(Note: Games played in January 2000, which capped the 1999 season, were taken into account.)
Some said it would take a perfect game to upset the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, and the Patriots played it. They were outgained 427-267 but forced three turnovers while not committing one of their own; equally important, New England converted those takeaways into 17 points. The game was decided by a 48-yard field goal as time expired, but there was drama throughout the fourth quarter as St. Louis rallied from a 17-3 deficit to tie the score with 1:30 to play. Patriots QB Tom Brady showed no nerves. With no timeouts, he completed three short passes before finding Troy Brown for 23 yards and Jermaine Wiggins for 16. He then spiked the ball to set the stage for Adam Vinatieri.
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49ers 39, Giants 38
San Francisco staged the second-biggest comeback in playoff history, overcoming a 24-point deficit in a game that was as controversial as it was dramatic. The 49ers trailed 38-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter, then rallied for 25 straight points behind Jeff Garcia, who ran for one score and threw for two -- the last a 13-yard strike to Tai Steets with a minute to play. The Giants positioned themselves for a 41-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds left, but Trey Junkin's low snap set off a wild chain of events that culminated with holder Matt Allen throwing a desperation pass. New York was penalized for illegal men downfield, ending the game. The league later admitted the 49ers should have been called for pass interference, which would have resulted in a do-over.
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Rams 23, Titans 16
The first Super Bowl played in the 2000s will always be remembered for one image: Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson extending his arm toward the goal line as he's tackled on the final play of the game, the ball spotted a yard shy of the end zone. St. Louis led 16-0 midway through the third quarter before the Titans scored 16 consecutive points. The Rams responded behind Kurt Warner, the game's MVP, who found Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard score. Rams fans couldn't celebrate long as Steve McNair led the Titans from the Tennessee 12-yard line to the St. Louis 10. With six seconds to go, McNair took the snap in the shotgun and threw to his right, where Dyson was tackled by Mike Jones before reaching the goal line.
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Titans 22, Bills 16
There was controversy before the game started because Bills coach Wade Phillips benched Doug Flutie, who had started 15 games and quarterbacked the team into the playoffs, for high-priced but inexperienced veteran Rob Johnson. Buffalo overcame the distraction and a 12-0 deficit to take a 16-15 lead with 16 seconds to play. But in pro football's version of The Play -- minus a Stanford trombone player being run over -- Tennessee's Lorenzo Neal took the ensuing kickoff and handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson. The Titans' receiver then ran down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown and the victory. The Music City Miracle was upheld after being reviewed in the replay booth.
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Steelers 21, Colts 18
The twists-and-turns finish alone made this game a classic. With the Steelers holding a three-point lead and knocking on the Colts' goal line with 1:20 left, Gary Brackett forced Jerome Bettis to fumble. Colts cornerback Nick Harper recovered and raced into the open field, only to have Ben Roethlisberger make a touchdown-saving shoestring tackle at the Indy 42. The Colts drove into scoring possession, but Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed a field goal at home all season, was wide right on a 46-yarder that could have tied the score with 21 seconds to play. The sixth-seeded Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl; a Colts season that started 13-0 ended in disappointment.
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Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
The Tuck Rule game was a classic for multiple reasons: 1) it was played in a snowstorm; 2) it marked the postseason coming-out party of Tom Brady, who led New England to a touchdown and two field goals in its final four possessions; and 3) it featured arguably the greatest clutch kicker in postseason history, Adam Vinatieri, who forced overtime with a 45-yarder and won it with a 23-yarder. Then there was the controversy. With under two minutes to play, Charles Woodson knocked the ball loose while sacking Brady at the Oakland 48. The Raiders recovered, but the ball was returned to the Patriots after the call was overturned on replay. Five plays later, Vinatieri forced overtime.
7 of 10Jim Trotter/SI.com
Giants 17, Patriots 14
The 2008 championship game was a defensive struggle through three quarters, with the teams combining for only 10 points. But the drama began to build in the fourth quarter when it was apparent that New York might actually deny New England a place in history. The Patriots were seeking to become the first 19-0 team, but a New York pass rush sacked Tom Brady five times and harassed him countless others. David Tyree's 32-yard reception with a minute to play -- after an improbable third-down escape of a sack by Eli Manning -- set up Manning's winning 13-yard score to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to play. Tyree's helmet catch is arguably the most memorable play in Super Bowl history.
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Colts 38, Patriots 34
Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning finally answered their critics by earning their first trip to the Super Bowl. The fact that it came against their archnemesis -- and featured the largest comeback in championship game history -- made it all the sweeter. The game had many strange occurrences: two scores by offensive linemen off fumble recoveries, a touchdown catch by a defensive tackle, an interception return for a score and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Manning, who threw for 349 yards and a TD, marched the Colts 80 yards in the final two-plus minutes for the decisive score.
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Jets 40, Dolphins 37 (OT)
Every Jets fan will claim to have been in attendance for this Monday-night miracle after quarterback Vinny Testaverde erased a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit by completing 18-of-26 passes for 235 yards and four scores in the final 15 minutes of regulation. His three-yard toss to Jumbo Elliott on a tackle-eligible play with 42 seconds to go tied the game at 37-37, and John Hall's 40-yard field goal in OT won it. What made the outcome most memorable was that it came before a virtually empty stadium, as many in the crowd headed for the exits after Miami took a 30-7 lead.
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Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
This one had it all: great players, great plays and so much drama that you thought twice before running to the bathroom. Steelers linebacker James Harrison punctuated his Defensive Player of the Year season by returning an interception 100 yards for a TD to end the first half, and Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald scored twice in the fourth quarter to establish receiving records for catches (30), yards (546) and touchdowns (seven) in a single postseason. His 64-yard catch-and-run with 2:37 to play gave the Cardinals their first lead at 23-20, but Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes stole the MVP award by snaring a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds to play. It is our game of the decade.
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