1980–81 NFL playoffs

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The NFL playoffs following the 1980 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XV.

Playoff seeds
1 San Diego Chargers (West winner) Atlanta Falcons (West winner)
2 Cleveland Browns (Central winner) Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)
3 Buffalo Bills (East winner) Minnesota Vikings (Central winner)
4 Oakland Raiders Dallas Cowboys
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 San Diego Chargers (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Oakland Raiders (the 4 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 4 - Cleveland Stadium        
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship
 4  Oakland  14
December 28 - Oakland Coliseum     January 11 - Jack Murphy Stadium
 2*  Cleveland  12  
 5  Houston  7  4  Oakland  34
January 3 - Jack Murphy Stadium
 4  Oakland  27      1  San Diego  27   Super Bowl XV
 3  Buffalo  14
    January 25 - Louisiana Superdome
 1*  San Diego  20  
 A4  Oakland  27
January 4 - Fulton County Stadium
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship    N2  Philadelphia  10
 4  Dallas  30
December 28 - Texas Stadium     January 11 - Veterans Stadium
 1  Atlanta  27  
 5  L.A. Rams  13  4  Dallas  7
January 3 - Veterans Stadium
 4  Dallas  34      2  Philadelphia  20  
 3  Minnesota  16
 2  Philadelphia  31  

Wild Card playoffs[edit]

December 28, 1980[edit]

AFC: Oakland Raiders 27, Houston Oilers 7[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Oilers 7 0 0 0 7
Raiders 3 7 0 17 27

at Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California

Even though the Oilers recorded more yards, more first downs, and more time of possession, the Raiders scored on big plays to win 27–7. Houston running back Earl Campbell lost a fumble on the first play of the game, setting up Oakland kicker Chris Bahr's 47-yard field goal. The Oilers responded with a 55-yard drive to score on Campbell's 1-yard touchdown run. In the second quarter, Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Todd Christensen. Oakland did not score again until the fourth quarter when Plunkett threw a 44-yard touchdown to Arthur Whittington, followed by Bahr's 37-yard field goal. With about 6 minutes left in the game, cornerback Lester Hayes returned an interception 20 yards to the end zone to clinch the Raiders' victory.

NFC: Dallas Cowboys 34, Los Angeles Rams 13[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 6 7 0 0 13
Cowboys 3 10 14 7 34

at Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas

The Cowboys avenged a 38–14 loss to the Rams two weeks earlier (in a game they trailed 38–0) as Dallas running back Tony Dorsett rushed for 160 yards, caught 3 passes for 28 yards, and scored 2 touchdowns to lead his team to victory. After Dallas kicker Rafael Septien opened up the scoring with a 28-yard field goal, the Rams marched 73-yards to score on running back Jewerl Thomas' 1-yard run. However, the ensuing extra point was blocked and Septien later made a 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 6.

In the second period, Los Angeles quarterback Vince Ferragamo completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver Preston Dennard, who finished the game with 6 receptions for 117 yards, but the Cowboys tied the game before halftime with Dorsett's 12-yard rushing touchdown. After the game was tied at halftime, 13–13, Cowboys quarterback Danny White threw 3 touchdown passes in the second half. In addition, Dallas coach Tom Landry went to a 5 man defensive front and they dropped various combinations into 7 and 8 man coverage to confuse the Rams potent passing game. The result was a combination of pressure on Ram QB Vince Ferragamo, and Dallas intercepted 3 passes. White then threw touchdown passes on Dallas' first three drives of the second half: A 10-yarder to Dorsett, a 35-yard one to Butch Johnson, and an 11-yarder to Drew Pearson. Dallas then turned to a potent rushing attack to chew up time and keep the Rams offense off the field. Dallas rushed 46 times for 338 yards, and the Rams were never able to score in the second half.

Divisional playoffs[edit]

January 3, 1981[edit]

AFC: San Diego Chargers 20, Buffalo Bills 14[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Bills 0 14 0 0 14
Chargers 3 0 7 10 20

at Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego

Although San Diego outgained Buffalo in total yards, 397 to 244, they still found themselves trailing for most of the game. With 2:08 left in the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts threw the 50-yard winning touchdown pass to receiver Ron Smith to defeat the Bills, 20–14. This was San Diego's first postseason win since 1963 (in the AFL) and their first playoff win as an NFL team.

Buffalo jumped to a 14–3 halftime lead with running back Roosevelt Leaks' 1-yard touchdown run and quarterback Joe Ferguson's 9-yard pass to Frank Lewis. However, San Diego took the opening kickoff and quickly racked up yardage with an 18-yard run by Chuck Muncie and a 45-yard completion from Fouts to Charlie Joiner. Fouts eventually finished the 70-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Joiner, making the score 14-10. Then late in the third quarter, the Chargers forced the Bills to punt from their own 8-yard line and got the ball with great field position on the Buffalo 49. Fouts then led the team to the 1, but a penalty pushed them back and they ended up settling Rolf Benirschke's 22-yard field goal to make it 14–13.

Buffalo had a great chance to put the game away when Lou Piccone blocked a Chargers punt to give the Bills the ball with great field position. But safety Glen Edwards intercepted a pass from Ferguson on the San Diego 9-yard line to keep the Bills from scoring. With 6:17 left in regulation, Buffalo got another chance to make a decisive score when they recovered a fumbled punt return from Mike Fuller. But two plays later, defensive tackle Fred Dean dropped Joe Cribbs for a 1-yard loss on 3rd and 1, and then Nick Mike-Mayer missed a 49-yard field goal attempt, giving the ball back to San Diego with 3:59 left.

After driving to midfield, the Chargers faced 3rd and 10 with 2:08 remaining. Buffalo sent safety Steve Freeman on a blitz for the next play, leaving Smith, San Diego's #3 receiver, one on one with defensive back Bill Simpson. Earlier in the game, Simpson had knocked the ball out of Smith's hands during a catch attempt and then picked it off in mid air. But this time, Smith managed to get one step ahead of Simpson, make the catch, and evade his desperate diving tackle attempt, leaving Simpson face down on the turf as he raced 50 yards for a touchdown. Edwards sealed the victory for the Chargers after the ensuing kickoff by recording his second interception from Ferguson with 1:16 left in the game.[1]

After the game it was revealed that Ferguson had been playing with a fractured ankle, suffered three weeks earlier in a game against the New England Patriots. He finished the day with 180 yards and touchdown, but was intercepted three times. Fouts threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. His top target was receiver John Jefferson, who caught 7 passes for 102 yards.

NFC: Philadelphia Eagles 31, Minnesota Vikings 16[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Vikings 7 7 2 0 16
Eagles 0 7 14 10 31

at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

The Eagles forced 8 turnovers, 7 in the second half, en route to a 31–16 victory, while also holding the Vikings to just 215 total yards, with a mere 36 on the ground. It marked a bitter repeat for Minnesota, who had lost to the Eagles 42-7 during the regular season

The Vikings scored 14 unanswered points in the first half with wide receiver Sammy White's 30-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Tommy Kramer and running back Ted Brown's 1-yard touchdown run. However, Philadelphia scored before halftime by finishing off an 85-yard drive with quarterback Ron Jaworski's 9-yard touchdown completion to wide receiver Harold Carmichael. The Eagles then tied the game on the opening possession of the second half with Wilbert Montgomery's 8-yard touchdown run. Minnesota scored a safety when Jaworski was sacked in the end zone by Matt Blair and Doug Martin, but Reggie Wilkes recovered a fumbled punt return by Vikings running back Eddie Payton that set up Montgomery's 5-yard rushing touchdown. Then the Vikings lost two turnovers, which led to 10 points for the Eagles, and Kramer threw interceptions on each of his team's final 4 drives.

January 4, 1981[edit]

AFC: Oakland Raiders 14, Cleveland Browns 12[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Raiders 0 7 0 7 14
Browns 0 6 6 0 12

at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

In a play that has become to be known as Red Right 88, Browns quarterback Brian Sipe's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Raiders safety Mike Davis with 41 seconds left in the game to preserve Oakland's 14–12 victory. Instead of opting for a game winning field goal, Cleveland decided to attempt a passing play because Browns kicker Don Cockroft had previously missed two of four field goal attempts, had another aborted following a bad snap, and had one extra point blocked. In addition, the field was frozen and slippery.

With the game-time temperature at 4 °F (−16 °C), the coldest NFL game since the Ice Bowl of December 31, 1967, the first quarter contained nothing but punts and interceptions, with Cleveland's Ron Bolton and Oakland's Lester Hayes each recording a pick. Near the end of the quarter, Sipe's 20-yard completion to Reggie Rucker sparked a drive inside the Raiders 30-yard line, but it ended with no points early in the second quarter when Cockroft missed a field goal attempt from 47 yards. On Oakland's ensuing drive, quarterback Jim Plunkett lost a fumble while being sacked, but their defense kept the Browns in check and Cockroft missed another field goal try, this one from 30 yards out.

Finally with 6:02 left in the second quarter, Bolton scored the first points of the day by recording his second interception from Plunkett and returning it 42 yards to the end zone. However, Cockroft's ensuing extra point was blocked by Ted Hendricks. After an exchange of punts, Oakland managed to get on the board, with Plunkett completing passes to Bob Chandler and Raymond Chester for gains of 15 and 26 yards on a 64-yard scoring drive. Mark van Eeghen finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the half, making the score 7–6.

On Cleveland's opening drive of the second half, a 28-yard kickoff return to the 40-yard line by Charles White started off a 48-yard drive that ended with Cockroft's 30-yard field goal, retaking the lead for the Browns a 9–7. Then after forcing a punt, Cleveland drove to the Raiders 24-yard line, but on a field goal attempt, holder Paul McDonald was unable to handle a bad snap and was downed for an 11-yard loss. Starting out their next drive on the Raiders 44 after a punt, Cleveland drove to the 9, featuring a 21-yard reception by Dave Logan to score on another 30-yard field goal from Cockroft, making the score 12–7 going into the fourth quarter.[2]

Early in the final period, the Raiders took a 14–12 lead at the end of an 80-yard drive highlighted by Chester's 27-yard catch. On the last play, van Eeghen scored his second 1-yard touchdown run of the day. Later on, the Raiders had a chance to put the game away when they recovered a fumble from Sipe on the Browns 24-yard line with 4:19 left in the game. But after moving to a 3rd and 1 situation on the 15, van Eeghen was stuffed for no gain on two consecutive plays. On the second play after the turnover, Sipe completed a 29-yard pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome and later a 23-yarder to Greg Pruitt. Then Mike Pruitt ran the ball 14 yards to the Raiders 14-yard line. Pruitt gained another yard on the next play, and the team called a timeout from the 13 with 49 seconds left.

Browns coach Sam Rutigliano called for a pass play, Red Right 88, instructing Sipe that if no one was open "throw it to the blond in the first row". His intention was to give the team one last chance to score a touchdown before running the ball on third down to set up a Cockroft field goal. But on the pass play, Sipe was picked off by Davis while trying to connect with Newsome in the back of the end zone, allowing the Raiders to escape with a win.[3]

The quarterbacks of both teams were completely dominated throughout the game. Sipe was held to just 13 of 40 completions for 183 yards and intercepted 3 times, while Oakland's Jim Plunkett completed only 14 of 30 passes for 149 yards, with 2 interceptions. Hayes and Bolton each had two interceptions

NFC: Dallas Cowboys 30, Atlanta Falcons 27[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 3 7 0 20 30
Falcons 10 7 7 3 27

at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

The Cowboys scored 3 touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come from behind and defeat the Falcons 30–27. Atlanta jumped to a 10–3 lead, aided by quarterback Steve Bartkowski's 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Alfred Jenkins. In the second quarter, Dallas recovered a fumble in Atlanta territory and tied the game quarterback Danny White's 5-yard touchdown completion to tight end Billy Joe Dupree. However, the Falcons responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Lynn Cain to take a 17–10 lead. Then after forcing a punt, Atlanta mounted another drive into Dallas territory, but defensive back Steve Wilson intercepted a pass from Bartkowski and the score remained 17–10 at halftime.

Dallas started out the second half with a drive to midfield, but lost the ball on a play that initially appeared to go in their favor. Running back Preston Pearson caught a short pass from Danny White and took off for a big gain, but linebacker Joel Williams, who initially pressured White into making the pass, managed to chase Pearson down and force a fumble on the 15-yard line. After recovering the fumble, Atlanta stormed down the field and increased their lead to 24–10 with Bartkowski's 12-yard touchdown pass to running back William Andrews.

Starting a drive with 3:38 left in the third quarter, Dallas mounted an 85-yard drive that ended with Robert Newhouse's 1-yard touchdown run with 13:50 left in the game. Dallas subsequently forced a punt, but Atlanta safety Tom Pridemore intercepted a pass from White and returned it 22 yards to the Cowboys 37-yard line, setting up an Atlanta field goal to increase the lead 27–17. Dallas then marched 62 yards to score on Drew Pearson's 14-yard touchdown reception with 3:04 left in the game. Then two plays after ensuing the kickoff, Dallas lineman Ed "Too Tall" Jones appeared to jump offsides, which would have given the Falcons a first down, but managed to maintain his footing and avoid crossing the line of scrimmage before the snap. As a result, his sudden movement threw off Atlanta's offense and he ended up making a key tackle to end the drive and force a punt. Following the punt, Dallas advanced 70 yards to score on Pearson's 23-yard touchdown catch with 47 seconds left.

Charlie Waters fumbled the snap on the extra point attempt, keeping the score at 30–27 and giving Atlanta a chance to drive for a tying field goal. But the Falcons turned the ball over on downs before they could move it out of their own territory.

Jenkins finished the game with 4 receptions for 155 yards.

The game is featured as one of the NFL's Greatest Games as the Duel in Dixie.

Conference championships[edit]

January 11, 1981[edit]

AFC Championship: Oakland Raiders 34, San Diego Chargers 27[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Raiders 21 7 3 3 34
Chargers 7 7 10 3 27

at Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego

Oakland built a 28–7 first half lead, but had to hold off a furious comeback attempt to become the second wildcard team in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl.

In the first quarter alone, Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, starting with his 65-yard touchdown pass to tight end Raymond Chester that was tipped twice, once by the Raiders and once by the Chargers, on the third play of the game. The Chargers seemed primed to respond on their next drive, but Oakland defensive back Lester Hayes, who had already recorded 4 interceptions in the previous two postseason games, picked off a pass from Dan Fouts and returned it 16 yards to the Raiders 25-yard line. However, the Chargers defense forced a punt and Fouts made up for his mistake on the next possession, hooking up with Charlie Joiner for a 48-yard touchdown to tie that game at 7.

Oakland stormed back with 21 unanswered points. First, Pluntkett's 48-yard completion to receiver Cliff Branch set off a 7-play, 76-yard drive that ended with his 5-yard touchdown run. Then the Raiders defense forced a punt, and Ira Matthews returned Patrick Partridge's 41-yard kick 14 yards to the Chargers 49-yard line. Four plays later, Plunkett's 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Kenny King made the score 21–7 with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Safety Burgess Owens ended San Diego's next drive with an interception. The Raiders were forced to punt on their ensuing drive, but San Diego running back Mike Thomas lost a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Ted Hendricks on the Chargers 29-yard line, and the Raiders capitalized with another touchdown, this one a 3-yard run by Mark van Eeghen, to earn a 28–7 lead. But this time San Diego responded, driving 64 yards in 13 plays and scoring on Fouts' 8-yard completion to Joiner, cutting the score to 28–14 with 1:05 left in the half.

The Chargers continued to cut away at the Raiders lead in the second half, driving 68 yards in 12 plays on the opening drive and scoring on Rolf Benirschke's 26-yard field goal. Their defense then forced a punt, which Mike Fuller returned to the Raiders 41-yard line. From there, San Diego took the ball all the way to end zone, scoring on a 7-play drive that ended on Chuck Muncie's 6-yard touchdown run and knocked the score down to 28–24. But this time, Oakland responded with a 68-yard drive to score on Chris Bahr's 27-yard field goal to retake their 7-point lead. Then after a three and out, Bahr kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it 10 points, 34–24, with 9:46 left in the game.

The Chargers then countered with a 72-yard drive with score on Benirschke's 27-yard field goal. The Raider defense was exhausted and they implored their offense by saying "don't let them have the damn ball back"! The Raiders then held onto the ball for the last 6:52 of the game on a 15-play drive (12 runs, one pass, two quarterback kneels), with Plunkett scrambling twice on 3rd down to pick up key first downs, to clinch the victory.[4]

Plunkett finished the game with 14 of 18 completions for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns. Chester caught 5 passes for a career postseason high 102 yards and a touchdown. Fouts threw for 336 yards and two scores, but was intercepted twice. Joiner caught 6 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.[5]

NFC Championship: Philadelphia Eagles 20, Dallas Cowboys 7[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 0 7 0 0 7
Eagles 7 0 10 3 20

at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

1980 NFC Championship Game.

Although Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski completed only 9 of 29 passes for 91 yards and was intercepted twice, running back Wilbert Montgomery led the Eagles to a victory by rushing for 194 yards and a touchdown. Dallas had been the highest scoring team in the NFL during the regular season, but against the Eagles defense, they could only gain 206 yards and score a single touchdown. They also fumbled five times, losing three of them.

Dallas was forced to a three and out on their opening drive, and P/QB Danny White's kick went just 26 yards before John Sciarra returned it to the Cowboys 42-yard line. One play later, Montgomery scored on a 42-yard rushing touchdown. The Eagles earned themselves chances to score on their next two drives. However, they were stopped both times and their special teams unit failed to capitalize. First, they drove to the Dallas 23-yard line, only to have Tony Franklin's field goal attempt blocked by Dallas cornerback Aaron Mitchell. Then they drove to the Cowboys 16-yard line, where Harvey Martin sacked Jaworski on third down and a high snap on the field goal try sailed right through Jaworski's his hands.

Midway through the second quarter, White, who had been held to negative passing yardage, finally got the Cowboys going on a 10-play, 68-yard drive, completing an 18-yard screen pass to Tony Dorsett and a 12-yarder to Drew Pearson before Dorsett wrapped it up with a 3-yard touchdown run to tie the game. The score would remain 7–7 at halftime, due to another blown scoring chance by the Eagles when Jaworski's touchdown pass to Harold Carmichael was canceled out by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on guard Woody Peoples.

In the third quarter, the first turnover of the game occurred when Philadelphia's Billy Campfield recovered a fumbled punt return from James Jones. Dallas quickly took the ball back with Anthony Dickerson's interception, but they only held on for a few plays before White lost a fumble due to a massive hit from Carl Hairston, which defensive end Dennis Harrison recovered on the Dallas 11-yard to set up Franklin's 26-yard field goal. Dallas seemed to be in position to respond when tight end Jay Saldi made a leaping catch on the Eagles 40-yard line for a 28-yard gain, White's longest completion of the day. On the next play rookie cornerback Roynell Young stripped the ball from Dorsett, and linebacker Jerry Robinson returned it 22 yards to the Dallas 38-yard line. Six plays later, running back Leroy Harris scored a 9-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 17–7 lead. Later on, Montgomery's 55-yard carry put the Eagles in position to put the game away, but Aaron Mitchell kept Dallas' chances alive by intercepting a pass from Jaworski in the end zone.

Still their offense was totally unable to move the ball. For the rest of the game, the Cowboys never made it into Eagles territory, and after Philadelphia put together a 62-yard drive to score the final points of the game on Franklin's 20-yard field goal with 2:10 remaining, Young intercepted a pass from White on their final play of the game with seconds remaining.

The Eagles, as home team, elected to wear their road white jerseys instead of their home green jerseys so as to force Dallas to wear their rarely used dark blue jerseys rather than their familiar white jerseys; through the years, the Cowboys' blue jerseys were said to be jinxed since they often lost wearing them – especially in Super Bowl V.

Montgomery finished with more all-purpose yards (208) then the entire Dallas team. This was the first time Dallas had ever allowed an opposing player to rush for over 100 yards in their 28 postseason games. This would be the Eagles' last playoff victory until the 1992 season. Super Bowl XV began a five-game postseason losing streak for the franchise.

Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10[edit]

Further information: Super Bowl XV
Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Raiders (AFC) 14 0 10 3 27
Eagles (NFC) 0 3 0 7 10

at Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Date: January 25, 1981
  • Game attendance: 76,135
  • Referee: Ben Dreith
  • TV announcers (NBC): Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen

External links[edit]