In 1986 Denver Broncos season was the franchise’s 27th year in professional football and its 17th with the National Football League (NFL)….when they finished the regular season with a record of 11–5….and returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence….where they won the AFC Championship over the Cleveland Browns….only to lose in Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants
The Broncos won their first six games of the season, before being felled by the then-5-1 New York Jets on Monday Night Football. They won two more games to improve to 8–1, tied with the Jets for the best record in the league. Although they would go 3–4 down the stretch, alternating wins and losses, Denver still finished ahead of the Seahawks and Chiefs in first place in the AFC West.. They won their divisional playoff game against the Patriots at home 22–17. They then played the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland for the AFC Championship. The game culminated in the famous “Drive”, where John Elway led a 98-yard drive for a touchdown pass to Mark Jackson to tie the game and send it to overtime, where they won by a field goal, 23–20.
This game is best remembered for The Drive when the Broncos drove 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation….after which Denver kicker Rich Karlis made the game-winning 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime…..in a game where the Browns scored 1st when QB Bernie Kosar threw a 6-yard TD pass to RB Herman Fontenot at the end of an 86-yard drive….but the Broncos then scored 10 unanswered points via Karlis’ 19-yard field goal and RB Gerald Willhite’s 1-yard rushing TD. Cleveland kicker Mark Moseley’s 29-yard field goal before halftime tied the score, 10–10. The teams exchanged punts before Kosar completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brian Brennan with 5:43 remaining in regulation. Elway then led his team from their own 2-yard line to tie the game on WR Mark Jackson’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 37 seconds left in regulation. Karlis’ game-winning field goal in overtime capped a 60-yard drive after the Browns were forced to punt.
The 1986 Cleveland Browns season was the team’s 37th season with the National Football League. The death of Don Rogers….a promising young defensive back who was preparing to enter his third season in the NFL….cast a black cloud over the team as it prepared for the 1986 season. However, Cleveland won their first postseason game since 1969….and for the first time in franchise history….the Browns reached this AFC Championship Game…for it would be the first of 3 AFC Championship games that the Browns would reach in 4 seasons….which were all losses to Denver….as it remains the best post-merger Browns season as of 2017.
The 1986 Browns finished 12–4 to not only win the division again….but also set a franchise record for regular-season victories in the NFL….while in addition securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
In one of the most pulsating games in club history, the Browns edged the New York Jets 23–20 in double-overtime in the divisional playoffs. Then, in maybe the most disappointing contest in team annals….as the Browns lost to the Denver Broncos by that same score in OT in the AFC Championship Game….as Denver QB John Elway orchestrated what has become known as The Drive.
Browns’ QB Bernie Kosar’s career really took off in 1986….as he threw for 3,854 yards and 17 TD’s with just 10 interceptions for an 83.8 quarterback rating….as WR Brian Brennan led the way with 55 receptions and 6 scores….as he was one of 7 Browns to catch 28 or more passes. The backfield combo of FB Kevin Mack and HB Earnest Byner battled injuries for much of the year. That, along with the increased emphasis on passing, caused the rushing numbers to go way down. As a team, the Browns got just 1,650 yards, with Mack rushing for a team-leading 665. He did, however, run for 10 scores….while on the defensive side of the ball CB’s Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield were among the top cornerss in the league….while leading a defense that excelled down the stretch by limiting the last 4 opponents to 17 or fewer points.
Any way you cut the pie….this was a great AFC Championship Game….between two storied franchises with two outstanding quarterbacks in future Hall of Fame Member John Elway at Denver….and Browns QB Bernie Kosar who was one of only 3 quarterbacks in football history to win a National Title (Miami 1983) and a Super Bowl Title (SB XXVIII) with Dallas in 1993….which makes this video well worth watching by any NFL fan.