|Wednesday, September 6, 2000|
MNF Classic: Colts vs. Patriots, 9/18/78
By James Weiner
ABC Sports Online
After winning three straight AFC East titles, the Colts limped into Schaefer Stadium a mere shadow of their former selves.
Ninety percent of their offensive production was gone from the previous year. Quarterback Bert Jones was injured, tight end Raymond Chester was in Oakland and running back Lydell Mitchell had been traded to San Diego just before the start of the season.
The depleted Colts had lost their first two games of 1978 by a combined score of 80-0, including a 38-0 Monday night disaster against Dallas in Week 1.
To make matters worse, both starting cornerbacks (Nelson Munsey and Norm Thompson), their best linebacker (Stan White), and their solid defensive tackle (Joe Ehrmann) were all out of action.
Against the rising Patriots, the undermanned Colts were listed as 18-point underdogs.
But halfback Joe Washington, who the Colts received from the Chargers in exchange for Mitchell, was playing in his first complete game with his new team. And what a debut it was.
Heading into the final quarter, the Colts trailed the Patriots 13-7 in what had been a very sloppy game. Suddenly, the heavy rains came and so did the fireworks, with Washington leading the way.
In a span of just over six minutes, the Colts exploded for three touchdowns. First, Washington fired a 54-yard touchdown pass to Roger Carr on a halfback option. Then Washington caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bill Troup. Troup then completed a 67-yard scoring strike to Carr. The Colts led 27-13 with just over eight minutes left to play.
The Patriots charged back behind quarterback Steve Grogan. Grogan led an 11-play, 60-yard drive, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run to pull the Patriots within 27-20 with 3:17 left.
The Patriots then wanted to try an onsides kick. Placekicker John Smith, who had injured his kicking leg, was forced to attempt the kick with his opposite leg. The Patriots' Don Westbrook recovered at the Patriots 44. Following a 31-yard run by Grogan, Sam Bam Cunningham scored from one yard out to tie the game at 27 with 1:33 left.
Punter Jerrel Wilson replaced Smith for the ensuing kickoff.
"We wanted something on the ground," Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks said after the game. "We wanted the ball to skid or bounce. The players were wet. The ball was wet. Everything was wet."
Washington retrieved the kick on one hop at his own 10, spun away from two tacklers, made two quick shifts, then glided down the rain-soaked field untouched for the final 50 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
"I took the kickoff on a good bounce," said Washington. "The wedge was right there. I could see a crease and when I broke outside, I knew it was a touchdown."
The Patriots mounted a final rally. With less than a minute to play, Grogan launched a 58-yard bomb to Stanley Morgan down to the Baltimore 10-yard line. Two plays later, Grogan overthrew his receiver and was intercepted in the end zone by safety Lyle Blackwood to preserve the Colts? stunning victory.
Washington's final statistics: 16 carries for 53 yards, two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown, one pass completion for 54 yards and a touchdown, and two kickoff returns for 112 yards and a touchdown.
"I've never seen a game like it," said Colts coach Ted Marchibroda. "I wish I could have heard Monday Night Football. I wish I could have heard what they were saying about us."
Two weeks earlier during the Colts embarrassing loss to the Cowboys, Colts owner Robert Irsay complained that Howard Cosell's comments of the team were overly critical. This time, Cosell did indeed sing a different tune.
"It was one of the most dreadful games during the first half we've ever had on Monday Night Football and one of the best ever in the second half," Cosell said before signing off.
The victory proved to be one of the few Colts? highlights during a dismal 5-11 campaign. As for the Patriots, the cruel loss proved to be just one in a series of bizarre twists.
The Patriots headed into the final game of the regular season with an 11-4 record when owner Billy Sullivan hastily fired head coach Chuck Fairbanks, who had accepted a position to coach at the University of Colorado. With Ron Erhardt and Hank Bullough acting as co-head coaches, the Patriots were routed by the Dolphins 23-3. Fairbanks was brought back to coach the playoff game against the Oilers. The Patriots lost that game too, 31-14.
Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda was ashamed at both teams' performances.