AP Photo/Appeared in Ocala Star-Banner
From 1971 to 1974, the Miami Dolphins won the AFC East each season.
Early on in the 1975 season however, it looked like the Buffalo Bills would be the team challenging the Dolphins for that title. On this day 45 years ago, the Bills were in control for most of the way, but a late touchdown run by Don Nottingham capped the comeback in a 35-30 Miami victory.
Setting the Stage
It was a battle for first place in the AFC East as the Dolphins and Bills met at Rich Stadium on Oct. 26, 1975. Both teams came in with a record of 4-1.
Miami had won 10 straight games over the Bills. For most of the afternoon, it appeared as though things were about to change.
The Final Quarter
Buffalo had twice led by 13 points, but the Dolphins had closed to within two after three. The Bills created more breathing room early in the fourth quarter when Joe Ferguson found Bob Chandler in the end zone for a second time.
The Dolphins trailed 30-21, but there was still plenty of time remaining. Miami methodically answered with a balanced drive that culminated in Bob Griese’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Jim Mandich.
Down 30-28, the Dolphins needed a stop. They got one in the form of an untimely mistake.
Jake Scott stepped in front of a Ferguson pass for his second interception of the day as Miami started inside the Buffalo 25-yard-line with just over three minutes remaining. The Dolphins took advantage as Don Nottingham capped the 22-yard drive with his third 1-yard touchdown run of the day with 1:25 remaining.
Now down 35-30, Buffalo marched into Miami territory on its final drive, but Vern Den Herder sealed the victory for Miami. Den Herder stripped Ferguson on the sack and caught the football in midair to seal the win.
The Bills led 13-0 after a quarter behind a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown from Steve Freeman and a 26-yard touchdown run from O.J. Simpson. After Nottingham and Chandler exchanged touchdowns, the Dolphins pulled to within six on Griese’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Nat Moore.
John Leypoldt connected on a 45-yard field goal to give the Bills a 23-14 halftime lead. Nottingham’s second touchdown cut the lead to 23-21 after three quarters.
Nottingham finished with 61 yards rushing on 15 carries. Miami’s Mercury Morris led all rushers with 124 yards. Simpson rushed for 88 yards for the Bills. Ferguson finished with 221 yards passing in the loss. Chandler led all receivers with eight catches for 96 yards.
With the win, the Miami Dolphins moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The Dolphins would complete the sweep of the Bills with a 31-21 win in Miami later in the season.
Buffalo would enjoy a third straight winning season at 8-6, but the losses to Miami would prove costly. The Bills would lose 20 straight games to the Dolphins before finally breaking through in the 1980 opener.
Miami finished 10-4, but did not win the division for the first time since 1970. The Baltimore Colts won their final nine games, which included two wins over the Dolphins to take the division crown.
During the 1975 season, Miami would rally from behind in the fourth quarter to win three times. That included the memorable comeback in Buffalo that took place on this day 45 years ago.