October 20, 2010

1991: Oilers Defeat Dolphins in Turnover-Filled Game

The game on October 20, 1991 at Joe Robbie Stadium featured the host Miami Dolphins, 3-4 under 22nd-year Head Coach Don Shula, against the Houston Oilers of Head Coach Jack Pardee, sporting a 5-1 record. Both teams were known for their flashy passing offenses, led by quarterbacks Dan Marino and Warren Moon, respectively. However, while the Oilers were playing like contenders with their “run-and-shoot” attack, Miami was having far too many problems on defense and with the running game.

Moon tossed an interception to end Houston’s first possession and the teams traded punts before the Dolphins put together a scoring drive of 57 yards on nine plays highlighted by a 39-yard pass play from Marino to WR Mark Clayton. Pete Stoyanovich kicked a 34-yard field goal and Miami was ahead 3-0 after one quarter.

After the quiet first quarter, the second quarter turned wild with a total of seven turnovers. First, Moon was intercepted for a second time, by safety Bobby Harden who returned the pickoff 17 yards to the Houston 48. However, on Miami’s first play, Marino went long and was intercepted by safety Bubba McDowell (pictured above), who ran it back 23 yards to the 47.

The Oilers went three-and-out, and Greg Montgomery’s punt went into the end zone for a touchback. Marino and the Dolphins began to move down the field, but a 13-yard completion to TE Greg Baty was fumbled and recovered by Houston’s safety Bo Orlando at the Miami 49.

Three plays later, it was Moon intercepted a third time, with safety Louis Oliver, who had accounted for the first quarter pickoff, grabbing it at his eight yard line and returning it to the 12. But now it was Marino’s turn to give up another interception, also on the third play of the possession, but far costlier because CB Darryl Lewis returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.

The Dolphins went three-and-out after receiving the ensuing kickoff, but on Houston’s first play RB Lorenzo White took a pass from Moon two yards behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled when hit by LB E.J. Junior. Harden recovered for Miami at the Houston 27 yard line. The Dolphins gave the ball up once more when McDowell intercepted Marino a second time at the Houston three.

The Oilers didn’t get far and punted with under two minutes remaining in the half. The Dolphins got a break when Montgomery’s first kick, of 62 yards, was nullified by a penalty and the second, shorter punt of 46 yards was returned by WR Scott Miller for 17 yards to give Miami good field position at the Houston 34. Four plays later Marino fired a 19-yard touchdown pass to Clayton running a slant pattern.

The Oilers got the ball back with 39 seconds remaining and, after two carries by RB Allen Pinkett and a pass from Moon to WR Ernest Givins got the ball to the Miami 39, Ian Howfield’s 56-yard field goal attempt was short. The eventful second quarter concluded with the Dolphins leading by 10-7.

Things calmed down in the third quarter. Howfield tied the game with a 26-yard field goal but Stoyanovich responded with a 46-yarder to keep Miami in front by a 13-10 margin after three periods.

In the fourth quarter, Houston finished off a 16-play march down the field that resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass from Moon to WR Curtis Duncan. Although there was 9:30 remaining, that proved to be the end of the scoring. A promising Miami drive to the Oilers’ one yard line ended with a fumble into the end zone by RB Sammie Smith that was recovered for a touchback by Houston CB Cris Dishman. The Dolphins never got another chance as Houston controlled the ball for the final three minutes of the game and came away with the 17-13 win.

Houston outgained the Dolphins, 282 yards to 275, and had 23 first downs to Miami’s 16. Of the total of nine turnovers, five were committed by the Dolphins and four by the Oilers, with most occurring in the comedy of errors that was the second quarter.

Warren Moon (pictured above left) had a mediocre day (for him), completing 21 of 35 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Ernest Givins caught 6 passes for 55 yards while WR Drew Hill gained 63 yards on 5 receptions. Lorenzo White accounted for 74 of Houston’s 120 yards on the ground, on 17 carries. Bubba McDowell had two of the defense’s three interceptions.

Dan Marino (pictured at right) also had a hard day, going to the air 40 times with 19 completions for 229 yards, also with a TD and three picked off. WR Mark Duper caught four passes for 79 yards (running backs Tony Paige and Sammie Smith also had four receptions apiece, for 45 and 23 yards, respectively). Sammie Smith gained 40 yards on 10 carries, but had the costly fumble (as would too-often be the case during his disappointing stint in Miami). Louis Oliver (pictured at bottom) picked off two passes.

The Oilers went on to win the AFC Central with an 11-5 record, and after a win over the Jets in the Wild Card round, lost a close contest to Denver in the Divisional playoff. Miami finished third in the AFC East with an 8-8 tally.

Warren Moon had far many better passing days operating out of the “run-and-shoot” as he ended up leading the NFL in passes (655), completions (404), yards (4690), and, more unfortunately, interceptions (21). His 23 touchdown passes ranked fifth.

Dan Marino was second to Moon in passes (549), completions (318), and yards (3970). However, he tossed more TD passes (25), fewer interceptions (13), and had a better overall passer rating (85.8 to 81.7). Both quarterbacks were named to the Pro Bowl and, of course, eventually ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.