NFL PLAYOFFS : Chiefs Escape Steelers : AFC: Montana throws fourth-down touchdown pass, sparks overtime drive to Lowery field goal and 27-24 victory.
Kansas City quarterback Joe Montana watched Nick Lowery’s 43-yard kick sail wide to the right with 12 seconds to play and figured that was it for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes.
“I figured the way things had been going for me,” Montana said, “we had to be behind.”
But Montana’s scoreboard double take gave him hope--the Chiefs were still tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-24.
And on a day when little went right at times, Montana and Lowery were granted second chances--in overtime.
Montana guided the drive that was capped by Lowery kicking a 32-yard field goal 11:03 into overtime to give the Chiefs a 27-24 victory in an AFC wild card game at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday.
After failing to complete his first seven passes, Montana was perfect on his final five, leading the Chiefs on a 66-yard drive that set up Lowery’s winning kick.
Was Lowery confident that Montana, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 203 yards in the second half, would give him another shot at a winning field goal?
“Hey, you never underestimate the best quarterback in the game,” Lowery said. “He didn’t play his best game, but he got us in position to win.”
Of his missed 43-yarder that could have won it in regulation, Lowery said that he was rushed on the field after coaches had used most of the time after the previous play to discuss whether to kick the field goal on third down or run another play.
“I was a little rushed on the first kick,” Lowery said. “I usually take 15 seconds to step off a kick and get ready, but I only had seven or eight seconds on that one.
“I guess you could say I was Freddy Krueger--I came back from the dead today.”
His field goal kept alive any hopes Montana has for adding a fifth Super Bowl ring to the record-tying four he won with the San Francisco 49ers. It also ended the Chiefs’ six-game home losing streak to the Steelers.
Kansas City advanced to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since 1971, and will play next Sunday at Houston, which beat them, 30-0, in the second game of the season. Montana was sidelined at the time.
The Chiefs appeared to be headed home early again when the Steelers took a 24-17 lead with 4:11 to play on quarterback Neil O’Donnell’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Eric Green. O’Donnell completed 23 of 42 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns, but the Steelers managed only 129 yards after halftime.
Montana and Lowery might not have pulled off the comeback if it had not been for Keith Cash, the Chiefs’ backup tight end. When Pittsburgh lined up to punt with 2:29 to play, the Steelers all but ignored Cash and set up their protection to stop cornerback Albert Lewis, the team’s top punt blocker.
Cash made them pay, brushing off a partial block to bat down Mark Royals’ punt at the Steelers’ 40-yard line. Fred Jones scooped the ball up and took off down the right sideline to the Steeler nine, giving Montana a chance to tie the score.
Two Marcus Allen carries netted only two yards, and Montana threw incomplete to Cash, setting up a fourth down at the Steeler seven.
Montana dropped back and looked for J.J. Birden, but passed to a wide-open Tim Barnett in the back of the end zone as the Chiefs tied the score at 24 with 1:43 left in regulation.
“There was nothing there and I was trying to buy some time back there,” Montana said. “I had great protection from the line. I had great protection all day.”
Montana put the Chiefs in position to win by completing four passes for 36 yards on a 47-yard drive to the Steeler 25. But Lowery missed and the game went into overtime.
Playing despite a sore back and ribs after being hit by end Donald Evans, Montana slipped and fell in the backfield on a key fourth down at the Pittsburgh 42 in the second quarter. He regularly overthrew receivers in the first half, and wore gloves for the first time in his career to combat the sub-freezing temperatures.
Montana took the gloves off after the Chiefs’ second possession, having failed to complete a pass with them on.
His first completion--25 yards to Willie Davis--came with 3:45 to play in the first quarter. Evans hit Montana hard as he released the ball, and the quarterback struggled to the sideline with sore ribs.
In came backup Dave Krieg, who completed the only pass he attempted--a 23-yarder to a diving Birden that tied the score at 7-7 with 1:39 to play in the first quarter.
The Chiefs got some help on the drive from cornerback D.J. Johnson, who was ejected for kicking Barnett in the face after a two-yard loss by Allen.
“He just turned around and started kicking me,” Barnett said. “I guess a defensive back doesn’t like it when a wide receiver knocks him down. I played smart and didn’t retaliate.”
He didn’t have to. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Chiefs the ball at the Pittsburgh 42, and the officials ejected Johnson, who gestured to the booing crowd as he was led to the locker room by security guards.
The Chiefs had 401 total yards against a team that had given up only 283.2 per game, best in the AFC. And the Chiefs figure it will be just as tough next week at Houston, which features one of the toughest defenses in the NFL.
“You can’t go down there scared,” Kansas City safety Kevin Ross said. “The Oilers’ game is intimidation. And they’ve got a guy, (defensive coordinator) Buddy Ryan, and he makes you think about intimidation.”
But the way Montana played in the second half Saturday, can anybody stop the Chiefs?
“Joe played hurt today,” Kansas City defensive end Neil Smith said. “You have to take your hat off to a guy any time he gets it done when he’s banged up. And now, our road to the Super Bowl is getting shorter and shorter.”