The 50 Best Postseason Performances in NFL History

Brian WrightCorrespondent IINovember 22, 2011

The 50 Best Postseason Performances in NFL History

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    A great performance in the regular season will give you recognition in the short-term. Showcasing your skills on the stage as grand as the playoffs can give you long-lasting fame.

    The NFL consistently has players who come up big in the big contests. For some, it's their one shining moment. For others, it's an addition to a legacy of success.

    Here are a few important notes before jumping into the countdown. First, this list is compiled of individuals (not groups) that stood out in single games. Secondly, it includes moments from the pre-Super Bowl era as well as the AFL playoffs.

50. Max McGee, Super Bowl I

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    Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs

    Stat Line: 7 receptions for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns

    Result: W, 35-10

    When starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler came out with a shoulder injury, head coach Vince Lombardi called on McGee, who didn't expect to see much playing time and spent the previous night breaking curfew and throwing down too much alcohol. 

    Hungover or not, McGee was superb in place of Dowler. His first reception was a one-handed grab that wound up being a 37-yard touchdown and the first such score in Super Bowl history.

49. Bernie Kosar, 1986 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. New York Jets

    Stat Line: 33 of 64 for 483 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs

    Result: W, 23-20 (2OT)

    Down 20-10 with just over four minutes remaining, the young quarterback engineered two drives that tied the game and forced overtime. Kosar set postseason records for completions, attempts and yards.

48. Johnny Unitas, 1958 NFL Championship

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    Opponent: at New York Giants

    Stat Line: 26 of 40 for 239 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

    Result: W, 23-17 (OT)

    Unitas built the legend of himself as well as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," with a classic two-minute drill that sent the title tilt into sudden death overtime. He then piloted the Colts in position for Alan Ameche's 1-yard scoring run to win it.

47. Joe Namath, Super Bowl III

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    Opponent: vs. Baltimore Colts

    Stat Line: 17 of 28 for 26 yards

    Result: W, 16-7

    The outspoken Namath backed up his guarantee by managing the Jets to a 16-0 advantage in the fourth quarter. The game's most valuable player helped turn the NFL's annual championship match into the country's greatest sporting event.

46. Ty Law, 2003 AFC Chamionship

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    Opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts

    Stat Line: 3 INTs, 26 INT return yards

    Result: W, 24-14

    Law made life miserable for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw three of his four picks to the former Michigan Wolverine. The Patriots' win helped them garner a second Super Bowl title.

45. John Riggins, 1982 NFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Minnesota Vikings

    Stat Line: 37 carries for 185 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 21-7

    With blocking help from "The Hogs," Riggins powered past the Vikings. His score in the second period gave Washington a 14-0 lead. Upon exiting the game in the fourth quarter, Riggins bowed to the fans at RFK Stadium.

44. Aaron Rodgers, 2010 NFC Divisional

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    Opponent: at Atlanta Falcons

    Stat Line: 31 of 36 for 366 yards, 3 TDs

    Result: W, 48-21

    In the second game of the Packers' road to a Super Bowl XLV trophy, Rodgers was on-target in the Georgia Dome. This was especially true in the second quarter, when he tossed two touchdowns and helped break open the contest.

43. Lamar Smith, 2000 AFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts

    Stat Line: 40 carries of 209 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 23-17 (OT)

    After the Colts missed a field goal on their first possession of the overtime session, Smith finished off the game—and his greatest performance—in grand style. The last of Smith's playoff record 40 carries was a 17-yard touchdown.

42. Reggie White, Super Bowl XXXI

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    Opponent: vs. New England Patriots

    Stat Line: 3 sacks

    Result: W, 35-21

    Aiming for his first ring, the legendary pass rusher was determined to make an impact. He did so emphatically, getting to Pats' QB Drew Bledsoe a Super Bowl-record three times (including two on consecutive plays).

41. Dan Marino, 1984 AFC Championship

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    Opponent: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

    Stat Line: 21 of 32 for 421 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 45-28

    It was just a continuation of a remarkable year for Marino, in which he set six single-season passing records. In getting Miami to its second Super Bowl in three seasons, Marino had a TD toss in each quarter.

40. Terry Bradshaw, 1976 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Baltimore Colts

    Stat Line: 14 of 18 for 264 yards, 3 TDs

    Result: W, 40-14

    En route to another AFC Championship Game appearance, the Steelers signal-caller set the tone with a 76-yard TD toss to Frank Lewis in Pittsburgh's opening drive. Bradshaw finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

39. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XIX

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    Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins

    Stat Line: 24 of 35 for 331 yards, 3 TDs; 5 carries for 59 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 38-16

    Concluding a regular season in which the 49ers went 15-1, Montana out-dueled Dan Marino. He accounted for four of the game's five touchdowns as San Francisco celebrated its second Lombardi Trophy.

38. Ken Stabler, 1974 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins

    Stat Line: 20 of 30 for 293 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 28-26

    Stabler's finest moment's in this classic contest came in game's waning seconds. "The Snake" drove his team down 68 yards, concluding with a pass that ended up in the hands of Clarance Davis between three Miami defenders.

37. Freeman McNeil, 1982 AFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: at Cincinnati Bengals

    Stat Line: 21 carries for 202 yards, 1 TD; 1 of 1 for 14 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 44-17

    McNeil was not only exceptional on the ground, he also proved to be a success throwing the ball. He completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Gaffney as the Jets rolled past defending AFC Champion Cincinnati.

36. Kurt Warner, 1999 NFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Minnesota Vikings

    Stat Line: 27 of 33 for 391 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 49-37

    Warner's Cinderella season continued in his first postseason game by leading a fantastic air attack that scored 35 unanswered points in the second half. Ten different players were recipients of a Warner pass and five different Rams hauled his TD tosses.

35. Emmitt Smith, Super Bowl XXVIII

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    Opponent: vs. Buffalo Bills

    Stat Line: 30 carries for 132 yards, 2 TDs; 4 receptions for 26 yards

    Result: W, 30-13

    The game's all-time leading rusher got going once the second half commenced. Smith helped turn a 13-6 Buffalo advantage after two periods into a 30-13 rout by the time it was all said and done. Emmitt scored his two touchdowns in succession, which put the Cowboys up by 14.

34. Don Strock, 1981 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. San Diego Chargers

    Stat Line: 29 of 43 for 403 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: L, 41-38 (OT)

    Strock spent most of his career as a backup. However, his claim to fame was the playoff contest against the Chargers. Down 24-0 in the first half, Strock replaced faltering starter David Woodley. All Strock did was lead Miami back to tie the game at halftime and kept pace with San Diego before falling in the extra session.

33. Terrell Davis, Super Bowl XXXII

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    Opponent: vs. Green Bay Packers

    Stat Line: 30 carries for 157 yards, 3 TDs

    Result: W, 31-24

    The underdog Broncos utilized their star running back, as Davis overcame a migraine headache to win the game's MVP. His 1-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter proved to be the winning score.

32. Rod Martin, Super Bowl XV

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    Opponent: vs. Philadelphia Eagles

    Stat Line: 3 INTs

    Result: W, 27-10

    After picking off Eagles QB Ron Jaworski's first pass, which set up a Raiders' touchdown, Martin got two more to set a Super Bowl record. However, the MVP went to Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett.

31. Daryle Lamonica, 1969 AFL Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Houston Oilers

    Stat Line: 13 of 17 for 276 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 56-7

    The Oilers defense was consistently bombed by Lamonica's air strikes. His three first quarter touchdown passes helped push Oakland to a 28-0 lead after just 15 minutes of play. The problem for Houston...he was just halfway through.

30. Ray Lewis, Super Bowl XXXV

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    Opponent: vs. New York Giants

    Stat Line: 3 tackles, 2 assists and 4 passes defensed

    Result: W, 34-7

    The 2000 Baltimore Ravens produced one of the best modern-day offenses, which didn't let up when they got to the game's biggest stage. Lewis was the leader of a group that held the Giants to just 152 total yards.

29. Peyton Manning, 2004 AFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 27 of 33 for 458 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT; 1 TD rushing

    Result: W, 49-24

    Manning's stellar 2004 season was continued in the postseason where he thrashed the Broncos. The Colts' signal-caller got things going with a 2-yard TD pass to James Mungro and capped off the dissection of Denver's defense with a 43-yard connection with Reggie Wayne.

28. Peyton Manning, 2003 AFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 22 of 26 for 377 yards, 5 TDs

    Result: W, 41-10

    One year later, it was the same story. It's hard to determine which one of Manning's outstanding throwing shows versus Denver was better. The deciding factor in putting the '03 contest in front was the amount of touchdowns thrown and that fact that he was much more efficient.

27. Vernon Perry, 1979 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: at San Diego Chargers

    Stat Line: 4 INTs

    Result: W, 17-14

    The unheralded Perry made a name for himself when he set a postseason record for interceptions. And the picks proved to be key in a tight victory over the Bolts that sent the battered Oilers (minus Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini) to the AFC title game. 

26. John Elway, 1986 AFC Championship

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    Opponent: vs. Cleveland Browns

    Stat Line: 22 of 38 for 244 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 4 carries for 56 yards

    Result: W, 23-20 (OT)

    Elway went from a good quarterback to a legend with "The Drive." A 98-yard march engineered by the Hall of Famer resulted in a tying touchdown. The Broncos would advance to Super Bowl XXI.

25. Kurt Warner, 2009 NFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: vs. Green Bay Packers

    Stat Line: 29 of 33 for 379 yards, 5 TDs

    Result: W, 51-45 (OT)

    In what proved to be the final victory of his superb career, Warner had one of his best days statically. Matching Aaron Rodgers pass for pass, he threw three second half touchdown passes. The two QBs combined for 800 yards through the air.

24. John Riggins, Super Bowl XVII

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    Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins

    Stat Line: 38 carries for 166 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 27-17

    "The Diesel" squashed Miami's "Killer B's" defense with his bruising runs. Of his 38 carries, the most notable was his 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one that gave the Redskins a 20-17 fourth quarter advantage.

23. Anthony Carter, 1987 NFC Divisional

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    Opponent: at San Francisco 49ers

    Stat Line: 10 receptions for 277 yards; 1 carry for 30 yards

    Result: W, 36-24

    The three-time Pro Bowler and former USFL star made the 49ers wish he was playing in some other league. Carter set a playoff record for receiving yardage as Minnesota went on to a stunning upset of San Francisco.

22. Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV

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    Opponent: vs. Tennessee Titans

    Stat Line: 24 of 45 for 414 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 23-16

    The ringleader of "The Greatest Show on Turf" came through when the Rams' unbelievable 1999 season reached the ultimate game. Warner threw a pair of second half touchdown passes, including a 73-yard rainbow to Isaac Bruce with two minutes left.

21. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIII

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    Opponent: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

    Stat Line: 23 of 36 for 357 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 20-16

    After a slow start by the 49ers offense, Montana piloted his club to two long scoring drives. The final one was a 92-yard effort that culminated with a 10-yard pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining and gave San Francisco a third Super Bowl crown.

20. Keith Lincoln, 1963 AFL Championship

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    Opponent: vs. Boston Patriots

    Stat Line: 13 carries for 206 yards, 1 TD; 7 receptions for 123 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 51-10

    In 1963, Lincoln led the Chargers in rushing, punt return and kickoff return yards. That trend held true when San Diego reached the AFL title game. Lincoln set a league postseason record for most yards from scrimmage as his team walloped the Pats.

19. Tom Brady, Super Bowl XXXVIII

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    Opponent: vs. Carolina Panthers

    Stat Line: 32 of 48 for 354 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 32-29

    His second Super Bowl triumph ended much like the first. With the game tied in the fourth quarter, Brady guided the Pats in position for Adam Vinatieri to kick the winning field goal in the final moments.

18. Troy Aikman, Super Bowl XXVII

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    Opponent: vs. Buffalo Bills

    Stat Line: 22 of 30 for 273 yards, 4 TDs

    Result: W, 52-17

    Many Cowboy stepped up in their blowout of the Bills. But the former UCLA quarterback was the leading performer in the Rose Bowl. His 45-yard throw to Alvin Harper early in the fourth quarter hit pay dirt and broke the contest open.

17. Frank Reich, 1992 AFC Wild Card

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    Opponent: vs. Houston Oilers

    Stat Line: 21 of 34 for 289 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 41-38 (OT)

    With starting QB Jim Kelly out with an injury, backup Reich is dealt with a 35-3 deficit in the second half. But the man who engineered the greatest comeback in college football history does the same on the pro level. Reich connected with Andre Reed for three touchdowns and the Bills pulled it out in overtime.

16. Drew Brees, Super Bowl XLIV

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    Opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts

    Stat Line: 32 of 39 for 288 yards and 2 TDs

    Result: W, 31-17

    In leading the Saints to their first World Championship, Brees completed key passes when needed. What's more, he limited his mistakes. Both of Brees' touchdown throws came in a 26-point second half.

15. Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIII

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    Opponent: vs. Dallas Cowboys

    Stat Line: 17 of 30 for 318 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 35-31

    In the late 1970s, the Steelers became a big-play team on offense. In this Super Bowl encounter with the Cowboys, they lived up to their billing. Their gunslinger, Bradshaw, threw two of his touchdown strikes to John Stallworth as well as a key fourth quarter toss to Lynn Swann.

14. Otto Graham, 1954 NFL Championship

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    Opponent: vs. Detroit Lions

    Stat Line: 9 of 12 for 163 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; 9 carries for 27 yards, 3 TDs

    Result: W, 56-10

    Graham accounted for six of the Browns' eight touchdowns as he and his club rebounded from a loss to the Lions in last year's championship tilt. His 1-yard QB sneak in the third quarter capped a day in which he racked up loads of points.

13. Lynn Swann, Super Bowl X

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    Opponent: vs. Dallas Cowboys

    Stat Line: 4 receptions for 161 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 21-17

    Swann didn't have many catches, but he made the most of them. The final grab resulted in a 64-yard touchdown that helped him earn MVP honors.

12. Eric Dickerson, 1985 NFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Dallas Cowboys

    Stat Line: 34 carries for 248 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 20-0

    It's hard to follow up a 1984 season in which you set the single-season mark for rushing yardage. Dickerson did his best in the '85 playoffs by running roughshod over America's Team with single-game postseason record for yards on the ground.

11. Timmy Smith, Super Bowl XXII

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    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 22 carries for 204 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 42-10

    Smith wasn't told he would make his first start until minutes before kickoff. It proved to be an effective strategy, as the one-shot wonder set the Super Bowl record for most rushing yards...and then quickly went into oblivion.

10. Ed Podolak, 1971 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins

    Stat Line: 17 carries for 85 yards, 1 TD; 8 receptions for 110 yards, 1 TD; 3 kick returns for 154 yards

    Result: L, 27-24

    In this Christmas Day epic, Podolak almost single-handedly carried the Chiefs. He set an all-time postseason record with 350 total yards from scrimmage. But even this heroic effort wasn't enough to pull out a victory.

9. Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII

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    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 18 of 29 for 340 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

    Result: W, 42-10

    Prior to that Sunday, Williams was asked by reporters, "How does it feel to be the Super Bowl's first black quarterback?" After quarterbacking the most explosive quarter in the championship game's history, all they could ask was, "How does it feel to be MVP?"

8. Kellen Winslow, 1981 AFC Divisional

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    Opponent: at Miami Dolphins

    Stat Line: 13 receptions for 166 yards, 1 TD

    Result: 41-38 (OT)

    An exhausted Winslow, suffering from multiple ailments, did everything he could to make sure the Chargers prevailed in Miami. The San Diego tight end set a playoff record for catches. On special teams, he blocked a Dolphin field goal try at the end of regulation.


7. Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI

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    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 22 of 25 for 268 yards, 3 TDs

    Result: W, 39-20

    In the biggest game of his life, Simms was in the zone. Every pass he threw in the third quarter was caught and the Giants 17 points in the period. Simms still has the record for passing accuracy in a Super Bowl.

6. Jerry Rice, Super Bowl XXIII

45 of 50

    Opponent: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

    Stat Line: 11 receptions for 215 yards, 1 TD

    Result: W, 20-16

    The greatest receiver to ever play the sport also has the greatest performance by a wide out in postseason history. He posted a Super Bowl-best in receiving yards, hauled in a key fourth quarter score and played a critical role in the Niners' game-winning drive.

5. Joe Montana, 1989 NFC Championship

46 of 50

    Opponent: vs. Los Angeles Rams

    Stat Line: 26 of 30 for 262 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 30-3

    In the 1989 season, Joe Montana made the difficult seem effortless. His precision-like NFC title game showing helped the Niners crush the Rams and set up an even better performance in the Super Bowl.

4. Marcus Allen, Super Bowl XVIII

47 of 50

    Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins

    Stat Line: 20 carries for 191 yards, 2 TDs

    Result: W, 38-9

    It was expected to be a game in which the Washington Redskins would cruise to a second straight championship. Instead, Allen dazzled the nation with an exhilarating show. His premiere play was a 74-yard scoring run in the third quarter.

3. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV

48 of 50

    Opponent: vs. Denver Broncos

    Stat Line: 22 of 29 for 297 yards, 5 TDs

    Result: W, 55-10

    It doesn't seem fair to opponents that Joe Montana could have bested his stellar 1989 NFC Championship effort. But the Denver Broncos were the unfortunate victims to No. 16's destruction. He threw three first half TDs to put the game out of reach and was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time.

2. Sid Luckman, 1943 NFL Championship

49 of 50

    Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins

    Stat Line: 15 of 26 for 286 yards, 5 TDs; 8 carries for 64 yards; 2 INTs

    Result: W, 41-21

    Luckman is in the Hall of Fame for his play as a quarterback. But in leading the Bears to a league title, he excelled on offense and defense. In addition to five scoring tosses and two picks, he also led his team in rushing.

1. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX

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    Opponent: vs. San Diego Chargers

    Stat Line: 24 of 36 for 325 yards, 6 TDs; 5 carries for 49 yards

    Result: 49-26

    After years of being in Joe Montana's shadow, Young finally got his time in the spotlight with a near-perfect performance. A 44-yard scoring pass to Jerry Rice in the game's opening minutes gave the Niners a lead they would never relinquish and jump-started the shining moment in Young's Hall of Fame career.