After about a month of looking at the MVP seasons of John Unitas and Earl Morrall, we leave behind the Unitas-era squad. This week we'll make a brief stop in the 1970s for a Colts quarterback that gets lost in the hierarchy of Colts signal callers.
That man would be the 1976 NFL MVP Bert Jones.
Former Colts General Manager Ernie Accorsi has indicated that with a better team, and circumstances (Jones suffered his fair share of injuries), that Jones could have been one of the best QBs in NFL history.
In fact, Bill Belichick had this to say about Jones:
"As a pure passer I don't think I could put anybody ahead of Bert Jones. I know he had a short career and the shoulder injury, but when I was there and he was just starting his career, the success that he had and his ability to throw the ball as a pure passer and as an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Bert Jones at that point in time."
In nine seasons with Baltimore, Jones only made it through five without injury, and in three of those seasons the Colts were AFC East champions.
It should come as no surprise that 1976 was Jones' best year as a pro. Let's dive into the numbers.
As always, we'll kick things off with passer rating. Jones finished the season with a 102.5 rating, and was one of only three QBs in the 1970s to finish a season with a passer rating over 100. One of the others was Ken Stabler, who also did it in 1976.
In passing attempts, Jones finished sixth in the league, well behind league leader Jim Zorn on Seattle. Jones also finished sixth in completions, with 207, which was only one behind Zorn. Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton led the league in completions with 255.
With such a high passer rating, one might think that Jones would have led the league in completion percentage, but not so. Stabler led the league with a 66.7% completion rate, while Jones was third (Tarkenton was second).
The one category where Jones does stand above the others, though, is in passing yards. Jones threw for more than 3,000 yards, and was the only quarterback to do so in 1976. With those yards came 24 touchdown passes as well. However, Jones' 24 scores again fell second in the league to Stabler's 27.
Jones did a great job taking care of the ball, though, only throwing nine interceptions on the season. Zorn led the league with 27, and Stabler tossed 17. I also wanted to point out that Jones was sacked a total of 29 times. I really only bring that up because I wanted to highlight the fact that Lions quarterback Greg Landry was sacked a whopping 55 times that season.
This is probably the first time where I find it difficult to say, purely from a QB perspective, that Jones might not have been the most deserving of the MVP. Yes, he had great stats, and led the Colts to an 11-3 record with the top rated offense in the league
But who had better stats? Stabler. And the Raiders went 13-1 with the second best offense in the league.
In past articles I said that Unitas got the nod because the Colts were a superior team (record wise) even if he didn't have the gaudy numbers. It would be slightly hypocritical to say that Jones deserved it in 1976 over Stabler. Stabler had (most of) the numbers and he had the best record in football.
But what happened as we journeyed into the playoffs?
In a nutshell, the game didn't go well for the Colts. The Steel Curtain held the Colts to 170 total yards, while the Pittsburgh offense rolled up 526 yards, including 226 on the ground. Jones was held to 144 yards (99 yards in net passing), a score, and two interceptions.
Between 1975 and 1977 the Colts were AFC East champions three straight years. Three straight years they went one and done in the playoffs.
While I'm not sure that Jones had the numbers, or the record, to win the MVP in 1976, he was the leader of the last Colts team to have any success for a long, long time.
Next week, we'll be jumping way ahead to the 2000s when the Colts produced yet another MVP quarterback.
All stats from Pro-Football Reference.