Wild Card games are often close, but these five stand out
The NFL's Wild Card Weekend is upon us and if the last several seasons are any indicator, we can expect some good football. The parity across the league in the 21st century has produced games that come down to the wire. For example, three of last year’s Wild Card Round games were decided by a total of nine points.
The ironic thing is that one would be hard-pressed to name all three of those games. That’s how competitive the NFL playoffs are today. But here are five that we all remember.
5. Denver Broncos 29, Pittsburgh Steelers 23
Jan. 8, 2012 – Denver
Tim Tebow became the Broncos' starting quarterback after a 1-4 start and led the team on a six-game winning streak. However, Denver lost its final three games and limped into the playoffs at 8-8. Their opponent was a 12-4 Steelers team that gave up the fewest points and yards during the season. The Broncos surprised Pittsburgh by taking a 20-6 halftime lead, thanks in part to one touchdown through the air and another on the ground by Tebow. Then the Steelers held Denver to a field goal in the second half and methodically came back to tie the game 23-23 at the end of regulation. The Broncos got the ball first in overtime and Pittsburgh lined up to stop the run on first down. Tebow took the snap, faked a handoff, and hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown pass and the win. Ironically, it would be the last touchdown pass of Tebow’s career, as Denver traded him to the New York Jets after signing Peyton Manning in the offseason.
4. Indianapolis Colts 45, Kansas City Chiefs 44
Jan. 4, 2014 – Indianapolis
Both teams entered 11-5, with the Colts having won the AFC South and the Chiefs finishing second in the West to the Denver Broncos. Kansas City jumped out to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter and it looked like the Chiefs would easily advance to the Divisional Round. Then Indianapolis led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. Andrew Luck and company quickly scored 21 points to close the lead to 41-31 going into the fourth quarter. Indianapolis then put together a 90-yard drive that culminated with a bizarre but fortuitous play. Running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball but it bounced into Luck’s hand and he took it into the end zone, making the score 41-38. The Colts ultimately went ahead 45-44 with 4:21 left in the game thanks to a 64-yard pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. They stopped the Chiefs on the next drive and were able to run out the clock.
3. Arizona Cardinals 51, Green Bay Packers 45
Jan. 10, 2010 – Glendale, Ariz.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was in his final season, and Aaron Rodgers had just finished his second regular season as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. Together, the two combined for nine touchdown passes in the highest-scoring playoff game ever. Arizona jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, but Green Bay battled back to tie the game at 45-45 with 1:52 to go. The Packers got the ball first in overtime and on third down, Cardinals defensive back Michael Adams sacked Rodgers as he was about to throw and the ball bounced out of his hands. Rodgers tried to kick it out of bounds, but linebacker Karlos Dansby caught it in mid-air and raced into the end zone for the win.
2. Tennessee Titans 22, Buffalo Bills 16
Jan. 8, 2000 – Nashville, Tenn.
The Titans entered the game at 13-3 and the Bills were 11-5, with many football pundits thinking the winner of the game could represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXXIV. And it appeared that Buffalo would have that chance to prove prognosticators correct when kicker Steve Christie booted a 41-yard field goal to put the Bills up 16-15 with 16 seconds left. The Titans would need a miracle and they got one in a play known as “Home Run Throwback.” On the ensuing kickoff, Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and handed it to Frank Wycheck, who trotted to the right side of the field. When the Bills defenders broke their lanes to pursue him, Wycheck turned and threw the ball to Kevin Dyson, who raced untouched 75 yards into the end zone for the touchdown and the win. The “Music City Miracle” propelled the Titans to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the St. Louis Rams.
1. Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38
Jan. 3, 1993 – Buffalo, N.Y.
Houston jumped out to a 35-3 third-quarter lead and it looked like the Bills run of consecutive Super Bowl appearances would end at two. Then backup quarterback Frank Reich and the Buffalo defense gelled as the Bills scored 35 unanswered points to take 38-35 lead with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter. Houston was able to tie the game with a field goal and send it into overtime. The Oilers got the ball first, but their drive was cut short when Nate Odomes intercepted Warren Moon’s pass. Odomes’ return and a facemask penalty put the Bills on the Houston 20-yard line and Steve Christie booted a 32-yard game-winning field goal two plays later. Buffalo kept the momentum going from the greatest comeback in NFL history and went to the Super Bowl for the third straight year in a row.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top screengrab courtesy of YouTube)