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The NFL's 10 Most Impactful Plays of the 2011 Season

Last year, I wrote about the most impactful NFL plays, with DeSean Jackson’s dramatic punt return to beat the Giants getting #1. That play had it all: last second drama, an important game, and as it turned out, the difference between the Eagles and Giants making the playoffs. So again, these are the plays that were important in the game, were memorable or big plays in many cases, and as it has turned out as the season unfolded, were monumental in deciding who is in the playoffs and who is home, or who gets to play at home this postseason.

10. Tony Romo Throws Two Interceptions for Touchdowns Against Detroit, October 2nd. Dallas was ahead 27-3 on undefeated Detroit in the third quarter, after another Detroit punt. With 10:30 left in the third, Dallas had dominated, and Detroit had only 7 first downs all game. Tony Romo threw a pass intended for Dez Bryant that was returned for a touchdown by Bobby Carpenter. After the kickoff, Dallas went to midfield where they faced a 3rd and short. Romo’s pass was intercepted by Chris Houston and returned 56 yards for a touchdown. 27-17 Dallas five minutes later, without an offensive score from Detroit. Calvin Johnson then took over the fourth quarter, with two touchdowns, including the game winner inside the two minute warning. Detroit won 34-30 after Dallas had a 24 point lead.

Those interceptions may have had a big impact on the season, as Garrett didn’t trust Romo in some key spots, going conservative against the Patriots and in a bizarre finish against the Cardinals. Even if they had no other impact outside that game, they provided the impetus for the Lions’ rally. If Dallas had won that game, the Cowboys would still be in as the wildcard, facing New Orleans, while Detroit would have missed the playoffs yet again.

9. Richard Seymour Blocks Ryan Succop’s Kick at the End of Regulation at Kansas City, December 24th. The Chiefs were somehow still alive for a playoff spot after ending Green Bay’s perfect season, and needed to beat Oakland to then have a chance to make the playoffs in Denver the following week. As it turns out, Kansas City did beat the Broncos on the road, and the Raiders did lose to San Diego. If Succop had made the kick at the end of regulation, the Chiefs would have been AFC West champions again at 8-8.

8. Victor Cruz Gave Himself, and the Ball, Up at Arizona, October 2nd. Victor Cruz had quite the impact on the 2011 season for the Giants, coming out of nowhere to set the team record for receiving yards. The 99-yard touchdown against the Jets, the touchdown that broke open the Cowboys game, and several other sensational plays highlighted the season of the salsa. I’m not sure any single play had as big a bearing on this season, though, as the non-fumble at Arizona, where Cruz dropped the ball after diving forward and not being touched, but the officials ruled he had given himself up in a very broad interpretation of that rule. The Giants scored on the next play, and it is the difference between them being in, and the Eagles hosting the Falcons.

7. Nick Novak Pisses Himself in Overtime Against Denver, November 27th. Who can forget the shot of Nick Novak taking a potty break on the sideline at the end of the Chargers-Broncos game? Denver had tied the game in regulation. Novak had a chance to be the hero in overtime, but missed a long 53 yard attempt. Denver eventually won it on a Prater field goal with only 33 seconds left in OT. If Novak makes that (or if Denver later misses and it ends in a tie) then San Diego would have won the AFC West.

6. Green Bay’s Goal Line Stand Against the Saints, September 8th. The season opened with a bang in Green Bay. The Packers took a big lead, but the Saints rallied, and had a chance to tie it with a touchdown and a two point conversion. After a questionable defensive pass interference call, the Saints got one more untimed down from the 1 yard line. The handoff went to Mark Ingram, and he had no chance.

If the Saints had scored there, they still needed get a two point conversion and still win in overtime, which is why it doesn’t rank higher. The impact, though? If the Saints had come back there, they would now be the #1 seed, winning the tiebreaker over the Packers at 14-2, and not having to go into Lambeau in January to advance to the Super Bowl.

5. Philip Rivers Has the Worst Day Ever at Kansas City, October 31st. Halloween was frightening for Philip Rivers. The Chargers had the ball inside the Kansas City 20 with less than a minute left, setting up for a field goal. That’s when Philip Rivers had his worst day ever, fumbling the snap and giving the ball to Kansas City. If Rivers just holds the ball there, San Diego is likely in the playoffs this week.

4. Jason Pierre-Paul Blocks Dan Bailey’s kick, December 11th. Any number of plays from this game could have gone in here, so we’ll just go with the last one to represent just how big it was. The Giants came from 11 down in the fourth quarter, and then held off a final drive from Dallas that could have forced overtime. That game decided the NFC East, as it turns out.

3. Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith for a 26 Yard Touchdown at Pittsburgh, November 6th. Joe Flacco catches a fair amount of heat, and I’ve been critical of him holding the ball too long at times. At Pittsburgh, though, he had the drive of the year against the Steelers #1 defense. 92 yards away, with 2:24 left and no timeouts, trailing 20-16, Flacco took the Ravens down the field. They converted a 4th and 1 at midfield when Flacco hit Boldin. Then, with 14 seconds left at the Pittsburgh 26, Flacco connected with rookie Torrey Smith. If Pittsburgh holds on in that game, the Steelers are the #1 seed in the AFC now, New England is #2, and Baltimore falls to #5 and has to play this week.

2. Ronnie Brown Throws a Fumble on the Goal Line Against San Francisco, October 2nd.
The Eagles were the Dream Team that made the splash with free agent signings. The 49ers were at the time, off to a 2-1 start, but had yet to have over 230 total yards in any game in winning ugly against the Seahawks and Bengals. With the Eagles already up 10-3 at home against San Francisco, they were about to go up even more, when Ronnie Brown decided to try a pass as he was getting spun around on the goal line, and threw a backwards fumble that was recovered by the 49ers.

This play impacted the season in so many ways. The 49ers stormed back in the second half with an offensive explosion as the Eagles defense couldn’t stop Smith or Gore. San Francisco won 24-23, and went on a streak that has ended with a first round bye. The Eagles went into a funk that ended at 4-8, too much to overcome. If Philadelphia scores there, they likely win the game. If the Eagles win that game, they are in the playoffs, the Giants are out, and New Orleans, not San Francisco, is the #2 seed in the NFC.

1. Tim Tebow’s Touchdown Run Against the Jets, November 17th. Tim Tebow had been part of the comeback at Miami a month earlier, and then Denver had the blowout against Detroit, a win at Oakland, and a win at Kansas City when Tebow completed two passes. No one thought Denver would beat the Jets, though. Trailing 13-10, Tebow took Denver down the field on a 95 yard drive, ending in this touchdown run.

This play launched a month of Denver and Tim Tebow wackiness, from the San Diego game to the Minnesota game to the Chicago game. It led people to suggest Tim Tebow should be MVP. This touchdown had a huge impact on the season. If Denver doesn’t score on that long drive, then today, we are looking at the Chargers in the playoffs, and the Jets in the playoffs, in place of both the Broncos and the Bengals. It is representative of the wackiness of this season with the Tim Tebow phenomena, and on one Thursday Night, the nation watched Tebowmania change the fortunes of four teams.

[Photo via Getty]

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