When Ben Roethlisberger starts for the Steelers on Sunday, he'll become only the eighth rookie quarterback since 1970 to start a playoff game. And he has a pretty good chance to become the first rookie QB to ever play in the Super Bowl. Which means he's got a great chance to be one of the best, if not the best rookie in NFL playoff history since the two leagues merged.
10. Duane Thomas (Cowboys, 1970)
Thomas was spectacular in his first two playoff games. Against Detroit in the divisional playoff he gained 135 yards, against the best rushing defense in the NFL, as the Cowboys won 5-0 (yes, that score is correct). Against San Francisco in the NFC title game, he gained 143 yards on 27 carries. The Colts managed to throttle him in the Super Bowl, as he managed just 35 yards (he did catch a 7-yard TD pass) and fumbled near the Colts' goal line early in the second half, a critical turnover in the 16-13 Cowboys loss.
|The List in The Show|
|Jeff Merron talked NFL rookies with SportsNation.|
9. Earl Campbell (Oilers, 1978)
The future Hall of Famer out of the University of Texas didn't waste any time making his mark in the NFL -- he was named Rookie of the Year and MVP, leading the 10-6 Oilers to a wild-card playoff berth. In three games, all on the road, he ran 75 times for 264 yards and two TDs.
His stats don't quite tell the story, though. Against the Dolphins, he gained only 84 yards, but the Miami D was keying on him, and Dan Pastorini took advantage with a 306-yard day. The next week, the Oilers upset the Patriots by taking a 21-0 lead and then handing it off to Campbell to chew up time. He ended up with 118 yards and a TD. In the AFC title game on a wet, cold day in Pittsburgh, Campbell played his worst game of the season, gaining only 62 yards and fumbling three times as the Steelers routed the Oilers, 34-5.
8. Ickey Woods (Bengals, 1989)
Woods powered the Bengals to a 21-13 divisional playoff win over Seattle with 126 yards and a TD. The following week, against the Bills in the AFC title game, he rushed 29 times for 102 yards, two TDs and two Ickey Shuffles, powering the Bengals into the Super Bowl. The Niners slowed down Woods and Cincy's powerful running game just enough to eke out their dramatic 20-16 win, but Ickey was still solid with 79 yards on 20 carries.
His playoff totals: 307 yards and 3 TDs on 72 carries.
7. Vernon Perry (Oilers, 1979)
Houston went into its AFC divisional playoff game against San Diego the underdogs, having to play without running back Earl Campbell, QB Dan Pastorini, and WR Ken Burrough, all injured when the Oilers beat the Broncos in the wild-card game the week before. Perry's big day started when he picked off a Dan Fouts pass on San Diego's second drive. Then, when San Diego drove to the Oilers' 8, he blocked a 26-yard FG attempt and ran it back 57 yards, setting up a field goal. Then Perry picked off Fouts again, putting Houston at the Chargers' 38 to set up a Boobie Clark TD.
Perry then helped preserve a 17-14 Oilers lead in the second half, intercepting his third pass to stop a San Diego drive around midfield, then grabbing a fourth INT with a little more than a minute remaining. The Oilers won, thanks to Perry's incredible game. How did Perry do it? Houston's defensive coordinator, Ed Biles, says he had been intercepting San Diego's play calls: "We pretty much knew ahead of time when they were going to pass."
In the AFC title game the next week, Perry picked off Terry Bradshaw's first pass and ran it back for a 75-yard TD.
6. Jamal Lewis (Ravens, 2000)
Lewis, who rushed for 1,364 yards in the regular season, was superb in the Ravens' four-game playoff run, topping 100 yards in the wild-card game against Denver and the Super Bowl win over the Giants. His playoff totals: 103 rushes for 338 yards and four TDs, and five receptions for 40 yards.
5. Torry Holt (Rams, 1999)
In the Super Bowl, Holt set a rookie record with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Rams' 23-16 win over the Titans. Leading up to Super Sunday, he caught six for 65 yards and 7 for 68 yards in wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Playoff totals: 20 receptions, 242 yards, 1 TD.
4. Jevon Kearse (Titans, 1999)
Kearse, a defensive end who led the AFC in sacks in 1999 and was named a Pro Bowl starter, was dominant in the Titans' wild-card game against Buffalo. He sacked Bills QB Rob Johnson twice, forced two fumbles, and even scored a safety in the Titans' "Music City Miracle" win. A few weeks later, against the Rams in the Super Bowl, The Freak had a poor first half but tallied four solo tackles in the Tennessee's close loss. Most important, though, was that Kearse, who was being compared to LT, forced opponents to reshape their offensive game plans to thwart him.
3. Tony Dorsett (Cowboys, 1977)
In the Cowboys' three-game postseason, which culminated in a 27-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XII, Dorsett, the NFL offensive rookie of the year, ran 51 times for 222 yards and four TDs. He also added four catches for 48 yards.
2. Ricky Manning (Panthers, 2003)
The Panthers' 5-foot-8-inch CB, a third-round draft pick, was twice NFL Defensive Player of the Week in last year's playoffs, the only rookie to achieve that postseason feat. He picked off four passes (one against the Rams in the divisional playoff game and three against the Eagles in the NFC title game), and collected 14 solo tackles, anchoring Carolina's surprisingly tough secondary.
Manning's first playoff INT came in a critical situation: the Rams had first-and-10 on the Carolina 38 in the first OT. Marc Bulger seemed to connect with Torry Holt, but Manning ended up with the ball, setting up the Jake Delhomme-to-Steve Smith 69-yard game-winning TD pass on the first play of the second OT period.
1. Timmy Smith (Redskins, 1988)
Smith ran for only 126 yards during the regular season, but shined for the Redskins in the playoffs. In Washington's two wins leading to the Super Bowl, he ran for a combined 138 yards on 29 carries.
Smith's Super Bowl was truly extraordinary. In Washington's 42-10 romp over the Broncos, he ran for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards, scoring two TDs. In the second quarter alone, he ran for 122 yards on five carries, including a 58-yard TD run.
Also receiving votes:
Cris Collinsworth (1981 Bengals, 9 receptions in three games, including five in the Super Bowl)
William Perry (1985 Bears, key component of Bears' awesome defense and goal-line offense)
Franco Harris (1972 Steelers, Immaculate Reception)
Fred Taylor (1998 Jaguars, 53 carries for 248 yards and one TD in two games)
Rookie QBs (none had distinguished performances):
Pat Haden, 1976 Rams
Dan Marino, 1983 Dolphins
John Elway, 1983 Broncos
Dieter Brock, 1985 Rams (although he was a longtime CFL vet)
Jim Everett, 1986 Rams
Todd Marinovich, 1991 Raiders
Shaun King 1999 Bucs