The 1990 Raiders finished the season with a 12-4 record, the AFC West title and were riding a five-game winning streak heading into the post-season. On January 13, 1991, the Raiders hosted the 9-7 Cincinnati Bengals at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in an AFC Divisional Playoff game.
The Bengals were led by QB Boomer Esiason who threw for more than 3,000 yards in 1990. James Brooks, Harold Green and Icky Woods handled the bulk of the rushing duties for Cincinnati. Jay Schroeder threw for 2,849 yards for the Raiders while Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen were a potent backfield duo for the Silver and Black.
On a windy, 78-degree L.A. day, the Raiders and Bengals would square off for a berth in the AFC Championship game. The Raiders entered the game with the NFL’s 4th ranked defense, and the Bengals featured the 9th ranked offense.
Cincinnati won the toss and elected to receive and the Raiders promptly forced a three-and-out. After a 44-yard punt, Schroder drove the Raiders to the Cincinnati 24 and Head Coach Art Shell elected to go for it on a 4th and 1, but Schroeder’s pass intended for TE Ethan Horton fell incomplete and the visitors took over on downs.
The Raiders defense was up to the task and forced another three-and-out. The Silver and Black drove out near midfield but the drive stalled. P Jeff Gossett’s punt went out of bounds at the Cincinnati 5. Esiason hit on a couple of big pass plays and drove the Bengals to the Raiders 10 before the drive stalled. K Jim Breech capped a 9-play, 87-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal and the Bengals led 3-0 with 12:07 left in the second quarter.
After the ensuing kickoff, Jackson and Allen went to work. Three Jackson runs gained 36 yards and Allen ripped off a 19-yarder. Schroeder started looking for WR “Swervin’” Mervyn Fernandez, finding the reliable receiver for an 11-yard gain to the Bengals 14. The pitch and catch combo then hooked up for a 13-yard touchdown pass to cap an 8-play, 80-yard drive. K Jeff Jaeger’s extra point was good and the Raiders led 7-3 with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
The two teams traded punts and the half ended with four straight Cincinnati running plays.
The Raiders Ron Brown returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Raiders 23. Two plays later, Jackson got loose for a 34-yard gain – the last play of his football career. He was tackled by LB Kevin Walker and was injured on the play. Bo Jackson would never play another down for the Raiders or in the NFL. Later in the drive, Schroeder was intercepted by safety David Fulcher and the Bengals took over at their 19-yard line.
A DE Greg Townsend sack brought the Bengals next drive to an end and P Lee Johnson’s punt rolled out of bounds at the Raiders 24. Schroeder, Allen, Horton and company engineered a scoring drive. Jaeger’s 49-yard field goal capped off an 8-play, 45-yard march and gave the Raiders a 10-3 lead with just under 6:00 left in the third quarter.
Esiason and the Bengals would answer with a 13-play, 71-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard TD pass to Stanford Jennings. Breech’s extra point was good and the game was tied 10-10 with 11:49 left in the fourth quarter.
Schroeder was not to be outdone as he threw a strike deep down the right sideline to Horton who made a finger-tip grab for a 41-yard touchdown pass play to cap a 7-play, 80-yard drive. Jaeger’s extra point was true and the Raiders led 17-10 with approximately 9:00 left to play.
Cincinnati’s next drive started out promisingly enough, but a Townsend sack for a loss of 15 yards torpedoed the possession and Johnson came on to punt on 4th and 25 at the Bengals 28.
The Raiders next possession ate 5:13 of clock time and forced the Bengals to use all three of their allotted time outs. Jaeger’s 25-yard field goal at the end of a 10-play, 62-yard drive made it a two-score game (20-10) with 19 seconds left to play. Cincinnati was unable to do much with the final two plays of the game.
Although it goes down as a Great Moment in Raiders history by virtue of a playoff victory, unfortunately, it was bittersweet as RB Bo Jackson suffered a career-ending injury after rushing for 77 yards on just six carries.
The Raiders moved on to face the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.