|Dates||January 8–February 6, 2005|
|Super Bowl XXXIX site|
|Defending champions||New England Patriots|
|Champions||New England Patriots|
The National Football League playoffs for the 2004 season began on January 8, 2005. The postseason tournament concluded with the New England Patriots defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, 24–21, on February 6, at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.
Within each conference, the four division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are 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 hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5 or 6), while the number 2 seed will play 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, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Pittsburgh Steelers (North winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|2||New England Patriots (East winner)||Atlanta Falcons (South winner)|
|3||Indianapolis Colts (South winner)||Green Bay Packers (North winner)|
|4||San Diego Chargers (West winner)||Seattle Seahawks (West winner)|
|5||New York Jets (wild card)||St. Louis Rams (wild card)|
|6||Denver Broncos (wild card)||Minnesota Vikings (wild card)|
|Jan. 9 – RCA Dome||Jan. 16 – Gillette Stadium|
|3||Indianapolis||49||Jan. 23 – Heinz Field|
|Jan. 8 – Qualcomm Stadium||2||New England||41|
|Jan. 15 – Heinz Field|
|5||NY Jets||20*||AFC Championship|
|4||San Diego||17||Feb. 6 – Alltel Stadium|
|Wild card playoffs|
|Jan. 8 – Qwest Field||A2||New England||24|
|Jan. 15 – Georgia Dome|
|5||St. Louis||27||Super Bowl XXXIX|
|4||Seattle||20||Jan. 23 – Lincoln Financial Field|
|Jan. 9 – Lambeau Field||2||Atlanta||10|
|Jan. 16 – Lincoln Financial Field|
Although the Rams barely made the playoffs with an 8–8 record, two of their regular season wins were against Seattle. And they proved they were up to the task again, beating the Seahawks in a back and forth game by scoring a touchdown with 2:11 left to go and then forcing a turnover on their own 5-yard line. With the win, the Rams became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game after going 8–8 in the regular season. St. Louis' defense held Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's second leading rusher during the season, to only 40 yards on 15 carries.
Shortly after the opening kickoff, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger completed a 52-yard pass to Torry Holt at the Seahawks 11-yard line. Three plays later, he threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Holt to give the Rams an early 7–0 lead. Then on Seattle's first play of the game, defensive back Travis Fisher intercepted a pass from Matt Hasselbeck at the Seahawks 44-yard line. Bulger once again tried to go deep, but the Seahawks were ready and Ken Hamlin picked off his pass at the 4. After an exchange of punts, Seattle drove 46 yards in 9 plays and scored with Josh Brown's 47-yard field goal, cutting their deficit to 7–3.
Early in the second quarter, Bulger's 52-yard completion to Kevin Curtis set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Marshall Faulk. But Seattle responded by driving 84 yards in 9 plays. On the eighth play of the drive, Hasselbeck's pass was intercepted, but a 15-yard penalty on Trev Faulk nullified the play and gave Seattle the ball at the Rams 19-yard line. Taking advantage of his second chance, Hasselbeck threw a 19-yard touchdown completion to Bobby Engram on the next play, making the score 14–10.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Seahawks moved the ball 64 yards in 14 plays and scored with Brown's 30-yard field goal, cutting their deficit to 1 point. The Rams responded with a field goal from Jeff Wilkins to retake their 4-point lead, but Hasselbeck stormed back, completing five consecutive passes for 75 yards on Seattle's ensuing drive and finishing it off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson, giving his team their first lead of the game 1:17 into the fourth quarter. But the Rams struck back with an 11-play, 60-yard drive to tie the game with a second field goal from Wilkins. Then after forcing a punt, St. Louis drove 76 yards in seven plays, featuring two key receptions by players who had not caught a pass yet in the game. The first was a 31-yard completion from Bulger to Shaun McDonald on third down and 2. Then three plays later, Bulger threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland with 2:11 left in regulation.
Hasselbeck started out the ensuing drive with three of four completions for 54 yards, moving the ball to the Rams 11-yard line. But over the next two plays, he threw an incompleted pass and was sacked for a 6-yard loss by St. Louis lineman Jimmy Kennedy. After that, he completed a 12-yard pass to Engram, bringing up fourth down and four on the Rams 5-yard line. With 27 seconds left, Hasselbeck tried to connect with Engram in the end zone, but the pass zipped through his hands and the Seahawks turned the ball over on downs.
Bulger finished the game with 313 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Holt caught 6 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Curtis added 4 receptions for 107 yards. Hasselbeck completed 27 of 43 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns, with 1 interception, and rushed for 26 yards. Jackson caught 12 passes for 128 yards.
The game, notably, was also the last of wide receiver Jerry Rice's legendary career.
Also, as of 2017, this is the Rams' last playoff win and their last as the St. Louis Rams as they would relocate to Los Angeles in 2016.
New York entered the game after losing their last two regular season games, but managed to defeat the Chargers with a Doug Brien field goal in overtime. This game proved to be as close and competitive as the earlier playoff game in Seattle, featuring numerous key plays in the fourth quarter and in overtime that kept it going until 14:55 had elapsed in the extra period.
New York took the opening kickoff and drove to the Chargers 11-yard line. But San Diego's defense kept them out of the end zone and Brien missed a 31-yard field goal attempt. In the second quarter, San Diego drove 88 yards and scored with Drew Brees' 26-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell, which was initially ruled an incompletion, but overturned to a touchdown after a replay challenge. Later in the quarter, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against the Chargers on a punt gave New York the ball on the San Diego 37-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback Chad Pennington completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Becht, tying the game at 7. On their ensuing drive, the Chargers mounted a scoring threat by moving the ball to the Jets 37-yard line, but Reggie Tongue intercepted a pass from Brees and the score remained tied at halftime.
After forcing a punt on the opening second half drive, Pennington completed three consecutive passes for 68 yards, the last one a 47-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss. Then after forcing a punt, New York drove 42 yards in eight plays, featuring two receptions by Curtis Martin for 33 yards and scored with a 42-yard field goal from Brien, giving them a 17–7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, the Chargers managed to rally back. First they drove 54 yards in 12 plays and scored with a 35-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding. The Jets responded with a drive to San Diego's 33-yard line, Pennington threw an incomplete pass on third down and they decided to punt rather than risk a 51-yard field goal. The Chargers subsequently moved the ball 80 yards in 10 plays to tie the game on a thrilling drive in which they nearly turned the ball over twice. On the first play, Brees fumbled the ball while being sacked by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, but he recovered it himself. Then he completed a 21-yard pass to tight end Antonio Gates to pick up the first down. One play later, he completed a 44-yard pass to Gates at the Jets 22-yard line. Two runs by LaDainian Tomlinson for 13 yards and a 7-yard run by Brees brought up third down on the Jets 2-yard line. After Tomlinson was tackled for a 1-yard loss, A fourth-down pass Brees with under 20 seconds left fell incomplete into the end zone, but Jets linebacker Eric Barton was penalized for roughing the passer, giving the Chargers a first down from the one-yard line. Brees threw a touchdown pass to Gates on the following play, sending the game into overtime.
After an exchange of punts in overtime, the Chargers drove to the Jets 22-yard line, but Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal attempt late in the extra period, allowing the Jets to come back down the field. Two Pennington completions for 29 yards and a 19-yard run by LaMont Jordan then set up a 28-yard field goal from Brien with five seconds remaining in overtime.
Pennington completed 23 of 33 passes for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moss finished the game with 4 receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown. Brees completed 31 of 42 passes for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Tomlinson rushed for 80 yards and caught 9 passes for 53 yards.
The Colts followed up their wild-card blowout of the Broncos in the previous year's Wild Card Round, and also made up for a loss in Denver's INVESCO Field at Mile High a week earlier with another thrashing. Indianapolis scored a franchise playoff record seven touchdowns and led 35–3 at the half. Colt quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw a record 49 touchdown passes in the 2004 regular season, completed 27 of 33 passes for 457 yards (the second highest total ever in a playoff game) and four touchdowns, including two to receiver Reggie Wayne (who had 10 receptions for 221 yards receiving on the day), and one each to tight end Dallas Clark (who caught 6 passes for 113 yards) and running back James Mungro. Manning and running backs Edgerrin James and Dominic Rhodes scored rushing touchdowns. For Denver, quarterback Jake Plummer threw for 284 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception, while receiver Rod Smith caught 7 passes for 99 yards and a score.
Manning dominated the Broncos in the first quarter, completing 11 of 14 passes for 156 yards. On the Colts second drive of the game, he completed two passes to Wayne for 41 yards and a 25-yard pass to tight end Marcus Pollard before throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mungro. Then after a Denver punt, Manning completed three passes to Clark for 63 yards on an 87-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by James, giving Indianapolis a 14–0 lead with 38 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Denver's opening drive of the second quarter, safety Mike Doss intercepted a pass Plummer on the Colts 41-yard line. One play later, Manning threw a 49-yard completion to Wayne at the Denver 9. Rookie defensive back Kelly Herndon ended the drive by intercepting a pass from Manning in the end zone, but it did not matter. Denver was forced to punt after three plays and Troy Walters returned the ball 9 yards to the Colts 48-yard line. Manning then completed three consecutive passes for 48 yards, the last one a 19-yard touchdown throw to Clark. This time the Broncos managed to respond. Smith caught 2 passes for 41 yards on a 51-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal by Jason Elam, cutting the score to 21–3. Then the Broncos tried to fool the Colts with a surprise onside kick, but it did not work. Indianapolis' Nick Rogers recovered the ball on the Denver 40-yard line, and one play later, Manning threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Wayne. Before the end of the half, the Colts put together another touchdown drive. This time Manning went to Marvin Harrison, who had been dominated all game, completing two passes to him for 41 yards before a 20-yard catch by Wayne moved the ball to the Broncos 1-yard line. Manning finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 6 seconds left in the half, increasing the Colts lead to 35–3.
The Broncos scored on the opening drive of the second half, moving the ball 75 yards and scoring with Plummer's 9-yard touchdown pass to Smith. Then after forcing a punt, they drove 85 yards and scored with Plummer's 35-yard touchdown pass to Jeb Putzier, cutting the score to 35–17. But on the Colts ensuing drive, Wayne caught a screen pass from Manning and took it 43 yards for a touchdown, giving Indianapolis a 42–17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Denver receiver Triandos Luke returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the 43-yard line, setting up a 57-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tatum Bell. But Harrison recovered Elam's onside kick attempt and the Colts subsequently closed out the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown run by Rhodes. This was the last NFL game played on the first-generation AstroTurf.
The Vikings, like the Rams, went 8–8 during the regular season. Furthermore, they had stumbled into the post-season losing 7 of their last 10 games, the worst performance in NFL history by a playoff team in a final 10-game span. Two of their losses, by identical 34–31 scores, came in last-second games to the Packers. This time, however, there was no denying the Vikings as they avenged their regular-season sweep, coming out with a stellar performance on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw for 284 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards, while the Vikings defense, who only intercepted 11 passes all season, picked off Green Bay counterpart Brett Favre four times. Wide receiver Randy Moss caught two touchdowns for Minnesota, but drew controversy for his celebration after his second, which decided the outcome of the contest. Moss pretended to "moon" Packer fans by pretending to pull down his pants, mocking a move done by Packer fans to the losing team's bus as they left Green Bay. The NFL was not amused, and fined Moss $10,000 for his actions a few days later.
On the Vikings' opening drive, Culpepper narrowly avoided a sack with a short completion to running back Moe Williams, who then dodged a tackle attempt from safety Darren Sharper and took off for a 68-yard touchdown reception. The Packers were forced to punt after Favre was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down by Chris Claiborne, and Nate Burleson returned the ball 7 yards to the 45-yard line. Three plays later, Culpepper threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Moss, giving Minnesota a 14–0 lead after just 5:05 had elapsed in the game. A 30-yard kickoff return by Najeh Davenport gave the Packers good field position on their 42-yard line, but two plays later, defensive back Antoine Winfield intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 3 yards to the Vikings 43. After that, Culpepper completed two passes for 19 yards and rushed for 23, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Morten Andersen and increasing the lead to 17–0.
After being completely dominated up to this point, the Packers managed to rally back. First Davenport returned the ensuing kickoff 20 yards to the 38-yard line. Then a 21-yard completion from Favre to Javon Walker set up a 43-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. The Vikings were forced to punt after Culpepper was sacked on third down by Michael Hawthorne, and Green Bay subsequently drove 54 yards in 12 plays and scored on Favre's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bubba Franks, cutting their deficit to 17–10 with 10:24 left in the second quarter. But on the Vikings' next drive, a 29-yard reception by Burleson and a 23-yard run by Culpepper helped move the ball to the Packers 9-yard line. Green Bay seemed to catch a break when Anderson slipped on a field goal attempt, resulting in a block. But on the next play, safety Brian Russell intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 14 yards to the Packers 28-yard line. One play later, Culpepper threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Burleson, putting the Vikings up 24–10. The Packers subsequently drove to Minnesota's 8-yard line, but while scrambling around looking for an open receiver, Favre threw an illegal forward pass when he could have run for a first down. On the next play, Longwell missed a 28-yard field goal.
After a scoreless third quarter, Green Bay drove 78 yards in 9 plays to score on Davenport's 1-yard touchdown run, cutting their deficit to 24–17. But the Vikings responded by driving 66 yards and scoring with a 34-yard touchdown completion for Culpepper to Moss. Then after forcing a punt, Minnesota put the game away with an 8-minute drive that ran the clock down to 23 seconds.
The Jets came out on the losing end of this overtime game when placekicker Doug Brien missed two consecutive field goals at the end of regulation, setting an NFL record of 3 missed game winning field goals in a single post-season. Despite a subpar performance by Steelers' rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers managed to win after Jeff Reed made a game-winning 33-yard field goal 11:04 into the extra period. Steelers running back Jerome Bettis finished the game with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown, along with a 21-yard reception.
The Steelers opened up the scoring with a 43-yard field goal by Reed. Then after the ensuing kickoff, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass from Chad Pennington and returned it 15 yards to the Jets 25-yard line, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Bettis. New York Responded with a 42-yard field goal from Brien on their next drive to cut their deficit to 10–3. Later in the second quarter, Jets receiver Santana Moss returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
Midway through third quarter, Jets defensive back Reggie Tongue intercepted a pass from Roethlisberger and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown. On Pittsburgh's next drive, they drove all the way to New York's 23-yard line. But then Bettis fumbled and New York's Erik Coleman recovered it. After forcing a punt, the Steelers drove into scoring range for the third consecutive drive, this time scoring with Roethlisbeger's 4-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward to tie it at 17.
The Jets responded with a drive inside the Steelers 30-yard line, but Brien missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with 2 minutes left in regulation. Two plays later, New York defensive back David Barrett gave his team another chance to score the winning points by intercepting a pass from Roethlisberger and returning it 25 yards to Pittsburgh's 36-yard line. But Brien missed another field goal, this one from 43 yards, as time expired in the fourth quarter, and the game went into overtime.
The Jets won the coin toss, but were forced to punt. Pittsburgh then drove 72 yards in 14 plays and won the game with a 33-yard field goal from Reed.
In a classic rout, quarterback Michael Vick and the Falcons steamrolled over the Rams in their first home playoff game since 1999, scoring on six of their nine possessions, while racking up 327 rushing yards and 232 yards on special teams. Vick combined for 201 yards (including 119 rushing yards, a playoff record for a quarterback) and threw 2 touchdown passes, while running back Warrick Dunn rushed for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns. Allen Rossum set an NFL post-season record with 152 punt return yards and added another 80 on kickoff returns.
On the Falcons opening drive, Vick rushed for 47 yards and later threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler, giving his team a 7–0 lead after just 3:02 had elasped in the game. The Rams responded with Marc Bulger's 57-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis, but four plays after the ensuing kickoff, Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn scored on a 62-yard touchdown run.
Early in the second quarter, Atlanta drove 80 yards in 13 plays. Dunn rushed for 46 total yards on the drive and caught a pass for 2, eventually finishing it off with a 19-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 21–7 lead. The Rams struck back with an 8-play, 75-yard drive in which Stephen Jackson had three carries for 29 yards. On the last play, Bulger threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt. Then linebacker Tommy Polley ended Atlanta's next drive by forcing a recovering a fumble from Vick on the Rams 18-yard line. But the Falcons defense forced a punt and Rossum returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.
The Rams responded by driving 43 yards and scoring on Jeff Wilkins' 55-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 28–17 on the last play of the second quarter, but the Falcons dominated the second half. First they forced the Rams to punt, and Rossum returned the ball 39 yards to the St. Louis 32-yard line. Five plays later, Vick threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price. Then Rossum returned the Rams next punt 45 yards to the Rams 13-yard line, setting a 38-yard field goal by Jay Feely. Throughout the rest of the game, the Falcons intercepted a pass from Bulger, forced him to lose a fumble, and Brady Smith sacked him in the end zone for a safety. After the safety, Atlanta drove 58 yards in 15 plays, taking 9:45 off the clock on the way to running back T. J. Duckett's 4-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes left in the game.
Bulger finished with 292 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Curtis caught 7 passes for 128 yards. Duckett rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown. As of the 2017 season this is the most recent playoff appearance for the Rams. It's also the last playoff game as the St Louis Rams as they would relocate to Los Angeles in 2016.
The Eagles advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the fourth straight year on the strength of quarterback Donovan McNabb (21 out of 33 completions for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns). Meanwhile, the Vikings repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties (including 3 pass interference calls for 78 yards), turnovers (including two third quarter interceptions), and other miscues. The most notable was a blown fake field goal attempt which failed because they did not send the right personnel onto the field.
Midway through the first quarter, McNabb scored the first points of the game with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Mitchell. The next time the Eagles got the ball, McNabb completed a 52-yard pass to receiver Greg Lewis, setting up his second touchdown pass on a 7-yard toss to Brian Westbrook. Mewelde Moore returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to his own 42-yard line, and two plays later, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw a 40-yard completion to Marcus Robinson. After that, he finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, cutting the score to 14–7. But the Eagle struck right back on their next drive. First, J. R. Reed returned the kickoff 48 yards to the Vikings 46-yard line. After two penalties against Minnesota gave them 33 yards, McNabb completed two passes to tight end L. J. Smith. Smith fumbled the ball on the second pass, but Mitchell recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, increasing the Eagles' lead to 21–7.
The Vikings responded with a drive to Philadelphia's 3-yard line. On fourth down, coach Mike Tice called a fake field goal that was supposed to involve backup quarterback Gus Frerotte passing the ball. But the lineman next to the long snapper didn't hear the call. He remained in and Randy Moss, who was supposed to receive the pass, had to run off the field to avoid a penalty. When the ball was snapped, a confused Frerotte had no receivers to pass too, and was forced to throw the ball away. The Eagles then drove 93 yards the Vikings 4-yard line, but were unable to stop the clock from running out before they could score.
After a scoreless third quarter, Philadelphia kicker David Akers kicked two field goals in the final period. The Vikings managed to respond with an 80-yard drive capped by Culpepper's 32-yard touchdown pass to Robinson, but they could not recover the onside kick and the Eagles ran out the rest of the clock.
Culpepper threw for 354 yards and 1 touchdown, but was intercepted twice. Robinson caught five passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Westbrook rushed for 70 yards and caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
In a snowstorm, the Patriots dismantled the league's highest scoring team by forcing three turnovers and holding them to just 276 yards and 3 points, their lowest point total since their opening game of the 2003 season. Peyton Manning suffered his seventh loss in Foxborough, even though he had more yards passing than Brady did in the game. The Patriots limited Manning to 238 passing yards with 1 interception and no touchdowns, and Edgerrin James to just 39 rushing yards. The Patriots also held possession of the ball for 37:43, including 21:26 in the second half and recording three long scoring drives that each took over 7 minutes off the clock. New England running back Corey Dillon, playing in his first career playoff game after suffering through 7 losing seasons as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, rushed for 144 yards and caught 5 passes for 17 yards.
Both teams defenses dominated early, as the first five possessions of the game ended in punts. But after that, the Patriots put together a 16-play, 78 yards scoring drive that took 9:07 off the clock. They lost a touchdown when Dillons' 1-yard score was overturned by a penalty, but Adam Vinatieri kicked a 24-yard field goal to give them a 3–0 lead. The next time New England got the ball, a 42-yard run by Dillon set up another Vinatieri field goal, increasing the Patriots lead to 6–0. The Colts responded with a drive to New England's 39-yard line, but linebacker Tedy Bruschi ended it by forcing and recovering a fumble from running back Dominic Rhodes. After a Patriots punt, Manning led the Colts 67 yards to a Mike Vanderjagt field goal, cutting the score to 6–3 going into halftime.
But the Patriots dominated the second half, holding the ball for nearly all the time in regulation with two long drives. After a criticized Indianapolis punt on 4th and 1 from the New England side of the field, the Patriots drove 87 yards in 15 plays on a drive that consumed 8:16 and ended with Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to David Givens. At the end of the Colts next drive, Hunter Smith's 54-yard punt pinned New England back at their own 6-yard line. But it didn't stop them. The Patriots stormed down the field on a 14-play, 94-yard drive that ate up another 7:24. Dillon rushed for 35 yards and caught a pass for 9 on the drive, including a 27-yard run on third down and 8, while Brady finished it with a 1-yard touchdown run, gving the Patriots a 20–3 lead with just over 7 minutes left in the game. Then two plays after the ensuing kickoff, safety Rodney Harrison stripped the ball from Reggie Wayne and Bruschi recovered it, allowing his team to take more time off the clock. Indianapolis responded with a drive to the Patriots 20-yard line, but Harrison intercepted Manning's pass in the end zone with 10 seconds left.
Despite a game-time temperature of 17 °F (−8 °C) and a swirling wind that sent wind chills into sub-zero temperatures, the Eagles finally succeeded in advancing to the Super Bowl in their fourth straight NFC Championship Game appearance. The Eagles' defense held Michael Vick to a combined total of 162 yards, sacking him four times. Tight end Chad Lewis caught two touchdown passes of three and two yards from Donovan McNabb; however, he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the process of catching the second touchdown, and would miss the Super Bowl.
On their first drive of the game, the Eagles drove to Atlanta's 32-yard line. But they turned the ball over after trying to convert a fourth down with a fake field goal attempt. The next time they got the ball, a 36-yard run by Brian Westbrook and a 21-yard catch by L. J. Smith set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Dorsey Levens, giving them a 7–0 lead. Atlanta responded with a drive to the Eagles 3-yard line, but was forced to settle for a Jay Feely field goal after Vick was sacked by Hollis Thomas on third down. Six plays after the ensuing kickoff, Greg Lewis' 45-yard reception moved the ball to the Falcons 4-yard line, setting up McNabb's 3-yard touchdown pass to Chad Lewis one play later. Atlanta struck right back on their next drive, moving the ball 70 yards in just five plays, one a 31-yard reception by tight end Alge Crumpler, and scoring with Warrick Dunn's 10-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left in the first half.
The Eagles dominated the second half, forcing Atlanta to punt on every possession except one which resulted in an interception, and their last one, which ended when they turned the ball over on downs. Meanwhile, Eagles kicker David Akers kicked two field goals, one at the 60-yard drive to start the second half, and the second set up by Brian Dawkins' 19-yard interception return to the Falcons 11-yard line. A 65-yard drive in the fourth quarter, featuring McNabb's 20-yard pass to Greg Lewis, resulted in the final score of the game; McNabb's 2-yard touchdown toss to Chad Lewis with 3:21 left in regulation
McNabb threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 32 yards. Westbrook rushed for 96 yards and caught five passes for 39. Atlanta defensive back Allen Rossum returned 4 kickoffs for 102 yards and 2 punts for 20.
The game-time temperature of 11 °F (−12 °C) made it the second-coldest game ever in Pittsburgh and the coldest ever in Steel City playoff annals. However, it was the Patriots that handed Ben Roethlisberger his first loss as a starter after a 14-game winning streak, the longest by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, as the Steelers became the second NFL team ever to record a 15–1 record and fail to reach the Super Bowl. The Patriots converted four Pittsburgh turnovers into 24 points, while committing no turnovers themselves. The Patriots' win also prevented an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl from being played.
The Steelers never recovered from their poor performance in the first quarter. Patriots defensive back Eugene Wilson intercepted Roethlisberger's first pass of the game on his own 48-yard line, setting up Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal to take a 3–0 lead. Pittsburgh responded with a drive to the Patriots 39-yard line. But then running back Jerome Bettis lost a fumble while being tackled by Rosevelt Colvin and linebacker Mike Vrabel recovered it. On the next play, Tom Brady threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to receiver Deion Branch.
With 1:28 left in the first quarter, the Steelers cut their deficit to 10–3 with Jeff Reed's 23-yard field goal. But after an exchange of punts, Branch caught a 45-yard reception on Pittsburgh's 14-yard line. Two plays later, Brady threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to David Givens. Then on the Steelers ensuing drive, safety Rodney Harrison intercepted a pass from Roethlisberger and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 24–3 halftime lead.
In the second half, the teams scored three consecutive touchdowns. New England was forced to punt on the opening drive of the third quarter, and Antwaan Randle El returned the ball 9 yards to the Steelers 44-yard line. Then on the Steelers ensuing possession, he caught two passes for 46 yards as they drove 56 yards in five plays. Bettis finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, cutting their deficit to 24–10. New England responded by moving the ball 69 yards in seven plays and scoring with Corey Dillon's 25-yard touchdown run. But Pittsburgh stormed right back, driving 60 yards in ten plays and scoring with Roethlisberger's 30-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. Then after forcing a punt, Randle El returned the ball 22 yards to the Steelers 49-yard line. On their ensuing drive, Ward's 26-yard reception on the last play of the third quarter set up Reed's second field goal, making the score 31–20 with 13:32 left in the game.
However, the Patriots took over the rest of the quarter. They responded with a 49-yard drive that took 5:26 off the clock and ended with Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal. Then two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Wilson intercepted another pass from Roethlisberger at New England's 45-yard line. The Patriots subsequently marched down the field on another long scoring drive, taking 5:06 off the clock. Branch capped it off with a 23-yard touchdown run on a reverse play, giving the Patriots a 41–20 lead. The Steelers responded with Roethlisberger's 7-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress on their next drive, but by then there was only 1:31 left in the game.
Brady completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. Dillon rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown. Branch caught 4 passes for 116 yards, rushed for 37 yards, and scored two touchdowns. Roethlisberger threw for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, and rushed for 45 yards, but was intercepted 3 times. Ward caught 5 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
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