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The 6 Most Controversial NFL Playoff Moments Since 2000

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    Dez Bryant and Sam Shields

    Dez Bryant and Sam ShieldsAP Photo/Matt Ludtke

    In an ideal world, every NFL playoff game is won or lost strictly by the players. However, an imperfect sport with imperfect people leads to imperfect moments and occasional games with a legacy of controversy.

    Since the 2000 season, six particular matchups stand out as the most disputed postseason results in the league.

    In some cases, they’re notorious enough that football fans can remember them by a single phrase.

    Two examples: the Tuck Rule and Dez Caught It.

    While both the Music City Miracle and Bert Emanuel’s no-catch ruling happened in the 2000 calendar year, each moment took place as part of the 1999 season and is not included.

Tom Brady and the Tuck Rule

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    FOXBORO, UNITED STATES:  New England Patriots  quarterback Tom Brady (C) takes a hit from Charles Woodson (R) of the Oakland Raiders on a pass attempt in the last two minutes of the game in their AFC playoff 19 January 2002 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  The Patriots won 16-13 in overtime. AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images)

    MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images

    One play during the divisional round of the 2001 playoffs altered the trajectory of Tom Brady’s now-legendary career.

    Late in the fourth quarter, the New England Patriots trailed the Oakland Raiders 13-10. Brady dropped back to pass and seemingly fumbled as Raiders star Charles Woodson leveled the young QB. It appeared Oakland had sealed a trip to the AFC Championship Game.

    However, the officials cited the soon-to-be infamous “Tuck Rule” as justification for reversing the play to an incomplete pass.

    The short version is, by rule, the officials made the right call. Whether the rule should exist became a controversy, however, and NFL teams voted to eliminate it in 2013.

    New England defeated the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, giving Brady his first of six championships with the Pats.

The 49ers’ Lucky Break

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    New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins stands on the field after the Giants lost to the San Francisco 49ers in their NFC Wild Card game in San Francisco, Sunday Jan. 5, 2003. The 49ers won the game, 39-38.(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

    AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

    One year later, the New York Giants had a chance to knock out the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round.

    With six seconds left in the fourth quarter, San Francisco held a one-point lead. However, the Giants lined up for a 41-yard field goal, a kick that could push them to a 41-39 victory over the Niners.

    Trey Junkin’s snap drifted to the left, which stopped the Giants from attempting the field goal. But holder Matt Allen picked up the ball, scrambled right and heaved a pass toward Rich Seubert. Niners defender Chike Okeafor then dragged Seubert to the ground.

    Refs indeed threw a correct flag. New York indeed had an ineligible receiver downfield.

    Okeafor, though, managed to avoid a clear pass-interference penalty as San Francisco celebrated a 39-38 win.

    After the game, the NFL admitted the referees should have flagged Okeafor. Since a game couldn’t end on offsetting penalties, the teams would’ve played an untimed down. Maybe the Giants would’ve missed the kick anyway—who knows!—but they should’ve had the chance.

Refs Sting Seahawks in Super Bowl Loss

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    DETROIT - FEBRUARY 05:  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Seattle Seahawks argues a call with referee Bill Leavy after throwing a pass out of bounds to receiver Darrell Jackson #82 in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field on February 5, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Harry How/Getty Images

    Let’s fast-forward to the end: Super Bowl XL referee Bill Leavy admitted four years later that he “kicked two calls in the fourth quarter” of the Seattle Seahawks’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    In all likelihood, he’s pointing to flagging Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for a low block when he made a tackle after throwing an interception. Another top possibility is a holding call on Seattle lineman Sean Locklear that negated an 18-yard catch despite Pittsburgh’s Clark Haggans seemingly being offside.

    Seattle fans could also mention an offensive pass interference call on Darrell Jackson, negating a touchdown. That moment is at least debatable, although it’s fair to classify the flag as a soft penalty.

    No matter which plays were on Leavy’s mind, the stripes had a forgettable day in Super Bowl XL.

    Pittsburgh won 21-10.

Dez Bryant’s No-Catch

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    Football: NFC Playoffs: Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant (88) in action, making touchdown vs Green Bay Packers Sam Shields (37) during 4th quarter at Lambeau Field. The referees ruled that contact with ground caused an incomplete pass upon review. 
Green Bay, WI 1/11/2015
CREDIT: David E. Klutho (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
(Set Number: X159132 TK1 )

    Set Number: X159132 TK1

    The first of two controversial topics in the 2014 playoffs happened between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.

    Late in the fourth quarter, Green Bay held a 26-21 advantage. Dallas faced a 4th-and-2 at the Packers’ 32-yard line, and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo lofted a ball down the left sideline to Dez Bryant. The star wideout leaped over Packers defender Sam Shields to make a clutch grab.

    Initially ruled complete, the play was overturned because Bryant, by rule, didn’t complete the process of the catch.

    Green Bay took possession, burned the remainder of the clock and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

    Similar to the Tuck Rule, Bryant’s non-catch was more a matter of an eye-rolling guideline than a bad ruling. In fact, the NFL rewrote the catch rule a few years later—with Packers owner Mark Murphy a member of the very committee that proposed the change.

    Dez caught it. But at the time, officially, he did not.

    One important note: Green Bay could’ve had about four minutes left for a response even if Dallas scored. Aaron Rodgers, a longtime Cowboys destroyer, might’ve broken the hearts of Dallas fans anyway. Again.


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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots in action against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    If we think critically about Deflategate, it probably does not matter that much. Did the lack of inflation in a few footballs really cause the Indianapolis Colts to lose 45-7 to the Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship Game?

    Short answer: No.

    But, whew buddy, did Tom Brady and the Patriots find themselves in a legal battle for their alleged rule-bending. Reportedly, five footballs measured less than the allowable minimum of pounds per square inch. This would allow Brady to have a better grip on the ball in the cold weather.

    After the NFL handed Brady a four-game suspension, the back-and-forth saga escalated to the federal level. The case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals, which overruled a previous overrule that had vacated the NFL’s ban on Brady.

    Perhaps in the greatest revenge possible, Brady missed those four games in 2016 yet turned in a second-team All-Pro campaign and guided the Pats to another Super Bowl triumph.

No-Call Eliminates the Saints

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    FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2019 file photo, Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) breaks up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (11) late in the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in New Orleans. The Rams won 26-23. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

    AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

    In a word: oof.

    During the 2018 NFC Championship Game, the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams were locked in a 20-all deadlock. New Orleans had a 3rd-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line as the clock ticked below two minutes left.

    Saints quarterback Drew Brees flipped a pass toward Tommylee Lewis, who Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman flat-out decked before the ball arrived. It was clear-cut pass interference.

    And officials made no call. Nothing.

    New Orleans ended up kicking a field goal, which the Rams matched to force overtime. They then intercepted Brees to set up Greg Zuerlein’s winning kick, sending Los Angeles to Super Bowl LIII.

    Yes, the Saints could’ve stopped that regulation drive or scored on their opening drive in overtime.

    But if that flag was thrown, New Orleans would’ve had a first down. Brees could’ve kneeled the clock to around 20 seconds left before Wil Lutz attempted a short field goal to lock in an NFC title and Super Bowl trip.

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