In typical Los Angeles Raider style, the winning touchdown pass against Cincinnati was caught by a player who's been released twice.
And it was thrown by a quarterback probably known more in the past for his erratic play than excellence.Ethan Horton made a juggling catch of a pass from Jay Schroeder around the Cincinnati 15-yard line and then scored untouched to complete a 41-yard play with 8:52 remaining Sunday as the Raiders beat the Bengals 20-10.
The TD snapped a 10-10 tie and Jeff Jaeger's 25-yard field goal with 19 seconds left provided insurance in the Raiders' first playoff victory since Jan. 22, 1984, when they beat Washington 38-9 in the Super Bowl at Tampa, Fla.
Now, the Raiders are one win away from returning to Tampa, but that one win doesn't figure to come easy - they've got to beat Buffalo at Rich Stadium to qualify for the Super Bowl on Jan. 27.
Nine teams, including the Raiders, have tried to beat the Bills on their turf this season, and nine have failed, the latest being Miami, which lost 44-34 Saturday.
In fact, the Bills are 24-2 at home since the beginning of the 1988 season.
Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason, for one, seems to believe the Bills will make it 10-0 and 25-2 in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday.
"They're really going to have their hands full," Esiason said of the Raiders. "The Buffalo Bills are everything they're advertised to be. In my mind, the Buffalo Bills are the team to beat."
For a while in the fourth quarter Sunday, it appeared the team for the Bills to beat might just be the underdog Bengals, not the Raiders.
Esiason threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Stanford Jennings with 11:49 remaining to cap a 71-yard, 13-play drive and tie the game 10-10 and quiet the Los Angeles Coliseum crowd of 92,045 - largest in Raiders history and largest in the NFL this season.
Four plays later, the Raiders faced a third-and-20 play from their own 22-yard line. However, Schroeder hit Tim Brown near the right sideline around the Los Angeles 35 and Brown broke a tackle before finally being brought down at the Raiders' 48.
It was a 26-yard gain and a Los Angeles first down. Schroeder's touchdown pass to Horton came three plays after that and, as it turned out, the Raiders were home free.
"They caught us in man-to-man coverage and it was a perfect throw," Bengals coach Sam Wyche said of the pass to Horton. "We made them make a perfect throw, and that's why championships ought to go to teams that make those plays."
The Raiders had to struggle despite gaining 389 yards in total offense to only 182 for the Bengals, who were missing perennial All-Pro left tackle Anthony Munoz and left guard Bruce Reimers and got minimal play out of James Brooks, their best running back who dislocated his left thumb last weekend.
In addition, Brooks and Esiason, who completed 8 of 15 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, both played with the flu."We played an excellent game in the sense that we didn't give up, we persevered even though we didn't take advantage of all our chances," Raiders coach Art Shell said. "We were determined that we were not going to be denied.
"They've said all year that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Buffalo. We're just happy to be taking that path."
Horton led all receivers in the game with four catches for 77 yards. It was the continuation of quite a success story - he was a first-round draft choice of Kansas City as a running back in 1985, but released by the Chiefs in the summer of 1986.
He played for the Raiders in 1987, was released by them in the summer of 1988, and signed by them again in May of 1989.
As a reserve tight end in 1989, Horton caught four passes. He took over as the starting tight end early this season when Mike Dyal suffered a hamstring injury and caught 33 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns.
Schroeder, meanwhile, was a second-stringer when the 1989 season ended, benched in favor of Steve Beuerlein. But Schroeder has thrown all but two of the passes attempted by the Raiders this season. He was 11-of-21 for 172 yards and two touchdowns and one interception against the Bengals.
Two other Raider standouts Sunday were Marcus Allen, who rushed for 140 yards on 21 carries, and Greg Townsend, who sacked Esiason three times.
Allen played more than usual because Bo Jackson, who gained 77 yards on just six carries, was injured when he was tackled by Kevin Walker at the end of a 34-yard gain on the second play of the third quarter.
Jackson said afterwards that he had suffered a hip pointer and expected to play at Buffalo, where the Raiders blew a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter in losing 38-24 to the Bills on Oct. 7.
Allen gained 79 yards on 10 carries after Jackson went out.
"Whenever we need something done around here, it always comes down to Marcus Allen," Brown said.
"Bo and I always knew that if one of us got hurt, the other would have to pick up the slack," Allen said. "Today it was my turn."
The Bengals took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Jim Breech.
The Raiders responded by moving 80 yards in eight plays, with Schroeder capping the drive by throwing a 13-yard scoring pass to Mervyn Fernandez. They took a 10-3 lead on a 49-yard field goal by Jaeger in the third quarter.
Now, it's on to Buffalo.
"It's going to be a chilling experience," Brown said. "I guess you could say we owe them one."