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This week in Raiders history: Defeating the Jets on a prayer

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Playing their AFL rival for the first time as NFL franchises, the Raiders and Jets had one of their most memorable matchups in 1970

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders did not take long to become AFL rivals after Oakland and New York (originally the Titans) began play in 1960.

Perhaps the most storied contest between the two franchises came in 1968, known as “The Heidi Bowl”, which we detailed a couple weeks back. It didn’t take long for the AFL rivals to provide a thrilling contest playing as NFL franchises.

On Dec. 6, 1970 the two met in Queens, New York at Shea Stadium. The weather was cold — 37 degrees with 52 percent relative humidity, 22 miles per hour winds, and wind chill of 26.

The wind especially would play a key role in the game as it mostly grounded the Jets offense and made the Raiders passing offense quite ineffective.

The Jets would attempt just 22 passes on the day, completing nine for 99 yards. The Raiders, however, remained aggressive. Between Daryl Lamonica and George Blanda, the Raiders doubled the Jets’ passing attempts with 44. They only hit on 15 of them for an efficient 189 yards, including the most important play of the game. But more on that later.

The contest featured two of the games’ great coaches, Weeb Ewbank and John Madden, though the latter was only beginning his incredible head coaching career, while Ewbank was fairly established at this point.

When you think of the Raiders, you think of speed. Perhaps no great football mind has emphasized speed more than the late great Al Davis. Madden would over time combine that with a physicality that really completed the Raiders identity.

Both came in handy in this hard-fought, low-scoring battle.

If not for the toughness and physicality, the Raiders likely would not have held the Jets to 158 rushing yards — a 3.6 yards per carry clip.

If not for their speed, the Raiders may not have been in position to pull off the end-of-game miracle they did.

After leading 3-0 at halftime, the Jets came out in the second half further committed to pounding the ball on the ground, but used a rare aerial assault to score on their opening drive when Al Woodall connected with Pete Lammons on a 12-yard touchdown pass.

The Raiders answered back, scoring their first touchdown on the next possession, as “duel threat” George Blanda hit Warren Wells for a 13-yard touchdown pass to close the gap. Blanda would add the extra point to make it 10-7.

That score would hold up into the fourth quarter as the teams traded three-and-outs — the result of failed passing attempts and minimal gains on the ground.

The Jets would expand their lead in the fourth on a 32-yard field goal from Jim Ward. But the Raiders still had plenty of time with 4:40 to go in the fourth quarter.

After a 44-yard return was boosted by a 15-yard penalty against the Jets. But on the Raiders’ first play from scrimmage, Charlie Smith fumbled and the Jets recovered at their own 41-yard line.

However, the Raiders were given new life, recovering a fumble from Emerson Boozer almost immediately. That life was short-lived, seemingly, as they would turn the ball back over to the Jets on downs with just 1:40 to go in the game.

Luckily for the Raiders, they had a coach who understood simple game management in a way many coaches do not. Madden had saved all three of his timeouts for one last attempt at getting the ball back.

Because of that, the Raiders were able to overcome giving up a 15-yard rushing first down to open the Jets’ potential close-out drive. Oakland got the ball back with 38 seconds remaining at their own 30-yard line.

A touchdown was necessary, meaning of course they needed to somehow drive the ball 70 yards in just over half a minute.

Lamonica, who had been replaced by Blanda earlier in the game because of a devastating hit, was healthy enough to attempt this last ditch effort. One of two speedy Raiders split ends — as they were known at that time — Warren Wells was targeted on a deep pass down the left sideline for 37 yards.

The pass, as was typical of that day, fell incomplete. But rookie cornerback Earlie Thomas (not to be confused with Earl) was called for pass interference. On the day, the Jets were called for 10 penalties equating to 134 yards. None of them were as critical as this one though.

The Raiders had the ball at the Jets’ 33-yard line with 22 seconds to go, but Lamonica threw incomplete on first down. Blanda then came in on second down and nearly threw an interception.

Madden went back to Lamonica for what could have been the penultimate passing attempt. Instead, Wells, Lamonica, and the Raiders were the beneficiaries of another Thomas miscue. This time, Lamonica threw up a prayer into the end zone for what has now become known as a Hail Mary.

The Jets rookie corner tried to knock the ball down, but instead he tipped it to Wells, who secured the ball in the end zone to tie the football game at 13-13 with just eight seconds to play.

Blanda made sure this game would not end in a tie, knocking through the extra point. On the ensuing return the Jets tried the now infamous lateral play, which rarely works. It was worth a try.

It is possible to look at the fact the Jets had more penalty yards than passing yards, and almost as many penalty yards as they had rushing yards, and say the Jets lost the game more than the Raiders won it.

It’s also possible to say the Raiders proverbially snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Both are at least partially true.

The win kept the Raiders’ division title hopes alive, something they would take advantage of the next week when they defeated their division rival Kansas City Chiefs to notch the AFC West title.

Though this was Madden’s second season as head coach, and he’d already led the team to a 12-1-1 record the season prior, this game proved he was a great young coach.

In 1969, and for much of the 1970 season, the Raiders were still playing the Al Davis-Jon Rauch way — throwing the ball all over the yard and using their unique speed to their advantage.

Certainly this remained part of the game plan on Dec. 6, 1970, and was even a big part of why they won. But the toughness and grit of Madden had clearly become a part of who the Raiders were.

Winning 14-13 in cold and wind requires it.