DENVER, JAN. 17 -- Try to name all the sequels that wind up as good as the original. Perhaps a "Godfather II," maybe even a "Return of the Jedi" or "After the Thin Man."

Now name any sequel that was better. If your list doesn't begin with the Denver Broncos' 38-33 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game today, which put them in Super Bowl XXII Jan. 31 against the Washington Redskins, check again. This was a game for those NFL Films people to make into an epic. And rightly so.

In the end, it was a reserve defensive back named Jeremiah Castille who made the last great play, stripping the football from Cleveland's Earnest Byner and recovering on the Denver 3-yard line with just more than a minute to play. The play came when it appeared the Browns would come back yet again and force the second overtime in two straight AFC championship games between these two teams.

There have been few teams more gallant than Cleveland, which fell behind, 21-3, at the half, then stormed back in the second half for four touchdown drives on the passing of Bernie Kosar (26 of 41, 356 yards, three touchdowns) and the running of Byner and Kevin Mack, who bulled their way over defenders in the second half.

Still, the Broncos' running backs totaled 156 yards against the top defense in the AFC against the run. Sammy Winder ran 20 times for 72 yards, but it was his 20-yard touchdown reception from quarterback John Elway with 4:01 to play that put Denver up, 38-31, and provided the margin of victory.

But Kosar, unstoppable in the second half, drove the Browns from their 25, into the full frenzy of the 75,993 at Mile High Stadium. He threw to Brian Brennan for 14 yards with 2:40 left, then went back to Brennan for 19 more down to the Denver 24. An offside penalty took the ball to the Broncos 19 at the two-minute warning.

"I didn't know how much time we were going to get, because they were eating up a lot of time," said Elway, who figured the Browns would score. "I figured we'd be back in overtime again."

Said Denver wide receiver Mark Jackson: "Ricky {Nattiel, Broncos wide receiver} came up to me when they first got the ball, and he said 'I guess this could be their version of The Drive' {the Broncos' 98-yard drive in last year's AFC title game that forced overtime}. I just never thought that they would do it. But when Brennan caught that one pass, I was like, Ohmygod! What's going on?"

Two plays later, with 1:12 on the clock, the Browns stood second and five from the Denver 8, after another offside penalty. They decided to go with a trap, which had been successful throughout the second half.

It worked again, and Byner tore through the hole, on his feet inside the 5.

"We had an excellent play called there," Kosar said. "We had a first and five at the 7, with plenty of time, and he got down to the 1."

There, he met Castille. Safety Tony Lilly hit Byner, and both fell into the end zone.

"I didn't even realize that he fumbled the ball," Lilly said. "I saw him running down there and I said I'm just going to give him the best shot I can. I don't know if I can keep him out of the end zone.

"And I hit him, and I remember just laying there in the end zone, and I was thinking, he just scored the {tying} touchdown. And I rolled him over to look, and he didn't have the ball."

Castille did, having hit Byner at the 3, knocking the ball from his hands as Byner fell into the end zone with Lilly, then falling on it. Castille had nothing to say after the game, saying only that he would talk after the Super Bowl.

"I was going for the touchdown, obviously," Byner said, "and the ball came out. So what can I say? . . . I tried to split two guys and the ball just popped out."

Although his fumble finally decided the game, there had been so many big plays that no one play could be classified as most important. The Broncos came out blazing, scoring on each of their first three possessions, taking advantage of two Cleveland turnovers.

After an interception by Freddie Gilbert on the third play of the game, Denver drove 18 yards in four plays for its first score, an eight-yard pass from Elway (14 of 26, 281 yards, three touchdowns) to Nattiel. After Lilly forced Mack to fumble, the Broncos scored again, on Steve Sewell's two-yard reverse.

Matt Bahr kicked a 24-yard field goal for the Browns, but Denver scored again, moving 80 yards and ending the drive on Gene Lang's one-yard run. At the half, the score was 21-3, and it looked like an easy day for Denver.

But Elway started the second half the one way he said he didn't want to, throwing a bad pass into coverage that Felix Wright intercepted. It took just three plays for Kosar to put the Browns in the end zone, on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Langhorne.

Denver then responded with what appeared to be a back-breaker. Scrambling, Elway avoided the rush and a fast-closing defensive back and passed to Jackson, who broke Mark Harper's tackle, faked Wright out of position and, with a great block upfield from Sewell, ran 81 yards along the right sideline to give Denver a 28-10 lead with 9:57 left in the thrid quarter.

But Kosar was already in the process of getting hot. "I think once we decided to go for it," Kosar said, "things opened up and I was throwing better. I don't think I had a terrible first half, but the guys really ran well in the second half and were open on a lot of their routes."

Bang. Five plays, 80 yards, with a touchdown pass to Byner from 32 yards out. Denver punted on its next series.

Bang. Four plays, 42 yards, with Mack's four-yard run for the score, closing the deficit to 28-24. Karlis kicked a field goal late in the third quarter to extend the lead to 31-24.

Bang. Nine plays, 86 yards, with Kosar passing to Byner out of the backfield in single coverage for 54 yards to the Denver 27. Six plays later, Kosar found Slaughter on a quick post to tie the score at 31 with 10:48 to play.

Two possessions later, the Broncos began at their 25 with 5:14 to play. The way Kosar and the Browns were moving, Elway said, he knew a field goal might not be enough.

Elway threw to Nattiel for 26 yards, then went back to the same crossing pattern to Nattiel that Denver had used with great success all day against Cleveland's combination defenses. The ball stood at the Browns 20, first and 10.

Elway called a middle screen to Winder, but the Browns blitzed, leaving just one lineman, guard Keith Bishop, as an escort for Winder. Bishop didn't get much of linebacker Clay Matthews, but he bothered him just enough for Winder to make his cut. Winder then broke two tackles (Chris Rockins and Frank Minnifield) for the winning score.

But Kosar and his offense -- and the reticent defensive back -- created the final dramatic moments. And after Byner's fumble, Kosar went to put his arm around him.

"I felt bad for him," Kosar said, "and I told him that that play did not lose this game for us."