The Most Memorable Play for Every NFL Team This Season
For nearly every game played in the NFL, the outcome is ultimately decided by a handful of plays.
And when the regular season is all said and done, it is easy to pick out events of consequence that determine who's in (and out) of the postseason picture.
All 32 franchises, in reviewing 2011, can pick out memorable moments...both good and bad.
For this list, let's stay positive. Presented now is a rundown of the plays that each can look back at with the utmost fondness.
It took a little over two months, but Julio Jones now has the hang of the NFL.
Jones' breakout performance was jump-started with a diving 50-yard touchdown reception against a pair of Indianapolis Colt defenders. Not bad for your first TD as a professional.
He would finish with another score and a total of 131 yards to go along with his pair of touchdowns. The rookie out of Alabama has since found the end zone six more times.
Patrick Peterson became the newest member of the return aces in the NFL in Week 9. He joined the club with his electric take-back of a punt in the overtime session of the Cardinals' matchup with the Rams.
The rookie from LSU fielded a punt on his own 1-yard line, broke several tackles and went 99 yards to pay dirt to give Arizona the victory.
The game obviously had no bearing on the postseason fight, but it did showcase one of the best young talents in football.
Joe Flacco's 2011 season has had moments of flash and moments of fright.
But there's no question that his defining moment (up to this point) came on Sunday night in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6.
Down 20-16 with 2:21 to go, the Ravens QB led his club from the depths of his own territory to the game-winning score in 12 plays. The march was punctuated with a 26-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith, the wideout who dropped a potential scoring strike just a few plays earlier.
The 23-20 victory gave the Ravens a season sweep on Pittsburgh.
After coming back from a 21-0 deficit to take down the New England Patriots on Sept. 25, we were all taking the Buffalo Bills much more seriously than we were after the beginning of 2011.
In the 34-31 victory, running back Fred Jackson totaled 161 yards on catches and carries.
The most important play came on a first-down play at the Patriots' 39 with about three minutes to go. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw to Jackson on a short pass over the middle, who used his speed to take all the way to the 1-yard line and put the Bills in position for a game-winning field goal.
It's no secret now that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is one of the most talented rookies to come into the league in quite some time.
As the season progressed, we were seeing him post record numbers that would put him among the best in terms of first-year players.
Newton was a one-man show against Tampa, scoring four touchdowns. Three were of the rushing variety. The final TD was a short-yardage effort and pushed his season total to 13, the most ever by a quarterback.
Devin Hester is establishing himself as the greatest of all the return men to ever play in the NFL.
He added to his case with the 11th punt-return score of his career. That is now the most in league history.
This touchdown, like most others Hester has taken to pay dirt, showcased his speed and agility. The Carolina Panthers, like most teams which have had futile efforts in trying to corral Hester, were made to look silly.
In what has to be the most spectacular play of the 2011 season, Jerome Simpson showed that he's just as good at gymnastics as he is at football.
After catching a short pass from quarterback Andy Dalton in the red zone, the fourth-year receiver headed towards the goal line.
And then, doing his best Mary Lou Retton imitation, performed a back flip over an Arizona Cardinals defender and landed feet first in the end zone.
The Browns wouldn't have forced overtime with the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 if not for this sensational catch-and-run by Greg Little.
The connection from Seneca Wallace to Little distanced 76 yards and put Cleveland up 17-7 in the third quarter. Obviously, that did not stand.
An ailing Tony Romo didn't stop him from lifting the Cowboys past the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.
Despite broken ribs that temporarily took him out of the game, Romo returned and brought Dallas back to tie the score after regulation.
And on the first play of the extra session, unknown wideout Jesse Holley was on the receiving end of a 77-yard completion. That set up Dan Baliey's 19-yard field goal, which gave the Cowboys a win that made the Niners 1-1. Who knew they wouldn't lose again until Thanksgiving night?
John Elway is known as the king of the comebacks in Denver. Tim Tebow is the newest master of late-game heroics, although it's certainly not as conventional as No. 7.
Tebow's miracle on Nov. 17 was at the expense of the visiting New York Jets. The Broncos were down three with less than six minutes to go, uncomfortably perched at their own 5-yard line.
Against a tough Jets defense, Tebow came alive and marched his team to within 20 yards of a touchdown. The former Heisman winner then took it the rest of the way on a QB run to the end zone.
There have been many moments in the Lions' 2011 season that range from the memorable to the ugly.
As far as positive outcomes go, No. 1 for Detroit is a tough choice. But the play and the game that got America's attention came from the unstoppable Calvin Johnson against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 2
In the midst of coming back from a 24-point deficit in Dallas, Lions QB Matthew Stafford looked for Johnson in an early fourth-quarter play. The 23-yard pass was caught spectacularly by Johnson in the end zone over three Cowboy defenders. The score made it 30-24 in favor of the Lions as Detroit went on to complete the comeback, 34-30.
Green Bay Packers
It's quite ironic that the Packers' top play of 2011 came courtesy of the defense.
Green Bay's 42-34 lead was in peril when New Orleans drove to the Packers 9. A pass interference call in the end zone with no time remaining gave the Saints one untimed down from the goal line.
That's when defense came to the rescue.
Linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett led a swarm that stopped rookie running back Mark Ingram short of pay dirt.
The Texans' breakthrough season was made official with a Week 14 contest in Cincinnati.
Under the direction of third-string signal-caller T.J. Yates, the Texans pulled out a last-second victory in Cincinnati that clinched the AFC South and the franchise's first playoff berth.
Yates finished off the 20-19 win with a six-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds left.
Indy avoided a winless record (and great humiliation) by breaking through against the Tennessee Titans in Week 15.
The principle momentum towards this victory was furnished with a 80-yard touchdown run by Donald Brown.
In 2011, Maurice Jones-Drew proved to be pretty much the entirety of the Jaguars' offense.
So it was only fitting that he set the franchise's single-season rushing record with a 169-yard performance against the hapless Colts in Week 17.
The run that officially put him ahead of Fred Taylor's old mark came when he broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and turned it into a gain of 56. It was his longest rush in more than two seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs
Unlike most of the plays on the list, this was not a game of significance. In fact, it featured a team that nearly went 0-16.
Nevertheless, the catch by Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe in the end zone against the Indianapolis Colts is too good not to include.
On a 1st-and-goal from the Indy 5, Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel looked for Bowe, who hauled in the touchdown pass despite a deflection and pass interference penalty by Colt cornerback Jacob Lacey. The score was part of a 21-point run that helped the Chiefs win by a field goal.
After a dreadful start, the Miami Dolphins finished the season well even when their embattled head coach was fired with just a few weeks remaining in the campaign.
Reggie Bush was one player that certainly improved as the year matured. His TD run of 76 yards was the highlight of a career-best 203-yard rushing effort as the 'Fins extended the Bills' fall from grace.
Christian Ponder was certainly humbled over the course of his rookie season as a professional quarterback.
It didn't help that there were injuries to the Vikes prized running back, Adrian Peterson.
Against Denver, Ponder did get some help from fellow first-year player Kyle Rudolph. The tight end out of Notre Dame showed off his fantastic hands when he hauled in this pass for a TD.
It would turn out to be Ponder's best passing day of the year, but his late-game miscues proved costly in an overtime setback to the Broncos.
New England Patriots
Most quarterbacks would be nervous in late game situations. Not Tom Brady.
In an Oct. 16 meeting with the Dallas Cowboys that for the most part was mediocre, Brady saved his best for last.
An eight-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds remaining gave the New England Patriots a 20-16 victory, capping a drive that lasted eight plays and 2:09.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is the ring leader in the Saints' air circus.
His shining moment in this jewel of a 2011 campaign came when he broke the all-time NFL record for passing yardage in a single season.
With just under three minutes remaining in New Orelans' easy victory against the Falcons, Brees connected with Darren Sproles for a 9-yard touchodwn and was enough to surpass the mark previously held by Dan Marino.
New York Giants
Little was expected of the New York Giants' passing attack heading into Week 3 considering the injuries to their receivers and the fact they were facing an Eagles secondary filled with stars.
However, Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns in Philadelphia. Two of those scores went to the unsung Cruz, who was filling in for an injured Mario Manningham.
The second of those TDs came in the fourth quarter with the Giants down 16-14. At the Philly 18, Manning lofted a pass for Cruz, who snatched the ball at the goal line in the close presence of Nnamdi Asomugha and Jarrad Page and fell into the end zone.
It gave a jolt to New York and was the starting point for Cruz's unexpectedly spectacular season.
New York Jets
The New York Jets had an uphill climb to the playoffs this season (mostly because of their own mistakes), but they'd have almost no shot if not for last weekend's last-second victory over the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.
Mark Sanchez has been somewhat ineffective in 2011, but he put together a career-high four-TD-pass day to lead his club to a much-needed win.
Sanchez connected with WR Santonio Holmes from 16 yards out with just over a minute left.
The thrilling victory by the Oakland Raiders over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium was dramatic enough if there weren't any outside storylines.
However, the death of owner Al Davis the day prior added extra emotion.
The Raiders overcame 11 penalties and a sub-par performance from Darren McFadden to prevail, 25-20. Oakland held on with a last-second interception of Houston QB Matt Schaub in the end zone by Michael Huff.
When you're a team that is was out of serious playoff discussion by midseason, there aren't many significant and meaningful plays.
But who knew we'd be saying that about the Eagles for 2011?
In any event, the best moment from this team came courtesy of a circus catch by tight end Brent Celek.
The University of Cincinnati product tips the ball in the air twice and hauls in the pigskin while falling down and surrounded by a pair of Redskin defenders.
The Steelers made a statement against the up-start Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in Week 10.
Antonio Brown's 60-yard punt return to the end zone capped off a second quarter in which Pittsburgh scored four touchdowns and broke a game against their AFC North rival ride open in their favor.
It was 28-7 at that point, and the Steelers added one more score to complete a 35-7 trouncing.
San Diego Chargers
Vincent Brown is far from a household name, even in the Chargers receiving corps.
But he made the best play of an otherwise underwhelming 2011 for San Diego. A 30-yard TD reception off the arm of Philip Rivers and into the hands of Brown came in between the reach of two Oakland defensive backs.
The score cut the Raider lead to 17-10, but the Bolts ultimately fell by a seven-point margin.
San Francisco 49ers
In a game that helped establish their character and determination under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to upend the Philadelphia Eagles.
After going ahead by a single point on a 12-yard run by Frank Gore with three minutes to go, the Niners still had to hold off the Philly offense.
As Jeremy Maclin was running with the football and potentially setting up a game-winning score, Justin Smith chased him down and forced a fumble. San Francisco recovered the loose ball.
Seattle doesn't have any superstars, but they managed to contend for the postseason up until the final weeks of the season.
The Seahawks won seven games mainly due to a solid defense. On Dec. 1, they held the Philadelphia Eagles to 14 points and managed to create scores by themselves.
David Hawthorne returned a Vince Young screen pass 77 yards for a touchdown that effectively ended the Thursday night contest.
St. Louis Rams
Like most clubs with losing records, the Rams don't have much to be happy about. Their one moment in the sun came at their home in the dome against New Orleans.
In one of the season's biggest upsets, St. Louis came through with a 31-21 victory...and it wasn't even that close.
The Rams dominated the Saints for the majority of the contest and sealed their fate with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth period.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs' season fell off a cliff once air turned colder. Tampa lost its final 10 contests en route to a depressing 4-12 record.
One major reason for its collapse was the inconsistency of the offense. Running back LaGarrette Blount had his good and bad moments.
A positive play was a fine showing of pure power. Blount broke countless would-be Packer tacklers on the way to a 54-yard touchdown.
Chris Johnson's long-awaited breakout performance was the signature part of the Tennessee Titans' 23-17 win over Tampa Bay last Sunday afternoon. However, it was a two-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams by veteran signal-caller Matt Hasselbeck on 4th-and-2 that proved to be the contest's most significant moment.
Hasselbeck's scoring toss with 3:01 to play gave the Titans the lead and, at 6-5, kept them breathing in the AFC playoff fight.
The play comes at the 2:10 mark of the video.
The Redskins have a great young pass rusher in Brian Orakpo. It didn't take long into the season to realize they had another talented defensive player in Ryan Kerrigan.
A first-round pick out of Purdue University, Kerrigan's initial regular season game in the NFL was a memorable one. In the third quarter and having the Giants pinned back in their territory, he batted a pass by Eli Manning into the air, caught it and ran the remaining yards for a touchdown.