2001–02 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 2001 season began on January 12, 2002. The postseason tournament concluded with the New England Patriots defeating the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, 20–17, on February 3, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
For the first time, the NFL scheduled prime time playoff games for the first two rounds in an attempt to attract more television viewers. Saturday wild card and divisional playoff games were moved from 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., respectively. Thus, the league abandoned its practice of scheduling colder, northern playoff games for daylight hours only; any stadium, regardless of evening January temperatures, could host prime time playoff games.
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||Pittsburgh Steelers (Central winner)||St. Louis Rams (West winner)|
|2||New England Patriots (East winner)||Chicago Bears (Central winner)|
|3||Oakland Raiders (West winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|4||Miami Dolphins||Green Bay Packers|
|5||Baltimore Ravens||San Francisco 49ers|
|6||New York Jets||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Jan. 12 – Veterans Stadium||Jan. 19 – Soldier Field|
|3||Philadelphia||31||Jan. 27 – Edward Jones Dome|
|Jan. 13 – Lambeau Field||3||Philadelphia||24|
|Jan. 20 – Dome at America's Center|
|5||San Francisco||15||NFC Championship|
|4||Green Bay||25||Feb. 3 – Louisiana Superdome|
|Jan. 12 – Network Associates Coliseum||N1||St. Louis||17|
|Jan. 19 – Foxboro Stadium|
|6||NY Jets||24||Super Bowl XXXVI|
|3||Oakland||38||Jan. 27 – Heinz Field|
|Jan. 13 – Pro Player Stadium||2||New England||24|
|Jan. 20 – Heinz Field|
- * Indicates overtime victory
- Bold text Indicates winning team
Wild Card playoffs
Saturday January 12, 2002
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9
Eagles QB Donovan McNabb threw for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also rushing for 54 yards, as Philadelphia dominated Tampa Bay from start to finish. Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson was intercepted four times, twice by Damon Moore. It was the second consecutive season in which Philadelphia eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs during the wild card round, and two days later, Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy was fired.
On the Eagles first drive of the game, Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson intercepted a pass from McNabb and returned it 9 yards to the Eagles 36-yard line, setting up a 36-yard field goal from Martín Gramática. But McNabb made up for his mistake with a 39-yard run on third down and 5 on Philadelphia's ensuing possession, setting up a field goal for David Akers that tied the game, 3–3. In the second period, McNabb completed 4 of 4 passes for 70 yards on a 73-yard drive, including a 41-yard completion to Todd Pinkston, that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chad Lewis. Tampa responded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, but once again could not dent the end zone and had to settle for another Gramatica field goal, cutting their deficit to 10–6. Later in the quarter, Eagles punter Sean Landeta pinned the Buccaneers back at their own 5-yard line and Tampa Bay could not get a first down with their next drive. After receiving Mark Royals' short 28-yard punt at the Buccaneers 31-yard line, McNabb threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Duce Staley with 35 seconds left in the half. But Tampa bay managed to respond with Gramatica's third field goal before halftime, set up by a 46-yard reception from Keyshawn Johnson, cutting their deficit to 17–9.
But Tampa Bay was completely dominated in the second half. Moore recorded his first interception from Brad Johnson at the Eagles 38-yard line on the Buccaneers opening drive of the third quarter. Later on, the Eagles drove 60 yards in six plays and scored on a 25-yard touchdown run from rookie Correll Buckhalter. Johnson tried to rally his team back with a pair of drives deep into Eagles territory, but both of them were ended with interceptions. First, defensive back Troy Vincent picked off a pass from Johnson in the end zone with 4:09 left in the third quarter. Then late in the fourth quarter, safety Brian Dawkins intercepted Johnson on Philadelphia's 3-yard line. Following a punt, Moore put the game away by recording his second interception and returning it 59 yards for a touchdown.
AFC: Oakland Raiders 38, New York Jets 24
The Raiders defeated the Jets in a high scoring shootout, outgaining them in total yards 502 to 410, and holding them off in a wild, 36-point fourth quarter. Quarterback Rich Gannon made 23 of 29 completions for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns. Thirty-nine-year-old Wide receiver Jerry Rice had a superb performance, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. His 9 receptions tied a franchise playoff record held by Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff. Running back Charlie Garner ran eighty yards for a touchdown to clinch the game with 1:27 remaining. He finished the game with 156 rushing yards on just 15 carries, along with 3 receptions for 26 yards. Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns. Running back Curtis Martin added 106 rushing yards, while receiver Laveranues Coles caught 8 passes for 123 yards.
Following a missed field goal by Jets kicker John Hall on the opening drive, Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski made two field goals to give his team a 6–0 first quarter lead. In the second quarter, Hall and Janikowski both made field goals before Oakland scored the first touchdown of the game on a 66-yard drive that ended with Tim Brown's 2-yard touchdown reception to make the score 16–3 with 22 seconds left in the half.
Early in the third quarter, Testaverde narrowed the score to 16–10 with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet. Later in the period, Raiders defensive back Johnnie Harris stripped the ball from fullback Richie Anderson and lineman Grady Jackson recovered the ball for Oakland on their own 45-yard line. After a short run by Garner, Gannon's 47-yard completion to Rice moved the ball to the Jets 4-yard line. A few plays later, fullback Zack Crockett scored a 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving the Raiders a 24–10 lead. But instead of putting the game away, Crockett's score set off a wild scoring explosion from both teams, who ended up combining for 36 points in the final period as Testaverde desperately tried to rally his team back.
The Jets responded by driving 64 yards in 10 plays and scoring with Testaverde's 4-yard touchdown pass to Anderson. But Oakland stormed back with a 68-yard, seven play scoring drive. After a 21-yard completion to Rice and a 20-yard strike to Jerry Porter on third down and 8, Gannon threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Rice with 5:53 left in regulation. Testaverde once again responded, completing a four-yard touchdown pass to Chrebet on fourth down and goal to make it 31–24 with 1:57 left. Because the Jets had two timeouts left, coach Herman Edwards decided not to attempt an onside kick. New York's defense managed to stuff running back Tyrone Wheatley on two straight plays, but on third down, Garner took off down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown run, the longest in Raiders postseason history.
Sunday January 13, 2002
NFC: Green Bay Packers 25, San Francisco 49ers 15
In frigid temperatures, the San Francisco 49ers came into Lambeau Field and stood toe-to-toe with the Green Bay Packers for most of the afternoon until being put away by a superb second half performance from Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Favre completed 6 of 8 passes for 43 yards in the first half, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman that gave the Packers a 6–0 lead after San Francisco lineman Dana Stubblefield blocked the extra point. The Packers defense limited San Francisco to just 53 yards and a blocked field goal on their first four drives, but the 49ers closed out the half with a 15-play, 86-yard drive that took 7 minutes off the clock. Quarterback Jeff Garcia completed 6 of 9 passes for 61 yards on the drive, and running back Garrison Hearst capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run to give his team a 7–6 halftime lead. It marked the first time Green Bay had ever trailed at the end of the first half in a home playoff game since the famous Ice Bowl in 1967.
However, Brett Favre dominated the 49ers defense in the second half, completing 16 of 21 passes for 226 yards and leading his team to four scoring drives. First, he led the Packers 72 yards in 12 plays, completing two passes for 21 yards to Bill Schroeder and a 22-yarder to Freeman en route to a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. After a San Francisco punt, Favre led his team to the end zone in just three plays, tossing a 12-yard completion to fullback William Henderson, following it up with a 51-yard strike to Corey Bradford, and then finishing the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Bubba Franks with 3:26 left in the third quarter, giving the Packers a 15–7 lead after the 49ers defense tackled Donald Driver short of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt.
In the fourth quarter, Hearst's 22-yard reception and 10-yard run set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Tai Streets, who also caught a subsequent 2-point conversion pass to tie the game at 15. But Green Bay responded with a 49-yard drive and retook the lead with a 45-yard field goal from Longwell. Then on San Francisco's ensuing possession, defensive back Mike McKenzie deflected a pass from Garcia into the arms of Tyrone Williams for an interception on the Packers 7-yard line. Favre took over from there, leading the Packers on an 8-play 93-yard drive for the game clinching touchdown, featuring two key third down completions to Driver. The first was 37-yard completion third down and 12. Later, Driver caught a 12-yard pass on the 49ers 9-yard line on third down and 6. On the next play, running back Ahman Green scored on a 9-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left in regulation.
Favre finished with 22 of 29 completions for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with 1 interception. Garcia completed 22 of 32 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown, with 1 pick.
AFC: Baltimore Ravens 20, Miami Dolphins 3
The Ravens recorded 222 rushing yards, while limited the Dolphins to 151 total yards, 9 first downs, and forcing three turnovers and three sacks. Baltimore running back Terry Allen ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Elvis Grbac completed 12 of 18 passes for 133 yards and 1 touchdown. Throughout the day, the Dolphins were unable to move the ball on the ground. Running backs Travis Minor and Lamar Smith were held to a combined total of 20 yards on 11 carries, while quarterback Jay Fiedler ended up as the leading rusher with 16 yards. In contrast, the Ravens called 50 running plays, gained 222 rushing yards, and held the ball for 38 minutes.
The Dolphins' only score was Olindo Mare's 33-yard field goal just two minutes into the game, after linebacker Tommy Hendricks recovered a fumble from Baltimore's Lamont Brightful on the opening kickoff. In the second quarter, the Ravens finished a 17-play, 90-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run from Allen to take a 7–3 lead. Baltimore later had a chance to increase their lead before halftime when linebacker Peter Boulware recovered Travis Minor's fumble on the Dolphins 41-yard line, but their ensuing drive ended without points when Matt Stover missed a 40-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half.
Later in the game, Grbac led the Ravens on a 99-yard scoring drive, featuring a 45-yard completion to Travis Taylor on third down and 1. Taylor finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch to give the Ravens a 14–3 lead with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
Early in the final period, Boulware forced a fumble while sacking Fiedler that Ravens lineman Sam Adams recovered on the Dolphins 37-yard line, leading to Stover's 35-yard field goal with 11:26 left in the game. The Dolphins responded with a drive to the Ravens 41. On first and 10, Fiedler's 40-yard pass to James McKnight at the Ravens 5-yard line bounced off the receiver's shoulder and was intercepted by defensive back Duane Starks, who returned the ball 26 yards to the 28-yard line. Baltimore's offense subsequently drove 50 yards and took 6:30 off the clock, including five carries by Jason Brookings for 36 yards, setting up Stover's second field goal to put the game away.
Saturday January 19, 2002
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles 33, Chicago Bears 19
The Bears surprised everyone by finishing atop the NFC Central with a 13–3 record behind quarterback Jim Miller. But after the Eagles jumped to a 6–0 lead, Miller was taken out of the game in the second quarter with a separated shoulder. Although Miller's replacement, Shane Matthews, led the Bears to a touchdown (a 47-yard reverse by Ahmad Merritt), and Jerry Azumah's 39-yard interception return briefly put the Bears back in the lead early in the second half, the Eagles controlled most of the rest of the game. Matthews threw for only 66 yards and was intercepted twice. Meanwhile, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another touchdown.
The Eagles controlled the first quarter, scoring with two field goals by David Akers while holding the Bears to 25 offensive yards and one first down. In the second quarter, Miller led the Bears to Philadelphia's 25-yard line before throwing an interception to defensive back Damon Moore. On the ensuing interception return, defensive end Hugh Douglas drove Miller to the ground, separating his shoulder and knocking him out of the game. Douglas was later fined $35,000 for the hit. Merritt's 47-yard touchdown run gave the Bears a 7–6 lead with 5:27 left in the period. But McNabb led the Eagles back, driving 69 yards in 11 plays, including a 9-yard completion to tight end Jeff Thompson on fourth down and 1 from the Bears 27-yard line. Four plays later, McNabb finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to fullback Cecil Martin, giving his team a 13–7 lead with just 14 seconds left in the half. The Eagles finished the half with 230 yards and held the ball over 20 minutes, while holding the Bears to 88 yards.
On the first drive of the second half, defensive back R. W. McQuarters deflected a pass from McNabb into the arms of Azumah, who returned it 39 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 14–13 lead. Later on, Chicago punter Brad Maynard's 15-yard punt gave the Eagles a first down on the Bears 36-yard line. Following a key 30-yard reception by Thompson on third down and 14, McNabb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Duce Staley, giving the Eagles a 20–14 lead with 5:55 left in the third quarter. Chicago responded with an 11-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a field goal from Paul Edinger, but the Eagles struck back with an 11-play drive on their own, driving 45 yards and scoring with Akers' third field goal. Then Autry Denson fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Philadelphia rookie Quinton Caver recovered it, setting up Akers' fourth field goal. McNabb added another touchdown on a 5-yard run with 3:21 left to put the game away, while the Bears only other score was an intentional safety from Eagles punter Sean Landeta on the last play of the game. This game was the last one ever played at the Old Soldier Field as the stadium was closed for major renovations, thus marking the Philadelphia Eagles the last team to win at the legendary stadium.
AFC: New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13 (OT)
This game has become a part of NFL lore. It was final contest in the history of Foxboro Stadium, played under heavy snowfall. It is best remembered for a call near the end of the game with Oakland protecting a three-point lead. The referees initially ruled that New England quarterback Tom Brady had fumbled on a pass attempt. Invoking the "tuck rule", where a ball is ruled an incomplete pass after the quarterback starts any forward motion, the referee overturned the decision after reviewing the instant replay, calling the drop an incomplete pass rather than a fumble.
Both teams struggled in the heavy snow storm during the first half, combining for the same number of punts as first downs (11) and converting only one of 13 third downs. However, Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was efficient, completing 10 of 14 passes for 87 yards. The closest either team would come to scoring in the first quarter would be New England's drive to the Oakland 31-yard line, which ended when Brady threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 2. With 1:12 left in the period, a 15-yard fair catch interference penalty against Patriots defensive back Je'Rod Cherry at then end of Ken Walter's 39-yard punt gave Oakland a first down at midfield, where they drove to a 7-0 lead on Gannon's 13-yard touchdown pass to James Jett. A few plays later, Raiders defensive back Johnnie Harris intercepted a pass from Brady on the Patriots 41-yard line, but New England's defense managed to force a punt, which would be the final result of every following drive until the end of the half.
In the second half, things began to open up, especially for New England, who almost completely abandoned their running game and relied on Brady. He ended up completing 26 of 39 passes for 238 yards in the second half. On the opening drive of the third quarter, he completed passes to David Patten for gains of 25 and 19 yards as he led the Patriots 62 yards in 12 plays to the Raiders' 5-yard line, where Adam Vinatieri made a 23-yard field goal to make it 7–3. Terry Kirby returned the ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the Oakland 37-yard line, where the Raiders responded with a 10-play, 43-yard drive to score on a 38-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski. Then after Walter's 33-yard punt gave the Raiders a fist down on their own 49, a 22-yard reception by receiver Jerry Rice set up Janikowski's second field goal, giving the Raiders a 13–3 lead with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Brady led the Patriots on a 10-play, 67-yard drive, completing 9 consecutive passes for 61 yards and finishing it with a 6-yard touchdown run that made the score 13-10. Later in the quarter, Patriots receiver Troy Brown returned Shane Lechler's 37-yard punt 27 yards to the Patriots 46-yard line. Brown fumbled the ball at the end of the return, but Pats linebacker Larry Izzo recovered it with 2:06 left on the clock. A few plays later, the "tuck" incident occurred. As Brady dropped back to pass, he lost the ball while being tackled by former college teammate Charles Woodson, and Oakland linebacker Greg Biekert recovered it with 1:47 left. However, an official instant replay review caused referee Walt Coleman to overturn the fumble, ruling Brady's arm had been moving forward while being tackled and making the play an incomplete pass. Taking advantage of his second chance, Brady completed a 13-yard pass to Patten and rushed for a 1-yard gain that moved the team to the Raiders 28-yard line, where Vinatieri made a 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left, a dramatic kick through heavy snowfall that barely cleared the crossbar, sending the game into overtime.
New England won the coin toss and drove 63 yards in 14 plays for the winning field goal, with Brady completing 8 consecutive passes for 45 yards, including a 20-yard completion to J. R. Redmond and a 6-yard pass to Patten at the Raiders' 22-yard line on 4th down and 4 to keep the drive alive. While Vinatieri's game-tying kick had the wind at his back, this drive was into the wind and the Patriots wanted to move closer. Following five runs from Antowain Smith for 15 yards and one from Brady for 2, and after a drive of more than eight minutes, Vinatieri and holder Ken Walter cleared snow away from where the ball would be spotted. Vinatieri then gave New England its first lead of the game, making a 23-yard field goal to win.
Patten was the sole offensive star of the day, catching 8 passes for 107 yards. The game was the last played at Foxboro Stadium.
Sunday January 20, 2002
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Baltimore Ravens 10
Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, sidelined for much of the regular season, was scheduled to make his return in the first playoff ever at their new home, Heinz Field, but was sidelined with an undisclosed ailment at the last minute. It did not matter as the Pittsburgh offense rushed for 150 yards and held the ball for over 40 minutes. Their defense limited the defending champion Ravens to 150 yards and 7 first downs, forced 4 turnovers, and recorded 3 sacks. Bettis' replacement, Amos Zereoue, rushed for 2 touchdowns.
The first half was a disaster for Baltimore. Their first six drives resulted in two interceptions, three punts without a gaining first down, and a fumble. Steelers defensive back Chad Scott started out the dominance by intercepting Baltimore quarterback Elvis Grbac's first pass of the game and returning it 19 yards to the Ravens 43-yard line. Pittsburgh's offense subsequently gained 37 yards on their first 3 plays. Linebacker Jamie Sharper managed to halt the drive by tackling Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala for a 1-yard loss on third down and goal, but Kris Brown kicked a field goal to give Pittsburgh a 3–0 lead. The next time Baltimore had the ball, they were forced to punt after linebacker Mike Jones sacked Grbac for a 10-yard loss on third down and 10. Pittsburgh's offense then drove 51 yards in seven plays, featuring two completions from Kordell Stewart to receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward for gains of 17 and 20 yards. Zereoue finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 10–0.
In the second quarter, Baltimore defensive back Chris McAlister gave the offense a great chance to score when he intercepted a pass from Stewart and returned it 18 yards to the Steelers 7-yard line. But on the next play, safety Brent Alexander intercepted a Grbac's pass in the end zone for a touchback. The Steelers took over and drove to the Ravens 9-yard line, but on third down, Stewart was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Larry Webster and Brown's ensuing field goal attempt was wide left. Following another three and out for Baltimore, receiver Troy Edwards returned their punt 27-yards to the Ravens 43-yard line, setting up Zereoue's second touchdown run. Then linebacker Jason Gildon recovered a fumble from Terry Allen on Baltimore's next drive and the Steelers capitalized with a 46-yard field goal from Brown, increasing their lead to 20–0 with 4:23 left in the half. After going all this time without a single first down, Baltimore finally managed to respond on their next drive. Tight end Shannon Sharpe caught four pass for 48 yards on an 11-play, 57-yard drive. Matt Stover capped it off with a 26-yard field goal, cutting their deficit to 20–3 at halftime.
Late in the third quarter, Baltimore receiver Jermaine Lewis returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown. But the Steelers responded by driving 83 yards in 12 plays and scoring with Stewart's 32-yard touchdown pass to Burress.
NFC: St. Louis Rams 45, Green Bay Packers 17
The matchup between two of the league's highly rated quarterbacks — the Packers' Brett Favre and Rams' Kurt Warner, who shared a combined total of five NFL MVP awards, became lopsided thanks to St. Louis' improved defense, which forced 8 turnovers. Although Favre threw for 281 yards, he tied a playoff record by tossing six interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. The Packers generated most of their offense early in the contest, but the turnovers gave the Rams a 24–10 halftime lead. The Rams then returned two interceptions in the second half to put the game away.
Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams opened up the scoring by returning an interception from Favre 29 yards for a touchdown. The next time Green Bay had the ball, they turned it over again when safety Kim Herring stripped the ball from Ahman Green and rookie Adam Archuleta recovered it. However, the Rams were unable to take advantage of this turnover. A few plays later, Warner's pass was intercepted by Darren Sharper on the Packers 35-yard line. Favre then completed a pair of passes to Corey Bradford and Donald Driver for gains of 27 and 16 yards, before tying the game with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman. But the Rams stormed right back with a 15-yard completion to Az-Zahir Hakim and a 38-yard burst from running back Marshall Faulk advancing the ball to the Packers 11-yard line. Two plays later, Warner completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt to put the Rams back in the lead. Then on Green Bay's next drive, Herring intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 45 yards to the Packers 4-yard line, setting up a 4-yard touchdown catch by fullback James Hodgins early in the second quarter. Allen Rossum returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, but a holding penalty on Torrance Marshall eliminated the score. Green Bay still managed to score with a Ryan Longwell field goal, but Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins responded with a field goal of his own to give the Rams and 24–10 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Rams scored two touchdowns in a span of 92 seconds. On Green Bay's opening drive, Green's 49-yard run moved the ball into Rams territory. But on the three plays later, Williams stripped the ball from Freeman, dove on it, then got up and returned it for a touchdown. A replay challenge overruled the score, showing Williams was down by contact when he recovered the fumble, but three plays later, Holt's 50-yard reception set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Faulk. Then on Green Bay's next possession, Rams lineman Grant Wistrom deflected a pass from Favre into the arms of linebacker Tommy Polley, who returned the interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
In fourth quarter, the Rams defense scored again with another interception return from Williams, making him the first player ever to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a playoff game. Meanwhile, they managed to pin down the Packers, only allowing a meaningless score on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Freeman with 5:46 left in the game.
Sunday January 27, 2002
AFC Championship: New England Patriots 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 17
The Patriots' storybook season continued as Drew Bledsoe came into the game in the second quarter in place of an injured Tom Brady – who replaced Bledsoe himself early in the season when he suffered a sheared blood vessel.
Both defenses controlled the game early on, and with just over 4 minutes left in the first quarter, the Steelers had to punt the ball from their own 13-yard line. Josh Miller appeared to bail his team out with a 64-yard punt, but Steelers receiver Troy Edwards was penalized for going out of bounds before tackling Troy Brown on the return. This turned out to make a big difference, as the punt was redone and on the second attempt, Brown returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Pittsburgh responded by driving 65 yards in 10 plays, one of them a 34-yard run by quarterback Kordell Stewart, and scoring with a 30-yard field goal from Kris Brown, cutting the score to 7–3.
Later on, with under three minutes left in the half, Brady completed a 28-yard pass to Brown at the Steelers 40-yard line, but was knocked out of the game by a hit from safety Lee Flowers. Bledsoe took over without missing a beat, rushing for four yards and completing three passes to David Patten for 36 yards, the last one an 11-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 14–3 lead.
On the first drive of the second half, New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi recovered a fumbled snap on the Steelers 35-yard line. But the Patriots gained only two yards on their next 4 plays and ended up turning the ball over on downs. Pittsburgh subsequently drove 52 yards to the 16-yard line to set up Brown's second field goal attempt, but this time his kick was blocked by defensive tackle Brandon Mitchell and Troy Brown recovered the ball. After returning it 11 yards, Brown threw a lateral pass to Antwan Harris, who took the ball the remaining 45 yards for a touchdown to increase New England's lead to 21–3.
The Steelers struck back with quarterback Stewart completing a 24-yard pass to Hines Ward and a 19-yard screen pass to Amos Zereoue on an 8-play, 79-yard drive. Jerome Bettis finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the score to 21–10 with 5:11 left in the third quarter. New England was forced to punt after linebacker Jason Gildon sacked Bledsoe on third down, and Edwards returned the punt 28 yards to the Patriots 32-yard line. Five plays later, Zereoue scored with an 11-yard touchdown run, making the score 21–17.
Early in the fourth quarter, Adam Vinatieri's 44-yard field goal at the end of a 45-yard drive increased New England's lead to 24–17. Later in the period, the Patriots made two key stops to clinch the victory. First, safety Tebucky Jones intercepted a pass from Stewart and returned it 19 yards to the Steelers 34-yard line. Pittsburgh's defense managed to prevent a first down and Vinatieri missed a 50-yard field goal attempt that would have sealed the game, giving the Steelers the ball back on their own 40-yard line, but a few plays later, Lawyer Milloy intercepted a pass from Stewart with 2:02 left to seal the game, and the Patriots were able to run out the clock.
Brown was the top offensive performer of the day with 8 receptions for 121 yards, along with three punt returns for 80. Brady completed 12/18 passes for 115 yards, while Bledsoe finished 10/21 for 102 yards and a touchdown.
NFC Championship: St. Louis Rams 29, Philadelphia Eagles 24
The Eagles had a 17–13 lead at halftime, and had not allowed more than 21 points per game during the season and playoffs. But the Rams roared back thanks to Kurt Warner completing two-thirds of his passes for 212 yards and Marshall Faulk's 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns to earn their second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
Early in the first quarter, Donovan McNabb fumbled while being sacked by defensive end Leonard Little, and Brian Young recovered for the Rams at the Philadelphia 20-yard line. Five plays later, Warner threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce. Philadelphia responded with an 11-play, 50-yard drive, featuring a 20-yard run by Duce Staley, that ended with a 46-yard field goal by David Akers. Rams receiver Yo Murphy returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards his own 42-yard line before Warner completed a 20-yard pass to Az-Zahir Hakim and Faulk rushed for 15 yards to set up a 27-yard field from Jeff Wilkins, giving the Rams a 10–3 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Wilkins hit the crossbar on a 53-yard field goal attempt, and the Eagles took over on their 43-yard line. On the next play, rookie running back Correll Buckhalter broke off a 31-yard run to the St. Louis 26. A few plays later, Staley finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game. But on the Rams next drive, a 31-yard run by Faulk set up 39-yard field goal by Wilkins, and the Rams retook the lead. But they didn't hold it. McNabb responded with 2 completions to James Thrash for 27 yards and a 12-yard throw to Chad Lewis before throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Todd Pinkston with 46 seconds left in the half.
St. Louis dominated the Eagles in third quarter, holding the ball for 12:30 and limiting Philadelphia to just five offensive plays. Murphy fumbled the opening kickoff, but Rams rookie Nick Sorensen recovered it. Following seven runs by Faulk for 27 yards, Warner completed a 21-yard pass to Torry Holt at the Eagles 19-yard line, setting up Wilkins' third field goal to cut it to 17–16. Then after forcing a three-and-out, the Rams drove 71 yards in 10 plays, with Warner completing three passes to Bruce for 44 yards and a 16-yard pass to Holt at the Eagles 9-yard line. Faulk subsequently took the ball into the end zone with three consecutive running plays, giving the Rams a 22–17 lead after tight end Ernie Conwell dropped Warner's pass on a two-point conversion attempt.
Philadelphia went three-and-out again on its next two possessions, and Faulk took advantage of an Eagles' defense that was on the field for most of the second half. On the Rams drive after the second punt, he broke a 25-yard run on third down and 1, caught a 10-yard pass, and then ran for 8 yards before finally scoring a 1-yard touchdown run to increase the Rams lead to 29–17 with 6:55 left in the game. A 41-yard kickoff return to the Rams 48-yard line from Brian Mitchell sparked an Eagles rally. McNabb led the Eagles 52 yards, completing an 11-yard pass to Chad Lewis on fourth down and 8 and a 17-yard pass to Thrash before taking the ball across the goal line himself on a 3-yard run. After forcing a punt, the Eagles got the ball back on their own 45-yard line with 2:20 left. But on a fourth down and 7 conversion attempt, St. Louis defensive back Aeneas Williams intercepted a pass intended for Freddie Mitchell and the Rams held the ball for the rest of the game.
Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17
- 2001–02 NFL playoffs archive from CNNSI.com (Last accessed January 26, 2016)