The second round of the Greatest of All Time playoffs comes today and, with it, a host of enticing fictional matchups for WhatIfSports to ponder and consider in its relatively infinite wisdom. The ’91 Redskins handed the ’99 Rams one of their only three losses during the regular season, but can they repeat that feat on the road? The ’92 Cowboys beat the ’85 Bears in Chicago during the regular season – will the Bears get a measure of revenge today in Texas Stadium? And will the ’79 Chargers win their fifteenth game in a row to get to the AFC Championship game? In a way, it’s possible that we’ll never know the true answers to those questions. In another, more factual way, we’ll find out the answers in a few seconds.
Fred Taylor scored on touchdown runs of six and ten yards and the Jaguars outgained the Chargers 394-252 to score their second stunning upset in a row and move on to the AFC Championship next week. Taylor only rushed for a total of 38 yards on 14 carries, but James Stewart provided the main rushing push between the 20s, gaining 108 yards on 18 attempts. Mark Brunell added 229 passing yards on just 24 attempts – Jimmy Smith caught seven of Brunell’s passes for 97 yards. The Chargers led 3-0 after the first quarter, but Taylor finished off a six-play, 79-yard drive with his first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. After receiving the second half kickoff up 10-9, the Jaguars went on a ten-play, 88-yard drive that lasted over six minutes and was capped by Taylor’s ten-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense held Dan Fouts to a 16-of-33 day for 232 yards and gave up only 49 yards on the ground.
Kurt Warner went 17-of-23 for 240 yards and three touchdown passes and the Rams easily avenged their regular season loss to the Redskins to move on to the NFC Championship. Washington limited Marshall Faulk to just 52 combined rushing and receiving yards on 17 touches, but the remainder of the Greatest Show on Turf cast picked up the slack as Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl all caught touchdown passes from Warner. Mark Rypien performed well in defeat for the Redskins, going 19-of-29 for 263 yards and no turnovers but Washington was only able to gain 78 yards on 33 rushing attempts, putting Rypien and the Redskin passing game behind the 8 ball too often on 3rd downs.
Just like the Jaguars and Rams before them, the Bears avenged a regular season loss via 124 rushing yards and a touchdown from Walter Payton and a strong showing from their defense to beat the Cowboys on the road and advance to the NFC Championship Game next week. Dallas scored easily on the first possession of the game, moving 79 yards on just four plays to score on a 36-yard touchdown run from Curvin Richards. From then on, though, Dallas had major trouble moving the ball — Troy Aikman went only 12-of-24 for 157 yards and an interception and Emmitt Smith gained just 61 yards on 23 carries. The Bears took the lead late in the first half on a 2-yard touchdown run from Dennis Gentry and expanded it to 17-7 on Payton’s 34-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. From there, the Cowboys offense couldn’t move past the Bears 48-yard line and never seriously threatened to score.
In a game marked by six lead changes, the Patriots got the last laugh on Stephen Gostkowski’s 42-yard field goal with no time left and defeated the Titans to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The field goal capped a wild fourth quarter that started with the Patriots clinging to a 10-9 lead. Al Del Greco’s fourth field goal of the game gave the Titans the lead back with 7:38 remaining, but after Laurence Maroney gained 43 yards on a pitch play, Tom Brady hit Kevin Faulk with a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 17-12 lead with 5:42 left in the game. With under two minutes remaining, though, Steve McNair hit Carl Pickens with a 43-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans an 18-17 lead. Eddie George’s resulting two-point conversion attempt, however, was stopped short of the goal line and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 26-yard line with 1:10 remaining needing just a field goal for the win. After Brady hit Ben Watson with a 21-yard pass to convert a crucial third down with 27 seconds left, Gostkowski came on to kick his second field goal of the day.
Next week: The playoffs begin to wind down with the conference championship games.
AFC: #5 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (11-7) at #2 2007 New England Patriots (14-3)
NFC: #3 1985 Chicago Bears (13-5) at #1 1999 St. Louis Rams (14-3)