Two weeks ago, as most sports fans did, I watched the NFL Draft. Because I was so starved for sports, I actually watched much of Rounds 4 through 7, which I never do. I was desperate for sports. Anyway, at one point in the draft, some of the analysts referenced the New Orleans Saints’ three-consecutive devastating playoff losses. Yes, those losses must have been rough for Saints fans. To put this in perspective, this year’s Saints were legitimate Super Bowl contenders and lost a #3-#6 playoff matchup in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings….and that was probably the least painful loss of the Saints’ three consecutive playoff losses. That tells you something. Of course, when you can name a loss with something as simple as “Missed Passed Interference” or “Robey-Coleman” or something as momentous as “Minnesota Miracle”, you know the loss is bad. This year’s loss was merely “an overtime playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings”, which does not have quite the ring of the others.
Nevertheless, this sports-less time got me thinking, “Has any other NFL team ever had three consecutive seasons with playoff losses that were as devastating as those?” Of course, that is a subjective question, but I decided to analyze it somewhat objectively over the past 30 years. A key to my analysis is that I think of a “devastating” loss as one where the ultimate loser has a good chance to win near the end of the game. These losses are the games where you are devastated as a fan because you feel like your team should still be playing the next week (or should be Super Bowl Champs, in the event of a devastating Super Bowl loss). For example, the 2012 Denver Broncos suffered a devastating playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, as the Rahim Moore/Jacoby Jones play snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. However, the Broncos’ 43-8 Super Bowl loss the next year to Seattle was not “devastating” in that same sense. One could feel devastated in that he/she was excited for the Super Bowl, only for it to be a disaster, but it is not as if Denver fans can realistically look back on that game and say anything like “We should have won that one”, “We were the better team”, or “One play here or there, and we are the champs.” Those are the statements that I pursued when looking up strings of devastating playoff losses.
As I did my research, I came across four teams who had stretches that could rival the Saints’ stretch. It is tough for me to order the five stretches in terms of fan agony, so I am merely going to list them and let you order them as you see fit. Here we go:
- 2017 – 2019 New Orleans Saints:
Loss 1: Minnesota Miracle: The Saints receive bonus points for the fact that this was the second time in the decade that they lost a playoff game in regulation in which they twice came from behind to take the lead in the last 5 minutes of the game. Seriously, read that again. The first game was the Vernon Davis game in San Francisco, and that game is not even part of this streak. The Saints’ post-championship history is tortured, which I suppose is the true Bountygate punishment. Anyway, in the Minnesota Miracle, Saints fans were worried about a long pass putting the Vikings into game-tying field-goal range. By the time the fans could process the fact that they might need to worry about more, Stefon Diggs was in the end zone with no time left on the clock.
Loss 2: Robey-Coleman: I discussed this last year, but we should not discount the fact that the Saints did receive the overtime kickoff and lost the game anyway. That said, if the most egregious non-PI call I have ever seen were called correctly, the Saints would have won the game.
Loss 3: It was surprising that the vaunted Saints let the Vikings hang around, but, once that happened, the Vikings took advantage with a Kyle Rudolph OT touchdown. Some people tried to play that touchdown off as another missed-passed interference, but I thought the play was clean.
- 2013 – 2015 Green Bay Packers
I have to admit that this was the first one that popped in my head when I thought about the Saints, because the 2014 and 2015 seasons ended for Green Bay in epic fashion.
Loss 1: It was not a legendary playoff game, but Colin Kaepernick led the Niners to a tiebreaking field goal with no time on the clock at Lambeau in the Wild-Card Round. (Also, it was the third-straight year in which the Packers lost a playoff game they were expected to win.) Any time you lose a playoff game on the last play, it is a bitter pill to swallow, but this Green Bay loss nowhere near as crushing as what would happen the next two seasons.
Loss 2: “Up 16-0 in Seattle”: This one is much more legendary. I remain mystified that Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick took heat for trying to catch an onside kick (with Jordy Nelson behind him). Bostick should take heat for dropping the ball; that is fair. However, this is the only time in NFL history where someone on the hands team has been blamed for trying to catch the ball heading toward his hands (because someone better was behind him). Nevertheless, that onside kick allowed Seattle to finish the comeback and win the game in overtime.
Loss 3: If I were asked to create the Aaron Rodgers Hall of Fame highlight reel and use only three highlights, all three would come from a 6-week span in 2015-6. Rodgers threw a Hail Mary to win a game in Detroit in December 2015. Then, in the playoffs, he incredibly threw two Hail Marys (Maries?) in a row in Arizona to lead Green Bay nearly 100 yards down the field to tie the game on the last play of regulation. Unfortunately for Rodgers and the Pack, Arizona won the overtime coin toss, and Larry Fitzgerald (and a bit of Carson Palmer) took over to win in the extra frame. Thus, perhaps the greatest Aaron Rodgers playoff performance ultimately took place in a loss.
- 2016 – 2018 Kansas City Chiefs
Because the Alex Smith Chiefs seemed somewhat boring, this stretch does not receive the acclaim of the Saints’ stretch, but it was a tough one for KC fans.
Loss 1: In the Divisional Round, a Spencer Ware TD late in the 4th quarter brought the home Chiefs within 2 points of the Steelers, but the Chiefs were unsuccessful on the 2-point conversion.
Loss 2: As the Chiefs continued a long streak of home playoff losses, KC blew a 21-3 halftime lead to Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry, and the Titans, in a harbinger of Henry’s playoff performances to come.
Loss 3: In a game in which a million little things that could have swung the result one way or another, Dee Ford’s fingertips’ lining up offside cost Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes a Super Bowl berth, as the Pats emerged victorious in another KC home playoff loss. Of course, the Chiefs would go on to win the Super Bowl the following year.
- 2011 – 2013 San Francisco 49ers
Loss 1: Alex Smith appears on two teams in this list, as his Niners ended up on the losing side of a classic NFC Championship won by Eli Manning and the Giants in San Francisco. Both teams had several 4th-quarter and OT possessions that resulted in zero points. Ultimately, Kyle Williams’ second mishandled punt of the game led to Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning field goal in overtime, sending the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Loss 2: Super Bowl XLVII: Interestingly, this is the first Super Bowl to appear on this list so far. San Francisco stormed back from a post-blackout 28-6 deficit against the Ravens, only to have Kaepernick’s late 4th-and-goal TD-pass attempt to Michael Crabtree fall incomplete. Some thought there was pass interference on the play, but I agreed with the non-call.
Loss 3: The “Richard Sherman/Erin Andrews” Game: In a physical back-and-forth affair, Richard Sherman grabbed an interception in the end zone as the Niners tried to mount a last-second go-ahead touchdown drive. Seattle would move on to win the Super Bowl.
- 2008 – 2010 Indianapolis Colts
Loss 1: The 12-4 Colts were favored in the Wild-Card Round at 8-8 San Diego, but Darren Sproles, silencing any “height supremacists” in the crowd, took an overtime run to the house to give the Chargers the win.
Loss 2: Super Bowl XLIV: Peyton Manning’s pick-6 to Tracy Porter turned a potential tie into a Saints’ Super Bowl win.
Loss 3: Mark Sanchez led the Jets (down 16-14) downfield for a game-winning Doug Brien field goal as time expired at LucasOil Field in the Wild-Card Round. Not only was this game a dagger in that it knocked the Colts out of the playoffs, but this game would also prove to be Peyton Manning’s last game as a Colt. The lesson: Do not mess with Road Playoff Guru, Mark Sanchez.
Now there you have it! Those are what I feel to be the five candidates for “Most Devastating Set of Three Consecutive Playoff Losses”. Feel free to order them as you see fit!