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Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Southern California
Staying Alive thanks to the drive's descendant
By Woody Paige
Denver Post Staff Columnist
Article Last Updated: 12/24/2006 11:45:43 PM MST
What a surprising, startling, shocking, stunning, splendid gift the Broncos got on a pure, snow-driven Christmas Eve.
It wasn't a tie.
It was a phenomenal finish. Mile High Marvel.
Get the point? The Cincinnati Bengals didn't.
And you didn't believe in Santa Claus.
The Broncos scored 24 on Dec. 24. The Bengals came up one short elf after botching the extra point. Feeble snap, mishandled hold, no kick, and the most automatic play in football turned into a fiasco. Exclamation point for the Broncos, period for the Bengals.
Somewhat forgotten because of the frantic events at the end was The Great Grandson of The Drive.
Twenty seasons after the fact of the Broncos' 98-yard drive to tie the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game - Denver won in overtime - the modern-day Broncos went 99 yards for a touchdown and the eventual winning extra point. Gather around the tree this morning and enjoy Drive '06:
The Cincinnati Bengals led 17-14 4 1/2 minutes into the third quarter of a "regular-season playoff" game, and the Broncos were in a dire position when a punt was downed at the 1-yard line despite Mike Shanahan's challenge that it should have been ruled a touchback.
After one down and 1 yard on a carry by Mike Bell, the Broncos seemed set to have the season slip away. However, on second down, this Bell (not to be confused with starter Tatum Bell) seared left for 14 yards.
Every time a Bell rings, an angel gets his wings, according to "It's a Wonderful Life."
It's a wonderful drive. Cutler and tight end Tony Scheffler, who have become Cheng and Eng of the Broncos, connected for 25 yards. (They already had hooked up on a 1-yard touchdown play, their third in four games.) Cutler completed only two more passes, but a pass interference penalty on Cincy helped, and Mike Bell continued to rip. He started the drive with a yard, concluded with 2 yards for the score.
With the penalty, the Broncos had driven 15 plays for 99 yards. In the 1986 conference championship, the Broncos also used 15 plays to go 98 yards.
The Broncos were up 24-17, but there would be another drive ... by Cincinnati.
Carson Palmer and the Bengals took possession on their 10 on a punt with 3:52 to go. Palmer made quick work of the Broncos' defense, picking up six first downs, the most critical on fourth-and-9 at the Broncos' 46, when he hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 22. Palmer tried to go to Houshmandzadeh (that name is a mouthful, and as a receiver, he's a handful) in the end zone unsuccessfully, then successfully with just 41 seconds to go.
The Bengals had countered with a 90-yard drive a quarter after the Broncos' 99-yard march. A tie appeared to be inevitable and probably appropriate as erratically as the teams played. In the opening minutes they traded interceptions. Then they exchanged penalties, fumbles, sacks and ugly efforts and looks and words, and both teams acted like the postseason was a Christmas fruitcake they didn't want.
Several thousand ticket-holders failed to show for the festivities; another several thousand departed when the snow arrived; and another several thousand went off to enjoy some eggnog when the Broncos had a seven-point lead late.
As the Bengals lined up for the tying extra point, the several thousand hearty souls remaining and players and coaches on both sidelines started thinking about overtime. Heads, tails, pass, run, turkey, ham.
Kicker Shayne Graham never touched foot to ball.
Some will blame St. Louis for Cincinnati's loss. Long- snapper Brad St. Louis. Others will call holder Kyle Larson the grinch who cost Cincinnati's Christmas.
I call it Christmas Kismet.
As the snow fluttered to the field, you could see a bright star in the darkened sky over the stadium.
According to Broncos safety John Lynch, one of many stars Sunday, "luck had a big part of it, but we battled hard from the beginning."
Scheffler sounded like a character out of "A Christmas Carol." "It took a little bit of a Christmas miracle at the end ..."
His buddy Cutler said, "It was an early Christmas present for the Broncos and our fans."
And the Broncos won't regift it. On Christmas Eve they got an unbelievable W.