daryle Lamon­ica to WR Fred Biletnikoff, who shrugged off CB Johnny Sample at the 10 and raced into the end zone. Sample, one of the original trash talkers, had foolishly said before the game that he didn't think much of Biletnikoff as a receiver. 10-7 Jets
The Jets crossed midfield three times but got only three points out of it on a Turner field goal from the 35 that barely dropped over the crossbar. 13-7 Jets

L: Namath throws a quick pass. R: Namath sacked.
The Raiders got those three points back on their last possession of the half, traveling from their 41 to the NY 15. After a 4y loss on third down, Blanda kicked a field goal from the 26. Halftime score: Jets 13 Raiders 10

Fred Biletnikoff breaks away from Johnny Sample (24) and Ralph Baker (51).
Jets Hold Raiders to Field Goal
Aided by the wind again in the third period, the Raiders moved from their six to a first down at the NY six. Most of the yardage came on spectacular pass plays to Biletnikoff for 37y and Warren Wells for 40.
But three running plays gained only 2y as S Jim Hudson made three straight tackles. So Blanda kicked another three pointer to tie the score at 13.
Namath To Lammons Puts Jets Back on Top
The Jets finally made some headway against the wind. They made four third-down con­versions with three coming on Namath passes. Fittingly, the touchdown came on third down from the Oakland 20 when Joe hit TE Pete Lammons on the left sideline at the 13, and Rodger Bird, usually a sure tackler, could not bring him down. Nor could DB Dave Grayson, who bounced off him at the two. Jets 20 Raiders 13 (0:58 left in third quarter)
Lamonica Responds
The Raiders had to come from behind going against the wind in the final period. Unper­turbed, Lamonica led a drive to the Jet 11. But once again, the Jets threw up a goal-line defense, and the next three plays netted -1y. So Blanda booted his third field goal. Jets 20 Raiders 16
Then came what seemed to be the game-breaker. From his 22, Namath threw what he later called a perfect pass toward Maynard on the left sideline. But Atkinson stepped in front of the Jet flanker and snagged the ball. Breaking loose from Maynard's tackle, At­kinson ran to the five before Namath knocked him out of bounds. It took only one play from there. FB Pete Banaszak took a handoff and kept his legs churning when he appear­ed to be stopped and fell onto the goal line to give Oakland their first lead of the game. Raiders 23 Jets 20

L: Matt Snell runs behind Randy Rasmussen's block as Ben Davidson tries to tackle.
R: Don Maynard snags Namath's pass behind George Atkinson for a 52y gain to the six.
Namath to Maynard
The lead lasted precisely 68 seconds. After the kickoff return to the 32, Namath, not the least gun shy, hit WR George Sauer on the identical sideline pattern that Atkinson had intercepted on his previous pass. First down Jets at their 42. Then came the play of the day. Maynard streaked down the right side past Atkinson. Namath set up at the left hash mark and sent Maynard deep down the right sideline, a route that required a tremendous throw because Joe was throwing into the wind. Namath's pass sailed over 60y in the air and came down over Maynard's shoulder right into his hands. He continued several more strides before Atkinson pushed him out of bounds at the six.
"It as the greatest catch I ever made," said Maynard, who caught six passes during the game despite a sore hamstring. "There's no doubt about it. I remember earlier in the game, I said, 'Joseph, I got a long one in me when you need it. So when we got in the situation of being behind, I remember Namath saying in the huddle, 'No penalties, we're going to go for it.' And the wind was blowing really tough. Joe's pass was coming to me around the ten o'clock area. All of a sudden the wind catches it, and my hands and head begin to go around. I turned completely and caught the ball around the two o'clock area. After the catch, my momentum carried me out of bounds."
Then Namath rolled left and looked first for HB Bill Mathis and then for Sauer, but both were covered. So Joe stopped, turned the other way, and spotted Maynard getting loose from Atkinson on a slant in from the right. Don went to his knees in the end zone to take the low pass and regain the lead. Jets 27 Raiders 23 (7:47)
The Raiders moved sharply to the NY 24, where they faced 4th-and-10. Even though more than five minutes were left, Coach John Rauch decided against a field goal. But DE Verlon Biggs sacked Lamonica to end the threat.
Lamonica's Wayward Lateral
The Jets quickly had to punt, and the Raiders again marched into NY territory. Lamoni­ca drilled a pass to Biletnikoff on the right sideline. Fred broke loose from "fast-talking but slow-moving" Sample for 25y to the 40. The Jets rush pressured Darryle on the next snap, but he got away a pass to Wells running behind Randy Beverly. The pass was un­derthrown, but Wells made a beautiful leaping grab before being downed on the 27. A piling on penalty put the ball on the 12.
On the next snap, Lamonica threw a backward pass to RB Charlie Smith in the right flat. But the ball sailed behind him, and LB Ralph Baker picked up the errant lateral and started downfield. But the officials blew the whistle because the rules prohibited returning a lateral.
The Jets offense ran valuable time off the clock so that the Raiders didn't get the ball back until 42 seconds remained at their 22. They reached midfield before time expired.
In the delirious Jets dressing room, Sample, the guy Ewbank pulled out of the game when he couldn't cover Biletnikoff, handed the game ball to the coach. "This is for a guy who has done a great job all year long," said Johnny, "and should have been named Coach of the Year."
The victory sent the Jets to the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Colts, the team Ew­bank coached to successive NFL championships in 1958 and '59.
Reference: "Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!" The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History, Jonathan Rand (2007)