ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Last time the Broncos traveled to Cincinnati for a regular-season contest, the game ended with one of the most exciting plays in franchise history.
The Bengals took a 7-6 lead with just 38 seconds remaining on the clock and it seemed like Denver was headed to an 0-1 start to the 2009 season.
Backed up at his own 13-yard line, Kyle Orton’s first pass was incomplete, leaving 28 seconds to play.
That’s when wide receiver
Orton stepped up in the pocket and lofted a pass down the field intended for Brandon Marshall, who was covered by three Bengals defenders.
Cornerback Leon Hall jumped up and got a hand on the pass. The other two Cincinnati defenders collided with Marshall, taking all three out of the play. Hall ended up on the ground after his leaping deflection, leaving Stokley as the only remaining player in the vicinity of the ball.
The ball dropped right into his waiting arms and the rest was history.
“I just remember seeing the ball up in the air,” Stokley recalled. “And then just kind of being in disbelief that once I caught it, that nobody was there to tackle me that late in the game. Then after that, it was pretty much a blur. Just kind of ‘Please don’t get caught’ type of thinking.”
When Stokley made the catch, there were still 22 seconds on the clock. Dhani Jones was the only Bengal that had a chance at catching Stokley, but the receiver easily separated from the linebacker.
Instead of scoring right away, Stokley recognized that there was still time left on the clock and with no defenders near him, ran parallel to the goal line to let precious seconds continue to tick.
“I just kind of saw that nobody was behind me chasing me,” Stokley said. “I saw a guy kind of give up on it, so I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left, so I thought why not try to run some time off. And then the next day I started having nightmares about it, like ‘What if I would have got caught, or what if I would have fumbled, somebody would have hit me.’ So I think next time I’ll probably just get in the end zone.”
The 87-yard touchdown marked the longest game-winning touchdown from scrimmage in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history.
“We were trying to answer it,” Caldwell said. "We had a little trick play, but it obviously didn’t work. We were trying to answer, but they did a good job stopping us.”
Caldwell caught a game-high six passes that day, but couldn’t come down with a seventh as Carson Palmer’s final desperation heave was intercepted by the Broncos, ending the game.
“It was very disappointing,” Caldwell recalled. “I was very shocked about the play, didn’t expect that to happen. We felt we had a win on the sideline, so he just took the air out of the whole team. We were like, ‘Dang, what do we have to do to win?’”
The Broncos have turned in some memorable come-from-behind victories in recent years, but none seemed as unlikely as that one.
“That was a pretty cool play," Stokley said. "To open the season like that was pretty special.”