The Most Exciting NFC Championships Games in NFL History

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJanuary 12, 2014

The Most Exciting NFC Championships Games in NFL History

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    Joe Montana has been a part of many key NFC title game moments.
    Joe Montana has been a part of many key NFC title game moments.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The NFC Championship game is played for the George S. Halas Trophy and a trip to the Super Bowl.

    Here is a look at the 10 most exciting NFC title games ever. Keep in mind, the NFC Championship game started in 1970, the year of the merger with the AFL that formed the modern NFL. Games played prior to 1970 are not eligible for this list.

    The closest contests that provided the most excitement and suspense for fans made this list. A blowout win by any team will not make this list. Last-second wins, overtimes, memorable plays and moments are all taken into consideration when determining this list.

    Keep in mind games are listed by the season they are connected to, not the actual year they were played in. For example, the 1977 NFC Championship game was actually played in January 1978.

    Feel free to comment on any game that made the cut or mention a game that was left off that you feel belongs here. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do and what game you would remove from the list if you are seeking to add one.

    Most of all, enjoy this trip down memory lane.

10. 2001: St. Louis 29, Philadelphia 24

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    Marshall Faulk helped the Rams get past the Eagles.
    Marshall Faulk helped the Rams get past the Eagles.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Marshall Faulk ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns as the St. Louis Rams got past the Philadelphia Eagles 29-24 and reached the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

    Philadelphia led 17-13 at halftime, but Faulk and Kurt Warner helped the Rams take control of the game and a 29-17 lead. Both of Faulk's touchdowns came in the third quarter.

    The Eagles made it close on a three-yard touchdown run by QB Donovan McNabb midway through the fourth quarter but it wasn't quite enough.

    Philadelphia had a chance to win it when they got the ball on their own 45 with 2:20 left in the game, but an interception by Aeneas Williams clinched the win for St. Louis.

     

9. 1987: Washington 17, Minnesota 10

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    Doug Williams helped the Redskins edge the Vikings.
    Doug Williams helped the Redskins edge the Vikings.Mike Powell/Getty Images

    The Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings put on a defensive battle for the ages but in the end, the Redskins came up big when the game was on the line.

    Washington sacked Vikings QB Wade Wilson eight times in the game and limited Minnesota to just 76 yards on the ground.

    With the score tied 10-10, QB Doug Williams engineered an eight-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in a seven-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark with 5:06 left in the game.

    Wilson took the Vikings down the field. Minnesota had a 4th-and-4 with just 56 seconds left in the game, Darrell Green knocked the ball away from Darrin Nelson and the Redskins held on for the win.

    Williams became the first African-American quarterback to start in a Super Bowl and led the Redskins to a win over the Denver Broncos in the game. 

8. 1983: Washington 24, San Francisco 21

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    John Riggins led the Redskins to their 2nd straight conference crown.
    John Riggins led the Redskins to their 2nd straight conference crown.Getty Images/Getty Images

    The Washington Redskins dominated early in the 1983 NFC Championship game, taking a 21-0 lead over the San Francisco 49ers after three quarters.

    FB John Riggins scored the only points of the first half on a four-yard run. In the third quarter, Riggins scored again from six yards out and then Joe Theismann found WR Charlie Brown on a 70-yard bomb to give Washington a 21-0 lead.

    But the 49ers weren't ready to give up. Joe Montana threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the score, two to WR Mike Wilson sandwiched between a 76-yard effort to Freddie Solomon.

    The Redskins started their final drive of the game deep in their own territory with 6:52 left in the game. Aided by two penalty calls, the Redskins ran 13 plays and set up kicker Mark Moseley for a 25-yard field goal attempt to win the game with 40 seconds left.

    Moseley had missed three field goal tries earlier in the game, but this one was good and the Redskins led 24-21.

    The 49ers' last chance ended when Vernon Dean intercepted Montana to send Washington to their second straight Super Bowl.

7. 2011: New York Giants 20, San Francisco 17

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    The Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a field goal in overtime.
    The Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a field goal in overtime.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The 9-7 New York Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime to advance to Super Bowl XLVI.

    Lawrence Tynes booted a 31-yard field goal in overtime to give the Giants the victory.

    The Giants defense came up big in the clutch in this game, limiting the 49ers to just 1-for-13 on third-down conversions.

    Eli Manning finished the game 32-of-58 for 312 yards and overcame six sacks to lead the Giants to victory.

    A turning point in the game was a replay review of a punt return by Kyle Williams of San Francisco. The replay showed the bouncing punt actually touched Williams, and the Giants got possession of the ball in San Francisco territory. Manning found Mario Manningham on a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the Giants ahead 17-14.

    David Akers kicked a field goal to send the game to overtime where the Giants once again took advantage of a Williams fumble on a punt return, which was recovered at the San Francisco 24. The 49ers never got the ball back and the Giants were headed to the Super Bowl.

6. 2012: San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24

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    Colin Kaepernick helped the 49ers upset the Falcons.
    Colin Kaepernick helped the 49ers upset the Falcons.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers overcame a 17-point deficit to upset the Atlanta Falcons and advance to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history.

    Matt Ryan found Julio Jones on a 20-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter to give Atlanta a 17-0 lead. The lead was cut to 24-14 at halftime, but Atlanta was done scoring for the day.

    The 49ers scored on the opening drive of the third quarter on a five-yard run by Frank Gore, which capped off a 82-yard drive that pulled San Francisco to within a field goal.

    Then, in the fourth quarter, Gore scored again from nine yards out on a drive set up by a 20-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. that gave San Francisco the ball at the Atlanta 38.

    The Falcons had a chance to score late in the game, but turned the ball over on downs at the San Francisco 13 with 1:13 left on the clock.

    Ryan finished the game with 396 passing yards and three touchdowns in a losing cause, while Jones added 11 catches for 182 yards and a pair of scores.

    Vernon Davis had a big game for the 49ers, catching five balls for 106 yards and a touchdown.

5. 2009: New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28

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    Bounty Gate later overshadowed the Saints big win in this game.
    Bounty Gate later overshadowed the Saints big win in this game.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings out-gained the New Orleans Saints 475-257, but the Saints ended up winning the game 31-28 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

    The Vikings had a chance to win the game in regulation. They faced a 3rd-and-15 from the New Orleans 38, but Vikings QB Brett Favre was intercepted by Tracy Porter and the game went to overtime. Had Favre just thrown the ball away, Minnesota's Ryan Longwell could have attempted a 53-yard field goal to win the game.

    Kicker Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal from 40 yards out in overtime. Pierre Thomas converted a key 4th-and-1 to keep the Saints' winning drive alive.

    The Saints win would later be overshadowed by "Bountygate." The Saints were particularly rough in this game, delivering several late and questionable hits. By 2012, it was revealed that the Saints had offered their players cash bonuses for delivering hits that knocked opposing players out of the game.

     

4. 1990: New York Giants 15, San Francisco 13

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    The Giants upset the highly favored 49ers without scoring a touchdown.
    The Giants upset the highly favored 49ers without scoring a touchdown.George Rose/Getty Images

    The New York Giants pulled off a huge upset and derailed the San Francisco 49ers' attempt to win three consecutive Super Bowls by winning this game 15-13 at Candlestick Park.

    The Giants won the game without scoring a touchdown. Kicker Matt Bahr made 5-of-6 field goals to give the road team the win.

    The game turned on a key sack. DE Leonard Marshall hit Joe Montana and knocked the future Hall of Fame quarterback out of the game. Steve Young had to take over for San Francisco.

    The Giants defense kept the game close throughout and set up the win with the game's only turnover. Erik Howard forced Roger Craig to fumble and Lawrence Taylor recovered for the Giants with 2:36 left in the game.

    Backup QB Jeff Hostetler led the Giants into field goal range and Bahr kicked a 42-yarder as time expired to send the Giants to the Super Bowl for the second time and ended San Francisco's dreams of a third straight title.

     

3. 2007: New York Giants 23, Green Bay 20

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    Brett Favre's final pass as a Packer was a costly interception.
    Brett Favre's final pass as a Packer was a costly interception.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    On the second coldest day in the frigid history of Lambeau Field, the New York Giants edged the Green Bay Packers 23-20 in overtime. The game was the final appearance for Brett Favre in a Packers uniform.

    The temperature at kickoff was 0 and the wind chill was recorded at -23. Surprisingly enough, it was the home team that was more affected by the cold than the visitors.

    Eli Manning was able to find Plaxico Burress 11 times for 154 yards to help the Giants win the game.

    Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes had two chances to win the game in regulation, but couldn't convert in large part due to the cold weather.

    The Packers won the toss in overtime and elected to receive, but Favre's pass on the second play of the drive was picked off by Corey Webster, who returned the ball to the Green Bay 34.

    Tynes hit a 47-yard field goal five plays later to clinch the win for the Giants.

    For Favre, it was the end of a career in Green Bay that started in 1992 and included NFL records for touchdown passes, completions, yards and consecutive starts for a quarterback.

    For the Giants, it was a trip back to the Super Bowl.

2. 1998: Atlanta 30, Minnesota 27

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    The Falcons reached their first Super Bowl by upsetting the highly favored Vikings.
    The Falcons reached their first Super Bowl by upsetting the highly favored Vikings.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings finished the 1998 season with a 15-1 record and were prohibitive favorites to reach the Super Bowl that year.

    The Vikings scored a then-record 556 points that season and featured a high-powered offense led by QB Randall Cunningham and WR Randy Moss.

    Minnesota led this game by as many as 13 points, but couldn't put away the visiting Atlanta Falcons who hung tough and pulled out the win in overtime.

    Minnesota had a chance to clinch the game with 2:07 left. They held a 27-20 lead and had kicker Gary Anderson lining up for a 38-yard field goal. Anderson hadn't missed a kick all season and was kicking in a dome where wind and cold were not factors, but incredibly, he missed the kick wide left.

    The Falcons drove down the field and tied the game on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis with 49 seconds left in regulation time.

    Vikings coach Dennis Green then decided to run out the clock and go to overtime despite having the highest-scoring offense in NFL history at his disposal.

    In overtime, Morten Andersen kicked the game-winning 38-yard field goal to end the first NFC title game that went to overtime and sent the Falcons to their first Super Bowl.

     

     

1. 1981 San Francisco 28, Dallas 27

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    The 49ers reached the Super Bowl for the first time after this win.
    The 49ers reached the Super Bowl for the first time after this win.George Rose/Getty Images

    This game had it all and it ended on one of the most famous plays in NFL history: "The Catch."

    This game marked the beginning of the San Francisco 49ers dynasty that would see San Francisco win four Super Bowls in the 1980s and remain among the league's elite teams for nearly two decades.

    The 49ers had quite the turnaround in 1981, going from 6-10 the previous year to 13-3, which gave them the NFC's best record.

    They met the Dallas Cowboys in the title game, a team that had been a perennial playoff participant since 1966.

    The contest featured two future Hall of Fame coaches in Bill Walsh of San Francisco and Tom Landry of Dallas.

    Both teams took turns taking the lead throughout the game when San Francisco got the ball back at their own 11-yard line trailing 27-21 with 4:54 left.

    Quarterback Joe Montana led the 49ers down the field as the clock ticked down. RB Lenvil Elliott, TE Charle Young and WR Freddie Solomon all had key plays on the final drive.

    The game culminated with Montana's famous high pass to sure-handed Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone with just 51 seconds left in the game. Clark leaped high in the air over cornerback Everson Walls and got both feet in bounds in the back of the end zone.

    The Cowboys still had a chance to kick the winning field goal, but their last-gasp drive ended when defensive end Lawrence Pillers sacked quarterback Danny White and Jim Stuckey pounced on the loose ball for San Francisco.

    The game was a huge upset at the time and sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. "The Catch" became one of the NFL's signature moments, immortalized on NFL Films.