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NFL PLAYOFFS : Montana’s Magic Makes Oilers Disappear : AFC: Quarterback leads Chiefs with three second-half touchdown passes, 28-20.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a day Joe Montana was to be broken at the hands of the unfeeling Houston Oilers.

But when the fighting stopped, the hands raised triumphantly were his.

The legend was supposed to end, but the legend only grew. Montana rallied the Kansas City Chiefs to 28 second-half points Sunday in defeating the Houston Oilers, 28-20, in the AFC semifinals.

Their 11-game winning streak having disappeared, the Oilers sought comfort in the supernatural.

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“Amazing, just amazing,” safety Bubba McDowell said. “It’s almost like Joe Montana’s got magic. Seriously. How does he do it? I mean, how does he do it?”

How, indeed? That question was left for Montana to savor after he threw three touchdown passes in the final 26 minutes to bring the Chiefs to within one game of their first Super Bowl in 24 years.

“This feels as good as it ever has,” Montana said. “To have a lot of people count you out . . .

“It feels good to be in one piece, still playing, still winning.”

Against Buddy Ryan’s defense with subtle orders to knock him out of the game, what did not seriously injure Montana only made him stronger.

At halftime, the Chiefs trailed, 10-0. Montana had nine completions in 20 attempts, although Willie Davis dropped a sure touchdown pass, one of several drops by the Chiefs.

Montana had ribs so sore they required two pregame painkiller shots. He had a swollen left hand.

Yet Montana:

--Threw his first touchdown pass less than five minutes into the second half--a seven-yard pass to Keith Cash--while being chased by William Fuller.

--Threw his second touchdown pass--an 11-yard toss to J.J. Birden--with six men in his face.

--Threw the go-ahead touchdown pass with 7:44 remaining in the game by purposely throwing the ball behind Davis, who was blanketed by Cris Dishman. Davis leaned backward and caught the ball behind Dishman for an 18-yard score.

--Watched Marcus Allen run 21 yards for the clinching touchdown with 1:55 remaining after completing a 41-yard pass play on a wobbly fly ball to Cash. Wobbly, because Montana threw it while being knocked on his back.

Said Dishman: “I haven’t seen any quarterback throw a pass like him.”

Said Fuller: “He may be the greatest.”

How does he do it? That question must now be pondered by the Buffalo Bills, who will play host to the Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC title game.

Montana threw for two touchdowns earlier this season when the Chiefs defeated the Bills in Kansas City, 23-7. The maligned Chief defense played well in that game, but nothing like it played Sunday.

Taking advantage of injuries to Oiler offensive linemen David Williams and Mike Munchak, the defense held 1,002-yard rusher Gary Brown to 17 yards in 11 carries.

“Guys like Joe who have shown the ability to do it under pressure, they do lift players around them to a different level,” Kansas City Coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

That level was reached on Sunday, according to several Chiefs, during a play late in the second quarter.

The Oilers were driving for a touchdown that would have given them a 17-0 lead when Brown grabbed the facemask of low-key cornerback Albert Lewis as Lewis was driving him out of bounds.

To the surprise of nearly everyone on the Kansas City sideline, Lewis shoved Brown, who then took a swing at him. Lewis swung back, and then several Chiefs and Oilers jumped on the two players, causing a disturbance that resulted, surprisingly, in only offsetting penalties.

One play later, Lewis sacked Moon and caused a fumble that was recovered by the Chiefs’ Jaime Fields, and the half ended with score 10-0.

For the rest of the game, it was the Oilers who were intimidated.

The Chiefs sacked Moon nine times--tying the playoff record--and Montana was sacked twice.

After scoring the first touchdown, Cash spiked the ball into a banner that featured a drawing of Ryan.

By the time the game ended, the Chiefs were screaming back at the crowd of 64,011, the largest to see a football game in the Astrodome.

“The fight by Albert, that gave us the passion we needed,” kicker Nick Lowery said. “From then on, it wasn’t like, ‘How can we stop them?’ It was like, ‘How bad can we kick their butts?’ ”

The Oilers are the only NFL team that has made the playoffs in each of the last seven years, but they have yet to advance as far as a conference championship game.

“I just can’t imagine that we won’t be going onto the practice field this Wednesday to prepare for Buffalo,” receiver Haywood Jeffires said. “It hurts again this year. It hurts a lot.”

Montana was hurting a lot when he started the second half, clutching a left hand that had been smashed during a blitz and wincing with every sudden turn.

“I actually thought he was out of the game at one point,” McDowell said. “But he kept coming back.”

Oiler linebacker Lamar Lathon also thought Montana was on the verge of leaving the game early in the fourth quarter, with the Oilers still leading, 10-7.

As Montana walked off the field during a timeout, Lathon confronted him. “He told me, ‘We’re coming after you,’ ” Montana recalled, smiling. “I told him, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”

Montana was sacked by Lathon on the next play, then threw an interception, and the Oilers took a 13-7 lead minutes later on a 43-yard field goal by Al Del Greco.

But then Montana led the Chiefs to two touchdowns in a period of 54 seconds, with two drives sandwiched around a lost fumble by Moon.

Ryan might still be cursing.

“Joe Montana,” he said, summing up the game. “He just kept getting up.”


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