50-years ago Miami Dolphins rally to top Browns in AFC Divisional playoff

As most are aware, the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the lone team in NFL history to complete a perfect season. Throughout the course of the year, however, Miami was tested.

That was especially true in the postseason. On this day 50 years ago, the Dolphins were forced to rally, but did just that in a 20-14 win over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional playoff.

Fresh off their first Super Bowl appearance the year prior, the Dolphins had just completed a 14-0 regular season as they arrived at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 24, 1972. The Browns had gone 10-4 during the regular season and closed by winning eight of their final contests.

Things went well for the home team early on, but by the early parts of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins were on the short end of a 14-13 score. After Garo Yepremian’s field goal gave Miami a 13-7 lead early in the period, Cleveland marched 90 yards to take its first lead. Mike Phipps’ 27-yard touchdown pass to Fair Hooker ultimately capped the drive.

As they had all season, however, the Dolphins had an answer. Three runs by Mercury Morris totaling 12 yards and two passes from Earl Morrall to Paul Warfield accumulating 50 yards put Miami in the red zone. Following a pass interference call against Cleveland, Miami’s Jim Kiick made one cut before bulling his way into the end zone for the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.

Cleveland would get two more possessions, but Miami’s vaunted “No Name Defense” turned it away both times. Doug Swift’s interception in the final minute — the fifth for the Dolphins’ defense on the day — ultimately sealed the victory. Swift and Dick Anderson each finished with two picks in the victory.

Prior to Kiick’s game-winner, a blocked punt return by Charlie Baab had resulted in Miami’s lone touchdown. Cleveland’s first touchdown came in the third quarter on a 5-yard keeper by Phipps.

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The victory over Cleveland would serve as just the third playoff win for the Dolphins in franchise history. Miami would go on to rally past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship before beating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete the perfect season. Its first postseason win that year required a fourth-quarter comeback and came on this day a half-century ago.