The NFL world found itself somewhat bemused on November 14, 2011. Fans, players, coaches, league officials and media pundits were all scratching their heads trying to figure out how a team which had completed just two passes in an entire game had managed to win said game.
The setting: the 3-5-0 Denver Broncos had traveled to Kansas City to take on the 4-4-0 Chiefs. By the time the dust had settled, Broncos QB Tim Tebow had completed just 2 out of 8 pass attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Why bring up a game from an 8-8-0 season and a story about a quarterback who no longer plays for the Broncos? Blame it on Pro-Football-Reference.com. They recently tweeted an interesting stat. Teams who have completed 7 or fewer passes have won 361 games in the NFL. I decided to follow up on their tweet -- they gave the following details in the linked article about a filtered search of their database: the search looked for games with the following criteria:
1) Played from 1970 to 2012
2) Winning team completed 7, or fewer, passes.
As mentioned above, the search returns a list of 361 games. The Broncos won 9 of those games. By way of comparison, San Diego won five such games, Kansas City ten and Oakland eleven.
October 17, 1971: San Diego at Denver, 20-16
The 0-3-1 Broncos were hosting the 1-3-0 Chargers. The Broncos got on the board first with a 1-yard touchdown run by Bobby Anderson. San Diego countered with a field goal. In the second quarter, Jim Turner added a 49-yard field goal which was answered by a second Chargers' field goal. Floyd Little extended the lead to 17-6 with a 2-yard touchdown run. Then Jim Turner added his second field goal of the game to give the Broncos a 20-6 lead. San Diego was able to rally for a touchdown in the third and field goal in the fourth but ultimately fell short 20-16.
In that game, Denver QB completed 7 out of 17 pass attempts for 71 yards. He threw 1 interception. RB Bobby Anderson threw an incomplete pass on a HB option pass. Neither passer was sacked. A stout defense that forced 3 fumbles and 1 interception along with a rushing attack that netted 225 yards allowed Denver to win with just 7 completions.
December 10, 1972: San Diego at Denver, 38-13
A year after their first seven-completion victory, the Broncos got a second. The victim was once again San Diego and it once again took place in Denver. The 3-9-0 Broncos were facing off against a 4-7-1 Chargers team. Denver scored first with a 2-yard touchdown run by Floyd Little in the first quarter. Once again, San Diego countered with a field goal in the second quarter. The Broncos added fourteen more points in the second -- a 4-yard run by Joe Dawkins and a 65-yard punt return by Charlie Greer. San Diego added a second field goal in the third, but Denver responded with 17 points of their own -- a 12-yard field goal by Jim Turner, and two Charley Johnson to Haven Moses touchdown passes. The Chargers managed a consolation touchdown in the fourth quarter.
In that game, Charley Johnson completed 6 out 10 pass attempts for 85 yards. He threw 2 touchdown passes and 1 interception. He was not sacked. QB Steve Ramsey attempted 2 passes but failed to complete either. Ramsey also threw 1 interception. A stout defense that sacked San Diego QB John Hadl six times and forced five turnovers (2 interceptions, 3 fumbles) plus a rushing attack that gained 172 yards, enabled Denver to secure the victory with just 6 completions.
October 6, 1974: Denver at Kansas City, 17-14
Denver's third victory with seven or fewer completions came against another division rival -- this time, the Kansas City Chiefs. An 0-2-1 Broncos team had traveled to Kansas City to take on the 2-1-0 Chiefs. Denver got on the board first when Jim Turner connected on a 41-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. The rest of the first half belong to the Chiefs and they took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at the half. Denver RB Jon Keyworth scored two touchdowns in the second half -- a 2-yard rush in the third quarter and a 3-yard rush in the fourth -- to give the Broncos the victory.
In that game, Charley Johnson completed just 1 out of 7 passes for 34 yards and was intercepted twice. Steve Ramsey came on in relief and completed 5 out of 9 passes for 63 yards. The Broncos defense held the Chiefs to the same number of passing yards (97) as Denver. Both teams sacked the opposing quarterback twice and both defenses forced two turnovers. The difference maker in the game was Denver's rushing attack by committee that piled up 131 yards and 2 touchdowns (Floyd Little 47 yards, Otis Armstrong 48 yards, Jon Keyworth 38 yards and 2 touchdowns).
November 6, 1977: Pittsburgh at Denver 21-7
Most people, when recalling 1977 in the life of the Broncos, will remember it as the season of the Orange Crush Defense and the Broncos' first Super Bowl appearance. What may not be remembered was when the 6-1-0 Broncos defeated the visiting 4-3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers (who had played in the AFC Championship game the previous season), despite completing just 6 passes in the game. Denver took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Rob Lytle. Rick Upchurch returned a punt 87 yards to give the Broncos a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Following a Pittsburgh fumble in the second quarter, Craig Morton and Haven Moses connected on a 20-yard touchdown pass for a 21-0 halftime lead. The Steelers managed a fourth quarter touchdown.
In that game, Craig Morton completed 5 of 12 pass attempts for 101 yards and a touchdown. QB Craig Penrose completed 1 of 2 passes for 12 yards. The defenses ruled the day in this game which saw 17 punts (9 by Pittsburgh, 8 by Denver), four fumbles (two by each team, though Denver recovered all four) and 11 sacks (5 by Pittsburgh and 6 by Denver).
September 3, 1978: Oakland at Denver, 14-6
Denver's fifth low-pass completion victory came when the Oakland Raiders came to town. This was the season opening game for both teams. Denver opened the scoring in the second quarter when Craig Morton hit Haven Moses for a 6-yard touchdown pass. The Raiders made it close with field goals in the third and fourth quarters. Otis iced the game with a 1-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter.
In that game, Craig Morton completed 5 out of 13 pass attempts for 34 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He was sacked 3 times. This was a game of largely ineffective offenses. Both teams rushed for over 100 yards (Oakland 117, Denver 144). The Raiders compiled 212 passing yards, but turned the ball over three times (2 interceptions, 1 fumble).
December 3, 1978: Denver at Oakland, 21-6
Denver won their sixth low-pass completion game in the same season as the fifth, and once again, the victim was the Oakland Raiders. This time, the Broncos had traveled to Oakland for the game. At the time, both teams were 8-5-0. Oakland had jumped out to a 6-0 lead with two second quarter field goals, but Denver lead 7-6 at the half thanks to a 2-yard touchdown run by Rob Lytle. The Broncos added a second touchdown in the third quarter on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Craig Morton to Haven Moses. In the fourth quarter, LB Randy Gradishar added a final touchdown when he returned an Oakland fumble 30 yards for the score.
In that game, Morton's numbers were similar to the previous meeting with Oakland. He completed 6 out of 11 pass attempts for 45 yards with 1 touchdown. He was sacked twice. Once again the defense was key to this victory, taking the ball away from the Raiders five times (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles) and sacked Oakland QB Ken Stabler four times.
September 4, 1983: Denver at Pittsburgh, 14-10
Denver victimized the Pittsburgh Steelers for their next low-pass completion victory. This was a season opening game. The Broncos struck first when Sammy Winder scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter. The Steelers answered and the score was tied 7-7 at the half. Pittsburgh took a 10-7 lead in the third but Denver won the game when QB Steve DeBerg connected with TE Ron Egloff on a 2-yard touchdown pass.
In that game, rookie QB John Elway completed 1 out of 8 pass attempts for 14 yards with 1 interception. Steve DeBerg completed 4 out of 8 pass attempts for 35 yards and a touchdown. However, Denver quarterbacks were sacked 7 times for a loss of 48 yards, leaving the Broncos with a net of 1 passing yard. What offset that potentially disastrous passing performance was the play of the Denver defense who forced seven Pittsburgh turnovers (3 interceptions, 4 fumbles).
December 27, 1987: San Diego at Denver, 24-0
San Diego fell to Denver for a third time when the Broncos completed few passes. The 9-4-1 Broncos were hosting the 8-6-0 Chargers. All of the scoring came in the first and fourth quarters. Kevin Clark returned a punt 71 yards for a score and Sammy Winder scored on a 1-yard run to give Denver a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Rich Karlis added a 26-yard field goal in the fourth and LB Ricky Hunley returned an interception 52 yards for the final score.
In that game, John Elway completed 7 out of 20 pass attempts for 98 yards and an interception. QB Gary Kubiak went 0 for 4 with 2 interceptions. The defense came up big in this game, intercepting Charger QB Mark Hermann four times and QB Mark Vlasic once.
November 13, 2011: Denver at Kansas City, 17-10
The basic facts of this game were spelled out in the opening paragraphs of this article. Denver led 10-0 at the half on a 7-yard run by Tebow and a 38-yard field goal by Matt Prater. The Chiefs made it 10-7 in the third. The Broncos opened it up to 17-7 on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Tebow to Eric Decker. The Chiefs added a field goal in the fourth for the final margin.
In that game, Tebow completed 2 out of 8 pass attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown. Denver's passing attack was bailed out by 244 rushing yards (with six rushers logging double-figures, led by Lance Ball with 96 yards).