The NFL playoffs following the 1996 NFL season led up to Super Bowl XXXI. This post-season was remarkable in that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers each made it all the way to their respective conference championships, only two years after their inception into the league as expansion teams.
JAC - Smith 2 pass from Brunell (Hollis kick) Tie 27-27
JAC - field goal Hollis 45 JAC 30-27
The second year Jaguars won their first playoff game in team history as kicker Mike Hollis scored the winning 45-yard field goal with 3:07 left to play. The Bills scored first with quarterback Jim Kelly's 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Thurman Thomas. However, Jacksonville tied the game after defensive end Clyde Simmons intercepted Kelly's shovel pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. For the rest of the game, the score see-sawed back and forth: Hollis and Bills kicker Steve Christie each scored 2 field goals, Thomas ran for a 2-yard touchdown, Jaguars running back Natrone Means ran for a 30-yard score, Buffalo cornerback Jeff Burris scored on a 38-yard interception return, and Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell threw a 2-yard touchdown to Jimmy Smith.
DAL - Teague 29 interception return (Boniol kick) DAL 24-0
DAL - field goal Boniol 31 DAL 27-0
DAL - field goal Boniol 22 DAL 30-0
MIN - Carter 30 pass from B. Johnson (Sisson kick) DAL 30-7
DAL - E. Smith 1 run (Boniol kick) DAL 37-7
DAL - field goal Boniol 25 DAL 40-7
MIN - B. Johnson 5 run (Carter pass from B. Johnson) DAL 40-15
The Cowboys scored 23 points off of 5 Vikings turnovers. Perhaps the turning point of the game occurred in the first quarter after Dallas took the early 7-0 lead with quarterback Troy Aikman's 2-yard touchdown run. Minnesota running back Amp Lee caught a short pass from quarterback Brad Johnson and appeared to be on his way for a 43-yard touchdown. But Cowboys safety George Teague caught up with Lee at the 1-yard line and poked the ball out of his hands, and the ball bounced out of the end zone for a touchback. Teague later scored on a 27-yard interception return, running back Emmitt Smith ran for two touchdowns from 37 and 1 yards out, and kicker Chris Boniol made 4 field goals. Johnson threw a 30-yard touchdown to wide receiver Cris Carter and ran for another, but it was not enough.
IND - Daniel 59 interception return (Blanchard kick) PIT 13-7
IND - Bailey 9 pass from Harbaugh (Blanchard kick) IND 14-13
PIT - Bettis 1 run (Farquhar pass from Stewart) PIT 21-14
PIT - Bettis 1 run (Johnson kick) PIT 28-14
PIT - Witman 31 run (Johnson kick) PIT 35-14
PIT - Stewart 3 run (Johnson kick) PIT 42-14
The Steelers blew a 13-point lead in the first half but scored 29 unanswered points in the second half. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh defense held the Colts to 146 total yards of offense. Two field goals by Norm Johnson and a 1-yard touchdown run by Kordell Stewart gave the Steelers the 13-point advantage by the second quarter. However, Indianapolis cornerback Eugene Daniel intercepted Mike Tomczak's pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. Another interception led to a 9-yard touchdown from Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh to wide receiver Aaron Bailey. But the Steelers controlled the rest of the game. Running back Jerome Bettis, who finished with 102 rushing yards, scored two 1-yard touchdowns, running back Jon Witman recorded a 31-yard touchdown, and Stewart added a 3-yard touchdown. It was the second year in a row the Steelers had eliminated the Colts from the playoffs
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 14, Philadelphia Eagles 0Edit
SF - Rice 3 pass from Young (Wilkins kick) SF 14-0
Although they gained more yards than the 49ers, the Eagles were shut out in a rainy game with 51 miles per hour winds. Kicker Gary Anderson missed a 40-yard field goal attempt on Philadelphia's first possession. In the second quarter, San Francisco quarterback Steve Young ran for a 9-yard touchdown that capped off a 75-yard drive. The Eagles then reached the San Francisco 8-yard line, but quarterback Ty Detmer threw an interception to defensive back Marquez Pope. The 49ers were forced to punt on their next drive, and Philadelphia advanced to the San Francisco 5-yard line. However, 49ers defensive end Roy Barker intercepted Detmer, and the Eagles would never seriously threaten again. Young would later throw a 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jerry Rice.
SF - Kirby 8 pass from Grbac (Wilkins kick) GB 21-7
SF - Grbac 2 run (Wilkins kick) GB 21-14
GB - Freeman recovered fumble in end zone (Jacke kick) GB 28-14
GB - Bennett 11 run (Jacke kick) GB 35-14
The Packers defense forced five turnovers en route to victory, while Desmond Howard's key punt returns enabled the Packers to jump to a 14-0 lead after only 3 offensive plays. On his first punt return, Howard ran 71 yards for a touchdown. He then returned a punt 46 yards to set up quarterback Brett Favre's 4-yard touchdown to wide receiver Andre Rison.
Early in the second quarter, defensive back Craig Newsome's interception set up the Packers third touchdown of the day. Newsome fumbled the ball while being hit during the interception return, but his teammate Sean Jones recovered the ball on the 49ers 15-yard line. Three plays later, Edgar Bennett's touchdown run increased the Packers lead to 21-0.
Two Green Bay turnovers enabled San Francisco to mount a comeback attempt. First, a 49ers punt bounced into Packers safety Chris Hayes and was recovered San Francisco's Curtis Bailey at the Green Bay 26-yard line. Six plays later, backup quarterback Elvis Grbac (who had replaced injured starter Steve Young) threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Terry Kirby with 24 seconds left in the half. Then the Packers fumbled the second half kickoff, and San Francisco defensive back Steve Israel ran the fumble recovery to the Green Bay 4-yard line. On the next play, Grbac's 4-yard touchdown run cut the score to 21-14.
However, the Packers marched 72 yards for another touchdown, in which a fumble by Bennett was recovered in the end zone by wide receiver Antonio Freeman. Later on, with 5:31 left in the game, Kirby lost a fumble while being tackled by Green Bay defensive back Mike Prior, and Hayes recovered the ball on the 49ers 32-yard line. 6 plays later, Bennett scored his second touchdown of the game to close out the scoring.
Because the weather dipped in and out of freezing causing both rain and snow, the field got extremely muddy as the game went on causing the Green Bay Press Gazette to call it the "Mud Bowl." Neither team had much success moving the ball on offense due to the field conditions. The Packers, who averaged over 345 yards per game during the season, gained just 210 yards, while the 49ers managed only 196. Bennett was one of the top players of the day with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns, along with two receptions for 14 yards.
JAC - Smith 16 pass from Brunell (Hollis kick) JAC 30-20
DEN - McCaffrey 15 pass from Elway (Elam kick) JAC 30-27
The Wild Card Jaguars, who had barely made the playoffs with a 9-7 record by winning their last 5 games of the season (including their final one when Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen missed a last second field goal), overcame a 12-point deficit and scored on six consecutive possessions to upset the Broncos, who had finished the season with an NFL best 13-3 record and were favored to win by over 14 points. Their loss meant that for the second consecutive year the AFC's top seed was eliminated in the divisional round.
Denver dominated the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns while preventing the Jaguars from gaining a single first down. On the Broncos second drive of the game, a 47-yard run by Terrell Davis gave them a first down on the Jacksonville 2-yard line. The Jaguars kept Denver out of the end zone for the next three plays, but Vaughn Hebron scored a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down, giving Denver a 6-0 lead after defensive lineman Clyde Simmons blocked the extra point. Then after forcing a punt, Denver scored another touchdown when Elway connected with tight end Shannon Sharpe for a 18-yard touchdown pass. But Elway's 2-point conversion pass to Sharpe was incomplete, keeping the score at 12-0.
In the second quarter, Jacksonville stormed back. After a controversial pass interference penalty wiped out a Tory James interception for Denver, Jacksonville scored 13 points in the second quarter to take the lead at the half, 13-12, with two field goals by kicker Mike Hollis and an 8-yard touchdown by running back Natrone Means.
In the third quarter, Denver was limited to 14 plays for 37 yards. Meanwhile, Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell connected on a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell. Hollis later kicked a 22-yard field goal to give Jacksonville a 23-12 lead with less than 11 minutes left in the game. But on Denver's next drive, Davis scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, a successful two-point conversion shrunk the lead to 23-20. But Jacksonville responded with another touchdown drive, featuring a 29-yard run by Brunell, who later finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jimmy Smith with 3:39 remaining, making the score 30-20. The Broncos then scored on Elway's 15-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey with 1:50 left, but they had no timeouts left and were unable to recover the onside kick.
Brunell had the best postseason performance of his career, throwing for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception, and also rushing for 44 yards. Davis rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 7 passes for 24 yards. It turned out to be the only playoff game of his career in which he didn't rush for 100 yards.
NE - Byars 24 pass from Bledsoe (Vinatieri kick) NE 14-0
NE - Martin 78 run (Vinatieri kick) NE 21-0
PIT - field goal Johnson 29 NE 21-3
NE - Martin 23 run (Vinatieri kick) NE 28-3
The Patriots blew out the Steelers, 28-3, with 346 yards of total offense. Running back Curtis Martin gained 166 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. Martin scored from 2, 78, and 23 yards out, while quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back Keith Byars. The Steelers' lone score was Norm Johnson's 29-yard field goal in the third quarter. Pittsburgh quarterback Mike Tomczak was held to 110 passing yards and intercepted twice in the final postseason game of his career.
CAR - Walls 1 pass from Collins (Kasay kick) CAR 7-3
CAR - Green 10 pass from Collins (Kasay kick) CAR 14-3
DAL - Johnston 2 pass from Aikman (pass failed) CAR 14-9
DAL - Safety, Carolina bad snap went out of end zone CAR 14-11
CAR - field goal Kasay 24 CAR 17-11
DAL - field goal Boniol 21 CAR 17-14
CAR - field goal Kasay 40 CAR 20-14
CAR - field goal Kasay 40 CAR 23-14
DAL - field goal Boniol 21 CAR 23-17
CAR - field goal Kasay 32 CAR 26-17
The second-year Panthers held Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman to 165 passing yards and forced three interceptions en route to their first playoff win in team history. On offense, running back Anthony Johnson was their top performer with 104 rushing yards and a 9-yard reception. Dallas scored first on kicker Chris Boniol's 22-yard field goal, but wide receiver Michael Irvin was knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder. Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins then threw two touchdown passes, a 1-yarder to tight end Wesley Walls and a 10-yarder to wide receiver Willie Green. The Cowboys countered with a 73-yard drive to score on Aikman's 2-yard touchdown pass to running back Daryl Johnston, but they failed on the extra point attempt and the Panthers lead was only cut to 14-9. A bad snap on a Carolina punt attempt went out of the end zone to give the Cowboys a safety. But Panthers safety Chad Cota intercepted a pass and returned it 49 yards to set up kicker John Kasay's 24-yard field goal with three seconds in the half, giving Carolina a 17-11 halftime lead. The second half was a battle of field goals with Kasey kicking 3 over Boniol's 2.
The Packers recorded 201 rushing yards and 476 total yards of offense. Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens recorded 117 yards receiving and 88 yards rushing, including a 29-yard touchdown catch. Quarterback Brett Favre managed to overcome two early turnovers that set up 10 Carolina points, completing 19 out of 29 passes for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns. Packers running back Edgar Bennett, who recorded 99 rushing yards, scored a touchdown from 4 yards out, and kicker Chris Jacke added 3 field goals.
Early in the first quarter, Panthers linebacker Sam Mills intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it to the Packers 3-yard line, setting up Kerry Collins' 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Howard Griffith. Green Bay struck back with Favre's 29-yard touchdown pass to Levens, but after forcing a punt, Carolina lineman Lamar Lathon recovered a fumble from Favre on the Packers 45-yard line. A few plays later, John Kasay's 22-yard field goal put the Panthers back in the lead, 10-7.
But after that the Packers dominated the rest of the game. Favre responded by leading Green Bay 71 yards in 15 plays and scoring with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman. Then on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, safety Tyrone Williams intercepted a pass from Collins on the Packers 38-yard line. Favre's completions to Andre Rison and Freeman for gains of 23 and 25 yards moved the ball into field goal range, and Jacke's 31-yard field goal finished the drive, giving Green Bay a 17-10 halftime lead.
On the first drive of the second half, Green Bay moved the ball 73 yards in 11 plays and scored with another Jacke field goal. The Panthers managed to respond with an 11-play, 73-yard drive of their own and score with Kasay's second field goal, which cut their deficit to 7 points. But Green Bay stormed right back with a 74-yard touchdown drive, featuring a 66-yard reception by Levens. On the next play, Bennett's 4-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 27-13 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Jacke's third field goal put the game out of reach.
This game is also the first time since 1991 that the Dallas Cowboys or the San Francisco 49ers did not appear in the NFC Championship Game.
AFC Championship: New England Patriots 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 6Edit
NE - Smith 47 fumble return (Vinatieri kick) NE 20-6
Patriots cornerback Otis Smith picked up Jaguars running back James Stewart's fumble and returned it 47 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 2:24 left in the game. The Jaguars were forced to punt on their first possession, but a high snap enabled defensive back Larry Whigham to tackle punter Bryan Barker at the Jacksonville 4-yard line. Moments later, New England running back Curtis Martin scored a 1-yard touchdown. Then after Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis made a 32-yard field goal, Jacksonville punt returner Chris Hudson's fumble set up Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri's 29-yard field goal. Vinatieri then added a 20-yard field goal to give New England a 13-3 lead before halftime. Hollis later kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead, 13-6. With under 4 minutes left in the game, the Jaguars reached the New England 5-yard line and attempted to score the game-tying touchdown, but Patriots defensive back Willie Clay intercepted a Mark Brunell pass in the end zone.
The game was also notable for a power outage (due to the unprecedented power use at and around the stadium due to very cold temperatures) just minutes before halftime, which knocked out much of the lighting of the stadium, as well as most of the power in the surrounding community. (The television broadcast, however, was not affected, and stayed on throughout the outage by using generators.)