The 10 Best Single Game Performances in NFL Postseason History

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The 10 Best Single Game Performances in NFL Postseason History

There's nothing more fun to watch than a truly great performance in a playoff game. 

However, I'm not talking about a running back who rushes for 140 yards or a receiver who catches two touchdowns. 

I'm talking about the players who single-handedly put their team on their shoulders and played their heart out for 60 minutes (sometimes more).

So below I composed a list of the 10 best single-game performances in postseason history, with one honorable mention. 

This list is for the big leagues. It doesn't even include Phil Simms' record-setting day in Super Bowl XXI or any of Jerry Rice's incredible Super Bowls. 

Tom Brady's 26-of-28 passing day in the divisional playoffs against Jacksonville? Nope. Steve Smith's 218-yard, two touchdown outburst against a powerful Chicago Bears' defense? Not good enough.

What is included, however, is the best game of five Hall of Famers and three future Hall of Famers, as well as five games from the NFL championship or Super Bowl.

 

Honorable Mention: 1981 AFC wild-card: Kellen Winslow

Tight end Kellen Winslow turned in probably the single greatest game by a tight end in NFL history, regular or postseason. 

In a game known as the "Epic in Miami," Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He also blocked a potential 43-yard, game-winning field goal by Dolphins' kicker Uwe von Schamann with four seconds remaining in regulation.

The Chargers won 41-38 in overtime, completing, what was then, the highest-scoring postseason game in history. 

Throughout the game, Winslow was treated for numerous injuries. He suffered a pinched nerve in his shoulder, dehydration, severe cramps, and three stitches in his lip. 

When the game finally ended, Winslow had to be helped off the field by two of his teammates. 

 

10. 2003 AFC championship: Ty Law

Cornerback Ty Law is the only player on this list who performed so well that he actually caused a major rule change in the National Football League.

The Patriots dominated the Colts, 24-14, in the conference championship game. Ty Law intercepted three passes from MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, finishing the game with more receptions than All-Pro receiver Marvin Harrison. 

Law's physical treatment of the Colts' receivers in the game was so historic that the NFL changed its rules after the season. The "Ty Law rule" called for more emphasis to be placed on the "Mel Blount rule", named after the Steelers' cornerback. It was enacted in 1978 and states that defensive backs can only make contact with receivers up to five yards from the line of scrimmage.

 

9. Super Bowl XXXII: Terrell Davis

The greatest postseason performer in history , Broncos' running back Terrell Davis turned in arguably his finest performance in Super Bowl XXXIII against the powerful Green Bay Packers, who were 14-point favorites. 

He rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. He did so despite missing the majority of the second quarter due to a severe migraine. 

Davis' third rushing touchdown, a one-yard plunge with under two minutes remaining, gave the Broncos a 31-24 lead. He earned MVP honors for his efforts.

 

8. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana

The greatest quarterback ever, Joe Cool was at his absolute finest in his fourth Super Bowl.

He completely picked apart the Denver Broncos, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns.

Montana's 49ers scored exactly two touchdowns in each of the four quarters, and coasted to the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.

The greatest postseason quarterback in NFL history closed out his Super Bowl career with 11 touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a jaw-dropping passer rating of 127.8.

 

7. 1971 AFC Wild-Card: Eddie Podolak

Running back Eddie Podolak is the only player on this list from a losing team. 

Although the Dolphins defeated the Chiefs 27-24 in double overtime, concluding the longest game in NFL history, Podolak's performance was one for the ages.

He carried the ball 17 times for 85 yards and a touchdown, a five yards per carry average. He caught eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. And he returned three kickoffs for 154 yards, including a 78-yard return in the game's final minute of regulation.

However, kicker Jan Stenerud missed a potential game-winning field goal and, after each kicker missed a field goal in overtime, Dolphins' kicker Garo Yepremian sent the Dolphins into the AFC divisional round with a 37-yard field goal.

Podolak's 349 all-purpose yards remain a single-game postseason record and are currently the fifth highest single-game total in NFL history. 

 

6. 1979 AFC divisional: Vernon Perry

The greatest defensive performance in the postseason came by rookie safety Vernon Perry against the San Diego Chargers in 1979.

Perry intercepted not one, not two, not three, but FOUR passes throughout the game. Perry's four interceptions tied a single-game NFL record. 

Even more impressively, Perry's masterpiece came against future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts.

Perry also blocked a field goal attempt and returned it 57 yards in the second quarter. 

Despite playing without starting quarterback Dan Pastorini and future Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, the Oilers won 17-14 and advanced to the conference championship.

 

5. 2009 NFC Wild-Card: Kurt Warner

The last full game of Kurt Warner's possible Hall of Fame career was his best.

The 38 year old picked apart the Green Bay Packers' No. 2 ranked defense, completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns. 

Warner's passer rating was an astonishing 154.1. No player in NFL history has thrown more passes in a single game than Warner with a higher passer rating.

Even more incredibly, Warner played without injured three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin. It didn't matter. He found a new receiving threat in Early Doucet, who caught the second and third touchdown passes of his NFL career.

The league's all-around good guy watched the Cardinals win in overtime, 51-45, on a defensive touchdown, concluding the highest-scoring postseason game in history.

 

4. Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young

Steve Young completed one of the greatest individual seasons by a quarterback in NFL history by finally capturing the most coveted prize in the sport: a Super Bowl ring.

Young led the 49ers' high-powered offense to a 49-26 dismantling of the San Diego Chargers. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards and an incredible SIX touchdown passes. 

He also rushed for 49 yards, meaning he led both teams in passing and rushing, the first time that had ever happened in the Super Bowl.

Young couldn't have emerged from the shadow of Joe Montana with a more dominating performance.

 

3. 2003 & 2004 AFC Wild-Card: Peyton Manning

Maybe never again will a team witness deja vu like the Denver Broncos did in the wild-card round of both the 2003 and the 2004 playoffs.

In consecutive postseasons, Peyton Manning absolutely shredded the Denver Broncos, both of which were ranked ninth in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed.

In 2003, he turned in, arguably, the greatest passing performance in postseason history, completing 22 of 26 for 377 yards and five touchdowns. The next year, he completed 27 of 33 for 457 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.

Combined, Manning completed 49 of 59 passes for 834 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception for a passer rating of 151.2. Even more incredibly, Manning's Colts merely coasted in the second half, putting up 31 points in the first half in 2003 and 35 in 2004. He threw just 14 passes in the two second halves.

In the two first halves, the equivalent of one full game, Manning completed 37 of 45 passes for 673 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception, while leading the Colts to 66 points. Oh, and he rushed for a touchdown also.

 

2. 1950 NFL Championship: Otto Graham

After winning four consecutive championships in the AAFC, the Browns joined the NFL, intent on continuing their dominance against stricter competition. 

The Browns coasted to a 10-2 mark and faced the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL championship game. 

The Rams jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, before Graham led the Browns to 20 unanswered points. But the Browns trailed, 28-20, in the fourth quarter, until Graham connected with running back Rex Bumgardner on a 14-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-27.

Graham then led the Browns on a 60-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up kicker Lou Groza's game-winning, 16-yard field goal. The Browns won 30-28, giving Graham his fifth championship after five seasons of play and, more importantly, showing the NFL that the Browns were for real.

For the game, Graham completed 22 of 33 passes for 298 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception, for a spectacular passer rating of 122.2. He also rushed 12 times for 99 yards, while his entire team contributed with 13 carries for 15 yards, meaning Graham literally accumulated 96 percent of his team's total offensive support. 

With Graham at the helm of the Browns, victory was just Otto-matic. 

 

1. 1943 NFL Championship: Sid Luckman

Sid Luckman led the Bears to a 41-21 victory over Sammy Baugh and the Redskins in the NFL championship game.

He completed 15 of 26 passes for 286 yards and five touchdowns. His 135.6 passer rating almost tripled the league average (48.6), and his five touchdowns were a single-game record.

That wasn't all though.

Sid Luckman ran eight times for 64 yards. He returned two punts for 32 yards. He punted three times. And he intercepted two passes for 39 yards.

No player in NFL history contributed more to a single victory than Sid Luckman, who did everything but sell tickets for the Bears on December 26, 1943. 

Sid Luckman capped off the greatest single-season by a quarterback in NFL history by turning in the greatest single-game postseason performance in NFL history.

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