Who Are The NFL's Current Top Big Game Players?
After 17 weeks of gritty football, the post-season is here. Perhaps what makes this post-season so intriguing is the spark of freshness? Many teams and players in the post-season that have never won a Super Bowl. Of the 12 teams competing in the post-season this year, six of them have never won a Super Bowl.
Those teams would be the Vikings, Bengals, Eagles, Chargers, Cardinals and Saints. Additionally, of those six teams, a few of them have relatively young rosters filled with individuals who haven’t played much January or February football. So the question is, do any of these teams have an active big game player who can tip the scales in their favor? Let’s find out…
20.) Brian Westbrook - Currently Playing
Brian Westbrook first demonstrated his abilities in big games with that game winning punt return against the Giants in 2003, but that game doesn’t count due to how early in the season it was. However, the very next season Westbrook proved why he deserves his spot.
In the 2004 post-season, Westbrook averaged 114 yards from scrimmage per game and threw in a touchdown in two-of-three games—including the Super Bowl.
In the 2006 post-season, Westbrook once again averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage per game. But this time around, it was essentially just by running the ball. Last post-season, Westbrook didn’t play as well, and it showed when the Eagles offense could not keep up with the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.
19.) LaMarr Woodley
Woodley initially escaped my mind, but two hours into compiling this list, I remembered his achievements. LaMarr Woodley has only reached the post-season twice; but in one of those ventures, he was an integral part of a Super Bowl run.
In the 2007 post-season, Woodley managed to account for two sacks in the Steelers’ Wild Card matchup against the Jaguars. In 2008, Woodley proceeded to amass two sacks against the Chargers, an additional two against the Ravens and two more—one of which sealed the game—against the Cardinals. In effect, Woodley became the first player in NFL history to start his post-season career with four games of two sacks or more.
18.) Alan Faneca - Currently Playing
Faneca was a staple in the Steelers offense during the 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 seasons in which he cleared lanes for Jerome Bettis, Amos Zeroue, Willie Parker and Duce Staley, respectively. Perhaps the key moment in his post-season play was the block that sprung Willie Parker for a 75 yard touchdown run, earning Faneca a vote for Super Bowl MVP.
17.) Chris Snee
Chris Snee is a monster in the run game. His performance in the 2006 post-season is the reason that Tiki Barber was capable of having a monster last game of his career.
In the 2007 Super Bowl run, Snee threw countless block after block to spring Brandon Jacobs and company. Perhaps the best block I’ve ever seen Snee throw was during Super Bowl XLII. He pulled and knocked a Patriots linebacker flat on his butt to clear a running lane.
16.) Brett Favre - Currently Playing
Sure, you can look at the six interception debacle of the 2001 post-season, or even the four interception debacle of the 2004 post-season, and try to make a case that the old man doesn’t belong. However, you would be very wrong to believe that.
If you remember the two aforementioned instances, you’d forget that Favre has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in thirteen post-season games. You probably forgot that Favre has had nine games with over a 100 quarterback rating in the post-season, including an entire post-season in 1997.
Did I forget to mention that Favre has that Lombari trophy? Had John Elway and Terrell Davis not played so great in that respective Super Bowls, Favre probably would have a second Lombardi trophy, plus a Super Bowl MVP award.
For his post-season career, Favre averages completing 19/31 passes per game. Additionally, he averages 241 yards and 1.71 touchdowns with only 1.22 interceptions per game.
15.) Deion Branch
Deion Branch is the one of the poster boys for post-season heroes. He has never reached a 1,000 yard campaign during the course of a regular season, but he just seems to step it up during the post-season (as evidenced by his Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl 39). If you placed Branch in 16 post-season game, he probably would have been a 1,000 yard receiver.
Branch has four 100-yard receiving games in the post-season, three of which included at least 8 receptions. The other was an impressive four-reception-game with a handful huge gains. Unfortunately for Branch, it was feast-or-famine in the post-season; he either had a huge game or a mediocre one, but that’s not enough to keep him off of this list.
14.) Hines Ward
Ward is another member of the exclusive "Super Bowl MVP wide receivers club" and, like Branch, steps it up during the post-season. Ward has five 100 yard games during the post-season.
However, the most impressive aspect of these five games is the fashion in which Ward amassed those 100 yards in three of them: two in comeback games (in which Ward was vital to keeping the Steelers in the game) and the third was in Ward’s first Super Bowl.
Ward’s other games in the post-season are no slouch either. Outside of 2005 Wild Card game, in which Ward only had two receptions for 10 yards, he averages three receptions for 60 yards every post-season outing.
13.) Bob Sanders
If you don’t see it by now, Bob Sanders has always been overrated. His presence in the 2006 Super Bowl is the biggest factor because people ran away with the story.
With that said, Sanders' effect that post-season was still big. Though it wasn’t the main reason the Colts turned it around, it was still enough of an influential factor to place him on this list.
Sanders is incredibly average at forcing turnovers throughout his career, but he went on a tear during the post-season. He got an interception in his first game back against the Chiefs, and then picked off an overthrown Rex Grossman pass in Super Bowl XLI in addition to forcing a Cedric Benson fumble.
His biggest play of the post-season was during the AFC Championship Game. There, he forced a Tom Brady incompletion with about three minutes left to play.
12.) Ty Law
This guy single-handedly is the main reason you won't future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning on this list. Manning was owned by Mr. Law in two separate post-season outings. The best part? Mr. Law was playing for two different teams in three years between both post-season appearances.
The way that Law manhandled Manning’s receivers led to the Colts crying like babies to the commissioner for stricter enforcement of the defensive holding call. In reality, Ty Law was in Manning’s head all game and made Manning his "you know what."
Even before owning Manning, Law was a vital part of the Patriots first Super Bowl run; he absolutely destroyed the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game.
11.) Randy Moss
No, not the guy who keeps track of horse racing. This is the guy who will go down as one of the five best NFL wide receivers ever. People have always claimed he isn’t dedicated and doesn’t care, but his presence on this list proves otherwise.
In his first two post-season games for the Minnesota Vikings, Moss brought in a touchdown and provided 70+ ards receiving as a second year player. It wasn't his fault the Vikings fell short of the Super Bowl.
The following year, Moss went off for 14 receptions for 315 yards and three touchdowns in two games. He also torched New Orleans in the post-season for 121 yards on two receptions and two touchdowns.
Perhaps because they shut down Moss, the Giants were capable of advancing to Super Bowl XXXV. In the game that got him kicked out of Minnesota, Randy Moss was the deciding factor with his two touchdown receptions.
Finally, Randy Moss caught what should have been the game winning touchdown in the Patriots' historic season had Asante Samuel brought in that interception (or Eli Manning did’t escape that sack).
10.) Asante Samuel - Currently Playing
Asante Samuel easily could’ve been on the top four in this list. In fact, he was at number four on the original cut, but because of that infamous dropped interception—which some people just cannot get over—I dropped him a few spots. In the end, though, there is no denying that Asante comes to play in big games—regardless of what team he is playing for.
Samuel is fifth on the all-time post-season interceptions list, and I’m pretty sure that during this post-season he will most certainly move up on that list. Asante Samuel has played in 11 post-season games and averaged at least one interception in seven of those games. In the other four, he wasn’t the team’s top cornerback, but he still managed to shut down the Steelers in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.
What is most impressive about Samuel in the post-season is that he improves his coverage and play-making abilities. He has returned four interceptions for touchdowns in the post-season: an NFL record.
09.) Ray Lewis - Currently Playing
Ray Lewis was originally an afterthought for this list because of the space between the Ravens' post-season appearances this decade. Upon further research, however, he is deserves placement on this list.
The first highlighted accomplishment of Lewis’ post-season career is his play during the 2000 season. His interception against Denver was important, but his interception against the hated rival Tennessee Titans was one of the biggest plays in post-season history. He then went on to dominate Super Bowl XXXV on his way to Super Bowl MVP.
In his later performances in the post-season, Lewis would go on to add numerous multiple-tackle games. Lewis has 17-tackle and a 15-tackle games. He has six career passes defensed in the post-season and four forced fumbles.
08.) Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes was vaulted into super-stardom after making the most amazing catch in Super Bowl history last February. That catch alone was good enough to allow him to make this list given the magnitude of the situation, but it is not the only reason that he is on here.
Holmes has displayed a love for the big stage since entering the league. As a rookie, he eventually became a starter with four games to go. With the hated Bengals on the verge of a post-season berth, Holmes caught a pass and took it 49 yards to the house to prevent them from going to the post-season.
In his first post-season game, with the Steelers down double digits, Holmes caught a pass and broke two tackles to score. That effort kept the Steelers alive for an eventual failed comeback.
Where Holmes shone the most was in the 2008 season. Holmes brought in a controversial touchdown reception against the Ravens late in the season to win the division for Pittsburgh. Then, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, he took a punt to the house when his team couldn’t move the ball offensively. The next week he took a catch 60 yards for a touchdown—on a broken play.
Finally, there’s Super Bowl XLIII.
07.) Steve Smith
I kind of felt bad for Steve Smith last year. All post-season, people were slurping up what Larry Fitzgerald was doing while forgetting that Steve Smith had done the exact same thing some five seasons prior without getting even half the hype. After all, Fitzgerald broke Smith’s record.
During the 2004 post-season, Smith exploded in the Wild Card round and never looked back. In the Divisional round, Smith won one of the best post-season games ever as he took a short route to the house in double overtime.
He eventually went on to the Super Bowl and was a big reason as to why the Panthers hung with the Patriots during the game with his physicality and big play ability. He averaged 100 yards and a touchdown per game during that post-season.
In 2005, Smith had one of the most amazing single-game outing in post-season history against the Bears. He went off for 12 receptions and 218 yards with an accompanying two touchdowns. Because of this game, misconceptions about “double” and “triple” coverage began to run rampant around the nation.
In seven post-season games, Steve Smith has 47 receptions for 782 yards and seven touchdowns.
06.) Terrell Owens
T.O. is another player that had escaped my mind on the list's original compilation, but then I remembered the two games earn him a place him on this list. Owens’ post-season résumé only need to be defined by “The Catch 2.0” and “Returning From A Broken Leg."
In case you’re unfamiliar with both, allow me to explain. In 1998 Terrell Owens, who was considered a trouble maker already, was a key player for the '49ers, but Steve Young and company felt that his immaturity held him back. Nothing exemplified this more than dropping a potential gamewinning catch.
However, in a maturation moment, Owens made an even more difficult catch while getting hit on the next play, completing a Divisional round comeback.
In the second part of his résumé, you need only realize that Owens was a mere seven weeks removed from a lower leg injury that was supposed to end his season. Due to Owens’ work ethic, he was capable of coming back from the injury to play in his first and only Super Bowl. He probably would’ve received MVP honors had his team won due to his nine reception, 122 yard game.
Owens averages 4.9 receptions, 68.2 yards and .47 touchdowns per post-season game, but his immortal play in those two games cements his spot.
05.) Larry Fitzgerald - Currently Playing
Larry Fitzgerald’s post-season was magical. Had he not been playing against my favorite team, I would have totally wished that the Cardinals would’ve won Super Bowl XLII. I mean, Fitzgerald played his butt off in the fourth quarter last February.
Fitzgerald started his tear on the post-season with six receptions for 101 yards and an incredibly athletic touchdown in which he out-jumped two Falcons’ defenders.
His second game featured eight receptions for 166 yards on all sorts of routes against the heavily favored Panthers.
He then “beasted” all over the elite secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles to the tune of nine receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns, including beating Sheldon Brown for the only touchdown Brown gave up all season.
Finally, he scored all 14 of the Cardinals’ fourth quarter points and almost single-handedly won them their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
It may not be fair because he has such a small sample size, but nobody can deny that Fitzgerald stepped up to the plate last season and was the primary reason the Cardinals did so well last post-season.
04.) Adam Vinatieri - Possibly Currently Playing
A kicker? A kicker?! You’re darn right a kicker! Adam Vinatieri could honestly be argued as the biggest big-game player on this list, because without him, Tom Brady would be without at least two of his rings and Peyton Manning wouldn’t have his.
Adam Vinatieri is, in my recollection, the only kicker in NFL history to actually make a last minute field goal to win a Super Bowl. On top of that, Vinatieri is the only kicker in NFL history to actually do it a second time, and will likely be the only guy to ever do it more than once.
Despite that, let’s not forget the 2006 post-season. In a divisional round playoff featuring a historically good offense against a historically good defense, the game came down to field goals from the leg of Vinatieri and Matt Stover. Vinatieri went five-for-five, and that was all the Colts needed to advance to the best AFC Championship Game ever.
03.) Kurt Warner - Currently Playing
You may be thinking how could I place somebody that has come up as a Super Bowl loser on two separate occasions on this list. Well it’s quite simple actually. Those two losses weren’t on Warner’s shoulders.
In his two Super Bowl losses he lost due to amazing game-winning drives from the opposing quarterback, both of which are above him on this list. Yes I just spoiled the ending. To back the fact that it is not his fault you need not look any further than he has three of the biggest passing totals in Super Bowl history.
Warner’s respective quarterback ratings in his post-season outages are 143.0, 56.2, 99.7, 83.9, 90.4, 94.5, 78.3, 94.7 93.2, 145.7, and 112.3. I knew Warner was good in the post-season before compiling this list but doing the actual research just made me realize he has been tremendously great. Additionally, with Jake Delhomme’s implosion last post-season Kurt Warner now has the best post-season QB rating in NFL history.
02.) Ben Roethlisberger
If you would have told me in 2003 that the Steelers would win a Super Bowl this decade, let alone two, I would’ve called you crazy. If you would have told me that a primary component was the great post-season play of a quarterback that wasn’t in the league yet (especially AFC Championship Games) I would have had you sent to the looney bin.
Roethlisberger started his post-season career struggling as he was a rookie and had terrible outings against the Jets and Patriots. Since then, however, he has come up big in the post-season. His play in the 2005 post-season was a major reason why the Steelers were capable of winning three road games on the way to a Super Bowl as he posted quarterback ratings of 148.7, 95.3 and 124.9, respectively. Of course, he did come up short in the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger poor play in his first Super Bowl was fixed in his second outing. There, he came out without jitters but ended the game in epic fashion, finding Santonio Holmes in the back of the endzone. It wasn’t the field goals we had seen in the past, but rather a long drive down the field into the endzone.
01.) Tom Brady - Currently Playing
Did you honestly think it was going to be anyone else when you first clicked on this article? Honestly?! Tom Brady is the new “Mr. Post-Season” of our generation. Our parents had “Joe Cool” and we have “Tom Terrific."
Adam Vinatieri finished at number four on these list, but the fact of the matter is that without Brady driving him into field goal range, he wouldn’t have had said opportunities. It was originally thought that in Super Bowl XXXVI, it was Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick, who decided to try ending the game in regulation with a field goal rather than going into overtime.
If it weren’t enough for Brady to do it once, he did it a second time in Super Bowl XXXVIII. As a result, he captivated the rest of America’s hearts that he hadn’t already captured. Then,, to rub it in our faces, he just went back and played mistake-free football to win another Super Bowl.
Sure he came up short in his latest attempt but it wasn’t his fault. Overall Brady averages 1.52 touchdowns, .70 interceptions, and 232 yards passing on 21.88 completions out of 35 attempts per post-season game. Tom Terrific is the number one.
There You Have It
So there you have it: the 20 greatest big game players that are currently on an NFL roster. Luckily for us, 10 of these 20 players will play this post-season. I can’t help but believe that their teams have the advantage in their respective matchups, and probably will win at least one game. It’s no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of these guys have played for either the Steelers, Patriots or Eagles this decade.