1989–90 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1989 season began on December 31, 1989. The postseason tournament concluded with the San Francisco 49ers defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, 55–10, on January 28, 1990, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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.
- 1 Participants
- 2 Bracket
- 3 Wild Card playoffs
- 4 Divisional playoffs
- 5 Conference championships
- 6 Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10
- 7 References
Within each conference, the three division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The three division winners were seeded 1 through 3 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams were seeded 4 and 5. The NFL did not use a fixed bracket playoff system. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the fourth seed wild card hosted the fifth seed. All three division winners from each conference then received a bye in the first round. The second round, the divisional playoffs, had a restriction where two teams from the same division could not meet: the surviving wild card team visited the division champion outside its own division that had the higher seed, and the remaining two teams from that conference played each other. The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, was played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|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: 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.
|Jan. 7 – Giants Stadium|
|NFC Wild Card Game||NFC Championship|
|Dec. 31 – Veterans Stadium||Jan. 14 – Candlestick Park|
|5||L.A. Rams||21||5||L.A. Rams||3|
|Jan. 6 – Candlestick Park|
|4||Philadelphia||7||1||San Francisco||30||Super Bowl XXIV|
|Jan. 28 – Louisiana Superdome|
|Jan. 6 – Cleveland Stadium|
|AFC Wild Card Game||AFC Championship||A1||Denver||10|
|Dec. 31 – Astrodome||Jan. 14 – Mile High Stadium|
|Jan. 7 – Mile High Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
Wild Card playoffs
December 31, 1989
NFC: Los Angeles Rams 21, Philadelphia Eagles 7
The Rams outgained the Eagles in total yards 409 to 306 and jumped to a 14-0 first half lead of the way to their first playoff win in four years.
LA scored on the opening drive, moving the ball 83 yards in five plays. Jim Everett finished the drive with a long pass to receiver Henry Ellard, who outjumped defensive back Izel Jenkins for the ball and raced 39 yards to the end zone. The next time the Rams had the ball, Everett's 30-yard completion to Ellard set up his 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Damone Johnson, giving the team a 14-0 lead less than 8 minutes into the game. By the end of the first quarter, Everett had completed 7/11 passes for 173 yards, and at the end of the first half, the Eagles had a mere 77 total yards and 3 first downs. However, the Rams would blow several scoring chances that enabled the Eagles to stay in the game: Greg Bell lost a fumble on the Philadelphia 4-yard line, Everett threw an interception to Jenkins from the Eagles 25, and kicker Mike Lansford missed a 47-yard field goal.
Philadelphia's offense made a major improvement in the second half (229 yards and 11 first downs), but they would not score until 10:38 remained in the fourth quarter when fullback Anthony Toney capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the score to 14-7. Eagles linebacker Seth Joyner then picked off a pass from Everett on the Philadelphia 30-yard line, giving the team a great chance to drive for the tying score. But they ended up punting at the end of an ugly series in which Heath Sherman fumbled after an 11-yard run (recovered by receiver Cris Carter), Cunningham fumbled a snap (he recovered it), and then threw two incompletions. Los Angeles subsequently put the game away with a 84-yard, 7-play scoring drive. Everett kept it going on third and 5 with a 15-yard completion to running back Buford McGee, and then Bell took off for a 54-yard bust on the next play, moving the ball to the Eagles 10-yard line. Eventually, he finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, making the final score 21-7.
"This year we wanted nothing short of the Super Bowl," said Eagles defensive tackle Mike Golic. "To lose the first game, a lot of people are going to be seriously bummed out for a long time. I`m disgusted."
Everett completed 18 of 33 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. Ellard caught 4 passes for 87 yards and a score. Bell rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown, while also catching a 23-yard pass. Linebacker Kevin Greene had five tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Cunningham finished the game 24/40 for 238 yards with an interception, and rushed for 39 yards. Fullback Keith Byars was the Eagles top receiver with 9 receptions for 68 yards.
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Houston Oilers 23 (OT)
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. Pittsburgh 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.
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.
January 6, 1990
AFC: Cleveland Browns 34, Buffalo Bills 30
In a shootout, 33-year-old 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.
The game was played on a cold icy field that would have a big impact on the game. The Browns took the opening kickoff and drove into Bills territory, but came up empty when Matt Bahr slipped while planting his foot on a 45-yard field goal attempt. On Buffalo's second play after the missed kick, Kelly threw a short pass to Andre Reed. Defensive back Felix Wright slipped while going into coverage, leaving Reed wide open and he ended up taking the ball 72 yards to the end zone. But Cleveland struck back with a 45-yard field goal by Matt Bahr and a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kosar to Slaughter in the second quarter. 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, the first turnover of the game occurred when Browns defensive back Mark Harper intercepted a pass from Kelly on the Cleveland 46. Kosar then 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, Buffalo drove 77 yards to score on Kelly's 3-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. But Scott Norwood slipped on an icy patch of the field while attempting the extra point, 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  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
49ers quarterback Joe Montana threw for 241 yards and four touchdowns as San Francisco dominated the Vikings, gaining 403 total yards and forcing 5 turnovers. Minnesota had led the NFL in sacks during the regular season with 72, but in this game Montana was not sacked at all.
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. In the fourth quarter, defensive back Ronnie Lott returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, and Tim McKyer's 41-yard interception return set up their final score on Roger Craig's 4-yard run. The 49ers could have had an even bigger lead, but Cofer missed two fields goals from distances of 31 and 32 yards, along with an extra point, while Craig lost an early fumble on the Minnesota 9-yard line.
The Vikings defense had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, but Craig reached triple digits on his first carry of the second half, and 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
NFC: Los Angeles Rams 19, New York Giants 13 (OT)
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
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 Mularkey 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.
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.
January 14, 1990
AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 37, Cleveland Browns 21
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 outgained Cleveland in total yards 497 to 256 and forced three turnovers.
Denver scored first with David Treadwell's 29-yard field goal, five plays after Broncos safety Dennis Smith intercepted a pass from Bernie Kosar on the Cleveland 35 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter. Then on their next drive, Browns defensive back Frank Minnifield stumbled while trying to bump receiver Michael Young at the line of scrimmage, enabling Young to soar past him, catch a pass from Elway, and take off for a 70-yard touchdown reception that put Denver up 10-0 at the end of the half.
Cleveland struck back on their opening drive of the third quarter with a 79-yard, 8-play touchdown drive. Kosar had a 16-yard scramble on the possession, and eventually wrapped it up with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Brian Brennan, cutting the score to 10-7. However, Denver responded with a touchdown of their own, as Sammy Winder (filling in for injured starter Bobby Humphrey) rushed for 22 yards on the drive, while Elway completed a 53-yard pass to Young and finished it off with a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Orson Mobley, putting the team back up by 10 points at 17-7. Later in the quarter, Cleveland defensive back Kyle Kramer was called for 15-yard spearing penalty on Elway's 25-yard run, setting up Winder's 7-yard touchdown run that gave the Broncos a 24-7 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Now down by 17 points, Kosar desperately rallied the Browns back, completing passes to Reggie Langhorne, Lawyer Tillman, and Webster Slaughter for gains of 27, 15, and 16 yards. Then he connected with Brennan for a 10-yard touchdown completion that made the score 24-14. A few plays after the ensuing kickoff, defensive end Al Baker forced a fumble from Broncos running back Melvin Bratton. Defensive back Felix Wright recovered the ball and returned it 27 yards to the Denver 1-yard line, setting up Tim Manoa's 2-yard td run and downing their deficit to 24-21 going into the fourth quarter.
However, Denver quickly eliminated Cleveland's comeback hopes with their opening drive of the fourth quarter. On the first play after ensuing kickoff, Elway completed a 23-yard pass Vance Johnson. Then on 3rd and 10 from the Denver 43, he completed a 20-yard pass to Johnson, two plays before hooking up with Winder for a 39-yard touchdown completion. Denver then scored field goals on each of their next two drives to put the game away.
Young finished the game with 123 yards and a touchdown on just two receptions. Johnson and 7 catches for 93 yards. This was the third time in the last four years Denver defeated Cleveland in the AFC championship game.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers 30, Los Angeles Rams 3
The Rams had split their two games with San Francisco during the season, and only a dramatic comeback by San Francisco on a Monday night game had prevented LA from sweeping the series. But in this game, 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. His dual threat receiving tandem of Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard was nullified as they combined for just 3 receptions for 32 yards. Everett hit a low point in the game with his infamous "phantom sack", a play in which he fell down before any San Francisco defenders reached him, a play that would haunt him for the rest of his career.
Los Angeles took advantage of a 31-yard punt by Barry Helton that gave them a first down at midfield, driving to the 6 in 10 plays and scoring on Mike Lansford's 23-yard field goal. However, this would be their only score, and Helton would punt only once more during the game. They soon got another chance to score when 49ers tight end Brent Jones lost a fumble. Guard Guy McIntyre picked up the ball, but then fumbled it as well, and the ball was recovered by linebacker Larry Kelm. While the Rams had momentum at this point, 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. Instead, the Rams ended up punting, and San Francisco stormed down the field on a 13-play, 89-yard scoring drive. Montana completed 5/6 passes for 67 yards on the possession, the last one a 20-yard touchdown completion to Jones 3:33 into the second quarter.
On LA's ensuing drive, Everett threw pass that bounced off Ellard and then running back Don Griffin before being intercepted by Tim McKyer, who returned the ball 27 yards to the Rams 27-yard line. Five plays later, Roger Craig increased the 49ers lead to 14-3 with a 1-yard touchdown run. Then after a Rams punt, Montana completed 8 of 10 passes for 90 yards on a 14-play, 87-yard drive (which involved overcoming a 15-yard personal foul call against center Jesse Sapolu) to score on an 18-yard touchdown completion to John Taylor with 9 seconds left in the half.
An 11-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard Mike Cofer field goal increased the 49ers lead to 24-3 early in the third quarter. Cofer later missed a field goal after Lott picked off an Everett pass, but made 36-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter, and a 25-yard kick with 5:40 left in the game to make the final score 30-3.
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. Craig was the top rusher of the game with 94 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 3 passes for 40 yards.
This would end up being the Rams' last playoff game until 1999, and their last while located in Los Angeles; they would move to St. Louis in 1995.
Super Bowl XXIV: San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10
- on YouTube
- 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)