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.
1974: Steel Curtain Throttles Raiders
1974 AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Oakland Raiders
The Pittsburgh and Oakland faced each other in the playoffs in 1972 and 1973. The Steel­ers won 13-7 in '72, but the Raiders thumped them 33-14 in '73. Now they met again in 1974 AFC Championship game in Oakland.
The rivals met in Week 3 of the 1974 regular season in Pittsburgh where the Raiders won 17-0. Neither quarterback did well. Oakland's Ken Stabler completed 5 of 12 passes for just 70y while Joe Gilliam was a woeful 8 for 31 for 106y. (Gilliam started because Terry Brad­shaw and Terry Hanratty joined the NFL Players Association strike during training camp, and Gilliam did not.)
The shutout loss became a gut check for the Steelers. "The loss could have shattered our hopes and confidence," said DT Joe Greene. "Oakland had become our nemesis." Steeler LB Andy Russell added, "Losing the game to the Raiders in Three Rivers (Stadium) was rough. They were obviously a very good team, and they appeared to have figured out our offense. That was a crushing loss. We came out of that thinking, 'We've got to revamp this whole thing.'"
The main change was the installation of the "Cover 2" defense by defensive coordinator Bud Carson, who had developed the concept as a college coach. The changes worked because the Steelers won 10 of their next 12 games to reach the conference final.
Cover 2 is a zone defense where every secondary defender is responsible for an area of the field and not a specific man. The field is divided into five underneath zones and two deep zones. The two corners and three linebackers play the underneath fifths, and the two safeties play the deep halves. The cornerbacks usually set up on the line of scrimmage so they keep the wide receivers from running outside freely. The two safeties drop deeper than normal to patrol their designated halves of the field.
Carson's scheme required the inside linebacker to cover the void in the deep middle of the field. The Steelers drafted the perfect player for that position in 1974. 6'4" 220lb Jack Lam­bert had "off-the-charts height and speed." Russell said that, "Lambert was the first line­backer who could blanket tight ends man-to-man and run with them down the middle."
Carson was also adept at changing his defense from week to week, and even from play to play during a game, to match what the offense was doing. So he had "automatic" checks that the defensive captain could call just like the opposing quarterback.

Terry Bradshaw (12) rolls out.
Holmes Challenges Upshaw
Oakland won the toss and elected to receive. Greene recalled what happened right before the first play from scrimmage. "The ball is sitting right there, and (DT) Ernie Holmes steps over it. Ernie says, 'Eugene Upshaw!' Upshaw finally turns around because he was in the huddle. Ernie looks at him and says, 'I'm gonna kick your ass!' The rest of us cracked up when we heard this, but when they snapped the ball, it was on." When Upshaw lined up across from him, Holmes spit in his face.
The Raiders picked up 4 yards on the first down, which would be the longest run they would make all day. On third-and-10, the Steelers changed to "nickel" coverage, replacing Lambert with rookie S Donnie Shell. But Stabler completed a pass over the middle to WR Cliff Branch for a first down at the Pitt 28. It would be the only first down the Raiders picked up until late in the half.
On third-and-5, Stabler threw to Branch again, but S Glen Edwards knocked the ball down. So George Blanda kicked a 40y field goal. Raiders 3 Steelers 0
The next two Oakland possessions ended in punts after three plays. The Steelers had one sustained drive, but K Roy Gerela missed a 20y field goal.
Gerela kicked a 23y field goal in the second quarter to tie the score at 3-3.
Official Negates Steeler Touchdown
Midway through the second quarter, the Steelers drove to the Oakland eight. QB Terry Bradshaw threw to WR John Stallworth, who caught the ball with his left hand in the end zone with a Raider hanging on the other arm. However, the official claimed he didn't have both feet inbounds. Television replays, which couldn't be used to review calls until 1986, clearly showed that the official had blown the call.
Two plays later, DB Nemiah Wilson intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned to the 35 with a Pittsburgh personal foul penalty moving the ball to midfield.
The next offensive sequence showed how the game was going. Stabler hit WR Fred Bilet­nikoff for 28y, but the drive bogged down at the 21. So Blanda attempted a 38y field goal that was blocked by Lambert to keep the score 3-3 at halftime.
The changes Carson made after the previous Oakland game were working.

Jack Lambert (58) and Joe Greene (75) tackle Mark Van Eeghan.
Raiders Take Lead
The Raiders finally looked like the team that had won 13 of 15 games during the season when they drove 80y in eight plays on their second possession of the third quarter to retake the lead. Stabler threw a 38y touchdown pass to WR Cliff Branch, who escaped single coverage by CB Mel Blount and caught the ball while falling in the end zone. Raiders 10 Steelers 3
But the Steelers answered back with a nine-play, 61y drive that Coach Chuck Noll later called the key to victory. RB Franco Harris went the final 8y through a large hole on the right side. Raiders 10 Steelers 10

Steelers swarm Raider offense.
Steelers Retake Lead for Good
The rest of the game was virtually all Pittsburgh. Early in the fourth quarter, Stabler was blitzed and had to throw off-balance. His pass was intercepted by LB Jack Ham at the Oak­land 34 and returned to the nine. Three plays later, Bradshaw connected with WR Len Swann for a 6y touchdown. Steelers 17 Raiders 10
The Raiders put the next points on the board on a 24y Blanda field goal. Steelers 17 Raiders 13
In a situation reminiscent of the Oakland's last-second win over the Dolphins the previous week in the "Sea of Hands" game, the Raiders took over at their 20 with 1:48 remaining. "I thought we were going to win," said Coach Madden.
Branch set a playoff record with nine catches for 186y when he caught a Stabler aerial for 18y. But on the next play, L. C. Greenwood sacked Stabler. But the Steelers were flagged for holding, and the Raiders got an automatic first down at their 32.
But hope of another comeback ended on the next play. With the Steelers rotating their zone to the left side, Stabler tried to connect with RB Charlie Smith down the right sideline. But Ken was heavily rushed and threw while retreating. The ball went 5y short of where he wanted and landed in the hands of CB J. T. Thomas at the Pitt 35. He returned it to the Oakland 24.
Two plays later, Harris burst 21y up the middle for the clinching touchdown.
The Raiders finished the game with a rushing. They threw 36 passes compared to only 17 runs. Oakland had more passing yards 271-95, but Pittsburgh wore out the Raiders' de­fense by gaining 210y compared to the opponent's measly 29y.
Football 101: Cover 2, Bob Davie, ESPN.com
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