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Monday, January 6, 2003
Updated: January 7, 1:30 PM ET
The List: Best NFL playoff performances

Page 2 staff

The morning after a wild (card) weekend of football finds Page 2 reminiscing postseason pandemonium past.

While riding the winds of this season's dramatics -- which have only just begun -- check out our list of the 10 best NFL playoff performances of all-time, then be sure to vote in the poll on the right to crown the most fantastic feat of them all.

Important note: This list does not include Super Bowl games; that's an entirely separate list that we will revisit later this month.

Frank Reich
Frank Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half as the Bills rallied from 32 points down to beat Houston.
1. Joe Montana's masterpiece (1989 NFC Championship)
Numbers sometimes tell a story: 26-30. 262. 2. 0. 30-3. Joe Montana completes 26 of 30 passes for 262 yards and two TDs (and zero interceptions) as the 49ers make their trip to the Super Bowl look easy, creaming the L.A. Rams, 30-3. "Joe World gave a clinic in quarterbacking at Candlestick Sunday," wrote Jim Murray in the L.A. Times. "The Rams were just the blackboard. It was a dazzling performance. If you never saw Tracy act, Heifetz fiddle, Cobb bat or Nijinsky dance, watch Montana quarterback. It's the same thing. Art."

2. Kellen Winslow leads the charge (1981 AFC divisional game)
The Chargers defeat the Dolphins, 41-38, in overtime, despite a strong comeback from Miami, which had trailed 24-0 in the first quarter. Winslow sets a playoff record with 13 catches, racking up 166 yards and scoring a TD. To top it off, he saves the game by blocking Uwe von Schamann's 43-yard field-goal attempt as time expires in regulation.

3. Ed Podolak does it all (1971 AFC divisional game)
It's one of the most memorable games ever, but most recall it for reasons other than Chiefs running back Ed Pololak's performance. Too bad. In the longest game in NFL history, which the Dolphins won 27-24 in double OT on a 37-yard Garo Yepremian field goal, Podolak compiles 350 total yards, still a playoff record. He catches eight passes for 110 yards and a TD, carries 17 times for 85 yards and a TD, and returns three kickoffs for 154 yards. His last kickoff return, near the end of regulation, almost gives K.C. the victory -- he goes 78 yards to set up a 31-yard field-goal attempt, but Jan Stenerud blows it. "I don't think any one player in a big game, a monumental game like that, had a day like Eddie Podolak had," former Chiefs coach Hank Stram tells the Kansas City Star. Unfortunately, many in Kansas City can't see it on TV -- the home game is blacked out.

4. Frank Reich and the great Bills' comeback (1992 AFC wild card)
With regular starting QB Jim Kelly injured, backup Frank Reich gets the call as Buffalo faces Houston. It looks like a blowout going the other way, though, as the Oilers are up 35-3 early in the second half. Then Reich heats up, throwing four touchdown passes, including three straight to Andre Reed, to give the Bills a 38-35 lead. The game goes into OT, but Buffalo pulls it out, 41-38, completing a 32-point comeback, the greatest in NFL history.

5. John Riggins plows behind the Hogs (1982 NFC divisional game)
Before the playoffs began, 33-year-old John Riggins goes to head coach Joe Gibbs and says, "I'm really getting down the road. I don't have many of these left. I've been out two weeks and I'm ready. Give me the ball." Gibbs does just that, as Riggins pounds the Vikings defensive line 37 times for 185 yards (both are career highs), leading the Skins to a 21-7 win. With a minute left to go, he leaves the game, bruised, battered, but with enough energy for a great finish, well-described by Dave Kindred in the Washington Post: "John Riggins took his helmet off at midfield and with a flourish of gallantry did a deep bow, his arm across his waist, bowing first to the folks on the south side of RFK Stadium, and then spinning to say thanks to those on the north, the 54,000 or so screaming meemies who loved it as much as Riggins did."

6. Eric Dickerson enlivens "dull" game (1985 NFC divisional game)
Rams running back Eric Dickerson provides the only relief -- and leads the Rams to a 20-0 victory over the Cowboys -- in what one writer calls "one of the dullest National Football League playoff games in recent years." How does he do it? By running for a playoff record 248 yards on 34 carries and scoring two TDs, including a 55-yard scoring run at the start of the second half. He also gets lots of help from the Rams offensive line. "That was as good a game as I have ever seen a man play," Rams coach John Robinson says. "Eric ran very, very hard. From the first play, I sensed that we would be able to be successful running the ball. We got great blocking, particularly on the right side. I don't think anybody could have had a better day."

7. Vernon Perry's sticky hands (1979 AFC divisional game)
Houston goes into its 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 day starts early -- he picks off a Dan Fouts pass on San Diego's second drive, then, when San Diego drives again to the Oilers' 8, he blocks a 26-yard FG attempt and runs it back 57 yards, setting up an Oilers' field goal. Then Perry picks off Fouts again, putting Houston at the Chargers' 38 to set up a Boobie Clark TD

Perry then helps preserve a 17-14 Oilers lead in the second half, intercepting his third pass to stop a San Diego drive around midfield, then grabs a fourth INT with a little more than a minute remaining. The Oilers win, thanks to Perry's incredible game, which erased the Chargers offensive advantage (San Diego gained 380 yards to Houston's 259, and had 25 first downs vs. 15 for the Oilers). How did Perry do it? Houston's defensive coordinator, Ed Biles, says that he had been intercepting San Diego's play calls: "We pretty much knew ahead of time when they were going to pass."

8. Terry Bradshaw's perfect game (1976 AFC divisional game)
Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw sets a playoff record with a perfect QB rating of 158.3, as he completes 14 of 18 passes for 264 yards and three TDs and the Steelers rout the Colts 40-14 to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Bradshaw's 76-yard TD pass to Frank Lewis in the game's opening series sets the tone. "Man, I wouldn't have wanted to play against our offense today," Steelers cornerback J.T. Thomas says.

Joe Montana
Joe Cool's '89 playoff performance is unparalleled.
9. The grocery boy bags the Vikings (1999 NFC divisional game)
Kurt Warner, a virtual unknown before the season begins, continues to amaze as he leads the St. Louis Rams to a 49-37 victory over the Minnesota Vikings and a trip to the NFC title game. Warner throws 33 times, connecting on 27 to 10 different receivers while racking up 391 passing yards. Five of his tosses are for TDs, to five different receivers. Warner does most of his work in the second half, as the Rams score 35 unanswered points to seal the victory. Warner's passer rating for the day: a stunning 142.99.

10. Old Man Plunkett is the difference (1980 AFC Championship)
32-year-old Jim Plunkett took over as the Raiders starting QB after Dan Pastorini broke his leg in the fifth game of the season, and surprised plenty of people who had been disappointed in the former Heisman Trophy winner's pro career. Against the Chargers, he throws just 18 passes, but 14 are completions for 261 yards and two TDs. Plunkett scores another six himself on a five-yard run as the wild-card Raiders beat the Chargers 34-27 in San Diego, advancing to the Super Bowl. "Plunkett was like a chess player out there," Raiders receiver Cliff Branch says. "He used everybody -- backs, receivers -- he was in total control."