The Divisional Playoff weekend is arguably the best football weekend of the year. The wildcard teams that won are looking to maintain their momentum, while the teams that earned a bye are hoping that rest and extra time to prepare are the necessary ingredients to advance. With 2 games on Saturday and 2 games on Sunday, football fans are always in for a treat. It also helps that the Divisional Playoffs have produced some of the greatest games in NFL history. Here is the 10 greatest AFC Divisional Playoff games, in NFL history.
December 23, 1972: Pittsburgh 13 Oakland 7
A game, more specifically one play that changed the fortunes of an NFL franchise. For many years, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the worst teams in the NFL. No matter what they tried, the Steelers were consistently awful and were considered a joke to their NFL brethren. That is until the 1972 season. The Steelers finished first in the AFC Central Division, with an 11-3 record. That earned the Steelers a home playoff date with the Oakland Raiders. The game turned out to be a titanic defensive struggle that saw the teams play to a scoreless first half. Roy Gerela kicked two field goals to give the Steelers a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter. The Raiders broke through with 1:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, as quarterback Ken Stabler scampered 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The Steelers got the ball back, but were faced with a 4th and 10 from their own 40-yard line. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and fired a deep pass over the middle with Frenchy Fuqua as his intended receiver. As the ball arrived, Fuqua was nailed by Raiders safety Jack Tatum, sending the ball back several yards. Just before the ball touched the ground, Steelers running back Franco Harris made a shoestring catch, and took it all the way for the game winning touchdown. At the time, the rules stated that only one offensive player was eligible to catch a forward pass. The debate raged on who touched the ball. Was it Fuqua, or was it Tatum? Only Fuqua and Tatum know the answer. Since Tatum passed away in 2010, Fuqua is the only man alive that knows what really happened, but has stated he will take the knowledge to his grave, leaving the play immaculate.
December 21, 1974: Oakland 28 Miami 26
This game is commonly known as the Sea of Hands game. It also ended the Dolphins two-year reign as Super Bowl champions. It is also known as ‘The Lost Game” as NFL Films and NBC lost the English copies of the broadcast. NFL Films has since recovered their copy but sadly, NBC has not therefore the game cannot be made available on DVD in its original broadcast. The Dolphins did get off to a great start as Nat Moore returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. However, Oakland’s defense were tough against Miami’s offense, as the Raiders trailed 10-7 at halftime. On the Raiders first possession in the second half, quarterback Ken Stabler found receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who made a sensational catch in the end zone, giving the Raiders the lead. The Dolphins answered as quarterback Bob Griese found receiver Paul Warfield from 16 yards out. The extra point was blocked so Miami’s lead was only 2 points. After a Miami field goal, the Raiders hit a big play as Stabler went long and found Cliff Branch, who raced 72 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Once again, Miami answered as Benny Malone’s 23-yard touchdown run, gave Miami a 26-21 lead with 2:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Raiders needed a touchdown or else they would be eliminated. Oakland drove to the 8-yard line, where they called their final timeout. On the next play, Stabler dropped back to pass but saw that Biletnikoff was covered. Stabler tried to scramble, but was caught from behind by defensive end Vern Den Herder. While being hauled to the turf, Stabler managed to fling the ball towards the end zone. Clarence Davis was awaiting the ball, but was surrounded by three Dolphin defenders. Through the “sea of hands,” the football found Davis, who snagged it and fell into the end zone for the winning touchdown. Dolphins coach Don Shula called the loss the “toughest I’ve ever suffered.” The Raiders celebration was short-lived however, as they were ousted by Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game the following week.
December 18, 1976: Oakland 24 New England 21
The Raiders had the best record in the NFL in 1976, finishing with a 13-1 mark. Their only setback came at the hands of the Patriots earlier in the season. The Raiders were looking for revenge, but found the task very difficult. The Patriots took a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter, as they frustrated and confounded the favoured Raiders. However, the Raiders were known to rally from deficits and they were confident that they could do it again. Early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders drove 70 yards, which was capped off by a Mark van Eeghen 1 yard plunge, to pull the Raiders to within 4. The Patriots had a chance to bury the Raiders, but kicker John Smith missed a 50-yard field goal, giving the Raiders new life. Once again, the Raiders looked dead and buried, when Ken Stabler’s pass was intercepted by Mike Haynes. However, Patriots defensive end Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was flagged for roughing the passer, giving the ball back to Oakland. At the time, it was a controversial call as roughing the passer was rarely called in the rough and tumble 1970s. The Raiders capitalized as Stabler snuck in from a yard away, giving Oakland a thrilling victory, while the loss broke the hearts of the Patriots. The tables would be reversed 25 years later.
December 24, 1977: Oakland 37 Baltimore 31 (2 OT)
The “ghost to the post” turned out to be the last playoff game for the Baltimore Colts, before they relocated to Indianapolis in 1984. The game itself was a classic that needed double overtime to decide a winner. Both teams were known for high-powered offenses, but it was the defenses from both teams that dominated the first half, as the Colts went into the intermission with a slender 10-7 lead. Oakland’s opening possession of the second half resulted in a touchdown as Dave Casper hauled in an 8 yard pass from Ken Stabler, to give the Raiders the lead. It didn’t last long. On the ensuing kickoff, Marshall Johnson broke past the Raider coverage, and sprinted 87 yards for the touchdown, giving the Colts the lead right back. Baltimore had a chance to extend the lead late in the third quarter, but Ted Hendricks blocked a Baltimore punt, which setup Casper’s second touchdown reception of the game, giving the lead to the Raiders. The fourth quarter went back and forth, thrilling the fans at Memorial Stadium. Ron Lee’s 1 yard plunge gave the Colts a 24-21 lead. The Raiders answered as Pete Banaszak 1 yard dive made the score 28-24 Raiders. The Colts responded as Lee found the end zone from 13 yards out, giving the Colts a 31-28 lead with just over three minutes to go. The Raiders needed a big play and they got it from Casper. With 2:11 left, and the Raiders facing a critical 3rd and 10, coach John Madden decided to call a timeout. The play call was 91 in, a play designed by offensive coordinator Tom Flores. The design was the two outside receivers would run in patterns, with the tight end running a deep post pattern. Throughout the game, the Colts safety was cheating whenever the Raiders made that play call. Stabler noticed it and said, “take a peak at Ghost to the Post.” Ghost was Casper’s nickname, after the cartoon character. When Stabler peaked, he saw Casper had run by the safeties and was open on the play, Stabler threw it deep, and Casper made a fantastic over the shoulder catch at the Colts 15-yard line. The Raiders kicked the field goal to force overtime. The first overtime saw the defenses tighten up, but early in the second overtime, Stabler found Casper from 10 yards out, for the winning touchdown. The game turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Colts franchise in Baltimore. The team fell into a rut, and the fans stopped going to the games. If the Colts would have won, who knows how different the NFL would look.
January 2, 1982: San Diego 41 Miami 38 OT
This game is so good, it has three nicknames. It is most notably known as “The Epic In Miami.” The Miami Herald called it “The Miracle That Died.” Sports Illustrated referred it as “The Game No One Should Have Lost.” It was a hot, humid late afternoon at the Orange Bowl that took its toll on both teams, the longer the game went. It looked like the Chargers would blow out the Dolphins early on. After an early field goal, the Chargers defense forced a three and out from Miami. The ensuing punt was fielded by Wes Chandler, who returned it 56 yards for a touchdown, giving San Diego a 10-0 lead. The Chargers got another break as the ensuing kickoff took a strange bounce that caught the Dolphins off guard. San Diego recovered, and the offense went to work. Chuck Muncie finished off the short drive with a 1 yard dive, giving the Chargers a 17-0 lead. On the next Dolphins possession, David Woodley’s pass was picked off by Glen Edwards, giving the Chargers great field possession. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts found James Brooks from 8 yards out, giving San Diego a seemingly insurmountable 24-0 lead, as the first quarter drew to a close. The Dolphins were down but not out. Coach Don Shula replaced Woodley with Don Strock to see if that would spark Miami. It worked. With Strock behind centre, the Dolphins kicked a field goal for their first points of the game. The Dolphins defense responded by forcing and recovering a Fouts fumble at the Charger 39-yard line. The Dolphins capitalized as Strock found Joe Rose from 1 yard out, making the score 24-10. The final play of the first half was memorable in every way. With the Dolphins at the Charger 40-yard line, Strock fired a pass that was caught by Duriel Harris who immediately lateraled it to a streaking Tony Nathan, on the “hook and lateral” play. The Chargers had no idea what happened as Nathan had an easy path to the end zone, cutting the Charger lead to 24-17 at halftime. The Orange Bowl was in a frenzy, as the Dolphins had all the momentum going into the second half. The Dolphins tied the game on their first possession of the second half, as Strock found Rose from 15 yards out. The Chargers did re-take the lead on the following series as Fouts found tight end Kellen Winslow from 25 yards out. The Dolphins countered as Strock connected with Bruce Hardy on a 50 yard scoring play to even the game again. Late in the third quarter, a Lyle Blackwood setup a 12 yard touchdown run from Nathan, giving the Dolphins their first lead of the game. The Dolphins had a chance to seal the game in the fourth quarter, but Andra Franklin fumble was recovered by Pete Shaw, giving the Chargers life. With only 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Fouts hooked up with Brooks from 9 yards out, sending the game to overtime. The Dolphins had one last chance to prevent overtime, but Uwe Von Schamann’s 43-yard field goal was blocked by Winslow, who had a sensational game for San Diego. The craziness didn’t stop in the extra period. The Chargers won the toss, and promptly drove down the field. However, Rolf Benirschke’s 27-yard attempt sailed wide left, and the game continued. The Dolphins marched down the field and it looked like they would be headed to victory. Von Schamann came on to attempt a 34-yard field goal, but Leroy Jones blocked the attempt, keeping the Chargers alive. The Chargers drove the ball 74 yards, where Benirschke’s 29-yard field goal split the uprights, giving the Chargers the victory. Kellen Winslow was the star of the game, as he recorded a postseason record 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown, plus blocking a field goal. Winslow was so exhausted after the game, he had to be helped off the field by his teammates after the game, leaving a lasting image to this classic game.
January 3 1987: Cleveland 23 New York Jets 20 (2 OT)
After Freeman McNeil’s 25-yard touchdown run gave the Jets a 20-10 lead with 4:14 left in the fourth quarter, Jets radio announcer Charley Steiner proclaimed “The Jets are going to win this football game.” The Cleveland Browns thought otherwise. A 68-yard drive was capped off by a 1 yard plunge from Kevin Mack, that pulled the Browns to within a field goal. The Jets did get the ball back, but failed to get a first down, with a key play being quarterback Ken O’Brien getting sacked on third down. A bad punt gave the Browns decent field position, despite having no timeouts. A pass interference call against the Jets put the Browns in Jets territory. Then the Browns hit a big play as quarterback Bernie Kosar connected with Webster Slaughter on a 37-yard pass play, setting up a 27-yard field goal by Mark Moseley, to force overtime. In overtime, the Browns had a great chance to end the game, but Moseley missed a 23-yard chip shot that kept the Jets alive. But the Browns defense didn’t give an inch, as the Jets offense had nothing left in the tank. The Browns moved the ball early in the second overtime, giving Moseley a second chance to end the game. This time, Moseley made good from 27 yards out, sending Cleveland Stadium, particularly the “Dawg Pound” into a rabid state. The Browns would lose in heartbreaking fashion the following week to Denver in the AFC Championship game.
January 8, 1995: San Diego 22 Miami 21
13 years after “The Epic In Miami” the Chargers and Dolphins were locked in another terrific game, this time in Southern California. This time, it was the Dolphins who started quickly, as quarterback Dan Marino fired three first half touchdown passes, two to Keith Jackson and one to Mike Williams, giving Miami a 21-6 lead at halftime. But it was the Chargers who mounted the comeback. The catalyst was a safety as defensive end Reuben Davis tackled Bernie Parmalee in the end zone, giving the Chargers two points. San Diego got the ball back, and scored on the ensuing drive as bullish Natrone Means powered his way into the end zone from 24 yards out, cutting the Dolphin lead to six points. Unlike the game 13 years previous, the defenses remained stout on both sides, as neither team had success moving the ball for much of the fourth quarter. However, the Chargers started to find a rhythm late in the quarter, and started a drive that eventually led to Stan Humphries hooking up with receiver Mark Seay from 8 yards out, giving San Diego its first lead of the game, with just 35 seconds left. The Dolphins did engineer a desperate last second drive, which setup a 48-yard field goal attempt from Pete Stoyanovich. But his kick sailed wide right, and the Chargers emerged victorious. The Chargers carried that momentum into the following week, as they upset Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game.
January 19, 2002: New England 16 Oakland 13 OT
The “Snow Bowl” will be forever remembered as the “Tuck Rule” game. But there is much more to this story. First off, the snow. And there was plenty of it. Major snowfall enveloped the New England area, as it completely covered the playing surface, making it impossible to see the yard markers. This also turned out to be the final game at Foxboro Stadium, as the Patriots were set to move to brand new Gillette Stadium, across the street. Finally, the Patriots franchise were looking for revenge from 25 years earlier, as the Raiders defeated the Patriots in controversial fashion. When the fourth quarter began, the Raiders held a 13-3 lead, and looked to be in control. But the Patriots still had some fight in them in the snow. A ten play, 67 yard drive was capped off by Tom Brady, who ran in from 6 yards, slicing the Raider lead to a field goal. With two minutes to go, the famed “tuck rule” gained national prominence. Brady dropped back to pass, and pumped once before bringing the ball to his chest. During that process, Raider cornerback Charles Woodson, who was on a corner blitz, hit Brady forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Raiders. Oakland thought the game was over, but referee Walt Coleman was summoned to the replay camera, to review the play. After a long delay, Coleman ruled that the play was ruled an incomplete play, stating that Brady’s arm was moving forward. The Raiders were furious, while the Patriots had new life. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was called on to attempt a 45-yard field goal in the snow. In what some consider the greatest kick in NFL history, Vintieri made the field goal, forcing overtime. The Raiders never saw the ball in overtime. The Patriots won the toss and moved the ball against the deflated Raider defense. Vinatieri was called on again, this time to attempt a 23-yard field goal. It was a piece of cake for the Patriots kicker who easily split the uprights to win the game for New England. The game changed the course for both franchises. The Patriots continued their magical run with an upset victory over Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, then pulled off the biggest surprise by defeating the heavily favoured St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. New England followed that by winning two more Super Bowls, and dominating the AFC for the next dozen years. The Raiders fell apart. After getting blown out by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl the following year, the Raiders haven’t recorded a winning season, going through a run of mediocrity, that has hurt the legacy of the franchise. The tuck rule was abolished in time for the 2013 season.
January 11, 2003: Indianapolis 38 Kansas City 31
This game is sometimes referred to as the “No Punt Game” as the entire game went without a single team requiring to punt the ball away. A gorgeous day at Arrowhead Stadium was greeted by both teams, who had high scoring offenses. The Colts jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, thanks a Peyton Manning touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley, and an 11 yard touchdown run form Edgerrin James. The Chiefs answered early in the second quarter as Trent Green connected with Dante Hall on a 9-yard touchdown pass. The Colts regained their 11 point lead, when Manning found unheralded Tom Lopienski from 2 yards out. The Chiefs looked to bounce back, but a Tony Gonzales touchdown reception, was called back due to an offensive pass interference call. On the same drive, kicker Morten Anderson missed a 31-yard field goal. The Colts promptly drove the field, where Mike Vanderjagt booted a 45-yard field goal, giving the Colts a 24-10 lead at halftime. The Chiefs started the second half brightly, as Priest Holmes finished off a 56-yard drive with a 1 yard run, pulling the Chiefs to within a touchdown. The Colts replied as Manning led Indianapolis on a 57-yard drive that finished with a 19 yard touchdown reception from Reggie Wayne. The Chiefs didn’t take long to respond. Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for the touchdown, making it a seven point game again. The Colts however, had their way with the Chiefs defense as they put together a 10 play, 81-yard drive, that climaxed on a 1-yard touchdown run from James. The Chiefs put together a long, time-consuming drive that Holmes finished with a 1 yard run. But Kansas City used up too much time, as Indianapolis was able to run out the clock on their next possession, and claim victory. The Colts couldn’t carry over the momentum into the following week, as a stifling New England defense shut down the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
January 12, 2013: Baltimore 38 Denver 35 OT
This game is known as the “Mile High Miracle” though Denver fans probably have a different name for it. A cold day in Denver greeted the two teams as the high-scoring affair should have favoured the Broncos. But the Ravens showed their moxie throughout the contest that eventually turned into their advantage. Denver opened the scoring after Trindon Holliday’s 90 yard punt return, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Baltimore’s first big play happened on the ensuing drive as Joe Flacco hit receiver Torrey Smith on a 59-yard touchdown reception. On the following Broncos possession, Peyton Manning’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Corey Graham, who returned it 39 yards for the touchdown. But Manning recovered, when he led the Broncos on a 74-yard drive, that was capped by a 15-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Stokley, to even the score. The Broncos took the lead in the second quarter, as Manning hooked up with Knowshon Moreno on a 14-yard touchdown pass. The Broncos had a chance to extend the lead, but Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal attempt, giving the ball to Baltimore in excellent field position. The Ravens didn’t waste time as Flacco found Smith from 32 yards out, tying the game at halftime. The second half began with Trindon Holliday returning the kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, giving the lead back to Denver. The Broncos held the lead for much of the quarter, but a Manning fumble that was recovered by Baltimore, setup the Ravens to tie the game, which they did thanks to a 1-yard run from Ray Rice. The Broncos regained the lead midway through the fourth quarter as Manning found Demaryius Thomas from 17 yards out, for the go-ahead touchdown. It looked like Denver was going to hang on and win, when disaster struck for Denver, and a miracle happened for the Ravens. With 40 seconds remaining, and the Ravens facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 30-yard line, Flacco dropped back to pass, and fired a long bomb down the right sideline. Broncos cornerback Tony Carter missed his assignment, while safety Rahim Moore tried desperately to cover up the mistake. Moore misjudged his leap for the ball, as it sailed softly into the hands of receiver Jacoby Jones, who jogged into the end zone for the touchdown. The partisan Bronco crowd were in shock as the Ravens sideline celebrated the miracle that just took place. Late in the first overtime period, Manning was intercepted by Graham for a second time, giving the Ravens outstanding field position. Ray Rice then ran the ball for 11 yards as the first overtime period expired. On the first play in double overtime, Justin Tucker booted a 47-yard field goal, giving the Ravens an improbable victory. The win carried over for the Ravens, who defeated New England in the AFC Championship game, which was followed by a victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.
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