This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: Greatest NFL games
Eric Edholm: "The Drive"
The significance of this playoff game in early 1987 between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns is that it came to harden two ideas in NFL fans’ minds: that John Elway was the best in the clutch and that the Browns were doomed to fail. That duality is why this fairly overrated game in the NFL annals has come to last for generations as one of its best.
Really, the game was very good — but one of the all-time classics? No chance. Sports Illustrated listed it among its “favorite games” of the 20th century. I ask of writer Richard Hoffer: Did he stop watching NFL games after the Reagan administration?
Let’s review: Bernie Kosar hit Brian Brennan with a 48-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 20-13 lead with 5:32 left, and the ensuing kickoff return was botched by the Broncos and left them at the 2-yard line with a screaming Dawg Pound in the stands behind them.
It had been a sloppy game; there were three interceptions, four fumbles, 13 punts and 15 penalties. It had snowed. The field was frozen dirt. Perhaps that added to the lore.
Elway took over and executed a 15-play, 98-yard drive to infamy. He was sacked and missed on three passes, but he had two key scrambles and completed a backbreaking 20-yard ball to Mark Jackson on 3rd and 18 prior to the game-tying touchdown to Jackson with 37 seconds left.
Blame Marty Schottenheimer because, well, everyone else does. He sat back in a prevent defense against Elway, and the Browns took the air out of the ball on their final drive of regulation. After a three-and-out to start overtime, Elway got the ball back, hit a couple big passes and set up the game-winning field goal.
Except Broncos kicker Rich Karlis missed it. Yep — go back and watch the replay. The Browns were jobbed because replay was only available to the TV viewers, not the referees, and the kick stood.
All in all, this was a game that should have been reduced to about 10 minutes of action. It was a great drive, but it was not a great game by great-game standards.
Frank Schwab: Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams beat Titans
When I see rankings of greatest games for any sport, I want to see great games, not mediocre games that had a really incredible ending. So when I see Super Bowl XXXIV near the top of some “Greatest Super Bowls” list, I wonder if people just watched the fourth quarter.
The Rams and Titans had a great ending. It was one of the best finishes ever, really, with the Titans tying it with 2:12 to go, the Rams hitting an 80-yard touchdown to retake the lead, and Mike Jones’ famous tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line to end it. What a finish. The story of Kurt Warner and the Rams coming out of nowhere to win a title was great, too. But the game? Maybe people fell asleep for the first three quarters.
For almost three full quarters the game was a snooze. The Rams moved the ball well but slogged around in Titans territory and settled for three first-half field goals. The Titans were even worse, getting outgained 294-89 in the first half and getting shut out until late in the third quarter, after they fell behind 16-0.
The fourth quarter was really good, especially the final few minutes. But let’s put it this way: If that game is being shown again on the NFL Network, you’ll probably just tune in for the final 10 minutes or so, at most. Yet it gets mentioned as one of the greatest games in the history of the sport. I just can’t agree with that.
EE: 2003 NFL divisional playoff, Panthers over Rams in double OT
There are so many I considered: the classic between the 49ers and Redskins in the 1983 playoffs, Super Bowl XXXVIII between Patriots and Panthers, the Saints’ return to the Dome in 2006, Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and Cardinals.
But one almost entirely forgotten classic I have to go with was the divisional playoff game between the Panthers and the Rams in the 2003 playoffs. There might not be another one like it. It’s probably the best game I’ve ever witnessed in person.
The Rams, led by quarterback Marc Bulger and their explosive offense, were touchdown favorites. They hadn’t lost at the Edward Jones Dome in 16 months. The Panthers were fresh off their first playoff win in seven years.
The Rams took a 6-0 lead into the second quarter, but Panthers running back Stephen Davis stunned the crowd (and maybe himself) with a 64-yard run. (He only had one run longer than that in his career, four years earlier.) But Davis was hurt on the play and never returned with an ankle injury.
That run set up a wild play on third and goal from the Rams’ 5-yard line. It would appear in the official gamebook as such:
(11:35) J.Delhomme right tackle to SL 6 for -1 yards (L.Little). FUMBLES (L.Little), touched at SL 6, recovered by CAR-M.Muhammad at SL 0. TOUCHDOWN. Play Challenged by SL and Upheld. (Timeout #1 by SL at 11:22.)
Get that? Basically, it was a wild scrum and a botched QB sneak/handoff that pinballed around seven or eight times before ending up in the hands of Muhsin Muhammad for a score. It would be that kind of afternoon.
When Brad Hoover, he of the six rushing attempts that season and no rushing touchdowns since his rookie year of 2000, rumbled in from seven yards out he gave the Panthers a 23-12 lead with 8:50 left, leading to a handful of fans to head for the exits.
No one knew it at the time, but we still had 24 minutes of action left.
Bulger was picked on his next pass after the Hoover touchdown, the Rams’ defense held and Kasay missed a 53-yard field goal. Marshall Faulk’s touchdown run and a Dane Looker two-point conversion made it 23-20 Panthers with 2:44 left.
Then came the finest onside kick I have ever witnessed, live or on TV. Wilkins hit a Phil Mickelson flop shot that somehow bounced backward and into the arms … of Wilkins. Never seen one quite like that. The Dome was on fire.
The Rams drove to the Carolina 15 against a battered Panthers defense that was starting to break. The most stunning thing happened: Normally aggressive Rams coach Mike Martz passed up a chance at a touchdown and instead ran the clock down for a game-tying field goal. It was like Gen. Patton opting not to take a hill because his men were finishing their lunch in the field.
In overtime, both teams had their chance to win. There were missed field goals from each team. Bulger threw an interception.
And just when you thought this game had gone completely off the rails …
On the first play of the game’s sixth quarter, Jake Delhomme dropped back on 3rd and 14 and hit Steve Smith on a play they called “X Clown” because Smith, the “X” receiver on the play, said he screwed it up at least 10 times in practice that week. Smith scored a 69-yard touchdown that would end the NFL’s fifth-longest game in history.
Rams fans would stream out of the building in eerie quiet, witnesses to one of the strangely thrilling games in NFL history, one that has slipped through the cracks in the list of best games ever.
FS: 2006 AFC championship game, Colts over Patriots
This is where I continue my crusade to get this game higher up on those “Greatest NFL games” lists.
First, since Eric produced his list of all his that nearly made the cut, I’ll give a shout out to a few as well. I think the Chargers-Dolphins 1981 playoff classic is underrated only because I think it really is the greatest NFL game ever (removing the historical implications from the criteria) but isn’t typically recognized as such. I think Super Bowl XXV, when the Giants outlasted the Bills, was incredibly tense and a great battle of differing styles that was more than just a missed field goal. The “Tuck Rule” game probably gets its proper credit, but I still love it. The Jets and Browns played a playoff game at the end of the 1986 season that was decided in double overtime and I’d put up against any, except it was overshadowed historically by the aforementioned AFC championship game and “The Drive” a week later. There are so many others that have been forgotten, especially regular-season classics that get lost over time, but I’d put in a vote for the Broncos beating the Chargers 39-38 in 2008, an unbelievable game that’s unfortunately remembered for Ed Hochuli’s blown call near the end.
There are so many great NFL games, but I still say Peyton Manning finally making his first Super Bowl by leading an incredible comeback to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots is the best NFL game since that Dolphins-Chargers classic. We don’t hear much about it, but it was interesting throughout, from the Patriots storming to a 21-3 lead to the Colts chipping away and eventually taking the lead. There were great plays throughout and a fantastic final Colts drive to win it with a minute left. I've talked about it at length here before. It was the best game of the Brady-Manning rivalry, and one of the best games in NFL history, period.
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