NFL Playoffs

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  Saturday, Jan. 8 12:30pm ET
Titans stun Bills in miracle finish

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- To "The Drive" and "The Immaculate Reception," now add the "Music City Miracle."

Kevin Dyson
Kevin Dyson celebrates his game-winning TD return while most folks at Adelphia Coliseum were waiting to see if the play would stand.
Kevin Dyson sped 75 yards down the left sideline with a lateral on a kickoff for the winning touchdown with three 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 Music City 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.

Why the Titans won:
1. Music City miracle. Sometimes you draw a play up in the dirt, and it works. Frank Wycheck's lateral to Kevin Dyson will go down in NFL playoff history as one of the storied finishes of all-time. It also will be disputed by Bills fans forever.

2. Feeling the rush. The Titans sacked Rob Johnson six times and hurried him throughout the first half. Rookie Jevon Kearse was unstoppable, collecting two sacks, forcing a fumble and registering the game's first points on a safety.

3. By George! While the Tennessee air attack mustered just 55 net yards, Eddie George rumbled for 106 hard-fought yards against the league's top-ranked defense.

Why the Bills lost:
1. Cursed? Buffalo couldn't buy a break all day -- especially in the controversial finish. If the officials had flagged Wycheck's lateral, replay probably wouldn't have overturned the play. It was that close.

2. Speaking of a Kearse ... The kid they call "The Freak" just kept blowing past whomever the Bills put at right guard -- whether it was Marcus Spriggs or Robert Hicks.

3. It's a little loud. The crowd noise at Adelphia Coliseum had the Buffalo offense out of synch throughout the first half. Many of the Bills' 10 penalties for 59 yards were false-start penalties that were directly related to the Titans' home-field advantage.

Game ball goes to:
Wycheck and Dyson for producing one of the most memorable finishes ever.
Up next:
The Titans will play at Indianapolis next Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET. The Titans and Colts did not play during the regular season.

"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, who was replacing 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 expected 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 kicking 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 remaining 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-for-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 on a 1-yard TD run.

The two-point conversion pass failed, giving the Bills a 13-12 lead.

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 foot -- just 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.

Game notes
Tennessee's dramatic victory provided a bit of revenge for the Titans. As the Houston Oilers, they blew the biggest lead in playoff history in 1993 at Buffalo. The Oilers led 35-3 before losing 41-38 in overtime. ... Bills defensive end Bruce Smith became the career postseason sacks leader with 14½ by getting 2½. He broke a tie with Reggie White. Smith has played in 20 postseason games. ... Bills quarterback Rob Johnson lost a shoe on the final drive for Buffalo and had his ankle tape flapping as he scrambled to complete the pass. ... Tennessee never has lost at Adelphia Coliseum, which opened this year. The Titans were 8-0 in the regular season, along with St. Louis the only teams to go unbeaten at home. ... Jevon Kearse, selected Saturday to the All-Pro team, got the first franchise safety in the playoffs since Jan. 7, 1979. ... Buffalo, which has not been to the Super Bowl since 1994, has lost four straight playoff games. ... Thurman Thomas will undergo an MRI on his right knee, which he hurt late in the game. The career leader in postseason touchdowns with 21 and points with 126 had 10 yards on five carries. He had a TD in nine consecutive playoff games before being blanked. ... Kick returner Derrick Mason sustained a mild concussion for Tennessee. ... Buffalo lost linebacker Marlo Perry with a broken left ankle and tackle John Fina, who left early because of recurring knee problems.


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Buffalo Clubhouse

Tennessee Clubhouse

Titans see finish as 'poetic justice'

Some in Houston cheer Titans

Bills (11-5) at Titans (13-3)

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