October 2, 2000
Mile High Club
by Ric Sweeney
vs. Denver (October 6, 1991)
Site: The Astrodome
Records: Broncos (4-1); Oilers (3-1)
The 1991 Oilers were good, but how good? They would have their first test in week five hosting John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos were the AFC’s measuring stick. Not only were they perennial Super Bowl contenders (having played in three of the previous five), but also perennial winners. Denver had finished .500 or better in eight of the previous nine seasons, winning 3 division titles in the process. In 1991, they would add to both totals going 12-4. Further, Elway had never lost to Houston (including a 1987 second round playoff rout) and the Oilers themselves had not beaten any Denver team, Elway or otherwise, since 1980 (not counting the 1987 replacement game).
Facing such esteemed credentials, the Oilers rightly assumed that by day’s end, they would have a fairly accurate assessment of where they ranked in the AFC’s pecking order. As it turned out, they needed only half a day.
The Oilers jumped up, down and all over Elway and the Broncos in one of the biggest regular season wins in team history, 42-14.
The tone was set early by the defense, who would shine brightest on this day. End Sean Jones sacked Elway on the game’s first play and it was all downhill from there. Three plays later, safety Bo Orlando blocked Mike Horan’s punt in the Bronco end zone and Bubba McDowell alertly covered the loose football for the game’s first score.
As the first quarter came to a close, Houston led, 7-0, but the score was misleading. The Oilers had a field goal wiped out because of penalty and Warren Moon had thrown an interception in the end zone after driving deep into Bronco territory, squandering early opportunities to put Denver away for good. But Houston would once again hear opportunity knocking in the second quarter. This time, they would answer the door.
The quarter began with CB Cris Dishman picking off Elway and racing 43 yards to the Bronco 1. From there, Allen Pinkett pushed the Oilers ahead, 14-0 on the very next play, opening the floodgates. On Denver’s next series, Jones again sacked Elway, this time knocking the ball loose. William Fuller recovered and five plays later, Lorenzo White’s 1-yard plunge made it 21-0. But the Oilers were far from done.
Just three plays later, RB Steve Sewell, on the receiving end of an Elway shovel pass, was blindsided by Fuller. Not to be denied this time, Dishman scooped up Sewell’s fumble and dashed 19 yards for the Oilers’ third score of the quarter. In the span of just 3:54, the Oilers had turned a seven point lead into a 28-point blowout. They would up the ante one last time before the half when a 7-play, 80-yard drive culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Moon to Haywood Jeffires. Houston went into the locker room holding an astounding 35-0 lead on the Broncos, thanks entirely to an inspired second quarter.
In a horrible portend of things to eventually come in the Jack Pardee era, Houston would shift into cruise control for much of the second half and try to nurse their big lead. Fortunately, on this day anyway, Elway was no Frank Reich and the Oilers never had to break a sweat. Denver would finally emerge from their malaise late in the third quarter after Pat Coleman fumbled a Horan punt, setting the Broncos up at midfield. Elway hit Sewell on a 3-yard pass, cutting Houston’s lead back to 28, 35-7. Then early in the fourth quarter, a coverage breakdown allowed Rickey Nattiel to glide untouched 70 yards for Denver’s second (and last) touchdown, 35-14.
Houston would finally answer and thrust the final stake into Denver’s heart with 3:25 remaining. Moon’s short swing pass to Pinkett turned into a 36-yard touchdown gallop, finishing the day’s scoring, 42-14. And even with the exclamation point, the game wasn’t that close. Houston spent most of the third quarter dropping key passes and committing ill-timed penalties. It left the defense on the field for much of the third quarter and they, in turn, quickly tired. Not that minor late breakdowns could ruin their superlative effort.
The Oilers’ defense held Elway in check until the game was well out of even his reach. He threw for 301 yards, but 70 came on the Nattiel bomb long after the outcome had been decided. He was intercepted once, stripped once and sacked six times. Fuller notched three of those sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another. Jones added two more sacks, including the pace-setter on the game’s first play. McDowell scored the game’s first touchdown, blocked a field goal, contributed the other sack and recorded nine unassisted tackles, tying LB Lamar Lathon for the team lead. It was Lathon who was assigned to shadow Elway.
The offense, who more or less received the day off, provided enough fireworks to earn Ernest Givins AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Givins caught five passes for 151 yards, though Denver managed to keep him from scoring. Perhaps if he had played cornerback, he could have dusted off his Electric Slide. Moon threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos would exact their revenge on Houston in January, winning when it counted, 26-24, in the second round of the divisional playoffs. In fact, the 42-14 thumping would be one of only two wins for the Oilers against the Elway-led Broncos (the other coming in 1995). More importantly at the time, the win set in motion a four game win streak, helping Houston take a commanding lead in the AFC Central. The team would win seven of their first eight games overall, marking the best start in franchise history.
Turns out, the 1991 team was really good. And week five was the proof.
GAME STATS Broncos Oilers First Downs 24 18 Rushing Yards 91 49 Passing Yards 272 327 Passes 27/47 19/31 Interceptions 3 2 Punts 5/36 4/43 Penalty Yards 78 88
Week 5 Against Denver, William Fuller set a career high with three sacks. Final Score Houston Oilers 42 Denver Broncos 14 Game Notes
Entering week 5 of the 1991 season, the Broncos had not allowed an opponent to score 20 points in any of their first five games. Against the Oilers, they gave up 28 points in the second quarter alone.
Denver back Gaston Green entered the game ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards with 518. But the Oilers’ defense held Green to just 36 yards on 15 carries. William Fuller registered a career-high three sacks, doubling his total from the first four games. He would finish 1991 setting a career mark with 15 and a trip to Hawaii. The Dream Season Week Opponent Result 01 @ Oakland 37-22 02 @ Cleveland 16-7 03 NY Jets 26-20 04 @ Cincinnati 30-27 05 Denver 42-14 06 @ New England 28-14 07 @ Buffalo 28-16 08 @ Pittsburgh 24-17 09 Washington 41-17 10 NY Titans 49-13 11 @ New England 26-23 12 Miami 35-30 13 @ Dallas 30-24 14 Pittsburgh 31-6 15 @ San Francisco 10-7 16 @ Baltimore 24-21 17 Bye Week N/A 18 @ Cleveland 24-23 19 @ San Diego 17-14 20 LA Chargers 24-16 RETURN TO THE DREAM SEASON