1988–89 NFL playoffs
Due to Christmas, the two wild card playoff games were held in a span of three days.
|1||Cincinnati Bengals (Central winner)||Chicago Bears (Central winner)|
|2||Buffalo Bills (East winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|3||Seattle Seahawks (West winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|4||Cleveland Browns||Minnesota Vikings|
|5||Houston Oilers||Los Angeles Rams|
Note: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), the Cincinnati Bengals (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Houston Oilers (the 5 seed), nor did the Chicago Bears (the NFC 1 seed) play the Minnesota Vikings (the 4 seed), in the Divisional playoff round because those teams were in the same division.
- 1 Bracket
- 2 Wild Card playoffs
- 3 Divisional playoffs
- 4 Conference championships
- 5 Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
- 6 References
|*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.|
|January 1 - Rich Stadium|
|AFC Wild Card Game||AFC Championship|
|December 24 - Cleveland Stadium||January 8 - Riverfront Stadium|
|December 31 - Riverfront Stadium|
|4||Cleveland||23||1||Cincinnati||21||Super Bowl XXIII|
|January 22 - Joe Robbie Stadium|
|January 1 - Candlestick Park|
|NFC Wild Card Game||NFC Championship||N2||San Francisco||20|
|December 26 - Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome||January 8 - Soldier Field|
|5||L.A. Rams||17||2||San Francisco||28|
|December 31 - Soldier Field|
Wild Card playoffs
December 24, 1988
AFC: Houston Oilers 24, Cleveland Browns 23
On the second play of the game, Browns defensive back Felix Wright intercepted a pass from Warren Moon and returned it 13 yards to set up the first score of the game, a 33-yard field goal by Matt Bahr. Houston responded with a 91-yard possession that consumed 9:44 and ended on Moon's 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Allen Pinkett. Then on the first play of Cleveland's next drive, Cleveland quarterback Don Strock, who was filling in for the injured Bernie Kosar and starting in a playoff game for the first time in his 16-season career, fumbled a snap and Oilers defensive lineman Richard Byrd recovered the ball. Strock sprained his wrist while going after the ball on the play, and was replaced by third string quarterback Mike Pagel. Meanwhile, Houston scored on their first play after the turnover with Pinkett's 16-yard touchdown burst, making the score 14–3.
Pagel, now leading the Browns offense in what turned out to be the only playoff game he would get play during his 11 years in the NFL, led the Browns back 71 yards to score on Bahr's second field goal of the day. Bahr added one more field goal before the end of the half to cut the score to 14–9 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Moon threw his third interception of the day, leading to Pagel's 14-yard touchdown pass to Webster Slaughter that gave the Browns the lead at 16–14. However, the Oilers marched on a 76-yard drive that was capped with running back Lorenzo White's 1-yard rushing touchdown. After Johnson's interception and Zendejas' subsequent game-clinching 49-yard field goal, Pagel led the Browns 71 yards to score on his 2-yard pass to slaughter, cutting the score to 24–23 with 31 seconds left. Cleveland attempted an onside kick, which they failed to recover, but got another chance due to an Oilers penalty. Then the Browns recovered, but had to do it over again due to a penalty against them. Finally on the third try, Cleveland was penalized for touching the ball before it went 10 yards, resulting in a penalty that gave Houston the ball and the win.
Pagel completed 17/25 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, with 1 interception. Wright had two interceptions.
December 26, 1988
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 28, Los Angeles Rams 17
Vikings safety Joey Browner recorded two interceptions in the first quarter to set up a two touchdown lead that the Rams could never recover from. Browner's first interception led to a Minnesota 73-yard drive that was capped by running back Alfred Anderson's 7-yard rushing touchdown. Browner returned his second interception to the Los Angeles 17-yard line, where Allen Rice took it in for a touchdown on the next play. In the second quarter, Rams quarterback Jim Everett cut the lead in half with a 3-yard touchdown completion to tight end Damone Johnson. But in the third quarter, Anderson scored another touchdown, this time a 1-yard run, to extend the Vikings lead, 21–7. The Rams responded with a 33-yard field goal by Mike Lansford, but Minnesota put the game out of reach with tight end Carl Hilton's 5-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Wade Wilson. Wilson finished the game with 253 passing yards and a touchdown, while receiver Anthony Carter caught 4 passes for 102 yards. Rams linebacker Kevin Greene had 3 sacks.
December 31, 1988
NFC: Chicago Bears 20, Philadelphia Eagles 12
In a game known as the Fog Bowl, the Bears defeated the Eagles 20–12, in a contest in which a heavy, dense fog rolled over Chicago's Soldier Field during the second quarter and cut visibility to about 15–20 yards for the rest of the game.
Chicago scored first with quarterback Mike Tomczak's 64-yard touchdown pass to Dennis McKinnon. The Eagles responded by driving to the Chicago 26-yard line, but kicker Luis Zendejas missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. Philadelphia quickly got the ball back after linebacker Seth Joyner intercepted a pass from Tomczak, and this time they managed to score with Zendejas' 42-yard field goal, but only after committing two costly mistakes: twice on the drive Philadelphia had touchdowns nullified by penalties. The Bears then drove to the Eagles 33-yard line on their ensuing drive, but it stalled and kicker Kevin Butler missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, giving the ball back to Philadelphia with great field position. Cunningham then led the Eagles inside Chicago's 20-yard line where Zendejas kicked a 29-yard field goal to cut the team's deficit to one point, 7–6.
Two possessions later, the Bears drove 44 yards and scored with Neal Anderson's 4-yard touchdown run to give them a 14–6 lead. Both teams scored another field goal before halftime, and they went into their locker rooms with Chicago leading 17–9. By the time the second half began, the heavy fog made it extremely difficult for the teams to move the ball. Each team could only score a short field goal in the second half.
Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham finished the game with 407 passing yards, but was unable to lead his team to a single touchdown and was intercepted 3 times. Other than a 64-yard touchdown pass, Tomczak was dominated the rest of the game by the Eagles defense, completing only 10 of 20 passes for 174 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. McKinnon finished the game with 4 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. Eagles fullback Keith Byars rushed for 34 yards and caught 9 passes for 103 yards. Tight end Keith Jackson caught 7 passes for 142 yards.
AFC: Cincinnati Bengals 21, Seattle Seahawks 13
Seattle's defense completely shut down Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, the NFL's top rated quarterback and MVP during the season, limiting him to just 7 of 19 completions for 108 yards. But they were unable to contain Cincinnati on the ground. The Bengals recorded 254 rushing yards (126 of them and a touchdown from fullback Ickey Woods, a franchise postseason record, 72 from James Brooks, and 47 from Stanley Wilson), while holding the Seahawks to 18.
Nearly half of Esiason's passing yards on the day came from two completions on their opening possession, a 30-yarder to Cris Collinsworth along the right sideline and a 23-yard leaping catch on the middle of the field by Eddie Brown, as the team consumed 5:49 with an 11-play, 85-yard drive and scored on Wilson's 3-yard touchdown run. Following an exchange of punts, Begnals cornerback Eric Thomas intercepted a long pass from Dave Krieg on the Seahawks 25-yard line. Tight end Rodney Holman subsequently caught two passes for 20 yards and Brooks ripped off a 26-yard burst as the team drove to a 14–0 lead on Wilson's second 3-yard touchdown just over four minutes into the second quarter. Seattle was forced to a three-and-out on their possession, and Ira Hillary returned Ruben Rodriguez's 42-yard punt 3 yards to the Bengals 44-yard line. On the next play, Woods took and handoff and raced down the right sideline for a 30-yard carry to the Seattle 26. Then Brooks ran the ball in the opposite direction, rushing 17 yards to the 9. Wilson got the ball next, slicing through the middle for an 8-yard gain. The Seahawks defense managed to stuff Woods for no gain on the next play, but he scored a 1-yard touchdown run on third down to give the Bengals a 21–0 lead with 7:40 left in the half.
At the end of the next drive, the Seahawks finally got a chance to score when Hillary muffed their punt and defensive back Mel Jenkins recovered for Seattle on the Bengals 24-yard line. Two plays later, Kreig's 14-yard completion to fullback John L. Williams (Seattle's longest gain of the half) brought up first down and goal. But on the next play, defensive tackle Tim Krumrie stripped the ball from Williams and defensive end Jim Skow recovered it to keep the score 21–0 at halftime. The Bengals had dominated the first half, massively outgaining Seattle in rushing yards (167–0), total yards (241–49), first downs (16–3), and time of possession (20:35–9:25)
Midway through the third quarter, Seattle drove deep into Bengals territory, aided by a 23-yard reception by Williams and a 24-yard pass interference penalty against Thomas on 3rd and 21. But once again the Seahawks failed to score when defensive back Ray Horton broke up Krieg's pass on 4th down and goal from the 2-yard line. Cincinnati then drove to the Seattle 3-yard line, featuring a 24-yard catch by Holman, but they also turned the ball over on downs, as Woods was dropped for a 1-yard gain on 4th down and 2 with under a minute left in the third quarter.
Early in the final period, after Krieg was intercepted by Solomon Wilcots, Jacob Green forced a fumble while sacking Esiason and defensive end Joe Nash recovered it. Now with the ball on the Bengals 31-yard line, Seattle attempted a fourth quarter comeback. Krieg started off the drive with a pair of completions to rookie receiver Brian Blades and tight end John Spagnola for gains of 17 and 7 yards before eventually converting a 4th down and 3 with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Williams, cutting the score to 21–7 with 11:40 left in the game. Then after forcing a punt, Seattle drove 69 yards, including a 32-yard reception by Ray Butler, to score on Krieg's 1-yard touchdown run at the 6:04 mark. But Norm Johnson missed the extra point, keeping his team behind by two scores at 21–13. Later in the quarter, Cincinnati punter Lee Johnson essentially put the game away with a 43-yard kick that pinned Seattle back at their own 2-yard line with just over 2 minutes remaining, and the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs on their final drive.
Williams finished the game with 11 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown, along with 10 rushing yards.
After the game, the Bengals accused Seattle of having their players fake injuries in an attempt to stop the game and counter Cincinnati's frequent use of the no-huddle offense. Seahawks linemen Joe Nash and Ken Clarke both collapsed a total of six times during the game, all before third down plays. In each case they returned to play in the game.
January 1, 1989
AFC: Buffalo Bills 17, Houston Oilers 10
Although both teams blew scoring chances throughout the game, the Bills dominated Houston for most of the time in regulation, blocking a punt, converting a turnover into the game-clinching field goal, and forcing a turnover on Houston's final drive to defeat a comeback attempt.
On their first drive of the game, Buffalo drove to the Oilers 18-yard line. But a bad snap on third down pushed them back to the 32 and Scott Norwood came up short on a 50-yard field goal attempt. Houston then moved the ball to the Bills 32, but they too were pushed back on third down, this time due to Bruce Smith's 13-yard sack of quarterback Warren Moon. Now out of field goal range, they had to punt, and Greg Montgomery's kick was blocked by Buffalo safety Leonard Smith, allowing the Bills to take over on the Oilers 46. Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly subsequently completed two passes to Trumaine Johnson for 28 yards on a 46-yard drive that ended with Robb Riddick's 1-yard touchdown run. Houston responded by driving 71 yards, with Moon completing a 21-yard pass to Drew Hill and Alonzo Highsmith rushing for a 31-yard gain, to score with a 35-yard field goal from Tony Zendejas. Following a punt, Houston threatened to score again with a drive to the Bills 25-yard line, but Smith blocked Zendejas' second field goal attempt and the score remained 7–3 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Houston got another scoring opportunity when defensive back Tracey Eaton intercepted a pass from Kelly on the Bills 47-yard line. Moon led his team inside the 5-yard line, but after an errant pitchout lost 12 yards, Zendejas missed a 31-yard field goal try. Following an exchange of punts, Buffalo drove 59 yards in six plays, with Kelly completing a pass to Chris Burkett for 26 yards and rushing for 10, to score on rookie running back Thurman Thomas' 11-yard rushing touchdown. Near the end of the period, Kelly's 55-yard completion to Andre Reed gave the Bills a first down on the Houston 2-yard line. But the Oilers defense made a big goal line stand, keeping them out of the end zone for four consecutive plays to force a turnover on downs.
Two plays after the turnover, Buffalo defensive back Mark Kelso intercepted a pass from Moon and returned it 28 yards to the Oilers 18-yard line, setting up Norwood's 27-yard field goal to increase their lead to 17–3. Buffalo's defense forced another turnover on Houston's ensuing drive when Derrick Burroughs recovered a fumble from receiver Haywood Jeffries on the Oilers 26-yard line. The Bills now had a big chance to put the game away, but Norwood hit the uprights on a 36-yard field goal attempt
Moon then completed four passes, including a 29-yarder to receiver Leonard Harris, on a 9-play, 80-yard drive. A pass interference penalty on Burroughs in the end zone moved the ball to the Bills 1, and running back Mike Rozier scored a touchdown run from there, cutting the score to 17–10 with just over 5 minutes left in the game. The Oilers subsequently forced a punt with two minutes remaining, but Steve Tasker forced a fumble while tackling wide receiver Curtis Duncan during the punt return, and linebacker Ray Bentley recovered the ball, allowing Buffalo to run out the clock.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 34, Minnesota Vikings 9
San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana threw three touchdowns to wide receiver Jerry Rice, while running back Roger Craig rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns and defensive back Ronnie Lott added two interceptions. After Minnesota scored first on a field goal, Montana and Rice connected for first half scores from 2, 4, and 11 yards. Meanwhile, the San Francisco defense recorded 5 sacks before halftime. The Vikings finally scored a touchdown in the third quarter with quarterback Wade Wilson's 5-yard pass to wide receiver Hassan Jones. But Minnesota was shut out from that point on as Craig scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and an NFL playoff record 80-yard touchdown run.
This game was sweet redemption for Montana, who had been benched due to poor performance in San Francisco's 36–24 loss to the Vikings in the previous season's divisional playoff round.
January 8, 1989
AFC Championship: Cincinnati Bengals 21, Buffalo Bills 10
The Bengals forced 3 interceptions, and allowed only 45 rushing yards and 136 passing yards, while their offense held the ball for 39:29. Bills starting running back Thurman Thomas was held to just 6 yards on 4 carries, while quarterback Jim Kelly completed only 14 of 30 passes for 161 yards and 1 touchdown, with 3 interceptions. The Bills had only 10 first downs, 1 more than the AFC championship record for the fewest amount ever, and failed to convert any of their 10 third down conversion attempts. Just like their previous game, the Bengals did not get much of a performance from NFL MVP Boomer Esiason, who completed only 11 of 20 passes for 94 yards, with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. But once again, their running game was able to pick up the slack, gaining 175 yards on the ground, 102 yards and 2 touchdowns coming from fullback Ickey Woods.
Buffalo started their first drive on their 46-yard line, but it soon ended with an interception by Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups. On the next play, Esiason's 29-yard run moved the team into scoring range. However, they also ended up with no points when Esiason's pass was intercepted by Bills linebacker Ray Bentley. Later on, Cincinnati took a 7–0 lead in the first quarter after defensive back Eric Thomas' 26-yard interception return to the Bills 4-yard line set up Woods' 1-yard touchdown run. However, a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty against Bengals running back Stanley Wilson (one of six personal foul penalties in the game, two by the Bengals and four by the Bills) after the touchdown was assessed on the ensuing kickoff, and Buffalo ended up getting the ball with good field position with Ronnie Harmon's 22-yard return to the 43-yard line. Kelly subsequently led Bills back with 4 consecutive completions, starting out with a pair of throws to receiver Andre Reed for gains of 9 and 19 yards and then hooking up with Trumaine Johnson for a 22-yard gain to the Bengals 9-yard line. On the next play, Kelly found Reed in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass to tie the game, 7–7.
Following a punt, Buffalo drove to the Bengals 26-yard line, only to have Scott Norwood miss a 43-yard field goal attempt. Bengals then took over and stormed down the field on an 11-play, 74-yard drive, including a 16-yard burst by Woods, to score on running back James Brooks' 10-yard touchdown reception from Esiason. Later on, Bills defensive back Mark Kelso intercepted a pass from Esiason and returned it 25 yards to the Bengals 29-yard line, setting up a 39-yard field goal by Norwood to cut the Bills deficit to 14–10 by halftime.
The Bengals took over the game in the second half, forcing Buffalo to start all of their drives from inside their own 23-yard line and holding them to 9:04 time of possession, 53 yards, 2 first downs, and 0 points. On their first three drives of the second half, the Bills totaled −12 yards. Midway through the third quarter, Cincinnati punter Lee Johnson pinned the Bills at their own 1-yard line with a 58-yard kick. Buffalo then went three-and-out, and Bengals receiver Ira Hillary returned John Kidd's 50-yard punt 15 yards to the Bills 40. Three plays into their ensuing drive, Cincinnati faced 4th down and 4. Wilson ran 6 yards for a first down on a fake punt, enabling the Bengals to keep driving for a clutch score. Later in the drive, Bills defensive back Derrick Burroughs was penalized and ejected from the game for striking receiver Tim McGee in the head, turning what would have been a 3rd and goal from the 8 situation into a first and goal from the 4-yard line, and Cincinnati ended up scoring with Woods' 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, increasing their lead to 21–10. The Bills later managed a drive to the Bengals 18-yard line, but safety David Fulcher picked off a desperate fourth down pass from Kelly in the end zone.
The Bills would not lose another game to the Bengals until Week 4 of the 2011 NFL season.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers 28, Chicago Bears 3
Despite playing in a game-time temperature of 17°F, a wind chill of −26°F, and wind gusts up to 30 MPH, the 49ers scored a touchdown in every quarter and gained 406 total yards of offense while limiting Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon to just 121 passing yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. Chicago only made inside the San Francisco 40-yard line twice during the whole game.
San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, the first two to wide receiver Jerry Rice. Late in the first quarter, The 49ers faced a 3rd and long from their own 39-yard line. Despite the high winds, Montana was able to whistle a long pass in to Rice, who, despite double coverage from Bears defenders Mike Richardson and Todd Krumm, was able to catch the pass and outrun both defenders to score a 61-yard Touchdown. Rice would score his second touchdown midway through the second quarter, a 27-yard reception in which he caught a low slant pass from Montana in stride and scored untouched. In the third quarter, the 49ers marched 78 yards to score on tight end John Frank's 5-yard touchdown reception from Montana. San Francisco's final score was running back Tom Rathman's 4-yard rushing touchdown. Rice finished the game with 5 receptions for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bears' lone score was Kevin Butler's 25-yard field goal in the second period.
This was San Francisco's first playoff win on the road since the 1970 season.
Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)