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 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
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 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."