1986 Cleveland Divisional Game
On January 3 1987, the Jets seemed on their way to the AFC Championship game as they led the Browns by 10 points with less than four minutes remaining. All was looking good until Mark Gastineau committed a truly boneheaded penalty on Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, giving the Browns a crucial first down, and eventually giving them victory, in double overtime.
Background to the game
The Jets started the 1986 season 1-1, but after the 51-45 OT shootout victory over Miami, they proceeded to reel off 9 victories in a row. At 10-1 the Jets looked on course for their first division title since 1969. But things were going wrong. Injuries to Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Lance Mehl and Reggie McElroy took their toll, and the Jets lost their final five games, including giving up 45 points twice (Miami and Pittsburgh, and a 52-20 hammering by Cincinnati. The Jets lost the division, but managed to get a wild card. In the Wild Card round, Pat Ryan, replacing the benched Ken O'Brien, led the Jets to a 35-15 win over Kansas City.
The First 55 minutes
The Jets scored first after an 82-yard drive was capped by Ryan's 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wesley Walker. Cleveland responded by marching 98 yards to score on Herman Fontenot's 37-yard touchdown reception from Bernie Kosar. The score was tied at halftime, 10-10, after the teams exchanged field goals during the second period. In the third quarter, Pat Leahy made a 37-yard field goal to put the Jets up, 13-10.
In the fourth quarter, Browns had driven to the Jets' two-yard line and seemed assured of at least a game-tying field goal. But on third down Kosar launched an incredible wounded duck that was caught in the end zone by the Jets' Russell Carter, a pass that Kosar later said was supposed to go out of bounds.
The Jets made three first downs before they were forced to punt, giving Kosar the ball again on the Browns' 17 with 4:31 left. In 531 attempts, Kosar had thrown only 10 interceptions all season but immediately he threw another, his eight-yard look-in picked off by Jerry Holmes at the Browns' 25-yard line. On the very next play Freeman McNeil slashed off right tackle, broke wide and outraced the secondary for the touchdown that gave the Jets a 20-10 lead.
The Browns got the ball back on their own 32, with 4:08 left. A holding penalty and a sack moved the ball back to their own 18. On 2nd and 24, Kosar threw an incomplete pass. The only problem was, Gastineau plowed into him late. Flag. Instead of having a 3rd-and-24 situation, the 15-yard penalty on Gastineau gave the Browns a first down at their own 33.
The Browns comeback
Two plays later Kosar completed four straight first-down passes to move the ball down to the Jets' three. Two more plays and Kevin Mack carried it over from the one, pulling the Browns to within a field goal, 20-17, with 1:57 left.
The Browns still had two timeouts remaining, but coach Marty Schottenheimer went for the onside kick. The Jets fielded it on the Browns' 45. The Jets, needing a first down to put the game away, tried three staright runs, and got stopped each time, resulting in a punt. The Browns took over on their own 33 with :51 remaining. Kosar threw for 25 yards down the middle, where pass interference was called on the Carl Howard. This was followed by a pass down the sideline to Webster Slaughter, who carried it to the Jets' five. Kosar almost won it there and then, only Slaughter couldn't hold on to the pass as he hit the ground. Mark Moseley then came out to kick the field goal with 7 seconds remaining.
Overtime - lots and lots of overtime
The Jets won the toss, but went three and out. Kosar completed five of six passes to move the Browns from their own 26 to the Jets' 5. Moseley then proceeded to miss the field goal, and the Jets lived again. If it could be called living. By now, to call their offense inept would be kind, making just one first down and rushing for minus three yards in their three overtime possessions. The game went into second overtime, and the Browns went to their running game. Mack ran and ran again, and soon the Browns were at the Jets' 9 yard line. This time Moseley made no mistake. After 4 hours and 11 minutes, the third longest game in NFL history, the Jets were down and out. "It's like a nightmare," Gastineau said afterward. "I never felt this way."
After the game, Gastineau said that he hadn't been guilty of roughing and that he was "just following through." Teammate Marty Lyons, the Jets' other starting defensive end, defended Gastineau saying, "(Ben Dreith) is a referee who's known to take care of the quarterback." Joe Walton, the Jets' head coach would say only, "It was a very key play, Mark was just trying to do the best he could do. The NFL didn't see it that way, fining Gastineau $2,500 for the hit.