Over the next month before my 2nd decade as a football fan begins (2012-2021 here I come), I will be remembering the playoffs from 2002-2011. NFL Playoff Football, to me, is the best package of sports you will find. The NHL Playoffs comes close but it drags at time, plus the one-game format is inherently more special than a 7-game series. I will be ranking all 40 Wild-Card Round games, 40 Divisional Games, 20 Conference Title Games and 10 Super Bowls. This isn’t really an exercise in ranking them, but in looking back. For each, I’ll give a quick paragraph review and some interesting, fact or play that I remember about that game.
Let's get to Part 2 of the Wild Card Games, Tiers IV-VII (The Good Games through the Epics)
Tier IV – The Good Games (no need for fancy titles now)
Let's get to Part 2 of the Wild Card Games, Tiers IV-VII (The Good Games through the Epics)
Tier IV – The Good Games (no need for fancy titles now)
Review: In a total reversal of what was expected, the Eagles had 100 more yards net of passing (Vick threw for 292 to Rodgers 180) but the Packers and their maligned run game outrushed the Eagles by 57. On the day, Rodgers had one of the quiter good statistical games you will see (18-27 for 180 and 3 tds with no picks and a fumble), but the Eagles could have still easily won if Nick Collins doesn’t make a game-saving tackle on DeSean Jackson, or if Michael Vick doesn’t throw a desperation heave to Riley Cooper of all people with time left, or if David Akers doesn’t miss two relatively normal field goals. In a game where the Packers never trailed and led 14-3, they were really pushed more than in any other game in their run.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was one of the rare games where the losing team had more yards and fewer turnovers. As is normal, Special Teams is generally the reason, and here it was with Akers. The Eagles are one out of just two to achieve such infamy at home, as the other is a little team I like to call to 2005 Colts.
Review: In what will unthinkably be marked down as Peyton Manning’s last played game as a Colt, the Colts became just the 2nd team in NFL history to lose a playoff game where they scored to take the lead with less than a minute remaining. Somehow, despite airmailing throws all night, Mark Sanchez was able to pull it off, aided with a nice KO return by Antonio Cromartie, and of course that spectacular Jim Caldwell timeout for no reason. It should not be forgotten that LT had a really nice playoff game for once, and Adam Vinatieri was Adam Vinatieri, hitting what should have been the game winning kick from 50 yards.
Interesting/Memorable Play: Manning’s last throw as a Colt (again, can’t believe that that is the case) was an incomplete to Blair White, where Manning threw just low (if it was a better receiver, it probably gets caught). Had Manning completed it, the Colts could have run out the clock before the field goal.
Interesting/Memorable Play 2: Oh yeah, who was the guy on the kick coverage team that didn’t stay in his lane and cut down Cromartie earlier you ask? Why, it was bust extraordinaire Jerry Hughes.
Review: In what was a really fun game, a drop by Bobby Engram in the end zone kept this out of overtime (and probably a ranking in the top-10). Hasselbeck and Bulger both threw for over 300 yards (Bulger on only 18-32 passing). The game was memorable as it was the last moment of glory for the St. Louis Rams Greatest Show on Turf era. Torry Holt and Kevin Curtis each had 100 yard days, as did Darrell Jackson (who of course, had a pass bounce off of his hands for a pick) while Itula Mili came up two yards short. As usual Shaun Alexander did nothing, but in the end, two average at best teams combined for a darn exciting game.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: This is the only playoff game in NFL History where both teams were outscored for the season. The Seahawks were just a -2, but the Rams were a -73. Yes, that is how bad the NFC was in those days, that an 8-8 team outscored by -73 points was not only in the playoffs, but wasn’t even the 6th seed. The Rams also became the first 8-8 team to win a playoff game.
Review: In what was an interesting game played by a Jeff Garcia led Eagles team and a Giants team that tried very hard to not make the playoffs, David Akers hit a last second field goal to win the game. A game that is oddly forgotten over time given how close it was and the fact that it was between two big market teams, it featured Plaxico Burress catching two TDs, Brian Westbrook running for 141 yards on just 20 carries, and somehow just one combined turnover, which is odd given the fact that Eli Manning and rain were prominently involved (man, that was a very Simmons-esque joke). Overall, it was a nice way to cap what was the first weekend of an epic postseason.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: The game marked a lot of lasts: It was Tiki Barber’s last game. It was also Donovan McNabb’s last home playoff game, and Andy Reid’s last home playoff win. This was also the most recent wild-card game decided by exactly 3 points.
Review: This game was overshadowed by what happened right after that day, but Kurt Warner’s first playoff game in Arizona did not disappoint. Somehow, despite outgaining the Falcons by 100 and committing two fewer turnovers, the game was in doubt late, which made it all the more exciting. Larry Fitzgerald started his epic postseason with a leaping TD grab, while Anquan Boldin injured himself during a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Antrel Rolle also returned a fumble for a TD. The game also featured a safety and the Cardinals being ballsy enough to throw for a game-clinching 1st down up just 6 on 3rd and 9. Basically, everything you want from a solid, if unspectacular game.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: The game would be known for the Falcons allegedly having just one snap count for the entire game. This was used, I guess, to help comfort rookie Matt Ryan, but it led to the Cardinalsgetting epic pressure, which directly resulted in the fumble that was returned for the TD and the safety.
Review: In the only chapter of an underrated playoff trilogy that the Titans won, the two teams battled it out gladiator style in a defensive game in the Cathedral of defense. The Titans held 2,000 yard rusher Jamal Lewis to 35 yards on 14 carries (somehow, Billick felt it pertinent to let Anthony Wright throw 39 times instead of running Lewis more), while Ed Reed and Will Demps picked off Steve McNair, who like McNair does, was playing with a broken thumb. Ancient kicker Gary Anderson won the game with a 46 yard field goal with a minute left, which was a great capper to a hard-hitting night.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: Since I couldn’t think of anything better and because it started with this game, Ed Reed has played three home playoff games (with this being the first) and has at least one interception in all three of them.
Tier V – The Very Good Games
Review: In a rainstorm (who says, San Diego is always sunny?), Drew Brees, who threw for 319 yards on 31-42 passing, led a comeback from 17-7 down in the 2nd half to send the game to OT after a clutch TD catch by Gates. Pennington, who despite his lack of arm had thrown a perfect rainbow TD to Santana Moss for 47 yards, was allowed to keep his OT drive going, while Marty told Brees to shut it down. Nate Kaeding, as Nate Kaeding is known to do, missed to 40+ yarder, and Doug Brien hit his 28 yarder. Overall, it was a slog of a game that was, in a word, wild. Of course, Herman Edwards didn’t learn the one lesson he needed to take away from this game.
Interesting/Memorable Play: The game only went to OT because ex-Raider Eric Barton roughed Drew Brees on what was a 4th down incompletion on the drive that ended with the TD to make it 17-17. The Jets should have taken over the ball and won 17-10, but you can take the Barton out of Oakland, you can’t take the Oakland out of the Barton.
Review: The Colts joined themselves from 2005, and five others on the list of teams that outgained their opponent and committed fewer turnovers yet lost. And all because Gijon Robinson forgot the snap count and Mike Scifres became BatMan for one night. Scifres pinned the Colts inside the 10 four times, including with the Colts up 17-14 looking to ice it, at the one yard line. After running for eight, the Colts, on 3rd and 2, called a pass looking to ice it, but Gijon Robinson forgot the snap count letting a free rusher to sack Manning. The game was also memorable for a play where while Antonio Cromartie and one other Charger d-back were looking at the sideline waiting for instructions, Manning snapped the ball and fired a 72 yard TD to Reggie Wayne he ran by the idle Cromartie. If I wasn’t a Colts fan, I would have enjoyed this game so much more, as it was a good game between two good teams that were really, really even (despite one having a 12-4 record and the other 8-8).
Interesting/Memorable Fact: Just to reinforce the ridiculous field position the Colts were saddled with, the Colts had three drives that didn’t end in a turnover or a failed 4th down go for more yards than either of San Diego’s two field goal drives.
Review: In the regular season, the Jags beat the Steelers 29-22 in a game they outgained them in 421-217. Here, they win a game 31-29 in a game they were outgained 340-239. David Garrard was mostly awful, going 9-21 with 140 yards and 1 td and 2 picks, but Roethlisberger started off worse, throwing a pick-6 to Rashean Mathis and two more interceptions. He regained form, and turned a 28-10 deficit into a 29-28 lead in less than 12 minutes. The game ended with a series of interesting plays. Up 29-28, with a 3rd and 6 with 2:50 left, the Steelers called a QB sweep run for Roethlisberger that didn’t come close to working. Then, up 4th and 2 for the Jagsat the Steelers 42, Garrard ran a beautifully called QB draw for 32 yards(there was a much disputed blatant uncalled hold by the Jags on the play), and Josh Scobee ended it. All in all, it was a sloppy but wild game between two teams that were quite good.
Interesting/Memorable Play: After scoring to make it 28-23, the Steelers understandably went for 2. However, on the ensuing play the Steelers were called for offensive-holding, which made the 2-point conversion have to be attempted from the 12 yard line. Tomlin still decided to go for two. Mind you, there was 10:30 left in the game at this point.
Review: Was there anything more inevitable than the Seahawks winning a playoff game when they were a 7-9 team that had been outscored by 92 points? Please, let me know if there was. The Seahawks didn’t win by any fluke, either. Matt Hasselbeck played one final last tremendous game for the Seahawks, with 4 tds on 22-35 passing, and while Brees threw for another 400+ yards, the Seahawks managed to make enough stops. The odd part of the game is it started out like it should in that the Seahawks seemed overmatched. The Saints got a field goal, picked off Hasselbeck and answered with a TD. They were up 17-7 at one point. Of course, the Seahawks proceed to score 27 of the next 30 points to go up 34-20. All in all, there were 14 scores in this bizarre, unlikely shootout, none more memorable than Marshawn Lynch’s BeastMode run, where he stiff-armed the shit out of Super Bowl XLIV hero Tracy Porter, and ran his way into NFL lore.
Interesting/Memorable Play: On said Marshawn Lynch TD, what was almost as good as the stiff-arm, was the fact that lineman Sean Locklear and Tyler Polumbus, and Matt Hasselbeck were running and blocking for Lynch at basically the same speed. They crossed the end zone with him. Truly just an incredible play.
Review: The first half of maybe the best single day in Wild Card Round history, the Browns, in their only playoff game in their new era, and the Steelers, in that weird Tommy Maddox pass-heavy year, staged an classic. On the Browns 2nd play, Kelly Holcomb hit Kevin Johnson for 80 yards. That was a sign that this would be the exact opposite of every Steelers playoff game ever played in Heinz Field. There was no defense. The Browns raced to a 24-7 lead in large part because of Holcomb (who threw for 429 yards on 26 completions!) and an unholy performance from Dennis Northcutt. The Steelers under Maddox who himself threw for 367 yards (on 30-48 passing) started flinging it to get back in the game. Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward both had 100+ yards, and little by little the Steelers got back in it. The game ended with a dramatic one-yard TD plunge by Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala of all people, capping the first of two ridiculous comebacks on the same day.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: There were a lot of odd stat-lines in this game, but none more so than Browns running back William Green, who had just 30 yards on 25 carries. Who lets their running back run that much if he isn’t getting anything? Butch Davis, that's who.
Tier VI – The Great Games
Review: What is rightfully the more famous of the two comebacks, the game featured a whole lot before the infamous botched snap by Trey Junkin and missed pass-interference. Kerry Collins and Jeff Garcia each had over 300 yards (Collins had 4 tds to Garcia’s 3, both threw a pick), but it was Kerry early and Jeff late. The Giants took a 38-14 lead mostly on the arm of Collins and three receiving TDs by Amani Toomer (Jeremy Shockey had the other one, after which he reportedly threw something into the crowd). Then the 49ers, in the last playoff game of the West Coast era (although they had missed the playoffs in 1999-2000), started using the Candlestick Magic. Terrell Owens caught his 2nd long touchdown. Jeff Garcia ran for another. Tai Streets caught the game winner. Of course that set up the infamous ending, but forget that. It overshadows what a fabulous display of resilience by the 49ers and offense by both.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: Despite their brilliance in these games, Kerry Collins and Jeff Garcia would both be gone from their teams by 2004: Collins in Oakland, replaced by Manning/Warner, while Garcia flocked to Detroit to join Mooch, leaving Ken Dorsey and Tim Rattay to guide the 49ers to a 2-14 year.
Review: “We want the ball and we’re gonna score.” Another great game that has become dominated by one singular play, or in this case, sentence. Matt Hasselbeck’s guarantee heard around the world was just the coda to what already was a good football game between two good, pretty equal teams. There were a lot of storylines heading into the game, what with this being the return of Mike Holmgren to Lambeau Field, and with Matt Hasselbeck being one of the Favre backups to find success elsewhere. The game itself was well-played, with both QBs throwing for over 300 yards, and that walk-off pick-six by Al Harris being the only turnover in the game. The Packers fans were so happy when Alex Bannister(?) ran the wrong route in OT. Sad, they were so innocent then. The Lambeau Faithful had no idea that Favre would throw two OT interceptions in the next four years.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: The last five scores in regulation were all TDs (the game went from 13-6 Green Bay to 27-27) and all five were 1-yard runs by either Alexander or Ahman Green. Despite both having pedestrian days (neither ran for 3.0+ yards per carry) they combined for 5 TDs, while the two QBs got just one between them. That’s some quality vulturing.
Review: Because of recency bias, I came close to putting it at number two. Thankfully, I realized that was dumb, and put it at its proper place at. You could not script a better ending to the Tebow Era in Denver. For once, Tim Tebow earned his fairytale ending. Tebow just repeatedly abused a short-sighted game-plan by Dick LeBeau to single-cover everyone and put 8 in the box. It led to little running, but allowed Tim Tebow to throw for 316 yards on just 10(!) completions. Demaryius Thomas did most of the damage with a 4 reception 204 yard day. Roethlisberger started out slow, but reportedly got a shot at halftime and came out firing in the 2nd half. The Steelers were two first downs from winning the game in regulation before an airmailed snap (the 2nd of the game) ended that drive. It was, in a way, destiny. In the first playoff game with the new rules, the Broncos made that little fact irrelevant, scoring an 80-yard TD on the first play. It led to a harrowing divisional round game the next week (man, Steelers – Patriots would have been about 100x better), but one of the iconic memories, ironically for a team led by a QB that was jettisoned that offseason.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Broncos winning marked the fifth time in nine games time that in a playoff matchup between two teams with a total win differential of four or more,, that the team with the fewer wins won (10-6 Giants over 16-0 Patriots in 2007, 8-8 Chargers over 12-4 Colts in 2008, 9-7 Jets over 13-3 Chargers in 2009, 7-9 Seahawks over 11-5 Saints in 2010 – the four times the team with more wins won was the 12-4 Steelers beating the 8-8 Chargers in 2008, the 14-2 Colts beating the 9-7 Ravens and Jets in 2009 and the 11-5 Bears beating the 7-9 Seahawks). The 9-7 Giants would do it in each of their next three games as well, beating the 15-1 Packers and 13-3 49ers & Patriots, while of course the Patriots at 13-3 would beat Denver as well.
Review: Four times there have been Saturday Wild Card round playoff games in Qwest Field. All four were good, and two were very good. This was the only one in primetime, and man was it special. The game is remembered mostly, obviously, by Tony Romo’s bobbled snap, but the rest of the game was crazy. Against a secondary featuring insurance-salesman Pete Hunter playing nickel next to two rookies, Tony Romo threw for just 189 yards on 17-29 passing. Hasselbeck wasn’t much better going 18-36 for 240. What made the game legendary, though, was that ending. Starting with Miles Austin, a good three years before anyone would hear from him in any receiving capacity, answering a Seahawk TD with a kickoff return touchdown to make it 17-13 Boys. Then, down 20-13, the Seahawks were stoned on 4th and Goal. Later after a fumble/safety/TD controversy, the Seahawks, courtesy of Jerramy Stevens (yeah, that loudmouth) catching his 2nd touchdown, took a 21-20 lead. On the final drive, Lofa Tatupu stoned Witten one inch short of a first down where the Cowboys could have iced the game before kicking the field goal. As it was they never got the field goal off, but Romo still came close to running the bobbled hold in for a TD if not for a desperation tackle by Jordan Biabineaux. Wild Card Games are special because they are just that: wild. They aren’t the best teams, but they have damn dramatic, if not particularly well-played, endings.
Interesting/Memorable Play: So, the Terry Glenn fumble out of his own end zone that was originally thought to be recovered for a Seahawks TD was challenged by the Cowboys. The funny part about the challenge is that it was the rare case where in either outcome the Seahawks were going to score points, be it a safety or a touchdown.
Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was Bill Parcells last game as a head coach in the NFL, and it was 10 years after he and Mike Holmgren coached against each other in Super Bowl XXXI. NBC showed a side by side view of Holmgren and Parcells during that game and during the current one, and both seemed to have aged 20 years and put on 30 pounds.
Tier VII - The Epic
Tier VII - The Epic
Review: Could it be anything else? The highest scoring game in NFL history featured one QB going 28-42 for 423 yards and 4 tds (with a pick) and being pretty conclusively the 2nd best QB in that game. Warner, in his last great hurrah, put up something close to what Manning did to the Broncos in 2003 (he also had a perfect passer rating). 29-33 for 379 yards and 5 tds, and of course, without Anquan Boldin. Steve Breaston and Early Doucet picked up the pace. Larry Fitzgerald did as he does in the playoffs (6-82 and 2 scores). The best part of the game was the Packers not backing down after falling behind 31-10 and having nothing go for them (2 turnovers and a missed field goal). The Packers made just one stop in the whole game, but went on a 28-7 run to tie it at 38-38 with the help of what would become the most forgotten surprise onside-kick in playoff history. Jermichael Finley has made a living of being an overhyped player with his play as he had 6 catches for 159 yards. Greg Jennings, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston all made one-handed catches, each as good as the other. No one backed down (other than the two defenses, obviously). Rodgers was 95% as good as he was the next year in Atlanta in this game, but lost because Warner was 105% as good as Rodgers was in that game in Atlanta. The game might be this good even if Neil Rackers didn’t Vandershank the game-winning field goal and it had ended 48-45, but overtime made it even better, with defense winning the game, as a Mike Adams blitz got to Rodgers who fumbled and then kicked the ball right into the hands of Karlos Dansby. An ironically special way to end the greatest shootout most of us have ever seen.
Interesting/Memorable Play 1: The blitz that Mike Adams sacked and stripped Rodgers on was the same blitz called earlier in the game where Adams almost sacked Rodgers. Adams mistimed his leap then and Rodgers escaped. This time, he wasn’t as lucky.
Interesting/Memorable Play 2: There is a great NFL Films clip where the camera is perched right behind Mike McCarthy during the Rodgers fumble Touchdown, where as the play is happening, and McCarthy processes what is happening, he just falls to his knees in agony. A great human moment.Interesting/Memorable Play 3: I can’t forget to mention the controversial non-call as Mike Adams latched onto Rodgers facemask. The issue is I can’t be too hard on Scott Green. He’s supposed to be watching the ball. Either way, the correct call would have been the facemask occurred after the fumble, and the Cardinals would have kept the ball anyway. That said, like the real ending better.