JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars were riding a six-game winning streak, an interesting coincidence, when they arrived in Denver, Colo., for the 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff game.
Quarterback John Elway and the Denver Broncos were 13-3 and the No.1 seed in the AFC, coming off the playoff bye week. They were considered by nearly everyone to be a lock for the Super Bowl.
Sound familiar this week?
Those Broncos were powerful on both sides of the ball. So while it was uncomfortable for Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin's team to trail 12-0 at the end of the first quarter, it wasn't unexpected. Coughlin preached about a fast start all week in the media, but talked to his team about weathering the storm.
Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis' two second-quarter field goals and an eight-yard run by running back Natrone Means gave the Jaguars a 13-12 halftime lead – and the Jaguars were suddenly back in their comfort zone. The Broncos were stunned to be losing, while the "Jagwads" – as Denver Post columnist Woody Paige called them in his now infamous column that morning – looked energized and confident.
The Jaguars kept the heat on in the third quarter. Quarterback Mark Brunell's 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell extended the lead to 20-12, and the Jacksonville defense forced the Broncos to punt on their two possessions in the third.
Brunell then put together a 17-play drive that used 8:32, flipping the third quarter into the fourth. A field goal pushed the lead to nine, increasing the pressure on the heavily favored Broncos."
Elway, famous for fourth-quarter comebacks, riddled the Jaguars' defense with precise passes to wide receivers Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith and running back Terrell Davis. After Davis scored, the Broncos added a two-point conversion. What was a nine-point lead with 10:51 remaining was only three with 7:37 remaining.
The next drive not only won the game, but produced two plays that would live in Jaguars lore.
On second-and-10 at midfield, Brunell dropped to pass but was flushed from the pocket by defensive end Alfred Williams. Running right, he saw middle linebacker Bill Romanowski mirroring his movement toward the sideline. Brunell cut on a dime back to the middle of the field and raced through the secondary past linebacker John Mobley and safety Tim Hauck to the Jaguars' sideline, then cut it up to the Denver 21-yard line.
It was a masterful run, and three plays later he launched a 16-yard rainbow of a pass over the outstretched arms of Denver cornerback Ray Crockett and into the waiting arms of wide receiver Jimmy Smith for the game-clinching touchdown.
Down 30-20 with almost four minutes remaining, Elway did what Elway always did and led a touchdown drive. But the onside kick failed, and the Jags ran out the clock on the Broncos' super season while extending their own surprising run to the AFC Championship Game.