Music City Miracle
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2007)|
|Adelphia Coliseum, the site of the game|
|Date||January 8, 2000|
|Announcers||Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire|
The Music City Miracle is a play that took place on January 8, 2000 during the National Football League's 1999–2000 playoffs. It occurred at the end of the Wild Card Playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills at Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee. After the Bills had taken a 16–15 lead on a field goal with 16 seconds left in the game, Titans tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson on the ensuing kickoff return, who then ran 75 yards to score the winning touchdown and earn a 22–16 victory.
After a scoreless 1st quarter, the Titans opened up the scoring when Jevon Kearse sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson in the end zone for a safety. Johnson completed just 10 of 22 passes while being sacked 6 times, including twice by Kearse. Wide receiver Derrick Mason returned the free kick 42 yards to the Bills' 28-yard line; five plays later, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. After forcing a punt, the Titans drove 56 yards in 11 plays. Kicker Al Del Greco initially missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, but the Bills were penalized for defensive holding on the play and Del Greco's second attempt was good from 40 yards on the last play of the half. At the end of the half, the Bills were trailing 12-0 and had managed to gain only 64 yards, while also losing 44 yards on 9 penalties.
In the second half, the Bills managed to rally back. On Buffalo's first play of the third quarter, Antowain Smith broke off a 44-yard run, sparking a 62-yard drive that ended with his 4-yard touchdown run 4 plays later. Later on, the Bills drove 65 yards, featuring a 37-yard completion from Johnson to Eric Moulds, with a roughing the passer penalty on Kearse adding another 15. Smith finished the drive with another 4-yard touchdown run, giving the Bills a 13-12 lead after receiver Kevin Williams dropped a pass from Johnson on the two-point conversion attempt.
Late in the 4th quarter, the stage was set for an exciting finish. Tennessee received the ball with 6:15 remaining. Titans receiver Isaac Byrd's 16-yard punt return and five carries from Eddie George for 17 yards set up a wobbly 36-yard field goal by Al Del Greco. The Titans took a 15-13 lead with 1:48 to go.
On the ensuing drive, with no timeouts remaining, Bills quarterback Rob Johnson led the Bills on a 5-play, 37-yard drive to the Titans' 24 yard line. On the last play from scrimmage, Johnson played with only one shoe on. He had lost the shoe in a scramble, and with the clock running, he had no time to put it back on. With only 16 seconds remaining in the game, Steve Christie, the Bills' kicker, made a 41-yard field goal to put Buffalo in the lead, 16-15.
Moments later, Christie kicked off, and Titans player Lorenzo Neal received. Neal handed the ball off to Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw the ball across the field to another Titans player, Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown. During the play, the officials ruled Wycheck's pass to have been a legal lateral (i.e., a pass that went sideways or backward) rather than an illegal forward pass, and awarded the Titans the touchdown.
The play was named "Home Run Throwback" by the Titans and was developed by Special Teams Coordinator Alan Lowry. The Titans ran the play regularly in practices during the regular season, though the practices usually involved Derrick Mason, who had been injured earlier in the game and was unavailable for the situation. Dyson, as one of the team's lead wide receivers, rarely practiced with the special teams unit and was largely unfamiliar with the layout of the play. Nevertheless, his execution of Lowry's vision was flawless.
Per the instant replay rules, a booth review was called. The play was reviewed by referee Phil Luckett because it was uncertain if the Line Judges's ruling that the throw had not been a forward pass, was correct. One of the on-field sideline mobile cameras had been repositioned to provide a sideline view of the Titians reception of the kickoff. This camera angle ended up showing the unintended reception of the kickoff by Neal; but was blocked (by Titians players) from recording the single reverse handoff by Neal to Wycheck. However, it fully captured the lateral of Wycheck to Dyson.
The camera showed (upon the replay of its feed) that the line judge began to follow the development of the play when Neal had handed the ball off to Wycheck. The line judge moved to the sideline yard marker of Wycheck as Wycheck had slowed to position himself to throw the lateral. After the lateral was thrown, the line judge moved again to realign himself with the yard marker at which he had observed Dyson receiving the lateral. Because that second position was up field, from the point where the line judge had positioned himself when Wycheck had thrown the ball; the line judge's hand signaled during the play that the pass was indeed a lateral; and, was not an illegal forward pass. After a long official review, the video was deemed inconclusive, to overturn the line judge's ruling on the field.
The Titans made one final kickoff, and the clock expired during the Bills' return. The Titans held on to win 22-16.
As Titans' coach Jeff Fisher pointed out, the original objective of the play was not to achieve a direct score (a touchdown); it was to have the receiver (Dyson) advance the ball into the range of Del Greco, the Titans’ placekicker. To do this, Dyson would have to advance the ball to a down-field spot well within the kicker’s range. Fisher later stated that as the play continued with Dyson getting closer to the Bills’ end zone, he was concerned that Dyson would be tackled without scoring with no time remaining.
As the play was drawn up, the receiver of the kickoff was also supposed to execute the lateral. The Titans' tight end, Frank Wycheck, was supposed to receive the ball and throw the lateral. However, Wycheck was completely out of position to receive the kickoff.
Wycheck was between Dyson (on the left side facing downfield) and Lorenzo Neal (on the right side), with Wycheck closer to Neal. Neal caught the ball, turned to his left, and began running toward Wycheck. Neal then met Wycheck (who had turned to run toward the right side of the field) on the run, and handed the ball to him. Wycheck, continued to run laterally toward right side of the field, knowing that the play required him to execute a lateral (across the field to Dyson), to the left side of the field. Wycheck continued his run to the right sideline, so it appeared to be a developing single reverse (by Neal and Wycheck) end-around run to the right sideline (by Wycheck). Just before reaching the sideline, Wycheck abruptly stopped, by planting his passing foot and pivoting to his left. Once he'd aligned himself to throw the lateral (i.e., a pass which does not advance in yardage down field), he threw a low pass (across the whole field) to Dyson. Dyson scooped the pass up ankle-high, turned to his left and began running straight down field.
Wycheck's initial move was a credible play in and of itself, as were the Bills' actions a correct defensive assumption. Wycheck was a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end; and, with good blocking, he posed the very real threat of advancing the ball to the outer limit of the range of Del Greco for a winning field goal, prior to the expiration of regulation time. Because of this, Buffalo’s entire kicking team (except for the place kicker), shifted to the right sideline of the field, either to tackle Wycheck or to force him out of bounds and outside of Del Greco's kicking range.
It was this, that turned out to be the decisive mistake on the part of Buffalo’s kicking team. Their total concentration on Wycheck’s right sideline run, left not only the left side-line of the field undefended (all the way to the end-zone); it also meant that all of the defensive-backs on the kicking team were completely out of position to make any serious attempt to over-haul and catch a starting NFL wide receiver (Dyson). Not only were they too far away from him, their closing intercept angle on him (because they were on the other side of the field) was simply too wide for them to close the gap before Dyson reached Buffalo’s end-zone. Titans coach Jeff Fisher had not assumed that the kicking team would make such a critical error; he was concerned that as Dyson closed on the Bill’s end-zone, he would be tackled by the Bills' defensive backs near the goal line after the time clock ran down to zero.
The victory, in front of a franchise-record crowd at Adelphia Coliseum, allowed the Tennessee franchise to advance to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs for the first time since 1993, when they were still in Houston. Subsequent victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars sent the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV to face the St. Louis Rams, where they lost by a touchdown in another game that went down to the final seconds, known as "One yard short" or "The Tackle."
For the Bills, it led to the firing of special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, who had been with the team for thirteen seasons. (DeHaven has since been re-hired by the Bills in the same position in 2010.) One year later, Phillips was fired (partly due to his failure to lead the Bills past the first round of the playoffs during his tenure and the very poor performance of DeHaven's replacement, Ronnie Jones) and replaced by Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Music City Miracle was added to the list of infamous moments in Buffalo sports history, joining Wide Right and No Goal. It was Buffalo's last postseason game to date and it marked the beginning of what has, as of 2012, become the longest active streak of missing the playoffs in the NFL.
NFL Films hired a computer analyst to determine if Luckett had made the correct call. They determined that the ball had in fact, not traveled forward and that Luckett had made the correct ruling.
Keith: "Do the Titans have a miracle left in them in what has been a magical season to this point? If they do, they need it now. Christie kicks it high and short. Gonna be fielded by Lorenzo Neal at the 25; he dishes it back to Wycheck; he throws it across the field to Dyson..."
Ryan: "He's got somethin'..."
Keith: "30, 40..."
Ryan: "He's got somethin'..."
Keith: "50, 40.."
Ryan: "He's got it! He's got it!"
Keith (voice volume increasing): "30, 20.."
Ryan: "He's got it!"
Keith: "10, 5, endzone...touchdown, Titans! There are no flags on the field! It's a miracle! Tennessee has pulled a miracle! A miracle for the Titans!"
Ryan: "Frank Wycheck threw another pass."
Keith: "Three seconds remaining on the clock!"
But then a question of whether or not Wycheck's lateral to Dyson was actually a lateral arose. Luckett reviewed the play, and once Luckett had decided that the call would stand, Keith said this:
Keith: "Here comes Luckett, with the call of the new millennium. It may be the biggest review since the Franco Harris play in the playoffs..."
Ryan: (interjecting)...And they didn't have it then
Keith: And they didn't have it.... This call could go either way, Pat
When he announced his ruling, Keith and Ryan had another exchange:
Luckett: "After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field stands. It was a lateral..."
Keith: "We did it!"
Ryan: "Yes! Titans win!" (This drowned out Luckett saying, "Touchdown.")
Keith: "Three seconds to go, and Tennessee is on the verge of a miracle finish!"
Ryan: "Wow, what a game!"
- Music City Miracle gives Titans win over Bills (December 20, 2000)
- Game Details at Pro Football Reference
- AFC Wild Card Playoff Game (2000, January 8). In Tennessee Titans Official Website.