How the Oilers Stole X-Mas

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December 11, 2000
How the Oilers Stole X-Mas
by Ric Sweeney

at San Francisco December 25, 1993
Site: Candlestick Park
Records: Oilers (10-4); 49ers (10-4)
Attendance: 61,744

After a cataclysmic start to their season, the 1993 Oilers were on a roll. Winners of nine straight and holders of the AFC Central crown, they traveled in week 15 to Northern California for a Christmas Day clash with the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners were putting the finishing touches on their tenth NFC West title in 13 seasons and in the midst of a tight battle for home field advantage in the NFC. They led the league in scoring and total offense, having averaged 31 points and 402 yards a game in their first 14 contests. Steve Young was the league’s top-rated quarterback and Jerry Rice was having, even by his lofty standards, one of his best seasons, which would culminate with him being named Offensive Player of the Year.

Under the glare of a national television audience, the Oilers and their win streak would be put to the test by one of the league’s most storied and successful franchises. And for once, they would rise to the occasion.

But it wasn’t easy.

Playing without starters Mike Munchak, Webster Slaughter and Bubba McDowell, and losing during the course of the game two more (Marcus Robertson and Warren Moon), the Oilers somehow found a way to win, 10-7.

Buddy Ryan’s defense was spotted an early 10-0 lead and found a way to hold it for the final 2 and 1/2 quarters. In the first half, cornerbacks Cris Dishman and Steve Jackson each intercepted a Young pass headed for the end zone, Dishman’s an acrobatic thing of beauty — he somehow stepped in front of Rice and stole the ball. Linebacker Eddie Robinson added to the defensive shutdown by blocking a 24-yard Mike Cofer field goal attempt in the third quarter. And S Blaine Bishop, making his first NFL start for the injured McDowell, sacked Young, stripped the ball loose and recovered it all in one swoop, setting up Houston’s one and only touchdown early in the second quarter.

That three play drive culminated in a 7-yard Moon to Ernest Givins touchdown toss. Later in the half, Al Del Greco would nail a 24-yard field goal to give Houston a 10-0 halftime lead.

The offense, erratic at best, was spent from that point forward. Moon was nursing injured ribs and threw 3 interceptions, two in the first half, matching Young. Gary Brown carried most of the offense but he alone could not give the defense the cushion they needed. Brown rushed for 114 yards on 19 attempts, averaging six yards a carry.

Replacing Young in the third quarter, Steve Bono led San Francisco to their only touchdown when an Amp Lee run ended a 12-play, 73-yard drive with 12:11 left in the game.

Needing a clock-chewing drive after Lee’s touchdown, Moon and the Oilers could muster only five plays before having to give the ball back to the rejuvenated 49er offense. But the Oiler defense would make one final stop, stranding Bono and Co. at their own 43.

Having forced a punt with 9:54 remaining in the game, the Oilers were still in search of that elusive, clock-killing drive to put San Francisco out of its misery. And they would have to do it without Moon.

Cody Carlson came off the bench, overcame two penalties on tackle David Williams, completed a 24-yard pass to Gary Wellman on 2nd and 21 and drained the clock, preserving both the victory and Houston’s improbable win streak, which would reach 11 by season’s end.

Although the Oilers would eventually bow out of the playoffs prematurely yet again in 1993, ending forever their unfulfilled and disappointing forays into football’s postseason, the week 15 battle with San Francisco, at the time, served notice of their legitimacy as a Super Bowl threat and was one of the franchise’s biggest regular season wins.

"This game puts us on the map," Robinson said at the time. "I think we really turned a corner as a team today. This is the best Christmas Day I’ve ever had."

GAME STATS Oilers 49ers First Downs 16 20 Rushing Yards 116 90 Passing Yards 195 247 Passes 14/29 26/42 Turnovers 3 3 Punts 4/44 4/40 Penalty Yards 34 5

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Week 15 Game photo caption. Final Score Houston Oilers 10 SF 49ers 7 Game Notes

The Oilers went into the game 8 1/2 point underdogs despite the two teams having identical records.

Houston’s victory moved their all-time mark in games played on either Thanksgiving or Christmas Day to 3-0. Earlier in the day, also on NBC, the Rockets were routed by the Phoenix Suns. Ironically, it would be the Rockets, not the Oilers, brining Houston it’s first championship later the very same season. 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