1996–97 NFL playoffs
The National Football League playoffs for the 1996 season began on December 28, 1996. The postseason tournament concluded with the Green Bay Packers defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, 35–21, on January 26, 1997, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
This postseason was remarkable in that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers each finished conference runner-up (by respectively upsetting the top seed (Broncos) and the defending champs (Cowboys) along the way), only two years after their inception into the league as expansion teams.
- Participants 1
- Bracket 2
Wild Card playoffs 3
December 28, 1996 3.1
- AFC: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Buffalo Bills 27 3.1.1
- NFC: Dallas Cowboys 40, Minnesota Vikings 15 3.1.2
December 29, 1996 3.2
- AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 42, Indianapolis Colts 14 3.2.1
- NFC: San Francisco 49ers 14, Philadelphia Eagles 0 3.2.2
- Byes 3.3
- December 28, 1996 3.1
Divisional playoffs 4
January 4, 1997 4.1
- NFC: Green Bay Packers 35, San Francisco 49ers 14 4.1.1
- AFC: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Denver Broncos 27 4.1.2
January 5, 1997 4.2
- AFC: New England Patriots 28, Pittsburgh Steelers 3 4.2.1
- NFC: Carolina Panthers 26, Dallas Cowboys 17 4.2.2
- January 4, 1997 4.1
Conference championships 5
January 12, 1997 5.1
- NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers 30, Carolina Panthers 13 5.1.1
- AFC Championship: New England Patriots 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 6 5.1.2
- January 12, 1997 5.1
- Super Bowl XXXI: Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 6
- References 7
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||Denver Broncos (West winner)||Green Bay Packers (Central winner)|
|2||New England Patriots (East winner)||Carolina Panthers (West winner)|
|3||Pittsburgh Steelers (Central winner)||Dallas Cowboys (East winner)|
|4||Buffalo Bills||San Francisco 49ers|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Philadelphia Eagles|
|6||Indianapolis Colts||Minnesota Vikings|
|Wild Card Playoffs||Divisional Playoffs||Conference Championships||Super Bowl XXXI|
Wild Card playoffs
December 28, 1996
AFC: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Buffalo Bills 27
The second year Jaguars forced four turnovers, racked up 3 sacks, and outgained Buffalo in total yards 409–308 to earn their first playoff win. After trading points back and forth all day, almost drive for drive, Jaguars safety Chris Hudson would make a decisive hit on Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, knocking him out of the game and forcing a fumble that his team would convert into the game winning score.
Jacksonville was forced to punt on their opening drive, and Russell Copeland returned the ball 16 yards to the Jags 43-yard line, setting up Jim Kelly's 7-yard touchdown pass to running back Thurman Thomas. But later in the quarter, Jacksonville defensive end Clyde Simmons intercepted a shovel pass intended for Thomas and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Buffalo stormed right back with a 10-play drive that ended with Thomas' 2-yard touchdown run, making the score 14–7. However, Jacksonville running back Natrone Means' 62-yard carry on their next drive moved the ball to the Bills 5-yard line. The drive stalled there, but Mike Hollis kicked a 27-yard field goal to make the score 14–10 at the end of the first quarter.
The Bills had to punt following their next possession but regained the ball when a long pass from Mark Brunell was intercepted by Thomas Smith in the end zone. Buffalo then drove to the Jags 6-yard line, but also came up empty when Kelly was stuffed for no gain while trying to convert a 4th and 1 on a quarterback sneak. Jacksonville then stormed to their first lead of the day with Brunell completing a 47-yard pass to tight end Pete Mitchell before Means' took off for a 30-yard touchdown burst, giving them a 17–14 advantage. Later in the quarter, Buffalo got the ball with good field position after Hollis missed a 58-yard field goal attempt, and mounted a drive to tie the game with Steve Christie's 33-yard field goal at the two minute warning.
Buffalo retook the lead on their opening drive of the second half with Christie's 47-yard field goal, but after a few punts, Jacksonville managed to tie it again with an 11-play, 62-yard drive that included a 27-yard catch by receiver Keenan McCardell and ended with a 24-yard field goal by Hollis.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Bills defensive back Jeff Burris picked off Brunell's pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 27–20 lead. Jacksonville countered right back, moving the ball 65 yards in 10 plays to score on Brunell's 2-yard toss to Jimmy Smith. On Buffalo's next drive, Hudson made a devastating hit on Kelly, knocking him out of the game and forcing a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Aaron Beasley on the Jags 42-yard line. Brunell then completed a pair of passes to Smith and McCardell for gains of 14 and 11 yards to set up Hollis' 45-yard field goal, putting them back in front for good at 30–27. The Bills offense, now led by Todd Collins, were unable to move the ball on any of their remaining drives, and during the game's final seconds, Tony Brackins forced a fumble while sacking Collins that linebacker Eddie Robinson recovered to seal the win.
Means finished the game with 175 rushing yards. Simmons finished with two sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown. Bills receiver Quinn Early caught 9 passes for 122 yards. This was the final game in the Hall of Fame career of Jim Kelly, and the final playoff game for Bills Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy as well.
NFC: Dallas Cowboys 40, Minnesota Vikings 15
Dallas outgained the Vikings in total yards 438-268, plays 78-44, and time of possession 42:03-17:57. They also forced 6 turnovers and scored on five first half possessions to win the game.
Dallas scored first on a 14-play, 88-yard drive in which Chris Boniol's 28-yard field goal. Five plays after the ensuing kickoff, Teague stripped the ball from Vikings rb Leroy Hoard. Defensive back Deion Sanders recovered the fumble and lateraled it to Shante Carver, who was tackled on the Minnesota 37, and Emmitt Smith took off for a 37-yard touchdown on the next play. Then a few plays in Minnesota's next possession, Teague intercepted a pass from Johnson and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 24-0 lead with 8:36 left in the second quarter.
The Dallas dominance would continue as Sanders returned an interception 22 yards to set up a 31-yard Boniol field goal. Even Orlando Thomas' interception of an Aikman pass ended up going against the Vikings as Thomas lost the ball while being tackled by Herschel Walker and tight end Eric Bjornson got it back for the Cowboys. This led to Bonoil's 22-yard field goal, giving Dallas a 30-0 lead at the end of the half.
In the second half, Dallas added 10 more points on Smith's 1-yard touchdown run and a 25-yard field goal from Beniol, while Johnson's 30-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter and 5-yard touchdown run made the final score 40-15.
Smith rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching 4 passes for 26 yards. Irvin caught 8 passes for 103 yards. Teague had 5 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception returned for a touchdown. This was the last time the Cowboys won a playoff game until January 9, 2010, when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2009–10 Wild Card playoff 34–14 and last playoff win at Texas Stadium. Meanwhile, the Vikings fell to 0-4 in the playoffs under coach Dennis Green
December 29, 1996
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 42, Indianapolis Colts 14
The Steelers blew a 13-point lead in the first half but scored 29 unanswered points in the second half. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh held the Colts to 146 total yards of offense, while gaining 407 yards for themselves (236 on the ground).
Pittsburgh drove 51 yards in 8 plays, including a 30-yard reception by receiver Charles Johnson, to score on Norm Johnson's 29-yard field goal on their first drive. After the Colts next drive, Steelers receiver Jahine Arnold returned their punt 36 yards to the Colts 31-yard line. One play later, Mike Tomczak completed a 20-yard pass to Charles Johnson at the 8. Backup quarterback Kordell Stewart, who was routinely used by the team in short-yardage situations, eventually finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Steelers a 10-0 lead with 4:55 left in the first quarter. Following another Colts punt, Pittsburgh increase their lead to 13-0 with Norm Johnson's 50-yard field goal 10 seconds into the second quarter.
Pittsburgh seemed to be taking control of the game, but with 4:35 left in the half, Tomczak threw a short pass intended for Ernie Mills that was too far behind the receiver. Defensive back Eugene Daniel intercepted the ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. On the Steelers next possession, Tomczak threw an interception to safety Ray McElroy on the Colts 40-yard line. On the next play, Jim Harbaugh completed a 48-yard pass to Marvin Harrison at the Steelers 12, and he eventually converted a 3rd and 7 situation with a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Aaron Bailey, giving the team a 14-13 lead with 31 seconds left before halftime.
However, the Steelers dominated the rest of the game. They started out the second half with a 16-play, 91-yard possession that ate 9:30 off the clock. Tomczak completed 5/5 passes for 37 yards on the drive, while Jerome Bettis caught one of them and rushed for 42 yards on 8 carries, the last a 1-yard touchdown run. Then Stewart completed a 2-point conversion pass to tight end John Farquhar, giving the team a 21-14 lead. Harbaugh was intercepted by Levon Kirkland on the next drive, and after a Steelers punt, running back Marshall Faulk fumbled a pitch from him which safety Carnell Lake recovered on the Indy 18-yard line. Five plays later, Bettis scored another 1-yard touchdown run to give the Steelers a 28-14 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Stewart ended up starting for the Steelers for the rest of the game. He finished with just one pass attempt, but his 24-yard run on a QB draw set up running back Jon Witman's 31-yard touchdown play. Stewart added a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:10 left in the game, making the final score 42-14. It was the second straight year the Steelers eliminated the Colts from the playoffs.
Bettis rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns (his 11th 100-yard game of the year), while also catching a pass for 4 yards. Johnson caught 5 passes for 109 yards. Neither starting quarter had much of a day. Tomczak completed 13 of 21 passes for 176 yards, with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns. Harbaugh completed 12/32 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown with one pick. He was also sacked four times, three by lineman Chad Brown.
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 14, Philadelphia Eagles 0
Although they gained more yards than the 49ers, the Eagles were shut out in a rain-soaked, muddy game with 62 miles per hour winds. San Francisco won 14-0 in what coach John Facenda's famous description of Lambeau Field as "the frozen tundra") Despite the poor whether, San Francisco finished the game without losing any turnovers.
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 74-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 with 43 seconds left in the half, and the Eagles would never seriously threaten again.
Detmer was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, and his replacement Mark Rypien completed only 5 of 12 passes for 77 yards, including an interception to Tim McDonald. Meanwhile, a one handed 36-yard reception by 49ers receiver Jerry Rice set up the final score of the game with his 3-yard touchdown catch from Young, finishing off a 61-yard drive in the third quarter. This was the lowest scoring wildcard playoff game in NFL history.
Young finished the game 14/21 for 161 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 65 yards and another score. 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young had two sacks.
January 4, 1997
NFC: Green Bay Packers 35, San Francisco 49ers 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. At the end of the next series, he returned punt 46 yards to the 49ers 7-yard line 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 Buckley 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 Packers receiver Don Beebe fumbled the second half kickoff, and Iheanyi Uwaezuoke recovered the ball for San Francisco on 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 on an 11-yard run 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. The longest completion of the day was an 18-yard reception by Antonio Freeman. Bennett was one of the top players of the day with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns, along with two receptions for 14 yards.
AFC: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Denver Broncos 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 potential game winning 30-yard field goal), overcame a 12-point deficit by racking up 443 yards (including 202 on the ground) and scoring on six consecutive possessions to upset the Broncos, who had finished the season with an NFL best 13–3 record (and had rested most of their starters over the last three games after clinching the #1 AFC seed at 12-1) 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 an 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. First an 18-yard run by Natrone Means set up a 46-yard field goal by Mike Hollis. The next time the Jags got the ball, they cut the score to 12-10 with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive. After a controversial pass interference penalty wiped out a Tory James interception for Denver, Means gained 29 yards on a reception at the Broncos 42, and later took the ball across the goal line on an 8-yard run. Following a Denver punt, Jacksonville got the ball back with 57 seconds left. Mark Brunell then completed a 43-yard pass to receiver Jimmy Smith to set up Hollis' 42-yard field goal, giving the team a 13-12 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Denver was limited to 14 plays for 37 yards. Meanwhile, Brunell connected on a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell. Hollis later kicked a 22-yard field goal at the end of an 88-yard, 12-play drive that included James Stewart's 25-yard reception and a 12-men in the huddle penalty against the Broncos that gave Jacksonville a first down as they were getting ready to punt. This score, the 5th consecutive scoring possession against the 4th ranked defense in the NFL, gave the Jags a 23–12 lead with less than 11 minutes left in the game. On Denver's next series, Hebron's 38-yard kickoff return fired up a 57-yard drive that ended on Davis' 2-yard touchdown run, and then his successful two-point conversion run shrunk the lead to 23–20. But Jacksonville responded with another touchdown drive, featuring a 29-yard run by Brunell to the Denver 21-yard line in which he covered both sidelines, broke one tackle and eluded three other defenders. Shortly later, he finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Smith with 3:39 remaining, making the score 30–20. The Broncos then drove 80 yards in six plays and scored on Elway's 15-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey with 1:50 left, but they had no timeouts left and Jason Elam's botched onside kick attempt traveled just 5 yards, drawing a penalty that gave Jacksonville the win..
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. Means rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 4 passes for 46. Davis rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 7 passes for 24 yards. It was the only playoff game of his career in which he didn't rush for 100 yards.
"What Brunell did at the end of the game was incredible," Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin said. "Our football team just hung in it, and that touchdown to Jimmy Smith in that situation was huge. I told the players at the beginning of the week I believed we could win. I didn't know how it would come down. I didn't give them that script."
"I'm just going to go home, sit on my couch and probably cry," said Sharpe after the game.
The game was featured as one of the NFL's Greatest Games as Ambush at Mile High.
January 5, 1997
AFC: New England Patriots 28, Pittsburgh Steelers 3
In their first home playoff game in 18 years, the Patriots blew out the Steelers 28–3 with 346 yards of total offense, while limiting the Steelers to 213.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Steelers got a taste of what lay in store as Pats quarterback Drew Bledsoe completed a 53-yard pass to Terry Glenn that set up Curtis Martin's 2-yard touchdown run. Pittburgh was quickly forced to punt, and New England took just four plays to score again, the last a 34-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Drew Bledsoe to fullback Keith Byars, giving the team a 14-0 lead just over 7 minutes into the first quarter. Then on the first play of the second quarter, Martin burst through a hole in the right line, dodge a tackle attempt by Carnell Lake, and raced 78 yards for a touchdown, the second longest scoring run in NFL postseason history. Near the end of the half, Steelers defensive back Willie Williams intercepted a pass from Bledsoe to give his team a chance to get back in the game. But Pittsburgh turned the ball over on downs on the Pats 24-yard line and the score remained 21-0 going into halftime.
The Steelers lone score of the game occurred with 3:50 left in the third quarter, when linebacker Chad Brown's interception of a Bledsoe pass led to a 29-yard field goal by Norm Johnson. Pittsburgh then got the ball back on their own 36 following a Patriots punt, but any hope of a comeback was dashed when safety Lawyer Milloy intercepted a pass from Mike Tomczak on the New England 39-yard line. Six plays later, Martin's 23-yard touchdown run increased New England's lead to 28-3. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers managed a drive to the Patriots 15, only to lose the ball again on an interception by linebacker Willie Clay
Martin fished the day with 166 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while running back Dave Meggett returned 7 punts for 72 yards and rushed for 18. Tomczak was held to 110 passing yards and intercepted twice in the final postseason game of his career. He was periodically replaced by versatile quarterback Kordell Stewart, but he fared no better, finishing the game 0/10 on pass attempts. Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 1,431 yards during the season and 102 yards in the previous playoff game, was held to just 43 yards on the ground and was limited by groin and ankle injuries. This was New England's first playoff win since their 1985 Super Bowl season.
"That might be my longest run ever," Martin (a Pittsburgh native) said after the game about his 78-yard score. "College, Pop Warner, everything. To me, the Steelers are my second-favorite team. I kind of worry about when I go home, how infamous I'll be."
NFC: Carolina Panthers 26, Dallas Cowboys 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 when an interception by defensive back Darren Woodson on his own 47 and a 22-yard catch by Michael Irvin sparking a drive to the Panthers 1-yard line. However, Irvin suffered a separated shoulder on his reception and had to miss the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not get into the end zone despite two chances from the 1. Aikman threw an incomplete pass on second down, and on third down, Emmitt Smith was dropped for a three-yard loss, forcing the team to settle for Chris Boniol's 22-yard field goal. On the Panthers ensuing drive, Dallas cornerback Kevin Smith kept it going with a pass interference penalty on third down, enabling Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins to complete the 68-yard possession with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Wesley Walls. On their next series, Winslow Oliver's 15-yard punt return set up a 42-yard drive that ended with Collins' 10-yard touchdown throw to Willie Green, giving the team a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.
The Cowboys countered with a 73-yard drive to score on Aikman's 2-yard touchdown pass to fullback Daryl Johnston, but they failed on the two-point conversion attempt and the Panthers lead was only cut to 14–9. They later got to 14-11 when a bad snap on a Carolina punt attempt went out of the end zone to give the Cowboys a safety. But then Panthers safety Chad Cota intercepted a pass from Aikman 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.
Early in the second half, Oliver fumbled a punt return that Johnston recovered to set up Boniol field goal, cutting the deficit to 3 points at 17–14. But this was as close as they would get, as the Panthers kicked three more field goals over the Cowboys one, one of which was set up by Sam Mills' 24-yard interception return. Down 23-17 with 3:44 left in the game, Dallas managed to force a Carolina punt to get a chance to drive for a winning score, but Anothy Johnson downed Rohn Stark's 39-yard kick on the Cowboys 2-yard line. A few plays later, Panthers safety Pat Terrell intercepted Aikman's pass and returned the ball 49 yards to set up Kasay's game clinching 4th field goal, making the final score 26-17.
January 12, 1997
NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers 30, Carolina Panthers 13
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. Carolina was held to just 251 total yards and had only one drive longer than 42.
Early in the first quarter, Panthers linebacker Sam Mills intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 10 yards to the Packers 3-yard line, setting up Kerry Collins' 3-yard touchdown pass to fullback Howard Griffith. Green Bay struck back with a 35-yard run by Levens before Favre found him in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown catch. But after forcing a punt, Favre inexplicably dropped the ball while scrambling around in the backfield. Carolina lineman Lamar Lathon recovered the fumble 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, Packers defensive tackle Gilbert Brown slapped the ball out of the hands of running back Anthony Johnson and safety LeRoy Butler recovered the fumble, leading to Jacke's third field goal that made the score 30-13 with 10:02 left in the game.
This game is also the first time since 1991 that the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers did not appear in the NFC Championship Game.
AFC Championship: New England Patriots 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 6
Although New England gained just 234 yards compared to the Jags 289, they made up the difference by forcing four turnovers, including three consecutive takeaways on the last three Jacksonville possessions of 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 touchdown on a 1-yard run. After a few punts, New England managed a drive into Jaguars territory, but defensive back Aaron Beasley intercepted Drew Bledsoe's pass at the 8-yard line to keep the score 7–0 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis made a 32-yard field goal at the end of a 13-play, 62-yard drive. Their defense then forced the Patriots to punt, but returner Chris Hudson lost the ball from a hit by Marty Moore and Mike Bartum recovered for New England on the Jags 19-yard line. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 29-yard field goal as a result of the turnover, making the score 10–3. Later on, with 1:29 left in the half, Bledsoe led the Patriots down the field on a 68-yard drive, completing a 19-yard pass to Shawn Jefferson, a 5-yard toss to tight end Ben Coates on 4th and 5, and another completion to Jefferson that moved the ball 38 yards to the Jacksonville 3-yard line. New England could go no further, however, so Vinatieri kicked his second field goal of the day to increase their lead to 13–3 going into halftime
Jacksonville took the second half kickoff and drove to the New England 31-yard line, only to lose the ball when quarterback Mark Brunell was stuffed for no gain on 4th and 1. Three plays later, Bledsoe lost a fumble while being tackled by Kevin Hardy, which linebacker Eddie Robinson recovered for Jacksonville on the Pats 37 to set up a 28-yard Hollis field goal that cut the score to 13–6.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots drove to the Jacksonville 23-yard line. They were in prime position to build a big lead, but Bledsoe was sacked for a 6-yard loss on third down and Vinatieri drilled his 46-yard field goal attempt wide left. Jacksonville took the ball back and drove to the New England 5-yard line, but with just under four minutes left in the game, Patriots defensive back Willie Clay intercepted a Mark Brunell pass in the end zone. Following a punt, Jacksonville got another chance to drive for the tying touchdown with 2:36 left. However, this time they lost the ball on their first play with a fumble by James Stewart. New England defensive back Otis Smith recovered the ball and returned it 47 yards for the game clinching touchdown, giving his team a 20–6 lead. Jacksonville would get one more possession, which ended with an interception by linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
The game was also notable for a power outage (due to the 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.)
Super Bowl XXXI: Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21
- 1996: Jaguars Defeat Bills for Franchise’s First Postseason Win
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)