In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Denver Broncos stun the Cleveland Browns 23-20 in overtime to win the AFC Championship at Municipal Stadium. In a back and forth game, the Browns held a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter, when John Elway led a 98-yard drive to force overtime, with a five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson. The Broncos would win the game on a 33-yard field goal by Rich Karlis to advance to Super Bowl XXI, where they were defeated by the New York Giants 39-20.
The Cleveland Browns had their finest season since winning the NFL Championship in 1964. The team led by Marty Schottenheimer posted a record of 12-4 and had the best record in the AFC. Bernie Kosar had a breakout season for Cleveland, passing for 3,854 yards with 17 touchdowns. In the playoffs, the Browns faced a test in the Divisional Round, as they trailed the New York Jets 20-10 late in the fourth quarter when a roughing the passer penalty on Mark Gastineau gave them new life. The Browns would score ten points in the final two minutes to force overtime. The Browns would win 23-20 in double overtime on a 27-yard field goal by Mark Moseley. It was the first postseason win for the Browns since the merger.
In this fourth NFL season, John Elway was reaching superstar status, as he led the Denver Broncos to their second playoff appearance in three years. The Broncos posted a record of 11-5 for coach Dan Reeves, winning the AFC West. The Broncos would host the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round, winning 22-17 to reach the AFC Championship Game.
With nearly 80,000 fans in attendance at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Browns gave the Dog Pound reason to cheer early, as Herman Fontenot caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar to give Cleveland a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. However, as the first quarter came to an end, the Broncos gained momentum as Jim Ryan returned a Kosar interception to the Browns' nine-yard line. The Broncos would have to settle for a Rich Karlis chip shot, as the Cleveland defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone. On the ensuing kickoff, Kevin Mack fumbled, giving the ball back to Denver. John Elway had a big 34-yard scramble as Gerald Willhite scored from the one. Down 10-7, the Browns answered just before halftime as Mark Moseley kicked a 29-yard field goal.
With the score tied 10-10, the Broncos started the third quarter with the ball. John Elway was picked off on the first drive, but the Broncos kept the game tied, stopping the Browns cold. The Broncos' next drive would result in points as Rich Karlis hit a 26-yard field goal. The Browns answered in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard field goal as the two teams continued to trade counter punches. With 5:43 left, Bernie Kosar connected with Brian Brennan on a 48-yard touchdown pass that gave the Browns a 20-13 lead. Ken Bell misplayed the ball on the ensuing kickoff before recovering it on the two-yard line.
The Broncos had the ball on their own two-yard line with 5:43 left in the game. The game hung in the balance as the crowd at Municipal Stadium was whipped into a frenzy. The Broncos got a significant third-down conversion early in the drive as Sammy Winder had a two-yard run from the ten. John Elway had consecutive pass completions to get the ball into Cleveland territory just before the two-minute warning. After the timeout, Elway misfired on a pass and was sacked. The Broncos faced 3rd and 18 from the Browns 48 when John Elway connected with Mark Jackson on a 20-yard pass to keep the drive alive. With 42 seconds left, Elway had a nine-yard scramble down to the Browns five. Facing third and one, John Elway found Mark Jackson in the end zone to tie the game.
After 60 minutes, nothing was decided as it became the first AFC Championship Game to go to overtime. The Browns won the coin toss in overtime but could not do anything with the ball. John Elway continuing the momentum from the drive took the Broncos down to the Cleveland 12-yard line with a 28-yard pass Sammy Widner. Rich Karlis came on and hit a 33-yard field goal with his barefoot to send the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XXI.