1989–90 NFL playoffs

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The NFL playoffs following the 1989 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XXIV.

This was the last season in which the NFL used a 10-team playoff format. The league would expand the playoffs to 12 teams next season.

This season featured only three teams that failed to make the previous season's postseason. The New York Giants, who were eliminated on the final day of the 1988 season, rebounded to win a division title, while the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers recovered from disappointing seasons.

For this year only, the starting times for the Conference Championship Games were changed from the then-customary 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. EST. This was to accommodate the fact that the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers hosted the AFC and NFC championship games in the Mountain Standard Time Zone and Pacific Standard Time Zone, respectively—thus avoiding a locally played game at 9:30 a.m. PST or 10:30 a.m. MST.

Playoff seeds
1 Denver Broncos (West winner) San Francisco 49ers (West winner)
2 Cleveland Browns (Central winner) New York Giants (East winner)
3 Buffalo Bills (East winner) Minnesota Vikings (Central winner)
4 Houston Oilers Philadelphia Eagles
5 Pittsburgh Steelers Los Angeles Rams

Note: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 regular season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), the San Francisco 49ers (the NFC 1 seed) did not play the Los Angeles Rams (the 5 seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.


*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.
Divisional Playoffs
    January 7 - Giants Stadium        
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship
 5  L.A. Rams (OT)  19
December 31 - Veterans Stadium     January 14 - Candlestick Park
 2*  N.Y. Giants  13  
 5  L.A. Rams  21  5  L.A. Rams  3
January 6 - Candlestick Park
 4  Philadelphia  7      1  San Francisco  30   Super Bowl XXIV
 3  Minnesota  13
    January 28 - Louisiana Superdome
 1*  San Francisco  41  
 N1  San Francisco  55
January 6 - Cleveland Stadium
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship    A1  Denver  10
 3  Buffalo  30
December 31 - Astrodome     January 14 - Mile High Stadium
 2  Cleveland  34  
 5  Pittsburgh (OT)  26  2  Cleveland  21
January 7 - Mile High Stadium
 4  Houston  23      1  Denver  37  
 5  Pittsburgh  23
 1  Denver  24  

Wild Card playoffs[edit]

December 31, 1989[edit]

NFC: Los Angeles Rams 21, Philadelphia Eagles 7[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 14 0 0 7 21
Eagles 0 0 0 7 7

at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

The Los Angeles Rams played the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia in the opening game of the playoffs. Rams quarterback Jim Everett threw two touchdown passes in the first half as the Rams allowed only one Eagles touchdown in the fourth quarter. Everett connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Henry Ellard and a 4-yarder to tight end Damone Johnson. After Philadelphia running back Anthony Toney scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown, Los Angeles running back Greg Bell, who rushed for 124 yards, scored on a 7-yard touchdown to clinch the victory.

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Houston Oilers 23 (OT)[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 OT Total
Steelers 7 3 3 10 3 26
Oilers 0 6 3 14 0 23

at Astrodome, Houston, Texas

Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson recovered a fumble to set up Gary Anderson's winning 50-yard field goal in overtime to give Pittsburgh the win.

Houston took the opening kickoff and drove to the Steelers 40-yard line, but were stopped there and Tony Zendejas missed a 55-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Steelers rookie Jerry Olsavsky blocked a punt from Greg Montgomery and Pittsburgh recovered on the Oilers 23. Eventually facing 4th and 1 on the Houston 9-yard line, Steelers coach Chuck Noll decided to go for the first down. This paid off as running back Tim Worley took a pitch and ran all the way to the end zone, evading linebacker Robert Lyles and plowing right through safety Bubba McDowell on the way to a 7–0 Steelers lead with 2:36 left in the first quarter.

Houston responded on their next drive, moving the ball 96 yards to the Steelers 3-yard line, but could go no further and settled for a 26-yard Zendejas field goal. Then McDowell recovered a fumble from Worley on the Pittsburgh 41. From there the Oilers advanced to the 17-yard line, but when faced with 4th and 1 they decided to settle for another Zendejas field goal, cutting the score to 7–6. Pittsbrugh struck back with a drive to the Oilers 9, featured a 49-yard run by Merrill Hoge. However, they also ended up facing 4th and 1, and would settle for an Anderson field goal to put them up 10–6 going into halftime.

The field goal battle continued in the third quarter, with Zendejas kicking one more and Anderson adding another two, making the score 16–9 at the start of the fourth quarter. But quarterback Warren Moon finally got his team to the end zone with a 10-play, 80-yard drive to score on his 18-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Givins that tied the game. Following a Pittsburgh three-and-out, Harry Newsome's punt went just 25 yards to the Steelers 38-yard line. From there it took just five plays for Houston to take their first lead of the game, scoring on Moon's 9-yard pass touchdown pass to Givens that put them up 23–16 with 5:16 left in regulation. Starting from their own 18 after the kickoff, Pittsburgh drove 82 yards, featuring a 22-yard run by receiver Dwight Stone (the only time he touched the ball all game) on a reverse play, to score on Hodge's 2-yard touchdown run with 46 second left, tying the game and sending it into overtime.

Pittsburgh won the coin toss and received the ball first, but were quickly forced to punt, and another short kick from Newsome gave Houston the ball with great field position on the Steelers 45-yard line. On the Oilers first play, Moon handed the ball off the Lorenzo White, who was quickly leveled by Woodson and defensive end Tim Johnson, causing a fumble that Woodson recovered and returned it 4 yards to the Oilers 46. From there, Pittsburgh could gain just 13 yards with a few Hodge carries before facing a fourth down. But it was enough for Anderson to kick a 50-yard field goal, his longest attempt of the season, which he sent perfectly through the uprights to give the Steelers the win.[1]

Hoge finished the game with 100 rushing yards on just 17 carries, along with 3 receptions for 26 yards. Moon threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Givins caught 11 passes for 136 yards. Pittsburgh won despite being outgained in total yards 380–289. Oilers coach Jerry Glanville was fired a few days after this game. This was a particularly satisfying win for the Steelers, who had started the season with a 51-0 loss to Cleveland and a 41-10 loss to Cincinnati. They had been shutout three times, outgained by their opponents in ten consecutive games, and had to recover from a 4-6 record to get into the playoffs by winning 5 of their last 6 games.

Divisional playoffs[edit]

January 6, 1990[edit]

AFC: Cleveland Browns 34, Buffalo Bills 30[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Bills 7 7 7 9 30
Browns 3 14 14 3 34

at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

In a shootout, Browns linebacker Clay Matthews intercepted Bills quarterback Jim Kelly at the Cleveland 1-yard line with 3 seconds left to preserve a 34–30 victory. Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns while Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar threw for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Browns receiver Webster Slaughter had the best postseason performance of his career with 3 receptions for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Buffalo scored first with wide receiver Andre Reed's 72-yard touchdown reception. But Cleveland struck back with a 45-yard field goal by Matt Bahr and a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kosar to Slaughter. Kelly's 33-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton put the Bills back in the lead, 14–10, but Browns retook the lead with Ron Middleton's 3-yard catch shortly before the end of the first half.

On the opening drive of the second half, Kosar hooked up with Slaughter for another touchdown pass, this one 44-yards, to increase their lead to 24–14. Buffalo responded with a 6-yard touchdown catch by running back Thurman Thomas, who tied an NFL playoff record with 13 receptions for 150 yards. But Browns running back Eric Metcalf returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 31–21 lead by the end of the third quarter. After an exchange of field goals, Thomas caught a three-yard touchdown pass. But Scott Norwood missed the extra point attempt, forcing the Bills to attempt to score a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final drive. With time running out, Kelly led the Bills to Cleveland's 11-yard line. But fullback Ronnie Harmon dropped a potential game winning catch in the end zone [2] and Kelly was intercepted by Matthews on the next play.

Metcalf finished with 169 all purpose yards.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers 41, Minnesota Vikings 13[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Vikings 3 0 3 7 13
49ers 7 20 0 14 41

at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA

49ers quarterback Joe Montana threw for 241 yards and four touchdowns as San Francisco dominated the Vikings. Minnesota scored first on a 38-yard field goal by Rich Karlis, but then Montana completed 4 unanswered scores: a 72-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jerry Rice, an 8-yarder to tight end Brent Jones, an 8-yarder to wide receiver John Taylor, and a 13-yarder to Rice. 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, and running back Roger Craig rushed for a 4-yard score. Craig finished the game with 125 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Rice caught 6 passes for 114 yards and 2 scores. One of the few bright spots of the game for Minnesota was tight end Steve Jordan, who caught 9 passes for 149 yards

January 7, 1990[edit]

NFC: Los Angeles Rams 19, New York Giants 13 (OT)[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 OT Total
Rams 0 7 0 6 6 19
Giants 6 0 7 0 0 13

at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

The Rams upset the Giants with quarterback Jim Everett's 30-yard touchdown pass to Flipper Anderson with 1:06 gone in overtime.

On the Rams' first drive of the game, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor forced a fumble while sacking Everett that Gary Reasons recovered for New York on the Rams 11-yard line. This set up a 35-yard field goal by Raul Allegre to give the Giants a 3–0 lead. Allegre later kicked a second first quarter field goal to make the score 6–0, but in the second quarter, Giants quarterback Phil Simms threw a pass that was deflected by Jerry Gray and intercepted by safety Michael Stewart, who returned it 29 yards to the New York 20-yard line. On the next play, Everett threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Anderson with just 17 seconds left in the half, giving the Rams a 7–6 halftime lead.

On the opening drive of the second half, Everett was intercepted in the end zone by Giants defensive back Mark Collins. Later on, New York put together an 82-yard, 14-play drive to take the lead. Simms completed passes to Dave Meggett for 11 yards and Zeke Mowatt for 23, while running back Ottis Anderson rushed six times for 28 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run to make the score 13–7 with two minutes remaining in the quarter. But LA stormed right back, with Everett completing two passes to Henry Ellard for gains of 23 and 16 yards, along with a 16-yard run by Greg Bell, on the way to a 31-yard field goal by Mike Lansford. Later in the quarter, Everett completed 6 of 7 passes for 44 yards and rushed for 12 on a 75-yard drive that ended with Lansford's 21-yard field goal with 3:01 left, tying the score and sending the game into overtime.

After winning the coin toss, Los Angeles needed just one drive and 1:06 to win the game. Starting from their own 23-yard line, Everett's completions to tight end Pete Holohan and Ellard for gains of 12 and 13 yards moved the ball to the 48. On the next play, Giants defensive back Sheldon White was called for a 27-yard pass interference penalty while trying to cover Anderson. Following a 5-yard false start penalty against the Rams, Everett connected with Anderson for a 30-yard touchdown completion.

Ellard had the best postseason performance of his career with 8 receptions for 125 yards. Taylor had two sacks, while Anderson finished with 120 rushing yards. It proved to be the final playoff win for the Rams franchise before relocating to St. Louis in 1995.

AFC: Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 23[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 3 14 3 3 23
Broncos 0 10 7 7 24

at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado

The Broncos recovered from two early 10-point deficits to eventually win on a 71-yard drive that was capped by Melvin Bratton's 1-yard touchdown run with 2:27 left in the game. For the second game in a row, Steelers running back Merril Hoge had a superb performance, rushing for 120 yards on 16 carries and catching 8 passes for 60 yards. But this time it wasn't enough to lift his team to victory. Broncos receiver Mark Jackson caught 5 passes for 111 yards.

The Steelers jumped to a 3–0 early lead with a 32-yard field goal by Gary Anderson. On the first play of the second quarter, Hoge ripped off a 45-yard run, the longest of his career. He ended up rushing for 60 yards on the Steelers drive, including a 7-yard touchdown carry to increase the Steelers lead to 10-0. Denver responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive to score on Bratton's 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 10-7. But the Steelers stormed right back, with Bubby Brister completing a 25-yard pass to tight end Mike Murlarky and rookie running back Tim Worley contributing a 19-yard carry on the way to a 9-yard scoring reception by Louis Lipps. Shortly before the end of the half, Broncos kicker David Treadwell made a 43-yard field goal, putting the score at 17-10 going into halftime.

In the third quarter, Broncos defenders Karl Mecklenburg and Greg Kragen forced a fumble from Worley that defensive back Tyrone Braxton recovered on the Steelers 37-yard line, setting up quarterback John Elway's 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Vance Johnson to tie the game at 17. Brister struck back, completing a 19-yard screen to Hoge and a 30-yard pass to rookie receiver Mark Stock on the way to a 35-yard Anderson field goal. Then in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh defensive back Thomas Everett intercepted an Elway pass and returned it 26 yards to midfield, setting up Anderson's 32-yard field goal to make the score 23-17. The Steelers appeared to have a big chance to put the game away following a Denver punt. But after a productive start to their drive, Braxton tackled Hodge 1-yard short of a first down at the Denver 41 to bring up fourth down and force a punt.

Now with 7 minutes left in the game, Elway led the Broncos 71 yards in 9 plays, including a 36-yard completion to Jackson and a 15-yarder to Ricky Nattiel. Bratton finished the drive with his second 1-yard touchdown of the game, this one with 2:27 left. This time, the Steelers had no ability to respond. On first down of their ensuring possession, Brister fired a pass to a wide open Stock, but he tried to turn upfield before securing the catch and it fell to the turf incomplete. Then after another incompletion, Brister fumbled a low snap from backup center Chuck Lanza (filling in for injured all-pro center Dermontti Dawson) in shotgun formation, and Broncos safety Randy Robbins recovered the ball to secure the win.[3]

Brister completed 19/29 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. Elway threw for 239 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, and rushed for 44 yards.

Conference championships[edit]

January 14, 1990[edit]

AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 37, Cleveland Browns 21[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Browns 0 0 21 0 21
Broncos 3 7 14 13 37

at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado

Quarterback John Elway led the Broncos to a 37–21 victory with 385 passing yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, while also leading the Broncos in rushing with 39 yards on the ground. Denver jumped to a 10–0 halftime lead with kicker David Treadwell's 29-yard field goal and wide receiver Michael Young's 70-yard touchdown reception. However, the two teams scored a combined 5 touchdowns in the third period. Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brian Brennan, but Elway countered with a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Orson Mobley. Running back Sammy Winder's 7-yard rushing touchdown extended the Broncos lead to 24–7. However, Cleveland scored two touchdowns in a span of 2:11 to cut the lead to 24–21: a 10-yard touchdown reception by Brennan and 2-yard touchdown run by Tim Manoa. But then Denver scored 13 unanswered points in the final period to clinch the victory: Winder's 39-yard touchdown reception and two field goals by Treadwell.

NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers 30, Los Angeles Rams 3[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 3 0 0 0 3
49ers 0 21 3 6 30

at Candlestick Park, San Francisco

The 49ers crushed the Rams with 442 total yards and held the ball for 39:48. LA finished the game with just 156 yards, with only 26 on the ground, and quarterback Jim Everett, who threw for 4,310 yards and 29 touchdowns during the season, completed only 16/36 passes for 141 yards and was intercepted three times.

Los Angeles jumped to a 3–0 lead in the first quarter with a 23-yard field goal by Mike Lansford, but that was their lone score of the game. While the Rams had momentum early in the game, it shifted to San Francisco's favor for good when safety Ronnie Lott batted down a pass intended for a wide open Flipper Anderson. Had Anderson made the catch, he would have scored easily, giving the Rams a 10–0 lead. The Lott knockdown inspired the 49ers while deflating the Rams. From this point on, San Francisco dominated and led 21–3 at halftime. San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana threw 2 touchdown passes in the second period: a 20-yarder to tight end Brent Jones and an 18-yarder to wide receiver John Taylor. Running back Roger Craig recorded a 1-yard rushing touchdown, while kicker Mike Cofer made 3 field goals in the second half. Montana showed much precision and finished the game with 26 of 30 completions for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fullback Tom Rathman rushed for 63 yards and caught 6 passes for 48.

Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
49ers (NFC) 13 14 14 14 55
Broncos (AFC) 3 0 7 0 10

at Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Date: January 28, 1990
  • Game attendance: 72,919
  • Referee: Dick Jorgensen
  • TV announcers (CBS): Pat Summerall and John Madden