|Dates||December 25, 1971-January 16, 1972|
|Super Bowl VI site|
|Defending champions||Baltimore Colts|
The National Football League playoffs for the 1971 season began on December 25, 1971. The postseason tournament concluded with the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24-3, on January 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Like the previous NFL seasons, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road. It was the first time that the NFL scheduled games on Christmas Day, a decision that drew considerable criticism.
Within each conference, the three division winners and one wild card team (the top non-division winner with the best overall records of all remaining teams in the conference) qualified for the playoffs. The NFL did not use a seeding system until the 1975 season, and instead home teams during the first two rounds of the playoffs alternated by division. Thus it was possible for a team to host another club with a better regular season record. For the Super Bowl, the third and final round played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|East winner||Miami Dolphins||Dallas Cowboys|
|Central winner||Cleveland Browns||Minnesota Vikings|
|West winner||Kansas City Chiefs||San Francisco 49ers|
|Wild card||Baltimore Colts||Washington Redskins|
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl VI|
|December 26 - Candlestick Park|
|January 2 - Texas Stadium|
|San Francisco 49ers||24|
|San Francisco 49ers||3|
|December 25 - Metropolitan Stadium|
|January 16 - Tulane Stadium|
|December 26 - Cleveland Stadium|
|January 2 - Miami Orange Bowl|
|December 25 - Municipal Stadium|
|Miami Dolphins (2OT)||27|
|Kansas City Chiefs||24|
In the longest NFL game played to date at 82 minutes, 40 seconds (and the Chiefs' last-ever game at Municipal Stadium), Miami kicker Garo Yepremian kicked the winning 37-yard field goal after 7:40 of the second overtime period.
The Chiefs opened up the scoring with Jan Stenerud's 24-yard field goal. Then Chiefs defensive back Willie Lanier intercepted a pass from Bob Griese and returned it 17 yards to set up Len Dawson's 7-yard touchdown pass to Ed Podolak, increasing the lead to 10-0. However, Griese rallied the Dolphins back on their next drive, completing a 23-yard pass to Paul Warfield and a 16-yarder to tight end Marv Fleming on the way to Larry Csonka's 1-yard touchdown run. Shortly before halftime, the Dolphins defense recovered a fumble from Podolak deep in Chiefs territory, enabling Garo Yepremian to kick a 14-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10.
Kansas City retook the lead in the third quarter, on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 10 minutes off the clock and ended with Jim Otis' 1-yard score. Miami responded quickly though, storming right back to tie the game with a 1-yard touchdown run from Jim Kiick.
In the fourth quarter, Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti recovered a fumble to give his team a big scoring opportunity. But Kansas City took the ball right back when safety Jim Lynch intercepted Griese's pass on the Chiefs 9-yard line. Kansas City then stormed 91 yards, including a 63-yard completion from Dawson to rookie receiver Elmo Wright, to retake the lead, 24-17, with Podolak's 3-yard touchdown run. Miami struck right back as Griese completed passes to Warfield for gains of 17 and 26 yards before finishing the 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Fleming, tying the game at 24 with 1:25 left in regulation. Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins 22-yard line before being shoved out of bounds by Miami's Curtis Johnson, giving Stenerud a chance to win the game for the Chiefs in the final minute of regulation. But he missed the field goal attempt from 32 yards wide right. The Chiefs' Dennis Homan made a fair catch of a Larry Seiple punt as time expired in regulation, giving the Chiefs the option to attempt a fair catch kick from 68 yards, which, if good, would have resulted in a game-winning field goal. Fearing a return by Miami speedster Mercury Morris if Stenerud's kick fell short, Kansas City declined, and the game went to overtime.
Kansas City took the opening kickoff of the first overtime period, and Podolak returned it to the 46-yard line. Kansas City then drove into scoring range, but Stenerud's 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Yepremian also attempted a 52-yard field goal later in the period, but it was short. As the first overtime period came to an end, Dolphins safety Jake Scott intercepted a pass from Dawson on the Chiefs 46. But the team was unable to move the ball and had to punt. Following a Kansas City punt, Csonka's 29-yard run set up Yepremian's game-winning score.
Podolak's 350 all-purpose yards (8 receptions for 110 yards, 17 carries for 85 yards, 3 kickoff returns for 154 yards, two punt returns for two yards) in this game remain an NFL playoff record, and is still the fourth highest total in NFL history. "I don't think any one player in a big game, a monumental game like that, had a day like Eddie Podolak had," said Chiefs coach Hank Stram after the game. Chiefs running back Wendell Hayes added 100 rushing yards, while Wright caught 3 passes for 104 yards. Dolphins receiver Paul Warfield finished with 7 receptions for a career postseason high 140 yards, while Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti racked up 20 tackles.
Although the Vikings outgained the Cowboys in total yards 311-183, Dallas forced 5 turnovers and converted some of them into 13 points en route to a 20-12 win.
Early in the first quarter, Cowboys defensive lineman Larry Cole forced a fumble from Dave Osborn that was recovered by fellow lineman Jethro Pugh on the Vikings 36-yard line. Dallas then drove to the Minnesota 19, mainly on the strength of an 18-yard completion from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes, before defensive tackle Alan Page's 3rd down sack forced them to settle for Mike Clark's 26-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead. The Vikings responded with a 27-yard field goal by Fred Cox that tied the score.
In the second quarter, the Vikings got a big chance to take the lead when quarterback Bob Lee completed a 49-yard pass to Bob Grim on the Dallas 29-yard line. But linebacker Chuck Howley ended the drive with an interception, returning the ball 26 yards to the Vikings 37, and the Cowboys drove to a 44-yard Clark field goal that put them up 6-3. Minnesota had another chance to score as Clint Jones returned the kickoff 61 yards, but all this would result in was 3 incomplete passes and a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Cox.
Early in the second half, Cliff Harris intercepted a pass from Lee and returned it 30 yards to the Vikings 13-yard line, setting up Duane Thomas' 13-yard touchdown run to give Dallas a 13-3 lead. Minnesota had a big chance to get back in the game when Charlie West returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, but this merely resulted in another missed field goal try by Cox, this one a 46-yard attempt. Late the third quarter, Dallas safety Charlie Waters returned a punt 24 yards to the Cowboys 48, sparking their only sustained drive of the second half. Moving the ball 52 yards, including a 30-yard completion from Staubach to Lance Alworth on 3rd and 15, Dallas went up 20-3 on Staubach's 9-yard touchdown pass to Hayes.
Still, Minnesota was not quite out of the game. Early in the 4th quarter, Paige sacked Staubach in the end zone for a safety. Then Vikings coach Bud Grant replaced Lee with Gary Cuozzo, who led the team to the Dallas 19 after the free kick. But Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan made a clutch interception that essentially put the game way. Cuozzo did manage to lead the team to a touchdown on a 6-yard pass to tight end Stu Voigt, making the score 20-12, but by then barely more than 2 minutes remained on the clock.
Don Nottingham scored two touchdowns for the Colts, while their defense limited the Browns to only 165 yards, 11 first downs, and 3 points.
However, the Browns had plenty of scoring chances early in the game. On their first series, quarterback Bill Nelsen completed a 39-yard pass to Fair Hooker, but defensive back Rex Kern forced and recovered a fumble from him on the Colts 12-yard line. Baltimore had to punt on their ensuing drive, and Leroy Kelly's 48-yard return gave the Browns a first down on the Colts 4. All the Browns got from this field position though, was a 16-yard field goal attempt from Don Cockroft that was blocked by defensive tackle Bubba Smith (who would also block another field goal later on.)
After the blocked field goal, the Colts drove 93 yards in 17 plays, including a 7-yard run by Nottingham on 4th and inches, to score on Nottingham's 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the second quarter, Baltimore safety Rick Volk intercepted a pass from Nelsen and returned it 37 yards to the Browns 15-yard line, setting up Nottingham's second touchdown run on a 7-yard burst.
After three consecutive drives in the third quarter ended in turnovers, Cleveland finally got on the board with a 14-yard field goal by Cockroft. But Baltimore stormed right back on 74-yard drive to go up 17-3 on a field goal by Jim O'Brien. O'Brien added a 14-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to finish off the scoring.
Nottingham was the sole offensive star for either team with 92 rushing yards, 5 receiving yards, and two scores.
The 49ers defense made key plays to lead San Francisco to a 24-20 victory over the Redskins after trailing 10-3 at the end of the half.
Washington scored first after Jon Jaqua blocked a punt from Steve Spurrier, enabling his team to take over on the 49ers 28. This set up quarterback Billy Kilmer's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jerry Smith. San Francisco responded with a 23-yard field goal from Bruce Gossett, but Speedy Duncan returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to set up a field goal for the Redskins, a 40-yard kick by Curt Knight. With the score at 10-3 and time running out in the half, Washington defensive back Ted Vactor returned a punt 48 yards to the 49ers 11-yard line. But with 32 seconds left, receiver Roy Jefferson was dropped for a 13-yard loss by defensive end Cedrick Hardman on an end around play, and Knight's ensuing field goal attempt was blocked by linebacker Frank Nunley
Duncan returned the second half kickoff 66 yards to the San Francisco 34, but the 49ers made a key defensive stand, stopping Washington on the 12 when Nunley tackled Larry Brown for a 2-yard loss on 4th and inches. Three plays later, facing 3rd down and 1, quarterback John Brodie threw a deep pass that went just over the outstretched arms of defensive back Pat Fischer and into the arms of receiver Gene Washington, who caught the ball in stride at the 40 and took off for a 78-yard touchdown reception. Then on the next series, Roosevelt Taylor's interception set up Bob Windsor's 2-yard touchdown reception to give San Francisco a 17-10 lead.
Duncan returned the next kickoff 67 yards to set up a 35-yard Knight field goal, making the score 17-13. But with 3:20 left in the game, San Francisco put the game away when defensive tackle Bob Hoskins recovered a bad snap on a Washington punt attempt in the end zone for a touchdown. After this, the Redskins managed to cut the final score to 24-20 on Kilmer's 16-yard pass to Brown in the game's closing seconds.
Brown rushed for 84 yards, while also catching 6 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Kilmer completed 11 of 26 passes for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Duncan set a franchise playoff record with 170 yards on 3 kickoff returns. Brodie finished with 10/19 completions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Although Miami quarterback Bob Griese completed only 4 passes, the Dolphins defense shut out the Colts. Defensive back Dick Anderson intercepted Johnny Unitas three times, returning one of them 62 yards for a touchdown.
Paul Warfield recorded a 75-yard touchdown reception midway through the first quarter on the Dolphins second drive. Meanwhile, the Colts managed to move the ball close enough for Jim O'Brien to twice attempt field goals, but he missed both times. In the second quarter, the Colts drove from their own 18 to the Dolphins 9-yard line, featuring a 28-yard reception by Don Nottingham, but on 4th down and 1, Nottingham was stuffed by a gang of Dolphins defenders just inches short of the first down marker.
In the third quarter, Unitas threw a pass that was deflected by cornerback Curtis Johnson into the hands of Anderson, who took off for a 62-yard scoring return. Then in the fourth quarter, Griese's 50-yard pass to Warfield set up Larry Csonka's 5-yard touchdown run.
In the first playoff game at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys defense dominated the 49ers offense by allowing only 61 rushing yards and 9 first downs, and forcing 3 interceptions.
In the second quarter, Dallas defensive end George Andrie intercepted a screen pass from John Brodie and returned it 7 yards to the 49ers 2-yard line to set up Calvin Hill's 1-yard touchdown run. This would be the only score of the game until 6:52 remained in the third quarter, when Brodie's 24-yard completion to tight end Ted Kwalick set up Bruce Gossett's 28-yard field goal.
Following a missed 47-yard field goal by Gossett on San Francisco's next drive, Dallas QB Roger Staubach finished the quarter with a 17-yard completion to halfback Dan Reeves. Then he started off the fourth with a 23-yard pass to tight end Billy Truax. Duane Thomas eventually finished the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, making the score 14-3.
With 9 minutes left in regulation, the Dallas defense took over the rest of the game, forcing turnovers on San Francisco's last three drives. First, linebacker Chuck Howley broke up a 4th down pass. Then on San Francisco's next possession, Brodie was intercepted by linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. Finally, after Mike Clark's 24-yard field goal attempt was blocked by 49ers linebacker Frank Nunley, safety Cliff Harris picked off a pass from Brodie that enabled Dallas to run out the clock.