The First Quarter

First Play of Game - 2-Guard Shift The Jets took the opening kickoff and returned the ball to their 23 yard-line. On the first play from scrimmage, the Jets offensive line overshifted, putting both guards to the right side of center. Supposedly this was designed "to give the Colts something to think about," but films of the game show that the Colts adjusted immediately and shifted their defensive line, and Matt Snell's left-side run back to the weak-side was stopped after a modest gain of 3 yards. Another left-side Snell run gained 9 yards and a first down, but Emerson Boozer's sweep right resulted in a 4-yard loss. Two more plays and the Jets were forced to punt.

The Colts took over on their own 27. An innocent-looking flat pass to John Mackey gained 19 yards. A sweep right by Tom Matte gained 10 yards. A sweep left by Jerry Hill gained 7 more. A left-side run by Matte gained just a yard, and on third down Hill bulled right-side for a big 5 yards and a first down at the Jets 31 yard-line.

The Colts were playing just as the pundits had predicted. The Jet defense looked like nothing more than a bunch of tackle-dummies, straw-men to be effortlessly brushed aside by the superior team from the superior league. But then, somehow, it began to unravel.
John Mackey Gains 19 Yards
After four straight running plays, a nice first-down pass might have been in order. Instead, the Colts ran again and lost 3 yards. A Morrall pass to Jimmy Orr was underthrown, but a 15-yarder clicked to substitute tight end Tom Mitchell for another Colt first down at the Jet 19 yard-line. Mitchell sprang up after the tackle, running toward the end zone -- and it looked like he had in fact landed on his tackler, not the ground -- but an official's whistle denied a TD for the Colts.

Suddenly it was pass-crazy time. Two Morrall tosses barely missed open receivers at the Jet 5, while a third resulted in a QB scramble for no gain. Lou Michaels attempted an easy 27-yard field goal. But, tragically, he missed.

The Colts had driven easily but achieved nothing for it. If either of the first two passes -- easy completions -- from the Jet 19 yard-line had been caught, the Colts would have had a first and goal at the Jets' 5 yard-line (with the inevitable touchdown to follow). Instead, the Colts faced third and long, and a good Jets pass rush forced them to settle for three points. Of course, they didn’t even get those.

The score could have easily been 7-0, Baltimore, and it definitely should have been 3-0. But instead it was 0-0, giving the underdog Jets a huge lift while the Colts sagged visibly. The first twinges of fear and panic must have been flitting through their minds. "What the hell? We didn’t even make the field goal!" Remember, this wasn't just some ordinary regular-season game, but Super Bowl III, the only game in town. And the Colts were supposed to win by at least 18 points.
The Jets took over on their 20 yard-line, and it was Namath's turn to go pass-happy. His first went right through the hands of fullback Snell, his second resulted in a 2-yard gain, and his third, downfield to running back Mathis, resulted in a gain of 13 and a first down.

Then came the long pass to speedy flanker Don Maynard which Namath barely overthrew. Many "experts," including Namath himself, continue to make much of the incompletion, supposedly because it terrified Baltimore into fearing Maynard's deep threat and leaving split end George Sauer uncovered all day. The assertion is absurd. The Colts often faced wide receivers of Maynard's caliber (or better) during the year (e.g., Paul Warfield, Homer Jones), and their innovative zone defenses proved so effective against the bomb that they suffered only half a dozen pass-plays over 40 yards all season.

The Colt defense respected Maynard, especially after that long incompletion, but the idea that it sent them into a tizzy is nonsense. Sauer had a big day, true, with eight receptions for 133 yards, but it wasn't because the entire Colt defense was covering Maynard. It was because Maynard was completely shut down for the entire afternoon -- and who else could Namath throw to when he wasn't going to his running backs (seven completions) and tight end (two completions)? Cornerback Lenny Lyles, who had primary coverage responsibility on Sauer, had been weakened by a battle with tonsillitis before the game (and the Jets knew it), but nonetheless was very close to him on almost all of his completions.
After the overthrown, overblown Maynard incompletion, a 6-yard pass to Sauer and another incompletion forced another Jet punt, and weak special team play allowed Tim Brown to return it 21 yards to the Colt 42 yard-line. But two Morrall incompletions sandwiched around a 3-yard linebuck resulted in a 51-yard punt which was downed at the Jet 4 yard-line.

Snell ran right twice and gained 9 yards. On third down a little pass to Sauer gained three yards and a first down, but Sauer fumbled and the Colts recovered at the Jets' 12 yard-line. It was the first big break of the game.

Jerry Hill ran off left tackle and lost a yard. Then the whistle blew and the quarter ended. The score was 0-0, certainly a moral victory for the Jets, since the score should have been 3-0, and easily could have been 7-0. The Colts had clearly looked superior, and now they were threatening again. The Jets had gotten no farther than their own 43 yard-line, while the Colts and been down to the Jet 19 and now they stood at the 13 yard-line. All they needed to do to establish their obvious superiority, and begin the rout... was to score.

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