October 25, 2011

1992: “One-Yard War” Allows Eagles to Hold Off Cards in 7-3 Win

The Philadelphia Eagles were 4-2 as they hosted the lowly Phoenix Cardinals at Veterans Stadium on October 25, 1992. Much was expected of the Eagles under second-year Head Coach Rich Kotite. The star-studded defense that was anchored by future Hall of Fame DE Reggie White had been superb in 1991, and was equally adept against both the run and pass. However, star QB Randall Cunningham had been lost to a season-ending knee injury in the first week of the ’91 season, and the offense struggled. The team barely missed the playoffs, and with Cunningham back and joined by free agent RB Herschel Walker, the Eagles were considered to be Super Bowl contenders. The death of star DT Jerome Brown in an offseason car accident had been the one key loss on the defensive unit that had originally been built by Kotite’s predecessor, Buddy Ryan, and was now ably directed by defensive coordinator Bud Carson.

Philadelphia started strong in ’92 with four straight wins, including one by a 31-14 margin at Phoenix, but had lost the previous two games coming into the contest against the Cards. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had endured seven straight losing seasons, appeared well on the way to an eighth, and were frustrating the fans in Arizona, where the franchise had relocated in 1988. Coached by Joe Bugel for the third year, they had a decent passing game operated by QB Chris Chandler, but a mediocre running attack. The defense ranked near the bottom of the league.

There were 64,676 fans in attendance at The Vet on a typical partly-cloudy autumn afternoon in Philadelphia. The Cardinals had first possession and punted, and the Eagles drove to the Phoenix 29 with the key play being a Cunningham pass to WR Vai Sikahema for 19 yards in a third-and-four situation. However, Roger Ruzek’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide and the game was still scoreless after a quarter.

Philadelphia had the ball heading into the second quarter and again drove into Phoenix territory as Cunningham completed a pass to WR Fred Barnett for 16 yards and two to WR Calvin Williams that gained 25. The Eagles failed to convert a fourth-and-one at the Cards’ 24, but they got the ball back on the next play when Chandler threw to FB Larry Centers, who gained 11 yards but fumbled. LB Seth Joyner recovered at the 50, and Philadelphia scored four plays later when Cunningham completed a pass to Williams for a 40-yard touchdown.

The Cardinals responded by driving into Eagles territory, with Chandler throwing to RB Johnny Bailey for a 34-yard gain to the Philadelphia 41 yard line. Getting down to the 27, Chandler passed to WR Randal Hill in a third-and-eight situation, and while Hill gained 13 yards, he fumbled when hit by CB Otis Smith and SS Rich Miano recovered at the one yard line.

It looked like trouble for the Eagles two plays later, however, when a long Cunningham pass was intercepted by CB Aeneas Williams, who returned it 23 yards. The Cardinals had a first down at the Philadelphia three with 3:33 left in the first half, and the visitors were well-positioned to possibly tie the score.

Coach Bugel had been a longtime offensive line coach and his inclination up close to the goal line was to run at the defense – even one as strong as Philadelphia’s, which had not allowed a rushing touchdown thus far in the season. On first down, Bailey gained two yards down to the one. With second-and-goal, Chandler tried a quarterback sneak but was pushed backward and, when he attempted to reach the ball over the goal line, it was slapped out of his hand and recovered by DT Mike Pitts. However, the celebration was cut short when LB Britt Hager was penalized for jumping offside, nullifying the play.

The Cards had dodged a bullet and not only still had a second down but were a half-yard closer to the end zone. They went back to Bailey, who gained nothing as DT Mike Golic and MLB Byron Evans knocked him backward for the loss of a half yard. On third-and-one, Bailey was again stopped – and again, Hager was flagged for being offside. The ball was advanced a half-yard and with another third down play, Chandler again tried to sneak it in. He gained nothing, but the Eagles were penalized once more for being offside – this time, the offender was the other outside linebacker, William Thomas.

While officially there was no gain for Phoenix, the ball was moved half the distance, which meant that the Cardinals still had a third down play, this time from a quarter-of-a-yard. With the home fans in a frenzy and the Eagles defense fired up, Phoenix again sent Bailey toward the line, who dove and was hit hard and repelled by Evans.

There were no flags this time, and it was now fourth-and-goal, with the ball moved back to the one. Coach Bugel called a timeout, but there was no question that the Cardinals would go for it – and that it would be a running play into the line. With the stadium rocking, Bailey took the handoff and headed toward right tackle, directly at Reggie White, who pushed the lead blocker backward and, along with Hager, stopped the play for no gain. Seven plays, six of them from the one yard line or closer, had come up empty. The Eagles, having won what came to be referred to as “The One-Yard War”, ran out the clock and went into halftime with a 7-0 lead.

The rest of the game was anticlimactic. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Cardinals got to the Philadelphia six, but Greg Davis missed a 24-yard field goal attempt. Midway through the period, Ruzek missed for a second time for the Eagles, this time from 42 yards.

Timm Rosenbach replaced Chandler at quarterback for Phoenix, and in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Davis got the Cards on the board with a 34-yard field goal, but that was it. The Eagles recovered a fumble at the Cards’ 26, but any chance to add to the lead ended when Cunningham was sacked for a 15-yard loss on a third-and-20 play that put them out of field goal range. Phoenix responded with a 14-play drive that got to the Philadelphia 22 but came up empty when Rosenbach threw two straight incomplete passes to turn the ball over on downs. The Eagles came away with a hard-fought 7-3 win.

The Cardinals actually outgained Philadelphia (253 yards to 247) and had the edge in first downs (13 to 11). They hurt themselves by turning the ball over four times – and not being able to take advantage of scoring opportunities. As for the Eagles, Cunningham was sacked five times and they had just 84 net passing yards as the offense slumped badly. Philadelphia was also penalized 13 times, as opposed to four flags thrown on the Cards.

Randall Cunningham was successful on just 9 of 20 passes for 121 yards with the lone touchdown and one interception; he also ran for 20 yards on five carries. Herschel Walker had a good day on the ground as he gained 112 yards on 20 attempts. Calvin Williams and Vai Sikahema both caught three passes, with Williams gaining 65 yards and scoring a TD (Sikahema, better known for his abilities as a kick returner, gained 31 yards).

For the Cardinals, Chris Chandler completed 8 of 16 throws for 118 yards with an interception while Timm Rosenbach went 6 of 13 for 45 yards. Johnny Bailey, who had such difficulty in the goal-line stand, was the top ground gainer with 55 yards on 14 carries and also caught three passes for 53 yards. Randal Hill had 5 receptions for 76 yards.

The Eagles remained an inconsistent club through the middle of the season, but won their last four games to finish in second place in the NFC East with an 11-5 record; they qualified for a wild card berth in the postseason and beat the Saints in the first round before losing to division-rival Dallas at the Divisional level. Phoenix won its next two games but only one more thereafter to end up at the bottom of the division with a 4-12 tally.

The Philadelphia defense, missing Jerome Brown and suffering some injuries during the year, didn’t rank as high as in 1991, but was still formidable (fifth vs. the run, 12th against the pass, sixth overall). It would begin to fall apart in the offseason, most notably with the departure of Reggie White through free agency, and over the next few years other key players would follow.