NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Fumble

23 Nov

The Denver Broncos face the Cleveland Browns in the week 12 NFL schedule, and our Throwback Thursday post will relive an AFC Championship game played between these 2 teams on January 17, 1988. It was a rematch of the 1986 title game that saw the Broncos winning 23-20 in overtime after John Elway led his team on a 98 yard scoring drive to send the game into the extra period. That game would go down in NFL lore as “The Drive”, and this contest would produce another heartbreaking defeat for Cleveland that would become known as “The Fumble”.

This was the third meeting over a four year span that Denver and Cleveland would meet for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, with the Broncos winning the previous two. Once again, it appeared that Denver would have it’s way as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind an 8 yard Elway to Ricky Nattiel touchdown pass and a Steve Sewell 1 yard plunge. The Browns got on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a Matt Bahr field goal, but another short scoring run from Gene Lang lengthened Denver’s lead to 21-3 at halftime. The Browns, determined to reverse their luck, came alive in the third quarter. Quarterback Bernie Kosar found Reggie Langhorne on an 18 yard TD pass, but Elway countered that with an 80 yard bomb to Mark Jackson for a score. Ernest Byner, who along with Kevin Mack gave the Browns a devastating 1-2 punch in the run game, scored a pair of touchdowns, first on a 32 yard pass from Kosar and then on a 4 yard run. Suddenly the Browns were within 4 points of the lead at 28-24. Rich Karlis’ field goal stretched the Broncos’ lead back to 7 at 31-24. Early in the final quarter Kosar got his club tied at 31-31 with another touchdown pass, this time a short 4 yarder to Webster Slaughter. Elway’s 20 yard TD throw to running back Sammy Winder restored the Broncos’ lead to 7 as the game was winding down.

The determined Browns drove down the field and were within striking distance of tying the game when the infamous play happened. On second down at the Denver 8 yard line, Byner took a handoff and battled his way to the 3, where he would’ve set up first and goal. However, in trying to get into the end zone he was hit by a pair of defenders who jarred the ball loose. The Broncos recovered at the 3 yard line, and after failing to move the ball, coach Dan Reeves had his punter run out of the end zone for a safety rather than risk a blocked punt or a long return. Cleveland had one more shot but ran out of time, and the Broncos escaped with a 38-33 victory.

Byner took the fumble and the loss to heart, as the play went down in history as “The Fumble”. Karma would be kind to him, however. He was eventually traded to the Washington Redskins and would be a major contributor to a pair of Super Bowl wins for that franchise in the early 1990s.


A dejected Byner after his fumble


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