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THE NFL / 1996

This Elway Miracle Unlike Any Other

Interconference: Game-winning pass is tipped twice, almost intercepted as Broncos defeat Vikings, 21-17.

November 25, 1996|From Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — John Elway has led the Denver Broncos to come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter 34 times, but no previous comeback had a finish quite like the one that gave the Broncos a 21-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The basic information is that Elway threw a five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ed McCaffrey with 19 seconds left. But there was a lot more to it than that.

"I've seen a Hail Mary, but this wasn't a Hail Mary," said Bronco defensive end Alfred Williams. "I guess it was a short version of the Hail Mary."

On third and two from the five, Elway was looking for Shannon Sharpe in the end zone and forced a pass over the middle. Safety Harlon Barnett batted it into the air, and it looked like an easy interception as Barnett and fellow safety Orlando Thomas were the only ones around the ball.

But the ball got tipped again as they both went to catch it and this time McCaffrey, who said he didn't see it get tipped, ended up with the ball in his arms and he fell into the end zone for the winning score.

"The ball was in the air about 20 seconds," Elway said, "and I was just screaming at it to get on the ground. And all of a sudden this white jersey came out of nowhere, and it was Eddie McCaffrey and he got in the end zone."

McCaffrey's miracle gave Denver (11-1) its eighth consecutive victory, matching the second-longest streak in franchise history.

Elway--27 for 36 for 334 yards--was 10 for 13 for 144 yards in the fourth quarter. The game-winning drive was vintage Elway.

It began at the Denver 16 with 5:21 to play and included a 39-yard pass play to Anthony Miller and a fourth-down pass to Aaron Craver that went for less than a yard, but, thanks to a favorable spot by the officials, gave the Broncos a first down at the Minnesota 14.

The Vikings (6-6) got two touchdown passes from Brad Johnson, making consecutive starts for the first time in his career, and an outstanding defensive performance against the NFL's top-rated offense.

But it wasn't enough.

"We made the play, and then we didn't make the play," said Viking cornerback Dewayne Washington. "I saw Harlon tip it and then it was like everything was in slow motion. It's deflating."

The Broncos' Terrell Davis scored two touchdowns, but the NFL's leading rusher gained only 68 yards.

Fernando Smith had two sacks for the Vikings, who held the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense to 79 yards. Thomas made two big plays for the Vikings, stripping Sharpe and forcing a fumble after a 27-yard gain into Viking territory, and intercepting a pass while making a vicious hit on Sharpe to set up a touchdown.

"Our guys feel terrible," said Coach Dennis Green.

Trailing, 14-10 at halftime, the Vikings didn't allow Denver to cross midfield in the third quarter and took a 17-14 lead with 23 seconds left in the period on Cris Carter's 53rd career touchdown catch with Minnesota, a team record. Standing along the right sideline, Carter extended over the end line to make a finger-tip grab of Johnson's perfectly thrown 11-yard pass.

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