Music City Miracle: Titans stun Bills on amazing kick return

Some in Houston cheer Titans

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

Titans see finish as 'poetic justice'

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Let others call it a miracle. The Tennessee Titans see it as payback for every game that went against them as the Houston Oilers.

Frank Wycheck
Frank Wycheck gets ready to throw the disputed lateral that led to the Titans' miracle return.
Kevin Dyson's 75-yard sprint down the left sideline on a kickoff return provided the winning touchdown in the Titans' 22-16 victory Saturday over the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game. It was the kind of play that went against the former Oilers more times than they can count.

"Some of us who had been around for awhile kind of looked at each other and winked," veteran cornerback Steve Jackson said. "It was poetic justice."

There was the Mike Renfro touchdown that wasn't in the 1979 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. And John Elway and his last-minute drive for the winning field goal in a 1991 divisional playoff.

Don't even mention the greatest comeback of all, the 41-38 overtime loss to these same Bills on Jan. 3, 1993. The Oilers blew a 35-3 lead in that one.

"Man, I thought they did it to us again," kicker Al Del Greco said. "I don't want to say I thought the game was over, but there wasn't much hope of winning at that time."

Steve Christie, who kicked the winning field goal in 1993, had just kicked a 41-yarder for a 16-15 lead. The Titans had only 16 seconds remaining to work some magic.

Man, I thought they did it to us again. I don't want to say I thought the game was over, but there wasn't much hope of winning at that time.
Titans kicker Al Del Greco

"I guess we put in some prayers on the sideline, and God above looked over us," Titans All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse said.

Coach Jeff Fisher decided to try "Home-Run Throwback," a kickoff return that special teams coach Alan Lowry devised before this season. They practiced the return once a week, in case they needed a miracle.

As designed, a blocker catches the ball, pitches to tight end Frank Wycheck, and he laterals to receiver Isaac Byrd on the opposite side of the field. On Saturday, it was. Derrick Mason was supposed to be back for the kickoff with Byrd, but Mason had a mild concussion from an earlier return. Anthony Dorsett was his backup, but he was cramping up. So Lowry yelled for Dyson and started explaining the play. Byrd continued the explanation as he and Dyson head onto the field.

The kickoff popped into the air, not squibbing along the ground. Lorenzo Neal caught the ball and pitched it back to Wycheck. The Titans' leading receiver became their most important passer at that moment. He moved a couple steps toward the right hash mark at the Tennessee 25 and threw the ball back across the field.

"I took it to the right and tried to sell it," Wycheck said. "Then if you can get them flowing, you can get the play going."

Dyson thought the play was over and started going to the sideline. Then he saw Wycheck take the pitch and didn't know where Byrd was.

"I took one hard step out and made sure it was a lateral," Dyson said.

Then he started up the sideline and had a wall of Titans blocking for him.

"With all the people we had peeling back, we had a human wall," Wycheck said.

Only Christie had a chance, and Terry Killens blocked him away, clearing the path for Dyson.

Pandemonium broke loose until the officials signaled they were reviewing the play, and teammates started quizzing Dyson.

"Everyone was like, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' I knew," he said.

Referee Phil Luckett studied the replay and then announced the play stood as called: a miracle touchdown.

Bills end Bruce Smith watched the replay on the big screen and thought it looked like a forward pass.

"But we shouldn't have ever had to let it come to that," he said.

For the former Oilers, it marked the first playoff comeback since a 24-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns in 1988. Dyson's return also was the first postseason kickoff runback for a touchdown in franchise history.

"Someone must have been pushing the right button somewhere," Titans owner Bud Adams said.

For Buffalo, it was yet another controversial end to the season. The NHL's Sabres lost in June when Brett Hull's overtime goal gave the Dallas Stars the Stanley Cup, and the league changed its replay rule after that game.

The Bills lost at Miami in last year's playoffs partly because of a controversial ruling against them when Andre Reed appeared to score a touchdown. Reed was ejected from that game for bumping an official.

"I hope for the refs' sake that it was legit," Bills quarterback Rob Johnson said.