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The 9 Most Painful Losses In Conference Championship Game History

The 9 Most Painful Losses In Conference Championship Game History
  • Scott Engel

Nothing Scars a Team and Its Fans More Than These Types of Playoff Defeats

By George Kurtz

I’m not sure there is anything more painful in the sports world than a last-minute playoff loss in the NFL. We live and die with our teams. We’ve watched them battle for 16-plus weeks just to see it all come to an end in a matter of seconds. The New Orleans Saints are the latest team and fanbase to feel that kind of agony. I mean, really, how could they have lost that game last week? All the defensive back had to do was let the receiver catch the ball and tackle him inbounds and the game is over. Even if you push him out of bounds, all that would lead to is a long field goal try. Sure, you might still lose the game, but it’s no more than a 50/50 shot. Just don’t whiff on the tackle and take out another defensive player in the process. I can’t even imagine the pain that fans of the Saints were feeling after they got over the initial shock of seeing Stefon Diggs run into the end zone for the game winning reception.

With that game in mind, here are my Top 9 most painful losses in the AFC/NFC Championship games.

1. Seattle 28 Green Bay 22 (2014): It seemed Green Bay had this game won several times. They picked off Russell Wilson four times. They had a 19-7 lead with just over two minutes left in the game. All they had to do was recover an onside kick. It was not meant to be, however, and the defending Super Bowl champs pulled out an unlikely home victory.

2. New England 23 Baltimore 20 (2012): This was one of those games where salt was added to the wound. Baltimore always seemed to have a defense that could slow down Tom Brady and allow their offense the chance to pull the game out at the end. On the Ravens final drive of the game with his team trailing 23-20, Joe Flacco lofted a perfect pass in the end zone to Lee Evans. The kind of pass that would make you say, “my grandmother could catch that”. Well, Evans couldn’t. A catch he probably makes 99.9-percent of the time was dropped. To make matters even worse, Billy Cundiff then missed a 32-yard field goal that would’ve sent the game to overtime. New England marched on.

3. Giants 20 San Francisco 17 (2011): This game went to overtime and then a play that we have seen several times this postseason occurred. San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams muffed a punt and gave the Giants possession inside the 30-yard line. A few plays later and the Giants were on their way towards upsetting the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

4. New Orleans 31 Minnesota 28 (2009): Just when it looked like Brett Favre would lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl for the first time in almost 30 years, he tried to make something out of nothing and threw an interception. That pick kept the Saints in the game long enough for them to embark on a gamewinning drive in overtime.

5. Arizona 32 Philadelphia 25 (2008): The Eagles looked like a sure bet to get back to the Super Bowl that season. They crushed Dallas in the final game of the regular season to make the playoffs, then dispatched the Vikings and Giants on their way to facing the surprising 9-7 Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Although they trailed at one point 24-6, three touchdown passes from Donovan McNabb gave them a late lead, but Kurt Warner would have none of it and led the Cardinals on a late scoring drive to send the Eagles on vacation.

6. Atlanta 30 Minnesota 27 (1998): What is it they say about kickers? They are like lawyers, nobody likes them until they need a good one. Well, the 15-1 Vikings had a good one in Gary Anderson. He hadn’t missed a field goal all season (35-35). Yet he missed a 38-yarder that all but would’ve ended this game. After the miss the Falcons marched down the field for the game tying score and in overtime, got the ball first, and Morten Andersen pretty much hit the same field goal that Anderson missed to send the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

7. Denver 38 Cleveland 33 (1987): In one of the most exciting playoff games ever, Cleveland rallied after trailing 21-3 at the half to have a chance to take the lead with just over a minute to play. The Browns had the ball at the Denver two-yard line and handed the ball to Earnest Byner for a run up the middle. He turned the ball over on a play that has become notoriously known as “The Fumble”.

8. Denver 23 Cleveland 20 (1986): “The Fumble” was actually an encore from “The Drive”. One year earlier the same two teams played in another epic championship game. After the Browns took a 20-13 lead with a little under six minutes left in the game, a botched kickoff gave the Broncos the ball at their own two-yard line. It didn’t matter. John Elway marched Denver down the field for the tying score and Rich Karlis won the game in overtime with a 32-yard field goal. Cleveland still hasn’t gone to a Super Bowl, but was eversoclose here.

9. San Francisco 28 Dallas 27 (1981): This was the game that launched the 49ers dynasty and in some ways ended the Cowboys’ dynasty. On third and three from the Dallas six-yard line, Joe Montana was flushed out to his right and launched one high in the back of the end zone that Dwight Clark came down with in what is eternally known as “The Catch”. What people don’t remember is that Dallas had the ball at about the 50-yard line on the ensuing drive but a fumbled snap by Danny White ended any chance of a miracle comeback by the Cowboys.

You can find me on Twitter, @georgekurtz