Greatest Non-Super Bowl NFL Playoff Performances of All Time

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 13, 2013

Greatest Non-Super Bowl NFL Playoff Performances of All Time

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    Colin Kaepernick was simply amazing in leading his San Francisco 49ers to a 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

    Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the Packers defense seemed to have no answer for Kaepernick, who put his official stamp on the NFL playoffs in his first start and has the 49ers in their second consecutive NFC championship game.

    Where does Kaepernick's virtuoso performance rank among the greatest playoff performances of all time?

    I won't be counting Super Bowl performances (that's for another slideshow), but take a look at the Wild Card Round through the conference championship games as we rank the greatest single-game individual playoff performances in NFL history.

15. Lamar Smith (2000 Wild Card Playoffs vs. Indianapolis Colts)

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    You might not know who Lamar Smith is.

    That's all right. Most Dolphins fans don't either, despite the fact that he actually turned in the greatest performance by a Dolphins running back in the postseason.

    Yes, better than Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris.

    Better than Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown (both only played in one playoff game as a Dolphin).

    How great was this performance? Smith, a running back the Dolphins signed after he was let go by the Saints in favor of Ricky Williams (yes, there's some irony considering the Dolphins let him go under the exact same circumstance after the 2001 season), practically carried the Dolphins offense on Dec. 30, 2000.

    He ran for more yards (209) than Jay Fiedler passed for (185). Smith also ran for more yards than Peyton Manning passed for in that game (194). He actually had more rushing attempts than both Fiedler and Manning had passing attempts (Smith ran the ball 40 times, Manning passed the ball 32 times, and Fiedler passed the ball 34 times).

    Smith's 40 attempts are also an all-time playoff record, and his 209 yards are second all-time among rushing yards in a single playoff game.

    Smith also ran for two touchdowns, but the important one came in overtime when he scored the game-clinching 17-yard touchdown run.

    It's hard to believe that in a game that featured Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas on the field, Lamar Smith turned out to be the game's MVP.

    His production would lead the Dolphins to a 23-17 upset victory over Indianapolis and into the divisional round.

14. Ike Hilliard (2000 NFC Championship Game vs. Minnesota Vikings)

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    Going into the 2000 NFC championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants, you had a feeling that a wide receiver would have a remarkable game.

    How could you not think that when third-year wide receiver Randy Moss and legend Cris Carter would be lining up?

    Well, when you put Moss and Carter's numbers together for the game, they don't measure up to the production that New York Giants receiver Ike Hilliard put up in a 41-0 victory that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl.

    For comparison's sake, Carter had three catches for 24 yards and no touchdowns. Moss had two catches for 18 yards and no touchdowns.

    Hilliard, however, gave the Giants 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a game that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate.

    (That wasn't a mistake on my part; the Vikings really looked out of the game from the opening kickoff of that game.)

    In fact, the game was so one-sided that it produced two great offensive performances from the Giants that day.

13. Kerry Collins (2000 NFC Championship Game vs. Minnesota Vikings)

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    Someone had to pass Ike Hilliard the ball in that game.

    That someone was Kerry Collins, who put on a clinic against a Minnesota secondary that was lost throughout the game.

    Collins not only found Hilliard open throughout the afternoon, but also managed to spread the ball around plenty among New York's other wide receivers, Amani Toomer and Ron Dixon.

    The final tally: 28-of-39 for 381 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 120.8.

    Impressive numbers at just the right time.

    Unfortunately for the Giants, Collins wouldn't be able to replicate the performance in Super Bowl XXXV, but his NFC championship game performance is still a New York Giants playoff record, even after some great playoff runs from Eli Manning.

12. Fred Taylor (1999 AFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Miami Dolphins)

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    As far as team performances in a single playoff game, you have to give it up to the Jacksonville Jaguars laying a 62-7 whipping on the Miami Dolphins in the 1999 AFC divisional round.

    Fred Taylor can account for 14 of those points, both coming in a wild first half where the Jaguars effectively put the game out of reach.

    It started with his 90-yard touchdown run to put the Jaguars up 17-0. After two Miami offensive drives that went nowhere (including one that ended with a Dan Marino fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Tony Brackens), Taylor would record his only reception of the day.

    The reception went for 39 yards and a touchdown.

    That afternoon, Taylor would gain 174 total yards from scrimmage and score twice in a game that was seemingly decided at kickoff.

11. Demaryius Thomas (2011 AFC Wild Card Playoffs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)

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    This certainly must qualify for the most efficient playoff performance in NFL history, and also one of the best.

    Demaryius Thomas only caught four passes during the Broncos' 2011 AFC Wild Card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those four receptions would produce 204 yards and a touchdown, with one going for 80 yards.

    Quite simply an outstanding day for the wide receiver, but as I'm wont to do, whenever a wide receiver has a big game, so does the quarterback who threw the ball to him, and I'm tempted to honor said quarterback.

    Let me look into who that was and I'll get back to you.

10. Tim Tebow (2011 AFC Wild Card Playoffs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)

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    Oh, I had forgotten—this was Demaryius Thomas' quarterback in that great game he had.

    Just as I suspected, Thomas' performance was only the tip of the iceberg in what was an amazing Tim Tebow postseason performance.

    Tebow dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in last year's AFC Wild Card showdown to the tune of 316 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and three touchdowns (one running, two passing). 

    He only completed 10 passes (and attempted 21), but his averages are beyond outstanding.

    Tebow and Thomas were both phenomenal in this game and in leading the Broncos to the impending doom that was the AFC divisional playoffs against New England last season.

9. A.J. Duhe (1982 AFC Championship Game vs. New York Jets)

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    As NBC's Dick Enberg would say during the video provided:

    "It's hard to believe A.J. Duhe in six years in the NFL has only two interceptions. He has three today."

    It was an anomaly in the sense that Duhe wasn't particularly known as a linebacker that could grab interceptions during his career (he would end with three for his regular-season career), but rather one that knocked you out.

    In this game, he did both, tormenting the Jets offense and winding up with three interceptions, including one that went for a touchdown.

    Miami would win 14-0, but had it not been for Duhe, things might've been different on that day. He was simply dominant along with the Dolphins defense, although the Jets contended that the poor field conditions had a hand in the game's results as well (because when the Dolphins played offense during that game, it was on a totally different field).

8. Bernie Kosar (1986 AFC Divisional Playoffs vs. New York Jets)

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    No quarterback has thrown for more yards in a playoff game than Bernie Kosar did in this 1986 epic against the New York Jets.

    In total during this seesaw game known as the "Marathon on the Lake" (and the second-longest playoff game in NFL history, clocking in at 77:02 of game time), Kosar threw for 489 yards on 33 completions with one touchdown and two interceptions.

    Without the two interceptions, this is likely the greatest game by a quarterback in NFL playoff history, but it does still hold the playoff record for passing yards in a game, a record that surprisingly hasn't been broken by now in this pass-happy NFL.

7. Willie McGinest (2005 AFC Wild Card Playoffs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

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    You might not get a good view of Willie McGinest in the picture (where he picks up one of his 4.5 sacks against the Jaguars in this game), but don't worry.

    Byron Leftwich saw more than enough of him.

    To go along with 4.5 sacks, McGinest also recorded eight tackles in a game won by New England on the strength of its defense.

    Yes, once upon a time not too long ago, as it was still the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, it was the Patriots defense (specifically the pass rush and the secondary) that won games.

    This game was a prime example of that, and McGinest's contributions were a major reason why the Patriots came away victorious.

6. Ricky Watters (1993 NFC Divisional Playoffs vs. New York Giants)

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    On the surface, this is a great game for 49ers running back Ricky Watters, who rushed for 118 yards on 24 attempts.

    But Watters did something to turn great into extraordinary, scoring five touchdowns.

    I got this video from the "official Ricky Watters" YouTube channel. Take a look at it to see all five of the touchdowns and how well he ran in this game, where Watters set an NFL playoff record for running backs that still has yet to fall.

5. Colin Kaepernick (2012 NFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Green Bay Packers)

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    Yes, Kaepernick's game against Green Bay is an all-time game.

    I'm sure you've noticed that I give credit to players that dominate in many facets of the game. Kaepernick did just that.

    While he did have early jitters to start the game (evidenced by his pick-six at the start of the game), Kaepernick overcame them in a big way.

    Kaepernick would finish the game going 17-of-31 with 263 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his interception, but that's only what he did passing the ball.

    Rushing the ball saw Kaepernick carry the ball 16 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

    Kaepernick pulled the Al Bundy in the best spot possible, in the process breaking Michael Vick's record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in one game.

    Quite an impressive performance for his first playoff game.

4. Freeman McNeil (1982 AFC Wild Card Playoffs vs. Cincinnati Bengals)

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    Why can't I find a suitable picture of Freeman McNeil during his playing days, specifically from this masterpiece against the Cincinnati Bengals that I'm about to talk about?

    You can find video of just about any significant playoff performance from any significant player, yet McNeil's gem in the Jets' 1982 Wild Card Round victory over the Bengals? Can't find it, so here's a grainy black-and-white picture of the game.

    Now onto the game, which had McNeil doing just about everything for the Jets.

    McNeil torched the Bengals defense for 202 yards on 21 attempts. Go ahead, average that out; you will see an average of 9.6 yards per carry.

    Keep in mind this was on the road against the defending AFC champions, who had the third-best run defense in the NFL that season.

    To add to that, McNeil also threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Gaffney (the father of Jabar Gaffney) and caught one pass for nine yards.

    In total, McNeil was worth 225 yards of total offense to the Jets, who left Cincinnati with a 44-17 victory.

    Now if only I could find some video evidence of what looks to be one of the greatest individual efforts in a playoff game in NFL history. It seems to be a game that has fallen through the cracks. What a shame.

3. Peyton Manning (2004 AFC Wild Card Playoffs vs. Denver Broncos)

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    Back in 2004, Peyton Manning aimed to end the Denver Broncos season intentionally. Mission accomplished in a big way during their Wild Card Round matchup.

    Manning threw for the second-most yards anyone has ever thrown for during a playoff game with 458 yards while completing 27 of 33 passes for four touchdowns and one interception, ending up with a passer rating of 145.7.

    Not only was Manning prolific, but quite efficient as well.

    The Colts would walk out of Indianapolis with a decisive 49-24 victory over Denver in what was perhaps the greatest overall performance by a quarterback in a playoff game.

2. Eric Dickerson (1985 NFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Dallas Cowboys)

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    Eric Dickerson was no stranger to the record books in the mid-'80s, and he entered his name into the playoff record books on a sunny January Los Angeles afternoon.

    Dickerson would set an NFL playoff record against Dallas on that day, running for 248 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries in what would wind up being a 20-0 Rams shutout.

    The prize for the Rams after defeating the Cowboys? A trip to Chicago that wound up not going so well (a 24-0 loss). Despite that, Dickerson's day against the Cowboys still holds up as the greatest day by a running back in playoff history.

1. Kellen Winslow (1981 AFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Miami Dolphins)

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    This was the greatest playoff game ever played.

    For the first few minutes after Saturday's epic Broncos vs. Ravens game, I thought that that game had taken its place. But then after taking a step back and thinking about it, the "Epic in Miami" between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins is still No. 1.

    While I could credit Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts for his 433 yards and three touchdowns, or Dolphins QB Don Strock coming in on relief with his 403 yards and four touchdowns, the best performer by far was Kellen Winslow.

    Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He also helped defensive end Leroy Jones block a potential game-winning Uwe von Schamann field goal in overtime.

    To go along with it, Winslow had suffered a pinched nerve earlier in the game and was dehydrated towards the end, which is the reason why two of his teammates are helping him off the field in the iconic picture.

    Winslow became the poster child for the greatest game in NFL history, one dubbed by Sports Illustrated "A Game No One Should Have Lost."

    It's also, at least in my not-so-humble opinion, the greatest postseason single-game performance of all time considering the circumstances.