HOUSTON -- Strange how this was not a game the Houston Oilers wanted to play or one that their fans particularly wanted to see. A local television station had to buy up the remaining tickets Thursday to assure the blackout would be lifted.
As it turned out, no Oilers game has meant more in three years. Sparkling at times but sluggish at others, Houston managed to hold off the New York Jets, 17-10, for its first playoff victory since the 1988 season. The Oilers will play at Denver on Saturday with the winner advancing to the AFC championship game.
"This was a big game for us, a big hurdle for us," said quarterback Warren Moon, who threw two first-half touchdowns
but also took a beating. He was sacked four times and lost a fumble. "The guys were really down and out because of what happened last week. There was a give-up attitude around town with the fans and the media. This was a game we could easily have lost based on what our attitude was."
The Oilers' loss to the New York Giants last week cost them a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, necessitating this game with the other New Yorkers. And the Oilers could have lost this one, too, because the Jets kept charging into Houston territory in the second half. But a drive to the 7 ended with an interception, and drives to the 3 and the 22 were stopped on downs as the Jets were held scoreless in the second half.
"You've got to like games like this," Jets coach Bruce Coslet said. "It went down to the final tick. Houston's a fine team and they've got great players, but I think we barely scratched the surface of our potential."
The Jets, who barely qualified for the playoff with an 8-8 record, concentrated on shutting down the NFL's leading receiver, Haywood Jeffires, who caught 13 balls against them in Houstons' 23-20 regular-season victory. Yesterday they held him four catches, but the Oilers' inside receivers, Ernest Givins and Drew Hill, combined for 15 catches and 160 yards.
Givins caught both Oilers' touchdowns, both on crossing patterns.
"The first one, both safeties bit on the run, and I snapped behind them," he said. "The second one, the safeties went the opposite way, and that opened up the middle. They were trying to take away Haywood today because you've got to respect a guy who catches 100 passes. But that opened up the middle for Drew and myself."
Givins' second touchdown gave Houston a 14-7 lead after the Jets had tied the game on a 10-yard pass from Ken O'Brien to Al Toon. The Oilers failed to extend that lead late in the half when Al Del Greco missed a 46-yard field goal, and the Jets had time to get in position for Raul Allegre's 33-yarder that made it 14-10 at halftime.
Safety Bubba McDowell's interception at the Oilers' 3 stopped the Jets on the opening drive of the third quarter and Houston added a 53-yard field goal by Del Greco early in the fourth.
The Oilers' defense, playing without injured tackles Ray Childress and Doug Smith, did the rest. McDowell ended the game with his second interception of O'Brien and then turned into an Atlanta Falcon, tossing a lateral to Cris Dishman. "I would have fallen down but I heard someone calling my name, and it was Dish. Next time I'll just fall down," McDowell said.
"We can enjoy this today," said Jones, "but the goal is still in front of us."
/# And now it goes through Denver.
N.Y. Jets.. 0.. 10.. 0.. 0.. 10
Houston. .. 7.. .7.. 0.. 3.. 17
HouGivins 5 pass from Moon (Del Greco kick), 9:19.
NYToon 10 pass from O'Brien (Allegre kick), 2:44.
HouGivins 20 pass from Moon (Del Greco kick), 11:04.
' NYFG Allegre 33, 14:56.
HouFG Del Greco 53, 1:31.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. NY.. .. .. Hou
First downs .. .. .. 18.. .. .. 21
Rushes-yards.. .. .. 23-71.. .. 20-71
Passing. .. .. .. .. 214. .. .. 232
Return Yards.. .. .. 0 .. .. .. 32
Comp-Att-Int.. .. .. 21-31-3 .. 28-40-1
Sacked-Yards Lost... 1-7. .. 4-39
Punts .. .. .. .. .. 2-36 .. .. 2-45
Fumbles-Lost.. .. .. 0-0 .. .. 3-1
Penalties-Yards.. .. 5-45 .. .. 8-55
Time of Possession.. 26:20.. .. 33:40
RUSHING--New York, Hector 12-46, Baxter 5-14, O'Brien 2-10, McNeil 4-1. Houston, White 17-65, Moon 3-6.
PASSING--New York, O'Brien 21-31-3-221. Houston, Moon 28-40-1-271.
RECEIVING--New York, Toon 8-96, Moore 4-70, McNeil 4-23, Boyer 3-20, Mathis 2-12. Houston, Hill 9-77, Givins 6-83, Jeffires 4-49, White 4-31, Duncan 4-24, Harris 1-7.
9- MISSED FIELD GOAL--Houston, Del Greco 46.