The 8-8 New York Jets of 1991 played a tough Houston Oilers team in the wild card round
The history between the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans goes back all the way to 1960 when they were two of the original eight teams in the upstart American Football League.
But here’s the catch …
The former commenced play as the New York Titans and would own that nom de guerre for three seasons. In 1963, the franchise became known as the New York Jets.
Then there is the saga of the Titans, the artist formerly known as the Houston Oilers. The team actually captured the first two AFL championships but were derailed in an attempt to three-peat in overtime, 20-17, by the Dallas Texans. Of course, that club would relocate to Missouri and become the Kansas City Chiefs.
Got all that?
The Oilers would call the Lone Star State home for nearly four decades. Its final year in Houston was 1996 and a season later they were the Tennessee Oilers. In 1999, the Tennessee Titans took the field and it nearly made for quite the rebirth when they came up just a bit short in Super Bowl 34.
But well before then, the Jets and Oilers hooked up in what to date has been the franchise’s lone postseason encounter. The latter was in the midst of a seven-year playoff run (1987-93) that on the surface appears to be pretty impressive.
But head coaches Jerry Glanville and Jack Pardee could not get the club to even reach the AFC title game and there were some epic postseason collapses along the way.
Arguably the series’ most memorable game came in 2008 at Nashville when head coach Eric Mangini (in what proved to be his final season with the club) and the team rolled the previously-unbeaten Titans (10-0) by a 34-13 count.
Hall of Fame signal-caller Brett Favre threw for 224 yards and two scores (1 interception), Thomas Jones ran for 96 yards and Leon Washington added 82 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.
But there’s still only been one playoff meeting between the clubs and that came way back in 1991.
At the helm for Bruce Coslet’s Jets was quarterback Ken O’Brien, who led an offense that finished sixth in the league in total yards. Only four teams averaged more yards per game on the ground than New York.
Nonetheless, for all that real estate, the team’s offensive unit reached the end zone just 29 times.
The backfield included Blair Thomas (728), Brad Baxter (666), Johnny Hector (345) and Freeman McNeil (300), who combined for 2,039 yards.
Baxter led the way with 11 rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver Al Toon led the way with 74 receptions (963 yards) while teammate Rob Moore added 70 grabs for a team-best 987 yards and five scores.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets finished 12th in total defense and were fourth vs. the run. Jeff Lageman (10), Dennis Byrd (6) and Marvin Washington (6) combined for 23 of the team’s 35 sacks. And the Green and White came up with a very respectable 37 takeaways.
So 1991 began with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was followed by three consecutive losses. But the Jets regrouped and won six of their next eight games and owned a 7-5 mark entering December.
Unfortunately, another three-game skid came their way and the 7-8 team headed to Miami for the season finale with a chance to still grab a wild card berth.
And thanks to 132 yards rushing by Johnny Hector and some late heroics from kicker Raul Allegre, New York emerged a 23-20 win. The latter booted a 44-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to send the game into overtime. He then delivered a 30-yard field goal in overtime to send the Jets to Houston for the wild card round.
At that time, it was just the fourth instance (excluding the 1982 strike-shortened campaign) that a club reached the playoffs without a winning record. The first was (you guessed it) the 1969 Houston Oilers. That team finished with a 6-6-2 mark and was blown out by the Raiders in the postseason.
Next were the 1985 AFC Central champion Cleveland Browns followed by the 1990 New Orleans Saints – a wild card club in the NFC West. The ’91 Jets would face the Oilers for the second time that season – this time at the Astrodome. Houston came away with a 23-20 victory in Week 7 at Giants Stadium.
It was a less-than-scintillating tilt as Houston scratched out a 17-10 win. Hall of Fame hurler Warren Moon threw a pair of touchdown passes to Ernest Givins but turned over the ball twice.
O’Brien was picked off three times and the team’s lone touchdown came on his throw to Toon – who had not reached the end zone during the regular season.