The new millennium could not have started better for the NFL. On January 30, Kurt Warner led the Rams to a thrilling victory over the Titans in one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. That was just the start of what would be a compelling decade of football, a decade that saw the birth of some of the greatest rivalries in NFL history. NFL fans also got to witness two of the greatest quarterbacks in league history duel in some of the greatest clashes the game has ever seen.
With the recent conclusion of the NFL's 100th season, we're taking a look at pro football's top eight rivalries during the 2000s. And while you may not agree with each of our selections, at least we're not debating Backstreet Boys and N'Sync, 50 Cent and Nelly, or Britney and Christina.
8. Steelers vs. Patriots
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Patriots, 5-2
Playoff record during the decade: Patriots, 2-0
Longest winning streak: 3 (Patriots)
Best game: 2001 AFC Championship: Patriots 24, Steelers 17
Patriots fans may not consider this a true rivalry, not after watching their team defeat the Steelers in just about every meaningful game during the decade. but Pittsburgh was able to snap New England's NFL record 21-game winning streak in 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season) before beating the (Tom Brady-less) Patriots again in 2008 en route to winning their second Super Bowl in a four-year span. Every other game during this span was won by the Patriots, whose success against the Steelers helped them win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.
While Steelers fans still haven't gotten over their team's loss to the Patriots in the 2004 AFC title game, the loss to New England in the '01 title game remains one of the most painful losses in franchise history. A double-digit favorite, Pittsburgh quickly fell behind 21-3 after allowing two special teams touchdowns and a Drew Bledsoe (who replaced an injured Brady) touchdown pass just before halftime. Even after Kordell Stewart and the Steelers rallied to pull to within four points of the Patriots, two late interceptions sealed Pittsburgh's fate, as the Patriots would go onto shock the favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
7. Ravens vs. Titans
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Ravens, 7-4
Playoff record during the decade: Ravens, 2-1
Longest winning streak: 5 (Ravens)
Best game: November 12, 2000: Ravens 24, Titans 23
The Titans had never lost a home game at Nissan Stadium prior to their game against the Ravens 11 weeks into the 2000 season. And despite taking a late lead on an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Titans saw their 13-game home winning streak snapped after Patrick Johnson caught Trent Dilfer's game-winning touchdown pass with 25 seconds left. Baltimore won again in Tennessee two months later, as Ray Lewis' 50-yard pick-six finished off the defending AFC champions. The Ravens would ultimately win the franchise's first Super Bowl title, routing the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7.
Tennessee extracted a measure of revenge three years later in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs. Despite picking off league co-MVP Steve McNair three times, the Ravens fell at home to the Titans, who allowed McNair to complete all four of his passes on Tennessee's final drive, a drive that ended with Gary Anderson's game-winning field goal.
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Eagles, 13-8
Playoff record during the decade: Cowboys, 1-0
Longest winning streak: 6 (Eagles)
Best game: September 15, 2008
While the Eagles won 13 of their 21 matchups during the '00s against the Cowboys, Dallas closed out the decade with three straight wins over Philadelphia that included a 34-14 win the NFC wild card round. The win was the first postseason victory in 14 years for the Cowboys, who lost six consecutive games against the Eagles at the start of the decade. Philadelphia also knocked Dallas out of postseason contention in Week 17 of the 2008 season, as the Eagles' defense returned two fumbles for touchdowns in a 44-6 rout.
The most exciting game played between these two teams during this span took place in Week 2 of the 2008 season. In front of a "Monday Night Football" audience, the two teams combined to tally 78 points and 43 first downs. Tony Romo (312 yards, three touchdowns) threw a pair of touchdown passes to Terrell Owens, while Donovan McNabb had success throwing to rookie DeSean Jackson, who caught six passes for 110 yards. But it was Jackson's premature touchdown celebration that is arguably the most remembered play from Dallas' 41-37 win.
5. Buccaneers vs. Eagles
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Eagles, 5-3
Playoff record during the decade: Eagles, 2-1
Longest winning streak: 4 (Eagles)
Best game: 2003 NFC Championship: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10
The Buccaneers' playoff struggles against the Eagles at the start of the decade ultimately led to Jon Gruden replacing Tony Dungy heading into the 2002 season. Gruden didn't fare much better than his predecessor the first time he faced the Eagles, as Tampa Bay fell to Donovan McNabb's Eagles in Week 7 of the 2002 season.
Three months later, the two teams met in the playoffs for a third consecutive year. And despite holding a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Buccaneers fans still held their collective breath as McNabb and the Eagles drove to Tampa Bay's 10-yard line. But with 3:27 remaining, McNabb's pass intended for Antonio Freeman was picked off by Ronde Barber, who sprinted untouched for the game-clinching, 92-yard touchdown return. The win not only gave the Buccaneers their first NFC championship, but it was also the final game ever played at Philadelphia's fabled Veterans Stadium.
Tampa Bay won their first Super Bowl two weeks later, as Gruden defeated his former (and current) team, the Raiders, 48-21. And while the Eagles never won a Super Bowl during the McNabb/Andy Reid era, they finally broke through in 2017, defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
4. Giants vs. Cowboys
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Giants, 12-9
Playoff record during the decade: Giants, 1-0
Longest winning streak: 3 (Cowboys)
Best game: 2007 divisional round: Giants 21, Cowboys 17
One of the greatest rivalries in NFL history, the Giants and Cowboys' rivalry hit a frenzied pitch in the 2000s, when the two stories franchises faced off for the first time in the 2007 playoffs. The Cowboys, the decided favorite heading into the game, had scored a combined 76 points in their regular season sweep of the Giants, who managed to clinch a wild card berth before upsetting the Buccaneers in the wild card round.
But unlike their first two meetings, the Giants' defense was up to the task against the Cowboys' talented offense, led by Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber. While they were still able to pile up 23 first downs while converting 10 of their 16 third down opportunities, Dallas managed to score just 17 points against a New York defense that forced three punts and an interception during the Cowboys' final four offensive possessions. The elevated play of New York's defense set the stage for Eli Manning, who threw a pair of touchdown passes to Amani Toomer. The Giants' defense, after forcing the Cowboys to punt from deep inside their own territory, also helped set up New York's only scoring drive of the second half, a drive that was capped off by Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard touchdown run.
After getting his team of the Giants' 23-yard-line with 16 seconds left, Romo threw two incomplete passes before his final attempt was intercepted by R.W. McQuarters. Despite putting together one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history, the Cowboys had to watch as the Giants were ultimately the team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.
#Giants vs. Cowboys 2007 Divisional Playoff Game: the only time these teams have met in the playoffs. Some key moments:— David Solow (@GiantsAlliance) June 14, 2020
1. Toomer's early TD
2. Incredible drive by Eli right before halftime
3. Patrick Crayton drop on third down
4. Jacobs TD
5. R.W. interception to seal it pic.twitter.com/o5jG5TEsko
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Packers, 12-9
Playoff record during the decade: Vikings, 1-0
Longest winning streak: 5 (Packers)
Best games: November 6, 2000: Packers 26, Vikings 20; November 9, 2009: Vikings 38, Packers 26
This longtime rivalry had a slew of memorable moments during the decade. In 2004, the two teams faced each other for the first time in the playoffs, as Randy Moss' two touchdown receptions (that included "controversial" touchdown celebration) spearheaded the Vikings to a win at Lambeau Field.
Four years earlier, the two teams faced off in a memorable game that was witnessed by a national TV audience. Less than four minutes into overtime, Brett Favre's deep pass for Antonio Freeman appeared to fall incomplete. Freeman, however, was able to corral Favre's pass before getting up and racing into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Favre was on the other side of the rivalry when the two teams faced off at Lambeau Field in 2009. Favre, who signed with the Vikings during the offseason, threw four touchdown passes while winning his first game at Lambeau Field as an opponent. Minnesota swept the series before Aaron Rodgers and the Packers returned the favor in 2010.
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Steelers, 12-10
Playoff record during the decade: Steelers, 2-0
Longest winning streak: 5 (Steelers)
Best game: 2008 AFC Championship: Steelers 23, Ravens 14
"There's people on both teams that genuinely don't like each other."
Ben Roethlisberger's quote from 2009 best describes the feelings between the Steelers and Ravens over the last quarter-century. It was especially true in the 2000s when both franchises fought each other at least twice a year. During the decade, the two teams combined to win three Super Bowls while facing each other in the playoffs on two different occasions. The first meeting occurred in 2001, when Pittsburgh dethroned the defending champions at Heinz Field, 27-10. The win was the second of five consecutive victories in the series for the Steelers, who enjoyed the upper hand in the rivalry until Steve McNair, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed led Baltimore to a season-sweep of Pittsburgh in 2006.
Both teams were on near equal footing in 2008, as the Steelers and Ravens boasted the league's top-two defensive units. While the Ravens were a formidable foe, the Steelers, led by Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, were just a little bit better in all three of their meetings against Baltimore that season. After rallying from behind to beat the visiting Ravens in Week 4, a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the final seconds gave Pittsburgh a 13-9 win over Baltimore in Week 15 that helped the Steelers clinch the AFC North division title.
In one of the most physical playoff games in recent memory, the Ravens appeared to be on the verge of taking the lead late in the AFC Championship Game. Polamalu, however, essentially ended the game when he returned an interception off of Joe Flacco 40 yards for the game-clinching score. The Steelers ended up defeating the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, while the Ravens would have to wait six more years before getting their first postseason win over Pittsburgh.
1. Colts vs. Patriots
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: Patriots, 8-6
Playoff record during the decade: Patriots, 2-1
Longest winning streak: 6 (Patriots)
Best game: 2006 AFC Championship: Colts 38, Patriots 35
The decade's greatest rivalry was dominated in the early stages by Tom Brady and the Patriots, who defeated Peyton Manning's Colts in the 2003 and '04 playoffs. In the process, the Patriots became a dynasty, while the Colts were typecast as a team that had loads of talent but was unable to win the big one.
Indianapolis, after defeating the Patriots in the 2005 and '06 regular seasons, hosted New England in the 2006 AFC Championship. After falling in an early 21-3 hole, Manning and the Colts engineered one of the greatest comebacks in NFL postseason history, as two different Indianapolis offensive linemen scored touchdowns while helping the Colts tie the score early in the fourth quarter. And even after Brady led the Patriots on two more scoring drives (both ending in field goals), the Colts were able to respond, as Joseph Addai scored the go-ahead touchdown with one minute left.
With Manning praying on the sideline, the Colts' defense rose to the challenge, with Marlin Jackson coming up with the game-winning pick with 24 seconds left. The Colts would go onto win their first Super Bowl since moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis, as the two teams would engage in three more epic battles (including Bill Belichick's controversial fourth down gamble in 2009) before the decade came to a close.