On the Ball: Best NFL Playoff Games of the Millennium
The playoffs resume this weekend with two games Saturday and two more Sunday and each one has a chance to turn into an instant classic—just like the five listed below, which I deemed to be the best five postseason games since 2000. Onto that list:
5. Jan. 8, 2000: AFC Wild Card—Titans 22, Bills 16
The Bills surely thought they had won it after Doug Christie’s 51-yard field goal with 16 seconds left gave them a 16–15 lead—but they hadn’t. What happened on the ensuing kickoff may be the most-disputed call in the history of the NFL—not because it was wrong or right—but because it’s nearly impossible to say for sure whether Frank Wycheck’s lateral/forward pass to Kevin Dyson at the end of this classic game was legal or not. The referees ruled it legal and the play—a game-winning 75-yard kickoff lateral-return to end the game—capped off a roller-coaster final minute of action and helped propel the Titans all the way to the Super Bowl.
4. Jan. 21, 2007: AFC Championship—Colts 38, Patriots 34
Manning-Brady III finally turned out to be the charm for Peyton who was stymied by Tom Terrific and the Patriots in both the 2004 and 2005 postseasons—though it didn’t look like it early on in this one. After an Asante Samuel pick-six early in the second quarter, New England held a seemingly commanding 21–3 lead. The resilient Colts would come all the way back to tie the game at 21 in the third though and then again at 31 in the fourth before Joseph Addai’s three-yard run with 1:03 left put them ahead for good. Manning, for his part, threw for 349 yards and a TD as the Colts rang up 455 yards of offense against Bill Belichick’s defense.
3. Feb. 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII—Giants 17, Patriots 14
The undefeated, untied, and untested Patriots were 12-point favorites over the seemingly harmless Giants, who they had beat just a month earlier, heading into Super Bowl XLII. Through three quarters they led 7–3, but couldn’t quite shake the G-Men, who scored early in the fourth to take a 10–7 lead. The Patriots though bit back as Tom Brady found Moss in the end zone with 2:45 left to go back up 14–10. That’s when David Tyree happened. Before Odell Beckham Jr.’s ridiculous one-handed, diving catch against the Cowboys in November of 2014, there was Tyree’s holding-on-against-all-odds 32-yard reception on third-and-five with 59 seconds left that kept the Giants’ drive alive. Four plays later, Manning hooked up with Plaxico Burress for the game-winning 13-yard TD.
2. Jan. 5, 2003: NFC Wild Card—49ers 39, Giants 38
The turning point in this game—the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history—wasn’t a TD pass or a sack or any play that showed up in the box score. It was when Giants defensive end Michael Strahan pointed to the scoreboard after Terrell Owens two-point conversion reception with 2:10 remaining in the third that cut the Giants lead to 38–22. An energized San Francisco club, which trailed by 24 two minutes earlier, rallied to score the final 25 points and hung on in the final seconds as the Giants botched the snap on what would have been a game-winning 40-yard field goal. The bad snap resulted in holder Matt Allen trying in vain to find an open receiver (though it appeared a pass interference call was missed on the 49ers) and the game was over.
1. Feb. 1, 2009: Super Bowl XLIII—Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
For a majority of the 1980s and ’90s Super Bowls had become over-hyped blowouts that never lived up to their billing. By 2000, the league conferences had balanced out and we had a number of exciting title games. This ended up being the best of them—although it didn’t look like it when Jeff Reed’s 21-yard field goal put the Steelers up 20–7 with 2:16 left in the third. Pittsburgh, which got a game-changing 100-yard interception return for a TD from linebacker James Harrison late in the first half, still clung to the 13-point lead before Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone with 7:41 left in the fourth to cut the Steelers lead to six. After a safety pulled them to within four, Warner hooked up with Fitzgerald again—this time for a 64-yard score—to put the Cardinals up 23–20 with 2:47 left. Not done yet, Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 78 yards in eight plays, including a six-yard pass to Santonio Holmes in the end zone for the winning score.