10 greatest moments in NFL playoff history

US Bank Stadium
Darb02, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Few things stand out in the minds of football fans more than the greatest NFL playoff moments of all time. Many of the top NFL playoff moments of all time are glued into our memories.

It’s a big reason why most fans watch the playoffs even when their favorite team isn’t playing. We don’t want to risk missing one of the best NFL postseason performances or one of the best NFL postseason moments ever. 

Greatest NFL Playoff moments

Of course, it’s not easy picking out the greatest NFL playoff moments in league history. We can all agree that there’s a handful or so that stand out above the rest.

But everything else is subjective. That being said, we had a fun time putting together our list of the 10 greatest NFL playoff moments and welcome any comments or criticisms about what we got wrong.

10. Malcolm Butler’s game-winning interception

We rarely pay attention to defensive plays that win a Super Bowl, but Butler’s interception in Super Bowl XLIX is one of the few exceptions.

He read the play the whole way to pick off Russell Wilson and solidify the 28-24 win for New England. Keep in mind the Patriots trailed by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, so they had to come back and then keep the lead, making Butler’s play monumental. To think, if the Seahawks had just given the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

9. Tim Tebow’s one shining moment

He may have gotten the Broncos into the playoffs in 2011 using smoke and mirrors, but Tebow does deserve some credit for his somewhat improbable moment of playoff glory.

While only completing 10 passes the entire game, his 10th completion on the first play in overtime was right on the money. Of course, Demaryius Thomas did most of the work, but Tebow put the ball where it needed to be. Plus, ending a playoff game on the first play of overtime with an 80-yard touchdown pass is something special, especially when it involves a polarizing figure like Tebow.


8. Bart Starr QB sneak in Ice Bowl

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that this game was actually played with a temperature of -15 degrees at kickoff and the wind chill measured at -48 degrees.

Of course, Starr’s quarterback sneak at the end is part of what makes this one of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history. With the ball at the one-yard line, Starr only told two of his offensive linemen that he was going to sneak the ball into the end zone, which he did to perfection, giving the Packers the win over Dallas.

7. 101-Yard interception return

This was one of those rare plays that made a huge impact and had fans in awe as they watched it.

It happened on the last play of the first half in Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and Cardinals. Arizona was at the two-yard line and hoping to take the lead before halftime, trailing 10-7 at the time.

But under pressure, Kurt Warner threw an interception to Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, who proceeded to run 101 yards for the pick-six.

Of course, it was an eventful 101 yards, as Harrison was nearly tackled several times and was not a good candidate to run 101 yards. At the time of the interception, few would have predicted that he would make it to the opposite end zone.

But huffing and puffing, Harrison made it against the odds, giving the Steelers a 21-7 halftime lead rather than possibly facing a deficit. Even though the Steelers scored a beautiful game-winning touchdown by Santonio Holmes late in the game, Harrison’s pick-six is the biggest takeaway from that Super Bowl.

6. Sea of hands catch

Part of this play was luck, mostly on the part of Ken Stabler, who was nearly sacked on the play but threw the ball toward the end zone in an act of desperation.

The Dolphins had three defenders in the vicinity, surrounding Clarence Davis. But in that “sea of hands,” Davis somehow came up with the catch to give the Raiders the lead with 24 seconds left.

Not only was it a spectacular play but it also has great historical significance, as it prevented the Dolphins from potentially winning a third straight Super Bowl during a stretch that included Miami’s perfect season.

5. Minneapolis Miracle

As incredible as this play was, it’s all about the defense.

You can’t play it any worse than Marcus Williams, an otherwise good player, did on this play.

The Vikings were more than 60 yards from the end zone with just 10 seconds left. All Williams had to do was keep Stefon Diggs in front of him. But Williams whiffed on the tackle, leaving nobody between Diggs and the end zone by the time he caught the pass from Case Keenum. Diggs ran free and clear into the end zone for one of the most unbelievable endings to a playoff game anyone could ever envision.

4. Music City Miracle

We can’t apologize enough to Bills’ fans for this because what happened to them is just unfortunate, at least from their perspective.

Who knew that the Titans had a throwback play on a kickoff return in their playbook?

Keep in mind the Bills fought back from a deficit in that game and looked poised to win on the road. However, Frank Wycheck made a perfect (and legal) throw across the field to Kevin Dyson, who had acres of space in front of him.

There’s a reason why we don’t see this kind of play more often; it’s hard to pull off. But the Titans executed this to perfection in one of the most memorable and heartbreaking plays we’ve ever seen in the NFL playoffs.

3. Immaculate Reception

You don’t call something an immaculate reception for a common occurrence.

A desperate pass from Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw took a huge deflection but somehow ended up being caught by Franco Harris, who happened to be in the right spot at the time and ran it into the end zone for the game-winning score.

While the Steelers would lose the next week, this play would help to launch Pittsburgh’s dynasty a few years later. It’s also one of the most improbable catches one can imagine, especially since it happened in the closing moments of a playoff game.

2. The Catch

You know something is special when two words, “The Catch,” tells you everything you need to know.

Joe Montana somehow pump-faked his way into enough space to actually get the pass off. Then Dwight Clark had to leap higher than anyone thought he could to come down with the ball in the end zone. Of course, this catch wouldn’t be remembered as fondly if Eric Wright hadn’t made a game-saving tackle on the ensuing drive or the 49ers hadn’t orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive against the Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, Clark’s incredible grab set in motion the beginning of a dynasty, as the 49ers would go on to win their first of four Super Bowls in less than a decade. 

1. David Tyree’s helmet catch

For starters, the level of difficulty on this catch by David Tyree is astronomical.

The guy was well covered and had to pin the ball against his helmet to complete the catch.

At the same time, we must remember that the play could have easily been whistled dead before Eli Manning somehow escaped from the clutches of multiple defenders.

It’s a minor miracle that Manning was able to get off the throw at all. Finally, the ramifications of this play are nothing short of historic. It helped keep the Giants alive late in the Super Bowl, ultimately allowing them to beat the Patriots and prevent New England from completing an undefeated season. All of those factors combine to make this the greatest NFL playoff moment of all time.

Follow us on social media

About Bryan Zarpentine 237 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply