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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ghosts of Playoffs Past – 2011 Playoffs Edition

Last year, the Hat Trick ran a piece during the divisional playoffs highlighting pinnacle playoff moments in the histories of each of the eight remaining franchises. With critical playoff matchups coming this weekend, the Hat Trick is delivering a version for each of the teams in this year’s divisional round. While it may be mentioned, for any of the teams that were also in the divisional round last year, none of last year’s moments will be repeated.

8) Houston Homecoming – January 7, 2012 – 2011 Wildcard Round, Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

Texans 31 Bengals 14

The City of Houston hosted its first NFL playoff game in 18 years, when the Houston Oilers hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 1993 Playoffs. This is a new franchise and a new era in Houston sports. The Texans ushered in their first, ever, playoff appearance by literally running all over the Bengals. Arian Foster finished with 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Arian Foster 1

7) Giant Shellacking – January 28, 2001 – Super Bowl XXXV – Baltimore Ravens vs New York Giants

Ravens 34 Giants 7

The only single season defense to rival the 1985 Chicago Bears, the Ravens’ D, which yielded 10 points per game in the regular season, did not allow a single point to the NFC Champion Giants. Were it not for a Ron Dixon kickoff return for a touchdown for the Giants, the Ravens would have posted the first, ever, shutout in Super Bowl history. Of the Ravens four games in the 2000 NFL Playoffs, the Ravens allowed a total of 23 points, a total that the Ravens exceeded in single playoff games against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round (24 points) and in the aforementioned Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XXXV MVP Ray Lewis 2
6) “We’re gonna score!” – January 4, 2004 – 2003 Wild Card Round – Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Packers 33 Seahawks 27 (OT)

The Packers and Seahawks were all tied up after four quarters in Brett Favre’s final season before the annual offseason speculation, which would last until the 2011 offseason, of whether or not Brett Favre would retire would commence. The Seattle Seahawks won the coin toss. When asked whether the Seahawks wanted to kick or receive, team captain and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, audible to the television audience, exclaimed, “We want the ball and we’re gonna score!”

After swapping opening possessions of the extra period, Hasselbeck threw a pass resulting in a score: a 52 yard interception return for a touchdown by Packers cornerback Al Harris.

You're gonna score? Settle down, Beavis! 3

5) Garrett Hartley sends the Saints to the Super Bowl – January 24, 2010 – 2009 NFC Championship Game – Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints

Saints 31 Vikings 28 (OT)

Being a Saints fan, and trying to single out the most profound and/or memorable and/or dramatic playoff moment, new to the readers, in the team’s history, I was torn between high drama in three playoff games. One was the Saints first ever playoff win in the 2000 season, ending with a sudden, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat moment. Another was Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Saints slammed the door on their opponent in dramatic fashion.

I chose the 2009 NFC Championship Game because it was a true breakthrough for the franchise. The goal of every team is to win the Super Bowl, but the rise in a franchise’s standing from never having reached a Super Bowl to reaching one is far greater than the rise from reaching the Super Bowl to winning it, in my opinion. In addition, the win prompted a fundamental change in the overtime rules in playoff games.

In addition, the tension in the Superdome could have been cut with a butter knife. I have missed very few home games in the last 25 years. The silence I heard in the bathroom after the 4th quarter and before overtime was deafening. If you have ever attended Saints games, you understand how the bathroom, or any part of the stadium, in never, ever “silent”.

After being in the driver’s seat for most of the game, the Vikings tied the score and had marched into Saints territory in the final minute of the game. Brett Favre, in what was becoming an unfavorable annual tradition, threw his final pass of the year, an interception to Tracy Porter of the Saints, when the Vikings were just on the edge of kicker Ryan Longwell’s field goal range.

The Saints wasted no time moving the ball in overtime after winning the coin toss. After advancing to the Vikings 23 yard line, Hartley booted a 40 yard game winning field goal. The Vikings never took possession in overtime. The sudden death playoff win via a field goal on the opening drive prompted changes to the NFL’s playoff overtime rules to preclude sudden death on an opening drive field goal by the team winning the coin toss or a matching field goal by the opponent of that team.


4) The legend of Vinatieri begins – February 3, 2002 – Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots vs St. Louis Rams

Patriots 20 Rams 17

Being a blogger instead of a journalist, I have the freedom to be biased. To poke a little fun at myself, fanhood, and NFL fans, The Daily Hat Trick ran a piece last year detailing my NFL fanhood by team. In the very bottom tier were the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots.

Being from New Orleans, where Super Bowl XXXVI was played, and because of my mother’s connections in corporate America at that time, I had the privilege of bringing my younger brother to the first and only Super Bowl I was able to attend in my life. And WHO would be in the game? Two of my least favorite teams on the planet.

Fortunately, because the Rams were still in the same division as the Saints that year, I had no reservations about rooting for the Patriots. At least I could cheer for SOMEONE during the experience. I was also privileged to attend the game because it was the first Super Bowl after the 9/11 attacks. The theme of patriots and patriotism went far beyond the AFC’s representative in the game. It was a memorable experience.

It was also memorable because of the ending of the game. The Patriots were considered an upstart, and a huge underdog heading into the game. Some, myself included, thought their very survival past the second round of the playoffs in The Tuck Rule Game, made their appearance a fluke. The stage was set for the second coronation in three years of the Greatest Show on Turf and 2001 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner of the Rams.

The Pats forced key second half turnovers, and the score was tied in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter. The Patriots had the ball deep in their own territory and could have run out the clock and forced overtime, as was suggested by Fox Color Commentator and Super Bowl XI champion coach John Madden.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick elected to drive for a winning score in regulation. Tom Brady carved up the soft underbelly of the Rams defense. The Patriots advanced the ball to the Rams’ 31 yard line and stopped the clock with seconds remaining. Vinatieri, who kicked a 45 yard game tying field goal in the snow to save the Patriots’ season in The Tuck Rule Game, further cemented his legacy with a 48 yard game winning field goal as time expired to win the Super Bowl.

One of many legendary kicks for Vinatieri. 5
3) Missing Perfection – February 3, 2008 – Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants vs New England Patriots

Giants 17 Patriots 14

The New England Patriots entered the Super Bowl with two playoff victories and a perfect 2007 regular season for an 18-0 record. The Giants clawed their way in as a Wild Card, having to win three consecutive games on the road to advance to Super Bowl XLII. The regular season finale at Foxboro between the Pats and G-Men was one of the closest contests the Patriots were in all season, winning by only three points. The Patriots came out to Arizona, which hosted the game, for a coronation. The Giants came out to the desert for a dogfight!

The game was punctuated by two plays on the Giants’ final drive. The first was a miraculous catch on third and long on a 32 yard bomb from Giants quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver David Tyree, in which Tyree pinned the ball to his head as he was falling, but never lost control of the football. The other was 13 yard fade route from Manning to 6’5” Plaxico Burress for a game winning touchdown.

David Tyree: Are you KIDDING me?? 6

2) “The Drive” – January 11, 1987 – 1986 AFC Championship Game – Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns

Broncos 23 Browns 20 (OT)

The Hat Trick contrasted this famous moment in NFL history with Tim Tebow’s late game dramatics in the Wild Card round last weekend. This game launched the legend of Hall of Fame Broncos quarterback John Elway. It is one of the most stories moments in the history of the National Football League.

Trailing the Browns by 7 points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Broncos took possession of the ball at their own two yard line. Elway methodically drove the Broncos down the field, having never faced a fourth down. He completed what is referenced universally by NFL fans as “The Drive” with five yard touchdown pass to a sliding Mark Jackson in the end zone to tie the score and send the game into overtime. The Broncos went on to win on a Rich Karlis field goal.

Mark Jackson: forever frozen in time. 7

1) “The Catch” – January 10, 1982 – 1981 NFC Championship Game – Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers

49ers 28 Cowboys 27

Trailing by six points in the final minutes of the game, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana of the 49ers marched his team down the field against America’s Team and the Doomsday Defense with a series of short and intermediate range passes underneath that the Cowboys could not find an answer to. At the Cowboys six yard line on third down, Montana was flushed all the way to the right sideline by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White and defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones of the Cowboys. Montana jumped in the air and heaved the ball over the leaping Jones and White and connected with wide receiver Dwight Clark in the corner of the end zone in the final minute.

The 49ers went on to Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan and defeated the Cincinnati Bengals for their first of five Super Bowl Championships in 14 years. The play has forever been known as “The Catch” and, by many, is considered by many sports writers and broadcasters to be the starting point of the modern era of NFL football in the Super Bowl era.

You could skip to the end, but why miss the build up, with play-by-play from the legendary Vin Scully and color commentary by the late Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram? 8

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