Top 10 Finishes in NFL History
As a football fan, there is absolutely nothing more exciting than a last-second, thrilling, dramatic victory. Blowouts are fun, even awesome, but there is nothing like a comeback win. It's what fans remember for years and years--or for the rest of their lives. It's what makes them watch games in the first place. Drama is absolutely everything in this era.
Look at your last five Super Bowls. They've all come down to a final drive where a quarterback needed to overcome a deficit. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning did it twice against the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did it against the Arizona Cardinals but failed to do so against the Green Bay Packers. And Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning failed to do so against the New Orleans Saints.
Blowouts aren't what people remember when they think of a great player. Ask San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who led the Niners to a quartet of Super Bowl victories. He's not remembered for the blowout victory against the Denver Broncos or the one against the Miami Dolphins. He's remembered for the last-minute comeback victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That being said, here are the top ten finishes in the history of the NFL. Most of them are slanted to the modern sense, because that's what our fans will remember more and care about more. But overall they will span many decades of football history.
They will be listed in reverse order.
10. The Drive
No, I'm not talking about the overrated 98-yard march by Denver quarterback John Elway in a situation where the Broncos could have punted after a three-and-out. I'm talking about the do-or-die drive by Joe Montana in the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback marched his team 92 yards in the final three minutes against the Cincinnati Bengals, the drive culminating in a 10-yard touchdown to John Taylor in the back of the end zone. The highlight of the drive actually occurred before it even began with an off-the-field moment, when Montana boldly pointed out actor/comedian John Candy in the stands, in an attempt to calm his teammates. It worked, and Montana won his third Super Bowl in nine years.
9. The Ice Bowl
It remains the gutsiest coaching decision in the history of the National Football League. Facing a third and goal from the one-yard line with just 16 seconds remaining in the NFL championship, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr boldly called his own number, scoring behind a big block from should-be-Hall-of-Famer Jerry Kramer. Had Starr been tackled short of the end zone, the Packers likely would not have been able to run another play, whether it be a game-tying field goal or a potential walkoff touchdown. Forget about the Super Bowl, which they won against the Oakland Raiders two weeks later, and forget about the Super Bowl trophy earning its name after Vince Lombardi. History was forever changed by a 36-inch quarterback sneak in -13 degree weather.
8. Music City Miracle
It might be the second most painful moment in Buffalo Bills history, and don't forget that we're talking about the only franchise in the history of professional sports to lose a championship in four consecutive seasons. Nothing will ever be worse than kicker Scott Norwood missing a 47-yard field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXV, but the Music City Miracle is pretty close. The Bills thought they had a road win in the bags in the wild card round of the postseason, but the Titans had other ideas. Behind a brilliant trick play that the Titans had frequently practiced, called Home Run Throwback, wide receiver Kevin Dyson returned fullback Lorenzo Neal's sideways lateral 75 yards for the game-winning score with just three seconds remaining. Oh, and for the record, the play was not a forward lateral.
7. Fail Mary
There might not be an awkward moment in NFL history, and you can thank the replacement referees for this one. On the final play of a Monday Night Football contest, Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw up a Hail Mary from the 40-yard line that was intercepted by Green Bay Packers safety MD Jennings for a game-clinching interception. That's how everybody saw it. Everybody but ref Lance Easley, who ruled that wide receiver Golden Tate had secured the ball for a touchdown. Now Tate did have a hand on the ball, but replays clearly--CLEARLY--showed that Jennings intercepted the ball. The victory, in my opinion, will propel the Seahawks into the playoffs, and will cost the Packers a first-round bye. One game, one play, 32 teams affected.
6. Giant Comeback
There are a number of impressive single-game comebacks in the last few seasons, but the one that impresses me the most (or, second most, since there's one higher on this list) is the fourth quarter comeback led by Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young late in the 2006 season. Down 21-0 against the New York Giants, an Adam Jones interception led to a Young passing and rushing touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14. With 2:49 remaining, Young broke out of a Mathias Kiwanuka sack on 4th and 10 (Kiwanuka thought he had Young wrapped up, which would end the play, and did not want to be flagged), and scampered for 19 yards. He tossed the game-tying score with 49 seconds left. Pacman added a second interception, Young led the Titans into field goal range, and Rob Bironas ended the game from 49 yards out.
5. Immaculate Reception
4. Miracle at the New Meadowlands
As an Eagles fan, there is nothing that could possibly have made this game any greater. With the division on the line, the Eagles traveled to New York to play the Giants in a week 15 game, but were blown out of the water in the first half. They trailed 31-10 with only half a quarter to play. Then the Eagles caught fire, striking with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Brent Celek. A surprise onside kick led to a Vick rushing touchdown, and after the Eagles' defense stopped the Giants, Vick hit Maclin to tie the game with just over a minute remaining in regulation. Another defensive stop led to a walkoff punt return touchdown by DeSean Jackson, a play made improbable by the fact that a) punter Matt Dodge actually kicked the ball to Jackson after b) he was told not to kick the ball in bounds, and c) Jackson initially fumbled the ball before scoring the touchdown. The comeback led to the Eagles' sixth division title in the past 10 seasons, and kept the Giants out of the postseason.
3. The Tuck Rule
Raiders fans would literally rather hear about the Immaculate Reception than the Tuck Rule. Both plays were extremely controversial and both jumpstarted a dynasty. We all know what happened. New England Patriots quarterback led a comeback from 10 down in the fourth quarter of the AFC division playoff game, his first-ever postseason contest, highlighted by a lost fumble with under two minutes remaining which was overturned by a strange rule that ruled the play an incompletion. A miraculous 45-yard kick by Adam Vinatieri, arguably the most impressive kick in NFL history, forced overtime. In overtime, Brady led the Patriots on another drive, and Vinatieri delivered a walkoff to send the Patriots to the AFC championship. Three weeks later, the Patriots were crowned Super Bowl champions on another walkoff field goal.
2. Super Bowl XXXVII
The 2003 Super Bowl is the most underrated game in league history. For whatever reason, it has been completely forgotten when the most exciting finishes are named. Through three quarters, the New England Patriots led the Carolina Panthers 14-10. In the fourth quarter alone, the Panthers outscored the Patriots 19-18, making the final score a 32-29 win by the Patriots. The last 15 minutes included an 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad (the longest offensive play in Super Bowl history), a pair of lead changes, an 11-point comeback by the Panthers, a game-tying score by Ricky Proehl in the final two minutes (the second time in three seasons he tied a Super Bowl with a touchdown catch in the final two minutes), and a near walkoff field goal by Vinatieri. The MVP went to Tom Brady but in the fourth quarter, Jake Delhomme played as well as any quarterback ever has.
1. The Helmet Catch
There is no play in the history of the NFL more famous than David Tyree's helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII against the New England Patriots. With the New York Giants trailing the undefeated Patriots 14-10, Eli Manning needed to lead the Giants 83 yards in the final three minutes. The highlight of the drive came on 3rd and 5 near midfield when Manning broke out of a pair of Patriots' defensive linemen and heaved the ball downfield. Little-used wide receiver David Tyree outjumped future Hall of Fame safety Rodney Harrison, pressed the ball against his helmet with his right hand, and held on for a 32-yard gain. The Giants scored with 35 seconds to play on a 13-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burress, securing the most dramatic victory in franchise history.