1997–98 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1997 season began on December 27, 1997. The postseason tournament concluded with the Denver Broncos defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, 31–24, on January 25, 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.
- 1 Participants
- 2 Bracket
- 3 Wild Card playoffs
- 4 Divisional playoffs
- 5 Conference championships
- 6 Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24
- 7 References
Within each conference, the three division winners and the three wild card teams (the top three non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The three division winners were seeded 1 through 3 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams were seeded 4 through 6. The NFL did not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there were no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosted the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosted the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then received a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosted the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5 or 6), while the number 2 seed played the other team (seed 3, 4 or 5). The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, was played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Kansas City Chiefs (West winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|2||Pittsburgh Steelers (Central winner)||Green Bay Packers (Central winner)|
|3||New England Patriots (East winner)||New York Giants (East winner)|
|4||Denver Broncos||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Detroit Lions|
|6||Miami Dolphins||Minnesota Vikings|
|Dec. 28 – Houlihan's Stadium||Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field|
|4||Tampa Bay||20||Jan. 11 – 3Com Park|
|Dec. 27 – Giants Stadium||2||Green Bay||23|
|Jan. 3 – 3Com Park|
|3||N.Y. Giants||22||Jan. 25 – Qualcomm Stadium|
|Wild Card Playoffs|
|Dec. 27 – Mile High Stadium||N2||Green Bay||24|
|Jan. 4 – Arrowhead Stadium|
|5||Jacksonville||17||Super Bowl XXXII|
|4||Denver||42||Jan. 11 – Three Rivers Stadium|
|Dec. 28 – Foxboro Stadium||4||Denver||24|
|Jan. 3 – Three Rivers Stadium|
Wild Card playoffs
December 27, 1997
NFC: Minnesota Vikings 23, New York Giants 22
1997 NFL playoffs were notable for featuring four teams from the NFC central division. At 4th place were the Vikings, who had started the year a promising 8-2 before losing 5 straight games and barely making into the postseason with a 9-7 record. The Vikings had made the playoffs in four the last five seasons, but had lost each time in the first round. This time, however, they managed to earn a win by scoring 10 points in the final 90 seconds of the game.
Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham got off to a rough start as he lost three first half turnovers that would be converted into 9 New York points. After each team punted once to start the game, Cunningham lost a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Bernard Holsey on the Vikings 23. New York ended up losing yardage with their ensuing drive, but Brad Daluiso kicked a 43-yard field goal to put them up 3-0. Cunningham fumbled again on his next drive, and New York lineman Michael Strahan recovered the ball on the Minnesota 46-yard line. Quarterback Danny Kanell subsequently completed a 27-yard pass to running back Charles Way, setting up Daluiso's second field goal that made the score 6-0 going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, New York increased their lead to 13-0 with a 7-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Kennell kept it going with an 11-yard pass to running back Tiki Barber on 3rd and 4, and then hit David Patten for a 37-yard completion on the Vikings 2-yard line. One play later, he threw 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Pierce. After the teams traded punts, Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn intercepted a pass from Cunningham and returned it 36 yards to the Vikings 47-yard line. New York then drove 23 yards to a 41-yard Daliuso field goal, making the score 16-0. Later on, the Vikings caught a break when defensive back Duane Butler recovered a fumble from Giants receiver Amani Toomer on the New York 26-yard line. Cunningham's 19-yard completion to Cris Carter moved the ball to the 7, leading to Eddie Murray (American Football)'s 26-yard field goal. However, his ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the ball to New York on their 40. Taking advantage of their excellent field position, the Giants put together a 26-yard drive to score on Daluiso's 51-yard field goal as time expired in the half. The first half ended with New York holding a solid 19-3 lead. They had held the Vikings offense to 21 rushing yards and Cunningham to just 5/16 completions.
Early in the third quarter, Vikings lineman Jerry Ball recovered a Tiki Barber fumble on the Giants 4-yard line, setting up Leroy Hoard's 4-yard touchdown run that narrowed the gap to 19-10. Then after a punt, Minnesota's offense got on track, moving the ball into New York territory with Cunningham's 33-yard completion to Jake Reed. However, Murray missed a 48-yard field goal. Still their defense managed to force a punt, and Brad Maynard's short kick gave them a first down on their own 40. This time they managed to drive 52 yards and score with Murray's 26-yard field goal, making the score 19-13 going into the fourth quarter.
New York's offense came back to life in the final period, as Kannell completed 6 passes on a 13-play, 74-yard drive, including an 18-yarder to Patten on 3rd and 9, and a 21-yard completion to Chris Calloway. The Vikings defense halted the possession on their own 5, but Daliuso kicked his 5th field goal of the day from there, giving the Giants a 22-13 lead with 7:22 left in the regulation. The Vikings got the ball back and ran 7 plays, but could not get into scoring range and ultimately decided to punt facing a 2-score deficit with 3:51 left to go.
"If we were home, we would have been booed all over the place, because people don't understand the game," Vikings coach Dennis Green said after the game. What persuaded Green to punt and keep playing defense was how well his maligned run defenders were stopping New York's running attack. But Green admitted he was cutting it close. "We had to get the onside kick," he said. "We practice it every day. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity."
Green's decision paid off as the Vikings did force a punt at the 2:06 mark, and got the ball with good field position due to another short Maynard kick. Soon after, they scored on Cunningham's 30-yard touchdown pass to Reed with 90 second left. Murray then attempted an onside kick, which bounced off Calloway's chest and was recovered by Vikings receiver Chris Walsh on the Minnesota 39. A false start penalty and incompletion left the Vikings facing 2nd and 15 from the 34, but Cunningham subsequently completed passes to Andrew Glover and Cris Carter for gains of 11 and 24 yards. Following a 12-yard pass interference penalty on defensive back Phillipi Sparks, Robert Smith ran for a 16-yard gain to set up Murray's game-winning 24-yard field goal.
This game was the biggest comeback win by a road team in the playoffs since 1972, and the first postseason win for the Vikings in 9 years.
AFC: Denver Broncos 42, Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Denver compiled 310 rushing yards and 511 total yards of offense, and held the ball for 40:59 in a 42–17 win, avenging their playoff loss to the Jaguars the year before. The Broncos dominated early, converting their first 9 third downs and scoring touchdowns on their first three drives. First, they drove 72 yards in 7:21, featuring a 25-yard reception by Ed McCaffrey, and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by Terrell Davis. Jacksonville was forced to a three-and-out on their next drive, and Brian Barker's punt went just 24 yards to the Denver 40-yard line. Then the Broncos then drove 60 yards and increased their lead to 14-0 with a 43-yard touchdown pass from John Elway to Rod Smith on 3rd down and 4 with 2:37 left in the first quarter. Reggie Barlow returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to midfield, and Jacksonville subsequently drove to the Denver 40, but were stopped there and had to punt. Barker's kick pinned the Broncos back at their own 8, but they still drove 92 yards to make the score 21-0 on Davis' 5-yard touchdown run. The key play of the drive was a 40-yard completion from Elway to Smith on 3rd down and 6 from their own 12-yard line. Later in the drive, Elway completed a 16-yard pass to Smith on 3rd down and 13 from the Jags 26. By the end of the game, Elway had completed 6 of 6 passes for 156 yards on third down plays.
Denver's perfect string on third down conversions came to an end on their next drive when Willie Green dropped a pass, and Jacksonville responded by driving 79 yards, aided by a 16-yard reception from Jimmy Smith and a 34-yard pass interference penalty on defensive back Darrien Gordon, to score on a 2-yard touchdown run from Natrone Means, cutting the score to 21-7 with just over 5 minutes left in the second quarter. This would be the final score of the first half as the next three drives would end in punts.
Barlow returned the second half kickoff 58 yards to the Broncos 27, setting up Jags kicker Mike Hollis' 38-yard field goal that cut the score to 21-10. Four minutes later, safety Travis Davis blocked a punt from Denver's Tom Rouen and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, bringing Jacksonville to within 4 at 21-17. Despite a 51 kickoff return by Vaughn Hebron, things seemed to look even better for Jacksonville on the ensuing possession when safety Chris Hudson forced a fumble from Elway that was recovered by defensive end Renaldo Wynn. Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell's subsequent 37-yard completion to tight end Damon Jones gave them a first down on the Broncos 16-yard line. But on the next play, Brunell lost a fumble of his own that was recovered by linebacker Allen Aldridge. Denver then drove to the Jacksonville 15, featuring a 59-yard run by Davis, but Elway lost another fumble that was recovered by cornerback Dave Thomas and the score remained 21-17 going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, Denver took over the game. Jacksonville was forced to punt after Elway's second fumble, and Barker's 27-yard kick gave Denver a first down on the Jacksonville 48. From there it took just two plays to score, a 23-yard completion from Elway to tight end Shannon Sharpe and a 25-yard touchdown burst by Derek Loville, making the score 28-17. The Jaguars made one last spirited comeback attempt, but Gordon put an end to it by intercepting a pass from Brunell in the end zone. Denver then drove 80 yards in 10 plays, 8 of them carries by Loville (including a 44-yard run), who was now starting in place of the injured Davis. On the last play, his 8-yard touchdown run gave Denver a 35-17 lead. Now in a desperate situation, Brunell attempted to convert a 4th and 10 on the Jaguars next drive, but Gordon sacked him for a 10-yard loss, while a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on receiver Keenan McCardell gave the Broncos a first down on the Jacksonville 15-yard line. A few plays later, Hebron finished off the scoring on a 6-yard touchdown with 1:16 left in the game.
Davis rushed for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also catching 4 passes for 11 yards. Loville, who had only rushed for 124 yards during the regular season, had 103 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 11 carries and a 10-yard reception. Elway completed 16 of 24 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Rod Smith was the top receiver of the game with 3 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. Hebron had 6 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown, along with 3 kickoff returns for 87 yards. Barlow returned 3 kickoffs for 118 yards and a punt for 5. Jags lineman Clyde Simmons had two sacks.
December 28, 1997
AFC: New England Patriots 17, Miami Dolphins 3
New England had narrowly defeated the Dolphins in a tough 14-12 defensive struggle during the last Monday night game of the regular season, and this playoff game would have similar results. The Patriots' defense held Miami to 162 total yards of offense, 42 rushing yards and forced three Dolphins turnovers. Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino was held to just 17 of 43 completions for 141 yards and was intercepted twice. He also fumbled the ball twice, losing a turnover on one of them. This was the first time in Mario's 15-season career (including 14 postseason games) that he did not throw a touchdown pass in a playoff game. Without star running back Curtis Martin, New England could only generate 228 offensive yards, but their ball security turned out to be key as they avoided losing any turnovers for the entire game
Marino's first interception, which was returned 22 yards to the Dolphins 29-yard line by New England linebacker Chris Slade off of a pass deflected by safety Larry Whigham, set up quarterback Drew Bledsoe's 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Troy Brown. Linebacker Todd Collins returned Marino's other interception 40 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, making him the first Patriot to ever score on a postseason interception return. Adam Vinatieri, who had missed two field goal attempts earlier, added a 22-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the third quarter. Miami's lone score was Olindo Mare's 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. After Mare's field goal, Miami recovered an onside kick, but blitzing cornerback Chris Canty forced a fumble while sacking Marino, and Slade recovered the ball.
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, Detroit Lions 10
The Buccaneers won their first playoff game since 1979, in what turned out to be their final game at Houlihan's Stadium. Tampa Bay built a 20–0 lead midway through the third quarter. The Bucs defense limited Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell to just 10 of 25 completions for 78 yards, and running back Barry Sanders, who rushed for over 2,000 yards during the season, to 18 carries for 65 yards.
Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer's 23-yard completion to Karl Williams on 3rd down and 1 set up the first score of the game, Michael Husted's 22-yard field goal with 5: 25 left in the first quarter. The Lions received a huge scoring opportunity when Williams fumbled their punt at the end of the next drive. Lions linebacker Matt Russell got to the ball first, but tried pick up and run with the ball instead of falling on it. Instead of grabbing the ball, he accidentally batted it out of bounds, allowing the Bucs to keep possession on the Lions 11-yard line. Taking full advantage of their second chance, Tampa Bay subsequently drove 89 yards in 17 plays, taking 8:50 off the clock and converting three third downs, one from a 12-men on the field penalty against Detroit. Dilfer finished the drive with a 9-yard pass to Horace Copeland that put the team up 10-0. Later on, Buccaneers cornerback Anthony Parker intercepted a pass from Mitchell and returned it 19 yards to set up Husted's 43-yard field goal, giving them team a 13-0 lead at the end of the half. Then on their first drive of the third quarter, Bucs fullback Mike Alstott scored on a 31-yard touchdown run (the longest run in franchise playoff history) to make the score 20-0.
Frank Reich replaced Mitchell after he suffered a concussion late in the third quarter. On the next play after the injury, Jason Hanson kicked a 33-yard field goal, cutting the score to 20-3. Then after a Bucs punt, Reich completed 5/5 passes for 71 yards on the way to Tommy Vardell's 1-yard touchdown run, and the lead was trimmed to 20-10. The Lions seemed primed to make a serious comeback attempt when they forced Tampa Bay into a 3rd and 5 situation on their own 10-yard line, but Dilfer's 50-yard completion to Robb Thomas moved the ball to the Lions 36. The Bucs were unable to score, but Sean Landeta's punt pinned the Lions back at their own 4-yard line with 3:20 left in the game. Then after completing a long pass on third down during their final drive, Reich accidentally spiked the ball on fourth down, giving the ball to Tampa Bay.
In the defensive struggle, both teams combined for only 623 yards (316 for Tampa Bay, 307 for Detroit). Bucs RB Warrick Dunn was the leading rusher of the game with 72 yards, while Alstott had 68 yards and a touchdown, along with a reception for 12. Lions receiver Johnnie Morton was the leading receiver of the game with 7 receptions for 69 yards.
January 3, 1998
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 7, New England Patriots 6
Quarterback Kordell Stewart's 40-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the difference in a defense-dominated game.
The Patriots were severely depleted by injuries, playing without star running back Curtis Martin. Pro bowl tight end Ben Coates was limited to just a few plays, while receiver Terry Glenn was out of the game by the fourth quarter. On the third play of the game, rookie defensive back Chad Scott intercepted a pass from New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe and returned it 27 yards to the Steelers 28. Stewert then got the team to the Patriots 40-yard line, converting two third downs with 10-yard completions to Charles Johnson before taking the ball the rest of the way to the end zone on a 40-yard score, the longest touchdown run in Steelers playoff history. Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter, and a 46-yard one early in the fourth, set up by Glenn's 39-yard reception.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Steelers had a chance to put the game away with a drive to the Patriots 1-yard line. On fourth down, coach Bill Cowher tried to ice the game with a conversion attempt, but Stewart was stuffed for no gain with 3:24 left in regulation. This gave New England one last chance to drive for a winning field goal and they managed to reach their own 42, but rookie linebacker Mike Vrabel stripped the ball from Pats quarterback Bledsoe, and fellow linebacker Jason Gildon recovered the ball. The Patriots managed to get it back with 34 seconds left, but linebacker Levon Kirkland intercepted Bledsoe's Hail Mary pass on the game's final play
For the 3rd time in 4 years, Pittsburgh would play and host the AFC Championship Game. Patriots receiver Shawn Jefferson was the sole offensive star of the game with 9 receptions for 106 yards. Jerome Bettis led the Steelers with 74 yards from scrimmage but was held in check by New England's defense. Gildon had a sack and two fumble recoveries.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 38, Minnesota Vikings 22
Minnesota came into the playoffs with the 29th ranked defense during the regular season, something the 49ers proved more than capable of exploiting. By the end of the game, San Francisco racked up 394 yards without losing a single turnover and only giving up one sack. Filling in for the injured starter Garrison Hearst, 49ers running back Terry Kirby ran for a career-high 120 yards and two touchdowns, while receiver J.J. Stokes caught a career-high nine passes for 101 yards. Steve Young threw for 220 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 37. Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham threw for 331 yards and three touchdown passes, but also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. His top target was Jake Reed, who caught 5 passes for 114 yards. Cris Carter added 6 receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
49ers fullback William Floyd started off the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, but it was countered with Cunningham's 66-yard touchdown pass to Carter. Late in the second quarter, a 28-yard pass interference penalty on Vikings safety Torrian Gray and a personal foul against linebacker Dwayne Rudd for kicking the penalty flag gave the 49ers a first down on the Minnesota 2-yard line. On the next play, a holding call against linebacker Dixon Edwards put the ball on the 1, and Kirby ran the ball into the end zone from there, giving the 49ers a 14-7 lead. Then on the Vikings ensuing drive, linebacker Ken Norton Jr. intercepted a pass from Cunningham and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown, making the score to 21-7 going into halftime.
San Francisco increased their lead to 24-7 early in the third quarter with Gary Anderson's 34-yard field goal. But this time the Vikings responded with Cunningham's 53-yard completion to Reed setting up a 3-yard scoring reception by Carter, narrowing the gap to 24-14. Replays showed the officials blew the call on Reed's reception because his second toe came down on the end line, but it didn't make much difference because the 49ers came back with a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 31-14, scoring on Young's 15-yard pass to Terrell Owens.
Kirby's second touchdown of the day put the Niners up 38-14 in the fourth quarter before Cunningham led a desperate comeback attempt. After throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Matthew Hatchette that cut the score to 38-22, he led the team to the 49ers 16-yard line with about 2 minutes left in the game. But after spiking the ball on first down, he threw three consecutive incompletions, resulting in a turnover on downs that allowed San Francisco to run out the rest of the clock.
January 4, 1998
NFC: Green Bay Packers 21, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7
Packers running back Dorsey Levens rushed for a team playoff record of 112 yards and a touchdown while also catching 4 passes for 29 yards as the Green Bay defense held Tampa Bay to 90 rushing yards and intercepted 2 passes from Trent Dilfer, who finished the game with only 11 of 36 completions for 200 yards.
Early in the game, Tampa Bay had a chance to score first, but Packers defensive tackle Bob Kuberski blocked Michael Husted's 43-yard field goal attempt. Green Bay then drove for the first touchdown of the game with Brett Favre's 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Chmura. Early in the second quarter, Packers receiver Robert Brooks' 28-yard punt return and 21-yard reception set up a field goal by Ryan Longwell. And later on, defensive back Tyrone Williams intercepted a pass from Dilfer and returned it 14 yards, setting up Longwell's second field goal with six seconds left in the half, making the score 13–0.
Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, but a holding penalty on Darren Sharper eliminated the score and moved the ball all the way back to their own 11-yard line. Green Bay still managed to drive into scoring range, but on the eighth play of the drive, Bucs defensive back Donnie Abraham intercepted a pass from Favre on the Tampa Bay 6-yard line. Dilfer subsequently led the Bucs offense 94 yards in 8 plays to score on fullback Mike Alstott's 6-yard touchdown run, cutting the score to 13–7. But two possessions later, the Packers drove 54 yards and scored with a 2-yard touchdown run by Levens. Then, Favre closed out the scoring by running in the 2-point conversion on a quarterback draw.
AFC: Denver Broncos 14, Kansas City Chiefs 10
For the third consecutive year the AFC's top seed fell in the divisional playoffs. One week after avenging last year's playoff loss against Jacksonville, the Broncos avenged their 24–22 regular season loss in Kansas City by knocking the Chiefs out of the playoffs. Denver running back Terrell Davis ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Broncos to victory. Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac threw for 260 yards, but his team could only score 10 points. Receiver Andre Rison caught 8 passes for 110 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, Chiefs kicker Pete Stoyanovich appeared to open the scoring with a 34-yard field goal, but it was eliminated by a holding penalty and his second attempt hit the crossbar from 44 yards. Denver then went on an 8-play, 65-yard drive on the way to a 1-yard touchdown run by Davis on the first play after the two-minute warning, including John Elway's 27-yard completion to tight end Dwayne Carswell and a critical 3rd and 7 completion to Rod Smith for 17 yards on the KC 4-yard line to keep the drive going. This was the first rushing touchdown surrendered by Kansas City at home since the 1996 season, a string of 42 quarters.
In the second half, Kansas City drove 67 yards to the Broncos 3-yard line, starting with Grbac's 34-yard pass to Rison on the first play. But on third and goal, rookie tight end Tony Gonzalez was unable to keep both feet in bounds while making a catch, so they had to settle for Stoyanovich's 20-yard field goal that made the score 7–3. Denver had a big opportunity to respond on their next drive when Terrell Davis ran for a 41-yard gain to the Chiefs 11-yard line. But Derek Loville ended up losing a fumble that safety Reggie Tongue recovered. Following an exchange of punts, Grbac's 50-yard completion to receiver Joe Horn advanced the ball to the Broncos 15-yard line, and Gonzalez eventually caught a 12-yard pass to give Kansas City first first lead of the game, 10–7, going into the fourth quarter.
Early in the final period, Elway completed a 43-yard pass to Ed McCaffrey that set up Davis' second 1-yard touchdown run, giving the lead back to Denver at 14–10. Kansas City responded with a drive to the Denver 32-yard line. On fourth and six, they attempted to fool the Broncos with a fake field goal attempt, but holder Louie Aguiar was tackled by Darrien Gordon after picking up just three yards.
The Chiefs had one last opportunity to go ahead near the end of the game, moving the ball to the Broncos 20-yard line on a drive that included a 29-yard pass interference penalty against Denver and Grbac's 12-yard completion to Lake Dawson on 4th down and 9. Grbac later completed a 23-yard throw to Rison at the Broncos 28, but after the next three plays netted 8 yards, Gordon deflected Grbac's 4th down pass in the end zone with 12 seconds left.
For the second time in 3 years, Kansas City was eliminated as a #1 seed. The Chiefs lost despite outgaining Denver in total yards (303 to 272), first downs (18 to 16) and time of possession (31:06 to 28:54). Elway finished with 10 of 19 completions for 170 yards. Denver linemen Alfred Williams and Neil Smith (a former Chief) each had two sacks. This was the last game in the hall of fame career of Chiefs running back Marcus Allen.
January 11, 1998
AFC Championship: Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 21
For the second week in a row, Denver eliminated a team on the road who had beat them in the regular season. In week 15, Pittsburgh had defeated the Broncos 35–24, with quarterback Kordell Stewart throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while running for two more. But this time, Denver intercepted three of his passes and recovered his fumble, while also sacking him three times.
Most of the scoring was in the first half. In the first quarter, Denver running back Terrell Davis's 8-yard touchdown run was answered by Stewart's 33-yard scramble for a score. Jerome Bettis's 1-yard touchdown run then put the Steelers up 14–7 early in the second quarter. The Broncos responded by scoring 17 unanswered points to go up 24–14 at halftime. First, Broncos kicker Jason Elam made a 43-yard field goal. Pittsburgh responded by moving the ball to the Broncos 35-yard line, but Stewart forced a throw into double coverage and safety Ray Crockett intercepted his pass in the end zone to prevent a score. After the turnover, John Elway led the Broncos 80 yards to score on his 15-yard touchdown pass to fullback Howard Griffith. The Steelers had to punt on their next drive, and Darrien Gordon returned the ball 19 yards to the Broncos 46, setting up a 54-yard drive that ended on Elway's 1-yard scoring pass to Ed McCaffrey that gave Denver a 24-14 lead with 13 seconds left in the half.
Both defenses controlled most of the second half. The Steelers took the opening drive of the 2nd half and moved the ball methodically down the field and had a great scoring chance at the Broncos 5-yard line. But linebacker Allen Aldridge ended the possession with an interception in the end zone. Late in the fourth quarter, Stewart completed 7/8 passes and rushed three times on a 79-yard drive that ended with his 14-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson, cutting the score to 24-21 with 2:46 left in regulation. With 2:00 left, and facing third down and 5 on their own 15-yard line on their ensuing drive, John Elway connected on an 18-yard completion to Shannon Sharpe to get the first down. Then on the next play, he completed a 10-yard pass to McCaffrey for another first down, enabling his team to run out the rest of the clock. Sharpe later said that Elway made up the converting play in the huddle, seconds before the snap.
Terrell Davis rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown. Bettis rushed for 105 yards and a score. This would turn out to be the final playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium.
NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers 23, San Francisco 49ers 10
For the third year in a row, Green Bay easily trounced the 49ers in the playoffs, holding them to just 257 total yards while forcing 4 fumbles and 5 sacks. The 49ers gained just 33 rushing yards and running back Garrison Hearst, who rushed for over 1,000 yards during the season, had only 12 yards on 8 carries. The average starting field position for the 49ers was from their own 17-yard line.
Green Bay took the opening kickoff and moved the ball 76 yards in 10 plays, with Brett Favre completing an 18-yard pass to Robert Brooks on the game's first play. On the next play, 49ers defensive back Rod Woodson was called for a 24-yard pass interference penalty, moving the ball to the 49ers 35. Green Bay eventually reached the 2-yard line before a pass was deflected falling short of a wide open fullback William Henderson, forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal from Ryan Longwell.
In the second quarter, San Francisco drove 60 yards from their own 12 to the Green Bay 28, where they faced 3rd down and 8. On the next play, Steve Young's pass was intercepted by Packers safety Eugene Robinson and returned it 58 yards to the 49ers 28 in what turned out to be a crucial play. Favre would then find wide receiver Antonio Freeman slicing across the middle on a slant for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 10–0 lead.
Later on, Green Bay managed a drive deep into San Francisco territory, but Favre committed a 15-yard grounding penalty on 3rd and 14, and Longwell missed a 47-yard field goal attempt on the next play. On the 49ers ensuing drive, they drove 52 yards in 9 plays, including Young's 48-yard completion to Terrell Owens on 3rd down and 26, to reach the Packers 10-yard line. Young nearly completed a touchdown pass to J. J. Stokes, but Stokes landed with one foot out of bounds in the end zone and the team settled for a Gary Anderson field goal, cutting the score to 10-3 with less than a minute left in the half. Only 51 seconds remained after Green Bay got the ball back, but Favre got his team into scoring range with a 40-yard completion to Freeman, and Longwell capitalized with a 43-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Packers a 13-3 halftime lead.
On the first play of the second half, Favre threw a pass to Henderson, who held it briefly before dropping it. The 49ers defense believed his drop was a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, but officials ruled it to be an incomplete pass, something replays seemed to contradict. Both offenses were nearly shut down for the rest of the game, as neither team was able to mount a sustained drive for all the time remaining. Late in the fourth quarter, Young threw an incomplete pass intended for tight end Brent Jones on 3rd and 18 from his own 7-yard line. Jones argued vehemently after the play that he was held by LeRoy Butler. No flag was thrown, however, and Tommy Thompson's ensuing punt went just 28 yards to the 49ers 35. Green Bay then drove 28 yards and increased their lead to 16-3 with Longwell's 25-yard field goal with 5:02 left in the game.
Now in a desperate situation, San Francisco tried to convert a 4th down from their own 22 on the next drive, but linebacker Keith McKenzie sacked Young for an 11-yard loss on the play, setting up Dorsey Levens' 5-yard touchdown run that made the score 23-3. Chuck Levy returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, but the 49ers could do nothing else with the final 2:52 remaining on the clock.
Favre finished the game with 16 of 27 pass completions for 222 yards and a touchdown. Levens recorded a then-playoff team record of 116 rushing yards and a touchdown, while also catching 6 passes for 37 yards. And in addition to his touchdown reception, Freeman caught 4 passes for 107 yards. Owens was the sole offensive star for his team, catching 6 passes for 100 yards. Levy returned 3 kickoffs for 127 yards and a score. This was the third year in a row the Packers defeated the 49ers in the playoffs, twice in San Francisco.
Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)