Defining Moments of the NFL Postseason
Hardly given a chance entering their NFC Wildcard showdown with New Orleans, the Seahawks shocked the football world by dusting the Saints 41-36. Matt Hasselbeck rose to the occasion, airing it out for 272 yards and four touchdowns, but the real hero of the day was Marshawn Lynch. Lynch ripped off an incredible 67-yard touchdown run, shedding eight tackles and delivering an unforgettable stiff arm to Tracy Porter to seal the upset. The surprising result ended the Saints' bid at a repeat championship.
With last year's AFC Championship loss still fresh in their minds, the Jets approached their Wildcard matchup in Indianapolis as chance to get even. They did just that, defeating Peyton Manning and Co. in a last-second thriller. After Manning pioneered the Colts to a 16-14 lead with just 1:43 remaining, Mark Sanchez responded by completing three consecutive passes to set up a game-winning field goal attempt. Nick Folk coolly connected on the 32-yard try to give the Jets their third road playoff victory in past two years.
Michael Vick's resurgent season in Philadelphia came to an abrupt close in their NFC Wildcard game against the Packers. Trailing 14-0 early, the Eagles overcame two missed David Akers field goals to slice the lead to 21-16 with just under five minutes left. Their storybook comeback was not to be. Cornerback Tramon Williams intercepted Vick's final pass, a lob to the end zone to rookie Riley Cooper, to clinch the victory for Green Bay.
Ben Roethlisberger may not have the statistics that other elite NFL quarterbacks have, but he certainly knows how to win. That was evident in the Steelers' AFC Divisional matchup with Ravens on Jan. 15. With the score tied late in the fourth quarter and Pittsburgh facing a 3rd-and-19, Roethlisberger unleashed a 58-yard heave to a streaking Antonio Brown, who trapped it on his helmet before stepping out of bounds. Rashard Mendenhall plowed his way for a touchdown a few plays later, and the Steelers fended off bitter-rival Baltimore 31-24.
Matt Ryan developed a reputation for being dominant at home, leading the Falcons to 7-1 mark in the Georgia Dome in 2010. In their NFC Divisional Round showdown with the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was even better. Rodgers picked apart Atlanta's defense, completing 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three scores. He also found the end zone with his feet, carrying in a seven-yard score midway through the third quarter in Green Bay's 48-21 romp.
The third installment of Jets-Patriots series became a one-sided media war, with New York -- Antonio Cromartie in particular -- calling out the same New England team that crushed them 45-3 in Week 13. Then, the Jets backed it up. Keyed by an electrifying seven-yard touchdown grab by Santonio Holmes early in the fourth, Gang Green ousted the heavily-favored Pats 28-21. Ryan boasted after the game, "Same old Jets. Back to the AFC Championship."
The NFC Championship Game on Jan. 23 was one to forget for Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler. After passing for a mere 80 yards and an interception in the first half, he was deemed ineligible to play, retreating to Chicago's bench due to injury. The move was not well received. Cutler's absence spurred widespread condemnation from NFL players questioning his toughness, though teammate Brian Urlacher came to his defense. A day after the game, it was revealed that Cutler had a torn MCL.
Packers' nose tackle B.J. Raji is known for pressuring opposing quarterbacks. In the NFC Championship Game, he proved that he's equally capable of dropping back into coverage. The 338-pound Raji picked off Caleb Hanie's fourth quarter pass attempt, rumbling 18 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 21-7 lead. His celebration dance was well deserved. Though Chicago threatened late, Green Bay held on for a 21-14 victory and a trip to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
After impressive road victories over the Colts and Patriots, Rex Ryan's squad fell just short in the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. The Steelers pummeled the Jets early, racking up 24 first-half points while defensively holding the Jets to just one rushing yard. New York mounted a furious comeback, cutting the lead to 24-19 in the fourth quarter, but it was too late. Ben Roethlisberger's scrambling 14-yard completion to Antonio Brown ended the Jets postseason run and prompted Ryan to hurl his headset violently to the ground in disgust.
Capping one of the greatest postseasons for any quarterback in history, Aaron Rodgers was named Super Bowl MVP and led the Packers to their first NFL championship in 14 years. Green Bay held off a late rally by the Pittsburgh Steelers to record a 31-25 victory and reclaim the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for their legendary coach who won the first two Super Bowls in history.