Fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl victories, the 1974 season did start as planned for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins opened the year with a 34-24 loss to the New England Patriots. After beating the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, a rough start in Week 3 in San Diego against the Chargers led some to think Miami’s reign as an AFC power was over.
In the fourth quarter, the Dolphins showed that they weren’t going anywhere just yet as they rallied for a 28-21 victory. That memorable win came on this day 45 years ago.
San Diego was coming off a 2-11-1 season as it began 1974 under first-year head coach Tommy Prothro. After losing to the Houston Oilers in the opener, the Chargers scored a hard-fought 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. Through three quarters of their home opener on Sept. 29, 1974, San Diego looked well on its way to a 2-1 start.
The Dolphins drew first blood in the contest with a short touchdown run from Larry Csonka in the second quarter, but San Diego was able to draw even late in the first half on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Dan Fouts to Wayne Stewart. In the third quarter, the Chargers took control and a 21-7 lead on Don Woods touchdown runs of one and 56 yards.
San Diego looked like it would have a chance to put the game away early in the fourth quarter, but kicker Dennis Partee missed a short field goal. The Dolphins responded with a touchdown march to cut the lead in half, capped by Bob Griese’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Nat Moore. From there, the Miami defense settled in.
After forcing a punt, the Dolphins tied the game on a short march with less than four minutes to play on Csonka’s second touchdown run — this one from three yards out. With the contest tied 21-21, the Miami defense got another stop and a good punt return from Moore to begin with a short field. With just 15 seconds remaining on the clock, Jim Kiick scored a 3-yard touchdown to complete the comeback.
Griese overcame two early interceptions to finish with 248 yards passing in the victory. Csonka rushed for 102 yards to go with the two scores. Woods rushed for 157 yards for the Chargers in the loss.
The Dolphins would go on to win the AFC East in 1974 at 11-3 before losing to the Oakland Raiders in a heartbreaking fashion in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The thriller in San Diego would serve as the first of three fourth-quarter comeback victories for the Dolphins on the season. It happened on this day 45 years ago.