NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As part of its celebration of its 100th season, the NFL is designating a Game of the Week, each chosen to highlight a classic matchup. For this week, it is the Bills-Titans game.
To mark each Game of the Week, the AP will be reprinting its story of a classic matchup in the rivalry. The following is the story from the 1999 AFC playoff game at Nashville, first published on Jan. 8, 2000, and written by AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner.
Music City Miracle: Titans stun Bills with trickery on kick return
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — To the Drive and the Immaculate Reception, now add the Music City Miracle.
Kevin Dyson sped 75 yards down the left sideline with a lateral from Frank Wycheck on a kickoff for the winning touchdown with 3 seconds remaining Saturday, lifting the Tennessee Titans to a 22-16 playoff victory over the stunned Buffalo Bills.
“This will go down in history,” Titans owner Bud Adams told Wycheck. “There’s never been another one like it, and I’ve been in this 40 years.”
The Titans had to survive a video review, and when referee Phil Luckett announced the cross-field throw from Wycheck to Dyson was legal, the Adelphia Coliseum rocked like nothing Nashville has seen before.
“It was like being a little kid again, drawing something up in the dirt and then going out and doing it,” Wycheck said.
But not doing it legally, claimed the Bills, many of whom lay strewn on the turf, in shock that they allowed Tennessee to steal the first playoff game of 2000.
“The whole game, they gave them calls,” Buffalo linebacker Gabe Northern said. “I don’t know, maybe I am not supposed to speak on it, but the whole game we came out and we played hard and we fought and we earned a victory. But through different ways, it was taken away from us.
“What’s going to happen, especially on the last call, they’ll send it in (to the league) and show that it was a forward pass, then they will call us back and say, ‘You were right.” But we will still be at home.”
Luckett, who was involved in a botched coin toss and an incorrect touchdown call last season that helped lead to the reinstatement of instant replay, said otherwise.
“The line judge’s initial ruling was that it was not a forward pass,” Luckett told a pool reporter. “Taking from where the pass left the passer’s hand right on that (25) yard line, the receiver catches it right there on that yard line. It did not appear to be a forward pass, therefore there is not a foul.”
It was the first touchdown on a kickoff return for the Titans since 1988, when they were the Houston Oilers, and the first kickoff return ever for Dyson, picked ahead of Randy Moss in the 1998 draft. Dyson replaced two others slated for that job on the play.
“I took a hard step out and made sure it was a lateral,” Dyson said. “Everyone was asking, ‘Are you sure, are you sure?’ I knew.”
The decisive play will be argued forever — the pass from Wycheck after he took a handoff from Lorenzo Neal on the short kickoff was that close.
It was a reminder of other memorable playoff plays. Pittsburgh defeated Oakland in the 1972 first round when Franco Harris grabbed a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw — the Immaculate Reception — for the decisive touchdown in the final seconds.
In the 1986 AFC championship game, John Elway took Denver 98 yards in the final 5:32 to the tying touchdown — The Drive — and the Broncos won in overtime to reach the Super Bowl.
And it was hardly the way anyone expects Tennessee, which at 13-3 had the best wild-card record ever, to win.
Usually, the scheme is a fearsome pass rush, the running of Eddie George and the placekicking of Al Del Greco. All of those elements were there: The Titans had six sacks, George rushed 29 times for 106 yards, and Del Greco made a 36-yard field goal with 1:48 to go for a 15-13 lead.
But the Bills, the AFC’s dominant team of the early 1990s, showed their poise. Rob Johnson, indecisive for much of the game in the face of All-Pro Jevon Kearse and his teammates’ pressure, guided them 38 yards in six plays after Kevin Williams’ 33-yard kickoff return. Johnson was 10 of 22 for 131 yards in replacing Doug Flutie, who was benched during the week in a controversial move by coach Wade Phillips.
“I thought Rob struggled early,” Phillips said, “but I thought he fought back and made the big play … and got us down there. I thought we had the chance to win.”
Buffalo’s Steve Christie nailed a 41-yard field goal for the lead with 16 seconds left.
“They felt like they were going to win the game, and then they thought it was taken away from them,” Phillips said.
Instead, the Titans had enough time for something desperate: Home Run Throwback. And, in the franchise’s first playoff game in six years, the Titans found just the right miracle play.
“Destiny?” Titans All-Pro guard Bruce Matthews said. “If you believe in that garbage. No matter how it came about, we gave ourselves a chance.”
Bogged down by penalties, the strong Tennessee pass rush that produced six sacks and Johnson’s early struggles, the Bills (11-6) just kept at it. They had won 10 of their previous 13 playoff games in part by not panicking.
Buffalo, which gained just 64 yards in the first half, looked like a different team to start the second half. Antowain Smith sped 44 yards on the opening play, leading to his 4-yard TD run. The Bills gained 62 yards on the drive that put them back in the game.
They kept pecking away. Eric Moulds beat Denard Walker down the left sideline for a 37-yard reception, Kearse was nailed for a roughing-the-passer penalty on third down and Smith scored again, from the 1.
The 2-point conversion pass failed, making it 13-12 for the Bills.
A 16-yard punt return by Isaac Byrd got Tennessee to the Buffalo 45 with 6:15 left and the Titans methodically moved downfield. They got lucky when a pass bounced off Bills linebacker John Holecek’s left elbow directly to Wycheck, and Del Greco’s 36-yarder gave them the lead.
With the offenses struggling, Tennessee left it to its big-play defense and special teams to start the scoring. The seemingly unblockable Kearse stormed in for his second sack after Johnson bobbled the snap at the Buffalo 8. With Johnson running backward, he fumbled out of the end zone for a safety.
Derrick Mason returned the ensuing free kick 42 yards to the Buffalo 28 and Steve McNair eventually rambled untouched around right end for a 9-0 edge.
Buffalo also was hurt by replay early on. Peerless Price’s juggle along the sideline just after the two-minute warning was not reviewable. But they did look at McNair’s third-down scramble and readjusted the spot of the ball by a footjust enough for a first down, keeping alive the final drive of the half.
Del Greco was wide left on a 45-yard field goal attempt, but got another chance when Northern was called for holding. This time, he made it 12-0 with a 40-yarder, and Phillips stormed off the field.
In all, the veteran Bills committed 10 penalties for 59 yards.
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