Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes, continues or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1971: "It Was All Done by Instinct"
AFC Championship Game: Baltimore Colts @ Miami Dolphins
The 1971 NFL season can be regarded as the year that the leadership torch in the American Conference passed from 38-year-old Johnny Unitas to 26-year-old Bob Griese.
Unitas started 13 games in 1970 for the Baltimore Colts, leading them to the Super Bowl championship over the Dallas Cowboys. But in 1971, Baltimore Coach Don McCafferty started 37-year-old Earl Morrall in the first eight games. When Unitas came off the bench in Game 9 to spark the 14-13 victory over the Jets, McCafferty kept Unitas as his starter.
The Colts won three of their last five games to finish second in the AFC East and earn a wild card spot in the playoffs. They beat the Browns 20-3 in the first round to earn a trip to the AFC Title Game at Miami.
Griese had started for the Dolphins since his rookie season of 1967. Don Shula came from Baltimore in 1970 to lead Miami after they compiled a 15-39-2 record in their first four sea­sons in the American Football League. He immediately improved the Dolphins to 10-4 and a playoff berth in 1970 and 10-3-1 in '71 and the AFC East crown.

L-R: Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, Earl Morrall
The AFC East rivals split their two games in 1971, the Dolphins winning at home 17-14 and the Colts turning the tables three weeks later in Baltimore 14-3.
The comparatively low scores in the two games were a testament to the defensive prowess of the two teams. The Colts gave up only 140 points, just one more than the NFL leading Minnesota Vikings. The Dolphins' 174 points allowed put them second in the AFC and third overall in the NFL.
So you'd expect points to be at a premium when the teams met in the Orange Bowl on a beautiful January 2 afternoon. The defenses allowed only one long scoring drive in four quar­ters.
The media talk all week about Baltimore's defense fired up the Dolphins' unit, who felt they weren't getting the credit they deserved.
Dolphins Strike First
Miami made one first down on their first possession before punting. The Colts did better but not by much. They drove 29y to the Dolphin 47 before having to punt, giving Miami possession on their 20.
Just when everyone settled into the expected defensive struggle, lightning struck. HB Jim Kiick got 5y at right tackle. Then Griese hit fleet WR Paul Warfield in the seam between Rex Kern and Rick Volk, and the eight-year veteran from Ohio State outraced Volk to the end zone to complete the 75y touchdown. Garo Yepremian kicked the PAT. Dolphins 7 Colts 0 (6:39)

L-R: Jim Kiick, Paul Warfield, Rex Kern
Colts Miss Field Goals
The Colts had two scoring opportunities in the first quarter but got nothing to show for it because Jim O'Brien, the Baltimore hero who kicked the winning field goal in the 1971 Super Bowl, missed three-point attempts from 46 and 48y.
The Dolphins got into Baltimore territory just once the rest of the first half and then only by 2y. The thrust ended when DB Jerry Logan intercepted Griese's long pass on the 10.
Meanwhile, the Colts moved from their 19 to the Miami nine in 12 plays early in the second period. Facing fourth-and-two at the nine, the Colts kept O'Brien on the sideline and went for it. Unitas sent 5'10" 210lb "Human Bowling Ball" Don Nottingham diving over the middle where he was met head-on by MLB Nick Buoniconti and DT Don Heinz to fall 1y short of the line to gain.
Despite controlling the ball most of the first half, Baltimore trailed 7-0.

L-R: Jim O'Brien, Curtis Johnson, Dick Anderson, Jake Scott
Anderson Flips Field
Neither team went far in their first possessions of the second half. When the Colts got the ball a second time, Unitas decided to go deep for WR Eddie Hinton down the left side. But CB Curtis Johnson deflected the pass, which fell into the hands of SS Dick Anderson at the Miami 38. He headed down the right sideline and moved back and forth behind six blocks. "My eyes were popping as I ran," he said. "I've never seen so many people land on their heads."
He cut to the middle at the Baltimore 40, then glided to the left sideline. Unitas was in position to shove Anderson out of bounds, but Heinz flattened the old man at the seven, allowing Anderson to juke inside to complete the 62y touchdown return. Dolphins 14 Colts 0 (4:33)
The Colts used up the rest of the quarter moving from their 20 to the Miami 43 before the Dolphin defense struck again. FS Jake Scott intercepted Unitas the Dolphin 24.
Fins Remove All Doubt
They probably didn't need any more points, but the Dolphins got seven more when they drove 74y in only six plays. The march started with four straight runs for a total of 19y. On third-and-two Griese passed 50y to Warfield to the Colt 5. Csonka followed G Bob Kuech­enberg into the end zone from there. Dolphins 21 Colts 0 (13:04)
The shutout was the Colts' first time in 98 games, going back to when Don Shula played defensive back for Baltimore.
No one was more impressed by Anderson's interception return than Coach Shula. "The interception by Dick and the runback and the way our defensive players became offensive players and the way Dick maneuvered across the field to set up those blocks ... it's hard to practice something like that. The way he weaved his way into the end zone, it was all done by instinct. It had to be one of the greatest plays I was ever associated with."
Baltimore DE Bubba Smith was distraught. "I can't believe it. I don't understand what happened. I still don't believe we lost that game. We're too good a team to lose that way. I think this is a better team than last year when we won. It's the best Baltimore team in the five years I've been on the squad. How we lost is a mystery to me. We seldom make mistakes. We capitalize on other teams' mistakes. This time we made the mistakes. I'm mad as hell. I'm not a good loser."
References: "Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!": The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History, Jonathan Rand (2007)
Don Shula: A Biography of the Winningest Coach in NFL History, Carlo DeVito (2018)