The NFL playoffs are here and that means endless talk about who will make it to the Super Bowl. That’s all well and good but I’m here to relive some glorious moments from the past. Some are well-remembered, others are lost classics. So without further ado, here are the top 5 NFC Wildcard games in NFL history.
January 3, 1999: San Francisco 30 Green Bay 27
The 49ers and Packers were meeting for the fourth consecutive season in the playoffs, with the Packers winning the previous three postseason encounters. The 49ers wanted revenge, but knew they would be in tough, against Brett Favre and company. The game turned out to be a classic with the teams exchanging the lead 5 times. The Packers looked to have the game won, when Favre found Antonio Freeman from 15 yards out, for a Packer touchdown, giving Green Bay a 27-23 lead with 1:56 remaining. When Jerry Rice fumbled on the ensuing drive, the game looked to be lost for San Francisco. However, referee Gerry Austin ruled that Rice was downed by contact, therefore the play was dead. The Packers sideline was furious and replays showed that Rice had clearly fumbled. But video review was not in use at the time for the NFL (it would be the following season) thus the 49ers kept the ball. With only 8 seconds remaining, 49er quarterback Steve Young found Terrell Owens, who had dropped 4 previous passes earlier in the game, from 25 yards out for the winning touchdown. Owens took a vicious hit from two Packer defenders, but managed to hang onto the ball, and the 49ers escaped Candlestick Park with a victory.
January 5, 2003: San Francisco 39 New York Giants 38
When the New York Giants took a 38-14 lead over the 49ers midway through the third quarter, all hope looked lost for San Francisco. After all, no one would overcome a 24 point deficit against a defense with the likes of Michael Strahan and Jason Sehorn on the other side of the line of scrimmage. But Jeff Garcia and the rest of the 49ers proved that nothing is impossible in the NFL. Garcia found Terrell Owens from 26 yards out to start the comeback. A successful two point convert cut the Giants lead to 16. Early in the fourth quarter, Garcia scored on a 14 yard scamper, plus found Owens for another two point convert, making it an eight point game. The 49er defense stepped up its game by smothering the Giants offense. A Jeff Chandler field goal made it a five point game but some felt it was a missed opportunity as time was starting to become a factor. The Giants responded with a solid drive, but failed to find the end zone. On the field goal attempt, a bad snap messed up the timing of kicker Matt Bryant, who hooked the 42 yard attempt wide left. The 49ers took over in excellent field position and responded by driving down the field. With a minute remaining, Garcia found Tai Streets from 13 yards out, giving the 49ers a one point lead. The 49ers failed to get the two point convert, but had the lead nonetheless. The Giants had one chance left and proceeded to matriculate the ball down to the 23 yard line with 6 seconds left. Bryant came on for the field goal attempt but once again, a bad snap by long snapper Trey Junkin made things a mess. Holder Matt Allen attempted a pass that fell incomplete and the game was over. Or was it? A flag was thrown on the play as guard Rich Saubert, who reported as an eligible receiver, was interfered with down the field. However, referee Ron Winter called Saubert was ineligible even though he was eligible. There was another Giant lineman that was ineligible but that was never called. The ruling should have been a Giant penalty for ineligible man down the field (not Saubert) and pass interference against the 49ers. The penalties would have offset and the field goal would have been retried. But the original call stood, and the 49ers had scored one of their most improbable victories in franchise history.
January 4, 2004: Green Bay 33 Seattle 27 OT
This game is famous for Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck proclaiming “We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” after the Seahawks won the coin toss in overtime. Hasselbeck promptly threw an interception to Green Bay cornerback Al Harris who returned it for the game winning touchdown. Before that, the Seahawks and Packers engaged a terrific battle between two high-powered offenses. If it wasn’t for the pick six in overtime, Hasselbeck would have had an excellent game, as he completed 25 out of 45 pass attempts for 305 yards. Meanwhile, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre had an outstanding game as well, completing 26 out 38 pass attempts for 319 yards and one touchdown. The game featured 4 lead changes, and momentum swings that kept the game in balance until the end. A wonderful game that will forever be remembered by the wrong choice of words, at the wrong time.
January 6, 2007: Seattle 21 Dallas 20
The argument could be made that the “legend” of Tony Romo began on this fateful wildcard night in the Pacific Northwest. At one point, it looked like the Cowboys would escape Seattle with a victory. After a Seahawks touchdown that put Seattle ahead 13-10, Miles Austin returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, giving the lead right back to the Cowboys. Martin Gramatica booted a 29 yard field goal, pushing the Cowboys lead to 7. The Seahawks fought back, first with a safety, then Matt Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens from 37 yards out, giving Seattle a one point lead. The Cowboys marched down the field, and looked to have a sure field goal. On third and seven from the Seattle 8 yard line, Romo found Jason Witten who was tackled at the one yard line. Originally, it was ruled a first down but after a booth review, the ball was moved a couple of inches back, and the Cowboys were just short of the first down. Coach Bill Parcells sent in the field goal unit, in what should have been a routine chip shot field goal. But it was anything but routine. Romo, who was the holder on the field goal unit, fumbled the perfect snap, which messed up the attempt. Romo tried to run for the first down but was stopped short. The Seahawks did just enough to run out the clock and preserve the win.
January 10, 2010: Arizona 51 Green Bay 45 OT
This one is special. Firstly, this is the highest scoring postseason game in NFL history as the teams combined for 96 points. Secondly, it featured brilliant performances from the two quarterbacks. Arizona’s Kurt Warner completed 29 out of 33 pass attempts for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers wasn’t shabby either, completing 28 out of 42 pass attempts for 423 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. Thirdly, it featured a great comeback by the Packers, who trailed 31-10 early in the third quarter, but forced overtime on a Spencer Havner touchdown reception. Finally, it had a tinge of controversy and irony in overtime. The Packers won the toss but on their first possession, Rodgers fumbled the ball right into Karlos Dansby’s hands. Dansby proceeded to run 17 yards for the game winning touchdown. Replays showed that Rodgers was grabbed on the face mask by defensive back Michael Adams but no call was made. It probably should have been a penalty, but those are the breaks. The ironic part was in a game full of offense, it was a defensive play that gave the Cardinals the victory.
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