MIAMI, JAN. 5 -- There were 56 seconds to play and a 52-yard field goal to be made.
Nick Lowery, the man almost everyone would pick to kick it, was on the field waiting for the snap. If the kick succeeded, the Kansas City Chiefs would regain the advantage after blowing a big fourth-quarter lead in today's AFC wild-card game. If the kick failed, the Miami Dolphins would have capped a glorious comeback to win the game.
For the first time in 2 1/2 months, Lowery missed. After 24 consecutive field goals, Lowery watched as a kick he thought "was good enough to go in" dropped a foot or two short of the crossbar.
It was not good, and Miami, behind by 13 points in the fourth quarter, won 17-16.
Even though Lowery, the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, made three today (27, 25 and 38 yards), he was upstaged -- and outkicked -- by Miami's Pete Stoyanovich, who was selected to the all-pro second team. Lowery made the first team.
On the first play of the second quarter, Stoyanovich kicked a 58-yard field goal, the longest in playoff history. For quite a while, it looked as if that would be the bright spot for the Dolphins, who were behind 16-3 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining in the game.
But quarterback Dan Marino didn't throw an incompletion in the fourth quarter, went nine for nine on Miami's last two touchdown drives, and the Dolphins -- not the Chiefs -- advanced before 67,276 at Joe Robbie Stadium to next weekend's AFC semifinals.
"I'd rather not have to win that way," said Marino, who threw a one-yard scoring pass to Tony Paige with 12:18 left and a 12-yarder to Mark Clayton with 3:28 to play to bring the Dolphins back. "I'd rather have been up 13. But we showed a lot of guts by not quitting."
The Dolphins, who were considered suspect despite having a fine season, defied their critics with their comeback and moved to 13-4 with a game at either the Los Angeles Raiders or Buffalo Bills next weekend.
"Coming from behind against a team that good builds tremendous confidence for a team like ours that is really just feeling its way," said Coach Don Shula, in the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
The Chiefs, who controlled the first three quarters with quarterback Steve DeBerg's excellent play-action fakes -- despite a cast on his broken left pinkie -- ended their season with an 11-6 record. DeBerg, the perennial backup rejuvenated at age 36, threw for 269 yards by completing 17 of 30 passes.
This game was the first playoff meeting between these teams since the famous overtime game on Christmas Day 1971. The Dolphins won that one, too, on a field goal by Garo Yepremian after Kansas City's Jan Stenerud missed a potential game-winner.
Though it seems field goals are the story of this rivalry, there were other items to consider. If not for a holding penalty on rookie guard David Szott, on their final drive, the Chiefs would have had a first down at the Miami 15. They started the possession at their 22 with 3:28 left and moved down the field with ease. But when Christian Okoye's 12-yard gain to the 15 at the two-minute warning was wiped out, the Chiefs were pushed back to the 37. They managed just three yards on three plays before Lowery's low kick missed as the clock ran down to 49 seconds.
"He flat tackled me," said Dolphins defensive end Brian Sochia of Szott. "I looked over and saw the flag and said the official had done his job."
The Chiefs built their lead on Lowery's first field goal -- 27 yards -- after a rare block of a Reggie Roby punt early in the game, then a 26-yard touchdown catch by Stephone Paige with 1:54 left in the first half.
In between was Stoyanovich's record kick.
The flags on the goal posts stood still as the second-year player from Indiana lined up for the 58-yarder. He had kicked a 59-yard field goal last regular season, but no one in the NFL had ever kicked one this long in the playoffs. Detroit's Eddie Murray set the record of 54 yards in a 1983 game against San Francisco.
The snap was low, but former Virginia quarterback Scott Secules handled it and set it down for Stoyanovich. The kicker booted the ball high and far, and it dropped well beyond the crossbar as the Dolphin bench -- even Shula -- erupted in joy.
"How far did I get off the ground?" Shula asked later, laughing.
"Right away, I knew it was good," said Stoyanovich. "The wind was at my back, I was not feeling any pressure and I hit it well."
With the score 3-3, Stoyanovich had another opportunity from 57 yards, but it was a line drive that didn't quite make it. After that miss, the Chiefs drove to their only touchdown.
Lowery's two other field goals stretched the margin to 13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins finally showed signs of life when Marino threw sidearm to Paige, from DeMatha High, for the one-yard touchdown early in the final quarter.
Running back Sammie Smith, who gained 82 yards on 20 carries despite playing with bruised ribs, saved the Dolphins from defeat with one heroic second effort in that drive. He took a pitchout and, with a lunge after being hit, stretched for a first down on fourth and two at the Kansas City 45. Five plays later, Paige scored.
The Chiefs reached the Miami 41 on their next possession, but punted, eschewing another Lowery field goal attempt. The Dolphins again moved down the field, scoring when Clayton grabbed a perfect spiral from Marino as cornerback Albert Lewis tried for the interception along the sideline.