Headline: Packers record most wins since 1966 but are thwarted by the Cowboys yet again in the postseason
Regular Season Record: 11 – 5 (First Place NFC Central Division)
Offseason Highlights: For the NFL, 1995 was a year of change. The league expanded to 30 teams with the addition of the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, its first expansion since the 1976 addition of the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The two expansion teams were slotted into the two remaining divisions that had only four teams; the AFC Central (Jacksonville) and the NFC West (Carolina). Meanwhile, the two Los Angeles teams relocated to other cities; the Rams transferred to St. Louis and the Raiders moved back to Oakland. Finally, during the course of the season, it emerged that the Cleveland Browns would relocate to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
On December 15 1987, entrepreneur Jerry Richardson announced his bid for an NFL expansion franchise in the Carolinas. A North Carolina native, Richardson was a former Baltimore Colts’ wide receiver who had used his 1959 league championship bonus to co-found the Hardee’s restaurant chain, later becoming president and CEO of TW Services. Richardson looked at four potential locations for a stadium, ultimately choosing uptown Charlotte. In 1991, the group formally filed an application for the open expansion spot and, on October 26 1993, the 28 NFL owners unanimously named the Carolina Panthers as the 29th member of the NFL. In January 1994, Richardson hired former Buffalo Bills General Manager Bill Polian as the Panthers’ first GM. Former Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers was subsequently named the team’s first Head Coach in January 1995.
In 1989, a prospective Jacksonville ownership group, Touchdown Jacksonville!, was organized. The group initially included future Florida Governor Jeb Bush and came to be led by shoe magnate Wayne Weaver, founder of Nine West. Touchdown Jacksonville! announced its bid for a team in 1991 and Jacksonville was ultimately chosen by the NFL as one of five finalists for an expansion franchise, along with Charlotte, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. Jacksonville was considered the least likely expansion candidate for several reasons. The Jacksonville metropolitan area and television market were smaller than those of nearly every team in the league. Additionally, the Gator Bowl was outdated and the ownership group struggled to negotiate a lease with the city.
When Charlotte was awarded the first expansion franchise in October 1993, surprisingly, the naming of the second expansion city was delayed a month. Most pundits speculated that the delay was made to allow St. Louis to shore up its bid. At the time, St. Louis was considered the favorite for the second franchise with Baltimore’s three bids also considered strong. However, in a surprising move, the NFL owners voted 26-2 in favor of awarding the 30th franchise to Jacksonville. In January 1994, Weaver chose Tom Coughlin as the first ever Head Coach. Coughlin had worked in the NFL as a position coach but he had been neither an NFL head coach nor a coordinator. As it emerged that Weaver had no intention of hiring a general manager, it became apparent that Coughlin would have most of the authority regarding hiring and personnel decisions.
Also by 1995, the Los Angeles Rams franchise had withered to a mere shadow of its former self. Accusations and excuses were constantly thrown back and forth between the Rams fan base, ownership, and local politicians. Many in the fan base blamed the ownership of Georgia Frontiere for the franchise’s woes while ownership cited the outdated stadium and withering fan support. Frontiere finally gave up and decided to move the Rams to St. Louis for the 1995 season. As part of the relocation deal, the city of St. Louis agreed to build a taxpayer financed stadium, the Trans World Dome, and guaranteed that the stadium’s amenities would be maintained in the top 25% of all NFL stadiums.
However, on March 15 1995, the other league owners rejected Frontiere’s bid to move the franchise by a 21-6 vote. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stated after rejecting the move, “This was one of the most complex issues we have had to approach in years. We had to balance the interest of fans in Los Angeles and in St. Louis that we appreciate very much. In my judgment, they did not meet the guidelines we have in place for such a move.” The commissioner also added: “Once the bridges have been burned and people get turned off on a sports franchise, years of loyalty is not respected and it is difficult to get it back. By the same token, there are millions of fans in that area who have supported the Rams in an extraordinary way. The Rams have 50 years of history and the last five or so years of difficult times can be corrected.”
Frontiere, however, responded with a thinly veiled threat at a lawsuit. The owners eventually acquiesced to her demands, wary of going through a long, protracted legal battle. Tagliabue simply stated that “The desire to have peace and not be at war was a big factor” in allowing the Rams move to go forward. In a matter of a month, the vote had gone from 21-6 opposed to 23-6 in favor. Jonathan Kraft, son of Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, elaborated on the commissioner’s remarks by saying that “about five or six owners didn’t want to get the other owners into litigation, so they switched their votes.” After the vote was over, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Owner Dan Rooney publicly stated that he opposed the move of the Los Angeles Rams because “I believe we should support the fans who have supported us for years.”
Finally, on June 23 1995, Los Angeles Raiders’ Owner Al Davis signed a letter of intent to move the Raiders back to Oakland for the 1995 season. The move was approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors the next month. As the NFL had never recognized the Raiders’ initial move to Los Angeles in 1982, they could not disapprove of the move or request a relocation fee, which had to be paid by the Rams for their move to St. Louis. In order to convince Davis to return, Oakland spent $220 million on stadium renovations it had rejected 13 years ago. These included a new seating section, commonly known as “Mount Davis”, with 10,000 seats. It also built the team a training facility and paid all its moving costs. Oakland also agree to charge the Raiders only $525,000 a year in rent, a fraction of what the nearby San Francisco 49ers had to pay to play at Candlestick Park, and did not charge the Raiders for maintenance or game day operating costs.
The Green Bay Packers had a solid draft in 1995, with five players ultimately becoming starters during the remainder of the 1990s, including DB Craig Newsome from Arizona State (32nd overall), RB William Henderson from North Carolina (66th overall), LB Brian Williams out of USC (73rd overall), WR Antonio Freeman from Virginia Tech (90th overall), and OG Adam Timmerman out of South Dakota State (230th overall).
Craig Newsome played for 4 seasons with Green Bay, starting 46 out of 46 games, becoming a mainstay on the Packers’ defense until a torn ACL slowed him down and eventually led to him being traded to San Francisco 49ers in September 1999. Newsome ultimately retired after his fifth season. Coupled with third year CB Doug Evans, Green Bay had one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL during the mid to late ’90s. Adam Timmerman also played 4 seasons with the Packers, starting 48 out of 61 games, leaving Green Bay to sign with the St. Louis Rams as an unrestricted free agent in 1999, before finishing his 12 year career with the St. Louis Rams in 2006. Brian Williams would play 6 seasons with Green Bay, starting 57 out of 72 games, ending his Packers’ career on injured reserve in 2000, before finishing his 8 year career with the Detroit Lions in 2002.
William Henderson played all 12 of his years in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, retiring in March 2007 after the team released him. Henderson was durable and effective for the Packers, solidifying the team at fullback after moving into the starting role in 1996. Nine times in his first 11 seasons he played in all 16 games and was selected to 2004 Pro Bowl. His consistent play, especially in his later years, had many Packer players and fans calling him “Old Reliable.” Although Henderson would only rush for 426 yards during his career, he stands 10th all time on the Packers’ career receptions list with 320 catches for 2,409 yards, first among Green Bay running backs.
Antonio Freeman played 8 out of his 9 NFL seasons with Green Bay, including his last season in 2003. During his career, Freeman caught 477 passes for 7,251 yards, gained 1,007 yards returning kickoffs and punts, scored 61 touchdowns, and played in the Pro Bowl in 1998. That year, Freeman caught 84 passes for a league leading 1,424 yards and 14 touchdowns. Beginning in 1996, Freeman became QB Brett Favre’s “go to” receiver, leading the Packers in receiving four consecutive seasons from 1996-1999. However, Freeman may be best known for making what ESPN labeled in 2005 “the best play in Monday Night Football history” when, on November 6 2000, he caught a last minute pass from Favre lying on his back before jumping to his feet and running the ball into the end zone for the winning score against the Minnesota Vikings.
Finally, on March 30, Green Bay General Manager Ron Wolf acquired another piece in the Packers championship puzzle, 5 time Pro Bowl and 3 time All-Pro selection TE Keith Jackson from the Miami Dolphins, in exchange for a 2nd round pick in the 1995 draft.
However, after 4 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and 3 seasons with Miami, Jackson at first didn’t want to play for Green Bay. But, with cajoling and influence by none other than his friend and former teammate in Philadelphia, DE Reggie White, Jackson finally made his trek to the frozen Tundra, arriving midway through the season, and didn’t look back. In fact, Jackson ultimately stated that his days in Green Bay were some of the best of his entire career. “I was a little stubborn and bullheaded at first and didn’t want to come here, but it turned out to be an outstanding time in my life,” Jackson said on the day he retired, after 9 seasons, in 1996. Teaming with All-Pro TE Mark Chmura, Jackson played in 25 games during his 2 seasons in Green Bay, catching 53 passes for 647 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns.
There were 32 picks in each round of the 1995 NFL Draft as the two expansion teams received an extra pick at the end of each round. In addition, the Carolina Panthers, having selected second in the 1995 NFL Expansion Draft, were awarded the 1st overall pick in the draft and the Jacksonville Jaguars, having picked first in the expansion draft, had the 2nd overall pick. The Panthers, however, traded their first pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for the Bengals’ 5th overall pick and their 4th pick in the second round. The Panthers were also stripped of two supplemental picks, numbers 61 and 191, for improperly recruiting Dom Capers from the Pittsburgh Steelers as their Head Coach.
Overall, three players selected in 1995 would ultimately be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame including the 12th overall selection, University of Miami DT Warren Sapp, and the 28th overall selection, Florida State LB Derrick Brooks, both chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This marked only the second time in NFL History that two Hall of Fame players were selected by the same team in the same round, the other being the Chicago Bears in the 1965 draft. The third Hall of Famer selected in 1995 was University of Pittsburgh RB Curtis Martin by the New England Patriots with the 74th overall selection.
Finally, one former Green Bay Packers’ player was inducted posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995, DT Henry Jordan. Jordan was selected in the 5th round of the 1957 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, who traded him two years later to the Packers, prior to Vince Lombardi’s first season, for a 4th round draft choice. At Green Bay, Jordan was elected to 4 Pro Bowls (1960, 1961, 1963, 1966), was All-NFL 6 times, and he was a defensive leader on a Green Bay Packers team that won 5 of 6 NFL title games in 8 seasons and won the first two Super Bowls. Jordan retired at age 35 in February 1970 after 13 NFL seasons. On February 21 1977, Jordan passed away from a heart attack at the age of 42.
Regular Season Highlights: The 11-5 record that the Green Bay Packers compiled in 1995 was the team’s best in about 30 years. And it was a sturdy 11-5. All 5 losses were close (3 by a field goal) and there was no doubt that this was a playoff team. Green Bay won the NFC Central Division by a game over the 10-6 Detroit Lions, their first non-strike division title since 1972.
QB Brett Favre enjoyed his best season yet, completing 359 out of 570 attempts for 4,413 yards, his first 4,000 yard season, 38 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a QB Rating of 99.5. For his efforts, Farvre was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, finishing 1st overall in both passing yards and touchdowns, 2nd overall in passes completed and passer rating, and 4th overall in passes attempted. WR Robert Brooks assumed the No. 1 receiver role over the retired Sterling Sharpe with 102 catches for 1,497 yards and 13 touchdowns, finishing 5th overall in receiving yards, 6th overall in receiving touchdowns, and 8th overall in receptions. RB Edgar Bennett had an outstanding season with 61 catches for 648 yards and 4 touchdowns as well as a team high 1,067 yards rushing on 316 attempts, the Packers first 1,000 yard rusher since Terdell Middleton in 1978, and an additional 3 touchdowns.
Overall, Green Bay finished 26th in rushing, 3rd in passing, and 6th in total offense scoring 404 points. Defensively, the Packers continued their string of impressive performances since the arrival of DEs Reggie White and Sean Jones, finishing 7th against the run, 21st against the pass, and 4th in total defense allowing 314 points. White led Green Bay with 12 sacks, tied for 6th overall, followed by Jones with 9 sacks.
The Dallas Cowboys finished with the NFL’s best record at 12-4 winning the NFC East title and the NFC’s top playoff seed. The 11-5 World Champion San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West title and the second seed over the NFC Central Champion and third seed Green Bay Packers based on a better conference record (8-4 to Packers’ 7-5). The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions finished at 10-6 with Philadelphia getting the first NFC Wild Card and fourth seed ahead of fifth seed Detroit based on a better conference record (9-3 to Lions’ 7-5). The 9-7 Atlanta Falcons were the NFC’s third Wild Card and sixth seed finishing ahead of the 9-7 Chicago Bears based on better record against common opponents (4-2 to Bears’ 3-3).
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs finished with the NFL’s as well as the AFC’s best record at 13-3, winning the AFC West title and the AFC’s top playoff seed. The 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Central title and the second seed while the 10-6 Buffalo Bills won the AFC East title and the third seed. The San Diego Chargers (fourth seed), the Indianapolis Colts (fifth seed), and the Miami Dolphins (sixth seed) were the AFC’s Wild Card teams, all finishing at 9-7. San Diego was the first AFC Wild Card based on head to head victory over Indianapolis (1-0) while Indianapolis finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East to become the second AFC Wild Card team based on a head to head sweep (2-0), the Colts first playoff berth since 1987.
For the Cleveland Browns, 1995 represented the lowest point in the franchise’s long history. After 50 years in Cleveland, Owner Art Modell announced he was moving the franchise to Baltimore the day after the Browns recorded their fifth loss of the season, a 37-10 blowout to the Houston Oilers. Stunned by the news, the team collapsed, winning only 1 of their remaining 7 games, culminating in the firing of Head Coach Bill Belichick.
As part of the agreement allowing Modell to move, the NFL agreed the City of Cleveland could keep the Browns name, the team’s history from 1946 onward, and everything else associated with the Browns while Modell would receive a new franchise, later named the Ravens. The Browns’ roster would be transferred to Baltimore but the club would otherwise start from scratch similar to an expansion team. The NFL also agreed that Cleveland would receive a new franchise once a stadium was built for it, with that team becoming a continuation of the 1946 franchise.
Lastly, as stated earlier, Green Bay QB Brett Favre won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award as well as Offensive Player of the Year. Buffalo and former Green Bay LB Bryce Paup won Defensive Player of the Year. New England Patriots RB Curtis Martin won Offensive Rookie of the Year while New York Jets DE Hugh Douglas won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Philadelphia rookie Head Coach Ray Rhodes won Coach of the Year.
Post Season Highlights: In the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, the fifth seed Detroit Lions traveled to Veterans Stadium to play the fourth seed Philadelphia Eagles while the NFC Central Champion and third seed Green Bay Packers hosted the sixth seed Atlanta Falcons in Lambeau Field. In the AFC, the fourth seed San Diego Chargers hosted the fifth seed Indianapolis Colts in Jack Murphy Stadium while the AFC East Champion and third seed Buffalo Bills hosted the sixth seed Miami Dolphins in Rich Stadium. The winners would advance to their respective Divisional Playoffs.
On December 30, although Miami Dolphins’ QB Dan Marino completed 33 out of 64 passes for 422 yards, the Buffalo Bills jumped to a 27-0 lead going into the fourth quarter, forcing 4 turnovers, and rushing for 341 yards, the second highest total in NFL postseason history and the most since the Chicago Bears gained 382 rushing yards in the 1940 NFL championship game.
Buffalo started the scoring with a 58 yard drive, 45 yards which came from 3 receptions by WR Steve Tasker. RB Thurman Thomas finished off the possession with a 1 yard touchdown to give the Bills a 7-0 lead. Miami had to punt on their next drive and P John Kidds’ kick went just 29 yards to the Bills 44 yard line. Three carries by Thomas for 26 yards set up K Steve Christie’s 48 yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. At the end of Miami’s next possession, Kidd’s 48 yard punt pinned Buffalo back at their own 1 yard line.
The Bills then drove 98 yards, with WR Bill Brooks picking up 21 yards on an end around run and Kelly completing a 26 yard pass to Tasker. RB Darick Holmes’ 34 yard run then moved the ball to the Dolphins 1 yard line, but that was as far as the drive would go as Miami intercepted Kelly’s pass in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter. Still, Miami was unable to build any momentum. They managed to drive into Buffalo territory only to turn the ball over on downs at the Bills 32 yard line. Then Thomas went back to work, breaking off a 13 yard run on the next play, and later taking off for a 32 yard gain to the Dolphins 21 yard line. On the next play, Buffalo scored on Holmes’ 21 yard touchdown run, increasing their lead to 17-0.
On the Dolphins’ next drive, Marino threw a pass that was picked off by the Bills, giving Buffalo the ball on their 38 yard line. Following an 18 yard run and 7 yard reception by Thomas, Kelly capitalized on the turnover with a 37 yard touchdown throw to Tasker, increasing the Bills lead to 24-0. The next three drives would end poorly for both teams. First, Miami turned the ball over on downs again, this time on the Bills 40 yard line. Then Buffalo gave the ball right back when Kelly threw a pass that was intercepted by the Dolphins. Miami went on to drive 61 yards, including Marino’s 31 yard completion to TE Gary Clark, to the Bills 35 yard line. But their drive ended there and K Pete Stoyanovich missed a 53 yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half.
The situation didn’t get better for Miami in the third quarter. On their first drive, Marino’s pass was intercepted. Then, on their next possession, Marino fumbled a snap out of shotgun formation and the Bills recovered it, resulting in Christie’s second field goal, this time from 23 yards out, giving the Bills a 27-0 lead. The Dolphins finally got on the board by driving 67 yards, including Marino’s 31 yard completion to WR O.J. McDuffie, to cut the score to 27-7 with McDuffie’s 5 yard touchdown catch from Marino early in the fourth quarter. But, after a Bills punt, the Dolphins again turned the ball over on downs at the Bills 39 yard line. Following 2 carries by Thomas for 17 yards, rookie RB Tim Tindale took off for a 44 yard touchdown run, giving the Bills a 34-7 lead.
The game was essentially over by now but there was plenty more scoring. Miami stormed back, driving 68 yards in 7 plays to score on Marino’s 45 yard bomb to WR Randal Hill and a 34-14 deficit. Buffalo responded with 3 carries by Tindale for 23 yards to set up Christie’s 42 yard field goal, increasing their lead to 37-14. Miami then moved the ball 73 yards in 9 plays. The key player on the drive was RB Terry Kirby, who caught 3 passes for 46 yards and finished it off with a 1 yard touchdown run, making the final score 37-22.
Although no one realized it at the time, this game would represent a turning point for both teams.
For Miami, it was the final game in the career of Head Coach Don Shula, who retired after 25 years with the Dolphins as the NFL’s all time leader in coaching wins with 347. His retirement ended one of the greatest coaching legacies in NFL history. Shula established numerous records in his 33 seasons as a head coach; most games coached (526), most consecutive seasons coached (33), and most Super Bowl Appearances (6), once with the Baltimore Colts and 5 times with the Miami Dolphins, compiling a 2-4 record. However, for all his success, Miami’s 1974 Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings proved to be Shula’s last championship. Despite consistent success in the regular season, Shula was unable to win in the postseason, failing in 12 trips to the playoffs, including two more Super Bowl appearances.
Two time Super Bowl winning Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, who left the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the 1993 season after clashing with Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, would subsequently be hired as only the third head coach in Miami Dolphins’ history.
Finally, for the Buffalo Bills, 1995 would be their last playoff victory to date.
Meanwhile, prior to the game, Detroit Lions OT Lomas Brown famously guaranteed on television that the Lions would win. The Philadelphia Eagles responded by opening up with a 51-7 lead over Detroit. The Eagles scored 31 points in the second quarter, recorded 6 interceptions, and held RB Barry Sanders to 40 rushing yards in the second highest scoring game in NFL postseason history. The Eagles 58 points were the third highest total in NFL postseason history, behind the Lions 59 points in 1957 and the Bears 73 points in the 1940 NFL championship game. Their 31 second quarter points was the second highest single quarter total in a postseason game behind the Washington Redskins 35 second quarter points in Super Bowl XXII.
Philadelphia scored first after the Eagles intercepted a pass from Detroit QB Scott Mitchell and returned it 16 yards to the Lions 15 yard line, setting up RB Charlie Garners’ 15 yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead. Detroit responded with Mitchell’s 32 yard touchdown pass to TE David Sloan to tie the game at 7-7. Then Philadelphia exploded in the second quarter, starting with a 30 yard Garner run to set up K Gary Anderson’s 21 yard field goal and a 10-7 lead. After a punt, the Eagles increased their lead to 17-7 with QB Rodney Peete’s 22 yard touchdown to WR Fred Barnett. CB Barry Wilburn returned a Mitchell interception 24 yards for a touchdown on the next series, further increasing Philadelphia’s lead to 24-7 less than a minute later.
The Eagles next picked off another Mitchell pass, giving them a first down at the Lions 34 yard line. Following two 13 yard catches by Barnett, RB Ricky Watters’ 1 yard touchdown run made the score 31-7. Later on, with just 5 second left in the half, Eagles WR Rob Carpenter caught a 43 yard touchdown reception on a Hail Mary pass from Peete, making the score 38-7 going into halftime. In the second half, a 45 yard touchdown reception by Watters and two more field goals by Anderson (31 and 39 yards) increased the Eagles lead to 51-7, still with slightly more than 9 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
From there, Detroit backup and former Green Bay QB Don Majkowski replaced Mitchell and threw a 68 yard touchdown pass to WR Herman Moore, narrowing the deficit to 51-14. The Lions subsequently recovered an Eagles fumble and Majkowski converted it into another touchdown, a 7 yard toss to WR Johnnie Morton, further cutting the score to 51-21. But Philadelphia LB William Thomas quickly put any thoughts of a Lions comeback to rest by returning a Majkowski interception 30 yards for a touchdown and a 58-21 lead 23 seconds into the fourth quarter. All that lay ahead for Detroit were a pair of meaningless touchdowns, a 2 yard catch by Sloan from Majkowski and a 1 yard run by RB Ron Rivers, to make the final score 58-37.
On December 31, the Green Bay Packers scored 13 unanswered points in the second quarter en route to a victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Green Bay got an early scoring opportunity when the Packers intercepted a pass from Atlanta QB Jeff George and returned it 30 yards to the Falcon 22 yard line on the second play of the game. However, a third down sack pushed Green Bay back to the 28 yard line and K Chris Jacke missed a 46 yard field goal attempt. Atlanta subsequently scored first on George’s 65 yard touchdown pass to WR Eric Metcalf for a 7-0 lead. But Green Bay countered, starting with WR Antonio Freeman’s 42 yard kickoff return to the Packers 48 yard line. 52 yards and 8 plays later, the Packers tied the game, 7-7, on RB Edgar Bennett’s 8 yard touchdown run.
On Green Bay’s next drive, they took advantage of a 35 yard pass interference penalty, driving 78 yards to score on QB Brett Favre’s 14 yard touchdown pass to WR Robert Brooks and a 14-7 lead. On the second play of the second quarter, K Morten Andersen’s 31 yard field goal made the score 14-10 at the end of a drive that featured a 55 yard completion from George to WR Terrance Mathis. However, Freeman subsequently returned a Falcons’ punt 76 yards for a touchdown, extending Green Bay’s lead to 20-10 after the 2 point conversion attempt failed. In the closing minutes of the first half, the Packers marched 85 yards in 14 plays to score on Favre’s 2 yard touchdown to TE Mark Chmura, achieving a 27-10 halftime lead.
After the first five drives of the third quarter ended in punts, Atlanta started an 80 yard drive that ended on George’s 27 yard touchdown pass to WR J.J. Birden, making the score 27-17 less than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter. However, Atlanta’s comeback hopes were soon dashed as Green Bay went on to drive 70 yards to score on Favre’s 18 yard touchdown pass to RB Dorsey Levens for a 34-17 lead. The key play of the drive was Favre’s 20 yard completion to Brooks on 3rd and 8 from the Falcons 45 yard line, Favre’s longest completion of the game. All that remained from this point would be a field goal from each team over the next two possessions (a 22 yarder from Andersen and a 25 yarder from Jacke) to make the final score 37-20.
Later in the day, Indianapolis Colts rookie RB Zack Crockett, who had only one rushing attempt during the regular season, found himself thrust into the starting lineup to replace injured starter Marshall Faulk on the first play of the game. He proved up to the task, rushing for a franchise playoff record 147 yards and scoring 2 touchdowns to help the Colts win their first playoff game in 24 years over the San Diego Chargers.
San Diego jumped to a 3-0 lead on their first drive by moving 30 yards and scoring with K John Carney’s 54 yard field goal. Later in the period, Indianapolis intercepted a pass from QB Stan Humphries and returned it 13 yards to the Chargers 33 yard line. But the Colts were unable to capitalize on the turnover. Five plays later, San Diego picked off a pass from QB Jim Harbaugh at the San Diego 1 yard line. A 46 yard punt return by Indianapolis to the Chargers 27 yard line set up Harbaugh’s 2 yard touchdown pass to TE Ken Dilger for a 7-3 lead a minute into the second quarter.
But San Diego recaptured the lead on their ensuing possession by moving the ball 68 yards in 18 plays, converting 5 third downs on a drive in which no play gained more than 10 yards. Humphries’s 6 yard scoring pass to TE Alfred Pupunu at the end of it made the score 10-7. However, the Colts came right back with an 80 yard drive in which Harbaugh completed 4 of 5 passes for 43 yards and rushed for 2 yards before Crockett scored on 33 yard touchdown run, giving the Colts a 14-10 lead. The Chargers countered with a drive to Indianapolis’s 17 yard line. But, with 17 seconds left in the first half, Humphries’ pass was intercepted in the end zone.
Four minutes into the third quarter, San Diego put together another long scoring drive, this one covering 90 yards in 12 plays, the longest a 24 yard reception by Harmon. Humphries finished it off with an 11 yard touchdown pass to WR Shawn Jefferson, giving the Chargers a 17-14 lead. Indianapolis quickly struck back with a 7 play, 81 yard drive in which Harbaugh again completed 4 of 5 passes for 67 yards, the last a 42 yarder to WR Sean Dawkins for a 21-17 lead. In the fourth quarter, runs by RBs Terrell Fletcher and Aaron Hayden for respective gains of 20 and 15 yards set up Carney’s 30 yard field goal to cut Indianapolis’ lead to 21-20.
But, on the Colts’ next drive, Crockett ran for a 66 yard touchdown, increasing their lead to 28-20. From there, Indianapolis never looked back. On the Chargers’ next possession, the Colts intercepted a Humphries pass and returned it 32 yards to the San Diego 23 yard line. Harbaugh then completed a 21 yard pass to WR Floyd Turner before taking the ball into the end zone himself on a 3 yard run for a 35-20 lead. The Chargers had three more drives but they would only result in another interception, a turnover on downs, and time expiring in the game for a 35-20 Colts victory.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the AFC Central Champion and second seed Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the AFC East Champion and third seed Buffalo Bills in Three Rivers Stadium while the NFC Central Champion and third seed Green Bay Packers traveled to Candlestick Park to play the NFC West Champion and second seed San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, the NFC East Champion and top seed Dallas Cowboys hosted the fourth seed Philadelphia Eagles in Texas Stadium while the fifth seed Indianapolis Colts traveled to Arrowhead Stadium to play the AFC West Champion and top seed Kansas City Chiefs. The winners would advance to their respective Conference Championship games.
On January 6, RB Bam Morris scored 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Pittsburgh Steelers stopped the Buffalo Bills, minus Hall of Fame DE Bruce Smith, who fell ill the day before the game, from coming back from a 20-0 deficit. By the end of the game, the Steelers had outgained the Bills in total yards, 409-250, and forced 4 turnovers.
Pittsburgh started off the scoring with a 76 yard drive in which WR Yancy Thigpen caught a 43 yard pass and RB John L. Williams finished it off with a 1 yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Buffalo responded with a drive to the Steelers 21 yard line, but RB Darick Holmes was tackled for a 13 yard loss and K Steve Christie subsequently missed a 52 yard field goal attempt. Morris then rushed for 44 yards on a 58 yard possession that ended on QB Neil O’Donnell’s 13 yard touchdown completion to WR Ernie Mills, increasing the Pittsburgh lead to 14-0. Early in the second quarter, Steelers WR Andre Hastings returned a punt 12 yards to the Bills 43 yard line, setting up K Norm Johnson’s 45 yard field goal.
Now facing a 17-0 deficit, the Bills offense self destructed on their next drive. Facing 3rd and 8, QB Jim Kelly was sacked by LB Kevin Greene. On fourth down, P Chris Mohr was tackled on the Bills 12 yard line, leading to another Johnson field goal, giving Pittsburgh a 20-0 lead. Buffalo responded with a drive to the Steelers 30 yard line only to again lose the ball when RB Thurman Thomas fumbled it away. However, the Bills soon got the ball back with excellent field position after Pittsburgh’s Rohn Stark punted the ball only 33 yards to the Steelers 49 yard line. Kelly then got the team to the 1 yard line with 3 completions, hitting TE Tony Cline for 17 yards, WR Andre Reed for 5 yards, and WR Steve Tasker for 26 yards. From there, Thomas ran the ball into the end zone for Buffalo’s first score, cutting the deficit to 20-7.
Only 45 seconds remained in the half, but O’Donnell proved up to the challenge of earning his team some more points, completing 4 consecutive passes for 53 yards to get the team to the Bills 16 yard line. Johnson finished the drive with his third field goal, giving the Steelers a 23-7 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Pittsburgh intercepted a Kelly pass at the Buffalo 25 yard line, leading to Johnson’s fourth field goal and a 26-7 lead. Both teams had to punt on their following drives, with the Bills gaining possession on the Steelers 42 yard line. A few plays later, Tasker took a handoff on a reverse and ran 40 yards to the 3 yard line. Backup QB Alex Van Pelt, who earlier had replaced an injured Jim Kelly, finished the drive with 2 yard touchdown pass to Cline, making the score 26-14.
Early in the fourth quarter, Buffalo took advantage of yet another poor punt from Stark, this one a 31 yard kick, that gave them the ball on the Pittburgh 36 yard line. Van Pelt then guided the team to the 11 yard line, where Kelly returned to the field, eventually hitting Thomas for a 9 yard score, cutting the lead to 26-21 with 11:23 left in the game. But Pittsburgh then marched 76 yards, including O’Donnell’s third down conversion passes to Thigpen and WR Andre Hastings for gains of 21 and 17 yards, to score on Morris’ 13 yard touchdown run, increasing their lead to 33-21. The following three drives ended in interceptions, two by Kelly and one by O’Donnell. On Buffalo’s next possession, Kelly threw his third interception, this time at the Bills 23 yard line, setting up Morris’ 2 yard score with 1:58 remaining to clinch the victory, 40-21.
Later that day, for the first time ever since becoming Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Holmgren was coaching against his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, where he was the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach for 6 seasons. Green Bay jumped to a 21-0 lead with QB Brett Favre throwing for 222 yards in the first half, ultimately completing 21 out of 28 passes for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Packers defense sacked 49ers QB Steve Young 3 times and intercepted him twice. For the second playoff game in a row, Green Bay did not lose any turnovers while San Francisco turned the ball over 4 times.
Green Bay took the opening kickoff and held onto the ball for 7:11 before K Chris Jacke’s 44 yard field goal attempt was blocked by the 49ers. But, on San Francisco’s first play on offense, RB Adam Walker fumbled after being hit by LB Wayne Simmons. Rookie DB Craig Newsome picked up the ball and returned it 31 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. After forcing the 49ers to punt, the Packers advanced 62 yards, with Favre completing a 35 yard pass to TE Keith Jackson and a 20 yarder to Brooks, to score on Favre’s 3 yard touchdown to Jackson, extending Green Bay’s lead to 14-0. The Packers would later drive 72 yards in 7 plays to score on TE Mark Chmura’s 13 yard touchdown reception for a 21-0 lead.
Young’s 32 yard completion to WR Jerry Rice set up K Jeff Wilkins 21 yard field goal, cutting the lead to 21-3 at the end of the half. In the second half, San Francisco further narrowed Green Bay’s lead to 21-10 on Young’s third quarter 1 yard touchdown run. However, Jacke kicked 2 field goals (27 and 26 yards) in the third and fourth quarters to extend the Packers lead to 27-10. The 49ers would score on a 2 yard run by RB Derek Loville but it was too little, too late as Green Bay advanced to the NFC Championship game with a 27-17 upset victory. This was the only time during the 1990s that an NFC team won a divisional playoff game on the road.
On January 7, with Philadelphia Eagles starting QB Rodney Peete injured early in the game, the Dallas Cowboys held Philadelphia to only 227 yards and 11 points.
Dallas scored on their second drive of the first half, moving the ball 37 yards for K Chris Boniol’s 24 yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. Following an Eagles punt, Philadelphia intercepted a pass from Dallas QB Troy Aikman and returned it 34 yards to the Cowboys 43 yard line, setting up K Gary Anderson’s 26 yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter, tying the game at 3-3. On Philadelphia’s field goal drive, Peete suffered a concussion when he was tackled by DB Darren Woodson 1 yard short of a first down on the Dallas 9 yard line, knocking him out of the game. Backup QB Randall Cunningham replaced Peete for the remainder of the contest.
In the second quarter, Dallas RB Emmitt Smith rushed 4 times for 25 yards and caught a 22 yard reception on a 70 yard drive that DB Deion Sanders finished with a 21 yard touchdown on an end around run, giving the Cowboys a 10-3 lead. The Eagles managed just one first down before punting. Dallas then marched 79 yards, including completions of 37 yards and 26 yards from Aikman to WR Kevin Williams and RB Daryl Johnston. Johnston’s catch gave the team a 1st and goal on the Eagles 1 yard line, and Smith ran the ball into the end zone on the next play, giving the Cowboys a 17-3 lead at the half.
During Dallas’ first series of the second half, Williams caught a 34 yard Aikman pass as his team drove 59 yards to score on Boniol’s 18 yard field goal, making the score 20-3. On Dallas’ next drive, they upped their lead to 23-3 with Boniol’s franchise record 51 yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys intercepted a Cunningham pass and returned it 12 yards to the Eagles 21 yard line, leading to their final score, an Aikman’s 9 yard pass to WR Michael Irvin, for a 30-3 lead. The Eagles responded as Cunningham completed 4 of 5 passes for 63 yards before taking the ball into the end zone himself on a 4 yard run. He also completed a pass for a 2 point conversion, cutting the Dallas lead to 30-11, but by then only 2:36 remained in the game. Dallas subsequently ran out the clock to advance to their fourth consecutive NFC Championship game with a 30-11 win.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs, who held the league’s best record during the regular season, were heavily favored to beat the Indianapolis Colts, particularly since Indianapolis star RB Marshall Faulk was inactive due to injury, along with DL Tony Siragusa due to illness. But by the end of the game, Kansas City had lost 4 turnovers and K Lin Elliot missed 3 field goals en route to a Colts upset.
After the first four possessions of the game resulted in punts, Kansas City scored on former San Francisco 49ers QB Steve Bono’s 20 yard touchdown to WR Lake Dawson with 29 seconds left in the first quarter, on a drive that covered 62 yards in 5 plays, for a 7-0 lead. Indianapolis countered with a long, methodical 18 play drive in which they converted 5 third downs and one fourth down, on the way to QB Jim Harbaugh’s 5 yard touchdown pass to WR Floyd Turner, tying the game, 7-7. Harbaugh made several key plays on the drive, converting a 3rd and 11 with an 18 yard scramble and three plays later finding WR Aaron Bailey for a 13 yard completion on 3rd and 10. RB Lamont Warren also made a big play by converting a 4th and 1 situation with a 4 yard gain.
Later on, Colts K Cary Blanchard missed a 47 yard field goal attempt with 57 seconds left in the half. Kansas City then drove to the Indianapolis 17 yard line only to have Elliot hit the uprights from 35 yards out. In the third period, the Colts intercepted a Bono pass at midfield, setting up Blanchard’s 30 yard field goal, giving his team a 10-7 lead. Early in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs reached the Indianapolis 22 yard line but all they got was another missed Elliot field goal, this one from 39 yards, with 10:36 left to play.
The Colts failed to gain a first down with their next two drives while Bono threw consecutive interceptions. After the first interception, Indianapolis had a chance to increase their lead, but Blanchard missed a field goal attempt from 49 yards out. With 4:12 left in the game, QB Rich Gannon replaced Bono and led Kansas City from their own 18 yard line to the Colts 25 yard line. But, with 42 seconds left, Elliot missed his third field goal of the day, a 42 yard attempt, and Indianapolis escaped with a 10-7 upset victory.
On January 14, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts while, for the third consecutive year, the Green Bay Packers traveled to Texas Stadium to play the Dallas Cowboys, this time for the NFC Championship, and the right to represent their respective conferences in Super Bowl XXX.
In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts were the first fifth seed to advance to a conference championship game since the 1990 playoff expansion, coming within one dropped pass against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers of being the first fifth seed to advance to a Super Bowl.
On Pittsburgh’s opening drive, QB Neil O’Donnell’s first pass of the game was tipped and subsequently intercepted by the Colts at the Steelers 24 yard line. But Indianapolis’ drive was halted when the Pittsburgh’s defense stopped RB Lamont Warren for a loss on 3rd and 1. On the next play, K Cary Blanchard hit the right upright on his 34 yard field goal, but it still bounced in, and the Colts took a 3-0 lead. After each team punted, Steelers K Norm Johnson kicked a field goal on their next possession to even the game at 3-3 with under 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The field goal occurred after Kordell Stewart dropped an O’Donnell pass in the end zone. Replays showed Colts S Jason Belser made contact with Stewart just before the ball arrived but no penalty flag was thrown.
In the second quarter, a 30 yard reception by Indianapolis WR Sean Dawkins set up Blanchard’s second field goal for a 6-3 lead. Pittsburgh then drove 80 yards in 17 plays, featuring three third down conversion runs by Kordell Stewart, and scored on O’Donnell’s 5 yard 3rd and goal touchdown pass to Stewart with 13 seconds left in the half to make it 10-6. Replays showed Stewart had put half a foot out of bounds before making the catch, which would have made him an ineligible receiver, but the penalty was not called.
On Indianapolis’ first possession of the second half, they drove 61 yards in 9 plays, featuring a 29 yard completion from QB Jim Harbaugh to TE Ken Dilger. Blanchard finished the drive with his third field goal to cut their deficit to 10-9. After forcing a three and out, the Colts drove 35 yards in 9 plays to set up another field goal try, which would have put them up 12-10. But this time, Blanchard’s 47 yard attempt sailed wide right. Taking over on their own 37 yard line, Pittsburgh mounted a drive into Indianapolis territory, where Johnson’s 37 yard field goal put the Steelers up by four points, 13-9.
Early in the fourth quarter, a long punt return by Pittsburgh WR Andre Hastings gave them the ball at midfield. But all the Steelers got out of their great field position was a missed Johnson field goal. Harbaugh subsequently threw a 47 yard touchdown pass to WR Floyd Turner, giving the Colts the lead, 16-13. After a Steelers punt, their defense got a big chance when Warren fumbled deep in Indianapolis territory, but the ball was recovered by the Colts to keep the drive going. Later on, Warren was tackled behind the line on 3rd and 1 to force a punt, giving Pittsburgh the ball back with 3:03 left in the game.
The Steelers then marched 67 yards to score the winning touchdown, a 1 yard run by RB Bam Morris, with 1:34 remaining in the game. The drive was aided by O’Donnell’s 9 yard completion to Hastings on 4th and 3 from the 47 yard line as well as a dropped potential interception by Indianapolis. On the next play, after Hastings’ fourth down conversion catch, O’Donnell completed a 37 yard pass to WR Ernie Mills down to the Colts 1 yard line, setting up Morris’ scoring run and a 20-16 Pittsburgh lead.
Indianapolis got the ball back and advanced to the Steelers’ 29 yard line with 5 seconds left, narrowly avoiding a turnover when Pittsburgh dropped a wide open interception. On the game’s final play, Harbaugh attempted a hail mary pass. The ball came down into a crowd of players in the end zone; for a moment, it was against Colts WR Aaron Bailey’s chest, but it hit the turf before he could haul it in, narrowly preserving the Steelers 20-16 victory and giving Pittsburgh their fifth trip to the Super Bowl.
In the NFC, RB Emmitt Smith rushed for 150 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns while also catching 2 passes for 17 yards as the Dallas Cowboys overcame a Green Bay Packers 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter. This was the third year in a row that Dallas had eliminated Green Bay from the playoffs.
Green Bay got off to a slow start as QB Brett Favre threw incompletions on his first 6 pass attempts of the game and the team failed to gain any yards on their first 9 plays. However, Packers LB Bernardo Harris blocked a John Jett punt on the game’s opening drive that gave the team the ball at the Dallas 23 yard line, enabling them to take a 3-0 lead on K Chris Jacke’s 46 yard field goal. Dallas stormed right back with an 11 play, 80 yard drive, featuring a 35 yard reception by DB Deion Sanders. QB Troy Aikman finished the drive with a 6 yard touchdown pass to WR Michael Irvin, giving the Cowboys a 7-3 lead. Then, Dallas intercepted a screen pass from Favre on the Packers 13 yard line and subsequently scored another touchdown on Aikman’s 4 yard pass to Irvin for a 14-3 lead.
However, Favre’s first completion of the day turned out to be a big one, a 73 yard touchdown bomb to WR Robert Brooks to narrow the score to 14-10. Dallas was forced to punt on their next drive and WR Antonio Freeman gave his team great field position with a 39 yard return, plus an additional 15 yards on a facemask penalty, to give the Packers the ball on the Dallas 35 yard line. Two plays into the second quarter, Favre threw a 24 yard touchdown pass to TE Keith Jackson. So, despite only holding the ball for 2:53 in the first quarter, Green Bay now had the lead, 17-14, early in the second quarter.
The Cowboys, however, responded with two long drives for 10 points prior to the end of the half. K Chris Boniol tied the game at 17-17 with his 29th consecutive field goal, putting it through the uprights from 34 yards to conclude a 60 yard drive. Packers P Craig Hentrich subsequently pinned Dallas back at their own 1 yard line with a 57 yard kick, but Smith bailed his team out with a 25 yard run on the next play, starting off a playoff record 99 yard drive. Irvin contributed two big receptions, converting the drive’s only third down with a 10 yard catch and later hauling in a pass for a 28 yard gain on the Packers 16 yard line. With 24 seconds left in the half, Smith finished the drive with a 1 yard touchdown run for a 24-17 halftime lead.
Personal fouls helped start two Green Bay scoring drives in the third quarter. They opened the half with a 52 yard drive to score on Jacke’s 37 yard field goal, cutting the Cowboys lead to 24-20. The next time they got the ball, Favre’s 54 yard completion to Jackson set up his 1 yard TD pass to Brooks, giving the Packers a 27-24 lead at the end of three quarters.
But Dallas regained the lead, 31-27, a few plays into the fourth quarter after Smith’s 5 yard touchdown run capped off a 90 yard possession. Green Bay responded with a drive past midfield but the Cowboys put an end to it by intercepting Favre’s pass and returning it 28 yards to the Dallas 48 yard line. Irvin made a juggling reception near the sidelines for a 36 yard gain on the next play and Smith took the ball into the end zone with a 16 yard run to ice the game. Green Bay’s final two possessions would each end with a turnover on downs, and Dallas advanced to its eighth Super Bowl appearance, 38-27.
Thus, for the third time in their respective histories, the Dallas Cowboys would play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the World Championship in Super Bowl XXX, the most between any two NFL teams. Both teams would also be attempting to tie the San Francisco 49ers by winning their fifth Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Highlights: On January 28 1996, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe AZ, the NFC Champion Dallas Cowboys, led by second year Head Coach Barry Switzer, played the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, led by fourth year Head Coach Bill Cowher, the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history at age 38, in Super Bowl XXX. Dallas would be playing in its third Super Bowl in four years while Pittsburgh would be playing in their first Super Bowl since the 1979 season. This would be the first time the Super Bowl had been played in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
After taking over the Dallas franchise in 1989, Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones and Head Coach Jimmy Johnson rebuilt the team into a Super Bowl contender with young talent. Both had different ideas on the future personnel plans for the Cowboys and both wanted equal credit for the team’s Super Bowl success in 1992 and 1993. As a result, Johnson eventually left the team after their Super Bowl XXVIII win and was replaced prior to the 1994 season by former University of Oklahoma Head Coach Barry Switzer, who had one of the highest winning percentages of any college football coach in history, with a mark of .837.
In 1995, after starting fast with an 8-1 record, the Cowboys hit a major bump in the road, losing 3 out of their next 4 games before finishing the season with 4 straight wins, including 2 playoff victories. Pro Bowl QB Troy Aikman finished the regular season completing 280 out of 432 passes (64.8%) for 3,304 yards, 16 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions for a QB Rating of 93.6. Pro Bowl RB Emmitt Smith won his fourth, and last, league rushing crown in his career with 1,773 yards on 377 attempts (4.7 yards per attempt) and broke a league single season record with 25 rushing touchdowns. Smith was also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, recording a career high 62 receptions for 375 yards. RB Daryl Johnston added 111 rushing yards while also catching 30 passes for 248 and scoring 3 touchdowns.
Pro Bowl WR Michael Irvin led the team in receiving with 111 catches for 1,603 yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Kevin Williams was another a big receiving threat with 38 receptions for 613 yards while also racking up 1,274 return yards on special teams. Pro Bowl TE Jay Novacek had 62 receptions for 705 yards and 5 touchdowns. Dallas’ offensive line was led by Pro Bowlers OG Larry Allen, C Ray Donaldson, OG Nate Newton, and OT Mark Tuinei.
Dallas’ major defensive acquisition before the season was 4 time Pro Bowl CB Deion Sanders from the San Francisco 49ers. However, Sanders only played in 9 regular season games due to injuries and thus only recorded 24 tackles and 2 interceptions. S Darren Woodson was named to the Pro Bowl with 89 tackles and 2 interceptions and a touchdown. CB Larry Brown led the team in interceptions with 6 for 124 return yards and 2 touchdowns. S Brock Marion also recorded 6 interceptions returning one for a touchdown. Pro Bowl DE Charles Haley led the team in sacks with 10.5 while DE Chad Hennings added 5.5 sacks. Overall, Dallas ranked 3rd in total defense surrendering 291 points.
Super Bowl XXX was the first time Pittsburgh advanced to the league championship game since their victory in Super Bowl XIV and their first under Bill Cowher. Cowher took over the team in 1992 after longtime Head Coach Chuck Noll retired after a 23 year tenure and leading the team to 4 Super Bowl wins. During Cowher’s first year, the Steelers captured the top AFC playoff seed with an 11-5 regular season record but were eliminated in their first playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Cowher then led Pittsburgh into the playoffs in 1993 and 1994 but were also eliminated, including a 17-13 upset loss at home to the San Diego Chargers in the 1994 AFC Championship game.
In 1995, the Steelers overcame a 3-4 start to win 8 of their final 9 games and finish with the second best record in the AFC. Their offense was led by QB Neil O’Donnell who completed 246 out of 416 passes (59.1%) for 2,970 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions for a QB Rating of 87.7. Pro Bowl WR Yancey Thigpen was the team’s leading receiver with 85 receptions for 1,307 yards and 5 touchdowns. Other contributors in the passing game included WRs Andre Hastings (48 catches for 502 yards and 1 touchdown) and Ernie Mills (39 receptions for 679 yards and 8 touchdowns). Both also excelled as returners on special teams, with Mills gaining 1,306 yards returning kickoffs and Hastings returning 48 punts for 474 yards and a touchdown.
Pittsburgh’s rushing attack was led by RB Erric Pegram, who recorded 813 yards on 213 attempts (3.8 yards per attempt) and 5 touchdowns, and Bam Morris, who had 559 yards on 148 attempts (3.8 yards per carry) and 9 touchdowns. On special teams, newly acquired K Norm Johnson led the NFL in both field goals made (34) and field goals attempted (41) while also successfully making all 39 of his extra point attempts. Leading the offensive line was future Hall of Fame C Dermontti Dawson, who made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year.
The Steelers’ defense ranked 2nd in the league in total yards allowed (4,833) and 9th in total defense allowing 327 points. Pro Bowl LB Kevin Greene led the team with 9 sacks while another Pro Bowler, LB Greg Lloyd, led the team with 86 tackles while also collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. The secondary was led by Pro Bowl DBs Carnell Lake and Willie Williams, who combined for 7 interceptions and 122 return yards. The secondary also featured future Hall of Fame DB Rod Woodson, who missed almost the entire season with a knee injury, but returned in time for the playoffs. He is still the only NFL player to return from a torn ACL to play in the same season.
On Dallas’ first possession of the game, Troy Aikman completed a 20 yard pass on second down to Michael Irvin, which was followed by a 23 yard run by Emmitt Smith, to advance to the Steelers 28 yard line. The run would be Smith’s longest of the day and the longest for either team. On 3rd and 8 from the 26 yard line, Williams could only gain 2 yards on a reverse play, forcing Dallas to settle for a 42 yard Chris Boniol field goal and a 3-0 lead. On Pittsburgh’s first possession, the Dallas defense forced a three and out and a subsequent punt.
After two Smith runs, Aikman completed 2 quick passes, the first to Irvin for an 11 yard gain and the second to Deion Sanders for 47 yards. Sanders became the only player in Super Bowl history to record both a Super Bowl interception on defense and a reception on offense. Four plays later, Aikman completed a 3 yard touchdown pass to Jay Novacek, playing in what would be his last game, increasing Dallas’ lead to 10-0. It was the second Super Bowl in which Novacek scored Dallas’ first touchdown.
After the Steelers managed to advance to the Dallas 36 yard line on their ensuing drive, the possession fell apart due to a miscue by Dermontti Dawson. Pittsburgh had lined up in the shotgun formation and Dawson’s snap sailed over Neil O’Donnell’s head. O’Donnell managed to recover the fumble, but the Steelers were unable to recover from the 13 yard loss, punting the ball two plays later. After the punt, Dallas drove to the Steelers’ 24 yard line. However, a pass interference penalty on Irvin nullified a 24 yard touchdown reception and moved the ball back to the 34 yard line. On the next play, Aikman completed a 19 yard pass to Novacek, bringing up 2nd and 1 from the 15 yard line. However, the Steelers’ defense stopped Smith for no gain on the next play and then tackled him for a 3 yard loss on third down. Boniol then kicked a 35 yard field goal, increasing Dallas’ lead to 13-0.
After an exchange of punts, the Steelers returned the Cowboys next punt to the Pittsburgh 46 yard line. After O’Donnell’s first down pass fell incomplete, Dallas’ Charles Haley sacked the Steelers quarterback for a 10 yard loss, forcing 3rd and 20. O’Donnell’s next pass was a 19 yard completion to Andre Hastings, and then a 3 yard run on fourth down by backup QB Kordell Stewart netted a first down. Nine plays later, O’Donnell threw a 6 yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen with just 13 seconds left in the half, cutting Pittsburgh’s deficit to 13-7. Thigpen made the catch despite being shoved by Sanders prior to making the reception.
After the third quarter began with another exchange of punts, the Steelers advanced the ball to their own 48 yard line. However, on third down, the Cowboys Larry Brown intercepted O’Donnell’s pass at the Dallas 38 yard line and returned it 44 yards to the Pittsburgh 18 yard line. Aikman then completed a 17 yard pass to Irvin to reach the 1 yard line, setting up a 1 yard touchdown run by Smith to increase Dallas’ lead to 20-7. On their next drive, the Steelers faced 2nd and 2 on their own 47 yard line but turned the ball over on downs after Bam Morris was tackled for no gain on 3 consecutive running plays; a draw play to the left, a run to the left, and one to the middle.
Pittsburgh’s defense held, however, forcing Dallas into a three and out. After a 6 yard run by Smith and an incompletion, Aikman’s third down pass was broken up by Rod Woodson, forcing the Cowboys to punt. Subsequently, the Steelers advanced from their own 20 yard line to the Dallas 19 yard line. However, Dallas DE Tony Tolbert sacked O’Donnell on third down for a 9 yard loss, forcing Pittsburgh to settle for Norm Johnson’s 46 yard field goal with 11:20 left in the game, cutting the deficit to 20-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Pittsburgh surprised the Cowboys by executing a successful onside kick, recovering the ball at their own 47 yard line. O’Donnell hit Hastings on 2 consecutive passes for 23 total yards. His next pass went to Ernie Mills for 7 yards and then Morris ran for 5 yards and caught a pass for a 6 yard gain to the Dallas 11 yard line. Three plays later, Morris scored on a 1 yard touchdown run, cutting Pittsburgh’s deficit to 20-17. With the aid of an 8 yard sack on Aikman, the Cowboys were forced to punt on their next drive, and Pittsburgh regained possession of the ball at their own 32 yard line with 4:15 remaining.
However, on second down, Brown intercepted another O’Donnell pass, returning it 33 yards to the Steelers’ 6 yard line. The play was a mirror image of O’Donnell’s first interception to Brown; a throw in the right flat under a heavy Cowboys blitz into the arms of Brown with no Steelers receiver in sight. After the game, O’Donnell said that he was throwing to the spot he expected WR Corey Holliday to be on the second interception. Brown said he was all alone on both picks because he expected O’Donnell to throw to the outside to rid of the ball amidst the Cowboys’ blitz. Two plays following the interception, Smith scored his second rushing touchdown from 4 yards out with 3:43 left in the game, increasing the Cowboys’ lead to 27-17. This despite the fact Smith was held to a total of 49 yards on the ground, with only 9 of those yards gained in the second half.
The Steelers responded by driving to the Dallas 40 yard line but, after O’Donnell threw 4 consecutive incompletions, Pittsburgh turned the ball over on downs with 1:42 left in the game. After that, Dallas ran out most of the clock with three kneel downs by Aikman and an intentional delay of the game penalty before punting the ball back to the Steelers. Pittsburgh regained possession of the ball with 3 seconds remaining but O’Donnell’s Hail Mary pass was intercepted by Dallas on the final play of the game, giving the Cowboys their fifth Super Bowl victory, 27-17.
Dallas Cowboys CB Larry Brown, a 12th round draft pick, became the first cornerback to be named Super Bowl MVP by recording 2 interceptions in the second half, which the Cowboys converted into 2 touchdowns to prevent a Pittsburgh comeback. QB Troy Aikman finished the game with 15 out of 23 completions for 209 yards and a touchdown. Aikman became just the third quarterback to win 3 Super Bowls; Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco 49ers QB Joe Montana each won 4 Super Bowls. RB Emmitt Smith became only the fifth player to score a touchdown in three different Super Bowls. Smith also became the first player to rush for 2 touchdowns in two different Super Bowls.
However, Pittsburgh had outgained the Cowboys in total yards, 310-254 (201-61 in the second half), had 25 first downs compared to the Cowboys’ 15 first downs, and limited Dallas’ powerful running attack to just 56 yards. Despite the statistical advantage, they were unable to overcome QB Neil O’Donnell’s 3 interceptions, which led directly to two Cowboys’ touchdowns. The irony of the game was that O’Donnell entered Super Bowl XXX as the NFL’s all time leader in fewest interceptions per pass attempt.
Finally, Super Bowl XXX was the last Super Bowl victory for the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s. The Cowboys would win only one more postseason game until 2009. Injuries forced WR Michael Irvin and RB Daryl Johnston to retire after the 1999 season and Troy Aikman also retired due to injuries one year later. Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all time leading rusher in 2002 before he was released by the team after that season. 1995 was statistically the best season for Dallas’ triplets (Aikman, Irvin, Smith), although all three have stated that the 1995 Super Bowl season was easily the toughest of their three Super Bowl runs. The Cowboys also became the first team to win Super Bowls under three different head coaches; Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, and Barry Switzer.
For Green Bay Packers’ fans, 1995 was the next step in their long awaited return to the Super Bowl. Green Bay captured their first full season division title since 1972, won more games in any regular season since their 12-2 finish in 1966, and advanced to their first NFC Championship game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. In 1995, the Dallas Cowboys were the only thing that had prevented the Packers from an opportunity to play for their third World Championship. Everyone in Titletown was hoping that 1996 would be the year the Lombardi Trophy finally returned home!
Attached is the NFL Films Super Bowl XXX Highlight video. Enjoy!!
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