October 3, 2010

1993: Eric Allen’s 94-Yard INT Return Caps Eagles Win Over Jets

The Philadelphia Eagles had gotten off to a good start in 1993, winning their first three games under Head Coach Rich Kotite. 30-year-old QB Randall Cunningham, in his second year back from a devastating knee injury that had cost him virtually the entire ’91 season, was in good form and coming off a 360-yard passing performance in a 34-31 victory over Washington. Wide receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams were productive and while the defense had lost stalwart Reggie White to free agency, there was still plenty of talent remaining.

In Week 4, the Eagles traveled to the New Jersey Meadowlands to face the New York Jets on October 3 at Giants Stadium. The Jets, coached by Bruce Coslet, had a new quarterback in veteran Boomer Esiason (pictured below right), who was prospering in fresh surroundings while tossing passes to WR Rob Moore and TE Johnny Mitchell as the club got off to a 2-1 start.

The Jets scored on each of their first two possessions, with an opening 11-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Esiason to TE James Thornton. New York CB James Hasty then recovered a fumble by Barnett that he returned 30 yards to set up a 14-yard Esiason TD pass to Mitchell.

The score remained at 14-0 as the Eagles did nothing on their next two possessions. After veteran safety Ronnie Lott picked off a Cunningham pass early in the second quarter, it took just four plays to put New York up by a 21-0 margin as Esiason tossed another touchdown pass to Mitchell, this one covering 12-yards.

The Eagles offense came alive on the next series, moving 78 yards in eight plays that included runs of 9 and 10 yards by RB Herschel Walker and passes of 12 yards to RB James Joseph and 21 yards to Barnett. Walker finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.

However, the series had been costly for the Eagles as Barnett suffered a torn knee ligament when tackled by Jets CB Eric Thomas and safety Brian Washington at the conclusion of his 21-yard reception - while he was able to walk off the field, he was in fact finished for the season. An even more devastating loss occurred on the next possession when Cunningham suffered a broken leg, also season-ending.

Backup QB Bubby Brister, who had played seven years with Pittsburgh before being released prior to training camp and signed by the Eagles, concluded the drive by tossing a 10-yard TD pass to TE Mark Bavaro with just seconds remaining in the half. The Jets lead was down to a touchdown at 21-14 as the teams left the field at halftime.

After Philadelphia went three-and-out to start the second half, Esiason immediately passed to Mitchell who gathered the ball in at midfield and eluded tacklers on the way to a 65-yard touchdown. However, the Eagles got a break later in the third quarter when Jets RB Johnny Johnson fumbled and LB William Thomas recovered at the New York 17 yard line. Three plays later Brister threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Williams and the Jets’ lead was cut to 28-21.

After New York punted, the Eagles put together a long, 87-yard drive in 13 plays that culminated early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run by RB Vaughn Hebron. With the successful PAT, the score was now tied at 28-28.

The Jets struck back quickly. On their first play following the kickoff, Esiason fired a pass to WR Chris Burkett for a 60-yard gain to the Philadelphia 20. However, safety Rich Miano intercepted a pass two plays later to seemingly end the scoring threat. But Brister, fading back to the goal line, threw the ball away under heavy pressure and was called for intentional gounding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. The Jets had regained the lead at 30-28.

RB Adrian Murrell returned the ensuing free kick to the 50 yard line, and it appeared that the Jets would drive to another score with the help of a roughing the passer penalty that moved the ball deep into Eagles territory at the 21. But two plays later Esiason’s pass intended for Burkett was intercepted by CB Eric Allen (pictured at top) at the six yard line. With a spectacular return, Allen went 94 yards for the touchdown that proved to be the game-winner. The Eagles came away with a 35-30 victory.

The win had been a costly one for Philadelphia – in addition to Cunningham and Barnett, special teams standout WR Jeff Sydner also went down with a season-ending injury.

The Jets outgained the Eagles with 412 yards to 303. Boomer Esiason passed for 297 yards while completing 19 of 33 passes and had four TDs along with two interceptions. Johnny Mitchell (pictured at left) had an outstanding day with 7 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns, and Chris Burkett contributed four receptions for 103 yards. Johnny Johnson led the running attack with 36 yards on 9 carries, closely followed by RB Blair Thomas with 7 rushes for 33 yards and FB Brad Baxter, who gained 29 yards on 9 attempts.

Bubby Brister had a solid outing in relief, completing 11 of 17 passes for 108 yards with two TDs and no interceptions; Randall Cunningham was 10 for 13 with 89 yards and had one picked off before his injury. WR Victor Bailey had the most pass receptions for the Eagles, with 5 for 36 yards, while the veteran tight end Bavaro gained 60 yards on four catches with a TD. RB Heath Sherman was the team’s top rusher, gaining 37 yards on 12 carries.

From promising beginnings, both clubs suffered through disappointing seasons the rest of the way. The Eagles, without Cunningham and Barnett, lost their next six games and ended up with an 8-8 record to place third in the NFC East. New York, after winning five midseason games in a row, lost four of the last five contests to also end up at 8-8 and third in the AFC East. Coach Coslet was dismissed afterward.

Boomer Esiason passed for 3421 yards, but his production dropped off significantly in the last six games of the season following a neck injury. Johnny Mitchell’s production also fell off after he suffered a sprained knee and he ended up with just 39 catches for 630 yards (16.2 avg.) and six TDs.

Eric Allen’s long touchdown return was no fluke – he intercepted six passes in ‘93 and tied the league record by returning four of them for touchdowns. Not surprisingly, he also led the NFL with 201 yards in interception return yardage. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year and fourth time overall, on his way to eventually being chosen six times in the course of his career.

Bubby Brister passed for a respectable 84.9 rating while tossing 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions in place of Cunningham. His 1.6 interception percentage was second lowest in the NFC.