NFL playoffs, 1979–80

The NFL playoffs following the 1979 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XIV.

Playoff seeds
Seed AFC NFC
1 San Diego Chargers (West winner) Dallas Cowboys (East winner)
2 Pittsburgh Steelers (Central winner) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Central winner)
3 Miami Dolphins (East winner) Los Angeles Rams (West winner)
4 Houston Oilers Philadelphia Eagles
5 Denver Broncos Chicago Bears

Note: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), the Dallas Cowboys (the NFC 1 seed) did not play the Philadelphia Eagles (the 4 seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.

Bracket

Wild Card playoffs

December 23, 1979

AFC: Houston Oilers 13, Denver Broncos 7

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Broncos 7 0 007
Oilers 3 7 0313

at Houston Astrodome, Houston, Texas

The Oilers managed to shut down the Broncos offense for most of the game en route to a 13-7 win. After Toni Fritsch kicked a 31-yard field goal on Houston's first drive, Denver marched 80 yards in 13 plays to score on quarterback Craig Morton's 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Dave Preston. From that point on, the Oilers controlled the rest of the game. With less than 3 minutes left in the first half, Houston advanced 74 yards to score on running back Earl Campbell's 3-yard touchdown run. Although Campbell and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini were both knocked out the game during the second half with injuries, the Oilers defense continued to dominate. In the fourth quarter, an interception by linebacker Gregg Bingham set up Fritsch's 20-yard field goal to close out the scoring.

NFC: Philadelphia Eagles 27, Chicago Bears 17

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Bears 7 10 0017
Eagles 7 3 71027

at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

Eagles Quarterback Ron Jaworski threw for 204 yards and 3 touchdown passes as Philadelphia overcame a 17-10 Bears halftime lead. The Eagles scored first when Jaworski threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Harold Carmichael. Chicago responded with an 82-yard drive to score on running back Walter Payton's 2-yard rushing touchdown. Then after Philadelphia added a field goal, Payton scored again on a 1-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 17-10 lead. In the third quarter, Carmichael's 29-yard touchdown reception tied the game. Then on their next drive, Chicago advanced deep into Philadelphia territory only to see Bobby Howard intercept a pass in the end zone. A few plays later, Jaworski threw a 63-yard touchdown to running back Billy Campfield to take the lead for good. Carmichael finished the game with 6 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

Divisional playoffs

December 29, 1979

AFC: Houston Oilers 17, San Diego Chargers 14

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Oilers 0 10 7017
Chargers 7 0 7014

at Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego

The Oilers offense, playing without starting quarterback Dan Pastorini, receiver Ken Burrough, and running back Earl Campbell due to injuries, could only generate 259 yard compared to San Diego's 385. But they still won the game, largely due to the effort of rookie safety Vernon Perry, who set a playoff record with 4 interceptions as the Oilers defeated the Chargers 17-14. In his first career playoff game, Chargers future hall of fame quarterback Dan Fouts threw for 333 yards, but was intercepted 5 times. The Chargers' high powered offense scored on their first possession of the game and of the second half but turnovers prevented further scoring.

San Diego took the opening kickoff and started out strong, moving the ball 81 yards in 11 plays. Fouts completed a 34-yard pass to tight end Greg McCrary and a 17-yarder to John Jefferson before Clarence Williams' 1-yard rushing touchdown finished the drive. The Chargers threatened to score again on their next drive, but Perry intercepted a pass at the Houston 18-yard line.

In the second quarter, Perry blocked a field goal attempt and returned the ball 57 yards to the San Diego 28-yard line, setting up Toni Fritsch's 26-yard field goal. On San Diego's next drive, Perry recorded another interception and lateralled the ball to safety Mike Reinfeldt, who gained 7 yards to the Chargers 38. Three plays later, Oilers quarterback Gifford Nielsen rushed 14 yards to the Chargers 4-yard line. San Diego's defense managed to keep them out of the end zone for three plays, but on Fritch's field goal attempt, they were penalized for having 12 men on the field, moving the ball just inches away from the goal line. On fourth and inches with 19 seconds left in the half, Houston coach Bum Phillips decided to gamble and go for the touchdown, a gamble that paid off when Boobie Clark scored on a sweep left to give the Oilers a 10-7 first half lead.

In the third period, Fouts connected with Charlie Joiner for 20 yards and hit tight end Bob Klein for 16, with a roughing the passer penalty turning it into a 31-yard gain. Lydell Mitchell finished the 65-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Chargers a 14-10 lead. However, Houston defensive back J.C. Wilson's interception later gave Houston the ball at the San Diego 44-yard line. Faced with 3rd and 13 two plays later, Nielsen threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Renfro, putting the Oilers back in front at 17-14. There were still more than 17 minutes left in regulation, but this would be the final score. Perry recorded two more interceptions as the Oilers defense shut down the Chargers offense for the rest of the game.[1][2]

After the game, it was revealed that the Oilers coaching staff was able to figure out the Chargers' coaches' signs as they signaled the play call from the sideline; this was one reason their defensive backs seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. "We pretty much knew ahead of time when they were going to pass, and where they were going to pass it." said Oilers defensive coordinator [1]

NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24, Philadelphia Eagles 17

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Eagles 0 7 3717
Buccaneers 7 10 0724

at Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida

The Buccaneers won their first playoff game in team history by jumping to a 17-0 lead and holding the Eagles to 48 rushing yards, while running back Ricky Bell recorded 142 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.

Tampa Bay marched on an 18-play, 80-yard opening drive that took 9:25 off the clock to score on Bell's 4-yard touchdown run. Philadelphia responded with a drive into scoring range, but their drive ended ugly. First they attempted a fake 47-yard field goal, but they failed to snap the ball before the play clock ran out. Then Tony Franklin's 52-yard field goal was no good. Tampa Bay took the ball back and drove to a 10-0 lead on Neil O'Donohue's 40-yard field goal. Then on the Eagles next drive, running back Wilbert Montgomery lost a fumble that nose tackle Randy Crowder recovered on the Philadelphia 5-yard line. Three plays later, Bell scored on a 1-yard fourth down run, increasing the Bucs lead to 17-0 with 5:12 left in the half. Later on, Eagles linebacker Jerry Robinson intercepted a pass from Doug Williams and returned it 37 yards to set up Ron Jaworski's 11-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith, making the score 17-7 by halftime.

Philadelphia took the second half kickoff and drove 45 yards to score on Franklin's 42-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 17-10. This would be the last score until 7:08 remained in the game, when Williams threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jimmie Giles. Now down 24-10, Philadelphia made a desperate comeback attempt. First they drove 80 yards in 9 plays and scored on Jowarski's 37-yard bomb to Harold Carmichael. Their defense then forced a punt with 2:11 left in the game, giving them one last chance for a tying touchdown. Jowarski's completions to Carmichael and Smith for gains of 16 and 25 yards moved the ball to the Bucs 45-yard line. But his next four passes were incomplete, enabling Tampa Bay to take over and run out the clock.[3]

December 30, 1979

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Miami Dolphins 14

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Dolphins 0 0 7714
Steelers 20 0 7734

at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Steelers scored 20 points in the first quarter and held the Dolphins to 25 rushing yards. Miami future hall of fame running back Larry Csonka was held to just 20 rushing yards on 10 carries in the final game of his career, while Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the opening drive of the game, Pittsburgh marched 62 yards to score on running back Sidney Thornton's 1-yard touchdown run. On their second possession, the Steelers advanced 62 yards again to score on wide receiver John Stallworth's 17-yard touchdown reception (although the extra point was blocked). And on their third drive, wide receiver Lynn Swann made a 20-yard touchdown reception. Miami finally scored in the third quarter after a muffed punt led to quarterback Bob Griese's 7-yard touchdown pass to Duriel Harris. However, the Steelers responded by advancing 69 yards to score on running back Rocky Bleier's 1-yard touchdown. Running back Franco Harris' 5-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.

NFC: Los Angeles Rams 21, Dallas Cowboys 19

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Rams 0 14 0721
Cowboys 2 3 7719

at Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas

Nobody gave the aging Rams much of a chance in this game, especially considering that the Cowboys had soundly defeated an injured L.A. Rams team during the regular season 30–6, and shut them out in last season's NFC title game 28–0.

Quarterback Vince Ferragamo led the Rams to a victory by throwing for three touchdown passes, the last one with 2:06 left in the game. The Cowboys scored first when defensive tackle Randy White sacked Ferragamo in the end zone for a safety. However, Ferragamo responded by throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to running back Wendell Tyler. Dallas kicker Rafael Septien kicked a 33-yard field goal with 52 seconds left in the first half, but Ferragamo completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Ron Smith before time expired to make it a 14–5 halftime lead. The Cowboys, led by quarterback Roger Staubach in what proved to be his last NFL game of his hall of fame career, then scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half to take the lead, 19–14. With about 2 minutes left in the game and the Rams at midfield, Ferragamo found wide receiver Billy Waddy on a short crossing route and Waddy sprinted the rest of the way for a game-winning 50-yard touchdown. Staubach was unable to engineer a late fourth-quarter comeback like the ones that made him famous throughout his career. The Rams defense pressured the Dallas quarterback to throw a pass illegally to an ineligible receiver, guard Herbert Scott, on third down, the last pass of his career to be caught; on fourth down, he overthrew Drew Pearson.

Conference championships

January 6, 1980

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Houston Oilers 13

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Oilers 7 3 0313
Steelers 3 14 01027

at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Steelers held the Oilers to only 24 rushing yards, but was also aided by a controversial non-touchdown call to come away with a 27-13 win. Houston jumped to a 7-0 lead with just 2:30 into the game when Vernon Perry returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown. Then after the teams exchanged field goals, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw completed two touchdown passes, a 16-yarder to tight end Bennie Cunningham and a 20-yard one to wide receiver John Stallworth.

With the Steelers leading 17-10, the controversial play occurred during the last seconds of the third quarter after the Oilers advanced to the Pittsburgh 6-yard line. Quarterback Dan Pastorini threw a pass to Mike Renfro at the back of the end zone, and Renfro appeared to have caught it for a touchdown with both feet in bounds before he fell out of the end zone. TV replays suggested a catch for a touchdown, but were not at an angle which showed the receiver's hands. The officials ruled the pass incomplete, saying that Renfro did not have complete control of the ball before going out of bounds. Video taken by NFL films at a front angle, which was not available to the TV broadcast, showed that Renfro did not establish possession of the ball before sliding out of bounds. The Oilers then had to settle for a 23-yard field goal. [4] The Steelers would then score 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory. A 78-yard drive ended with a field goal and running back Rocky Bleier scored on a 4-yard rushing touchdown. Steelers running back Franco Harris rushed for 85 yards and caught 6 passes for 50 yards. Houston running back Earl Campbell, the NFL's leading rusher during the season, finished the game with just 15 yards on 17 carries.

NFC Championship: Los Angeles Rams 9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0

Game summary
1 2 34Total
Rams 0 6 039
Buccaneers 0 0 000

at Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida

In a defensive battle in which the Rams squandered numerous scoring opportunities, Rams kicker Frank Corral kicked 3 field goals to win the game. Los Angeles was able to record 369 yards of total offense, while running backs Cullen Bryant and Wendell Tyler rushed for 106 and 86 yards, respectively. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers only had 177 total offensive yards, including 92 rushing yards and 85 passing yards. Most of Tampa Bay's passing yards came from a 42-yard halfback option pass from Jerry Eckwood to wide receiver Larry Mucker in the fourth quarter. During the game, two touchdowns were nullified by penalties, one by each team: a four-yard run by Bryant and a 27-yard reception by Buccaneers' tight end Jimmie Giles.

The Rams scored first with a 68-yard drive to the Buccaneers 1-yard line where Corral made a 19-yard field goal. In the second quarter, they drove 58 yards and scored another short Corral field goal to take a 6-0 halftime lead. In the fourth quarter, Rams safety Eddie Brown's 16-yard punt return set up a 23-yard field goal from Corral for the final score of the game.

This was the first conference championship game in NFL history without a touchdown from either team.

Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19

Further information: Super Bowl XIV
Game summary
1 2 34Total
Rams (NFC) 7 6 6019
Steelers (AFC) 3 7 71431

at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

References

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