11Alive Sports serves up a detailed look at the 15 most memorable games from Divisional Playoff weekend (descending order), ranking the classics which occurred after the NFL-AFL merger (1970 season).
1988 NFC Playoffs -- Bears 20, Eagles 12
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Fog Bowl
All the cherished memories from this surreal classic stem from the intrepid work of TV reporters hovering near the field of play; and who can forget CBS announcers Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw awkwardly laughing through calls ... simply because they couldn't identify plays or players between the 20s?
In this social-media age, would the NFL have allowed The Fog Bowl to proceed, if the vast majority of fans were clamoring for the event to be stopped? And would the result have been the same, under ideal conditions?
For Question #1, heck no!
After all, that Eagles team boasted in-their-prime stars like Reggie White, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen and Jerome Brown; and the Bears were still riding the tidal wave of championship glory from three years prior.
The greatest stat of all: Philly QB Randall Cunningham somehow passed for 407 yards, without the benefit of a single TD.
1977 NFC Playoffs -- Vikings 14, Rams 7
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Mud Bowl
The slimy pitch at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum eerily resembled the Devonshire moors from the famous book, The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
Minnesota was also smarting from a 35-3 blowout loss to Los Angeles back in October, which occurred on the same Coliseum field (albeit considerably dryer).
The footing was wretched from the opening kickoff, but firm enough for Vikings QB Bob Lee to register a 5-yard TD pass to Chuck Foreman in the first quarter.
Who's Bob Lee? He was forced into starter duty during the playoffs, replacing injured legend Fran Tarkenton. Charting his entire NFL career (12 seasons), Lee amassed one touchdown pass in postseason play–the dump-pass TD to Foreman.
The Vikings then added a score in the fourth quarter ... before withstanding a furious Rams rally in the end. The '77 Rams (led by Jack Youngblood) ranked 1st in scoring differential, 2nd in overall scoring and 4th in total defense.
Fun fact about the 1977 Rams: Their five total losses (including the playoffs) had a grand-total margin of 23 points.
2011 NFC Playoffs -- 49ers 36, Saints 32
ALSO KNOWN AS: Alex Smith Runs To Daylight
Both teams carried 13-3 records into Candlestick Park.
Plus, when tracking the game's brightest stars -- Drew Brees (462 yards passing, four TDs), Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Alex Smith (299 yards passing, four TDs), Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree -- all eight accounted for at least 100 total yards or one touchdown.
Smith's final two scores remain the stuff of legend: In fact, his 28-yard rushing TD once stood as the longest single carry of his pro career.
Smith's 14-yard TD pass to Davis also evoked memories of Terrell Owens' game-winning TD during the 1998 playoffs, with both stars joyfully crying after helping the Niners advance through the playoffs.
GREATEST GAMES OF DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND
1971 AFC Playoffs -- Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24 (2OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Longest Game, Part I
The 1971 Dolphins and 2003 Panthers notched double-overtime road upsets for Divisional Playoff weekend, with both clubs eventually reaching the Super Bowl, as well.
In Miami's case, it was the first game in NFL history to eclipse a fifth quarter.
On Christmas Night, the Dolphins' Hall of Fame trio of Bob Griese (272 total yards), Paul Warfield (140 total yards) and Larry Csonka accounted for three TDs -- including Griese's overtime-forcing TD pass in the fourth quarter.
For the Chiefs, Ed Podolak had the game of his life, racking up 195 total yards/two TDs from scrimmage ... and 154 kick-return yards.
In the sixth quarter, kicker Garo Yepremian clinched Miami's harrowing victory with a 37-yard field goal.
2003 NFC Playoffs -- Panthers 29, Rams 23 (2OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Longest Game, Part II
As mentioned above, the 1971 Dolphins and 2003 Panthers notched double-overtime road upsets for Divisional Playoff weekend and made the Super Bowl that year.
It's a very exclusive listing.
In Carolina's case, a Steve Smith TD on the opening play of the second overtime effectively ended the Rams' run as an NFL powerhouse (four double-digit-victory campaigns from 1999-2003).
Of course, the Panthers didn't intend to extend the game so far, squandering an 11-point lead in the final three minutes.
On the bright side, Carolina held Rams QB Marc Bulger (zero TDs) and receiver Torry Holt (two catches, 21 yards) to marginal gains ... allowing only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (131 total yards) to locate the end zone.
1999 NFC Playoffs -- Rams 49, Vikings 37
ALSO KNOWN AS: Kurt Warner's Playoff Breakthrough
In 1999, Warner had become an overnight sensation with the Rams, transforming from grocery-store stocker ... to backup QB (Trent Green) ... to primary cog in The Greatest Show On Turf offense, which also featured Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (2,429 total yards, 12 TDs) and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
The Rams-Vikings matchup was an offensive showcase for the ages, with quarterbacks Warner (391 yards passing, five TDs) and Minnesota's Jeff George accounting for 800-plus yards passing and nine TDs.
That greatness trickled down to the playmakers, with Faulk (101 total yards, two TDs), Bruce (133 yards, one TD), Hall of Famer Cris Carter (106 yards, one TD) and Hall of Famr Randy Moss (nine catches, 188 yards, two TDs) racking up monster numbers.
1996 AFC Playoffs -- Jaguars 30, Broncos 27
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Mile High Shocker
Most people forget how the expansion-mode Jaguars (Year 2) badly needed Hall of Famer Morten Andersen to miss a chip-shot field goal in Week 17 ... just to make the 1996 playoffs.
After that, Jacksonville pulled off road shockers over Buffalo and Denver -- with the latter curtailing a Broncos season that began at 13-1 but ended in abject misery for John Elway and Co.
Adding to the fun, QB Mark Brunell (289 total yards, two TDs) helped transform a 12-0 deficit into a 30-20 lead late in the game, allowing Jacksonville to preserve one of the greatest upsets of the last 30 years.
Luckily for the Broncos, this devastating loss would be the requisite fuel for back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and '98, leading up to Elway's retirement the following spring.
2005 AFC Playoffs -- Steelers 21, Colts 18
ALSO KNOWN AS: Big Ben's Miracle Tackle
The 2005 Colts, led by Peyton Manning, posted a 14-2 record and collected nine victories of 10-plus points.
However, this regular-season dominance was obscured by the Pittsburgh debacle, a defeat that almost didn't happen -- thanks to Jerome Bettis's goal-line fumble in the waning seconds.
With Pittsburgh leading by three, Bettis plunged into the Indy defense near the goal line. But a defender's helmet jarred the ball loose and into the waiting hands of Nick Harper, who sprinted into full daylight ... with only one defender blocking his path:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Incredibly, the slow, but resourceful Roethlisberger brought Harper down, despite the zig-zagging up the right sideline.
The Colts, needing a field goal to force OT, then called on ultra-reliable Mike Vanderjagt; but his kick went far right and clinched one of the most storied upsets in Steelers history.
Postscript: Three weeks later, the Steelers would send the Hall of Famer Bettis out on the highest of high notes, capturing the Lombardi Trophy in Bettis' hometown of Detroit.
1986 AFC Playoffs -- Browns 23, Jets 20 (2OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Epic Before 'The Drive'
This classic has largely been forgotten by history, due to the iconic Broncos-Browns clash the following week (AFC title game).
But not in this countdown.
Bottom line: If Marc Gastineau doesn't commit a late-hit penalty on QB Bernie Kosar in the fourth quarter, the Jets undoubtedly maintain their 10-point lead.
Under that scenario, John Elway's Broncos probably roll over the Jets (the following week) ... but the QB would have been denied the opportunity of cementing his NFL legacy with The Drive -- Denver's 98-yard scoring jaunt to force overtime in the AFC championship.
Also, former ESPN anchor Charley Steiner was New York's radio guy back then and infamously declared "the Jets are headed for the AFC championship game!" after tailback Freeman McNeil notched a 25-yard TD run in the final quarter.
A memorable misstep for the eminently lovable Steiner.
1983 AFC Playoffs -- Seahawks 27, Dolphins 20
ALSO KNOWN AS: Opportunity Knox
The 1983 Dolphins, led by hotshot rookie Dan Marino (2,210 yards passing, 20 TDs in just nine starts), were markedly improved on offense from the previous season -- rolling for 30-plus points five times in their final 11 games.
Also, the Miami defense, better known as The Killer B's, ranked No. 1 overall in points allowed.
A Dolphins-Raiders clash in the AFC title game might have been one for all time; but the Curt Warner-led Seahawks crushed that dream scenario, with the tailback racking up 151 total yards (113 rushing) and two TDs against the Dolphins -- including the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
Interestingly, the '83 season served as Seattle's third 9-7 campaign, but it was the first time the expansion club (circa 1976) reached the postseason.
1975 NFC Playoffs -- Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Hail Mary
It's hard to tell where the Vikings had actually committed a pass-interference penalty on Drew Pearson's 50-yard TD catch in the final seconds, with the Cowboys trailing by four.
However, Pearson caught Roger Staubach's bomb anyway, making it all a moot point -- unless you believe Pearson pushed off to get free.
That aside, this may stand as the Vikings' most disheartening playoff loss in franchise history. At 12-2, Minnesota had the look of a champion, or one that could challenge the Steelers' repeat bid in Super Bowl X.
The Staubach-to-Pearson bomb stands as one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.
However, it would have never happened if the Hall of Fame quarterback hadn't completed a similarly stellar fourth-down pass to Pearson a few seconds prior.
1977 AFC Playoffs -- Raiders 37, Colts 31 (OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: Ghost To The Post
If this Christmas Eve clash had been a Super Bowl, John Madden firmly believes it would have been the NFL's greatest game.
Who could argue with a Hall of Fame coach that captained the Raiders to nine playoff wins in a 10-year span, including one Lombardi Trophy?
Against the Colts, Raiders QB Ken Stabler passed for 345 yards and three TDs -- with each score finding tight end Dave "Ghost" Casper.
But the Ghost To The Post moniker has little to do with touchdowns.
Rather, it entails the Stabler-to-Casper over-the-shoulder pass/catch (42 yards), which helped clinch the game in overtime.
This would serve as the final NFL playoff game in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, with the Colts collecting only 26 victories over the next six seasons (1978-83) ... before relocating to Indianapolis.
2001 AFC Playoffs -- Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Tuck Rule Game
The 'Tuck Rule' revolutionized how NFL fans observed potential fumbles involving QBs while cocking to make a throw -- at least for a short while.
Prior to the 2013 season, the league eliminated the controversial ruling altogether, shifting the focus to whether a passer's arm had been moving forward.
However, that's only a small consolation to those connected with the 2001 Raiders (including owner Al Davis), when cornerback Charles Woodson blitzed from the left side -- amid blizzard conditions -- and seemingly forced a game-altering fumble on Tom Brady (Oakland recovered the ball).
Instead, the little-known rule helped the Patriots retain possession, force overtime and eventually advance to the AFC title game.
One last note: This was the final game at old Foxboro Stadium.
1974 AFC Playoffs -- Raiders 28, Dolphins 26
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Sea Of Hands Game
For the midweek buildup to this epic matchup, Sports Illustrated hailed it as 'Super Bowl 8 1/2.'
The game itself certainly didn't disappoint, with the clubs exchanging the lead seven times and Hall of Famers Larry Csonka and Fred Biletnikoff enjoying strong games.
Raiders QB Ken Stabler also passed for four TDs.
The Snake's last scoring toss incredibly landed into the hands of Clarence Davis.
With Oakland down five in the final minute, the Hall of Famer Stabler scrambled out of a jam, rolled to his left and fluttered a weak pass toward Davis in the end zone (surrounded by three Dolphins).
Davis reached up and somehow corralled the pass that ended the Dolphins' reign as NFL champs ... and indirectly kick-started the Steelers' dynastic run of four titles in six seasons.
2012 AFC Playoffs -- Ravens 38, Broncos 35 (2OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Bomb
We're six years removed from Joe Flacco's 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the final minute, with the Ravens trailing by seven and desperately needing a lucky break.
And yet, it's still hard to explain how Baltimore pulled off that miracle play. The game was a symmetrical masterpiece, with the Ravens and Broncos scoring the same amount of points in the first quarter (14), second (seven), third (seven), fourth (seven) and first overtime (zero).
The only discrepancy: Baltimore's Justin Tucker booted the game-winning field goal early in the second overtime, just minutes after Peyton Manning tossed an ill-advised interception in Denver territory.
The Broncos' Trindon Holliday could have been the ultimate hero, scoring two return TDs (one kick, one punt).
1972 AFC Playoffs -- Steelers 13, Raiders 7
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Immaculate Reception
Trailing by one in the final minute and staring at a 4th-and-10 scenario in their own end, Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw dropped back, evaded the Raiders rush and then fired a downfield pass to John "Frenchy" Fuqua.
As the ball simultaneously arrived, Oakland safety Jack Tatum laid out a crushing blow on Fuqua, knocking the ball approximately 12 yards back toward the line of scrimmage.
While trailing the pass, rookie Franco Harris scooped up the ball -- before it hit the ground -- and sprinted 60 yards for the game-winning score.
This prompted one of the most hysterical, on-field crowd celebrations, with Bradshaw being mobbed by hundreds of deliriously happy fans.
The controversial touchdown -- universally regarded as the greatest play in NFL history -- secured the Steelers' first-ever playoff victory.
1981 AFC Playoffs -- Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (OT)
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Epic In Miami
NOTE: If you have the means to watch the full original broadcast of this amazing thrill-ride, we highly recommend doing so. It's the perfect game ... right down to the announcing pairing of NBC's Don Criqui and John Brodie.
a) Don Shula's Dolphins executed a picture-perfect hook-and-ladder play with no time left in the first half.
Tony Nathan's 25-yard touchdown (off the lateral) may have prompted the loudest single moment in Miami-Orange Bowl history.
b) Bolts tight end Kellen Winslow, a late addition to the special-teams unit, got a finger on kicker Uwe von Schamann's potential game-winner.
c) The heat and humidity took its toll during overtime, with fatigued players running ragged. (Winslow routinely sought medical treatment for severe cramping.)
d) San Diego's Rolf Benirschke booted the game-winner from 29 yards.
e) Don Strock (Dolphins) and Dan Fouts (Chargers) became the first QBs to hit the 400-yard passing mark in the same playoff game.
f) In eight days time, the Chargers went from enduring high heat and humidity in Miami ... to playing the Bengals in blustery Cincinnati for the AFC title game.
How cold was it in southern Ohio? Oh, just your typical day of a minus-59 wind-chill factor.
2017 NFC Playoffs -- Vikings 29, Saints 24
ALSO KNOWN AS: The Minnesota Miracle
a) There's still no plausible explanation for the Saints' defensive alignment on the game's final play, knowing the Vikings had no timeouts, zero time to waste in the middle of the field and were out of Case Keenum's Hail Mary range (61 yards from the goal line).
And yet, NFL fans experienced one of the greatest fluke plays in history, with receiver Stefon Diggs catching a pass around the 34 ... while absurdly watching the final two Saints defenders take out the other one.
(Cue the sound of Looney Tunes music playing.)
b) Lost in the shuffle ... the Saints deserve a ton of credit for rallying from a big deficit in the final two quarters; and it would have been a signature win for the franchise, if the defense hadn't collapsed at the worst moment possible.