Not a lot of games to pick from here. The NFL experimented with playing two games during the 1971 playoffs on Christmas Day and got a lot of negative impacts, especially when the second game of the day lasted well over four hours and interrupted a lot of families dinner times. So from 1972-1988, there were no Christmas day games. So our list today will consist of the top 5 NFL games ever played on Christmas.
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Both teams were locked in neck-and-neck divisional races; with the Patriots beating the Bears and the Packers downed the Buccaneers the day before, and the Vikings still had to face the 49ers on Monday Night, both teams had the motive to win. It would not happen for the Lions as Dave Krieg was intercepted twice, and Barry Sanders was held amazingly to 52 yards. Bernie Parmalee had 39 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Dolphins won 27-20, winning the AFC East while the Lions made the playoffs as the NFC’s fifth seed.
Buddy Ryan’s defense was spectacular all day and dominated the 49ers offense. The Houston Oilers’ defense held the 49ers to a season-low in scoring and forced two interceptions and a fumble by Steve Young, the league’s leading passer, in a 10-7 Oiler victory over the 49ers. Oilers QB Warren Moon was injured and replaced by backup QB Cody Carlson with seven minutes left, and Carlson proceeded to lead a clock-killing drive to end the game.
Coming off a 13-3 season, the Chiefs were hopeful for another playoff appearance going into 2004. But by Christmas Day, Kansas City’s playoff dreams were over. Sitting at 6-8 and playing for pride, the Chiefs weren’t about to lay down to their biggest rival, the Oakland Raiders, in Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas.
The Chiefs had already lost Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock due to injury. Larry Johnson took over the running back duties and had been rolling the past three weeks with three straight 100+ yard rushing games. The Chiefs were going up against Oakland’s 31st ranked defense, but the Chiefs defense was ranked 32nd.
Not surprisingly, the game was high-scoring. Trent Green threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns, mainly Tony Gonzalez. Larry Johnson had 122 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. On the other side, Kerry Collins had thrown two touchdowns for Oakland.
The Raiders led 30-28 with 1:03 left in the game. The Chiefs’ high-powered offense was good enough to drive down the field in one minute, but it didn’t need to. Kick returner Dante Hall took the kickoff, waited for some blocks and returned it 49 yards to the Raiders’ 36-yard line. At that point, the Chiefs just needed a few plays.
Kansas City followed Hall’s return with a 6-yard pass to Chris Horn, then a 7-yard pass to Gonzalez, and a 3-yard run by Johnson before Green spiked the ball at the Raiders’ 20. With 26 seconds left, Chiefs kicker Lawrence Tynes nailed a 38-yard field goal to win a 31-30 victory.
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Both teams needed a win in this game to win their division title. The Bengals entered the 1989 season as the defending AFC Champions but were inconsistent. The week before this game, the Bengals had beaten the Oilers 61-7.
The Vikings started the game off well as QB Wade Wilson passed to RB Rick Fenney for a 26-yard gain on the game’s first play from scrimmage and proceeded to drive 65 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 31-yard field goal by Rich Karlis. Minnesota marched to another Karlis field goal of 37 yards following a Cincinnati punt and held a 6-0 lead after one quarter.
It appeared that Minnesota might take absolute control in the second quarter as Karlis booted two more field goals, from 22 and 42 yards, and in between, following an interception of an Esiason pass by safety Darrell Fullington, Wilson tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Fenney. The score was 19-0 midway through the period. However, the Bengals finally got on the board thanks to a 10-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by Esiason’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
Cincinnati got the ball back once more in the last two minutes of the half. Esiason came out throwing but, after the Bengals had driven into Minnesota territory at the 43, he was intercepted by LB Scott Studwell. A 50-yard pass play from Wilson to WR Hassan Jones got the Vikings down to the Cincinnati seven. Karlis, who had already tied the existing league record with a seven-field goal performance earlier in the season, booted his fifth from 24 yards. It was 22-7 at the half but could have been far more lopsided.
Three plays into the third quarter; the margin narrowed as Esiason connected with Holman for a 65-yard touchdown. While it was 22-14, both offenses bogged down, and the Vikings sacked Esiason three times and forced two fumbles. After the second fumble recovery, Minnesota drove to the Cincinnati 15, but Fenney fumbled, and DE Jason Buck recovered for the Bengals to snuff out the threat.
Near the end of the period, Vikings LB Mark Dusbabek intercepted Esiason at the Cincinnati 43. Still, the ensuing possession failed to add to the Minnesota lead when, now into the fourth quarter, Karlis missed a 52-yard field goal that hit the right upright and bounced away.
The Bengals drove down the field, converting a third-and-fifteen situation with an Esiason completion to McGee for 18 yards. Five plays later, the quarterback threw to RB Craig Taylor for an 18-yard touchdown, and with the successful extra point by Jim Breech, Minnesota’s lead was now down to one point at 22-21.
It was the turn of the Vikings to put together a long drive, and, helped along by three penalties on the Bengals, they got down to the one-yard line. On a fourth-and-goal play, Coach Burns passed up the easy field goal and chose to go for the touchdown – he was rewarded when Wilson completed a pass to reserve TE Brent Novoselsky for a TD. The successful PAT by Karlis put Minnesota up by eight points.
The teams traded punts, and, with just over three minutes remaining, Cincinnati took over at its five-yard line and began to move methodically down the field. Esiason was successful on his first eight passes, and a 17-yard completion to McGee on fourth-and-two took the Bengals to the Minnesota 22 yard line. However, the drive stalled, and a penalty wiped out an apparent fourth-down scoring pass to Brown. The Vikings held on to win by a score of 29-21.
In the longest NFL game played to date at 82 minutes, 40 seconds (and the Chiefs’ last-ever game at Municipal Stadium), Miami kicker Garo Yepremian kicked the winning 37-yard field goal after 7:40 of the second overtime period.
The Chiefs opened up the scoring with Jan Stenerud’s 24-yard field goal. Then Chiefs defensive back Willie Lanier intercepted a pass from Bob Griese and returned it 17 yards to set up Len Dawson’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Ed Podolak, increasing the lead to 10–0. However, Griese rallied the Dolphins back on their next drive, completing a 23-yard pass to Paul Warfield and a 16-yarder to tight end Marv Fleming on the way to Larry Csonka’s 1-yard touchdown run. Shortly before halftime, the Dolphins defense recovered a fumble from Podolak deep in Chiefs territory, enabling Garo Yepremian to kick a 14-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10.
Kansas City retook the lead in the third quarter on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 10 minutes off the clock and ended with Jim Otis’ 1-yard score. Miami responded quickly, though, storming right back to tie the game with a 1-yard touchdown run from Jim Kiick.
Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti recovered a fumble from giving his team a significant scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter. But Kansas City took the ball right back when safety Jim Lynch intercepted Griese’s pass on the Chiefs 9-yard line. Kansas City then stormed 91 yards, including a 63-yard completion from Dawson to rookie receiver Elmo Wright to retake the lead, 24–17, with Podolak’s 3-yard touchdown run. Miami struck right back as Griese completed passes to Warfield for gains of 17 and 26 yards before finishing the 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Fleming, tying the game at 24 with 1:25 left in regulation. Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins 22-yard line before being shoved out of bounds by Miami’s Curtis Johnson, giving Stenerud a chance to win the game for the Chiefs in the final minute of regulation. But he missed the field goal attempt from 31 yards, and the game went into overtime.
Kansas City took the opening kickoff of the first overtime period, and Podolak returned it to the 46-yard line. Kansas City drove into scoring range, but Stenerud’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Yepremian also tried a 52-yard field goal later in the period but missed. As the first overtime period ended, Dolphins safety Jake Scott intercepted a pass from Dawson on the Chiefs 46. But the team was unable to move the ball and had to punt. Following a Kansas City punt, Csonka’s 29-yard run set up Yepremian’s game-winning score.
“I don’t think anyone playing in a big game, a monumental game like that, had a day like Eddie Podolak had,” said Chiefs coach Hank Stram after the game. In this game, Podolak’s 350 all-purpose yards (8 receptions for 110 yards, 17 carries for 85 yards, three kickoff returns for 154 yards, two punt returns for two yards) remain an NFL playoff record and is still the fourth-highest total in NFL history. Chiefs running back Wendell Hayes added 100 rushing yards, while Wright caught three passes for 104 yards. Dolphins receiver Paul Warfield finished with seven receptions for a career postseason high 140 yards, while Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti racked up 20 tackles.
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