This is the second half of my greatest conference title games ever. Today will focus on the National Football Conference.
1981: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
There are catches and then there is "The Catch."
In what would be many memorable game-winning drives by Joe Montana, he would find receiver Dwight Clark for a leaping grab at the back of the end zone to score the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game.
Rafael Septien made a 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give Dallas a 21-20 lead. Then, cornerback Everson Walls recovered a fumble to set up Danny White's 21-yard touchdown to tight end Doug Crosbie to give Dallas a 27-21 advantage.
With 4:54 left in the game, San Francisco found themselves with the ball at their own 11-yard line. They marched 83 yards to the Dallas 6, where Montana threw a high pass that Clark just managed to grab for the game winning touchdown.
However, the Cowboys still had enough time left in the game for one last drive. White threw a completion to Drew Pearson that almost went for a touchdown, but defensive back Eric Wright made a key tackle by getting one hand inside Pearson's jersey and dragging him down.
Two plays later, Lawrence Pillers sacked While, forcing a fumble that was recovered by 49ers lineman Jim Stuckey, and the 49ers had their victory.
1983: Redskins 24, 49ers 21
After the 49ers overcame a 21-0 deficit in the fourth quarter, two controversial penalties against San Francisco led to Redskins kicker Mark Moseley overcoming an awful day and making the winning field goal.
After Moseley missed his fourth field goal of the day, a 41 yarder, wide receiver Freddie Solomon scored on a 76-yard touchdown pass from quarteback Joe Montana.
With 7:08 remaining, Wilson tied the game, 21-21 with a 12-yard touchdown reception.
The Redskins then marched on a 13-play, 78-yard drive that took 6:12 off the clock and set up Moseley's game-winning 25-yard field goal with 40 seconds left.
This possession was aided by two controversial penalties:
First, on second-and-10 on the San Francisco 45, Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann threw a long incompletion intended for Art Monk but cornerback Eric Wright was called for pass interference at the 18-yard line; nobody had a reasonable chance to catch the ball, which, under the rule, would have nullified any pass interference penalty.
Then, on third-and-5 from the San Francisco 13, Ronnie Lott was called for holding on what seemed to be a harmless act with receiver Charlie Brown far away from where the pass fell incomplete.
1987: Redskins 17, Vikings 10
Cornerback Darrell Green made sure the Washington Redskins returned to the Super Bowl.
After Vikings kicker Chuck Nelson made an 18-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10 the Redskins marched 70 yards to score on quarterback Doug Williams' 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Gary Clark to take the lead, 17-10, with 5:06 remaining in the game.
Minnesota then advanced to the Washington 6-yard line, but quarterback Wade Wilson's fourth down pass was batted down by Green in the end zone.
1990: Giants 15, 49ers 13
In a stunning upset, Giants kicker Matt Bahr's 42-yard game-winning field goal as time ran out gave Bill Parcells and New York an unlikely conference title against the former champions.
Bahr was New York's only scorer, as he made five out of six field goals. 49ers running back Roger Craig's fumble with 2:36 left led to the winning kick.
In the third quarter, a 61-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Montana to John Taylor gave San Francisco the lead, 13-6. Bahr then made a 46-yard field goal that cut the lead, 13-9. In the fourth quarter, a sack by New York's Leonard Marshall knocked Montana out of the game.
Then, a 30-yard run from New York linebacker Gary Reasons on a fake punt set up Bahr's fourth field goal, cutting their deficit to 13-12.
San Francisco, now led by backup quarterback Steve Young, tried to run out the clock on their ensuing possession, but Craig fumbled the ball, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor recovered it, and Bahr kicked his winning field goal five plays later.
1992: Cowboys 30, 49ers 20
In a game remembered not so much for the score but for Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson's famous "How bout them Cowboys!" post-game speech, Dallas forced four critical turnovers that led to 10 points although they were outgained in yardge, 416 to 415.
Their first touchdown came gift-wrapped courtesy of a fumble by San Francisco's Ricky Watters yet the game was tied at halftime at 10.
In the fourth quarter, Cowboys linebacker Ken Norton, Jr., intercepted a pass from 49ers quarterback Steve Young (313 yards, TD) and returned it to the 49ers 45, and Dallas subsequently marched to the 7.
Rather than attempt a field goal on fourth-and-1, Emmitt Smith attempted to run for the first down, but was stopped for no gain. The 49ers then drove 93 yards to score on Jerry Rice's five-yard touchdown catch, cutting the lead to 24-20 with 4:22 left in the game.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman (322 yards, two touchdowns) threw a 14-yard pass to Alvin Harper, who ended up running for a 70 yards to the San Francisco 9.
Three plays later, wide receiver Kelvin Martin scored on a 6-yard touchdown reception, making it 30-20 (the extra point was blocked) with 3:43 to play. The 49ers attempted one last drive to come back, but Young was intercepted once again, this time by James Washington.
The 49ers would break their losing streak against Dallas in a shootout in the 1994 title game.
1995: Cowboys 38, Packers 27
The Cowboys overcame a Packers 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter as NFL MVP Brett Favre and reigning Super Bowl MVP Troy Aikman engaged in a slugfest.
Green Bay scored first on kicker Chris Jacke's 36-yard field goal, but Aikman responded by throwing two touchdowns to Michael Irvin.
Favre countered with two touchdown passes of his own: a 73-yarder to Robert Brooks and a 24-yard pass to tight end Keith Jackson.
However, Cowboys kicker Chris Boniol made a 34-yard field goal to tie the game, 17-17. Dallas then took the lead with 24 seconds before halftime after marching 99 yards to score on running back Emmitt Smith's 1-yard touchdown.
Green Bay then scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 27-24 lead with Jacke's 37-yard field goal and 1-yard touchdown from Favre to Brooks.
Dallas regained the lead in the fourth quarter after Emmitt Smith's five-yard touchdown capped off a 90-yard possession.
Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown's 28-yard interception return set up Smith's third touchdown, a 16-yard run, to clinch the victory.
This was the third consecutive year that Dallas eliminated the Packers from the playoffs.
1998: Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT)
They are still known as the greatest team to never win a Super Bowl.
Falcons kicker Morten Anderson made a 38-yard field goal in overtime that sent Atlanta to its first ever Super Bowl and sent Vikings fans (as well as the whole NFL) into a state of shock.
The Falcons came into the game as 11-point underdogs, but managed to win an extremely competitive game, making Minnesota the first 15-1 team ever to fail to reach the Super Bowl; they would be joined by the 2004 Steelers.
The 1998 Vikings scored a then-NFL record 556 points, sparked by rookie sensation Randy Moss and a rejuvenated Randall Cunningham.
Minnesota held a 20-14 halftime lead and Atlanta forced the Vikings to punt on the opening drive of the second half and two plays by receiver Tim Dwight, a 26-yard punt return and a 21-yard run, set up Morten Andersen's 27-yard field goal to cut their deficit to 3 points.
The Vikings countered on their ensuing possession, driving 82 yards in 15 plays and scoring on Matthew Hatchette's 5-yard catch from Randall Cunningham (266 yards, 2 TD) to make the score 27-17 with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta responded by driving inside the Vikings 10 and scored with Andersen's 24-yard field goal, narrowing the gap to 27-20. Minnesota took the ensuing kickoff and marched down to the Falcons 30-yard line, but lost their scoring opportunity when Cunningham fumbled a snap and Atlanta recovered the ball.
The Falcons subsequently marched deep into Vikings territory, but also failed to score when Chandler's incomplete pass on a fourth down and 2 attempt turned the ball over on downs with 6 minutes left in regulation.
Minnesota then drove to the Falcons 20-yard line, setting up a 38-yard field goal attempt for Anderson, who had not missed a field goal all season. Another successful kick would have all but wrapped up the NFC title for Minnesota, but Anderson's kick sailed wide left, giving the ball back to Atlanta with 2:07 left and new life.
Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler (340 yards, 3 TD) then led his team down to the Vikings 16. Following a dropped interception by Minnesota LB Dwayne Rudd, Robert Mathis' 16-yard touchdown tied the game with 49 seconds left and sent it into overtime.
In overtime, Chandler, bothered by a hobbling ankle, drove his team 70 yards to the Vikings 20 where Andersen made his legendary kick.
2000: Rams 11, Buccaneers 6
The Rams broke open a defensive dominated game when Rams quarterback Kurt Warner threw a 30-yard touchdown to Ricky Proehl with 4:44 left in the game.
Warner was intercepted three times by the Buccaneers defense, including a costly one to Hardy Nickerson on the Tampa Bay 3.
Late in the fourth quarter, Dre' Bly intercepted a pass from Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King at the Buccaneers 49.
After Warner's 30-yard pass to Proehl that gave them the lead, King responded by leading the Bucs to the St. Louis 22-yard line. With 47 seconds left in the game, his potential 11-yard completion to Bert Emmanuel was controversially overturned by a replay challenge (the play led the NFL to adopt the "Bert Emanuel rule" after the season).
King then threw two straight incompletions to end the game.
2007: Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT)
The New York Giants were road warriors in 2007 en route to Super Bowl XLII.
Their biggest test game in minus-1 degree temperatures in Lambeau Field against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
Ironically, it was 17 years to the day after their win over the 49ers in the 1990 NFC Championship game, the Giants won the 2007 NFC Championship and 17 years to the day that Matt Bahr kicked the winning field goal to send the Giants to the Super Bowl, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes did the exact same thing.
Tynes' kick came in the first overtime conference title game since 1998 after missing a potential game-winner with four seconds left in regulation.
In winning, New York set an NFL record with their 10th consecutive road win and for the third playoff game in a row, Giants quarterback Eli Manning didn't throw an interception, finishing the game with 254 yards passing.
His top target was Plaxico Burress who set a franchise postseason record with 11 catches for 154 yards.
After Trynes' miss, Green Bay won the coin toss to start the extra period but on the second play of overtime Favre's pass, which would be his last as a Packer, was intercepted by Giants cornerback Corey Webster, who returned the ball 9 yards to the Green Bay 34.
The Giants then gained five yards on three plays and then sent Tynes out to try his fifth field goal of the game, and his longest attempt of the day (47 yards) and just as Matt Bahr had done in 1990 against San Francisco, Tynes connected on the kick, clinching a fourth NFC Championship for the Giants and their first since 2000.
The Giants, the NFC's No. 5 seed, became just the second NFC wild-card team ever to win a conference championship, joining the 1975 Cowboys, and the third team ever (and first NFC team) to reach the Super Bowl with three road playoff wins, joining the 1985 Patriots and 2005 Steelers.
After the final whistle of the Chargers/Steelers matchup, I'll end this series with the top five Super Bowls of all time.
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