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Music City Miracle

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Music City Miracle
Adelphia Coliseum, the site of the game
1234 Total
BUF 0079 16
TEN 012010 22
DateJanuary 8, 2000
StadiumAdelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tennessee
RefereePhil Luckett
Hall of Famers
Bills: Ralph Wilson (owner), Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed
Titans: Bruce Matthews
TV in the United States
AnnouncersMike Patrick, Joe Theismann, and Paul Maguire

The Music City Miracle was an American football play that took place on January 8, 2000, during the National Football League's (NFL) 1999–2000 playoffs. It occurred at the end of the American Football Conference (AFC) 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 remaining in the game, on the ensuing kickoff return, Titans tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson, who then ran 75 yards to score the winning touchdown to earn a 22–16 victory.


The 1999 Tennessee Titans season was the 40th in franchise history and the first in which they used the name Titans, having previously played as the Oilers. Steve McNair began the year as the team's starting quarterback. However, after an opening week victory, he was diagnosed with a ruptured disc, and Neil O'Donnell assumed the starting role.[2] O'Donnell led the team to a 4–1 record before McNair returned to finish the season. The team's rushing attack was led by Eddie George, who ran for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl appearance.[3] The team leader in targets and receptions was tight end Frank Wycheck, while Kevin Dyson led the team in receiving yards.[3] Rookie defensive end Jevon Kearse, selected with the 16th pick in the 1999 NFL draft, had 14.5 sacks and led the NFL with eight forced fumbles, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year at season's end.[4] The Titans finished 13–3, however, the Jacksonville Jaguars won the AFC Central with a 14–2 record. Both of the Jaguars' losses came against the Titans.[5] Given a Wild Card berth in the 1999–2000 playoffs, the Titans had the best record of any team in NFL history to not win its division.[5]

The Buffalo Bills possessed one the NFL's best defenses in 1999. The unit allowed the fewest yards (252.8) and second fewest points (14.3) per game in the league.[6] Running backs Jonathan Linton and Antowain Smith shared carries out of the backfield, while wide receiver Eric Moulds led the team with 994 receiving yards.[7] Several veteran players who had been a part of the Bills' four straight Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s played minor roles, including Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Thurman Thomas. The Bills finished 11–5, qualifying for the postseason for the eighth time in the decade.

Prior to the teams' Wild Card game, some fans and media members believed that the winner could be a serious contender to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.[8]

Rob Johnson–Doug Flutie controversy[edit]

Going into the game, Bills coach Wade Phillips created a stir by starting quarterback Rob Johnson, rather than Doug Flutie. Johnson and Flutie had competed for the starting job since the 1998 season, with Flutie compiling a better record in regular season competition during 1998 and 1999.[9]

Flutie started the first 15 games of the 1999 season, winning 10. With the Bills' playoff seed assured, Phillips rested Flutie in the final regular season contest. Johnson performed well in Flutie's absence, completing 75% of his passes and throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant victory over the Indianapolis Colts, who had won their previous 11 games.[10] Phillips subsequently named Johnson the starter for the Bills' first round playoff game. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said that the decision left him "a little surprised" given that Flutie had been the Bills' starter for the majority of the season.[11] Years later, Phillips wrote that the decision to start Johnson came at the urging of Bills owner Ralph Wilson.[12][better source needed]

Previous playoff meeting[edit]

The previous playoff game between the two teams had occurred in 1993, when the Titans were known as the Houston Oilers. Held at Rich Stadium in Buffalo, the game became known as The Comeback after the Bills rallied from a 35–3 deficit to win 41–38 in overtime.[13] At the time, this was the largest comeback in NFL history.[13]

Game summary[edit]

1999–2000 Wild Card Playoff: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans
Period 1 2 34Total
Bills 0 0 7916
Titans 0 12 01022

at Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tennessee

Game information

First half[edit]

The Titans opened the scoring in the second quarter when Jevon Kearse sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson in the end zone for a safety.[14] Johnson struggled against the Titans' defense throughout the game, completing just 10 of 22 passes while being sacked six times, twice by Kearse.[14][15] Tennessee wide receiver Derrick Mason returned the free kick after the safety 42 yards to the Bills' 28-yard line; Titans quarterback Steve McNair scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to culminate the drive.[14][15] After their defense forced a punt, the Titans drove 56 yards in 11 plays.[15] 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.[14] The field goal gave the Titans a 12–0 lead at halftime, the Bills having only gained 64 yards of offense while surrendering 44 yards on penalties.[14]

Second half[edit]

In the second half, the Bills rallied. 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.[14][15] Later in the quarter, Antoine Winfield Sr. intercepted a pass near midfield, but the Bills were unable to capitalize on the good field position, their subsequent drive resulting in a three-and-out.[15] Following a Tennessee punt, the Bills received possession with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter.[15] They drove 65 yards, including a 37-yard completion from Johnson to Eric Moulds and aided by a red zone roughing the passer penalty on Kearse.[14][15] Smith finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Bills a 13–12 lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt.[14][15] The teams then traded punts in what had become a low-scoring, defensive game. The Bills managed 219 total yards on offense during the contest, while the Titans were limited to just 194,[15] most of which were gained by running back Eddie George, who accounted for 106 yards on 29 rushing attempts and another four yards on two receptions.[14]

Tennessee received possession with 6:15 remaining in the game. Titans receiver Isaac Byrd's 16-yard punt return gave the Titans good field position at the Bills' 45-yard line.[14] On the second play of the drive, the Titans got a break when a McNair pass bounced off of linebacker John Holecek's elbow and into the hands of Frank Wycheck for a completion.[14] The drive culminated in a 36-yard field goal by Del Greco, giving the Titans a 15–13 lead with 1:48 left in the game.[14] The ensuing Buffalo drive began at the Bills' 39-yard line after a 33-yard kickoff return by Kevin Williams.[15] Johnson began the drive with a completion to rookie wide receiver Peerless Price for 14 yards and a first down.[15] After an incomplete pass, a 12-yard run by Jonathan Linton gave the Bills a first down on the Titans' 35-yard line with under a minute to play. On the next play from scrimmage, Johnson lost a shoe in a scramble, and with the clock running, he had no time to put it back on. With only one shoe, Johnson rolled out and completed a pass to Price, who broke a tackle and got out of bounds at the 24-yard line with 20 seconds left. After this play, Wade Phillips sent out the field goal unit for a 41-yard attempt. Bills kicker Steve Christie, who had made the deciding field goal in overtime to cap the Bills' comeback win in the previous playoff meeting between the teams, converted the try. The Bills led 16–15 with 16 seconds remaining.[14][15]

The play[edit]

Kevin Dyson receiving the lateral pass

The kickoff return play was named "Home Run Throwback" by the Titans and was developed by special teams coordinator Alan Lowry. He had learned the play in 1982 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, watching SMU execute a similar kickoff return to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds of its game at Texas Tech.[16] The Titans had practiced the play once a week during the regular season.[16] The practices usually involved starting kick returner Derrick Mason, however, he had suffered an injury earlier in the playoff game and was unavailable for the final seconds.[16][17] The second option for the play, Anthony Dorsett, was also unavailable for the play due to cramps.[16][17] As a result, the Titans put in Isaac Byrd as their main option to retrieve the lateral pass, with Kevin Dyson trailing behind him.[17] As one of the team's leading wide receivers, Dyson rarely practiced with the special teams unit and was unfamiliar with the layout of the play. As a result, head coach Jeff Fisher called him over before the play and gave him a brief summary of what to expect.[16][17]

After observing Frank Wycheck playing a throwing game during downtime at practice, Titans offensive coordinator Les Steckel had designed an option pass play with Wycheck in mind. The Titans ran that play against the Atlanta Falcons during the 1999 regular season, and Wycheck threw a 61-yard touchdown pass. After the success of this play, Lowry assigned Wycheck to throw the lateral on Home Run Throwback.

Meanwhile, because the Bills defense had accumulated a large number of injuries, their coaches asked for volunteers to cover the kickoff. As a result, numerous defensive starters, who were inexperienced on special teams, were in the game on the play. Initially, the Bills planned on kicking the ball deep, but special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven suggested that the Bills attempt a pooch kick, in which the ball is kicked higher and shorter than a regular kickoff to limit the opportunity for a runback.

Steve Christie executed the pooch, and the kick was fielded by Lorenzo Neal. Neal handed the ball backwards to Wycheck.[16][17] Bills defenders converged on Wycheck on the right side of the field, breaking their running lanes in the process. As devised, Wycheck threw the ball across the field to Dyson. As Dyson caught the ball, the momentum of the play abruptly shifted to the left, catching every Bills defender except Christie out of position. Dyson thus had an open path in front of him and ran 75 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with three seconds remaining.[16][17]

The play was reviewed by replay officials in order to determine whether Wycheck's throw had been a lateral, as had been called by referee Phil Luckett's crew.[14] If the pass had gone forwards, the Titans would have been penalized at the spot of the throw and the touchdown would not have counted. Luckett upheld the call on the field, and the touchdown stood. Buffalo was unable to score on the Titans' subsequent kickoff, and the game ended in a 22–16 Tennessee victory.[15]

Upon crossing midfield, Dyson later said he considered going out of bounds in field goal range, as all the Titans needed was a field goal to win the game. However, upon seeing that the only player with a chance at tackling him was Christie, who was being blocked by two players, Dyson simply kept going into the end zone.[8]




The victory advanced the Titans to the AFC Divisional Round for the first time since 1993, when they were based in Houston. Subsequent victories over the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars sent the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV to face the St. Louis Rams. The Titans lost the Super Bowl in a close game that came down to the final play,[21] known as "One Yard Short" or "The Tackle".

The Bills fired special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven, who had been with the team for 13 seasons.[22] DeHaven was subsequently hired by the San Francisco 49ers and was eventually rehired by the Bills for three seasons beginning in 2010.[23] DeHaven's replacement in 2000, Ronnie Jones, was criticized for his performance by team owner Ralph Wilson.[24] Despite the ninth best offense and third best defense in the league, the 2000 Bills finished 8–8 and missed the playoffs.[a] Wilson demanded that Jones be fired as a result. When head coach Wade Phillips refused to do so, Wilson fired both Jones and Phillips.[24] Phillips was succeeded by Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.[25]

Long-term effect on the Bills[edit]

The Music City Miracle was the last game in a Bills uniform for the remaining key members of the team's 1990s Super Bowl runs. Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Thurman Thomas were all released by the team in the offseason;[21] all three would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Starting in 2000, the Bills missed the playoffs in 17 consecutive seasons, a streak that was the longest active playoff drought in major American sports when it ended.[21][26] The streak eventually came to be known as "the Curse of Doug Flutie" under the assumption that Wade Phillips had cursed the Bills by benching Flutie before the Music City Miracle game.[27][28] The Curse of Flutie moniker was also applied to subsequent failures, particularly at the quarterback position, of teams that employed Phillips.[29][30] Ralph Wilson died on March 25, 2014, and the team was subsequently sold by his estate to Terry and Kim Pegula.[31] Buffalo's playoff drought ended during the 2017 season, three years after the Pegulas assumed ownership of the franchise.[26][b]

The Music City Miracle became one of a series of infamous moments in Buffalo sports history, including "Wide Right", No Goal", and "13 Seconds". Bills fans generally refuse to call the game or the play by their standard name, instead referring to them as "The Immaculate Deception" or by other names that imply that Frank Wycheck's lateral travelled forwards.[21] In his 2017 autobiography Son of Bum, Wade Phillips called the play "The Music City Mistake".[33]


In 2004, NFL Films hired a computer analyst to determine whether or not the call on the field of a backward lateral was correct. The analyst determined that the ball indeed had not travelled forward and that the referee's call was correct.[34]

During the NFL's centennial season in 2019, the Bills–Titans matchup in Week 5 was designated as one of 16 weekly games commemorating notable events in NFL history, namely the Music City Miracle.[35] In that game, the Titans were denied a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter after it was determined that quarterback Marcus Mariota had crossed the line of scrimmage prior to making a forward pass to the end zone. The Bills went on to win 14–7.[36]

During their win over the Bills in 2021, the Titans attempted a lateral play during a first quarter punt return. After corralling the punt, Titans returner Chester Rogers threw the ball to teammate Chris Jackson, who advanced the ball 22 yards before being tackled. However, the play was nullified by an illegal forward pass penalty, as Rogers' lateral had advanced five yards downfield.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Bills' record included a 16–13 win over the Titans in the first week of the season.
  2. ^ The Bills' first playoff win after the Music City Miracle did not occur until January 9, 2021, following the 2020 season.[32]


  1. ^ "Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans – National Football League Game Summary" (PDF). NFLGSIS.com. NFL Enterprises, LLC. January 8, 2000. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  2. ^ "Titans' QB McNair out 6 weeks. Quarterback out for six weeks, having back surgery Sunday". Deseret News. September 19, 1999. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "1999 Tennessee Titans Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees". Pro Football Reference.
  4. ^ "Jevon Kearse". Pro Football Reference.
  5. ^ a b Kerr, Jeff (January 3, 2020). "NFL playoffs: How 13-win teams like the Saints perform in rare appearances on Wild Card Weekend". CBS Sports. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  6. ^ "1999 NFL Team Defense Statistics". The Football Database.
  7. ^ "1999 Buffalo Bills Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees". Pro Football Reference.
  8. ^ a b Dunne, Tyler (October 10, 2015). "Fifteen Years Later, the 'Miracle' Lingers On for Bills". The Buffalo News.
  9. ^ "Rob Johnson still bitter about losing Buffalo Bills QB job to Doug Flutie". NewYorkUpstate.com. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  10. ^ "Bills end Colts' 11-game win streak". ESPN. January 2, 2000. Retrieved December 16, 2023 – via Associated Press.
  11. ^ "Bills bench Flutie for Johnson". ESPN. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  12. ^ Warren, Matt (May 27, 2017). "Wade Phillips' reasoning for starting Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie is stupid". SB Nation. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  13. ^ a b Seminara, Dave (January 1, 2013). "The Greatest Rally, or the Biggest Fade?". The New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Titans stun Bills in miracle finish". January 8, 2000. Retrieved January 13, 2023 – via Associated Press.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Wild Card - Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans - January 8th, 2000". Pro Football Reference.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Wyatt, Jim (January 8, 2015). "15 years later, Music City Miracle's legend keeps growing". The Tennessean. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Davenport, Turron (January 8, 2020). "Music City Miracle turns 20: How it happened, where the players are now". ESPN. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  18. ^ "Music City Miracle": 1999 AFC Wild Card Playoffs, Bills vs. Titans (NFL Full Game) National Football League on YouTube
  19. ^ NFL Top 10 Playoff Finishes – #3: The Music City Miracle NFL Films on YouTube
  20. ^ NFL Films Game of the Week: 1999 AFC Wild Card Playoffs, Bills vs. Titans YouTube (originally broadcast by NFL Films)
  21. ^ a b c d Walker, Teresa M. (October 1, 2019). "NFL At 100: Miracle sent Bills, Titans opposite directions". Associated Press. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  22. ^ Wilson, Allen (January 21, 2000). "San Jose St. coach to handle Bills' special teams". Buffalo News. Archived from the original on March 2, 2000. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  23. ^ "Bruce DeHaven". Carolina Panthers. Archived from the original on December 10, 2016. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  24. ^ a b "Phillips refused to fire special teams coach". ESPN. January 9, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2024.
  25. ^ "Titans' defensive coordinator gets post". ESPN. February 5, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2024 – via Associated Press.
  26. ^ a b Benjamin, Cody (January 1, 2018). "Bills' playoff berth snaps longest postseason drought in pro American sports". CBS Sports. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  27. ^ Salfino, Michael (December 22, 2015). "The Curse of Doug Flutie Haunts the Buffalo Bills". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  28. ^ Bondy, Filip (November 5, 2016). "The Curse Needs a New Home. Snow or Surf?". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  29. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (December 9, 2008). "The Curse of Doug Flutie". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  30. ^ Byrne, Kerry (November 16, 2011). "The Curse of Flutie strikes again with injury to Texans' Schaub". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved April 22, 2024.
  31. ^ "Pegulas' purchase of Bills officially approved by NFL owners". Sports Illustrated. October 8, 2014. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  32. ^ Wawrow, John (January 9, 2021). "Bills beat Colts 27-24 for 1st playoff win in 25 years". Associated Press. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  33. ^ "Wade Phillips kicked officiating crew out of Bills' facility over Music City Miracle". Pro Football Talk. June 4, 2017. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  34. ^ "Tennessee vs. Buffalo, 1/8/00". NFL Films Game of the Week. NFL Network. 2004.
  35. ^ Teope, Herbie. "League reveals slate for NFL100 Game of the Week". NFL.com. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  36. ^ Sullivan, Jerry (October 6, 2019). "Sullivan: Bills, Titans come full circle, 20 years after throwback". Niagara Gazette.
  37. ^ Tsujimoto, Ben (October 18, 2021). "Titans try repeat of Home Run Throwback against Bills, but this time it's ruled illegal". The Buffalo News. Retrieved October 28, 2021.