2002–03 NFL playoffs
Prior to the 2002–03 season, the league realigned its teams into eight divisions (four in each conference). Thus, the 12-team playoff format was modified. The league still abides by this updated system today:
- The four division champions are seeded 1–4 based on their regular season won-lost-tied record.
- Two "wild card" qualifiers (those non-division champions with the conference's best won-lost-tied percentages) are seeded 5 and 6 within the conference.
As a result, a wild card team can no longer host a playoff game during the opening Wild Card round. Prior to the 2002–03 playoffs, a team could finish second in its division and host a playoff game by claiming the # 4 seed as a wild card team. The new rules meant that the #4 seed would be rewarded to a division champion and not a wild card team (non-division champion). Under the new system, a wild card team can host a playoff game only if the #5 and #6 seeds in one conference advance to a Conference Championship Game, in which case a #5 seed would host the game.
During the 2001–02 NFL playoffs, the NFL experimented with playing Saturday prime time playoff games. The league was pleased with the results, and decided to revise its entire playoff schedule beginning with the 2002 season. Wild Card and Divisional Saturday games continued to be played at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.EST, as they had in the previous season. Sunday wild card and divisional playoff games were moved from 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively. 
The start times for the Conference Championship Games were also changed, from 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 3:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively.  The conferences would then begin to annually alternate between the early and late games, with the first game during this 2002–03 season being the NFC title game and the second the AFC title game. Since then, the NFC title game is first in even-numbered seasons (2002, 2004, etc.) and the AFC title game first in odd-numbered seasons (2003, 2005, etc.). This continued a rotation that began with the Conference Championships in the 1996 NFL Playoffs.
This change would also avoid the future possibility of having to reschedule a 9:30 a.m. PST/10:30 a.m. MST Conference Championship Game if both contests took place in those time zones. Conference Championship Games in those time zones now start no earlier than 12:00 p.m. local time. When Denver and San Francisco hosted the AFC and NFC championship games in 1990, the league moved both contests back an hour, but it also forced the networks to reluctantly change or move their prime time lineups. Holding the games on separate days like in 1982–83 was rejected due to the short notice.
No team won at least 12 games during the regular season, the first time that happened since 1994.
|1||Oakland Raiders (West winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|2||Tennessee Titans (South winner)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South winner)|
|3||Pittsburgh Steelers (North winner)||Green Bay Packers (North winner)|
|4||New York Jets (East winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|5||Indianapolis Colts (wild card)||New York Giants (wild card)|
|6||Cleveland Browns (wild card)||Atlanta Falcons (wild card)|
For details on the NFL playoff format, see National Football League playoffs#Current playoff system.
- 1 Bracket
- 2 Wild Card playoffs
- 3 Divisional playoffs
- 4 Conference championships
- 5 Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
- 6 Notes and references
- 7 References
|Jan. 5 – Heinz Field||Jan. 11 – The Coliseum|
|3||Pittsburgh||36||Jan. 19 – Network Assoc. Coliseum|
|Jan. 4 – Giants Stadium||2||Tennessee||24|
|Jan. 12 – Network Assoc. Coliseum|
|4||N.Y. Jets||41||Jan. 26 – Qualcomm Stadium|
|Wild Card Playoffs|
|Jan. 5 – Candlestick Park||A1||Oakland||21|
|Jan. 12 – Raymond James Stadium|
|5||N.Y. Giants||38||Super Bowl XXXVII|
|4||San Francisco||39||Jan. 19 – Veterans Stadium|
|Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field||2||Tampa Bay||27|
|Jan. 11 – Veterans Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
Wild Card playoffs
Saturday January 4, 2003
AFC: New York Jets 41, Indianapolis Colts 0
In his playoff debut, Jets quarterback Chad Pennington completed 19 of 25 passes for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns as he led the Jets to a shutout victory over the Colts. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was limited to 14 out of 31 (45.2%) completions for 137 yards, with 2 interceptions.
On New York's fifth play of the game, fullback Richie Anderson caught a screen pass from Pennington and took off down the left sideline for a 56-yard touchdown, the longest play in Jets postseason history. Indianapolis responded by driving deep into Jets territory, with Manning completing three passes to Marvin Harrison for 38 yards, but the drive stalled and Mike Vanderjagt missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
In the second quarter, Jets kicker John Hall kicked a 41-yard field goal. Then Ray Mickens recovered a fumble from Troy Walters on the ensuing kickoff on the Colts 39-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Lamont Jordan. Later in the period, the Jets increased their lead to 24–0 with Pennington's 4-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, who made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone with 37 seconds left in the half.
Early in the third quarter, Hall kicked another field goal on the end of a drive that was set up by a 70-yard kickoff return from receiver Chad Morton. Later on, Pennington threw his third touchdown pass, a 3-yard toss to rookie tight end Chris Baker, and Jordan, who finished the game with 102 rushing yards, closed out the scoring with his second 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
This was the Jets final playoff home game at Giants Stadium as well as the final playoff win for the Giants and Jets at the stadium.
NFC: Atlanta Falcons 27, Green Bay Packers 7
The Packers suffered their first home playoff loss as the Falcons forced five turnovers and limited Green Bay to only one touchdown. 22-year-old quarterback Michael Vick passed for 117 yards and rushed for 64 yards. The Packers, playing without Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green, Pro Bowl defensive back Darren Sharper, and their top receiver Terry Glenn, due to injuries, fell down 24–0 in the first half and could not recover. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, while Ryan Longwell missed two field goals.
The Falcons stormed out to a 7–0 lead by driving 76 yards on the opening drive and scoring with Vick's 10-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Jefferson. Then on the Packers next drive, Atlanta linebacker Mark Simoneau blocked Josh Bidwell's punt and Artie Ulmer recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to increase their lead to 14–0. Later on, defensive back Tyrone Williams, a blocker on Green Bay's punt return team ran into returner Eric Metcalf. As a result, Metcalf muffed the kick and Atlanta fullback George Layne recovered the ball on Green Bay's 21-yard line. Packers coach Mike Sherman did not challenge the call, a mistake considering replays showed the punted ball bouncing off a Falcons player's left shoulder. Sherman said he spoke with an official on the field, "but he [mistakenly] led me to believe it would not be reviewable.". Four plays after the turnover, T. J. Duckett's 6-yard touchdown run increased Atlanta's lead to 21–0. Green Bay responded by driving to a first and goal situation inside the Falcons 5-yard line, but on fourth down, Green was dropped for a 4-yard loss by nose tackle Ellis Johnson. Then Vick led the Falcons 90 yards in 16 plays, and kicker Jay Feely finished the drive with a 22-yard field goal on the last play of the half.
Favre threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver at the end of the Packers opening second half drive, but Driver was knocked out of the game on the play, and the Packers could not score again.
Sunday January 5, 2003
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 36, Cleveland Browns 33
An amazing performance from Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb, one of the most inexperienced quarterbacks ever to play in a postseason game, was overshadowed by journeyman quarterback Tommy Maddox, who led the Steelers to 29 second half points to overcome a 17-point deficit. A 3-yard touchdown run by Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala with 54 seconds left capped the game-winning 58-yard drive.
On the third play of the game, Holcomb completed an 83-yard pass to Kevin Johnson at the Steelers 1-yard line, setting up William Green's 1-yard touchdown run and giving the Browns a 7–0 lead after just 1:16 had elapsed in the game. In the second quarter, the Steelers turned the ball over three times in a span of 5½ minutes: two interceptions by Browns defensive back Daylon McCutcheon and a fumbled punt by returner Antwaan Randle El that Cleveland converted into a 32-yard touchdown completion from Holcomb to receiver Dennis Northcutt.
Randle El later made up for his mistake by returning a punt 66 yards for a touchdown, but the Browns responded with Phil Dawson's 31-yard field goal on their next drive, giving them a 17–7 halftime lead.
Early in the third quarter, Holcomb's 15-yard touchdown pass to Northcutt increased the Browns lead to 24–7. Later in the quarter, Maddox led the Steelers 66 yards, featuring a 24-yard completion by Randle El, and finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, cutting his team's deficit to 10 points with 3:50 left in the period. Then after another Dawson field goal, Maddox completed three passes to Randle-El for gains of 20, 30, and 6 yards before finding tight end Jerame Tuman with a 3-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. But the Browns stormed back and scored with Holcomb's 22-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis, giving them a 33–21 lead after the 2-point conversion failed.
With 3:06 left in the game, Maddox finished off a 77-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, cutting the score to 33–28. The Browns tried to run out the clock on their ensuing possession, but Northcutt dropped a potential first down catch on third down and 12, forcing his team to punt. Taking over at their own 42-yard line, Maddox threw to Burress for 24 yards, Ward for 10, Buress again for 17, and Ward again for 7 before Fuamatu-Ma'afala finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Then Tuman scored the two-point conversion to give the Steelers a 36–33 lead. The Browns attempted to drive for the tying field goal, but time expired in the game on Holcomb's 16-yard completion to Andre King at the Steelers 29-yard line.
Maddox finished the game with 30 of 48 completions for a franchise postseason record 367 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions. Burress caught 6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Ward caught 11 passes for 104 yards and a score. Randle El caught 5 passes for 85 yards and returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown. In his first career playoff game, Kelly Holcomb completed 26 of 43 passes for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Kevin Johnson caught 4 passes for 140 yards, while Northcutt caught 6 passes for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns.
As of the 2014 season, this is the Browns' most recent appearance in the playoffs.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 39, New York Giants 38
The Steelers' comeback earlier in the day was matched by San Francisco's similar late drive, overcoming a 38–14 deficit by scoring 25 unanswered points in the second half.
In the first quarter, 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson intercepted a pass from Kerry Collins at the San Francisco 24-yard line after it bounced off the hands of running back Ron Dayne. On the next play, 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia threw a moderate pass to Terrell Owens, who broke two tackles and took it 76 yards to the end zone. New York responded with an 11-play, 65-yard drive, that ended with Collins' 12-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer, tying the game at 7.
In the second quarter, the Giants stormed 61 yards in five plays, featuring a 29-yard run by Tiki Barber. After that, Collins completed a 27-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey, and capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to him one play later. But the 49ers responded with an unconventional 69-yard drive that featured two runs by Garcia for over 10 yards and a 25-yard completion from Owens to receiver Tai Streets on a reverse-pass play. Running back Kevan Barlow completed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game. However, two key 49ers turnovers allowed the Giants to go into their locker room at halftime with a 28–14 lead. First, the Giants were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, but returner Cedrick Wilson muffed the kick and New York's Johnnie Harris recovered the ball on the 49ers 8-yard line. Collins then threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Toomer on the next play. After the ensuing kickoff, defensive back Jason Sehorn picked off a pass from Garcia at New York's 44-yard line. Two plays later on third down and 8, Collins completed a 30-yard pass to Barber, and followed it up with a 24-yard touchdown completion to Toomer with just 10 seconds left in the half.
The Giants continued to build their lead in the second half. Five minutes into the third quarter, San Francisco turned the ball over on downs at the Giants 46-yard line, but the stop came at a cost for the Giants, as defensive end Kenny Holmes suffered a game-ending injury while making the tackle on fourth down. New York subsequently moved the ball 54 yards in six plays. Barber rushed for 37 yards on the drive and finished it with a 6-yard touchdown run, increasing the Giants lead to 35–14. Later in the quarter, Collins' 46-yard completion to Toomer set up a 21-yard field goal from kicker Matt Bryant, making the score 38–14 with 4:27 left in the third period. However, the field goal came after Shockey dropped a potential touchdown catch in the end zone.
San Francisco stormed back, driving 70 yards in 7 plays on a drive that consumed only 2:24 and ended with Garcia's 26-yard touchdown pass to Owens. Owens added a 2-point conversion catch on the next play, cutting the 49ers deficit to 38–22. After the play, an iconic scene of defensive lineman Michael Strahan walking over to Owens and pointing to the scoreboard to remind him of the deficit they still faced would be a highlight of the game.
New York was forced to punt after three plays on their next drive. Matt Allen's short kick and a 15-yard personal foul against Dhani Jones for hitting the returner after a fair catch gave San Francisco the ball on the Giants 27-yard line. Three plays later, Garcia scored on a 14-yard touchdown run, and then completed another two-point conversion pass to Owens, cutting the score to 38–30 five seconds into the fourth quarter.
After forcing New York to punt once again, the 49ers drove 74 yards in 15 plays, including a 3-yard reception by Streets on fourth down and 1, and scored with a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Chandler. The Giants responded with a drive to the San Francisco 20-yard line, but with 3:01 left in the game, a poor snap from 41-year old Trey Junkin, who had been signed back out of retirement less than a week before the game, threw off the timing on Bryant's 42-yard field goal attempt and it went wide left. Garcia then took over, converting two third downs, one of them a 25-yard completion to tight end Eric Johnson, and rushing for 12 yards on the way to a 13-yard touchdown pass to Streets. This time, the two-point conversion failed when Will Allen intercepted Garcia's pass intended for Owens, but the 49ers took the lead, 39–38, with 1 minute left in regulation.
The touchdown and 2-point conversion plays resulted in offsetting personal fouls on both teams after they ended. After the touchdown, Owens was flagged for taunting safety Shaun Williams, while Williams was flagged shoving him to the ground in response. Then after the two-point conversion, Owens was penalized for a late hit on Allen, which started a brawl between both teams. During the altercation, Williams was penalized and ejected from the game for throwing a punch at 49ers center Jeremy Newberry.
However, the Giants did have a chance to win. Delvin Joyce returned Chandler's short kickoff 32 yards to the 47-yard line. Collins then led them to the 49ers 23-yard line with 6 seconds left. But Junkin botched a snap for a 41-yard field goal attempt, resulting in a feeble pass play that fell incomplete. The Giants were also called for having an illegal man downfield on the play, and the game ended. The following day, it was revealed that the penalized player (guard Rich Seubert) had in fact checked in as an eligible receiver before the field goal attempt, although a different Giant lineman actually was illegally downfield. NFL Vice President of officiating Mike Pereira admitted pass interference also should have been called on 49ers defensive end Chike Okeafor for pulling down Seubert. Had the two right calls been made, the down would have been replayed at the previous spot, the San Francisco 23.
Garcia threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception, while also leading the 49ers on the ground with 60 rushing yards and another score. Owens caught 9 passes for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also scored two 2-point conversions and completed a 25-yard pass. Collins threw for 342 yards and 4 touchdowns with 1 interception. Toomer caught 8 passes for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. Barber rushed for 115 yards, caught 5 passes for 62 yards, and scored a touchdown.
Saturday January 11, 2003
AFC: Tennessee Titans 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 31 (OT)
The third time was the charm for Titans kicker Joe Nedney. After missing the potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation time, and a second failed kick in overtime was negated because of a controversial running-into-the-kicker penalty on Pittsburgh's Dewayne Washington, Nedney won the game from 26 yards out 2:15 into overtime. Steelers coach Bill Cowher was incensed, saying he called a timeout before the winning kick took place.
Earlier in the game, the Titans jumped to an early 14–0 lead with touchdowns from Eddie George and Steve McNair before the Steelers converted three turnovers into 20 points. Two of the turnovers were fumbles by George, who had not fumbled all season, and his second one was converted into a 31-yard touchdown run by Amos Zereoue. But Tennessee stormed right back, going into a no-huddle offense and scoring twice in a span of five minutes with McNair's touchdown passes to tight ends Frank Wycheck and Erron Kinney, giving them a 28–20 lead going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, a 21-yard Hines Ward touchdown reception and subsequent two-point conversion tied the game at 28. The teams traded field goals late in the final period to send the game into overtime, following a missed 48-yard field goal by Nedney on the last play in regulation.
In the first overtime period, referee Ron Blum announced that each team had three timeouts. This caused some confusion because, compared with the regular season, overtime in the postseason utilizes slightly different rules. The Titans took the opening kickoff and drove inside the Steelers 20-yard line. They sent out Nedney to win the game, setting up a wild finish. Nedney's first kick was good, but it was negated because the Steelers had called timeout. The fireworks operator at the stadium inadvertently set off the fireworks, delaying the game for several minutes. After the fireworks had fizzled, Nedney attempted to win the game again. His kick was wide right, but Washington was penalized for running into Nedney. After the five-yard penalty was assessed, Nedney was given a third try. This time he converted the kick, winning the game.
Wycheck finished the game with 10 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. McNair threw for a career postseason high 338 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions, while rushing for 29 yards and another score on the ground.
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles 20, Atlanta Falcons 6
The hyped quarterback duel between Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick never materialized, as the Eagles' defense sacked Vick three times and intercepted him twice, including Bobby Taylor's 39-yard return for a touchdown.
At the end of the game's second possession, Eagles punter Lee Johnson pinned the Falcons back at their own 18-yard line with a 60-yard kick. A few plays later, Taylor intercepted a Vick pass and returned it 39 yards for the first score of the game. Following a Falcons punt, McNabb's completions to Chad Lewis and Todd Pinkston for gains of 15 and 24 yards set up David Akers's 34-yard field goal. Early in the second quarter, Akers kicked another field goal at the end of a drive that featured a 42-yard completion from McNabb to receiver James Thrash.
With the Eagles now leading 13-0, Vick tried to rally his team back. First he led them 61 yards in 13 plays, including a 23-yard completion to Quentin McCord, to score on a Jay Feely field goal with 4:10 left in the half. Then after forcing a punt, Vick ran for 20 yards and completed a 16-yard pass to Brian Finneran to set up a 52-yard field goal from Feely, making the score 13–6 by halftime. But in the third quarter, a 20-yard touchdown run by Vick that could have tied the game was called back by a holding penalty on Travis Claridge, and Feely missed a 37-yard field goal a few plays later. The Eagles eventually increased their lead to 20-6 with McNabb's 35-yard touchdown pass to Thrash with 6:26 left in the fourth quarter. Atlanta drove into scoring range on their next two possessions, but the first ended with a turnover on downs at the Eagles 21, and the second was ended by Brian Dawkins' interception with 17 seconds left in the game.
McNabb finished with 20 of 30 completions for 247 yards and a touchdown, along with 24 rushing yards. This would be the last win for the Eagles at the Vet.
Sunday January 12, 2003
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, San Francisco 49ers 6
The Buccaneers, with the league's top ranked defense during the 2002 regular season, forced five turnovers, sacked quarterback Jeff Garcia four times, and limited the 49ers to only two field goals. Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson, who had been sidelined for a month, returned to throw for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Mike Alstott rushed for 60 yards, caught 3 passes for 27 yards, and scored two touchdowns, while the Buccaneers held onto the ball for 36:46 and held the 49ers to a season low 228 yards. This was San Francisco's first playoff game without a touchdown since 1986, while Tampa Bay finished this game with more points scored then in their last three playoff games combined.
San Francisco had a chance to score early when defensive back Rashad Holman intercepted a pass from Johnson on the opening drive and returned it 13 yards to the Buccaneers 40-yard line. But on third down, Bucs defenders Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks shared a sack on Garcia that pushed the 49ers out of field goal range. Tampa Bay then drove 74 yards in 13 plays with a drive that included 17-yard receptions by Alstott and receiver Keyshawn Johnson, along with four third down conversions. Mike Alstott finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. San Francisco responded as Garcia's 30-yard completion to Tai Streets set up a 24-yard field goal by Jeff Chandler, but the 7-3 score ended up being as close as the 49ers would ever get for the rest of the game.
Tampa Bay increased their lead to 14-3 early in the second quarter with a 73-yard drive in which Keyshawn Johnson caught two passes for 42 total yards and Brad Johnson finished off with a 20-yard scoring pass to Joe Jurevicius. A pair of 15-yard penalties against the Bucs defense enabled the 49ers to drive back for another Chandler field goal, but a 36-yard pass interference call against San Francisco safety Tony Parrish soon led to another Buccaneer touchdown, this one a 12-yard catch by tight end Rickey Dudley. Later on, Brooks intercepted a pass from Garcia at the 49ers 26-yard line. One play later, Pittman's 22-yard burst moved the ball to the 4-yard line, and Alstott finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving Tampa Bay a 28-6 lead with 55 seconds left in the half.
On the first play of the third quarter, Bucs defensive back Dwight Smith intercepted Garcia and returned the ball 6 yards to the San Francisco 37, setting up Martin Gramatica's 19-yard field goal. This ended up being the final score of the game as both defenses took over from that point on. The closest the Bucs would come to scoring again was a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Gramatica. Meanwhile, San Francisco's remaining drives would result in two punts, a Garcia fumble that was recovered by Brooks on the Tampa Bay 35, a failed 4th down conversion attempt when Brooks tackled Eric Johnson one yard short of the marker, an interception by Tampa Bay defensive back Ronde Barber, and time expiring in the game.
Despite San Francisco's 10–6 record and their wild card playoff win against New York, coach Steve Mariucci was fired three days after this game. The 49ers would not return to the playoffs until 2011.
AFC: Oakland Raiders 30, New York Jets 10
Chad Pennington's dream season came to an end as the Jets quarterback threw two interceptions, lost two fumbles, and was sacked four times (twice by Rod Coleman). Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns as Oakland pulled away from a 10–10 halftime tie by forcing four consecutive turnovers and scoring twenty consecutive second half points.
Aided by a 15-yard run from Curtis Martin and a 20-yard pass interference penalty on Charles Woodson, John Hall's 38-yard field goal gave the Jets an early 3–0 lead before he was matched by a 29-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski to tie the game. On the Jets next drive, Oakland lineman Travian Smith forced and recovered a fumble from Pennington on New York's 27-yard line. On the next play, running back Charlie Garner fumbled the ball, but Oakland guard Frank Middleton recovered it, and fullback Zack Crockett ended up scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run a few plays later. But Pennington led the Jets back, completing 8 of 9 passes for 51 yards on an 81-yard drive that took 7 minutes off the clock and ended with his 1-yard touchdown pass to Jerald Sowell, tying the game with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, Raiders defensive back Tory James intercepted a pass from Pennington on the Jets 45-yard line. Gannon then went downfield, hitting Tim Brown with a 16-yard completion and then throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. New York turned the ball over on downs with their next possession, and Gannon once again went to work, completing a 50-yard strike to Jerry Porter and finishing the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Rice, increasing the Raiders lead to 24–10. The Jets turned the ball over again when Richie Anderson fumbled a handoff on their ensuing drive. New York defensive back Damien Robinson intercepted a pass from Gannon on the next play, but Oakland's Eric Barton returned the favor with an interception of his own, setting up a 34-yard Janikowski field goal. Janikowski later added another field goal with less than five minutes left in the game.
Sunday January 19, 2003
NFC Championship: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
A game that is now known as Black Sunday in Philadelphia's sports lore, Tampa Bay won on the road for the first time in playoff history, and in temperatures below 32°F (0°C), in the last football game played at Veterans Stadium. The Eagles were heavy favorites at home going into the game. The Eagles had beaten the Buccaneers four consecutive times, in the wild card round the two previous seasons, and also during regular-season games in 2001 and 2002. During the two playoff losses, both at Veterans Stadium, Tampa Bay had failed to score a single touchdown.
Eagles running back Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards, setting up a 20-yard touchdown run by Duce Staley less than a minute into the game. Tampa Bay responded with Martin Gramatica's 48-yard field goal on their ensuing drive. At the end of Philadelphia's next possession, Lee Johnson's punt pinned the Buccaneers back at their own 4-yard line. But Tampa Bay stormed 96 yards and scored with Mike Alstott's 1-yard touchdown run to take the lead. The key play on the drive was a 71-yard completion from Brad Johnson to Joe Jurevicius on third down and two from their own 24-yard line. According to America's Game, coach Jon Gruden had 3 receivers stacked tight in a trips formation, and he got Jurevicius on a one-on-one "option" route against the middle linebacker of the Eagles.
David Akers tied it at 10, with a 30-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, but the Bucs responded with an 80-yard, 12-play drive that ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to Keyshawn Johnson. With time running out in the half, Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to the Tampa Bay 24-yard line, only to lose a fumble while being sacked by his high school teammate Simeon Rice, who stripped the ball away and recovered it himself.
On the Eagles' first drive of the third quarter, McNabb lost another fumble due to a tackle from defensive back Ronde Barber, and Bucs lineman Ellis Wyms recovered it. Later on, with 1:02 left in the third period, Gramatica's 27-yard field goal increased the Tampa Bay lead to 20–10. In the fourth quarter, the Eagles managed to drive 73 yards to Tampa Bay's 10-yard line, but Barber intercepted McNabb's pass with 3:12 left in the game and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.
This was the last Eagles game ever played at Veterans Stadium which was demolished following the 2003 Major League Baseball season. In a Sports Illustrated list of the worst losses in Philadelphia sports history since the city's last title in 1983, this game was ranked first. In the final postseason game of his career, Mitchell, the NFL's all time leader in both regular season and postseason kickoff return yards, returned 4 kickoffs for 125 yards and 4 punts for 34.
AFC Championship: Oakland Raiders 41, Tennessee Titans 24
Oakland called only one running play in the first three quarters of the game, choosing to rely almost exclusively on the passing of 37-year old quarterback Rich Gannon. And Gannon proved to be up to the task, leading the Raiders to victory with 286 passing yards and three touchdowns, along with 41 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries.
Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter scored first four minutes into the game, but the Titans countered with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Steve McNair to Drew Bennett to tie it up five minutes later. Oakland struck back with 12-yard touchdown catch by Charlie Garner before a 29-yard field goal from Joe Nedney and a McNair touchdown run gave the Titans a three-point lead late in the second quarter.
Then things fell apart for Tennessee. Backed up at their own 11-yard line by a Shane Lechler punt and simply trying to run out the clock, running back Robert Holcombe fumbled the ball while being tackled by Raiders linebacker Eric Barton, and defensive back Anthony Dorsett, who was a member of the Titans 1999 Super Bowl squad, recovered the ball at the Tennessee 16-yard line. On the next play, Jerry Rice caught a 15-yard reception at the 1-yard line, and then Gannon found Doug Jolley in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown pass, giving the Raiders a 21–17 lead. Then on the ensuing kickoff, rookie returner John Simon was stripped of the ball by Tim Johnson and Alvis Whitted recovered the fumble for Oakland on the Titans 39-yard line, setting up a 43-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski on the last play of the first half.
Tennessee took the second half kickoff and drove all the way to the Raiders 22-yard line before McNair was sacked on third down by John Parrella. Because Nedney had been injured making a tackle in the second quarter, Titans coach Jeff Fisher decided to punt rather than attempt a field goal. At their possession the next time they had the ball, Titans punter Craig Hentrich was tackled for a 6-yard loss by Johnson before he could kick the ball, giving Oakland a first down on the Tennessee 19. Janikowski then kicked another field goal to make the score 27–17. This time, the Titans managed to respond, driving 70 yards and scoring with McNair's 13-yard touchdown run to cut the score to 27–24. But the Raiders responded with a 66-yard drive, capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run by Gannon in the fourth quarter. Fullback Zack Crockett later finished a 69-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to put the game away.
Super Bowl XXXVII: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21
Notes and references
- NFL.com scores for the 2002 playoffs (Last accessed January 9, 2006)
- ^ a New times announced for NFL playoff games. NFL.com. October 31, 2002. (Last accessed December 26, 2005)
- "Top 10 greatest comebacks in NFL history". National Football League. 2009-01-07. Retrieved 2013-01-03.