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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ghosts of Playoffs Past - 2012 Edition

In what is becoming an annual Daily Hat Trick tradition, we will look at the greatest playoff moments in the histories of the eight teams that have reached the divisional round of the playoffs, with no repeats from past editions of "Ghosts...".

8) Stayin' Alive - January 5, 2013 - 2012 Wildcard Round, Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

Texans 19 Bengals 13

After an 11-1 start, the Houston Texans simply needed to split their remaining four games to clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Texans would go on to lose three of their next four games, with all four performances offering little inspiration to their loyal, playoff success starved fans. The Bengals were on fire heading into the game, having won seven of their last eight games.

It wasn't pretty, but the cream rose to the top. The Texans looked like the better team all year long and they played like it in front of their fans when it mattered most. Running back Arian Foster carried the team on his back and galloped for 140 yards and a touchdown. While the Texans appeared to have some sort of collective allergy that frequently repelled them from the end zone when they were close, Texans kicker Shayne Graham salvaged his team's offensive efforts, going 4 for 4 on field goals, including an early 48 yarder. The Texans defense harassed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and smothered the Cincinnati running attack, good enough for a six point win and survival for another week.

Arian Foster takes a well deserved bow after last week's game. 1
7) More Than Beginner's Luck - December 31, 1983 - 1983 Divisional Round, Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins

Seahawks 27 Dolphins 20

The Seahawks won their first playoff game, ever at home in the Kingdome against rookie sensation John Elway and the Denver Broncos just one week prior. Their reward? A trip across country to face another future Hall of Fame rookie, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino at the Orange Bowl. The Dolphins were tied with the Los Angeles Raiders for the AFC's best record at 12-4. This game was expected to be little more than a speed bump on the way to a showdown with the Raiders to decide the AFC's representative in Super Bowl XVIII.

The Dolphins appeared to come to get their playoff passports stamped while the Seahawks arrived on business. After three quarters, Seattle led by a point and then extended their lead, 17-13 on a Norm Johnson field goal. Marino, who would engineer many 4th quarter comebacks in his 17 year career, led the Fins down the field, regaining the lead late. Another rookie sensation, Curt Warner, the 3rd pick in the 1983 NFL Draft behind Elway and running back Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams, capped off a 113 yard performance  with his second touchdown of the day to give the Seahawks the lead for good.

The Seahawks would appear in their first (and only) AFC Championship Game in the team's history, but fall to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Raiders. It was the first road playoff win in the franchise's history. The Seahawks would not win another playoff game away from Seattle until 29 years later, last week at the Washington Redskins.

Before The Greatest Show on Turf, there was another Curt Warner burning up NFL defenses. 2
6) Cinderella Spoils The Super Rematch - January 12, 1986 - 1985 AFC Championship Game, New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

Patriots 31 Dolphins 14

Before Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning made it look easy, the New England Patriots became the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl by winning three games on the road  The difference? Nobody outside of the northeast thought they had a prayer of doing so.

After extinguishing the slumping New York Jets at The Meadowlands and surviving a street fight with the Los Angeles Raiders, who were without their starting quarterback, conventional wisdom was that the Patriots would be run out of The Orange Bowl as quickly as they arrived. The Pats were a good team; the defending AFC Champion Dolphins were thought to be a dynasty in the making at the time.

Earlier in the 1985 season, the Dolphins hosted the 12-0 Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Miami was seen as the last realistic threat to a perfect regular season for the Bears. The 1985 Bears defense, considered by many football historians to be the greatest in the modern history of the game, averaged 12 points allowed per game. They gave up 31 in the first half.

Having blemished the Bears' perfect season, the expectation was that there would be a clash of the titans in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. The Dolphins and the Killer Bees defense, however, could not stop the Patriots' running attack while Dolphins QB Dan Marino was uncharacteristically stymied by the Patriots defense. Craig James of the Pats chipped in 105 yards in a 255 yard rushing effort by New England. Marino was picked off twice and The Super Rematch was not to be and New England reached their first, ever, Super Bowl before being mauled by the Bears, 46-10 in what was the most lopsided Super Bowl, ever, at that time.

Before he was an ESPN college football analyst, Craig James put a few skins on the wall on the gridiron. 3
5) Ray's Last Dance - January 6, 2013 - 2012 AFC Wildcard Round, Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens

Ravens 24 Colts 9

Ray Lewis announced, the week leading into the playoff game against the Colts, that the 2012 NFL season would be his 17th and final one. With the elimination of the sixth seeded Cincinnati Bengals, this would be the fourth seeded Ravens' final home game of the season and the final home game of Ray Lewis' Hall of Fame career.

Ray Lewis gave the crowd one more pre-game performance of his trademark dance and then turned in a performance during the game worthy of such a finale. Lewis had 13 tackles, playing his first game since tearing his triceps in October, leading his team to a win over the Colts and extending the Ravens' season, and his career, one more week.

Ray Lewis would like to save the last dance for New Orleans. 4
4) A First at Lambeau - January 4, 2003 - 2002 NFC Wildcard Round, Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers

Falcons 27 Packers 7

The Green Bay Packers are the second oldest active franchise in the NFL (Cardinals), joining the league in 1921 (established as an independent team in 1919). Prior to the 2002 season, one thing that had never happened was a Packers home playoff loss. In comes second year super-athlete quarterback Mike Vick and the revived Atlanta Falcons.

In spite of the home crown and a 20 degree temperature at kickoff at night, conditions that have always favored the Pack in postseason, the Falcons, bolstered by a defense that forced future Hall of Fame Packers quarterback Brett Favre into two interceptions, and escapability by Vick that kept the Packers' defense on the field, the Falcons jumped to a 24-0 lead from which Green Bay, and its perfect home playoff record, would never recover.

Vick running all over the Packers at Lambeau on January 4, 2003.
3) Desmond Howard Takes It to The House - January 26, 1997 - Super Bowl XXXI, New England Patriots vs Green Bay Packers

Packers 35 Patriots 21

The Green Bay Packers returned to the top of the mountain for the first time since Super Bowl II, when legendary Vince Lombardi was the Head Coach. The Patriots, themselves were experiencing a bit of a rebirth as coach Bill Parcells helped lead the Pats out of a nadir in the late 80s and early 90s. The Big Tuna was coaching for his third Super Bowl championship in three tries while Mike Holmgren appeared in his first of three career Super Bowl appearances as Head Coach.

The lead changed hands twice in the Big Easy and the Patriots had pulled to within six points on a big touchdown run by Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. Then Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner who would be the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI would make the play to break the game wide open.

Did John Madden ever stop talking? 6
2) The Catch II - January 3, 1999 - 1998 NFC Wild Card Round, Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

49ers 30 Packers 27

In one of the best playoff games I have ever seen, the Niners and Packers locked horns in an instant classic. This game was historically significant for several reasons. First, it was a matchup of two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young (enshrined 2005) and Brett Favre (eligible in 2016). Second, the 49ers dethroned the two time defending NFC Champions, keeping the Packers from a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance. But third, and most significant, a talented, physical receiver, known to football fans as "Terrell Owens", gave birth to the legend of the celebrity that everyone would know as "T.O.".

It's easy to forget the Owens was a pretty quiet guy his first three years in the league. 7

1) The Fumble - January 17, 1988 - 1987 AFC Championship Game, Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos

Broncos 38 Browns 33

Why tell you when I can show you the historic play that sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl and broke the city of Cleveland's heart for the second year in a row?

 If you want to skip the build up, skip to 0:35. 8

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  1. New year, new challenges to meet, new changes and win many games. Say goodbye to Ghosts of Playoffs Past.

  2. You scratch my back with a link and I'll scratch yours and leave yours on here.