By Zane Miller
On October 11th, 1987, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Seattle Seahawks at the Kingdome in what would be the team’s only victory during the 24 day-long players’ strike, causing games in weeks three through five to be played largely using replacement players. After falling in the first of such contests against the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers 10-9, the Bengals defense would again hold the opposition to just 10 points despite making the cross-country trip, though this time they would come out on top.
With Cincinnati’s starting quarterback Boomer Esiason out of the lineup due to the strike, the team instead sent rookie Dave Walter, who had been taken in the 11th round of that year’s draft by the New York Giants, under center as he sought to pick up his first career win. Similarly, Seattle would be without their veteran starter Dave Krieg, instead bringing in Bruce Mathison as the signal caller. However, unlike Walter, Mathison had previous experience in the league, winning a game with the Buffalo Bills in 1985 while also serving as a backup for the Chargers for three seasons. Though both teams were near the middle of the standings at this early point in the season, as the Bengals sat at a 1-2 record while the Seahawks sat at 2-1, it didn’t take long for Cincinnati to claim the upper hand.
On the opening drive of the first quarter, while the Seahawks would set themselves up deep inside the red zone with a first down and goal at the five-yard line, the Bengals would execute a crucial goal line stand. As Seattle chose to go for it at fourth down at the 1, safety Mark Johnson would make the best defensive play of the afternoon, stopping running back Boyce Green in midair as he attempted to leap into the end zone, forcing the turnover on downs.
With both sides’ drives ending in punts for the remainder of the first quarter, the Bengals offense kicked into gear in the second quarter as running back Marc Logan found the end zone from five yards out only two minutes into the frame to go up 7-0. After the next two Seahawks drives ended in punts, Cincinnati would again take advantage, this time with short-yardage back David McCluskey punching it in from one yard out for what would be the only touchdown of his career. However, after forcing yet another punt, the Bengals would capitalize despite the limited time remaining in the half. After continuing to run the ball efficiently to once again reach the red zone, kicker Massimo Manca would drill a 28-yard field goal to make it a 17-0 halftime lead for Cincinnati. However, the Seattle defense would keep the offense in check in the second half.
After a fumble forced by Seahawks defensive back Arnold Brown set the Seahawks offense up with good field position early in the third quarter, the team would capture their first points of the contest as kicker Scott Hagler made a 24-yard field goal, though this would be the only scoring play of the frame with both defenses continuing to hold steady.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Mathison would find his rhythm, hitting wide receivers Jimmy Teal and Kevin Juma for 20 yards and 26 yards respectively. After a pass interference penalty put Seattle within striking distance once again, they would not be denied this time around as Mathison found Teal for an eight-yard score to cut the Bengals’ lead in half with 3:29 remaining in regulation time.
After running the ball down the middle of the field to force the Seahawks to call all of their timeouts, the Seahawks would have one final chance to send the game into overtime with less than a minute left. However, this would be quickly extinguished as defensive back and Cincinnati native Robert Niehoff collected the only interception of his NFL career to seal the 17-10 victory for his hometown club, putting both teams at records of 2-2.
Despite getting the only win of his quarterbacking career in the league, Walter struggled throughout the game, only passing for 97 yards while Mathison earned 167 yards with a touchdown pass. What the Bengals did do was maintain an effective running game, as the team ran 61 times throughout the afternoon, picking up 270 yards for an impressive 4.4 yards per rushing attempt. Not to be outdone, the Cincinnati defense contributed significantly to the victory with two interceptions and five sacks, with longtime linebacker Reggie Williams, one of the only regular Bengals starters to cross the picket line, collected a pair of sacks to cause further disruption to the Seahawks’ passing game.
Although the strike would come to a close by week six of the season, the Bengals would never get going as they struggled to a 4-11 finish to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, although the team would turn their fortunes around in a big way with a Super Bowl appearance just the next season. Meanwhile, the Seahawks would capitalize on having their star quarterback back in the lineup, with the team finishing at 9-6 to reach the postseason for the first time since 1984, though they would be knocked out with an overtime loss versus the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) in the opening round.
Link to stats database: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198710110sea.htm