October 29, 2011

1989: Webster Slaughter Has Big Day as Browns Beat Oilers

From 1985 to ’88, the Cleveland Browns had won 32 regular season games and been to the postseason for four straight years, but despite advancing to the AFC Championship game twice, they had fallen short of the Super Bowl. The result had been the forced resignation of Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer by owner Art Modell. Bud Carson, formerly defensive coordinator of the Jets, was hired for 1989 and the team was at 4-3 as it hosted the Houston Oilers on October 29 at Municipal Stadium.

QB Bernie Kosar, healthy after missing eight games due to injuries in 1988, was an able field general and fine passer despite his awkward-looking sidearm passing style. The running game missed FB Kevin Mack, who was inactive due to off-field drug issues, but had speed in rookie HB Eric Metcalf. And while TE Ozzie Newsome was on the downside of his outstanding career, the wide receivers consisted of quick-footed Webster Slaughter (pictured above), tall Reggie Langhorne, and slow-but-sure-handed Brian Brennan.

The AFC Central was a tough, competitive division, and the visiting Oilers were one of the teams that made it so. Under Head Coach Jerry Glanville, they were aggressive on defense and quick-striking on offense. Former CFL star QB Warren Moon was coming off his first Pro Bowl season in the NFL, despite missing five games with a shoulder injury, and was playing well in ’89. Still, for all the talent, the team tended to be inconsistent and also was 4-3 coming into the game in Cleveland.

The Oilers received the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards in 14 plays, including two third-down conversions, finishing up with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Moon to WR Haywood Jeffires. The score remained at 7-0 as the teams traded punts into the second quarter until a Kosar pass was intercepted by SS Bubba McDowell at the Cleveland 29. While McDowell ran to the end zone, the play was called back due to an illegal use of hands infraction on the return, but seven plays later Tony Zendejas kicked a 23-yard field goal to extend Houston’s lead to 10-0.

Kosar was intercepted again on the Browns’ next possession, this time by CB Steve Brown, but the Oilers were unable to capitalize and took the ten-point lead into halftime.

Houston had dominated the first half, but the Browns drove methodically down the field to start the third quarter. Metcalf carried the ball six times for 26 yards on the 13-play possession that covered 71 yards and ended up with Kosar, not known for his mobility, running for the last five and a touchdown.

The Oilers had to punt after a short possession ended at their 46, and on the first play the Browns went with a flea-flicker as Metcalf took the handoff and then pitched back to Kosar, who threw long to Slaughter for an 80-yard touchdown. With Matt Bahr’s successful extra point, the Browns had a 14-10 lead with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The Oilers weren’t done yet, however, and moved quickly down the field. Moon threw to WR Ernest Givins for 15 yards and, following an incompletion, RB Alonzo Highsmith ran 25 yards down the middle. A holding penalty momentarily slowed the advance, but then Moon connected with WR Curtis Duncan for a 55-yard gain to the Cleveland one yard line, and from there RB Mike Rozier ran in for a TD. The Oilers were back in the lead at 17-14.

On Cleveland’s first play, Kosar was sacked by DE Ray Childress for a seven-yard loss. However, he again went long for Slaughter and was successful for a 77-yard touchdown. The eventful third quarter ended with the Browns back in front at 21-17.

Cleveland had the ball to start the fourth quarter and, on the third play, Metcalf took a pitchout and tossed an option pass to Langhorne in the end zone for a 32-yard TD. It was the rookie running back’s first NFL pass, and with the extra point it put the Browns up by 11 points.

There was still plenty of time, and the Oilers were capable of striking quickly as well. However, they again were forced to punt from near midfield. Cleveland managed to hold onto the ball for the remaining 9:20 of the game, a total of 15 plays that stretched from the Browns’ 20 to the Houston 25, and came away with a 28-17 win.

Cleveland outgained the Oilers (383 yards to 299) and had more first downs (18 to 17). However, Houston didn’t turn the ball over at all while the Browns did so twice.

Webster Slaughter was the star for Cleveland, catching 4 passes for 184 yards and the two long touchdowns. Bernie Kosar went to the air 19 times and completed 14 for 262 yards with two touchdowns as well as two interceptions; most significantly, he completed all eight of his second half passes for 207 of those yards. Eric Metcalf (pictured at left) rushed for only 48 yards on 17 carries, but also had 6 pass receptions for 46 yards and threw a touchdown pass.

For the Oilers, Warren Moon was successful on 15 of 25 passes for 241 yards and a TD with none intercepted. WR Drew Hill caught three of those passes for 67 yards while Ernest Givins and Haywood Jeffires also snagged three, for 42 and 30 yards respectively, and Curtis Duncan contributed 61 yards on his two catches. Alonzo Highsmith ran for 58 yards on 12 carries to pace the club.

Cleveland was in the midst of a four-game winning streak, but following a tie lost three straight before winning the final two contests, including the finale over the Oilers in Houston. The season sweep of the Oilers was significant, for the Browns won the AFC Central with a 9-6-1 record while Houston and Pittsburgh both ended up at 9-7. Both the Oilers and Steelers qualified for the playoffs (the Oilers swept Pittsburgh in their two meetings and thus placed second in the standings) and, meeting in the first round, the Steelers won in overtime. The Browns won their Divisional playoff over Buffalo but lost the AFC Championship game to their title-game nemesis, the Denver Broncos.

Webster Slaughter earned selection to the Pro Bowl by catching 65 passes for 1236 yards (19.0 avg.) and six touchdowns. Eric Metcalf gained 1748 all-purpose yards (633 rushing on 187 carries, 397 receiving with 54 catches, 718 returning 31 kickoffs); it was a good rookie year for the son of an earlier all-purpose pro halfback, Terry Metcalf.

Bernie Kosar (pictured below) was the fourth-ranked passer in the AFC (80.3 rating) as he threw for 3533 yards with 18 TD passes. He was among the league leaders with a completion percentage of 59.1 and low interception percentage of 2.7. Warren Moon was ahead of Kosar among passers in the conference (88.9 rating), yards passing (3631), completion percentage (60.3), and scoring throws (23). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for a second straight year (of an eventual eight consecutive and nine overall).