The Most Clutch Moments in NFL Postseason History
Dec. 9, 1934: NFL Championship Game, New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13
The championship trophy rightfully could be displayed at Manhattan College. That’s where New York coach Steve Owen sent an assistant at halftime to get sneakers for his team, which trailed in a game being played on a frozen Polo Grounds turf. With enhanced traction, the Giants exploded for 27 points during a 10-minute stretch in the second half and crushed the then-unbeaten Bears in what’s known as “The Sneaker Game.”
Dec. 28, 1958: NFL Championship Game, Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17
Alan Ameche is remembered as the man who rumbled in from one yard out to win what came to be touted as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the first NFL playoff contest to go to sudden-death overtime. But that heroism never would have happened if Ameche hadn’t pulled in an eight-yard pass from Johnny Unitas on a third-and-8 in Baltimore territory earlier in the drive.
Dec. 26, 1960: NFL Championship Game, Philadelphia Eagles 17, Green Bay Packers 13
Vince Lombardi suffered his only playoff defeat thanks to brutish linebacker Chuck Bednarik, who tackled Green Bay fullback Jim Taylor at the 10-yard line with seconds remaining and held him down until the clock ran out.
Dec. 31, 1967: NFL Championship Game, Green Bay Packers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
It was minus-15 degrees at kickoff, with the wind chill at Lambeau Field averaging minus-45. Frozen tundra, indeed. With 16 seconds left and Green Bay at the Dallas 1, trailing by three points, quarterback Bart Starr tucked the football -- which, he said, felt like “a piece of ice” -- under his arm, followed a block by right guard Jerry Kramer, and snuck into the end zone to win what would be remembered as “The Ice Bowl.”
Jan. 12, 1969: Super Bowl III, New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
The memorable moment actually came three nights earlier, during a festive event at the Miami Touchdown Club. Joe Namath, whose Jets were 18-point underdogs, had a few drinks and told the crowd, to its amusement, “We’re gonna win this game. I guarantee it.” Then all he had to do was go out and make it so.
Dec. 23, 1972: AFC Divisional playoff, Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Oakland Raiders 7
With 22 seconds remaining and no timeouts, trailing by a point, Pittsburgh faced a fourth-and-10 at its 40-yard line. Terry Bradshaw, frantically avoiding the pass rush, fired a ball over the middle for John Fuqua, but Jack Tatum was there to break it up. Allegedly. Whether the Oakland safety deflected the ball was in dispute, but the rest of what happened was clear: Franco Harris grabbed the ball before it hit the turf and ran it in to give the Steelers an improbable victory via “The Immaculate Reception.”
Dec. 28, 1975: NFC Divisional playoff, Dallas Cowboys 17, Minnesota Vikings 14
Roger Staubach was a religious man, so when his heave downfield with 32 seconds left found Drew Pearson for a 37-yard touchdown that won the game for Dallas, the quarterback described the play this way: “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.” Thus was born the common term for game-ending desperation passes.
Jan. 4, 1981: AFC Divisional playoff, Oakland Raiders 14, Cleveland Browns 12
Cleveland was in position for a winning field goal, with the ball at the Oakland 13-yard line and just 49 seconds remaining. But the Browns elected to take a shot into the end zone, and it backfired when Raiders safety Mike Davis made a game-saving interception of the Brian Sipe pass.
Jan. 10, 1982: NFC Championship Game, San Francisco 49ers 28, Dallas Cowboys 27
On a third-and-3 at the Dallas six with 58 seconds to go, with San Francisco down by six points, Joe Montana drifted out of the pocket, drifted right, drifted in a bit of a backpedal, drifted until he could drift no more. Then he lofted a pass toward the end zone, high and seemingly uncatchable. Until Dwight Clark leaped up near the end line and made “The Catch.”
Jan. 30, 1983: Super Bowl XVII, Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
The Redskins trailed by four points in the fourth quarter when they faced a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 43. Washington had bullish John Riggins in the backfield, so the obvious choice was to go for it. And that’s what Riggins did -- going for it all -- as he broke through the left side of the line and went the distance for the winning score.
Jan. 11, 1987: AFC Championship Game, Denver Broncos 23, Cleveland Browns 20
The Broncos trailed by a touchdown with 5:32 left when they took over on their two-yard line. John Elway then orchestrated what’s known as “The Drive,” tying the score with 37 seconds left on a five-yard pass to Mark Jackson. The pivotal play on the march was a different Elway-to-Jackson connection: a 20-yard pass play on a third-and-18. Denver won in overtime.
Jan. 17, 1988: AFC Championship Game, Denver Broncos 38, Cleveland Browns 31
Ernest Byner was headed toward the end zone for a tying touchdown with 1:12 left when Denver defensive back Jeremiah Castille stripped the running back of the ball at the three-yard line, with the Broncos recovering the rock to preserve their second straight trip to the Super Bowl. Byner’s foible will forever be known as “The Fumble.”
Jan. 3, 1993: AFC wild-card playoff, Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38
Houston was rolling, with four touchdown passes by Warren Moon giving the Oilers a 28-3 halftime lead. And a pick-6 early in the third quarter built the advantage to 32 points. But then Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich, who’d started in place of injured Jim Kelly, got his offense moving. The Bills roared back to take the lead after Andre Reed's third straight TD reception late in the fourth quarter of a game known simply as “The Comeback.” Though the Oilers sent it into overtime, the comeback was completed when Nate Odomes intercepted a Moon pass to set up the Bills’ winning field goal.
Jan. 8, 2000: AFC wild-card playoff, Tennessee Titans 22, Buffalo Bills 16
After Buffalo had taken the lead with 16 seconds left, Frank Wycheck fielded the kickoff for Tennessee and threw a lateral all the way across the field to speedy Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards for the win. The play is remembered as “The Music City Miracle.”
Jan. 30, 2000: Super Bowl XXXIV, St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16
Three weeks after his heroic return in the wild-card game, Kevin Dyson had an opportunity to make a huge play on an even grander stage. Trailing by seven points, Tennessee had the ball at the St. Louis 10-yard line with six seconds left when Steve McNair hit an open Dyson, who headed for the end zone. But Rams linebacker Mike Jones brought the receiver down at the one, avoiding the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
Jan. 11, 2004: NFC Divisional playoff, Philadelphia Eagles 20, Green Bay Packers 17
The Eagles trailed by a field goal with 1:12 left when they faced a fourth-and-26 at their 25-yard line. There aren’t many entries in the playbook for such situations. But Donovan McNabb found Freddie Mitchell between defenders over the middle for 29 yards, and Philadelphia continued the drive for a tying field goal, then kicked another one in overtime to win.
Feb. 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14
The Patriots had gone 16-0 in the regular season, had won two playoff games, and seemed destined for perfection when they took the lead with 2:42 to play. New England appeared to sew up the victory when two pass rushers corralled Eli Manning on a third-and-5 from the New York 44, but the quarterback somehow escaped and heaved a pass downfield. David Tyree leaped for it, got one hand on the ball, and pinned it to his helmet to complete the 32-yard reception. Three plays later, the Giants scored the winning touchdown.
Feb. 1, 2009: Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
The Cardinals were on the verge of taking a lead into halftime, with a first down at the Pittsburgh one-yard line with 18 seconds to go. But a Kurt Warner pass was intercepted at the goal line by linebacker James Harrison, who rumbled 100 yards to make it a 17-7 game. A 14-point turnaround, in an instant. Santonio Holmes caught four balls for 73 yards on the Steelers' final possession -- including a gravity-defying, toe-dragging TD reception in the right corner of the end zone with just 35 seconds remaining -- clinching the franchise's sixth Lombardi trophy.
Jan. 8, 2011: NFC wild-card playoff, Seattle Seahawks 41, New Orleans Saints 36
The Seahawks were protecting a three-point lead over the explosive Saints with 3:38 remaining when, on second down, Marshawn Lynch ran to the left, broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage, then broke another, and another. In all, Lynch fended off nine Saints on his way to a clinching 67-yard TD.
Feb. 5, 2012: Super Bowl XLVI, New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
The Giants trailed by two points when they took over at their 12-yard line with 3:46 left. On the first play, Eli Manning lofted a pass down the left sideline that found an in-stride Mario Manningham, who caught the ball for a 38-yard gain that sparked New York’s winning drive.
Jan. 12, 2013: AFC Divisional playoff, Baltimore Ravens 38, Denver Broncos 35
The Ravens trailed by seven points and faced a third-and-3 at their 30-yard line with just 44 seconds remaining when Joe Flacco threw deep downfield. A Denver defender mistimed his jump to knock the ball away, and Jacoby Jones pulled it in and ran into the end zone to tie the game on “The Mile High Miracle.” Baltimore then won in OT.