We move on today in the jaguars.com series counting down the all-time Top 10 Jaguars home games, and while there are three games higher, No. 4 holds a special place in memory.
This one, in a sense, started a lot of things:
The four-year post-season run to close out the '90s . . .
The improbable run to AFC Championship Game following the '96 season . . .
The Jaguars' early status as an AFC power . . .
The Jaguars would have had success in their early years with or without a victory in the 1996 regular-season finale, but without question their history would have looked far different without a 19-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on December 22, 1996 – a victory as remarkable for how it occurred as for its importance.
"Simply put...The start of an era," Brandon Poiencot of Jacksonville, Fla., wrote, while CJ wrote, "Definitely the best home game."
And while this one is fourth on the list, it's permanently etched in the team's history.
It not only led to two remarkable victories in the following weeks, it featured one of the most unimaginable finishes in franchise history – a missed chip-shot field goal by Morten Andersen, one of the best and most-reliable kickers in NFL history.
"God was on our side,' Mike Cagan of Jacksonville wrote.
DougO of Seattle wrote, "Chip-shot miss seals incredible second-half-of-season comeback from obscurity. Not sure I&39;ve ever heard the stadium that loud since. Without this, we don&39;t have back-to-back road playoff games much less the incredible upsets this group pulled off those two weeks."
It was high NFL drama, and because it came early in the franchise's history, the memories to fans remain golden.
"This was THE game of the Inaugural Era: four straight wins and a ticket to playoffs on the line," Travis Taylor of Ormond Beach wrote, adding, "The kick went up and started drifting left, left, Left, LEFT! The reaction of the North End Zone was all the confirmation I needed. Christmas had come early. The Jags were headed to the post-season for the first time, and to one of the greatest playoff runs ever."
In retrospect, it was a fittingly memorable end to a roller-coaster regular season.
The Jaguars, after a 4-12 inaugural season, started the '96 season with stops and starts. They beat Pittsburgh and Carolina in early-season home games, but despite an improving roster, they had trouble finding their footing. They were 4-7 after 11 games, then went on a four-game late-season winning streak, beating Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston and Seattle to control their post-season destiny entering a regular-season home finale against Atlanta.
The Falcons had struggled that season, entering the season finale with three victories, and many fans and observers assumed during the week leading to the game that the Jaguars were playoff-bound.
For three quarters, it looked like they were right.
An 11-yard scramble by Mark Brunell gave the Jaguars a 7-0 first-quarter lead, and after Andersen converted a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter, the Jaguars controlled momentum. A pair of field goals – one from 26 yards and the other from 22 – by Mike Hollis pushed the Jaguars lead to 13-3 at halftime.
A 22-yard field goal by Hollis in the third quarter made it 16-3, Jaguars, but Jacksonville's inability to convert scoring opportunities into touchdowns hurt. A four-yard pass from Bobby Hebert to Eric Metcalf made it 16-10, Jaguars, but after a 42-yard field goal by Hollis pushed the lead to 19-10, Atlanta continued to rally.
A 2-yard run by Craig Heyward made it 19-17, and with time running down, the Falcons drove steadily into field goal range.
Finally, Andersen lined up for a 30-yard field goal, but his plant foot slipped and the kick sailed left by a yard. The miss ended a streak of 59 consecutive field goals made from 30 yards or closer for Andersen, then in his 15thNFL season.
"It was a blessing," Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell told the Orlando Sentinel afterward. "I was standing there and I thought, &39;There&39;s no way Morten Andersen misses this kick.&39; Then it went wide. It&39;s the best feeling I&39;ve ever had on a football field."
Andersen called it a "kick I make in my sleep," and nearly 15 years later, fans remembered it vividly.
"There were victories before, there were bigger victories after, but this is the one that really started it all," Alan Lynn of Jacksonville wrote. "The emotion in the stadium after the kick went wide cannot be replicated - or forgotten."
Wrote Dan Fountain of Jacksonville, "Morten Andersen whiffs a short one? I still can&39;t believe he missed it!"
Fans couldn't believe it that day, either.
"My wife and I were directly behind the goal posts," Dirk Harker of Yulee wrote. "I looked over to my wife and said, 'Oh well,' because of the history of Morten Andersen. Then he kicked the ball and we could not contain our emotions when he missed it! It was an awesome moment!"
Brad from Jacksonville recalled watching the game as a 10-year old.
"I&39;ll never forget staring the kick through the air and it going wide," Brad wrote. "Jumping and screaming with my mom and dad and that feeling are something I&39;ll never let go. I was only 10, but I knew it was something special. I was right there hooked for the rest of my life."
The Jaguars didn't waste the opportunity. They beat the Buffalo Bills, 30-27, the following week in an AFC Wild Card game, a loss that ended an era in Buffalo and was the first time the Bills had lost a post-season home game. The following week they upset the Denver Broncos, 30-27, in Denver, a game widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
"This was the greatest one because the outcome pushed the team into their first playoff run and capped off a thrilling season," Joe Dougherty of Fleming Island, Fla., wrote. "The stadium was insane in those final seconds. And how does Morten Andersen miss that kick? I will never forget that moment, and being there to witness it. Little did we know what we were in store for as fans over the next two weekends."
The Jaguars used the post-season as a starting point to a run of four consecutive post-season appearances and while they likely would have had later success whatever the outcome of the '96 season finale, the game for many remains one of the most memorable moments of a memorable time.
"Simply put, this will always be the most memorable moment for me as a Jaguars fan," Mitch Askelson of Fleming Island wrote. "The stands exploded in a wave starting from the end zone and wrapped around the stadium. I will never forget that."
Wrote Michael Napier II of Macon, Ga., "As a young aspiring football fanatic I always thought there was significance about winning your way into the playoffs. I learned on December 22, 1996, that praying your way into the playoffs isn&39;t so bad either."