Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Decade (and Two Years) of NFL Playoffs: Ranking the Divisional Games, Pt. 3

Tier VI – The Great Games

Review: It was a long time ago when Tony Romo was universally more accepted as a better quarterback than Eli Manning.This is where it all turned around. After a 13-3 season, the Cowboys were riding high as prohibitive favorites. They looked the part on offense, scoring TDs on back-to-back 90+ yard drives in the 1st half, including a 20 play, 12 minute monster to make it 14-7. What the Giants lacked in haste, they made up with brevity, scoring in 1:10 to tie it up. Then came an epic Greek Play of a 2nd half. After not making a dent on Romo, the Giants unleashed a furious pass rush just as the Cowboys o-line lost its edge. Romo ran for his life in the 4th quarter. The Giants put up just 85 yards of offense in the 2nd half, but capitalized on every little mistake the Cowboys made. In the end, the Giants picked off Romo in the end zone as the game ended, a fitting way to end to "critically acclaimed" portion of Romo's career, and start the "maddeningly inconsistent" era. For the Giants, they claimed their first '#1 seed' scalp of this run. Their d-line built off that momentum and hasn't really stopped since.

Interesting/Memorable Play: On both of Romo's sacks, he had ample time to throw the ball away, rolling  out to escape the initial burst of pressure, but he held onto the ball which allowed the Giants defense to reach him. Of course, later in the 4th quarter, Romo finally did throw the ball away when pressured, but he didn't leave the pocket, and it was flagged as intentional grounding.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the first time that the NFC's #1 seed lost its opening playoff game since 1987, when the Vikings upset the 49ers. For 19 straight years, the #1 seed won. Of course, starting with this game, four of the last five top seeds in the NFC lost their opening playoff game, with only the 2009 Saints avoiding that infamy.

Review: In a game that was a battle of attrition than anything else, the NFL had a double-OT game for the second time in NFL history. The game was marked by Marc Bulger's erratic play for the first 45 minutes, during which Mike Martz reportedly asked Warner to come in, which he declined. In that time, Bulger threw three interceptions, and despite losing the turnover battle and yardage battle, the Rams were able to muster out three four field goals and force three from Carolina to enter the 4th quarter at 16-12. Then, after a Carolina TD by DeShaun Foster (who replaced an injured Stephen Davis after a 50-yard run), the Rams finally awoke. Using mainly Marshall Faulk out of the backfield, the Rams scored a TD and added a 2-point conversion. Then, they recovered one of the few (non-surprise) onside kicks in recent memory. The Rams were in great position to steal the game, down just 23-20 with over two minutes left, when the notoriously aggressive Martz decided to not risk Bulger throwing another interception and run out the clock and kick a 5th field goal. And that was just regulation. Both teams missed field goals in the first OT, and then on the first play of the 2nd OT, Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith in stride for a 66-yard TD to end the 2nd longest game in NFL history.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The Panthers first TD came when Jake Delhomme was sack-fimbled by Leonard Little at the 6-yard line. The fumble rolled all the way into the End Zone, where it was recovered by Muhsin Muhammad.

Review: This game was maybe the most immediately painful Colts loss. As time goes on, I’ve come to accept that the Patriots would have beaten the Colts 34-20, but I would have wanted them. With Dwight Freeney injured and out, and Robert Mathis limited, the Colts had absolutely no pass rush, and the Chargers just lit up the Colts defense. The game is notable for Rivers tearing his ACL and being replaced by Volek, but prior to the tear, Rivers was having an awesome game, going 14-19 for 264 yards and 3 TDs with 1 INT. Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers abused the Colts smaller corners, and the hammer was Darren Sproles 56 yard screen pass for a TD as the 3rd quarter expired. That said, Manning was basically as good. After seeing Brady’s 26-28 performance the night before, Manning started completing his first 16 throws. The game turned on Marvin Harrison's fumble, an obvious sign of rust after missing the last eight regular season games. The Colts were inside the red zone up 7-0 after picking off Rivers. From that moment, the game was as tight as could be. Phil Riveres had to leave, and Billy Volek led a game-winning drive, led in large part by Legedu Naanee. As for the Colts, Manning threw for 402 yards, but threw two key interceptions on passes that first touched the hands of Colts player. It was that kind of day. The Colts did everything but win, but considering the people who weren't on the field by the end for the Chargers, they absolutely deserved it.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The first sign that this was an odd game was right before the half, with the Colts driving near midfield up 10-7, Manning was intercepted near the 10 when his pass deflected off of Reggie Wayne's hands. Antonio Cromartie returned it 90 yards, but a highly debatable holding call was made on the return.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: The 2nd interception was even unluckier, as driving at the Chargers 5, facing 3rd-and-goal, Manning threw a screen pass to Kenton Keith. It bounced off his hands, right into the hands of Eric Weddle, who was engaged in a block at the time. It was that kind of day.

Review: Before the game, all the talk was about Rex Grossman, the embattled QB of the Bears. He had finished the regular season, in a game that admittedly meant nothing for the Bears, with a tidy 0.0 passer rating. Grossman wasn't perfect in this game, but was about as good as he could have been, going 21-38 for 272 yards and a TD, with just one interception. The game itself was a battle between a resourceful Seahawks team trying to keep their crown, and a Bears team adjusting to life without Tommie Harris. The Seahawks played about as gutty as they could have. Shaun Alexander had a rare great playoff game, going for 108 yards on 26 carries and two scores against a great defense. Mike Holmgren was risky, going for it twice on 4th down, including one where Alexander ran a draw in for a TD. As for the Bears, their offense was dynamite for a half, as they too scored a rushing TD on 4th down, and Rex hit Bernard Berrian with a perfect rainbow for a 68-yard score. The Bears defense then took over late in the 2nd half, holding the Seahawks out of field goal range with a great Lance Briggs stop. In OT, Grossman had another pretty pass to Rashied Davis, and Robbie Gould ended it, kicking a ultra-clutch 49-yard field goal on a 10 degree day. It was a battle between two flawed teams that at their best were probably the two best in the NFC in 2006, and they made it count with a special game in great January Football conditions at Soldier Feild.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Devin Hester had an interesting day. He muffed three punts, but recovered them all himself, and on the 3rd, he took the recoverd muff 66 yards for a TD, but it was called back on a penalty.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: This game is notable for two NFL on FOX infamous memories. First, was a beautifully timed promo for '24' with 0:24 left in the 4th quarter with the game tied 24-24. The other was Joe Buck, who was describing Charles Tillman wearing cleats with 5/8" spikes, and asking, seemingly honestly, if 5/8" spikes were longer or shorter than 1/2".

7.) 2006 NFC Divisional – (N3) Eagles 24 @ (N2) Saints 27

Review: This game was the really the playoff game that helped rebuild New Orleans. The 2006 Saints were a miracle team, with Sean Payton and Drew Brees combining to lift a 3-13 team to 10-6. The Eagles themselves were something of a Cinderella Story as well, with the team at 5-5 when Donovan McNabb got hurt. Jeff Garcia replaced him and led the team to a a 5-1 record down the stretch to steal the NFC East. The game itself was extremely well played. Brian Westbrook was a monster, running for 116 yards on 13 carries, including a 62-yarder to make it 21-13 early in the 3rd. The real star, though, was Duece McAlister. After a long Saints career, Reggie Bush was brought in as the new star, and although Reggie had a nice game, Duece had the most memorable game of his career. McAlister had 143 yards on 21 carries, and caught a TD to make it 27-21 in the 4th. The Eagles had a good chance to take the lead back with about 5 minutes to go, but their drive stalled at the Saints 6. Then, needing just to run clock to win the game, Sean Payton called for a pitchback to Bush, which never reached Bush. The Eagles recovered in great shape to kick a game-tying field goal, but when a holding call turned a converted 4th and 5 into a 4th and 15, Andy Reid decided to punt. This time, the Saints got their requisite 1st down and ran out the clock, bringing forth one of the best celebratory crowds in NFL history.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Reggie Bush had a good game overall (52 yards on 12 carries with a TD), but had a great "Welcome to the NFL" moment, when Sheldon Brown absolutely hammered him on a Brees swing pass.

Review: One play from this game will live in the NFL lore. 4th and 26 will never be forgotten. Other than a certain play that is in the #1 game, 4th and 26 was probably the most famous play in the Divisional Round during this time period. Donovan McNabb's laser pass to Freddie Mitchell (who, amazingly caught the pass) who beat the Cover-2 picked up 27 yards. It was an insane play, a last desperate attempt to salvage what had been an interesting, but still successful season for the Eagles. The game that preceded it, though, harkened back to football in the 1990's. The QBs weren't deadly accurate. The run games were incredible. Ahman Green ran for 156 yards on 25 carries. McNabb ran for a QB-playoff-record 107 yards on 11 carries. The Packers pass rush was dominant, sacking McNabb eight times. The Game itself was a microcosm of the Eagles season, which started with back-to-back home losses with a combined score of 48-10, and ended with an 11-game win streak. The Packers scored two TDs on long passes from Favre to Robert Ferguson. The Eagles slowly chipped their way back in. They controlled Favre and the offense, and McNabb started his game in earnest. Running his way through the Packers pass rush, McNabb capped the comeback with a brilliant scramble-and-throw to Todd Pinkston. They traded Field Goals, and on the first pass of overtime, Favre threw the first of many duck interceptions in OT in the first play. The Eagles ran a solid drive, allowing Akers to kick an easy 31-yard field goal to end it. Overall, it was the best game of a great weekend of football (the other games were decided by 6, 3 and 7), and the Eagles ended the magic-carpet ride of Favre, who had lost his father four weeks earlier, and the Packers.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: The Packers had eight sacks made by seven players. They represent a mix  of good players and absolute nobodies. Just look at this list of names: Aaron Kampman (2), Marques Anderson(?), Nai'l Diggs, Bahwoe Jue(?), Mike McKenzie, Chukie Nwokorie(?), and Darren Sharper.

Tier VII – The Epics
5.) 2002 AFC Divisional – (A3) Steelers 31 @ (A2) Titans 34 (OT)

Review: A long forgotten classic played by two extremely competitive, even teams, the Steelers and Titans gave an exercise in the fluidity of momentum. The Titans scored the first 14 points, with McNair and George runs sandwiching a pick by Tommy Maddox. The Steelers then scored the next 20, capitalizing on a McNair interception and Eddie George fumble (on a play he got concussed on), with a TD pass to Hines Ward and a run by Amos Zereoue. The Titans then scored the next 14, to take a 28-20 lead, on two TD passes to Frank Wychek (who had a monster 10 catch, 123 yard day) and Aaron Kinney. The Steelers then put up the next 11, with a Hines Ward TD and 2-pt conversion, and Field Goal, to take a late 31-28 lead. Then, despite getting picked twice earlier, Steve McNair came up big, with a late field goal drive to win the game, and a long pass to Justin McCareins to set up Joe Nedney's OT game winner. The Steelers and Titans both had volatile seasons, with Tommy Maddox replacing Kordell Stewart, and Steve McNair and the Titans rebounding from a 1-4 start to go 11-5, and this ending was just as volatile. First, Nedney hit a field goal, but Cowher called timeout right before. Then, Nedney missed a 31 yarder, but the Steelers were called for running into the kicker. Finally, on his third try, Nedney hit his field goal. The gamebook reads out of an era that is so forgotten now in the NFL. Steve McNair and Tommy Maddox started. Drew Bennett was the breakout receiver. The Steelers relied on Amos Zereoue. Albert Haynesworth was just a rookie. 2002 in total was a strange season, the bridge between the Warner/Favre/Gannon era to the Manning/Brady era that would start in earnest in 2003. There's a reason why this game is forgotten, as neither of these two were that memorable teams, and the Titans lost their next game (of course that didn't stop the next game), but it deserves to be known as one of the top games to rewatch of the past 10 years.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: One of the most oddly memorable part of the game was Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher's competing manli-ness. Both were badass black leather jackets on an oddly cold night in Nashville. The tiebreaker, though, goes to Fisher, who had a giant man-beard, while Cowher just had his usual mus-tache.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Right before Nedney's final attempt, Dick Enberg, in one of his great impromptu calls, said the great line, now Nedney and Steelers rush will go 'best two out of three.'

4.) 2012 AFC Divisional - (A4) Ravens 38 @ (A1) Broncos 35 (OT)

Review: Where to begin? The last game that had this many 'wow' moments was probably Super Bowl XLIII. There are so many plays that could have defined this game. First was Trindon Holliday's punt return to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead with Manning not touching the ball. Then came a shady pass interference call on the Ravens next drive. Two plays later Flacco hid Torrey Smith and it was game on. Lost in the madness of the 2nd half was Manning playing a damn good first half, with two great fade TDs to Stokley and Knowshon Moreno of all people. In the second half, the weather got even more ridiculous (the only game on the Divisional Round in this era that was colder was the Titans Patriots game in 2003), and the game itself got choppier. There were fumbles (Flacco and Manning each), there was the pressure Manning had to face, but it all should have ended with a Manning screen pass to Thomas that worked brilliantly for an 18 yard TD to give the Broncos a 35-28 lead. They even stopped the Ravens on the next drive, but then everything went to hell for the Broncos. They had 1st and 10, with 2:23 to go and the Ravens had 1 timeout. One first down and it is over. The Broncos paid all that money to get a top flight QB, and what do they do? run it three times and punt. We all know what happened next, with Rahim Moore failing to do the main job of a safety. The ball to Jones hung in the air forever, and any competent safety at least gets a hand on it, but Moore took a terrible route to that incredibly high arcing ball. Moore didn't have a chance, and the frigid, but loud crowd got as silent as quickly as any crowd ever. What followed was a slog in OT, ending with a truly bad throw by Peyton Manning. The game ended soon after, a tiring watch, let alone a tiring game for the players. Ray Lewis' career carried on, and the Ravens won arguably their biggest game since Super Bowl XXXV. In previous postseasons the QBs that knocked them our were: Manning, Roethlisberger, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady. They finally beat one of those big-three in the playoffs, and it took every ounce of resourcefullness, good play (Torrey Smith, especially) and, let's be honest, luck.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: The Ravens OT performance had two critical plays outside the Manning interception. The first was maybe the best throw of Flacco's career to that point, a 24 yard strike to Pitta on 3rd and 13 backed up at their own three yard line. An incomplete there and they punt from that position, and the Broncos have excellent field position. The other was Tucker's game winning field goal. By that time, the temperature was below zero wind chill, and Tucker nailed a 47-yarder. Sure it was in altitude, but that was a damn good kick.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Sure, Manning lost another playoff game, but it was the 5th(!) time in a row his team had a lead in the 4th quarter and eventually lost the game. In those five games, three times he led a scoring drive to take the lead in the 4th quarter only to see his defense blow it (2007 Divisional, 2010 Wild Card being the others).

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: This was the first time the Ravens had beaten a Peyton Manning team since 2001. In that time, they lost in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 and earlier in 2012, with also losing in the 2006 Playoffs and 2009 Playoffs.

3.) 2011 NFC Divisional – (N3) Saints 32 @ (N2) 49ers 36

Review: This game had the best 6-minutes in NFL history, as the lead changed hands four times in that span. The 49ers had led the whole game on the back of four Saints turnovers in the 1st half, which led to the 49ers building a quick 17-0 lead. For much of the game, the narrative of the league's best offense and the league's best defense held true, and defense was winning. Drew Brees was being held under 10 ypc, and the 49ers bullied the Saints, forcing a fumble on a great hit by Donte Whitner, then Aldon Smith sacking Brees at the 2 on the next drive, and picking Brees off on the next. The Saints got in the party, repeatedly big-blitzing Alex Smith to mostly great success, sacking Smith 4 times. The game started in earnest when the Saints, down 20-17, took over at their 12 with 11:27 to go at their own 18. Brees was sacked by Ahmad Brooks on 2nd down, and threw the ball away when Justin Smith grabbed him in the bull-est of bull rushes. After the punt, the 49ers added a field goal to make it 23-17. The Saints then took over when 7:29 left, and the magic began. First, was Darren Sproles taking a short dumpoff right down the field for a 44-yard TD with 4:11 left to give the Saints their first lead at 24-23. Then, after a long completion to Vernon Davis, teh 49ers faced a 3rd and 8 with 2:18 left, when Harbaugh called a naked bootleg, which Alex Smith took for a 28-yard TD to take the lead back at 29-24. In 41 seconds, the Saints took the lead back, as Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a catch-and-run TD for 66 yards to take the lead back at 32-29. Then, for the final act, on 2nd and 10 from the 49ers 33 yard line, with just 0:40 left, Alex Smith his Vernon Davis on a crossing route for 47 yards. Then, in field goal range, facing a 3rd and 4, the 49ers went for the win, and Smith hit Davis again for the game winning TD, capping off the greatest half-quarter of football ever. The ridiculous nature of the ending did screw the narrative of the 49ers defense controlling the Saints offense. But screw the narrative; here's another one. In a year when the 49ers announced finally that they will be building a new stadium, the magic of Candlestick was revived in earnest.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The 49ers won in dramatic fashion anyway, but there is a real argument made that Alex Smith should've gone down at the 1 yard line on his naked bootleg run. At that point, the Saints had one timeout left. Assuming they call it then before the 2:00 warning, the 49ers would reach the 2:00 on 2nd down. They could run about 45 seconds off the clock per play, bringing it down to about 30 seconds left when they kick the field goal. This leaves ~25 seconds for the Saints to drive for a field goal without a time out. By any calculation, that is better than giving them 2:11 and a timeout to get a TD.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: A lot of records were set here. Drew Brees had his third straight 400-yard passing playoff game (this after never reaching 300 yards in his Super Bowl XLIV run). Twice, he needed 60+ passes to get there, though. Darren Sproles set a record for most receptions (15), and Vernon Davis set a record for most yards by a TD (180).

Review: In a game that perfectly defined the unluckiness of Marty Schottenheimer's playoff career, and the luckiness of Bill Belichick's the Patriots, in the last great moment of their true dynasty, beat the 14-2 Chargers despite seemingly getting madly outplayed. That said, the Patriots made the Chargers earn every yard. They flummoxed first-year starter Philip Rivers, limiting him to 14-32 for 230 yards and an interception. The Chargers defense harrassed Brady, picking him off three times overall. The only players that really had standout days were Jabar Gaffney, who had 103 yards on 10 catches and a key score right before the half to make it 14-10, and LaDainian Tomlinson who had 123 yards on 23 carries. The game itself was truly defined by one team making every mistake, and the other making none. It started on the Patriots first pass, when a batted Brady pass should have been easily intercepted by Clinton Hart was dropped. The Chargers made the following mistakes: Vincent Jackson couldn't drag his second foot in, when he caught what should have been an easy TD. Rivers was sack-fumbled, which led to the first Patriots field goal. Eric Parker muffed a punt after the Chargers forced a punt leading 14-10, and then Drayton Florence furthered that drive by headbutting Matt Light on a play that would have been a 4th and 17 leading to a 51-yard field goal attempt by Gostkowski. Then came the capper, leading 21-13, Marlon McCree picked off Tom Brady on 4th Down with 6:25 to go. Instead of knocking it down (remember, it was 4th down), McCree tried to be a hero, and Troy Brown stripped him of the ball. The Patriots got a 1st down and new life, leading to a game tying TD. Finally, after a quick Chargers 3-and-out (where they ran Tomlinson once, despite a near 6 ypc), the Patriots ended this epic with Brady throwing a beautiful pass deep to ex-Charger Reche Caldwell, and Gostkowski nailing a game-winning field goal, which was followed by Nate Kaeding, doing what he always does, missing a 54-yard field goal at the gun. The game was over, and in reality, it took a lot out of the Patriots. Bill Belichick called it the toughest game he's ever won, and it showed.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Right after the game-tying field goal was missed by Kaeding, a few Patriots players stomped on the Chargers logo at midfield and did Shawne Merriman's "Light's Out" sack dance. LaDainian Tomlinson got upset and got into a scuffle, and after the game let out that classic line that "the Patriots showed no class, no class at all. And maybe it starts with their head coach."

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the last game of Marty Schottenheimer's epic coaching career and it was arguably his most painful defeat. During the game, Schottenheimer rarely wore his headset, instead letting Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips do most of the work. Of course, near the end of the game, when the Chargers were collapsing, Schottenheimer had that headset back on, in what was, I'm sure, a great sight for Chargers fans.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: In what was the Patriots last playoff win away from Gillette Stadium (they lost the next week in Indy and Super Bowl XLII and XLVI), the Patriots continued one of the weirder streaks in memory. Including the Panthers win in Chicago the previous year, the 4:30 pm Sunday Playoff game featured an upset all but one year since 2005. The one exception was the 2008 Steelers beating the Chargers, but since we've seen the Giants upset the Cowboys in 2007 and the Packers in 2011, and the Jets beat the Chargers in 2009 and Patriots in 2010.

1.) 2005 AFC Divisional – (A6) Steelers 21 @ (A1) Colts 18

Review: In what is the most painful loss for most Colts fans, the 6-seed Steelers beat the dominant 14-2 Colts by starting off red-hot and holding off what would have been Manning's most audacious comeback. The Steelers surprised the Colts by coming out throwing and throwing, leading to two first-quarter TD passes to Hines Ward and Heath Miller. After resting the last two weeks of the regular season, the Colts offense came out rusty, and woefully unprepared for the Steelers blitz scheme, which was odd since they thoroughly dominated the Steelers 26-7 in November, scoring an 80-yard TD on the first play and limiting the Steelers to under 200 yards. The Colts finally hit their rhythm, with a monster drive that took up 9:33 from their own 2 to the Steelers 2, but they couldn't punch it into the end zone, leading to only cutting the lead to 14-3 at the half. The Steelers added another touchdown in the 3rd quarter after a 30-yard drive (like many playoff losses for the Colts, field position was huge in this game) capped with a Jerome Bettis plunge. Little did Bettis know that another carry on 1st and Goal from the one would be far more memorable. The Colts took over with a little over 16 minutes left in the game, down 21-3. On the last play of the 4th Quarter, on 4th and 2 at the Colts 36, Peyton Manning waved the punt team off the field, and completed a 13-yard pass to Brandon Stokley for a 1st down. Then, on the 2nd play of the 4th Quarter, Manning found Clark for a 50-yard catch and run TD to cut it to 21-10. The Steelers would bang nearly eight minutes off the clock before they were forced to punt, twice converting 4th and 1s, giving the Colts 6 minutes to shave 11 points off the lead. Manning led another quick TD drive in 1:30, whittling through 80 yards in five plays. Of course, this wasn't without controversy, as Troy Polamalu's interception near midfield was bizarrely called incomplete, as he lost control of the ball after rolling once, and did so before his knees left the ground. The Colts took advantage, scored their TD and forced another Steelers punt. Then, the real drama began. First, Manning was sacked twice in three plays be totally free rushers that got to him within 2 seconds, and this turned the ball over on downs with 1:20 to go. The Steelers, facing 4th and Goal at the 2, couldn't simply run out the clock because the Colts had all three timeouts, so they ran a play hoping for a game icing score, but Gary Brackett put his hat perfectly on the ball in Bettis's hands, forcing a fumble, that was recovered by Nick Harper, who raced to what would seem a dramatic, infamous game-winning touchdown, but Ben Roethlisberger somehow tripped him up. This gave way to the classic's final act, a comically bad missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt, leaving the Colts in shambles and the 'One for the Thumb' dream alive.

Interesting/Memorable Play: There was so much to examine about the Bettis fumble play. First, it was incredible that the Colts were able to get that close to a comeback without even using one timeout, which forced the Steelers to not kneel. Then, this would have been the last play of Bettis's career, which would have been a shame. Roethlisberger's part was huge, but it was odd that seemingly even before the fumble occured, he started running backwards. Finally, we get to Harper, who was slowed because he was attacked and cut by his wife in a knife attack in the previous week. Still, if he just cut to the sideline he probably escapes Ben. Just bizarre.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: Right after the missed field goal, CBS showed four images that encapsulated the game. The reactions of four key men in Dungy, Cowher, Bettis and Manning all saying the same thing "He Missed It", but in violently different ways. Dungy was dismayed, Manning was almost angry. Cowher was in complete jubilation, and Bettis was just relieved. Just a great job by the video crew.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This game started the whole idea that the Colts would get rusty after resting, and while they actually seemed rusty early, there was another factor possibly more important. This was the first game back for Tony Dungy after the suicide of his son, James. The team just didn't play right, and their flaccid play was eerily similar to the 2011 Packers, who played their divisional game right after the death of their Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin's son tragic death.

Up next, the best of the Super Bowls (I'm skipping the conference titles games for now, because the best of those were better).

A Decade (and Two Years) of NFL Playoffs: Ranking the Divisional Games, Pt. 2

Tier IV – Good Teams, Good Games, but Something Missing

26.) 2013 AFC Divisional - (A6) Chargers 17 @ (A1) Broncos 24

Review: The Broncos did everything to lose this game, but since they're just better than the Chargers, they still won it. The Broncos had a fumble at midfield, missed a field goal, had Wes Welker drop a TD, had Eric Decker bat a TD into the air which ended up as a pick, and then gave up an onside kick. But after all that, they won the game. How? Well, holding Rivers to one yard passing in the first half helped. Their defense was amazing, coming together against one of the best offenses in the NFL to play insanely well through three quarters. Also, Peyton Manning is a really good player. Manning's stats (25-36 for 230 yards) don't look that special, but with the team giving up yards, and TDs, all over the place, he still played darn well. He also had one of the best clutch plays that no one will remember, converting a 3rd and 17 with 2:00 left up just 7. That pass to Julius Thomas iced the game, a game that the Broncos did as much to give away as they did the year earlier when they did it.

Interesting/Memorable Play: All of the Omaha's. Manning used "Omaha" as a count signal roughly 40 times, and the term, the city, and the whole thing caught fire over the next week.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The win by Denver assured the continuation of another weird streak, with just five teams hosting AFC Title Games in the last 14 years, all multiple times (New England and Pittsburgh x4, Indianapolis, Oakland and Denver x2).

Review: For three straight years, the Ravens were a Wild-Card team, having to go at it the hard way on the road. Finally, they won the division again, and even earned a 1st round bye and were able to get the TJ Yates Experience to come into M&T Bank. The game really did just come down to Yates (and Jacoby Jones muffing a punt). The Texans defense was great, sacking Flacco five times and limiting the Ravens to just 227 yards. On offense, Arian Foster had 132 yards on 27 carries, and Andre Johnson had 111 yards on 8 catches. The only problem was Yates. He threw up way too many balls for grabs, and despite dropping three potential interceptions, the Ravens picked him off three times. Ed Reed, as he always does, provided the capper, picking Yates off on a deep throw to the End-Zone with two minutes left. For all the talk about the Texans playing better, the Ravens held the Texans scoreless in the 2nd Half, winning with defense… again.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was just the Ravens 2nd home playoff win in their franchise history. Despite the Ravens winning 10 playoff games since 2000 (T-4th in the NFL with the Giants behind the Patriots (16), Steelers (12) & Eagles (11) ), they’ve won only two at home. The other win was their Wild Card Round win in 2000, and in between they lost as Division Winners in 2003 and 2006.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: Kris Wilson caught a one-yard TD catch to make the game 17-3, and that marked Wilson’s 4th career catch in a playoff game. Two have gone for TDs (2009 Chargers against). Wilson has also caught a 2-point conversion. So, his catches have led to points 60% of the time he’s been involved on a play.

Review: The Jaguars played about as well as they could on offense and about as strangely as they could on defense. For one half, it worked, as the game was tied 14-14. In the 2nd half, the Jaguars stopped scoring TDs, while the Patriots continued, and that was the game. The game was notable for Tom Brady’s 26-28 day (for 266 yards and 3 tds), where one of the incompletions was a drop by Welker. The Jags gave Brady all day and he cut them up in surgical fashion. The strangest part was Randy Moss, fresh off his 23-TD season, had just one catch. In the end, the Jags gave their best shot, taking the necessary risks on offense (Throwing deep on 4th and 4 on the first drive), but taking no risks on defense. Because of Brady’s insane accuracy, as well as Garrard’s good day, the game flew by, with each team staging long drive after long drive. Before you knew it, the game was over, and the Patriots went to 17-0.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The best TD came on Brady’s 2nd TD to Wes Welker. He took the shotgun, but faked a direct snap to Kevin Faulk and turned his back to the field with his arms raised. After keeping his back to the field for at least a full second, he turned around, fired a laser to Welker, and the game was mostly over. It was a sweet, sweet play.

Review: A year after the Packers gave the Falcons the biggest home loss for a #1 seed, the Giants gave the Packers a loss nearly as surprising in its ease. The Giants absolutely destroyed the 15-1 Packers in nearly every category imaginable. Their only failing was with their coverage scheme Rodgers ran for six first downs. On the day, Eli Manning threw for 300 yards before the 1st half was over, including two long TDs to Hakeem Nicks. The Giants sacked Rodgers four times, and forced four fumbles and recovered three of them. The Packers were just out of sync all day on offense, as Rodgers, fresh off the most efficient QB season possibly ever (a record 122.4 passer rating), went just 24-45 on the day. The Giants played arguably their best offensive game of the year, and their defense dominated the 2nd half. Before halftime, Tom Coughlin told Pam Oliver that the to-that-point average pass rush “was coming” and it sure was. By the end, the Giants were dancing in Lambeau, celebrating a playoff win there, again.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The game could have easily been a lot more one-sided. The Giants had two drives in their dominant 1st half end in Green Bay territory, with Eli Manning throwing a pick and the Packers blocking a makeable field goal. Plus, the Packers two TD drives both were aided by questionable decisions. First was Bill Leavy’s ridiculous overturn of a Greg Jennings’s fumble on the 1st TD drive, and then was a soft roughing-the-passer call on Osi on the 2nd.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: This was the 1st time that two Super Bowl MVP Quarterbacks met in a playoff game, with Eli Manning winning his in Super Bowl XLII and Rodgers in XLV. Of course, the 2nd would happen three weeks later, with Manning and Brady. With Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger in the AFC and Manning, Rodgers and Brees in the NFC, it is hard to imagine it not happening more.

22.) 2012 NFC Divisional - (N3) Packers 31 @ (N2) 49ers 45

Review: Well, the Packers do know how to lose with their defense looking as bad as possible. Unlike in 2009 and 2011 when they were hopeless against the pass, this time they decided to be hopeless against both. The 49ers ran it 43 times for 323 yards, with Kaepernick setting an NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB (this is a record for the playoffs AND the regular season). Kaepernick was the star, but it was his ability to overcome a terrible pick-six on the first possession of the game that made it all work. On the other side, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were only able to put up 17 points on offense when the game was in the balance, but really it was that they never got time. It is hard to when you allow your opponent to run it 43 times.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The play of the game was Kaepernick's read-option 56 yard TD to break a 24-24 tie midway through the 3rd quarter. He just made Erik Walden look so, so bad that it will be his "God Dammit Donald" moment, the one that defines his career no matter what he does.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: With a 31-24 lead, and backed up at their own 7, the 49ers went on one of the great power-football runs I have ever seen. Two drives, 19 plays, 186 yards, two TDs to make it 45-24 and end it. Those back to back 90-yard TD drives should be engraved on Jim Harbaugh's coaching gravestone.

21.) 2005 AFC Divisional – (A4) Patriots 13 @ (A2) Broncos27

Review: In front of a jacked-up crowd in the first playoff game at Invesco Field, the Broncos had the most deceiving zero-sack game, repeatedly pummeling Brady into mistakes and into his first playoff loss of his career. The game originally started out in Patriots-style, with the Broncos dominating statistically but not taking advantage with a failed 4th & Goal and a pick in the red zone by Samuel. But it all changed right after the two-minute warning, with Kevin Faulk fumbling. One controversial pass interference on Samuel later, it was 7-3 Broncos. They would add another field goal off a fumble by New England and take a 10-3 lead into the half. The game was finally shut when on 3rd and Goal for the Patriots trailing just 10-6, Tom Brady threw a pick in the end zone to Champ Bailey, who of course returned it controversially to the one yard line. The Patriots ended up with a lot more yards, but that is what happens when one team scores 14 points in just two yards of offense. In the end, the Patriots did everything wrong for the first time, with Troy Brown muffing a punt and Adam Vinatieri missing a field goal. It was all so new for the Pats, and all so fun for the Broncos and Pat-Haters.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The Broncos utilized what was called the “punt-rush defense” where they put corners off-man on the receivers and had everyone else line up at the line in a punt-rush formation. The Broncos used it enough that it didn’t work all the time, but led to Brady getting rocked often, and the pick by Bailey.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: On the pick, it was Brady’s 3rd career playoff interception thrown into the end zone (’03 AFC Title, ’03 SB) and he has done it twice more since (’07 AFC Title, ’11 AFC Title). What is fun about the play is noting the sudden disappointment in Jim Nantz’s voice when Bailey first makes the interception. To his credit, he gets excited when Bailey seemingly gets a clear path for a touchdown. Now, I must admit. That probably was a touchback, but if there is any merit to the idea of “conclusive evidence” no way can that be overturned with the camera angles given.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This game marked the 1st playoff game where both coaches had won multiple Super Bowls. In fact, from 2002-2011 (the timeframe for this countdown) the only other playoff game that had two coaches that had won any amount was the Giants and Packers divisional with McCarthy and Coughlin.

Review: In a game that was eerily similar to the 2000 Divisional meeting between these two teams, the Ravens won despite being outgained by 180 yards, the fourth largest margin since the 16-game schedule. The 3rd largest margin? The Ravens over the Titans in 2000, who were outgained by 183. The Titans, off their almost unbelievable 13-3 season led by Kerry Collins, rolled up 391 yards of offense but were just 2-for-5 in the red zone, turning it over three times in the area. The Ravens really did nothing other than hang around and force those turnovers, with Flacco hitting just one big throw – an admittedly pretty 48-yard throw to Derrick Mason. The game also ended controversially, with the Ravens converting a 3rd and 10 for 23 yards after snapping the ball a good two seconds after the play clock expired. There was never any good explanation given. Either way, in a game that featured a scary sense of déjà-vu, the most underrated playoff rivalry of the 2000s had its most memorable finish. With Matt Stover’s game winning field goal ushering the top-seed Titans out of the playoffs, again.

Interesting/Memorable Play: A key for the game was Chris Johnson leaving in the 2nd quarter with an injury. He had rushed 11 times for 72 yards and caught a pass for 28 yards before he left, and he just seemed to be operating at a different speed than most of the Ravens defense. It might not have changed anything,, but the Titans were never really the same in the game after.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This loss made some infamous history for Jeff Fisher, making him the 2nd coach ever to go one-and-done with the top-seed multiple times (did it in 2000). The other was Marty Schottenheimer, who’s done it three times (’95, ’97, ’06).

Review: In a fascinating chess match between the league’s best offense (and probably most forgotten great offense of the 2000s) and the league’s best defense (and probably most forgotten great defense of the 2000s), the Colts won the 2nd playoff game ever that featured no TDs. Peyton Manning, facing an epic defense, played the most highly praised bad game I have ever seen. He was just 15-30 for 170 yards and two picks (to Ed Reed, of course), but was only sacked once, confused the Ravens dominant pass rush and anchored four 50+ yard drives. McNair was worse, considering he wasn’t playing the Ravens defense, going 18-29 with two picks of his own. The story of the game, other than the kickers, was the Colts run game rushing for 100 yards against the league’s best run defense and the ultra-conservative nature of the Ravens attack. In the end, the Colts won a fun, if slightly defensive and offensively inept, game by out Raven-ing the Ravens.

Interesting/Memorable Play: What might have been the two biggest plays of the game were defined by each quarterback throwing to covered receivers. Down just 3-0, the Ravens had 3rd and Goal from the 3, when McNair threw to Todd Heap who was double-covered at the goal line. Antoine Bethea picked it off, and the Ravens never got that close again. Then, on 3rd and 5 with four minutes to go up 12-6, Manning iced the game with a ridiculously tight throw to Dallas Clark, who was draped by Corey Ivy. One guy made his throw, the other did not.

Interesting/Memorable Player: Ed Reed had what might have been his greatest game. He had two interceptions (the 2nd one he lateralled to Chris McAlister right before going out of bounds, but the refs thought he was already out), a huge hit on Dallas Clark, another sure interception tipped away early by Ray Lewis, and a play where he ran from deep centerfield to the left sideline and leaped and took the ball away from Marvin (he came down out of bounds). Ed Reed was by far the best player that day on that field.

Tier V – The Good Games

Review: In the 1st playoff game ever to have no punts, the Colts played ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with the Chiefs, by outgunning them in Arrowhead. The only reason that this isn’t higher is other than the Chiefs first drive of the game, they never had the ball with a chance to tie the game. The Colts were that good, scoring on each of their six real possessions in the game (they ran out the clock in the other). The Colts didn’t play perfectly, as the Chiefs rolled up 408 yards on 60 plays, with a 176 yard day for Priest Holmes. The Chiefs even got a Kick-Off Return TD from DeAngelo Hall (remember him?). But Manning never wavered. He was flawless, going 22-30 for 304 yards and 3 tds, and Edgerrin James had his best playoff game of his career, with 125 yards on 26 carries and two TDs. The Colts made it look easy, and even though the Chiefs made it look almost as easy, the one turnover, a fumble by Priest Holmes in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, was the only break the Colts needed.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Manning entered the game off of his perfect passer rating day in Denver, and was nearly as good. For the two combined games, he was 44-56 (78.6%) for 681 yards (12.2 ypa!!) with 8 TDs and no picks. That’s a passer rating of 156.9, the highest ever by any QB ever in a two-game stretch.

17.) 2003 AFC Divisional – (A5) Titans 14 @ (A1) Patriots 17

Review: On a bitterly cold night, with wind chill at -10, the Patriots outlasted a game Titans team on Adam Vinatieri’s most forgotten clutch kick. The game started out fast, with the Patriots taking a 14-7 lead two minutes into the 3rd quarter, but became a struggle after as the wind picked up. Brady had an odd day. On the good side, he didn’t turn the ball over and threw a gorgeous 41-yards TD to Bethel Johnson, but he also completed just 21 out of 41 passes. McNair was efficient, going 18-26 against the league’s best defense, but made two crucial mistakes. The 1st was an interception. The 2nd was a lot more harmful. After the Titans tied the game on a nifty TD catch-and-run by Derrick Mason, the Patriots ran a 33 yard drive leading to Vinatieri’s game winning field goal. However, that was still with 4:11 left on the clock. The game finished hauntingly. At the 2:00, the Titans had 2nd and 3 at the Patriots 33 yard line, about ten yards out of reasonable field goal position. McNair then took an intentional grounding, which was followed up holding penalty. 2nd and 3 became 3rd and 23. After a nice gain, on 4th an 11, McNair launched a pass that Drew Bennett dropped around the Patriots 10. End of game, and end of classic in the bitter, bitter cold.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The game ended strangely, with the Patriots, with 0:03 left, on 4th and 15 actually running a play. Instead of risking  a punt return (a pretty minimal risk), Belichick instructed Brady to run backwards, run out the clock and launch a pass out-of-bounds. It worked perfectly, and the Patriots securely finished the game.

Review: The two teams combined for 389 yards. That’s combined. They also combined for 55 points. This was the most defensive high-scoring game ever, and that weird dichotomy probably ruined it from being as memorable as it was. In many ways, this game was seeing both teams play defense as well as they could, but the Steelers did it just a little bit better. They both forced and recovered two fumbles, but the Steelers got the game’s only interception. The Ravens had five sacks, and the Steelers had six. Terrell Suggs had three sacks, and James Harrison answered him with three of his own. In the end, what is memorable is the Steelers not even flinching when falling down 21-7, and missing a field goal going into the half. The Steelers scored 17 points around two Ravens turnovers to take the lead, but credit the Ravens for coming back and tying it up. The final nail in the coffin, though, was a 58-yard bomb to Antonio Brown on 3rd and 19 to set up the game winning TD run by Mendenhall. At the end, it was a far more entertaining game than one that features 11 punts, five turnovers and 389 yards of offense.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The Game essentially ended when TJ Houshmandzadeh dropped a 4th and 18 pass that would have been a 1st down on the final drive, but it really went bad for the Ravens when Anquan Boldin dropped a TD on 3rd and Goal on the drive that tied it at 24.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Here are the lengths of the TD drives in this game: Steelers: 80 (26 via penalty), 23, 25, 65; Ravens: 68 (28 via penalty), 0 (fumble return), 16. That’s how you get a 31-24 game. Have the seven TD drives combined be just 223 yards of offense.

Review: The 1st of two great Jets upsets, Rex and Co. beat the Chargers, who entered the game on an 11-game winning streak. In reality, it was more the Chargers buying the sword that the Jets used to do the slaughtering. In perfect Chargers fashion, they did everything wrong. Nate Kaeding missed three field goals (two from inside 45 yards). They committed two 15-yard penalties that stifled late drives. They didn’t take advantage of a 1st half where the Jets offense could do nothing. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions, the 2nd of which was a horrible pass out of his own end zone. The Chargers did almost everything right besides these self-destructive plays, and the Jets took full advantage. Mark Sanchez did enough with what Philip Rivers gave him, and Shonn Greene continued his breakout posteason with 128 yards, including a dramatic, game-clinching 53 yard TD run to make it 17-7. Rex Ryan’s schemes didn’t work perfectly (Rivers threw for 298 yards), but they confused Philip just enough. It wasn’t the brilliant defensive performance that came a year later, but it was maybe more stunning. In a weekend where the three previous bye teams all won at a combined 99-20, the Chargers fell flat.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Rivers’ first interception was just a ridiculous play by Darrelle Revis, where he jostled the ball out of Jackson’s hands, and when they both fell to the ground, had it bounce of V-Jax’s ass, where Revis scooped it up. Almost as shocking as the play was the fact that the officials got it right on the field.

14.) 2012 NFC Divisional - (N5) Seahawks 28 @ (N1) Falcons 30

Review: The game was defined by what has made the Matt Ryan era so fascinating. First, was the 0-3 playoff record staring them in the face, included getting beaten by the collective score of 72-23 the previous two seasons. They finally broke that playoff barrier in the most Matt Ryan way possible, with a FG to win on a drive that started with less than 30 seconds to go, as he's done more in his career than anyone else. The game before that was a testament to how to come back in games: keep calm and play your game. The Seahawks fell behind 20-0 because they were partly unlucky and partly run over. They came back by not abandoning their offense, and Russell Wilson, who never had to lead such a comeback, did so with ease. His 385 yards passing on 36 attempts is unbelievable. He and the Seahawks played admirably in defeat, but this was Matt (B)Ryan(T)'s day, as the QB led the drive, and the old kicker banged it true from 47. The other story of the game was a resurgent Falcons run game. After being a weakness all year, the run game picked up for an average Matt Ryan game, with both Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers getting over 6 yards a carry. In the end though, it was that 30 second drive. Two passes, to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan needed just two passes to undo years of playoff failures and to avoid his most embarrassing potential failure yet.

Interesting/Memorable Player: Zach Miller was underused in the regular season, but the Seahawks quickly realized the Falcons were apparently unaware of the position of TE, and hit him repeatedly, as Miller finished with 8 catches for 145 yards and a TD. I hope for the Falcons sake they learned how to cover TEs over the offseason. 

13.) 2010 AFC Divisional – (A6) Jets 28 @ (A1) Patriots 21

Review: One year after beating the 13-3 Chargers who entered on a 11-game win streak, the Jets beat the 14-2 Patriots who entered on an 8-game win streak. Not only were the Patriots the best team in the NFL, but they had beaten the Jets 45-3 in that same stadium. Rex Ryan said he had to be better than Bill Belichick for one day, and he was. His defense masterfully confused Brady, dropping back into coverage and flooding the middle zones. Even when the Jets didn’t get pressure, Brady had nowhere to throw. It was scintillating defensive football. Mark Sanchez was confident, throwing for three TDs, including one on a ridiculous catch by Santonio Holmes. Rex Ryan called it the “2nd biggest game in the Jets’ franchise history.” That could be debated, but it was a giant game that the Jets showed up for. I have never seen Brady that rattled without being pressured that much, and I have never seen or enjoyed, Gillette being that stunned in silence.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Brady entered the game having not thrown an interception since Week 6 against Baltimore. On the first drive of the game, Brady floated a screen pass that David Harris picked off. The audible gasp by the crowd was a harbinger of the awful day it would be for the Patriots.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: There was controversy as the game started, as Bill Belichick benched Wes Welker for the 1st series after Welker playfully alluded to the alleged foot-fetish videos created by Rex Ryan and his wife. It was very clever, but probably out-of-bounds (don’t go after someone’s private sex life), and most certainly put the Patriots in a weird funk at the start.

Review: The 3rd straight Jets game brings us to their most harrowing loss. In Ben Roethlisberger’s first playoff game following his astounding 14-0 rookie season, he looked very much like a rookie, throwing two interceptions including a key pick-6. The Steelers did lead the game 10-0, and had a lot of success on the ground, running for 193 yards (101 from Bettis), but the Jets led late 17-10 after returning a punt and pick for scores. After a nice drive was capped off with a Roethlisberger TD to Ward with 6 minutes to go, the Jets staged two drives into Steelers territory, but two missed kicks by Doug Brien, from 47 and 43 yards, and his life was never the same. Unlike Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes in the 2007 NFC Championship, Brien never got a 3rd chance in OT. The Steelers won in OT on a kick by Jeff Reed, keeping their dream 15-1 season alive.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Doug Brien attempted both his field goals into the open end of Heinz Field, which is historically incredibly tough to kick into. Of course, the next week, Adam Vinatieri would nail a 48-yarder into that same end, setting the record for the longest field goal into the open end (at the time).

A Decade (and Two Years) of NFL Playoffs: Ranking the Divisional Games, Pt. 1

I'm continuing my look at the last ten years of football, the ten years of my life as a die-hard fan, by looking back at football at its best. The games. The Playoffs. This will be a ranking of the Divisional Round Games, starting with the first bunch that while interesting, were largely fogettable or average. Still, there isn't a lot of things I would pick over watching a playoff game, so they still have some appeal.

Tier I – Run to the Bunker and Cover Your Eyes, This ‘Out’ is About to ‘Blow’

48.) 2008 NFC Divisional – (N4) Cardinals 33 @ (N2) Panthers 13

Review: It all started so well for the Panthers. After back-to-back punts to open the game, the Panthers used their league-best running attack to score a quick TD after a long Williams and Stewart run. That was all the Panthers would do. It became really tough to watch late in the 2nd Quarter and into the 3rd. Jake Delhomme deserved better. Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and that great o-line deserved better. When it was over, the Cardinals had the biggest road win in terms of margin of victory in the post-2002 era in the divisional round. As fdr the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald couldn't be stopped. It was actually very reminiscent of Steve Smith's awesome performance in the 2005 Divisional in Chicago, as Fitzgerald just ran right through the Panthers Cover 2, providing all the offense that was really necessary.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was Kurt Warner’s first and only road playoff win of his career. In total, Kurt Warner played in 13 playoff games, and only two others were on the road, his losses to the Saints in 2000 and 2009. Considering that, this was the only outdoor road playoff game he ever played.

47.) 2002 NFC Divisional – (N6) Falcons 6 @ (N1) Eagles 20\

Review: Other than a notable game much higher up the list, the 2002-2004 Eagles played a string of just nauseatingly awful playoff games. They were just all so boring. This one had some interest because it was Donovan McNabb’s return to action after missing the last month of the season, and a McNabb vs. Vick showdown, but after Bobby Taylor’s first quarter pick-6 it was all over. Vick actually played decently except for two picks and McNabb played quite well, but overall, in a round where there are few lousy, unmemorable games (at least #40 had the Delhomme meltdown) this was one.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the last playoff game in the coaching career of Dan Reeves. Despite losing all four of his Super Bowl, Dan Reeves is notable because after his first two playoff appearances ended one-and-done in 1983 and 1984 with Denver, Reeves went to the playoffs 7 more times and never went one-and-done.

46.) 2009 NFC Divisional – (N4) Cardinals 14 @ (N1) Saints 45

Review: Man, the Kurt Warner knows how to play in bad divisional games. This one wasn’t terrible, and had some notable moments, like Reggie Bush becoming USC Reggie Bush for one day with a punt return and a long run for a TD, and a brief Matt Leinart appearance, as well as Tim Hightower starting the game with a 70-yard rushing TD. Overall, it was a sad end to a great career for Warner, who would get injured throwing an interception right before halftime. He came back in the 2nd half, but wasn’t the same. The Cardinals could do nothing with Leinart and the game was already effectively over. Even the Superdome crowd seemed a little bored by it all by the end.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This game will forever be known as the game that started the NFL’s initial probe into the Saints bounty system. Much talk happened with the legal hit levied on Warner after he threw his pick. In retrospect, it seems a lot dirtier than it did live.

45.) 2002 NFC Divisional – (N4) 49ers 6 @ (N2) Buccaneers 31

Review: In 2002, the top two NFC teams just were that much better than the other two. This one was a little more fun because of the offensive fireworks by the Bucs, putting up 28 points before halftime, and just getting to watch that ’02 Bucs defense is a game worth watching. Derrick Brooks had a pick and a fumble recovery. The Bucs limited the 49ers that put 39 up on the board the previous week to 6, with 5 turnovers and just 228 yards. It was a clinic by the best defense of this era, but did make for a boring second half as the Bucs were just playing out the string.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: I had no idea what to put here, but the Buccaneers are, by all accounts, the most dominant Super Bowl Champion as per their playoff performance since the dynasty 49ers and Cowboys. They won their three games 31-6, 27-10 and 48-21, for a combined 106-37. The closest any team got to them in the 2nd half was 17-10 in the Championship Game. They really are one of the most dominant one-year wonder Super Bowl teams ever.

44.) 2011 AFC Divisional – (A4) Broncos 10 @ (A1) Patriots 45

Review: If you like watching a lamb get slaughtered, then this was the game for you. The epic game right before ran late, so this one started by the time I switched over. Two minutes were gone from the game and it was already 7-0. The Patriots scored two touchdowns after the two-minute warning. Brady had all day and Gronk couldn’t be stopped. The biggest story was Tebow, in his last game as a Bronco, was simply awful., while Brady, in his first playoff win in four years, was absolutely brilliant except for one errant pick. The biggest blowout in the divisional round during this time set some records, but games that are 35-7 at halftime aren’t that fun.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Because I hate the Pats and will do some serious Pats-ball-washing later, here's a nice stat, despite throwing six TDs, Tom Brady continued his streak of throwing an interception in his 3rd straight playoff game. He would run that streak to five with picks in the AFC Title Game and Super Bowl XLVI. Since the 2006 Divisional, Brady has thrown 15 interceptions in 10 playoff games, and had just two games without picks (2007 Divisional and Super Bowl XLII).

43.) 2010 NFC Divisional – (N4) Seahawks 24 @ (N2) Bears 35

Review: Don’t let the score fool you, this was a rubbish game. The Seahawks scored two late touchdowns to make a 35-10 (and 28-3 previously) game seem respectable (and barely letting the Bears cover). We all knew this was going to happen, and when the Bears scored after just four plays on a beautiful throw but Cutler to Greg Olsen, it was confirmed. The Bears were never tested. It was a sloppy game by the Bears though as they dropped numerous interceptions and couldn’t at least make some nice defensive plays.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Jay Cutler threw for two TDs (one to Olsen and one to Kellen Davis) and ran for two more, making him the first player since Otto Graham in roughly 2400 BC to throw for two TDs and run for two TDs in the same playoff game.

42.) 2012 AFC Divisional - (A3) Texans 28 @ (A2) Patriots 41

Review: Everyone during the week kept bringing up the Jets in 2010 avenging their December Foxboro blowout with a win a few weeks later and comparing it to the Texans after they lost 42-14 in Foxboro. Well, congratulations, Texans, you did make it closer. There were actually two moments of doubt for Patriots fans. First was after the Texans returned the opening kickoff all the way to the Patriots 12 yard line. The Patriots did hold for a field goal, but then went three and out and the Texans were driving near mid-field. The second was after the Patriots raced to a 17-3 lead, the Texans scored 10 points in the final 1:30 of the 1st half to make it 17-13 at halftime. Of course, the Patriots scored the next three TDs to effectively put the game away. It was another absolute collapse for the Texans defense. At least JJ Watt had half a sack, but that just underscored how terrible the Texans pass defense was.

Interesting/Memorable Play: A first quarter incomplete deep ball to Rob Gronkowski would be arguably the most important play for the Patriots. Gronkowski would rebreak his arm that he broke against Indianapolis, ending his 2012 season for good just a handful of plays into his return. The second surgery begat a third and fourth and then a back surgery. That would be the last play where Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field at the same time, a quick end for the duo that was supposed to revolutionize football.

Tier II – The Worst Kind of Football, Close but Still Boring Football

41.) 2004 NFC Divisional – (N6) Vikings 14 @ (N1) Eagles 27

Review: I told you these games by the Eagles in these days were terrible. This was also not as close as the score as it was 27-7 before the Vikings engineered a garbage-time TD and some yards to make it seem a bit closer. The big question coming in was how fresh the Eagles would be as they had the bye and rested the last two weeks of the regular season. In the end, the Eagles were fine, with Westbrook and Freddie Mitchell getting receiving TDs and McNabb was a steady 21-33 for 286 and 2 tds. Culpepper had a rougher go, and in Moss’s final game with the Vikings (in his initial go) he had a soft 3 catches for 51 yards.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Freddie Mitchell caught a fumble in the end zone for the Eagles 2nd TD. After the game, in what would become the unleashing of the ‘FredEx’ name, Freddie in his press conference would say that “[he] would like to thank his hands.”

40.) 2005 NFC Divisional – (N6) Redskins 10 @ (N1) Seahawks 20

Review: In a rainy, slightly sloppy game, the Seahawks won their first playoff game in Qwest Field in steady fashion. The biggest story in the game was the NFL MVP in 2005, Shaun Alexander, getting a concussion in the 1st quarter. He left the game, but the rest of the Seahawks played fine, with Matthew going 16-26 for 215 and a touchdown. Darrell Jackson had another huge playoff game with a 9-143-1 line, and the Seahawks iced it with a long run by Mack Strong. All in all, a boring game for the NFL’s sometime most wild team in the NFL’s wildest house.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Both QBs in the game, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell were former Favre backups in Green Bay. This was the only time it happened. Packers camp cut Kurt Warner had a few playoff games against true backups Brooks and Rodgers.

39.) 2013 NFC Divisional - (N6) Saints 15 @ (N1) Seahawks 23

Review: This was basically a repeat of that game above, one that ended with a comfortable Seahawks win in a rain-filled game that looked far less close than the score indicated. The Seahawks offense did nothing apart from capitalize from great field position (two missed field goals helped), and another rushing TD by Marshawn Lynch that clinched the game. Russell Wilson was very shaky, completing just 9 of 18 passes and routinely missing slants. Still, he was better than Brees, who was doing nothing until garbage time when still benefitting from Earl Thomas and Walter Thurmond hitting each other to not pick off a pass. The Saints had a ridiculous comeback attempt but it was never happening in a sad, boring game.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Marshawn Lynch's run was memorable, but a case could be made he should have fallen at the 1. The Seahawks would have almost assuredly won 16-8, which would have eventually made them hold both the Saints and Broncos to 8 points. Absurd.

38.) 2009 AFC Divisional – (A6) Ravens 3 @ (A1) Colts 20

Review: The Colts under Manning played four divisional games at home. They lost three of them by 3, 3 and 4 points. In the only one they won, the Colts dominated the Ravens (late garbage-yardage by the Ravens made it seem close in yards). Manning threw two TDs after the 2-minute warning in the first half, the second with just three seconds left. Manning overall had an odd day. He completed 30 of 44 passes against a defense playing extremely tight, but completed them for only 246 yards. It was better than Flacco, though, as the Ravens offense picked up 71 yards on their first drive, and then just 68 on their next nine. As Dan Dierdorf said, the Colts “looked, felt and acted like a #1 seed.” Too bad the game was as boring as a classic #1 vs. #6 matchup.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: Ed Reed made two interceptions on the same Colts drive, and the Colts still scored on that drive. On the first, he was stripped by Pierre Garcon (not trying to lateral), and on the second, the play was called back after an obvious penalty.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: The most remembered part of this game was Peyton Manning shouting “God Damnit, Donald” after Donald Brown blocked the wrong way. The best part was Manning, while trying to avoid Corey Redding and Terrell Suggs, yelling at Brown.

37.) 2002 AFC Divisional – (A4) Jets 10 @ (A1) Raiders 30

Review: The Raiders tried running the ball in the 1st half. They didn’t really succeed, and they went into the half tied 10-10. They decided to screw the run in the 2nd half. They outscored the Jets 20-0. It was a surprisingly terrible day for Chad Pennington, as he completed just 21 of 47 passes (he completed 68.9% that season) and threw two picks. Gannon was on fire, as was Jerry Porter, who caught 6 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Late in the 2nd half, it became boring as the Raiders ran out much of the clock and Pennington painfully threw incomplete after incomplete.

Interesting/Memorable Personal Memory: I watched this game at my neighbor’s house. He’s and his family were Jets fans, so it was nice to have my team beat theirs in their house. I’ve only watched my teams play playoff games outside of my house twice (that game and Super Bowl XLI) and my team went 2-0. Not sure why I don’t do it more often.

36.) 2008 NFC Divisional – (N6) Eagles 23 @ (N1) Giants 11

Review: The Giants are now quite used to beating #1 seeds in the divisional round, but that doesn’t make them impervious from having it done to them. This was a weird game. With the wind howling, Eli Manning was wobbling passes all game long (including missing a TD on the first offensive snap of the game). McNabb was barely better. Both QBs threw two picks, and neither team really moved the ball well. That said, for much of the game, the Giants seemed to be moving the ball a lot more easily than the Eagles, but it just never worked out for them. A sad end to what was a great team in the 2008 Giants.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: The game came down to short-yardage. Despite being awful in short-yardage for much of the year, the Eagles were able to bang home TDs on 1st and Goals from the 1 twice (it did take them five plays including penalties to do it the first time), while the Giants, with Brandon Jacobs, went 0-2 on 4th down in the 4th quarter.

Interesting/Memorable Personal Memory: This game went on when I was at my Regional Band concert, and our conducter was an Eagle’s fan getting updates. I remember him shout a loud “Shit” after McNabb was called for Intentional Grounding in the end zone.

35.) 2005 NFC Divisional – (N5) Panthers 29 @ (N2) Bears 21

Review: It was actually decently close in the 2nd half, as the Bears cut it to 16-14 and 23-21 in the 2nd half. However, it was Rex Grossman vs. Jake Delhomme, and as comical as that sounds know, Jake Delhomme was a great postseason QB in his day. The stars coming in were a dominant Bears defense, who allowed just 68 points in their eight home games in 2005. That defense was good enough to carry a rookie Kyle Orton to an eight game win streak. They didn’t show up, while Steve Smith most certainly did, with 12 catches for 218 yards and two TDs.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Steve Smith had one of the better impromptu (I’m guessing) TD celebrations I’ve ever seen, as he jumped and slid down the goal-post. There really was few things more special than Steve Smith at his best.

34.) 2013 NFC Divisional - (N5) 49ers 23 @ (N2) Panthers 10

Review: Few games could have one team totally dominate for 25 minutes and then get dominated for the next 35, but that it what we had. The Panthers started the game forcing a field goal (after some shoddy officiating helping the 49ers) driving to the goal-line before being stuffed, forcing a quick punt and scoring a TD, and then driving to another 1st-and-goal situation. This time, they went for a field goal, and the 49ers had a nice TD drive right before the half... and that was the game. Cam Newton was done in by a terrible o-line performance and a defense that got just one sack after 60 on the season. The Panthers limited Kaepernick to just 15 yards running, but Gore had a solid 17-84 game, and the 49ers won the way everyone thought they were going to.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Panthers became the first team ever to lose two straight playoff games with both being after a bye. Sure, they were 5 years apart and few players overlapped, but the last two great seasons in Carolina football ended the same way, getting beaten at home in the Divisional against an NFC West team.

Tier III – The Disaster Tourism of the NFL

33.) 2004 NFC Divisional – (N5) Rams 17 @ (N2) Falcons 47

Review: In the Falcons first (and only) home game in the Vick era, the Falcons did exactly what the Vick-era Falcons always did: run the ball incredibly well. Bulger went 23-35 for 299 and 2 tds with 1 pick, and they didn’t even come close. Warrick Dunn ran for 142 on 17 carries and 2 TDs. Vick had 119 yards on eight rushes (a postseason record for a QB). TJ Duckett even had 66 yards on 15 carries. The Falcons even ran back a punt, with Allen Rossum returning his three punts for 152 yards. Even the Falcons defense got in on the party. Somehow, they led the NFL in sacks in 2004, and sacked Bulger four times and once for a safety. For one night, the Georgia Dome was the hottest place in the NFL.

Interesting/Memorable Personal Memory: My good friend at the time was a big Falcons fan, and for at least the next month (so even after their loss to the Eagles the next week) kept on saying “Awesome Rossum” for fun. He was, as all the Falcons were, awesome. That line even got in our 8th Grade yearbook.

32.) 2009 NFC Divisional – (N3) Cowboys 3 @ (N2) Vikings 34

Review: Brett Favre lost to the Cowboys in the playoffs in ’93, ’94 and ’95. He didn’t bring that bad-luck to Minnesota. The Vikings absolutely dominated every facet of this game other than not having much success running the ball. The Cowboys had chances, as their first three drives made it into Viking territory, but they came away with three points. Ray Edwards had three sacks. Jared Allen had one. When Romo got time, the Vikings gave him nothing (9.0 yards per catch). Favre was excellent, going 15-24 for 234 yards and 4 tds, while Sidney Rice made a lot of money off of the game, with 6 catches for 141 yards and three tds. All in all, it was a fun day in the Metrodome for everyone other than America’s Team.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: For all the talk about the Cowboys having chances that they screwed up (two missed field goals, botched snap), the Cowboys had just one drive of over 40 yards in the game, and that was their field goal drive.

31.) 2010 NFC Divisional – (N6) Packers 48 @ (N1) Falcons 21

Review: In a rematch of a close, tight Falcons regular season win, the Packers smashed the Falcons in a way no one saw coming. First the offense: Rodgers put on one of the most entertaining, greatest shows I have ever seen. He went 31-36 for 366 yards and three tds and ran for one more. The Falcons actually got a lot of pressure on Rodgers, but he evaded blitzers time after time. Now the defense: They held Matt Ryan to under 10 ypc. They limited Michael Turner to 39 yards on 10 rushes. They limited the Falcons to 194yards, and returned a interception for a touchdown right before half to make it 28-14 and essentially end it. Basically, it was everything the last Falcons home playoff game was not.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This game was the largest loss ever suffered by a #1 seed in their opening playoff game, and the most a #1 seed had ever been outgained in their opening playoff game. In any measure, it was the worst performance by a #1 seed in their playoff opener, ever.

30.) 2013 AFC Divisional - (A4) Colts 22 @ (A2) Patriots 43

Review: In a driving rain-storm, the Patriots decided to show how 'balanced' they were, scoring 6 rushing TDs, four from LeGarrette Blount who had a career day. Blount was important in building the lead, with the first three rushing TDs, and finishing it, with a long run with the Pats clinging to a 29-22 lead. Andrew Luck started slow, with a ghastly interception on the first series, but made a handful of ridiculous plays that three people on earth could make, and despite the loss, the Luck to Hilton connection still had over 100 yards. The Patriots didn't get anything going in the passing game (Brady finished just 13-25), but it rarely matters when you can run for 250 yards and pick off four passes.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The game seemed to be going the Colts way after the Patriots messed up a punt snap before the 2:00 warning resulting in a field goal after a lengthy review (came close to a Colts TD). The Colts then were driving right before the half when a pass bounced off Stanley Havili and into a Patriots player. The Colts managed to cut it to 21-15 in the 2nd half, but they could have had it at 21-19 at halftime.

29.) 2007 NFC Divisional – (N3) Seahawks 20 @ (N2) Packers 42

Review: In Brett Favre’s last win as a Packers starting QB, the Packers came back from an early 14-0 deficit (built off back-to-back fumbles by Ryan Grant) to score TDs on six straight drives. The Packers outrushed the Seahawks 235-28, with Ryan Grant setting a Packers record with 201 yards rushing. Favre was solid, going 18-23 for 173 yards and 3 tds with no picks and a classic Favre scramble and Favrian completion. The real star of the day, though, was the snow. In as perfect a snowstorm as possible, Lambeau truly looked like a winter-wonderland in the very best way.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Just how good were the Packers: They became just the 2nd team to score TDs on six straight drives in a playoff game. They also became just the 2nd team ever to win a playoff game by at least 14 after trailing by at least 14.

28.) 2004 AFC Divisional – (A3) Colts 3 @ (A2) Patriots 20


Review: In a game that made me reevaluate my belief that there was such thing as an unstoppable offense, the Patriots beat the Colts in a playoff game in a more “eff-you” way than the previous year. In the opposite of the previous season, Manning was one of the few Colts who played well, going 27-42 for 238 yards. What really turned the game was two dominating drives that went 86 and 92 yards by the Patriots to turn a 6-3 game in the 3rd quarter to a 20-3 blowout. The key was a run game that went for 210 yards. The Patriots held the ball for 40 minutes and blanketed the Colts, limiting them to short gain after short gain when they didn’t have the ball. In reality, the best way to describe the game was the play where Tedy Bruschi just ripped the ball out of Dominic Rhodes’ hands. It was, arguably, the greatest day in the Patriots dynasty.

Interesting/Memorable Play 1: The turning point of the game may have been on the Colts first drive of the 2nd half. Trailing just 6-3 at that point, the Colts had a 4th and 1 on the Patriots 48, and Tony Dungy, still in his conservative phase, punted. The Patriots then immediately began their two brutal clock-killing TD drives.

Interesting/Memorable Moment: After the game, Tedy Bruschi let out what was the Patriots’ version of Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait!” speech, telling the world, “If you want to change the rules, change them” and “that’s what we do, we win.” I still admire those Patriots because they weren’t robots. They talked quite a bit of smack.

27.) 2008 AFC Divisional – (A4) Chargers 24 @ (A2) Steelers 35

Review: The 9-8 Chargers scored a 41-yard TD on their 4th play of the game to go up 7-0 with just 1:52 gone. The Steelers scored a TD with 2:04 gone in the 4th quarter. In the 30:04 in between those plays, the Steelers outscored the Chargers 28-3, outgained them 251-69, and ran 51 plays to the Chargers 31. In the 3rd quarter, the Chargers ran one play, where Philip Rivers was intercepted. It was pure dominated. Philip Rivers did add some garbage yards, but even then, his day wasn’t all that bad. It was Willie Parker who stole the show, with 146 yards on 27 carries and two TDs. Santonio Holmes also returned a punt for a touchdown, and Roethlisberger was turnover free. That 3rd quarter was about as dominant I’ve ever seen a team play. It was pure brilliance in front of a hopping-loud crowd at Heinz Field.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Santonio Holmes punt return for a TD was off of Mike Scifres, who had basically been the team MVP for pinning four punts inside the 10 the previous week against the Colts. Also, right before the punt return, Jim Nantz gave us the information all of us needed, that Scifres was not pronounced Sigh-Fers, but Sigh-Fris, a pronunciation I don't think he's ever used again.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Through the 16 games of the regular season, the Steelers didn’t allow any QB to throw for 300 yards or any RB to run for 100. They finished the season without the latter happening, but Rivers became the first QB to throw for over 300 against them, with 308. That said, 161 of those yards came after the game was 28-10 and effectively over.

Next Up: The Best Games from the Best Weekend in Sports.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.