American Football Database

The NFL playoffs following the 1986 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XXI.

Playoff seeds
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: As per the rules of the NFL playoffs prior to the 1990 season (notwithstanding the strike-shortened 1982 season), 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.


*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.
Divisional Playoffs
    January 4 - Mile High Stadium        
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship
 3  New England  17
December 28 - Giants Stadium     January 11 - Cleveland Stadium
 2  Denver  22  
 5  Kansas City  15  2  Denver (OT)  23
January 3 - Cleveland Stadium
 4  N.Y. Jets  35      1  Cleveland  20   Super Bowl XXI
 4  N.Y. Jets  20
    January 25 - Rose Bowl
 1  Cleveland (2OT)  23  
 A2  Denver  20
January 3 - Soldier Field
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship    N1  N.Y. Giants  39
 4  Washington  27
December 28 - RFK Stadium     January 11 - Giants Stadium
 2*  Chicago  13  
 5  L.A. Rams  7  4  Washington  0
January 4 - Giants Stadium
 4  Washington  19      1  N.Y. Giants  17  
 3  San Francisco  3
 1*  N.Y. Giants  49  

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Wild Card playoffs

December 28, 1986

AFC: New York Jets 35, Kansas City Chiefs 15

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Chiefs 6 0 0 9


Jets 7 14 7 7


at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

After Week Eleven in the 1986 NFL season, the Jets possessed the NFL best 10-1 record. After a strangely difficult 31-16 home win against the then winless 0-10 Indianapolis Colts, the NY Jets proceeded to lose five straight blow out games, bookended with a 45-3 thumping by the then 5-6 Miami Dolphins on ABC Monday Night Football and a 52-21 loss by the then 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals. During this five game losing streak, the Jets were outscored by their opponents by aggregate point total of 183 to 61. To make the playoffs the Bengals needed a loss by the NE Patriots in Week Sixteen on ABC Monday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins in the final professional football game at the Miami Orange Bowl. Conversely, the hottest AFC team at the end of the season was the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks finished the season with an AFC best five game winning streak, but were left out of the playoffs because of a disastrous three game skid where the Seahawks were defeated by eventual playoff participants NY Jets 38-7, Kansas City Chiefs 34-7 and the fell short Cincinnati Bengals 34-7.

The last two weeks of the 1986 season was among the most dramatic in determining the participants in the AFC playoffs.

Quarterback Pat Ryan led the Jets to a facile victory with three touchdown passes. The Chiefs scored first on a 67-yard drive capped by running back Jeff Smith, 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 handoff and rushed for a 24 yard gain. Two plays later, running back Freeman McNeil scored on a 4-yard rushing touchdown. In the second period, Ryan completed two touchdown pass: a 1-yarder to McNeil and an 11-yarder to wide receiver Al Toon. On the first play of the second half, Jets linebacker Kevin McArthur returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown. Ryan later clinched the victory in the fourth period with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Billy Griggs. The Chiefs' only scores in the second half was a blocked punt recovery in the end zone, and an intentional safety by the Jets in punt formation.

McNeil finished the game with 135 rushing yards, three receptions for 16 yards, and two touchdowns.

NFC: Washington Redskins 19, Los Angeles Rams 7

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Rams 0 0 0 7


Redskins 10 3 3 3


at RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

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, after quarterback Jay Schroeder threw a 14-yard touchdown to running back Kelvin Bryant. In the second period, Rams tight end David Hill's fumble set up Atkinson's 20-yard field goal. Atkinson made two more field in the second half. The Rams' lone score of the game was quarterback Jim Everett's 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin House during the final period set up by a long run by Eric Dickerson. It seemed that Dickerson was headed for the endzone but he was caught from behind by Redskin's CB Darrell Green.

In a final ode to a dominant Redskin afternoon, Darrell Green made a mind-boggling, open-field, caught-from-behind tackle of a full-throttled Eric Dickerson en route to a touchdown. Green dropped Dickerson at the 20-yard line and the "National Defense" ultimately pushed the Rams back out of even a field goal opportunity.

Divisional playoffs

January 3, 1987

AFC: Cleveland Browns 23, New York Jets 20 (2OT)

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Jets 7 3 3 7


Browns 7 3 0 10


at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

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.

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 former California Golden Bears 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. Mosely 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 threw another interception, this time to 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 of the Jets 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.

In the first overtime period, Cleveland had a great chance to win after a drive landed them at the Jets 5-yard line. They attempted a field goal on first down, but Moseley missed the 23-yard attempt. In the second overtime period, Moseley got another chance at the Jets 9-yard line, again on a first down, and this time his kick was good to win the game.

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 game was featured as one of the NFL's Greatest Games as the Marathon by the Lake.

NFC: Washington Redskins 27, Chicago Bears 13

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Redskins 7 0 7 13


Bears 0 13 0 0


at Soldier Field, Chicago

The Redskins converted two turnovers into two touchdowns in the second half to overcome the defending champion Bears' 13-7 halftime lead. Washington scored first after quarterback Jay Schroeder threw a 28-yard touchdown to wide receiver Art Monk. Chicago countered in the second quarter with wide receiver Willie Gault's 50-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Doug Flutie. Bears kicker Kevin Butler then made two field goals before halftime. However, the Redskins took the lead in the third period after a Flutie interception set up an Art Monk 23-yard touchdown reception. Chicago then advanced to the Washington 17-yard line, but running back Walter Payton lost a fumble to the Redskins, who then marched 83 yards for a touchdown on a George Rogers 1-yard rush. Washington place kicker Jess Atkinson made two field goals in the final period to close out the scoring.

January 4, 1987

NFC: New York Giants 49, San Francisco 49ers 3

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
49ers 3 0 0 0


Giants 7 21 21 0


at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

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 and a field goal. 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.) The Giants recovered the football for a touchback. New York then drove 80 yards to score on Simms' 24-yard touchdown to tight end Mark Bavaro. Simms would throw three more touchdowns: a 15-yarder to wide receiver Bobby Johnson, a 28-yarder to wide receiver Phil McConkey, and a 29-yarder to tight end Zeke Mowatt. Running back Joe Morris rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns: a 45-yarder and a 2-yarder. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor also scored a touchdown on a 34-yard interception return. During that same play, Montana was knocked out of the game with a concussion after a very hard hit by Giant nose tackle Jim Burt. 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

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Patriots 0 10 7 0


Broncos 3 7 10 2


at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado

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. Denver jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter after kicker Rich Karlis connected a 27-yard field goal. In the second quarter, the Patriots took the lead when quarterback Tony 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. After both teams exchanged field goals, Eason completed 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. Denver defensive lineman Rulon Jones then sacked Eason for a safety in the final period to close out the scoring and to beat the point spread of -4.5 points.

Conference championships

January 11, 1987

AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 23, Cleveland Browns 20 (OT)

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Broncos 0 10 3 7


Browns 7 3 0 10


at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

This game is best remembered for The Drive in Cleveland and Denver sports lore when the Broncos drove 98 yards 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 Rickey 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's 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, Denever 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 break the tie with 2:50 left in the third quarter.

Cleveland responded with a field goal of their own, a 24-yarder from Mosely to tie the game 13-13. Then after a punt, Kosar completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brian Brennan, making the score 20-13 with 5:43 remaining 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.

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.

Additional heart breaking Cleveland Sports lore: 1954: "The Catch", 1981: "Red Right 88", 1987 "The Drive"; 1988 "The Fumble"; 1989 "The Shot"; 1993 "The Shot II"; 1995 "Art Modell moves the Browns to Baltimore as a NFL expansion team"; 1997 "Jose Mesa in Game 7 of the World Series"; 1999 "the Indians blow a two games to none lead against the Boston Red Sox in a five game playoff series"; 2007 "the Indians blow a three games to one series lead against the Boston Red Sox"; 2009 "Orlando Magic"; 2010 "The Decision".

This game was later featured on NFL's Greatest Games.

NFC Championship: New York Giants 17, Washington Redskins 0

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Redskins 0 0 0 0


Giants 10 7 0 0


at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

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 later, the Giants scored on Raul Allegre's 47-yard field goal. 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 score on quarterback Phil Simms' 11-yard touchdown to Lionel Manuel. Giants running back Joe Morris closed out the scoring in the second quarter after finishing off a 51-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown.

Super Bowl

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Broncos (AFC) 10 0 0 10


Giants (NFC) 7 2 17 13


at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

  • Date: January 25, 1987
  • Game attendance: 101,063
  • Referee: Jerry Markbreit
  • TV announcers (CBS): Pat Summerall and John Madden


AFC East Central West East Central West NFC
Buffalo Cincinnati Denver Dallas Chicago Atlanta
Indianapolis Cleveland Kansas City NY Giants Detroit LA Rams
Miami Houston LA Raiders Philadelphia Green Bay New Orleans
New England Pittsburgh San Diego St. Louis Minnesota San Francisco
NY Jets Seattle Washington Tampa Bay
1986 NFL DraftNFL PlayoffsPro BowlSuper Bowl XXI

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