NFL playoff-surviving franchises part of great conference title games
From the Ice Bowl to The Grab, NFL lore is filled with nicknames for its classic playoff games.
In between the Packers’ frigid 21-17 NFL championship win over the Cowboys in 1967 and Vernon Davis’ 14-yard TD grab with 9 seconds left in the 49ers’ 36-32 thriller over the Saints last weekend, there’s been The Catch, The Drive, The Fumble and a slew of other games characterized by much more than the score.
For this playoff Pick 6, we’re looking at AFC and NFC championship games with a timely take. Only games played involving teams – or a coach, in one case – involved in today’s conference title games are eligible. That reduces the field to the Giants, 49ers, Patriots and Ravens, plus 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
Two classic AFC title game gems don’t make this list. The first is The Drive, when John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards in 5:02 to tie the game at Cleveland with 37 seconds left, and Denver won 23-20 in overtime. The second came a year later, in 1987, when the Browns’ Earnest Byner fumbled at the Broncos’ 2 with 1:12 left while on his way for a score, and Denver won again, 38-33.
And let us not forget the Vikings’ misfortunes in the NFC title games of 1998 and 2009. The Falcons beat them 30-27 in overtime in ’98. In the fourth quarter, Minnesota’s Gary Anderson missed his first field goal all season. And the Saints won 31-28 in OT in ’09 after Brett Favre’s ill-advised pass over the middle was intercepted with the Vikings in range for a winning field goal at the end of regulation.
Herewith, our list of Giants, 49ers, Patriots, Ravens-centric classic conference clashes:
• 49ers 28, Cowboys 27 (Jan. 10, 1982): The Catch. Need more? OK. Trailing 27-21 and at their 11, the 49ers and Joe Montana reached the Cowboys 6 with 58 seconds left. Montana took the third-down snap, backpedaled to avoid a ferocious rush, and then, after a pump fake, threw a high pass that was snagged by a leaping Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone for the winning TD. Almost forgotten was what occurred when Dallas got the ball back. Danny White hit Drew Pearson with about 40 seconds left, and just before the receiver was set to break away, the 49ers’ Eric Wright grabbed the back of his neck and dragged him down. White fumbled on the next play.
• Giants 15, 49ers 13 (Jan. 20, 1991): With Hall of Famers galore on both teams, it was the 49ers going for a third straight NFL title. They led 13-9 early in the fourth quarter. Then it all came apart: Leonard Marshall knocked Joe Montana out of the game with a crushing hit from behind; Gary Reasons ran 30 yards on a fake punt to set up a field goal; Erik Howard’s helmet jarred the ball loose from Roger Craig and Lawrence Taylor recovered with 2:36 to go; and seven plays later, Matt Bahr kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired. Call it the end of an era.
• Steelers 20, Colts 16 (Jan. 14, 1996): In what appeared to be a mismatch, the Steelers had their hands full with the underdog Colts, led by quarterback/now 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. It all came down to a final play: Colts ball on the Steelers’ 29 on third-and-1, and Harbaugh’s heave went through the hands of Aaron Bailey in the end zone.
• Ravens 16, Raiders 3 (Jan. 14, 2001): It was the Ravens’ stingy defense (five turnovers) – and Trent Dilfer to Shannon Sharpe on a 96-yard catch and run for a score – that led Baltimore to its only AFC title. The win was perhaps sweetest for owner Art Modell, whose Browns lost three AFC title games to the Broncos before he moved the team from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
• Colts 38, Patriots 34 (Jan. 21, 2007): One of the best NFL rivalries during the mid-2000s, and this time Peyton Manning came out on top after Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Colts the previous three years in the playoffs. Although the Patriots led 21-3, Manning led the Colts to 32 points in the second half for the largest comeback in a conference title game.
• Giants 23, Packers 20, OT (Jan. 20, 2008): Lawrence Tynes followed in Bahr’s kicking shoes when he booted a 47-yard field goal in overtime on another frigid day at Lambeau Field. The game could have ended in the Giants’ favor in regulation. With the score 20-20, Ahmad Bradshaw ran 48 yards for an apparent TD with 2:15 left, but Chris Snee was called for holding and the play was nullified. The Giants drove to the Packers’ 18, but Tynes was wide left with a 36-yard field-goal attempt with 4 seconds left. In OT, Favre and the Pack got the ball first, but Favre was picked off by Corey Webster on the second play. After the Giants gained 5 yards on three plays, Tynes delivered his winner. It came 17 years to the day after Bahr won the 1990 NFC title game with his field goal.
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