Joe Namath was still formidable, and no one was more aware of that that Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula. Leading up to their Week 4 trip to New York’s Shea Stadium to take on Namath’s Jets, Shula said, “All we need to watch is what Namath did against Baltimore. Those films ought to perk us up in a hurry.”

Shula was referring to a Week 2 game where the Jets defeated the Colts 44-34. Namath had thrown for a career-high 496 (!) yards, completing 15 of 28 passes for six touchdowns. Even John Riggins had gotten into the act. Better known for his later short-yardage acumen and game-winning touchdown run against the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII for the Washington Redskins, Riggins was in his second year as a pro. He streaked down the sideline and caught a 67-yard touchdown from Namath in that Colts game.

Diminutive wide receiver Eddie Bell had caught a deflected pass and dashed 65 yards for the opening touchdown against the Colts, and Rich Caster iced the game with 79-yard and 80-yard touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter.

This type of arial assault is rare, and in 1972 it wasn’t even dreamt of. Although Namath’s total currently stands only 27th on the list of most yards passing in an NFL game, only two of those ahead of him had preceded Namath. Y.A. Title had thrown for 505 yards vs. the Redskins in 1962, and the Dutchman, Norm Van Brocklin, had dropped 554 yards on the New York Yankees (yes, they were a real NFL team) in 1951-still the all-time single game record.

Although the Jets had suffered a puzzling loss to Houston the week after the Dolphins had dominated the hapless Oilers (the Jets game would be their only win of the season), New York still had Miami’s full attention, as did the fact that Namath had an 8-1 record against them, losing only in 1970. That record was skewed, however, because Broadway Joe had missed the last three matchups between the teams due to injury. On This Week in Pro Football, co-host Tom Brookshier referred to him as “the man with the eggshell knees.” Those gimpy knees would not keep Namath on the sidelines for this one.

This contest would also match the top two rushing leaders in the AFC. Riggins led with 279 yards in 59 carries while Larry Csonka was second with 263 yards in 48 carries, an outstanding 5.5-yard average.

The third largest crowd to watch the Jets at Shea Stadium at the time, 63,841, showed up on a beautiful October afternoon in hopes of their team moving into a tie for first place in the AFC East.

It would be Bob Griese, however, not Joe Namath, who would make the difference in the Dolphins 27-17 victory.

The game started out poorly for Miami. New York took the opening kickoff and marched down the field. Running back Cliff McLain got the call from just beyond the Dolphins goal line but fumbled the ball into the end zone. Guard Randy Rasmussen fell on it to put the Jets ahead 7-0.

Miami responded by moving the ball quickly into New York territory, but the drive stalled at the Jets 36. Garo Yepremian missed a 43-yard field goal attempt but got a second chance when New York was called for offside. He then proceeded to miss from 38 yards out.

Folling a New York punt, a clipping penalty put the Dolphins in a hole, so Griese started throwing. He hit Howard Twilley, playing for the injured Marlin Briscoe, for 16 yards and Paul Warfield for 24 yards. On 3rd and 14 from the Jets 16-yard line, Griese found Twilley just beyond the reach of defensive back (and Miami native) Steve Tannen for the equalizing touchdown. Earlier in the week, Tannen had called Twilley one of the three toughest receivers he had to cover and was being reminded why.

Riggins and McClain were having some success on the ground when the Jets got the ball back, but Namath got impatient and tried to force a ball to rookie receiver Jerome Barkum in double coverage. Safety Jake Scott picked it off at the Dolphins 15 and returned it out to the 35-yard line.

Miami started their next drive with an end-around to Warfield. He was popped by Tannen and the ball flew straight up in the air. Warfield was able to fall on it and wound up with a 13-yard gain-the kind of play that might make a team think it was going to be their day.

From there, Miami moved into field goal range only to see Yepremian miss again, this time from 43-yards out. Garo stood 5 for 10 in field goal attempts at that point, and in today’s game his job would have been in major jeopardy.

The Dolphins defense had steadied itself after the opening drive and held New York to a three-and-out, and the offense marched down the field again. Griese converted a big 3rd and 7 at the Jets 24, hitting wide receiver Otto Stowe along the right sideline for an 18-yard gain out of a three wide receiver formation. Jim Kiick, who got the start and most of the playing time in front of friends and family from New Jersey, scored on the next play to put Miami ahead to stay.

The halftime stats were unusual, showing that the Dolphins had attempted more passes, 18, than running plays, 17. Griese would say after the game, “Running was tough for awhile early. I felt like we had to throw, hoping their linebackers would loosen up. The protection for me was super, by Larry Little in particular.”

Miami took the second-half kickoff and moved into field goal range again, keyed by a 10-yard pass from Griese to Twilley on 3rd and 9. Yepremian made the 27-yard attempt upping the Dolphins lead to 17-7.

After an exchange of punts, New York looked like they might regain momentum. Namath, under a heavy pass rush, found Jerome Barkum behind Anderson and Tim Foley and connected on a 52-yard bomb to take the ball down to Miami’s one yard line. Miami’s defense stiffened, stuffing two running plays. After an illegal procedure penalty pushed the Jets back to the six-yard line, Rich Caster dropped a wobbly pass from Namath in the end zone, forcing New York to settle for a field goal and taking the wind out of their sails.

The Dolphins took full command of the game on the next possession. Mercury Morris returned the kickoff out to the Miami 40, and Miami once again marched down the field. A pass interference call against Tannen put the ball at the Jets 4, where Kiick scored his second touchdown of the game to push the Dolphins lead to 24-10.

Miami was not out of the woods yet. Their defense forced New York to punt, but Charlie Leigh was stripped on the return and the Jets recovered and took after at the Dolphins 20-yard line. Emerson Boozer took it in from one yard out to draw New York within one score at 24-17 with 10:17 left in the game.

Miami wrapped the game up with a 4:36 drive that resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Yepremian. Although there was still 5:38 remaining in the game, New York would not again threaten to score, sabotaged by dropped passes. The Dolphins were able to run out the clock on their 27-17 victory.

Offensively, the Dolphins enjoyed their most productive game of the season so far, gaining 394 yards. The ground game, led by Csonka’s 102 yards, took over in the second half and dominated New York’s weary defense. Shula made occasional use of the three-wide receiver look, commonplace in today’s game but unusual beyond long-yardage situations in 1972. Twilley said afterwards, “Hey! You think their secondary was confused when we hit them with three wide-outs? How about me? I even lined up on the wrong side the first time we used it. I was just confused in general.” Four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown isn’t bad for an allegedly confused receiver.

Defensively, Miami continued to be successful with the 53 defense, which was still a mystery to opponents. Late in the game, with the Jets in obvious passing situations, Mr. 53 himself, Bob Mathewson, recorded the only sack of the game on Namath.

Speaking of Joe Willie, he totaled less than a third of the passing yards that he amassed against the Colts two weeks earlier. The Dolphins held Namath to 152 yards on 12 completions in 25 attempts. Griese totaled 220. Namath tipped his cap to Miami’s secondary afterwards, “Their coverage in the secondary was hard to beat.”

That’s a pretty good description of the entire Miami team in 1972.

Coming Next Week: Part 12-A Horrible Break.

Miami posts an easy win over the Chargers but loses one of their leaders, suddenly casting a dark shadow over the season.

You can follow me on Twitter @jimjfootball.