DENVER — 'There was a miscommunication between Barney (Chavous) and myself on the coin toss. I talked it over with the staff and we wanted to defend the south goal. We thought with the wind blowing right in their face, we could pin them down deep . . .I'll take the blame for the misunderstanding.'
In a game they'll be moaning about here until the Rockies crumble and Broncomania is remembered as just another fad from the second half of the 20th Century, the Broncos blew a 14-0 lead, the coin toss in overtime, and perhaps the playoffs.
They didn't lose the coin toss, they literally blew it. Their venerable defensive end, Barney Chavous, told to take the wind, won the overtime coin flip . . . and elected to receive.
The Raiders then penned the Broncos up inside their 20 for three possessions until Howie Long and Greg Townsend sacked John Elway, who fumbled. Townsend recovered at the Denver eight, Chris Bahr kicked a 26-yard field goal and the Raiders won, 17-14, Sunday to take over first place in the AFC West.
It was one of the greatest botches since the Dallas Texans' Abner Haynes won an overtime coin flip in the first AFL championship game and made the wrong call. That was in 1961.
Irony of ironies, Chavous was playing in his 180th game, a Bronco record. As an honor, Bronco Coach Dan Reeves sent him out by himself to call the coin toss before the game and the overtime. Normally, four Bronco co-captains make the calls. In the AFC West, nice guys finish second.
The Raiders, 10-4 with a pair of overtime wins over the Broncos, need one win in their last two games to clinch the AFC West title.
The Broncos are 9-5. They can only make the playoffs by winning both of their games, while either the Raiders, Dolphins, Patriots or Jets lose their final two. Aside from that, Sunday's loss wasn't too ruinous.
The distraught Chavous refused comment, as did several teammates.
"I'll keep my mouth shut on that one," said a tight-lipped Elway. "I'll let Dan answer that."
Reeves: "There was a miscommunication between Barney and myself on the coin toss. I talked it over with the staff and we wanted to defend the south goal. We thought with the wind blowing right in their face, we could pin them down deep. . . . I'll take the blame for the misunderstanding."
It was the only way this game could have ended. Elway quarterbacked a brilliant 77-yard drive on his first possession. Then he threw three interceptions before his killer fumble.
His opposite number, Marc Wilson, threw four interceptions, three to Bronco safety Dennis Smith, who thus became the Raiders' third leading receiver.
Wilson also fumbled two snaps from center, one of which the Broncos recovered. It came at his 13, with :26 left in the first half and the Broncos already leading, 14-0. This gave Rich Karlis a chance to kick a 35-yard field goal that would have made it 17-0.
Except Karlis missed.
Don't think the Raiders threw any celebration. Instead, their bench drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the way to the locker room. Bahr started the second half, kicking off from his 20, and Jeff Barnes got another unsportsmanlike-conduct call covering it.
And that was nothing compared to what happened inside the Raider locker room at halftime.
Howie Long: "Some of our offensive guys got on each other. Just constructive criticism, we call it around here."
What would someone who hadn't seen it before call it?
Long: "It might have seemed like a zoo to you."
Rod Martin: "Of course, it was angry. It was a very angry room. It was heated in here. The anger was so thick, nobody wanted to walk by anyone else and touch him, or someone might have really gotten upset. It was very thick in here."
"Did anyone say anything to Marc? Not at all. In fact, I went up to him coming off the sideline to encourage him. He's our man. We've got to live and die with him. You've got to try to keep his confidence up, if nothing else."
At halftime, Wilson was 4 for 11 for 27 yards, with two interceptions and the fumbled snap, just another Marc Wilson first half. Two weeks ago, he started 6 for 16 against the Broncos and finished 10 for 18. Last week, he started 5 for 17 at Atlanta and finished 8 for 9.
Sunday he went 9 for 17 in the second half, with two more interceptions and another fumbled snap. But he also drove the Raiders to two touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half.
The first drive went 63 yards and ended with a three-yard touchdown pass to Todd Christensen. The second went 54 yards, ending when Marcus Allen slashed 15 yards into the end zone behind Frank Hawkins, who buried a Bronco linebacker.
It was 14-14 and the Broncos were reeling.
Elway managed a 49-yard march to the Raider 36, aided by a 15-yard roughing penalty on Martin. But Sean Jones sacked Elway and the drive died.
The Raiders got the ball back. Wilson, scrambling, threw a floater for Christensen but Dennis Smith intercepted.