Saturday, July 20, 2024

Ranking NFL playoff heartbreaking losses: Lions join all-time list after NFC Championship meltdown vs. 49ers

Detroit Lions fans deserved a better ending than the one they received on Sunday night. With the Super Bowl beckoning, Lions fans were instead treated to one of the biggest collapses in NFL playoff history, as Detroit was unable to parlay a 17-point halftime lead into an NFC title. 

The Lions’ 34-31 loss is going to hurt for some time. After dominating the first half, the Lions looked like they were playing on quicksand in the second half. They didn’t come through in pivotal moments, gave up too many big plays and failed to counter whenever the 49ers hit them with an uppercut. In short, the Lions didn’t do the things that had gotten them to that point. 

Given what was at stake, it’s fair to say that the Lions’ loss is one of the most heartbreaking defeats in playoff history. Below is a look at the unfortunate company the Lions now keep. 

5. Oilers: 1992 AFC wild card 

Houston owns the distinction of blowing the biggest lead in playoff history. Led by Warren Moon, the Oilers raced out to a 35-3 lead but were unable to stop the runaway train that was the Bills in the second half. The 41-38 loss had to hurt more for Houston fans given the fact that Buffalo’s historic comeback was led by backup quarterback Frank Reich, who threw four touchdown passes. 

4. Vikings, 1998 NFC Championship 

The Vikings looked like a shoo-in to reach the Super Bowl that season. After a 15-1 regular season, Minnesota led the upstart Falcons by a touchdown and had Gary Anderson — who hadn’t missed a field goal all year to that point — lining up to attempt a 38-yard field goal that would have put the game away. 

Anderson, shockingly, missed the kick, giving the Falcons life with just over two minutes left. Atlanta took advantage by tying the score, forcing overtime, and ultimately winning the game on a Morten Andersen field goal. The Vikings have only been back to two NFC title games since, losing both. 

3. Bills, Super Bowl XV 

The only Super Bowl decided by one point came down to a field goal try with eight seconds left. Bills kicker Scott Norwood famously hooked the kick wide right, securing the Giants‘ 20-19 win. The missed kick was the deciding play in arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever played. 

Why is this loss not higher? Because the Bills were a young, up-and-coming team that would be back. But it remains on this list because of the fact that Buffalo didn’t come close to winning any of the following three Super Bowls. 

2. Lions, 2024 NFC Championship 

Lions fans could surely taste a trip to the Super Bowl at halftime of Sunday night’s game. But what followed was an avalanche that didn’t end until the 49ers had built a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The 49ers played much better in the second half, but the Lions came up short when they needed to play their best. That, more than the missed fourth-down conversions, probably hurts most for Lions fans who are still trying to figure out what happened. 

1. Falcons, Super Bowl LI 

Not even the Lions’ loss can match the agony Falcons fans must have felt watching their team blow a 28-3 lead. Instead of celebrating their first Super Bowl win, Falcons fans had to watch as Tom Brady added to his legacy by leading the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Adding insult to injury was the Falcons being on the losing end of the first Super Bowl that went to overtime. 

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