1987–88 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1987 season began on January 3, 1988. The postseason tournament concluded with the Washington Redskins defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, 42–10, on January 31, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California.
Within each conference, the three division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The three division winners were seeded 1 through 3 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams were seeded 4 and 5. The NFL did not use a fixed bracket playoff system. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the fourth seed wild card hosted the fifth seed. All three division winners from each conference then received a bye in the first round. The second round, the divisional playoffs, had a restriction where two teams from the same division could not meet: the surviving wild card team visited the division champion outside its own division that had the higher seed, and the remaining two teams from that conference played each other. The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, was played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Denver Broncos (West winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|2||Cleveland Browns (Central winner)||Chicago Bears (Central winner)|
|3||Indianapolis Colts (East winner)||Washington Redskins (East winner)|
|4||Houston Oilers||New Orleans Saints|
|5||Seattle Seahawks||Minnesota Vikings|
|Jan. 9 – Candlestick Park|
|NFC Wild Card Game||NFC Championship|
|Jan. 3 – Louisiana Superdome||Jan. 17 – RFK Stadium|
|Jan. 10 – Soldier Field|
|4||New Orleans||10||3||Washington||17||Super Bowl XXII|
|Jan. 31 – Jack Murphy Stadium|
|Jan. 9 – Cleveland Stadium|
|AFC Wild Card Game||AFC Championship||A1||Denver||10|
|Jan. 3 – Astrodome||Jan. 17 – Mile High Stadium|
|Jan. 10 – Mile High Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
Wild Card playoffs
January 3, 1988
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 44, New Orleans Saints 10
In the Saints' first playoff game in history, the Vikings dominated the game by recording 2 sacks, forcing 4 turnovers, and allowing only 149 yards.
New Orleans scored first after Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer's fumble on a bad snap led to Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert's 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eric Martin. Kramer then was sacked and the Vikings had to punt, but Saints returner Mel Gray accidentally hit the ball while trying to avoid it and the Vikings recovered on the New Orleans 27, leading to Chuck Nelson's 42-yard field goal. Kramer had to leave the game on the next drive with a pinched nerve in his neck, but the team would go on to win easily without him. Later in the quarter, they went up 10-7 when Anthony Carter returned a Saints punt a playoff record 84 yards for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, backup quarterback Wade Wilson threw a touchdown pass to tight end Steve Jordan, and running back Allen Rice threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Carter on a halfback option play. Saints kicker Morten Andersen cut the score to 24-10 with a 40-yard field goal, but John Harris' interception of a Hebert pass on the Saints 35 led to Wilson's 44-yard touchdown completion to Hassan Jones on the last play of the first half. Time had expired on the previous play, but the Saints were penalized for having 12 men on the field, giving the Vikings one more play with no time left on the clock.
The Vikings went on the dominate the second half, scoring two more Nelson field goals and an 18-yard touchdown run by D. J. Dozier.
Carter, who had only returned 3 punts during the season, finished the game with 6 punt returns for a playoff record 143 yards, and also caught 6 passes for 79 yards and another score. Wilson finished the game with 11 of 20 completions for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns.
AFC: Houston Oilers 23, Seattle Seahawks 20 (OT)
Oilers kicker Tony Zendejas won the game with a 42-yard field goal 8:05 into overtime. Although Houston outgained Seattle with 427 total offensive yards to 250, the game remained close until the very end.
On the opening drive of the game, Seattle cornerback Melvin Jenkins intercepted Warren Moon's pass and returned it 28 yards to the Houston 46. Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg then hit Steve Largent for a 33-yard completion, and eventually found him in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The Oilers responded with 13 unanswered points with two field goals by Zendejas (from 47 and 49 yards) and running back Mike Rozier's 1-yard rushing touchdown.
However, Seattle tied the game in the third quarter after kicker Norm Johnson made two field goals of his own. Later in the third period, Houston quarterback Warren Moon threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Willie Drewrey to give his team a 20–13 lead. Houston later had two chances to put the game away in the 4th quarter, but Zedejas hit the uprights on a 52-yard field goal, and later missed a kick from 29 yards out. With only 1:47 left in regulation, Krieg started an 80-yard drive that included a 10-yard completion to Largent on 4th and 10 and eventually finished it with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Larget, tying the game 20-20 with 26 second left.
Seattle won the coin toss in overtime, but had to punt. On Houston's ensuing drive, Seattle defensive back Fredd Young appeared to intercept a deflected pass, but officials ruled he didn't make the catch, and the call was upheld by replay review, allowing Houston to keep the ball and drive to Zendejas' game winning score.
Largent finished the game with 7 receptions for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moon completed 21 of 32 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. It was Houston's first playoff win since 1979, added on to their first winning season since 1980.
January 9, 1988
AFC: Cleveland Browns 38, Indianapolis Colts 21
Browns defensive back Felix Wright's interception deep inside his own territory sparked his team to score 17 unanswered points.
Cleveland started off the game with an impressive 15-play, 86-yard drive, converting five third downs on the way to Bernie Kosar's 15-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Byner. The Colts stormed right back, as quarterback Jack Trudeau threw completions for gains of 18 and 21 yards before finishing the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pat Beach. Cleveland responded by driving from their own 35 to the Indianapolis 2-yard line, but on third down and goal, Colts safety Freddie Robinson intercepted Kosar's pass in the end zone. After an exchange of punts, the Browns took a 14–7 lead on Kosar's 39-yard scoring strike to Reggie Langhorne with 1:51 left in the second quarter. Once again, the Colts responded with a touchdown drive of their own, moving the ball 59 yards in seven plays and tying the score on Trudeau's 19-yard touchdown pass to Eric Dickerson with 40 second left in the half
Indianapolis took the second half kickoff and stormed down the field, overcoming some blown plays along the way. During the drive, Trudeau was sacked for an 11-yard loss on second down and 11, but a defensive holding penalty negated the play and gave the Colts a first down. Later on, Dickerson fumbled the ball, but Trudeau picked it up and threw a 15-yard first down completion to Bill Brooks. Eventually, Indianapolis reached the Browns 20-yard line, but blitzing linebacker Eddie Johnson hit Trudeau as he threw a pass, causing the ball to go straight up in the air where it was intercepted by Wright at the 14.
After the interception, Kosar completed 5 of 7 passes for 65 yards while Byner rushed six times for 20 and capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, putting the Browns back in the lead, 21–14. Then after forcing a punt, Matt Bahr's 22-yard field goal gave the Browns a 10-point lead with just over 11 minutes left in the game. Following another punt, Byner fumbled the ball on a 25-yard run, but running back Herman Fontenot recovered the ball at the Colts 6-yard line, turning the play into a 41-yard gain. Three plays later, Kosar's 2-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brian Brennan made the score 31–14 with 3:44 left.
However, the Colts were not quite out of the game. With 1:07 left in regulation, Albert Bentley's 1-yard touchdown run cut the score to 31–21. Then Indianapolis recovered an onside kick on their own 41-yard line. But on the first play after that, Browns defensive end Al Baker sacked Trudeau for a 9-yard loss, knocking him out of the game. One play later, backup quarterback Sean Salisbury's pass was intercepted by Frank Minnifield, who returned the ball 48 yards for a touchdown to put the game away.
Byner finished the game with 122 rushing yards, 4 receptions for 36 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Kosar completed 20 of 31 passes for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 1 interception.
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 36, San Francisco 49ers 24
at Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Aided by wide receiver Anthony Carter's 10 receptions for an NFL playoff record 227 receiving yards, the Vikings upset the top seeded 49ers, who had earned the league's best record during the regular season at 13–2.
Minnesota drove 77 yards on their opening drive, including an 11-yard run by quarterback Wade Wilson out of shotgun formation on 3rd and 7, to score on Chuck Nelson's 21-yard field goal. Then after an exchange of punts, 49ers QB Joe Montana's completions to Roger Craig and John Taylor for gains of 18 and 33 yards helped advance the ball 74 yards in 10 plays to tie the game on a 34-yard field goal from Ray Wersching.
Minnesota broke the tie in the second quarter with 17 unanswered points. First Wilson completed two passes to Carter for 23 total yards and rushed for 12 on a 70-yard drive that he finished with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Carl Hilton. Following a 49ers punt, Wilson's 63-yard completion to Carter set up a second Nelson field goal, increasing the Vikings lead to 13–3. Then safety Reggie Rutland intercepted a pass from Montana and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers had a chance to cut into the lead before halftime, but Wersching missed a 26-yard field goal attempt, and the score would remain 20–3.
49ers safety Jeff Fuller returned an interception 48 yard for a touchdown early in the third quarter, but the Vikings stormed right back, with Carter gaining 30 yards on an end around play as the team drove 68 yards to score on Wilson's short touchdown pass to Hassan Jones, making the score 27–10. Later on, San Francisco coach Bill Walsh had enough of Montana and replaced him with Steve Young. The decision appeared to pay off, as Young hooked up with Craig for a 31-yard completion and later took the ball into the end zone himself on a 5-yard run, cutting their deficit to 27–17. But Minnesota countered with Wilson's 40-yard completion to Carter that set up Nelson's third field goal of the day. Wersching missed a 48-yard field goal on San Francisco's next drive, and the team would go into the final period still trailing 30–17.
In the fourth quarter, Fuller was nailed with a 15-yard facemask penalty while tackling Vikings RB Allen Rice after he gained 19 yards on a screen pass, setting up Nelson's 46-yard field goal to put the Vikings up by 16 points at 33–17. Then defensive back Carl Lee intercepted a pass from Young, allowing Minnesota to run more time off the clock. Following a punt, Young led the 49ers 68 yards in 8 plays to score on a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Frank, but by then there was only 3:42 left in the game. Nelson later kicked a postseason record 5th field goal, this one from 46 yards, to completely dash any hope of a miracle comeback.
In addition to his 227 receiving yards, Carter had a 30-yard carry and returned two punts for 21 yards. Vikings lineman Chris Doleman had two sacks. Wilson completed 20/34 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Nelson finished the day a perfect 5/5 on field goals, a notable contrast to his lowly 13/24 performance during the regular season. Montana was held to just 12/26 completions for 109 yards with one interception. Young had a solid performance with 12/17 completions for 158 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, while also leading San Francisco in rushing with 72 yards on six carries. It was a sign of what lay in store for 49ers fans, as they would watch him and Montana compete fiercely for the starting quarterback job until Young inherited the starting position when Joe Montana suffered a serious elbow injury during the 1991 preseason. Until the 2007-08 NFL playoffs with the Cowboys losing to the Giants, this was the last time the #1 seed in the NFC did not advance to the NFC Championship game. Oddly, since the Cowboys loss in January 2008, three of the next four #1 seeds in the NFC have lost (2008 Giants, 2010 Falcons and 2011 Packers).
January 10, 1988
NFC: Washington Redskins 21, Chicago Bears 17
The Redskins overcame a 14–0 Bears lead by scoring three touchdowns. Early in the first quarter, Chicago's Richard Dent forced a fumble from Washington quarterback Doug Williams that defensive tackle Steve McMichael recovered on the Redskins 30-yard line, leading to running back Calvin Thomas' 2-yard rushing touchdown. Later on, Washington running back George Rogers was tackled for a 1-yard loss while trying to convert a 4th and 1 from the Chicago 32-yard line. The Bears then drove 67 yards on a drive that consumed 9:04 and ended with Jim McMahon throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ron Morris.
However, Washington tied the game before halftime. First, Williams' 32-yard completion to Ricky Sanders on 3rd down and 9 and his 14-yard completion to tight end Clint Didier set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Rodgers with 4:51 left in the half. Then after Chicago kicker Kevin Butler missed a 48-yard field goal, Washington got the ball back with 1:51 and made a big play when a late hit by cornerback Maurice Douglass turned a 13-yard catch by Sanders into a 28-yard gain. After two receptions by Gary Clark for 23 yards, Williams tied the game with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Didier.
With 11:40 left in the third quarter, Redskins cornerback Darrell Green scored on a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown, a play made even more memorable when Green injured his ribs hurdling over a Chicago defender en route to the end zone. Chicago responded with a 44-yard reception by Willie Gault that set up Butler's 25-yard field goal with 4:41 left remaining the quarter, but were shut down for the rest of the game. Green would return for just one play before leaving as a result of his injury, but Washington's defense still managed to hold onto their lead without him, intercepting three passes from McMahon in the second half.
Early in the fourth quarter, Washington drove into the Bears red zone and sent their special teams unit to attempt a 35-yard field goal. Backup quarterback Jay Schroeder, who was the holder on the play, called an audible for a fake field goal, but due the roaring crowd at Soldier field, his receivers didn't hear the call. As a result, he had no one to throw too after the snap, and slipped on the 25-yard line while trying to run for a first down. Chicago then took over and drove to the Washington 14-yard line. But with just over 9 minutes left in the game, McMahon's pass was intercepted by Barry Wilburn in the end zone. Later on, McMahon was intercepted again, this time by Dennis Woodberry at the Chicago 43. Three plays later, Washington attempted to put the game away with a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches, but Williams was stopped short with 1:13 left, giving the Bears one last chance to drive for a winning score. However, the Redskins defense again rose to the occasion, forcing Walter Payton out of bounds 1-yard short of the first down marker on 4th down and 8.
This was the final game in the Hall-of-Fame career of Payton, who rushed for 85 yards and caught 3 passes for 20 yards. With this win, Joe Gibbs advanced to his fourth NFC championship game in his seven years as the Redskins coach.
This game, along with the earlier win by the Vikings over the 49ers, would mark the first time the #1 & #2 seeds in a conference both lost. The feat has only been done twice more, in the AFC in the 2006-07 NFL playoffs with the Colts and Patriots beating the Ravens and Chargers, and again in the NFC in the 2008-09 NFL playoffs with the Cardinals and Eagles beating the Panthers and Giants.
AFC: Denver Broncos 34, Houston Oilers 10
The Broncos jumped to a 14–0 early lead by converting two turnovers into two touchdowns.
On the second play of the game, Denver defensive back Steve Wilson recovered a fumbled lateral pass by running back Mike Rozier at the Houston 1-yard line, setting up Gene Lang's 1-yard rushing touchdown. Then on the Oilers next drive, linebacker Karl Mecklenburg intercepted a pass from Warren Moon in the end zone, and the Broncos drove 72 yards and scored on John Elway's 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clarence Kay. Both teams exchanged field goals in the second period before Elway threw a 1-yard touchdown to Kay.
In the fourth quarter, Moon completed a 19-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ernest Givins, but it was countered with Elway's 3-yard touchdown run.
January 17, 1988
NFC Championship: Washington Redskins 17, Minnesota Vikings 10
at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C.
In a defensive battle, the Redskins played a little better by limiting the Vikings to only 76 rushing yards and piling up 8 sacks among seven different players (Dave Butz, Kurt Gouveia, Ravin Caldwell, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Alvin Walton, and Clarence Vaughn). The Vikings string of playoff upsets came to an end in a game that proved to just as hard fought and intense as Washington's 27–24 overtime victory over them in week 15 of the regular season.
Minnesota started off with a drive to the Redskins 35, but decided to punt rather than risk a long field goal. Bucky Scribner's 33-yard punt pinned the Redskins back at their own 2-yard line, but it didn't stop them from scoring on a 98-yard drive that included a 28-yard run by receiver Ricky Sanders on a reverse play and ended with running back Kelvin Bryant's 42-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Doug Williams. The Vikings went three and out on their next drive, and Scribner's punt traveled just 19 yards to the Redskins 45-yard line. Washington subsequently moved the ball to the Vikings 21, but came up empty when Ali Haji-Sheikh missed a 38-yard field goal.
Most of the remaining first half would be a defensive struggle. With just over 5 minutes left in it, Washington running back Timmy Smith broke off a 34-yard run to the Vikings 31-yard line. But all they ended up with was another missed field goal from Haji-Sheikh, this one from 47 yards. Minnesota took over and tied the game before halftime with quarterback Wade Wilson's 36-yard completion to tight end Steve Jordan setting up a 23-yard touchdown pass to Leo Lewis.
In the third quarter, Redskins linebacker Mel Kaufman picked off a pass that had been deflected by Butz (which turned out to be the only turnover of the game) and returned it 10 yards to the Minnesota 17-yard line to set up Haji-Sheikh's 28-yard field goal. In the final period, Wilson got the Vikings moving on a 10-play, 52-yard drive, finding receiver Anthony Carter for 23 yards, running back Allen Rice for 15, and Jordan for 9. Minnesota eventually got a first down on the Redskins 3-yard line, but Washington's defense made a stand, stopping them on three consecutive running plays and forcing them to settle for Chuck Nelson's 18-yard field goal to tie the game, 10–10. The Redskins then marched 70 yards in 8 plays, including Williams' 43-yard comepletion to Gary Clark, to score on Williams' 7-yard touchdown pass to Clark and take the lead, 17–10, with 5:06 left in the game. Minnesota subsequently advanced to the Washington 6-yard line, with Wilson completing five passes on the way there, but on fourth down and four with 56 seconds left in the game, running back Darrin Nelson dropped a potential touchdown catch after being hit by defensive back Darrell Green, enabling the Redskins to run out the clock.
Williams completed only 9 of 26 passes for 119 yards, but threw two touchdowns and no interceptions, while his team gained 161 yards on the ground, 72 from Smith. Wilson completed 19/39 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. Carter caught 7 passes for 85 yards, and returned 4 punts for 57.
AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 38, Cleveland Browns 33
This game is best remembered for The Fumble when Browns running back Earnest Byner fumbled at the Broncos' 2-yard line with 1:05 left. Also, these two teams were scheduled to meet during the regular season, however, the game happened to be scheduled during the week of games that was canceled (they were to meet on Monday Night Football).
Several early Cleveland miscues helped the Broncos jump to an early 14–0 lead. First, Cleveland kick returner Gerald McNeil was tackled by Tony Boddie on his own 12-yard line. Then after a sack by Denver lineman Simon Fletcher, Bernie Kosar threw a pass that went through the arms of Webster Slaughter and into the hands of linebacker Freddie Gilbert on the Browns 17, setting up John Elway's 8-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel. On Cleveland's next drive, FB Kevin Mack lost a fumble while being tackled by Tony Lilly. One play later, Gene Lang's 42-yard run (easily surpassing the team's longest run of the season; 29 yards) gave Denver a first and goal situation. Elway eventually threw an incomplete pass on third and goal from the Browns 3-yard line, but a defensive holding penalty on Frank Minnifield gave Denver a first down at the 1, and running back Steve Sewell scored a touchdown on the next play.
After the ensuing kickoff, Kosar completed a 25-yard pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome and a 19-yarder to Clarance Weathers on 3rd down and 17 on the way to a 29-yard field goal by Matt Bahr two minutes into the second quarter. But Denver stormed right back on an 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchodown run by Lang, making the score 21–3. A sack by Denver's Rulon Jones helped force the Browns to a three and out. This time all the Broncos could manage was a missed field goal by Rich Karlis. But once again Cleveland could not move the ball and turned it over with a fumble from receiver Brian Brennan that was recovered by cornerback Randy Robbins. This time the Browns defense stepped up, sacking Elway twice and forcing Denver's first punt of the game. After that, Kosar's 24-yard comepletion to Slaughter set up a 45-yard field goal attempt by Bahr, but he sent it wide right as time expired in the half.
Four plays into the second half, Browns defensive back Felix Wright intercepted a pass from Elway, setting up Kosar's 18-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Langhorne. But less than a minute and a half later, Elway threw a short pass to receiver Mark Jackson, who broke a tackle from Mark Harper and evaded a tackle attempt from Wright on the way to an 80-yard touchdown reception (the longest play in Denver postseason history), giving the Broncos a 28–10 lead. Cleveland responded with two consecutive touchdowns. First Kosar threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Byner. Then Broncos returner Ken Bell muffed the kickoff and was downed inside his own 10-yard line. Following a three and out, McNeil returned their punt to the Broncos 42. Kosar then completed four consecutive passes en route to a 4-yard touchdown run by Byner, making the score 28–24 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter. Denver struck back with a 38-yard field goal from Karlis to give them a seven-point lead going into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, the Browns drove 87 yards and tied the score with Kosar's 4-yard touchdown pass to Webster Slaughter, but it was countered by Elway's 20-yard touchdown pass to running back Sammy Winder with 4 minutes left in the game.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Browns got the ball on their own 25-yard line. Byner started out the drive with a 16-yard burst and a 2-yard run, and then Kosar completed two passes to Brennan for 33 total yards. Following an encroachment flag on defensive lineman Andre Townsend and 6-yard run by Byner, an offsides penalty on Denver linebacker Karl Mecklenburg moved the ball to the Broncos 8-yard line with 1:12 remaining in regulation. The Browns had moved 67 yards in just six plays covering 2:41. On the next play, Byner took a handoff and appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown. But he was stripped of the ball by Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille, and fumbled at the 2-yard line. The Broncos recovered the fumble (Castille made the recovery), gave the Browns an intentional safety, and went on to win 38–33.
Byner's fumble ruined an otherwise superb performance, as he finished the game with 67 rushing yards, 7 receptions for 120 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Elway finished the game with 14 of 26 completions for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception, and also rushed for 36 yards. His top target was receiver Mark Jackson, who caught 4 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. Nattiel added 5 receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown.
This game was later featured on NFL's Greatest Games.
Super Bowl XXII: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10
- Great Redskins Drafts: A Look At 1983
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)