December 25, 2012

1993: Defenses Dominate as Oilers Edge 49ers

The Christmas encounter on December 25, 1993 featured two high-scoring teams that were on their way to the postseason. The San Francisco 49ers were perennial contenders and, in their fifth year under Head Coach George Seifert, were 10-4 and already had sewn up a spot in the playoffs. The mobile lefthanded QB Steve Young was admirably succeeding the departed Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice was the best at his position, and RB Ricky Watters a temperamental but talented presence in the backfield. The 49ers scored 55 points in their previous contest.

The Houston Oilers, coached by Jack Pardee, overcame a slow start to win nine straight games and were also at 10-4 and playing for home field advantage in the playoffs. QB Warren Moon was highly productive in the club’s run-and-shoot offense and the defense was responding to the coaching of coordinator Buddy Ryan.

There were 61,744 fans present for the Saturday afternoon game at Candlestick Park. San Francisco’s first series of the game ended with a failed 47-yard field goal attempt by Mike Cofer. Both teams had difficulty moving the ball during the remainder of the opening period but it ended with Moon completing a pass to RB Gary Brown (pictured above) for a 20-yard gain and the second quarter started off with another Moon throw to WR Gary Wellman that picked up 44 yards to the San Francisco 6. That was as far as the Oilers could get and they settled for a 24-yard field goal by Al Del Greco to take a 3-0 lead.

On the next series, a fumble by Young, who lost the ball when sacked by blitzing rookie safety Blaine Bishop, led to Houston scoring a touchdown three plays later on a seven-yard pass from Moon to WR Ernest Givins.

Down by 10-0, the Niners put together a long drive from their 22 yard line that was helped along by two Houston penalties. However, after reaching the Oilers’ 19 Young’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by CB Cris Dishman to extinguish the threat.

In the third quarter, Houston was driving and seemed about to take control of the game when Moon was intercepted for the second time by CB Michael McGruder, who returned it 15 yards to his own 30. The 49ers responded by putting together a promising series. Following a five-yard scramble by Young, he threw to RB Amp Lee for a 22-yard gain and then to Jerry Rice for 32 yards to the Houston 11. The drive stalled at the six, however, and a 24-yard field goal attempt by Cofer was blocked by LB Eddie Robinson.

After a short series by the Oilers that ended with a punt, Young was relieved by backup QB Steve Bono with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter. The 49ers then methodically advanced 73 yards in 12 plays for their only score. Bono completed eight passes and Lee finished the drive off with an eight-yard carry around end for a touchdown. Cofer’s successful extra point attempt made it a three-point game with over twelve minutes remaining on the clock.

Warren Moon had to leave the game due to bruised ribs with a little under seven minutes to play and was replaced by Cody Carlson. The 49ers reached Houston territory on their next series but were forced to punt. With Carlson under center, the Oilers then put together a long, time-consuming drive to keep the ball away from the Niners and clinch the 10-7 win.

In a game that was remarkably low-scoring for teams with such potent offenses, the 49ers led in both total yards (337 to 311) and first downs (20 to 16). Each club turned the ball over three times. The Oilers were penalized six times while San Francisco was only flagged once.

Gary Brown played a big role in helping the Oilers to maintain ball control as he rushed for 114 yards on 19 carries. Warren Moon had a less-than-stellar performance as he completed 11 of 26 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Cody Carlson completed all three of his passes in relief for 46 yards. Gary Wellman caught four passes for 82 yards and Ernest Givins also had four receptions, for 35 yards and a TD.

It was also a rough day for Steve Young, who was successful on just 15 of 29 throws for 178 yards and was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Steve Bono completed 11 of 13 passes for 79 yards. Jerry Rice caught 10 passes for 83 yards. Amp Lee (pictured below) rushed for 65 yards and a TD on 16 attempts and added 45 yards on 5 pass receptions.

Coach Seifert had told Young he would be coming out early at halftime as he didn’t want to risk his quarterback’s health. Still, it did not sit well with the star quarterback. “To be pulled out of the game like that, I had to bite my tongue a little bit,” he said afterward.

“We saw them score 55 points on the road last week, so this was a huge lift for us,” exulted Houston’s Eddie Robinson, who blocked the potential game-tying kick. “We almost had the shutout.”

Houston made it 11 consecutive wins to finish out the regular season – with Cody Carlson at quarterback for the injured Moon – to end up at the top of the AFC Central with a 12-4 record, although they failed to secure the top seed in the postseason. Once again they fell short in the playoffs, losing in the Divisional round to Kansas City.

The loss to the Oilers broke a string of 13 straight home wins for the 49ers, who lost their finale the following week but still finished first in the NFC West at 10-6. They annihilated the Giants by a 44-3 score in their Divisional playoff game and lost to the Cowboys in the NFC title game for the second straight year.