One aspect of the NFL playoffs that doesn’t get appreciated enough is that every postseason contest is a win-or-go-home proposition. There are no best-of-seven series giving teams the chance to atone for a loss the last time out.
It’s why the end of a close game in the NFL playoffs is packed with drama and adrenaline and every play is the potential game-changer. In that spirit, here are five of the best game-winning touchdowns in NFL playoff history.
5. Stefon Diggs averts disaster in the NFL playoffs
The Minnesota Vikings had blown a 17-0 lead against the New Orleans Saints in their NFC divisional game on Jan. 14, 2018, and were headed for an offseason of second-guessing.
Trailing late, the Vikings pulled ahead on a 53-yard field goal but gave the ball back to Drew Brees with 1:29 to go. Brees drove the Saints to a 43-yard Wil Lutz field goal after a fourth-and-10 conversion and a 24-23 lead.
With the Vikings at their own 39 and just nine seconds left, Case Keenum threw to Stefon Diggs on the right sideline, where he made the catch at the New Orleans 34, wheeled and went down the field as time expired for a 29-24 victory in the NFL playoffs.
4. The Tennessee Titans’ ‘Music City Miracle’
Al Del Greco had put the Tennessee Titans ahead on a 36-yard field goal with 1:48 left in the AFC wildcard game on Jan. 8, 2000, only to have the Buffalo Bills take a 16-15 lead on Steve Christie’s 41-yard field goal with 16 seconds to play.
The Titans called for “Home Run Throwback” on the ensuing kickoff, which was a relatively short pooch kick by Christie. Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and handed it to Frank Wycheck on the right side of the field. Wycheck then threw back across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.
With the Bills’ coverage having converged toward Wycheck, Dyson had a nearly unimpeded 75-yard path to the end zone for a 22-16 victory.
3. Tim Tebow strikes in overtime in the NFL playoffs
Ben Roethlisberger had pulled the Pittsburgh Steelers into a 23-23 tie with the Denver Broncos on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery with 3:56 remaining in regulation when Tim Tebow struck for the biggest play of his short but eventful NFL career.
On the first play of overtime in the AFC wildcard game on Jan. 8, 2012, Tebow threw short over the middle to Demaryius Thomas, who caught the ball in stride and raced through the defense for an 80-yard touchdown and a 29-23 victory.
The play took 11 seconds, making for the fastest ending to an NFL playoffs overtime, and came after the Steelers lost the coin toss.
2. Dwight Clark makes ‘The Catch’
The stakes were high in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, at Candlestick Park, and Dwight Clark’s dramatic catch of a Joe Montana throw with 58 seconds to go helped usher in an era of domination for the San Francisco 49ers. They followed their 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys with the first of their four Super Bowl victories in nine seasons.
The winning play to Clark in the back of the end zone covered just six yards officially but came from an off-balance Montana throwing from the Cowboys 14 with three defenders bearing down on him.
The touchdown catch came on third down and capped an 89-yard drive.
1. Franco Harris’ ‘Immaculate Reception’
Both dramatic and controversial, rookie Franco Harris’ touchdown reception off a deflection in the final seconds gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a 13-7 win over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC divisional round on Dec. 23, 1972.
A scrambling Terry Bradshaw was throwing from his own 29-yard-line when intended target John Fuqua collided with defender Jack Tatum as the ball arrived at the Oakland 35. The ball bounded backward to Harris, who was trailing the play. He caught it at the left hash mark inside the Raiders’ 45 and outraced four defenders to the end zone.
NFL Films selected the play, which gave Pittsburgh its first NFL playoffs victory ever, as the league’s greatest of all time.