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The 20 Greatest Individual Playoff Performances in NFL History

Posted on January 07, 2011 by A.J. Foss

John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards to tie the game then led them to victory over the Browns in the AFC Championship Game.

After previously counting down from number 40-21, here are the 20 greatest individual performances in NFL playoff history.

This list spans back to the beginning of the Super Bowl era in 1966 and does not feature any performances from the Super Bowl.

20. Ken Stabler-1974 AFC Divisional Playoff, Dolphins vs. Raiders

“The Snake” lead the Raiders to a victory in one of the greatest games in NFL history as Stabler completed 20 of 30 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns, his last touchdown pass a remarkable as Stabler launched a pass toward the end zone, as he was being pulled down by a Dolphins defender, that was caught by Clarence Davis, who took fought three Miami defenders for the ball.

The “Sea of Hands” as it become known as, gave the Raiders a 28-26 win and ended the reign of the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.

19. Lamar Smith-2000 AFC Wild Card, Colts vs. Dolphins

In the first playoff game since 1982 without Dan Marino as the starting quarterback, the Dolphins go back to their roots, a smash-mouth rushing attack.

Lamar Smith carries the ball a playoff record 40 times for 209 yards and scores two touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown, a 17-yard run in overtime to give the Dolphins a 23-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

18. Dave Casper-1977 AFC Divisional Playoff, Raiders vs. Colts

Casper only caught four passes for 70 yards, but three of those catches were for touchdowns, including the game-winning score, a 10-yarder 43 seconds into the second overtime of the Raiders’ 37-31 win over the Baltimore Colts.

However, the catch that did not go for a touchdown is Casper’s most famous catch, “Ghost to the Post”, an over-the-head catch on a deep post pattern, that went for 42 yards out and set up the game-tying field goal.

17. Don Strock-1981 AFC Divisional Playoff, Chargers vs. Dolphins

Trailing 24-0 with 12:05 to go in the first half, Dolphins head coach Don Shula replaced starter David Woodley, who had been ineffective, and replaced with Don Strock.

All Strock do was complete 29 of 43 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns, one coming on a hook-and-lateral on the last play of the first half, as he lead the Dolphins back to take a 38-31 lead in the fourth quarter, only to have the Chargers come back and win the game in overtime, 41-38.

16. Dan Marino-1984 AFC Championship Game, Steelers vs. Dolphins

Marino continued his record-breaking ways from the 1984 season in the AFC Championship Game as he completed 21 of 32 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Dolphins to a 45-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to secure Marino’s only trip to the Super Bowl.

15. Kurt Warner-1999 NFC Divisional Playoff, Vikings vs. Rams

In his first career playoff game, Warner completes 27 passes to 10 different receivers, and throws five touchdowns to five different receivers, as the “Greatest Show on Turf” scores 35 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 49-37.

Warner finishes the day with 27-of-33 for 391 yards, which gives him a 144.2 rating for the game.

Jack Youngblood played the 1979 NFC Championship Game with a broken leg.

14. Jack Youngblood-1979 NFC Championship Game, Rams vs. Buccaneers

Although he complied only two tackles, Youngblood’s performance is remarkable because he played all 53 defensive plays with a hairline fracture in his left fibula as the Rams shut out the Buccaneers 9-0 to advance to their first Super Bowl.

Youngblood would play every defensive play in the Super Bowl and would go on to play in the Pro Bowl, before having surgery on his leg.

13. Frank Reich-1992 AFC Wild Card, Oilers vs. Bills

In 1984, Frank Reich came in of relief of   and lead the Maryland Terrapins to a 42-40 win over the Miami Hurricanes, after trailing b 31 points in the greatest comeback in college football history.

Eight years later, Reich would lead the Buffalo Bills to the greatest comeback in NFL history.

After falling behind 35-3 early in the second half, Reich completed 16 of 23 passes for 240 yards and threw four touchdowns, three of them to Andre Reed, and then was the holder for Steve Christie’s game-winning 32-yard field goal in overtime to complete the Bills’ 41-38 comeback win over the Houston Oilers.

12. Anthony Carter-1987 NFC Divisional Playoff, Vikings vs. 49ers

Going up against the NFL’s top defense, Carter set an then-playoff record 227 receiving yards on 10 catches as the Vikings pulled off a 36-24 upset of the San Francisco 49ers.

11. Daryle Lamonica-1969 AFL Divisional Playoff, Oilers vs. Raiders

“The Mad Bomber” only completed 13 passes, but six of them went for touchdowns, a postseason record, as the Raiders routed the Houston Oilers 56-7 to advance to the AFL Championship Game.

Lamonica broke the record, which he tied one year earlier in a five-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs.

10. Peyton Manning-2003 AFC Wild Card, Broncos vs. Colts

Coming off a record 49 touchdown passes in the regular season, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw four more touchdown passes as he completed 27 of 33 passes for 458 yards in a 49-24 rout of the Denver Broncos.

Manning’ performance was reminiscent of the year before when…

9. Peyton Manning-2004 AFC Wild Card, Broncos vs. Colts

Manning achieved a perfect quarterback rating as he completed 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns in his first postseason victory, a 41-10 blowout over the Broncos.

8. Ed Podolak-1971 AFC Divisional Playoff, Dolphins vs. Chiefs

Chiefs running back Ed Podolak gave the most versatile performance in NFL playoff history as he complied 350 all-purpose yards, a playoff record.

Podolak carried the ball 17 times for 85 yards, caught eight passes for 110 yards, returned three kickoffs for 154 yards and one punt for one yard as he almost single-handily lead the Chiefs to a win over the Miami Dolphins.

With the game tied at 24-24, Podolak returned a kickoff 78 yards that set up a potential game-winning field goal by Jan Stenerud with about one minute to play.

But Stenerud missed the field goal and the Chiefs lost the game 27-24 in the longest game in NFL history

7. Joe Montana-1989 NFC Championship Game, Rams vs. 49ers

Montana put on a clinic in the NFC Championship Game as he completed 26 of 30 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers easily dispatched the Los Angeles Rams 30-3 to advance to their fourth Super Bowl in nine years.

In what would prove to be his final playoff victory, Kurt Warner passed for 379 yards and five touchdowns.

6. Kurt Warner-2009 NFC Wild Card Game, Packers vs. Cardinals

In the highest-scoring game in postseason history, Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns as the Cardinals defeated the Green Bay Packers 51-45 in overtime.

Warner joined Daryle Lamonica as the only quarterbacks to throw for at least five touchdowns in a playoff game more than once.

5. Tom Brady-2007 AFC Divisional Playoff, Jaguars vs. Patriots

Off the heels of his record 50 touchdown pass season, Brady set another record in the playoffs for completion percentage in a game as Brady completed 26 of 28 passes, which is 92.9%, for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 31-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

4.  Vernon Perry-1979 AFC Divisional Playoff, Oilers vs. Chargers

With running back Earl Campbell, starting quarterback Dan Pastorini, and wide receiver Ken Burrough all injured, the Oilers appeared to have no chance against the high-powered San Diego Chargers.

But thanks to rookie safety Vernon Perry’s four interceptions, a playoff record, and blocked field goal that he returned 57 yards to set up a Oilers field goal, Houston shocked the Chargers 17-14 to advance to their second straight AFC Championship Game.

3. John Elway-1986 AFC Championship Game, Broncos vs. Browns

The legend of John Elway began as he lead the Broncos on “The Drive” a 15-play, 98-yard drive that culminated with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Mark Jackson that tied the game at 20-20 with 37 seconds in regulation and sent the game into overtime.

Elway, who compiled 88 of the 98 yards on “The Drive”, then led Denver on a 60-yard drive that set up Rich Karlis’ game-winning field goal that gave the Broncos a 23-20 win over the Cleveland Browns and sent them to Super Bowl XXI.

Elway finished the game by throwing for 244 yards on 22 of 38 passes, and ran for 56 yards on four carries, despite a sprained ankle.

2. Eric Dickerson-1985 NFC Divisional Playoff, Cowboys vs. Rams

One year after breaking the record for most rushing yards in a season, Eric Dickerson broke the record for most rushing yards in a postseason game.

Dickerson carried the ball 34 times for 248 yards and scored two touchdowns, a 55-yarder on the first play of the second half, and a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter as the Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys 20-0.

Kellen Winslow left everything he had on the field in an epic overtime playoff win over the Dolphins.

1. Kellen Winslow-1981 AFC Divisional Playoff, Chargers vs. Dolphins

In a game that is regarded as “The Epic in Miami” or “The Game No One Should Have Lost,” Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow shined the brightest.

Winslow caught a playoff record 13 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown, to go along with him blocking the potential game-winning field goal by Dolphins kicker Uwe von Schamann on the final play of regulation.

Winslow did all this despite playing with a pinched nerve in his left shoulder and suffering from severe cramps in his legs and his back.

After Rolf Benirschke kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime that gave the Chargers a 41-38 win, Winslow had to be carried off because of exhaustion and dehydration.

The image of Winslow on the shoulders of two of his teammates has become an iconic image in NFL history.


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