The Philadelphia Eagles were 5-2, including wins in their last three games, as they came to Denver to take on the 6-1 Broncos on October 29, 1989. However, even in winning the Eagles had difficulty putting points on the board. QB Randall Cunningham (pictured at right) could be an exciting performer both passing and running the ball, but the receiving corps lacked speed and in particular missed WR Mike Quick and TE Keith Jackson, who were out with injuries. The heart of brash Head Coach Buddy Ryan’s team was its aggressive defense, led by DE Reggie White.
The Broncos, coached by Dan Reeves for the ninth year, were benefiting from the presence of rookie RB Bobby Humphrey to add balance to an offense dominated by the big-play passing ability of QB John Elway. WR Vance Johnson was having an outstanding season and the defense was responding well to the coaching of first-year defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
It was a cold afternoon at Mile High Stadium with 75,065 in attendance. Things did not start in promising fashion for the Eagles when RB Heath Sherman fumbled the opening kickoff and, while he recovered, they had to start the opening possession with the ball at their own four yard line. With running backs Keith Byars and Anthony Toney running effectively, the visitors got out of the shadow of their own end zone. Randall Cunningham helped when, flushed out while back to pass out of the shotgun in a third-and-five situation, he ran for 24 yards to the Denver 42. Philadelphia kept the ball on the ground and the methodical 13-play, 96-yard drive ended with Byars running the final 16 yards for a touchdown. Luis Zendejas added the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
The Eagles got the ball back shortly thereafter when John Elway, who had started off with a 22-yard throw to Vance Johnson, had a deflected pass intercepted by CB Izel Jenkins, which he returned 18 yards to the Denver 42. Once again the Eagles moved down the field by running the ball. Facing fourth-and-one at the seven, Cunningham leaped two yards for the first down and then threw to WR Cris Carter for a five-yard TD. With the successful PAT, Philadelphia’s lead was extended to 14-0.
A short Denver series resulted in a punt. On the first play of the second quarter, the Eagles punted the ball back, but RB Ken Bell fumbled the kick and LB Britt Hager recovered at the Denver 13. However, the visitors came up empty when QB Matt Cavanaugh, briefly in for Cunningham, threw an interception. LB Rick Dennison gave the Broncos the ball at their 10.
Denver reached the 36 before Elway was sacked by Reggie White for a loss of eight yards and then was intercepted by CB Eric Allen. But Philadelphia again failed to get points when, after the resulting series stalled at the Denver 23, Zendejas was wide to the left on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
The Broncos responded with an eight-play, 76-yard drive. Elway completed four passes, including three to Johnson (pictured at left) that gained a total of 41 yards, and, rolling out to his right, ran the last 10 yards for a touchdown. David Treadwell added the PAT and Philadelphia’s lead was cut to 14-7, which remained the score at the end of the half.
The teams traded punts to start the third quarter until, on the first play of their second series, the Eagles got a big play as Cunningham threw to TE Jimmie Giles who went the distance for a 66-yard touchdown. Zendejas’ conversion made it 21-7, but the Broncos came back with a 66-yard drive that took eight plays. Elway converted a third-and-five situation along the way when, flushed out of the pocket, he ran for 11 yards and also completed a pass to Johnson for 21 yards to the Philadelphia 25. It was Elway-to-Johnson for the last 13 yards and a TD. Treadwell added the extra point to again make it a one-touchdown game.
The teams once more traded punts until the Broncos got a break when Cunningham fumbled while being sacked deep in his own territory and NT Greg Kragen recovered at the Philadelphia three. Denver wasn’t able to penetrate the end zone, however, and settled for an 18-yard Treadwell field goal.
The Broncos regained possession following a punt by the Eagles early in the fourth quarter. Elway completed a pass to WR Mark Jackson for 11 yards in a third-and-10 situation and, two plays later, connected with Johnson for 33 yards to the Philadelphia 18. Two incompletions were followed by Elway running for 14 yards on a third-and-10 play and he followed up with a four-yard TD pass to RB Melvin Bratton that put Denver in front with just over nine minutes remaining by a 24-21 score after Treadwell added the PAT.
The Eagles were unable to move on their next series but, in a key play, a punt by John Teltschik that was ruled to have hit Denver CB Darren Carrington was recovered by DB William Frizzell at the Denver 24. DE Alphonso Carreker sacked Cunningham for an eight-yard loss and, after an incomplete pass, Philadelphia was facing third-and-18. However, Cunningham threw to WR Gregg Garrity for 21 yards and, three plays later, Byars ran for a touchdown from a yard out. Zendejas added the extra point and the Eagles were back in the lead by four.
The Broncos still had 5:15 to work with following the kickoff. Elway completed passes to Johnson for 13 yards and to RB Steve Sewell for 19, but after reaching the Philadelphia 44 he was intercepted by CB Eric Everett.
The Eagles were able to run two minutes off the clock on their next series, with Cunningham getting a first down on a 13-yard run to help the cause, before having to punt. Now with 1:32 left on the clock, the Broncos took over at their 20. Elway threw to Jackson twice for 41 yards. With the ball at the Philadelphia 39, he spiked the ball to stop the clock. Two more passes fell incomplete before, facing fourth down, Elway took off on a quarterback draw for 10 yards but fumbled. FS Wes Hopkins recovered to seal the 28-24 win for the Eagles.
Denver held a slight edge in total yards (320 to 313) and also had more first downs (22 to 17). The Eagles ran the ball 45 times for 215 yards, which was their best rushing output of the year thus far (and would remain so until the season finale). They also sacked Elway seven times (with 3.5 accounted for by DE Clyde Simmons), as opposed to Denver recording four sacks. The Broncos turned the ball over six times, with two of them coming in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, as opposed to two suffered by Philadelphia.
Randall Cunningham completed 11 of 20 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns with none intercepted and also ran the ball six times for 57 yards. Keith Byars (pictured at right) rushed for 93 yards and two TDs on 23 carries and had three pass receptions for 22 yards. Jimmie Giles led the club in receiving yards with his 66 yards on the one scoring catch.
For the Broncos, John Elway was successful on 19 of 39 throws for 278 yards and two TDs, but also had three passes intercepted. Vance Johnson had 9 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Elway was Denver’s top rusher with 45 yards on four attempts that included a TD while Bobby Humphrey was right behind with his 44 yards on 12 attempts.
Of the critical call on the punt that hit Denver’s Darren Carrington in the fourth quarter, Dan Reeves said, “Darren says the punt did not hit him. I don’t think the referee saw it clearly.”
“I had an excellent view and I saw the ball hit the Denver player,” said Philadelphia’s Buddy Ryan. “I was just afraid the ref was going to miss it.” Both referee Jim Tunney and the replay official confirmed the call.
The Eagles lost their next two games before reeling off five wins in their last six games to place second in the NFC East at 11-5. Qualifying for a Wild Card playoff berth, they lost to the Rams in the opening round. The Broncos remained on top of the AFC West following the loss and won their next four games. They won the division title with an 11-5 record and advanced to the Super Bowl where they were crushed by the 49ers.
Randall Cunningham had a relatively ordinary season, throwing for 3400 yards and 21 touchdowns but completing only 54.5 percent of his passes and averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. He led the team in rushing with 621 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Keith Byars, typically more effective as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner, gained 452 yards on the ground while averaging just 3.4 yards per carry but caught a team-leading 68 passes for 721 yards.
Vance Johnson, in his fifth year, went on to have his best season. He caught 76 passes for 1095 yards and seven touchdowns, which were all career highs.