Broncos Classic: 1998 AFC Championship – N.Y. Jets @ Denver

Howard Griffith scores a touchdown during the 1998 AFC Championship Game. (Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger)

On January 17th, 1999, The New York Jets visited Mile High Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl XXXIII on the line. Pretty much everyone believed this would be John Elway’s final appearance at Mile High before he rode off into the Rocky Mountain sunset; an assumption that would prove to be true several months later. So on top of the chance to go to our second straight Super Bowl and defend our crown, this game had all-time historical significance to everyone in Broncos Country. There was simply no way Elway could lose his final game.

The Bill Parcell’s led Jets came into Denver as the #2 seed in the AFC after a 12-4 regular season record and an AFC East divisional championship. They defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-24 in the Divisional Playoffs and had won 7 games in a row overall. The Denver Broncos were the top seed in the AFC due to their franchise best 14-2 record, and they had utterly destroyed the Miami Dolphins in the divisional playoffs a week earlier by a score of 38-3. This was the 7th AFC championship game for the Broncos, and the 4th played at Mile High Stadium.

The first half would turn out to be a sloppy and low scoring affair as both teams had to battle the blustery weather conditions. The Jets received the opening kickoff and Vinny Testaverde promptly marched the offense down the field. John Hall attempted a 42-yard field goal after the drive stalled out, but he pushed the kick right and Denver got the first break of the day.

After a quick Broncos punt, the Jets once again moved the ball into Denver territory. But they committed their first turnover of the game when Curtis Martin fumbled the ball away to Tyrone Braxton. Terrell Davis immediately broke a big run and it looked like the Denver offense was going to get it going. They drove all the way down to the Jets 1-yard line during a nice drive that included a 4th-down conversion on a scramble by Elway, but they turned it over on downs from there and the first quarter would end in a scoreless tie.

The Jets would punt it right back, but after the ensuing Broncos drive stalled out, Tom Rouen muffed a snap while attempting a punt and the Jets got the ball with great field position. However, they continued making big mistakes as Keith Byars fumbled it away deep in Denver territory. After several more punts, John Hall kicked a 32-yard field goal right before halftime, and the Jets took a 3-0 lead to the locker room.

The second half started with quick punts by each team. Denver began their next drive inside their own 5-yard line, but they couldn’t get a first down and had to punt from their own endzone. This is when disaster struck. Tom Rouen’s punt was blocked by Blake Spence and the Jets recovered the ball on the Denver 1-yard line. Curtis Martin immediately got into the endzone and the Jet’s took a 10-0 lead in front of a stunned Mile High crowd.

On the very next offensive snap, Elway woke up and completed a 48-yard bomb to a wide open Ed McCaffrey. 2 plays later Elway threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Howard Griffith, and in the blink of an eye, the Broncos and the crowd were back!

Another strange Mile High moment occurred on the ensuing Elam kickoff. The ball got caught up in the wind and landed about 20 yards short of the return man. After a mad scramble the Broncos’ Keith Burns emerged from the pile with the football. It was essentially a really long onside kick, and the Broncos were back in business. A few plays later, Elam booted a 44-yard field goal that tied the score at 10.

The Jets punted the ball right back to the Broncos and Denver had all the momentum in the world. They drove back into New York territory and Elam kicked a booming 48-yard field goal to end the drive and give the Broncos their first lead of the game at 13-10. The Jets took possession and promptly went 3 and out. Denver took over and drove the field with ease once again. On 2nd-down and 6 with 26 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, Terrell Davis took an Elway handoff and scored a 31-yard rushing touchdown on the play of the game. The crowd went ballistic as Denver took a 20-10 lead. In a sudden turn of events, the Broncos scored 20 straight points and broke the will of the New York Jets.

The only scoring in the 4th quarter would be a 35-yard Jason Elam field goal that would make the final score 23-10. The Jets turned the ball over 6 times on the day and 3 times in the final quarter. 4 of the turnovers were fumbles and 2 were Darrien Gordon interceptions of Testaverde. The fourth quarter was a complete celebration of Elway and the Broncos by the fans, and the party continued well after the game during the presentation of the AFC Championship Trophy.

Terrell Davis finished the game with 167-yards rushing (a 5.2 yard average) and 1 touchdown. Elway threw for 173 yards and a score, and Elam had a great game in the wind by registering 11 total points.

Immediately after the game, Elway went on a victory lap around the stadium with his arms held high as the crowd went crazy.  This was truly an unforgettable moment at Mile High! The Broncos became the 1st AFC team to play in 6 Super Bowls, and Elway became the 1st quarterback to start in 5 Super Bowls (He is still the only quarterback with this distinction in NFL history). The Broncos would win their 2nd Super Bowl in a row 2 weeks later, and in his final game in the NFL, Elway would win the Super Bowl MVP award.

See the third quarter Terrell Davis touchdown that broke the game open here.

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