Resuming a series that began last summer, packers.com is taking a look back at some of the team’s single-game records and how the individual set the mark. The series continues with Willie Buchanon’s four interceptions on Sept. 24, 1978, which tied Bobby Dillon’s original record set on Nov. 26, 1953.
GREEN BAY – The San Diego Chargers were having a hard time protecting the football, and Willie Buchanon took advantage to enjoy a record-tying day.
Only one player in Packers history, recent Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Dillon, had intercepted four passes in a game before Buchanon matched him 25 years later.
But Buchanon’s four picks at San Diego Stadium didn’t constitute the most jarring statistic on the afternoon. It was the Chargers’ 11 – yes, 11 – total turnovers.
San Diego’s three quarterbacks – James Harris, Dan Fouts and Cliff Olander – combined to throw five interceptions, while the Chargers also lost six of nine fumbles in the game. Oh, and the Packers blocked a punt for a touchdown, too.
The fact that the final score was a modest rout of 24-3 in Green Bay’s favor with a plus-nine turnover differential speaks to the Packers’ struggles on offense more than anything. The Packers managed just nine first downs and 127 total yards.
They failed to turn either of Buchanon’s first two picks, off Harris in the second quarter, into points. The first came on a deep ball for John Jefferson in the end zone, but the Packers went three-and-out. The second came on another downfield throw for Jefferson near midfield, but again, a three-and-out followed.
In between, the Packers had taken a 7-0 lead when San Diego punter Jeff West fumbled a snap and Green Bay recovered in the red zone, leading to a 13-yard TD run by Terdell Middleton.
That halftime lead doubled early in the third quarter when Estus Hood blocked a West punt and Walter Landers scooped it up and ran 15 yards for a score.
After the Chargers got on the board with a field goal, they switched to Fouts at QB. He was promptly sacked on his first drop-back, sacked and lost a fumble on his second possession, and then picked off by Buchanon in the end zone on his third drive. It came on a pass intended for Artie Owens, one play after Packers QB David Whitehurst lost a fumble on a sack in Green Bay territory.
For the third time, the Packers failed to convert a Buchanon interception into points, so the eventual All-Pro took matters into his own hands with just a few minutes left in the game. He intercepted Fouts again on a pass intended for Johnny Rodgers and ran it all the way back, 77 yards for a touchdown to account for the game’s final score.
The Chargers still had one more turnover to go, though, as Olander was intercepted by Johnnie Gray with a minute and a half left for giveaway No. 11. That stands as the most turnovers by a Packers opponent ever. There were three games with 10 opponent turnovers in the 1940s.
The win improved the Packers to 3-1 on the young ’78 season, and they’d eventually get to 6-1. But they won just two of their last nine games due to the ongoing offensive struggles, never scoring more than 17 points over their 2-6-1 finish.
They finished tied with Minnesota atop the NFC Central at 8-7-1 but lost the division title due to the head-to-head tiebreaker, with a loss and a tie against the Vikings.
Buchanon, the No. 7 overall pick in the 1972 draft who had already overcome a couple of major injuries in his career, would go on to intercept nine passes that season, a total that remains tied for second in team history for a single season, behind Irv Comp’s 10 in 1943.
Buchanon was named first-team All-Pro in ’78 and was selected to his second career Pro Bowl.