NFL Playoffs: 25 Most Breathtaking Runs in Playoff History

Brian WrightCorrespondent IIDecember 29, 2011

NFL Playoffs: 25 Most Breathtaking Runs in Playoff History

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    An exhilarating run in any NFL game garners nationwide headlines. A thrilling dash in a postseason contest can make it legendary.

    Many of the 25 runs on this list took place during the Super Bowl due to the added significance of it being the sport's ultimate game.

    All of them gave fans a chance to observe fantastic athleticism.

25. Back-to-Back Returns

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    In Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens defense completely stifled the New York Giants.

    Big Blue did find a way to put points on the scoreboard in the third quarter, as Ron Dixon took a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. What was once a 17-0 blowout turned into a 17-7 contest.

    But just as soon as it appeared to be a game again, Jermaine Lewis returned the favor and turned momentum back on the side of the Ravens. Lewis' 84-yard return on the ensuing kick ensured Baltimore's first Super Bowl title.

    The back-to-back kickoff returns begin at the 5:30 mark of the video.

24. Big Block Leads to TD for Bears

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    In the 1940 NFL championship game between the Bears and Redskins, Bill Osmanski's long touchdown run was sprung by a devastating block.

    That blow was delivered by George Wilson, who took out two members of the Washington defense.

    It really didn't matter, as Chicago went on to a 73-0 dismantling of the Redskins.

23. Willie Parker Runs to History

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    Young Ben Roethlisberger was far from perfect in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XL victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Luckily, he had help from MVP Hines Ward and running back Willie Parker.

    The latter pulled over the longest rush in the game's history when he took a Big Ben handoff and ran 75 yards to the end zone to give the Steelers a 14-3 edge.

22. Nick Harper's Near Miss

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    Parker's run would have not been possible if not for what occurred in the AFC Divisional encounter with the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts.

    Poised for an upset, the Steelers held a 21-18 lead with just over one minute remaining. On Pittsburgh's first down play at the Indy 2-yard line, they attempted to punch it in with Jerome Bettis.

    "The Bus," playing in his final season, unbelievably fumbled. Colt defensive back Nick Harper recovered the ball and appeared to be running for a touchdown.

    Roethlisberger made a game-saving tackle at the Colts 42. Indianapolis advanced the ball in position to make a field goal, but the try was wide.

21. Elway Keeps Drive Alive

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    John Elway's greatest moment was "The Drive," which occurred in the 1986 AFC Championship. Five years later, he was placed in a similar position against the Houston Oilers in the divisional round.

    Denver started from the 2-yard line with 2:07 left and behind 24-23. The offense survived two fourth downs on this drive. The first came on a 4th-and-6 from its own 28. Elway avoided the rush and got the necessary seven yards to move the chains.

    The Broncos would eventually kick a field goal that would send them to the conference title game.

    Elway's run starts at the 5:08 mark of the video.

20. Collins' Super Pick

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    The most recent entry on this list came in the most recent postseason game.

    Green Bay took a 7-0 lead with 4:33 in the first period. Pittsburgh tried to answer deep in its own territory, but felt the sting of a Packers defense accustomed to creating turnovers.

    Nick Collins was the recipient of an errant Ben Roethlisberger toss. He took the ball from the 37, made a couple moves and leaped into the end zone.

19. Thurman Shows Power and Speed

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    The number of great moments for Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in the Super Bowl is quite limited.

    His best play came on the first play of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XXV. From the New York Giants' 31-yard line, Thomas took a handoff. He ran over one Giant, then raced past other en route to pay dirt.

    Thomas' score gave Buffalo a 19-17 lead, one (of course) they did not hold.

18. Trippi's Trip to Pay Dirt

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    Charley Trippi was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968 thanks in part to three All-Pro Selections and his ability to run, pass and catch.

    He's also in Canton due to his part in winning the Cardinals' only NFL title.

    Trippi opened the scoring with a 44-yard run. He broke the game open against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 75-yard punt return. Philly would close the gap, but Chicago held on for a 28-21 triumph.

17. Mike Garrett in the Mud

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    In a quagmire that was War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, the Kansas City Chiefs stomped the Bills by a score of 31-7 in the 1966 AFL Championship Game.

    The final touchdown of the contest came late in the fourth period, when rookie running back Mike Garrett started out by taking a handoff from QB Len Dawson. Garrett ran to the left, but found nothing but trouble and potentially lost yardage. He then prepared to attempt a pass, thought better of it, and ran to the right.

    That side of the field was far less occupied. Garrett galloped into the end zone to put his team up by 24 and help the Chiefs advance to the first Super Bowl.

16. Bears Hurt by Green's Dash

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    You may not remember Darrell Green for his punt return ability, but Redskins fans surely will remember this moment that occurred in the 1987 NFC Divisional Playoff game in Chicago. 

    Green broke a 14-14 tie in the third quarter with a 52-yard punt return highlighted by his hurdle over a Bears defender.

    Washington won by four and kept on winning right through Super Bowl XXII.

15. Fulton Walker for 98

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    With around two minutes left in the first half of Super Bowl XVII, the Washington Redskins tied their matchup with the Miami Dolphins at 10.

    It appeared that would be the score heading into intermission. Return man Fulton Walker had other ideas. He took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and put his name into the record books.

    The return occurs 48 seconds into the video.

14. Emmitt Seals Super Bowl XXVIII

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    A 13-6 Buffalo lead at halftime was short lived by the time third quarter got under way.

    Dallas tied the score on a fumble recovery. Then, game MVP Emmitt Smith took over.

    An eight-play drive saw Smith carry the ball seven times and account for 61 of the 64 yards. The march was capped off with a 15-yard run in which he avoided an potential tackle-for-loss and scooted through the Bills defense for the score.

    Emmitt would get six one more time as the Cowboys went on to a 30-13 victory.

13. Timmy Smith's Shining Moment

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    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 quickly went into oblivion.

    His best rush of the evening came on a 58-yard effort, which was part of an exhilarating 35-point second quarter for the Washington Redskins.

    The run starts at the 3:50 mark of the video.

12. A Giant Extra Effort

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    Super Bowl XXV was a game that feature two teams with differing styles of play.

    The Bills were mercurial, while the Giants were methodical.

    A prime example of New York's offensive strategy came in the third quarter, when they used 14 plays and 9:29 to go 75 yards and end up with a critical touchdown. In the drive, the Giants converted four straight third downs.

    Mark Ingram provided the highlight with his tremendous effort. After catching a short pass on 3rd-and-13, the wideout broke five Buffalo tackles on his way to a first drown that kept the march on track.

11. Barry Sanders Confuses Cowboys

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    Barry Sanders didn't get many chances to shine in the postseason spotlight. And when he did, he usually didn't have his best games. The electrifying runs that we became accustomed to were noticeably absent. 

    That was not the case in the 1991 NFC Divisional versus Dallas.

    With the outcome well decided (Detroit up 31-6), Sanders finished off the Cowboys with a Houdini-like 47-yard scamper.

10. The Immaculate Reception

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    The greatest touchdown in the annals of pro football doesn't equate to it having the most breathtaking run of all-time.

    The scamper by Franco Harris wasn't thrilling, but it was the end result of a most unbelievable play.

9. Csonka Bowls over Redskins

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    Larry Csonka made a living out of delivering hits to opposing players. One of his signature runs came in the final game of the Miami Dolphins' perfect 1972 season.

    A 49-yard run had Csonka play the wrecking ball on the Washington Redskins defense.

    The punishing run starts at the 1:28 mark of the video.

8. From Heisman to Super Bowl MVP

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    The football career of Desmond Howard has highs and lows.

    He won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan in 1991, then proceeded to be a bust as a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins.

    Howard redeemed himself as a punt/kick return man in 1996 with the Green Bay Packers. That season, he set an NFL record for punt return yardage and also scored three times.

    He capped off this dream of a year with a 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI that crushed the New England Patriots hopes of a comeback.

    The end result was a Packers 35-21 win and Howard being named the game's MVP.

7. Jennings' Electifying Kick Return

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    It was truly a super weekend for Stanford Jennings. Just days before the championship game at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Jennings celebrated the birth of his daughter.

    On the field in Super Bowl XXIII, he ignited the Bengals and their fans. With the score 6-3 in favor of the San Francisco 49ers, Jennings took the kickoff and went 98 yards for the score.

    The desperate effort of 49er tacklers failed to chase him down in time as Jennings became the second man in Super Bowl history to score on a kick return.

6. Music City Miracle

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    Like "The Immaculate Reception," this is a play in which the run is breathtaking only in the sense that it was the unbelievable conclusion of a miraculous play.

    It's no surprise why this last-gasp effort in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Playoff in Nashville was dubbed as such.

    Kevin Dyson used a convoy of Titans to conclude one of the NFL's most spectacular and controversial events.

5. The John Elway Helicopter

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    By the time John Elway reached Super Bowl XXXII, he was at the tail end of his legendary career.

    Unfortunately for him, that career was without a ring despite three cracks at it previously.

    On try No. 4 against the favored Green Bay Packers, Elway and the Broncos seized the moment. His signature play in the contest came late in the third quarter with the game knotted at 17.

    Elway scrambled on a 3rd-and-6 from the Packer 12. With Leroy Butler approaching him near the first down, Elway dove and got hit by Butler, which sent the Denver signal-caller spinning in the air. When he landed, however, he had the critical first down.

    Denver would score two plays later and went on to win, 31-24.

4. The Diesel Does in the Dolphins

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    Head coach Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins were the dominant team of 1982, led by a cast of characters.

    Their offensive line, nicknamed "The Hogs," helped pave the way for the runs of bruising fullback John Riggins, known as "The Diesel."

    In Super Bowl XVII versus the Miami Dolphins, Riggins carried the ball 38 times for 166 yards, but it was his 43 yards on a 4th-and-1 down 17-14 with 10 minutes to go in the fourth period that proved to be the most critical.

    The play call was I-Right 70 Chip. Riggins took the handoff from quarterback Joe Theismann, broke through the arms of would-be Dolphin tackler Don McNeal and went untouched the rest of the way.

    The Redskins won 27-17 for their first NFL title in 40 years.

3. James Harrison Goes the Distance

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    The longest play in the history of the Super Bowl took place in the game's 43rd edition.

    Arizona was on the brink of a score in the waning moments of the first half. Kurt Warner dropped back to pass and was picked off at the goal line by James Harrison.

    The Steeler linebacker then rumbled downfield. Avoiding several Cardinals and getting a number of key blocks, Harrison went 100 yards for a touchdown to end the second period.

    The swing in momentum proved extra critical as Pittsburgh prevailed by four.

2. Marshawn Lynch Can't Be Stopped

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    The second most recent run on this list happened in this past year's NFC Wild Card round. 

    The 7-9 West division champion Seattle Seahawks used one of its best offensive outputs of the season and a raucous home-field advantage to lead the New Orleans Saints 34-30 in the fourth period.

    But with 3:35 remaining, running back Marshawn Lynch—acquired in a mid-season trade with the Buffalo Bills—was about to set the Qwest Field crowd on its collective ears.

    Lynch's 67 yards of strength and determination put the finishing touches on Seattle's elimination of the defending Super Bowl winners.

1. Marcus Allen Runs to Glory

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    Marcus Allen became an icon in Los Angeles during his Heisman Trophy-winning days at USC.

    He became a nationally-known star in the Raiders' 38-9 blowout of the favored Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

    The pinnacle moment of Allen's 191-yard, MVP-winning performance came in the late stages of the third quarter with Los Angeles trying to put away Washington away for good.

    Right after quarterback Jim Plunkett handed the ball off to Allen, he saw Redskins defender Ken Coffey approaching him untouched. But Allen reversed direction and used his Hall of Fame speed go 74 yards and into the end zone.

    What appeared at first to be a broken play turned into an exhilarating one that (at the time) set the record as the longest run in Super Bowl history.