1986–87 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1986 season began on December 28, 1986. The postseason tournament concluded with the New York Giants defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, 39–20, on January 25, 1987, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Within each conference, the three division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The three division winners were seeded 1 through 3 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams were seeded 4 and 5. The NFL did not use a fixed bracket playoff system. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the fourth seed wild card hosted the fifth seed. All three division winners from each conference then received a bye in the first round. The second round, the divisional playoffs, had a restriction where two teams from the same division could not meet: the surviving wild card team visited the division champion outside its own division that had the higher seed, and the remaining two teams from that conference played each other. The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, was played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Cleveland Browns (Central winner)||New York Giants (East winner)|
|2||Denver Broncos (West winner)||Chicago Bears (Central winner)|
|3||New England Patriots (East winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|4||New York Jets||Washington Redskins|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||Los Angeles Rams|
- NOTE: The New York Giants (the NFC one seed) did not play the Washington Redskins (the four seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.
|Jan. 4 – Mile High Stadium|
|AFC Wild Card Game||AFC Championship|
|Dec. 28 – Giants Stadium||Jan. 11 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Jan. 3 – Cleveland Stadium|
|4||NY Jets||35||1||Cleveland||20||Super Bowl XXI|
|Jan. 25 – Rose Bowl|
|Jan. 3 – Soldier Field|
|NFC Wild Card Game||NFC Championship||N1||NY Giants||39|
|Dec. 28 – RFK Stadium||Jan. 11 – Giants Stadium|
|Jan. 4 – Giants Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
- ** Indicates double-overtime victory
Wild Card playoffs
December 28, 1986
AFC: New York Jets 35, Kansas City Chiefs 15
Quarterback Pat Ryan led the Jets to victory with three touchdown passes, while New York's defense held the Chiefs to 241 yards (the lowest total allowed by their defense all season) and forced three turnovers, in Kansas City's first postseason appearance since 1971.
The Chiefs scored first as backup quarterback Todd Blackledge, filling in for injured starter Bill Kenney, led the team on a 67-yard drive capped by running back Jeff Smith's 1-yard touchdown run, but Nick Lowery was unsuccessful with the following PAT. On their ensuing possession, the Jets faced fourth down and 6 on the Kansas City 33-yard line. Rather than attempt a long field goal, Ryan faked a pitch to Freeman McNeil and rushed for a 24-yard gain. Two plays later, McNeil scored on a 4-yard rushing touchdown to give the Jets a 7-6 lead.
New York now had the momentum and would not give it up for the rest of the game. On Kansas City's ensuing drive, New York defenders Harry Hamilton and Russell Carter shared a tackle on running back Larry Moriarty, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Kyle Clifton. Ryan then converted the turnover with a 1-yard touchdown pass to McNeil. The Chiefs were forced to punt on their next possession due to a sack by Mark Gastineau, and the Jets increased their lead to 21-6 with another score. The key player on this drive was receiver Al Toon, who made a 30-yard reception from Ryan, and later finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch.
On the first play of the third quarter, Jets linebacker Kevin McArthur increased his team's lead to 28-6 by returning an interception 21 yards for a touchdown, which would be in the only score of the period. Most of it would be taken up by the Chiefs' ensuing drive, which ended with a failed 4th and 1 conversion attempt. In the fourth quarter, they finally managed to score when defensive back Albert Lewis recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. However, this was quickly countered on the Jets next possession as Ryan completed a 38-yard pass to Wesley Walker before finishing it with a 6-yard touchdown throw to tight end Billy Griggs (his first NFL reception). The only other score of the game would be a safety when Jets punter Dave Jennings ran out of the end zone in the game's closing minutes.
NFC: Washington Redskins 19, Los Angeles Rams 7
Although they outgained Washington in total yards 324-228, the Rams turned over the ball six times en route to a defeat against the Redskins.
In the first quarter, a fumble lost by Los Angeles running back Eric Dickerson led to Washington kicker Jess Atkinson's 25-yard field goal. The Redskins then extended their lead, 10–0, driving 60 yards to quarterback Jay Schroeder's 14-yard touchdown to running back Kelvin Bryant. A key play on the drive was a controversial pass interference penalty against Rams pro bowl cornerback LeRoy Irvin, which gave the Redskins 28 yards; 13 from the initial penalty and another 15 against Irvin for arguing with officials about it. LA had a great chance to respond when quarterback Jim Everett completed a 45-yard pass to Kevin House on the Redskins 28, but the drive ended with no points when Dickerson lost another fumble.
In the second period, Rams tight end David Hill lost a fumble due to a hit by Monte Coleman. Linebacker Neal Olkewicz recovered the ball and returned 19 yards to Rams 30-yard line, setting up Atkinson's 20-yard field goal. Hill's fumble was confirmed by a replay review that lasted nearly 5 minutes, prompting Redskins safety Curtis Jordan to declare "I thought they were trying to get in touch with Oliver North." This was the first time in NFL postseason history a replay was used to confirm a field call of a fumble.
Atkinson made two more field goals in the second half. The Rams' lone score of the game was Everett's 12-yard touchdown pass to House during the final period at the end of a 96-yard drive that was set up by Dickerson's 65-yard run. It seemed that Dickerson was headed for the endzone but he was caught from behind by Redskins CB Darrell Green. Later on, the Rams had a chance to score again, but Dickerson lost his third fumble of the day, this one while trying to convert a 4th and 1 on the Redskins 39.
Redskins running back George Rogers finished the game with 119 rushing yards, while Dickerson rushed for 158. Atkinson, who had been signed by Washington a few weeks before this game and had not kicked any field goals in over a year, set a postseason franchise record with four field goals.
January 3, 1987
AFC: Cleveland Browns 23, New York Jets 20 (2OT)
Thirty-eight-year-old Browns kicker Mark Moseley, a former Washington Redskin whom Cleveland had talked out of retirement in order to replace the injured Matt Bahr less than two months earlier, made the game-winning 27-yard field goal after 2:02 elapsed of the second overtime period, making this the third longest game in NFL history and giving Cleveland their first postseason win since 1969.
The Jets scored first in the opening quarter after an 82-yard drive which was capped by quarterback Pat Ryan's 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wesley Walker on a flea flicker play. Cleveland responded by marching 98 yards to score on running back Herman Fontenot's 37-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Bernie Kosar. In the second quarter, Ryan was knocked out of the game and replaced by Ken O'Brien. Moseley kicked a field goal to give the Browns a 10–7 lead, but late in the quarter, O'Brien led the Jets on a last second field goal drive to tie the game, featuring his season-long 16-yard run on fourth down and four to keep the drive alive.
In the third quarter New York kicker Pat Leahy made a 37-yard field goal to break the tie. Early in the fourth quarter, the Browns drove all the way to the New York 3-yard line, only to come up empty when Russell Carter intercepted a pass from Kosar in the end zone. Then after a punt, Kosar next pass attempt was intercepted again, this time by Jerry Holmes, which set up Freeman McNeil's 25-yard touchdown run to give his team a 20–10 lead with 4:14 left in regulation. This led Jets announcer Charley Steiner to prematurely declare, "The Jets are gonna win this football game!"
But the Browns then drove 68-yards to score on running back Kevin Mack's 1-yard touchdown run, during a drive that was aided by a roughing the passer penalty on Mark Gastineau that nullified an incompletion on second down and 24 from Cleveland's 18-yard line. After a failed onside kick attempt, the Browns stopped New York on two consecutive runs and then sacked O'Brien on a quarterback draw, which was a key play since it stopped the clock. Then they got another lucky break when a punt that would have pinned them inside their own 10-yard line was called back by a Jets penalty. Following a second punt, they got the ball on their own 32 with 51 seconds left and no timeouts. Following a 26-yard pass interference penalty on New York, Kosar completed a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Webster Slaughter to set up Moseley's game-tying 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
After forcing the Jets to punt on the opening drive of overtime, Cleveland had a great chance to win after Kosar's 35-yard completion to Reggie Langhorne landed them at the Jets 5-yard line. They attempted a field goal on first down, but Moseley missed the 23-yard attempt. Still their defense continued to hold down New York, forcing them to punt on two more possessions. With 2:38 left in the first overtime period, Cleveland got the ball on their own 31 following Dave Jennings' playoff record 14th punt of the game. After moving the ball to the Jets 42, receiver Brian Brennan made a key play when he broke up an errant pass that was nearly intercepted by Jets cornerback Carl Howard. This turned out to be crucial as the Browns running game would go on to take total control of the drive. First, Fontenot rushed for 7 yards and then Mack added 26 yards on his next three carries, moving the ball to the 9-yard line to set up Moseley's second game winning field goal attempt. This time, his kick was good, winning the game for the Browns after 17 minutes and 2 seconds of overtime play.
Kosar set postseason records for completions (33), attempts (64), and passing yards (483), but threw only one touchdown pass and two interceptions. Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome caught six passes for 114 yards. The Browns tied a playoff record by recording 9 sacks in the game, three by defensive tackle Carl Hairston. 45 of the Browns' 75 rushing yards in the game were gained on their final drive.
The game was featured as one of the NFL's Greatest Games as the Marathon by the Lake.
NFC: Washington Redskins 27, Chicago Bears 13
The Redskins converted two turnovers into two touchdowns in the second half to overcome the defending champion Bears' 13–7 halftime lead. Chicago finished the game with just 220 yards and 14 first downs, while losing four turnovers.
Chicago had a chance to score early when Dennis Gentry returned the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Redskins' 35-yard line. But after a three-minute drive, the Bears ended up netting just three yards due to penalties and Kevin Butler missed a 49-yard field goal attempt on the last play. Later in the quarter, Washington took a 7-0 lead by driving 69 yards to score on Jay Schroeder's 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Art Monk. Chicago countered with 10:07 remaining in the second quarter on wide receiver Willie Gault's 50-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Doug Flutie. On the Redskins' next possession, defensive back Mike Richardson intercepted a pass from Schroeder and returned it 43 yards to the Washington 4-yard line. Still, the Bears could not get into the end zone and settled for a 10-7 lead with Butler's 23-yard field goal. Shortly before halftime, Butler made a 41-yard field goal to extend Chicago's lead to 13-7.
However, the Redskins took over the game in the second half. In the third quarter, defensive back Darrell Green returned an interception from Flutie 17 yards to the Bears 26-yard line that set up Schroeder's 23-yard touchdown pass to Monk. Chicago seemed primed to respond when Gentry returned their kickoff 48 yards to the Redskins 42, but after advancing to the Washington 17-yard line, running back Walter Payton lost a fumble due to a hit by defensive tackle Darryl Grant, and linebacker Monte Coleman recovered the ball. Washington then drove 83 yards, aided by a 17-yard pass interference penalty against Richardson in the end zone, for a touchdown on a George Rogers one-yard run less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Washington place kicker Jess Atkinson made two field goals in the final period to close out the scoring, the second one set up by Lew Barnes' muffed punt return that was recovered by Eric Yarber.
In only his second NFL start, Flutie was mauled by the Redskins' defense, completing only 11 of 31 passes, with five completions in the second half. Payton was held to 38 rushing yards on 14 carries. Gentry returned three kickoffs for 127 yards.
January 4, 1987
NFC: New York Giants 49, San Francisco 49ers 3
NY Giants quarterback Phil Simms completed only nine of 19 passes for 134 yards, but threw 4 touchdown passes and no interceptions and sat out the fourth quarter while the New York defense allowed only 29 rushing yards, 184 total yards, and a field goal. They also forced 4 turnovers.
On the 49ers' first drive of the game, wide receiver Jerry Rice caught a very long pass from quarterback Joe Montana and appeared to be on his way for a 50-yard touchdown; however, the future hall of famer inexplicably fumbled the football into the Giants end zone without being touched. (John Madden said during the telecast that the artificial turf at Giants Stadium may have been a factor.) Giants safety Kenny Hill recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback. New York then drove 80 yards in 10 plays to score on Simms' 24-yard touchdown to tight end Mark Bavaro. San Francisco responded with a 26-yard field goal by Ray Wersching, but in the second quarter, Giants safety Herb Welch intercepted a pass from Montana and lateralled the ball to Elvis Patterson, who ran for 16 yards before being tackled. New York then converted with the turnover into touchdown on Joe Morris' 45-yard run.
On the Giants next possession, they scored on a 12-play, 57-yard drive in which they burned the 49ers with a fake field goal, starting out in normal kicking formation before switching into a shotgun formation with holder Jeff Rutledge as the quarterback. San Francisco's field goal blocking unit was caught without enough defensive backs on the field and Rutledge ended up throwing the ball to a wide open Bavaro for a 23-yard gain on the 49ers 5-yard line. A penalty pushed them back 10 yards, but New York still scored on 3rd down with Simms' 15-yard pass to receiver Bobby Johnson. The situation only got worse for San Francisco from there, as Montana was knocked out of the game due to a hit by nose tackle Jim Burt, while linebacker Lawrence Taylor intercepted his pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, giving the Giants a 28-3 halftime lead.
Simms threw two third quarter touchdown passes, a 28-yard completion to Phil McConkey and a 29-yarder to tight end Zeke Mowatt. Near the end of the period, New York linebacker Pepper Johnson intercepted backup quarterback Jeff Kemp's pass and returned the ball 27 yards to the 49ers 5-yard line, setting up the final score of the game on Morris' 2-yard run with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the game when 49er head coach Bill Walsh was asked if Jerry Rice's fumble made a difference in the outcome of the game, Walsh replied sarcastically, "Yeah, [that play] did. If it weren't for the fumble, the final score would have been 49 to 10."
AFC: Denver Broncos 22, New England Patriots 17
Broncos quarterback John Elway ran for a touchdown and passed for another one as he led Denver to a victory, while running back Sammy Winder rushed for 102 yards and caught a pass for 16. Although New England won the turnover battle (2-0), they were outgained by Denver in total yards 441 to 271, while their quarterback Tony Eason was sacked five times.
In the first quarter, Elway's completions to Steve Sewell and Steve Watson for gains of 39 and 21 yards propelled the team on a drive to the Patriots 4-yard line. From there, Elway tried to run the ball for a score, but was tackled just short of the end zone. Believing he had crossed the plain, Elway angrily spiked the ball into the ground, drawing a penalty that pushed the team back 5 yards and they ended up having to settle for Rich Karlis' field goal to go up 3-0. In the second quarter, the Patriots took the lead when Eason completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Stanley Morgan to cap an 87-yard drive. However, the Broncos countered with an 82-yard drive to score on Elway's 22-yard touchdown run. Later in the second quarter, New England linebacker Johnny Rembert's interception of an Elway pass on the Broncos 29-yard line led to Tony Franklin's 38-yard field goal, tying the game at 10 by the end of the half.
In the third quarter, Denver drove 80 yards in 15 plays on a drive that consumed more than 9 minutes and ended with Karlis' 22-yard field goal to give them a 13-10 lead. The Patriots responded with a trick play, a flea flicker that involved fullback Mosi Tatupu taking a handoff and then pitching the ball back to Eason, who threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Morgan to retake the lead, 17–13. But Elway then threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Vance Johnson for the go-ahead score on the last play of the third quarter, giving the team a 20-17 lead.
New England had four possessions in the fourth quarter, but the first three ended in punts, while Broncos defensive end Rulon Jones ended the last one by sacking Eason in the end zone for a safety with 1:32 left in the game.
Elway had a rough day in the winning effort, completing only 13 of 32 passes for 257 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Eason completed 13/24 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 23 yards. His top target was Morgan, who caught 3 passes for 100 yards and two scores. Broncos punter Mike Horan averaged 49 yards per kick on his five punts, and placed three of them in the 20, including the final one that set up Jones' game-clinching safety.
January 11, 1987
AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 23, Cleveland Browns 20 (OT)
This game is best remembered for The Drive in Cleveland and Denver sports lore when the Broncos drove 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation and Denver kicker Rich Karlis kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime.
The Browns scored first when quarterback Bernie Kosar threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Herman Fontenot at the end of an 86-yard drive. But then Cleveland turned the ball over on three consecutive drives. First Ricky Hunley intercepted Kosar's pass on the last play of the first quarter. Then after a punt, linebacker Jim Ryan picked off a Kosar pass and returned it 21 yards to the Browns 9-yard line. Denver then drove to the 1-yard line, but were halted there and decided to settle for Rich Karlis' 19-yard field goal. After the ensuing kickoff, running back Kevin Mack lost a fumble that was recovered by Ken Woodard on the Cleveland 37. On the next play, Denver QB John Elway's 34-yard scramble moved the ball to the 4-yard line. Once again, they ended up facing fourth down on the 1-yard line, but this time they decided to go for the touchdown and Gerald Willhite scored on a sweep right. Cleveland managed to respond with Kosar's 42-yard completion to receiver Clarence Weathers, setting up Mark Moseley's 29-yard field goal to tie the score at 10 with less than a minute left in the half.
In the second half, Elway threw his first interception of the game, a pass that was picked off near the sidelines by rookie defensive back Mark Harper. But the Broncos defense rose to the occasion and managed to force a punt. Elway then led Denver inside the Browns 20-yard line where Karlis made a 26-yard field goal to break the tie with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Cleveland responded with a field goal of their own, a 24-yarder from Moseley to tie the game at 13. Then after a punt, Kosar completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brian Brennan, making the score 20–13 with 5:43 left in regulation. On the ensuing kickoff, returner Ken Bell misplayed the kick and it hit the ground in front of him, bouncing to the 2-yard line before he managed to dive on the ball. Elway then led his team 98 yards to tie the game on wide receiver Mark Jackson's 5-yard touchdown reception with 37 seconds left in regulation. Jackson also made a big play earlier on the drive, catching a 20-yard pass from Elway on third down and 18 from the Browns 48-yard line with 1:47 to go. Overall, the drive covered 98 yards in 15 plays without ever facing a fourth down, and only facing a third down three times.
After forcing Cleveland to punt on the opening drive of overtime, Elway led the Broncos 60 yards to set up Karlis' game winning 33-yard field goal. The key play of the drive was a 28-yard completion to Steve Watson on third down and 12 at midfield. Two carries by Sammy Winder then moved the ball to the 16-yard line where Karlis made his game winning kick, which barely made it inside the left upright.
This game was later featured on NFL's Greatest Games.
To date, it remains the only AFC Title game to go to overtime.
NFC Championship: New York Giants 17, Washington Redskins 0
The Giants shut out the Redskins, allowing only 150 passing yards and 40 rushing yards. New York won the coin toss but elected to kick off with the 32 mile-per-hour winds blowing through Giants Stadium (the Redskins would never kick off, as they chose to receive the second-half kickoff). After the Redskins were forced to punt on their opening possession, punter Steve Cox could only manage to kick the ball in the strong wind 23 yards to the Washington 47-yard line. Six plays and 17 yards later, the Giants scored on Raul Allegre's 47-yard field goal, his longest of the season after joining the team in week 4. After the ensuing kickoff, the Redskins were forced to punt again and Cox managed to only punt the ball 27 yards to the Washington 38-yard line. From there, New York advanced to the Redskins 26. On 3rd down and 10, quarterback Phil Simms threw an incomplete pass and center Bart Oates was called for holding. Rather than take the incompletion to bring up 4th down, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs accepted the holding penalty, hoping to push and keep the Giants out of field goal range. But on the next play, Simms completed a 25-yard pass to Lionel Manuel for a first down. A few plays later, Simms finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Manuel on 3rd down and goal.
Washington's best chance to score came in the second quarter, when a 48-yard reception by receiver Art Monk set up a field goal attempt, but it never got off the ground because quarterback Jay Schroeder fumbled the snap. On their next drive, Simms completed a 30-yard pass to tight end Mark Bavaro and later rushed 8 yards to the Redskins 1-yard line on a QB bootleg. On the next play, running back Joe Morris completed the 51-yard drive by taking it into the end zone from there. Just before halftime, Morris gave the Redskins a scoring opportunity by losing a fumble deep in New York territory. But Washington came up empty when "The Big Blue Wrecking Crew" stopped them on a 4th and 1 conversion attempt.
In the second half, Washington completely abandoned their running game, passing the ball on all but one of their plays, but to no avail. By the end of the game, Schroeder was sacked 4 times, intercepted once by linebacker Gary Reasons and finished with just 20 of 50 completions for 195 yards.
Washington's lone bright spot of the day was Monk, who caught 8 passes for 126 yards.
Super Bowl XXI: New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)