By Zane Miller
On Sunday, September 9th, 1990, the Atlanta Falcons hosted the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, in the season opener for both teams, as they were out with something to prove after underwhelming results the previous year.
In 1989, the Houston Oilers were able to continue their recent streak of regular season success, taking their third consecutive winning record by finishing at 9-7. However, the Oilers still had plenty to improve on going into 1990, as they would not be so fortunate in the postseason after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. Due to this, the team went with a new head coach, with Jack Pardee coming over following a stint with the University of Houston football team. The Falcons, on the other hand, did not have nearly the same fortune the previous season, finishing as the second-worst team in the NFL with a 3-13 showing. As a result, the team hired a new head coach for 1990, as Jerry Glanville took over after being fired by none other than the Oilers, whom he had coached for beginning with the 1985 season.
Both teams would retain their starting quarterbacks from the previous campaign, as Warren Moon looked to match his playoff-caliber performance for the Oilers, while Chris Miller started under center for the Falcons, setting his sights on bouncing back from the largely disastrous 1989 season.
Although the Oilers clearly came into the opening game as the favorites on paper, it didn’t take long for Atlanta to establish themselves courtesy of an Oiler turnover on their opening drive, leading to a touchdown run by rookie running back Steve Broussard to go up 7-0 early in the first quarter. Houston proceeded to dig their hole even deeper with one of the most bizarre defensive touchdowns I’ve ever seen, after linebacker Aundray Bruce jarred the ball loose from Moon, it bounced off of three other Falcons players before winding up in the end zone, with a few other Falcons celebrating without realizing the play was still going. Luckily for them, cornerback Bobby Butler scooped up the loose ball to officially make it a touchdown.
The comedy of errors carried on for Houston, as they squandered a massive break on a punt return turnover by turning the ball over themselves, leading to a 65-yard fumble return by linebacker Jessie Tuggle. At the end of the first quarter, the Falcons had stunned the Oilers, going up 21-0.
The second quarter would see Atlanta increase their advantage with a pair of field goals from kicker Greg Davis, although the Oilers would eventually get their first score of the afternoon as Moon found rookie wide receiver Tony Jones for his first career touchdown. Despite that feel-good story, the Oilers still found themselves behind 27-7 as the teams vacated the field for halftime.
The Falcons kept their momentum going in the second half, with Miller hitting wide open wide receiver Andre Rison for a 26-yard touchdown, scoring the only points of the third quarter. Atlanta proceeded to add a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, claiming a commanding 37-7 lead.
Determined to make the final score look somewhat respectable, the Oilers offense came back strong on their ensuing drive, as Moon hit wide receiver Ernest Givins for the game’s longest offensive touchdown, with the 80-yard strike lighting a bit of a fire for Houston. Givins, who would go on to be named as a second-team All-Pro at season’s end, caught another touchdown pass from Moon to make it a 37-21 game. After getting the ball back once again, the Oilers continued to march down the field, with Moon scoring his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time finding wide receiver Bernard Ford for his lone touchdown grab as a member of the Oilers. Although their extra point attempt was unsuccessful, they had finally cut down the Falcons’ lead to just two possessions. With less than four minutes to work with, Houston had no choice but to roll the dice with an onside kick, which was easily handled by the Falcons’ Michael Haynes.
With the contest essentially out of reach, the Falcons capitalized on the short field with a 51-yard field goal from Davis, before putting an exclamation point on the opening day victory with an 82-yard interception by cornerback Deion Sanders, for the first of what would be 10 defensive touchdowns for the future Hall of Famer. With that, the Falcons finished off a convincing 47-27 win, although this performance would be far from representative of the rest of Atlanta’s season.
Despite the spectacular opening day win, the Falcons’ momentum would quickly stall out, losing the next two games and ended the year at a 5-11 record to miss the postseason for the eighth straight year. However, the Oilers responded to their slow start by matching their 1989 record of 9-7 thanks in large part to the play of Moon, who would go on to score offensive player of the year honors. This would allow the Oilers reach the playoffs yet again, though they would fall in the first round to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Link to stats database: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199009090atl.htm
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