After waiting 40 years, it took only 4 minutes, 28 seconds.
The Tennessee Titans are on their way to the Super Bowl, the first trip to the NFL title game in the history of the franchise.
The critical stretch Sunday lasted less than five minutes, a span in which the Titans scored 16 points on a 1-yard touchdown run, a safety and an 80-yard TD return of a free kick.
Just like that, Tennessee delivered the knockout punch that flattened Jacksonville, leaving the Titans with a 33-14 victory in the AFC Championship game.
"That changed the momentum,'' tight end Frank Wycheck said. "We got the safety and then the return. That was a breath of fresh air and put new life into our team. We knew we had them on the ropes.''
The Titans (16-3) trailed 14-10 at the half and never led until Steve McNair capped a 76-yard drive with a 1-yard run with 9:24 left in the third quarter to put them up 17-14.
That's when the Jaguars (15-3) started to unravel.
Eddie Robinson stripped Jacksonville's Kyle Brady of the ball after a catch, and tackle Jason Fisk recovered at the Jacksonville 35.
Wycheck then caught McNair's pass for an 8-yard gain to the 1, where Kevin Hardy stripped the ball and Lonnie Marts recovered for the Jaguars.
That fumble turned into the best thing that could have happened for the Titans. This, after all, is a defense that set a club record with four safeties during the regular season and added a fifth in the wild-card victory over Buffalo.
"Down that close right there, it would be a sin to let them out and not get points that close to the end zone,'' tackle Josh Evans said. "We knew we had to hunt and get out after them.''
The Titans almost got it on the first play when Barron Wortham stopped Fred Taylor for no gain on first down. Then Mark Brunell dropped back to pass into his own end zone, where Fisk and Evans sacked him for a safety at 6:01 to make it 19-14.
It was frustrating for the Jaguars, who had everyone in to block except two wide receivers.
"We just got beat,'' Brunell said. "You get beat down there, bad things are going to happen.''
It only got worse as Bryan Barker handled the free kick, and Derrick Mason took the ball and went 80 yards for a touchdown. That put the Titans up 26-14 with 4:56 remaining.
"As soon as I made the move and made one man miss, I knew I was gone,'' said Mason, a third-year player who got his first punt return for a TD against Cleveland during the regular season.
Thanks to the defense, the Titans are in the Super Bowl despite being outgained on offense in seven victories this season, including twice in the playoffs. Jacksonville totaled 360 yards of offense, compared with 289 yards for Tennessee.
But the Titans added six turnovers to their safety.
"I can't say enough about the defense,'' kicker Al Del Greco said. "They came up with play after play.''
Then Del Greco, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl in his 16th NFL season, nearly bounced up and down.
"I get to go. The bottom line is I get to go,'' he said. "We get to go.''Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times