Montana helps give Chiefs playoff payoff in OT, 27-24

January 09, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After 22 years, the Kansas City Chiefs finally may have exorcised the ghost of Christmas past.

The Chiefs, who had won only one playoff game since losing to the Miami Dolphins in the 1971 Christmas Day double-overtime playoff classic, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-24, yesterday in an AFC wild-card overtime thriller before 74,515 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Interestingly, 27-24 was the score by which the Dolphins beat the Chiefs in 1971.

Nick Lowery won it for the Chiefs yesterday with a 32-yard field goal, atoning for a miss from 43 yards with seven seconds remaining in regulation.

Lacking a marquee quarterback, Kansas City acquired Joe Montana from the San Francisco 49ers in the off-season, and the move paid off. Montana rallied a team from a fourth-quarter deficit for the 28th time in his storied career, and the Chiefs overcame deficits of 17-7 at halftime and 24-17 with three minutes left.

Keith Cash, a Washington Redskins castoff, turned the game around by blocking a punt. Cash's block set up Montana's signature play -- a 7-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Tim Barnett in the back of the end zone with 1:43 left in regulation time -- that tied it 24-24.

There was still a lot of drama left, however, as Lowery was wide-right near the end of regulation, before kicking the game-winner with 3:57 remaining in the first overtime.

Lowery's fourth-quarter miss gave Montana, 15-5 as a playoff starter and 28 of 43 for 276 yards yesterday, the chance to engineer his first overtime playoff win.

The Chiefs advanced to play next Sunday at the Houston Oilers, who crushed Kansas City, 30-0, in the second game of the season when Montana was sidelined with an injury.

There has been much discussion about boring, low-scoring NFL games this season, but this one was a classic. It was well-played, too, as neither team committed a turnover.

It also was an emotional victory for Kansas City coach Marty Schottenheimer, who is 4-8 in the playoffs with the Cleveland Browns and Chiefs.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason there's nothing wrong with NFL football," Schottenheimer said.

Said Lowery: "This has got to be at the top [of all his field goals] because this is the best team I ever played one. It's the classiest team I ever played on."

Winning a playoff game in overtime has special significance for the Chiefs because the team, which played in two of the first four Super Bowls, went downhill after that Christmas Day loss to Dolphins at old Municipal Stadium.

The next year they moved into Arrowhead Stadium and had had only one playoff victory -- 10-6 over the Raiders in 1991 -- to savor.

"It's for the fans of Kansas City, who've always believed in us," Lowery said. "I think the fans and the team have come of age this season."

The Steelers, eight-point underdogs, also were proud of their effort.

"I told my football team I have never been more proud of a bunch of guys that truly believed they could come in here and win, who went out there and fought to the very end," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said.

The Chiefs started slowly. Montana, wearing gloves in the 25-degree weather, missed his first five passes. Even after taking them off, he missed two more passes, then on his first completion, he got knocked out for a series with bruised ribs.

Dave Krieg came in and on his first play, Pittsburgh's D. J. Johnson was ejected for kicking Barnett in the face. He was upset that Barnett had blocked down on his legs.

"That's my job, to get him on the ground [on a running play]," Barnett said. "When you 'cut' defensive backs, they don't like it and sometimes they retaliate. When I saw the second flag thrown, I looked at him and said, 'You're out of here.' That made me feel better than retaliating or doing something to get myself thrown out of the game."

The penalty moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 42, and three plays later Krieg threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to J. J. Birden, who made a diving catch, to tie the game 7-7.

Montana returned, but the Steelers took a 17-7 halftime lead on Gary Anderson's 30-yard field goal and a Neil O'Donnell's 26-yard touchdown pass to Ernie Mills.

That was set up when both teams went for it on fourth down and failed in the last two minutes. O'Donnell threw incomplete to Mills on fourth-and-seven at the Chiefs' 35. The Chiefs failed to capitalize when Montana tripped over Marcus Allen's foot on a bootleg attempt on fourth-and-one from the Steelers' 42.

Montana, though, was hardly worried about the slow start.

"One of the things I've found is if you start off slowly and the other team doesn't put you away early, usually the tide is going to change," he said.

It changed in the second half when Lowery kicked a 23-yard field goal and Montana directed an 80-yard touchdown drive climaxed by Allen's 2-yard run to tie it 17-17.

The Steelers came back with a 74-yard touchdown drive as O'Donnell hit Eric Green with a 22-yard touchdown pass.

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