A slew of Dolphins players saw the final play of their AFC East-clinching victory over the Patriots watching from a chilly sideline while wearing shower towels rather than game pants. That’s because both teams were summoned back to the field for one final snap with three seconds on the clock when referee Johnny Grier was ordered by the NFL to re-start the game after replays showed he erred by prematurely ending it 35 minutes earlier. The Dolphins were finally able to celebrate – and get warm inside the locker room – when a Patriots desperation pass fell incomplete.
Boston Globe via Getty ImagesBoston Globe
2001 season: Green Bay 34, New York Giants 25
It sure looked like Packers quarterback Brett Favre allowed Giants defensive end Michael Strahan to tackle him late in the fourth quarter. Even if it was a gimme, there is no asterisk placed besides Strahan’s name in the NFL record book for setting the single-season sack mark with 22.5.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
2002 season: Indianapolis 20, Jacksonville 13
With six receptions for 28 yards against the Colts, Marvin Harrison set an NFL single-season catch record with 143 for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns. The mark is expected to stand for another year with Atlanta’s Julio Jones (127) the only viable contender for the 2015 campaign entering Sunday’s finales.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
2003 season: Arizona 18, Minnesota 17
The Vikings had a playoff spot on the line. The Cardinals could have staked a claim for the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft with one more loss in another wasted season. You would have never known that with how the game unfolded. Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown hit wide receiver Nate Poole with a last-second touchdown pass on fourth-and-25 for the win. Arizona ultimately claimed the No. 3 overall selection that was used on wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who remains with the team today. The Vikings became only the second team in NFL history to start 6-0 and miss the postseason.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
2004 season: Pittsburgh 29, Buffalo 24
With 16 seasons and counting since a playoff appearance, the Bills have gotten shut out of the postseason longer than any team in this nation’s four biggest sports leagues. This game marked the last time Buffalo (9-7) had a chance at qualifying in Week 17. The 2004 Bills squandered the opportunity by falling to a Steelers squad manned primarily by backups as Pittsburgh (15-1) rested starters for the postseason.
Getty ImagesRick Stewart
2005 season: Miami 28, New England 26
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick combined his love of NFL history with a desire to reward a retiring football legend for a prosperous pro career. Following a Patriots touchdown, Belichick had 43-year-old quarterback Doug Flutie attempt a drop-kick for the extra point. Flutie nailed it, becoming the first NFL player to score in such a fashion since the 1941 season.
2006 season: Pittsburgh 23, Cincinnati 17
The action in this game wasn’t as significant as to what transpired in the days afterward -- Bill Cowher’s retirement after 15 seasons as Steelers head coach. It was widely thought at the time that the 49-year-old Cowher would eventually return to the sideline with another team. It never happened. Cowher remains far more likely to stick with his lucrative announcing career than re-entering the pressure cooker of NFL coaching.
2007 season: New England 38, New York Giants 35
This is an example of a team winning the battle but losing the war. The Patriots completed the first 16-0 regular-season in NFL history but New York’s strong showing provided affirmation that the Giants could hang with the league’s best. The confidence gained helped New York upset the Patriots in Super Bowl 42.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
2008 season: Green Bay 31, Detroit 21
The 2008 Lions will officially be remembered as the worst team in NFL history as Detroit became the first club to ever finish 0-16. After falling to the Packers, Lions kicker Jason Hanson compared the season to 'a train rolling down the tracks for a while. We tried to stop it. We couldn’t.'
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
2009 season: Houston 34, New England 27
Despite already being locked into a first-round playoff game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick decided to use most of his starters anyway in Week 17. Far more important than falling to the Texans was losing the services of top wide receiver Wes Welker when he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament early in the first quarter. Welker’s absence played a huge factor in New England being eliminated by Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs the following week.
Boston Globe via Getty ImagesBoston Globe
2010 season: Seattle 16, St. Louis 6
The Seahawks became the first team to win a division with a losing record (7-9) after topping the Rams. Seattle, though, took advantage of the home-field playoff advantage that comes with being a division champion by upsetting New Orleans in the first round behind Marshawn Lynch’s 'Beast Quake' touchdown run.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
2011 season: Green Bay 45, Detroit 41
As the Packers rested quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the playoffs, replacement QB Matt Flynn set franchise single-game records for passing yards (480) and touchdowns (six). Flynn parlayed his heroics into a three-year, $20 million contract with Seattle that included $10 million guaranteed as the Seahawks hoped the performance was a sign of things to come. It wasn’t. Flynn was beaten out during the 2012 preseason by rookie Russell Wilson and traded the next year to Oakland without ever starting a game. In retrospect, the Packers maybe should have started Rodgers against Detroit to ensure he would stay sharp with Green Bay enjoying a first-round bye. Rodgers completed only 56.5 percent of his passes during an opening playoff loss to the New York Giants.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2012: Minnesota 37, Green Bay 34
Needing a victory for his team to reach the postseason, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson delivered with 199 rushing yards and one touchdown. Peterson finished the 2012 campaign with 2,097 rushing yards, falling nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record set in 1984.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
2013 season: Green Bay 33, Chicago 28
When reflecting upon Marc Trestman’s two-year head coaching tenure in Chicago, the beginning of the end came during a Week 17 finale in which the Bears would have reached the postseason by topping Green Bay at Soldier Field. But in his first game back from a broken collarbone, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb on fourth down in the final minute for the game-winner as Green Bay took the NFC North crown. Trestman went 5-11 in 2014, which led to his firing.
2014: Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 17
The Steelers won the game but both teams could be considered losers because of the stars lost to injury. The absence of running back Le’Veon Bell (knee) hurt Pittsburgh during an opening-round playoff loss to Baltimore. Cincinnati suffered the same first-round fate against Indianapolis with wide receiver A.J. Green (concussion) also sidelined.