Top 25 NFL Plays of 2011
The 2011 NFL season might be categorized best as a wild one. Records were shattered, hearts were broken and eye-popping plays were made.
From gymnast-flip touchdowns, to impossible escape-artist returns to bone-crunching hits, 2011 was filled with game-changing snaps that will live in the annals of NFL and SportsCenter history for years to come.
Here are the 25 best hair-raising, scream-inducing, heart-pounding plays that 2011 had to offer.
25. First and Long
24. Opening Kickoff?
Percy Harvin did this on the opening kickoff for the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 season. Many Twin Cities fans probably hoped this was a sign of things to come for 2011.
23. Emmitt Who?
Third-round pick DeMarco Murray told us all who he is with this run that helped set up a Dallas Cowboys franchise record for rushing yards in a game.
If he was watching, Emmitt Smith was probably pretty pissed.
22. Flying Squirrels
The Green Bay Packers kicked off a 15-1 title-defense season with a hair-raising 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The offensive powerhouse Saints didn't go away without a fight, though, taking the defending champs right down to the final play of the game on the goal line.
Only spring-loaded legs helped the Packers start the season 1-0.
(That A.J Hawk interference call was pretty cool, too)
21. Freak Newton
Cam Newton is a freak of nature, period. The NFL has never before seen his like, and it could be a while before we do again.
This 50-yard touchdown run against the listless Tampa Bay Buccaneers pretty much sums up what Newton has shown us in his rookie year.
20. Dalton to Green
Pay good attention to the title of this slide, because you'll be hearing that phrase an awful lot for the next several years at the very least.
Andy Dalton and A.J Green combined to be the best first- and second-round picks a team ever had in the same draft, and this catch is just a glimpse of their potential.
How he held on here is beyond me.
19. Second Chance Smith
Torrey Smith caught this game-winning touchdown with seconds left to give the Baltimore Ravens a rare win at the Pittsburgh Steelers' home of Heinz Field, but only after he dropped a potential game-winner just one play before.
Joe Flacco showed some confidence in his young receiver, and it's the redemption that makes this special.
18. That's His Forte
Before losing the final quarter of his 2011 season to injury, Matt Forte was putting together an MVP-type campaign for the Chicago Bears by accounting for 46 percent of their offensive yardage.
This was one of his many eye-poppers. It's almost artistic in its execution.
17. JPP for President
This one saved the New York Giants' season. Needless to say, had Jason Pierre-Paul failed to make this block, the Atlanta Falcons could have spent Wild Card weekend in Dallas.
JPP, New York thanks you.
16. Revis Island
If you make a play on Darrelle Revis, he's going to make you pay for it on the next snap.
Brandon Marshall and Matt Moore found this out much to their chagrin.
Why, why, why, would you ever throw the football in Revis' direction?
(Unless you have Victor Cruz, that is)
15. Cruz Control
Everything was on the line. Playoffs. New York City pride and bragging rights. A New York Giants record.
With all that in mind, Victor Cruz cemented his place as a New York legend with a Wes Welker impression for a 99-yard touchdown catch. He helped lift the Giants over the New York Jets, set the Giants single-season receiving record, and set the Giants' play-from-scrimmage record.
Not bad for a play's work.
14. Flippin' Out
Devin Hester made history on this particular play, becoming the best return man in NFL history and making a strong case to punch himself a ticket to Canton.
His celebratory backflips are the best part of the play, though they inspired an epic failure of an imitation by Marion Barber.
13. Rumblin', Bumblin', Stumblin'
You gotta love it when a 400-pound defensive lineman the size of a small car gets the ball in his hands.
Despite failing to score, watching Vince Wilfork run brought a smile to faces across the country.
John Madden would be proud.
Calvin Johnson is called Megatron for a reason. He's simply a straight-up beast. How many other receivers can make a touchdown catch in full triple coverage, AND make it look easy?
If you can't think of one, its because they aren't called Megatron.
In Cruz's second appearance on the list, he got himself on the national radar with his second big game in three weeks.
How he made this catch is hard to understand, but it was pretty cool.
10. Runnin' Randall
Randall Cobb caught an earful for this coaching-unfriendly 108-yard kick return. Tying the record for kickoff return yardage (single play) earned the Green Bay Packers six points, while earning Cobb the ire of his coaches for not listening.
Then he got a nice big pat on the back anyway.
9. Barnett Buries the Birds
Remember when the Buffalo Bills were good this season? Yeah that was actually in 2011.
With a narrow lead over Philadelphia and the Eagles driving for the tie, the Bills' magical early run was looking to be in jeopardy
Instead, Nick Barnett randomly decided to make this very heads-up play. Nicely done.
8. He's Still Got It
Tony Gonzalez has been around for a very long time, and it seems that like a fine wine, he only gets better with age.
With a catch that a player half his age couldn't even dream of making, Tony Gonzalez adds yet another highlight to the litany of amazing plays that have made up his NFL career.
7. Bow Down to Bowe
There are good catches. There are highlight catches. There are circus catches. Then there was this.
Dwayne Bowe put some serious focus on the ball for this play.
Too bad it was against the winless Colts during a lost season for his Chiefs.
It was still a darn good catch. It could even crack the top five if the game had meant anything.
6. Salsa Cruz
I promise, this is Victor Cruz's last appearance.
Still, any play that makes Nnamdi Asomugha look this stupid deserves some recognition. This was Cruz's first touchdown in the regular season as a Giant, the play that started the journey of a legend.
It kicked off the Salsa dance. 'Nuff said.
(Side note, Cruz just turned down an offer from Dancing with the Stars. Giants fans, breathe a sigh of relief)
5. Patrick Peterson Is the Man
In a season where he came within a hair of breaking the rookie record for kick and punt return touchdowns, Patrick Peterson let Devin Hester know there's a new gun in town.
This overtime game-winner was the highlight of his rookie season.
Stay tuned for the coming years, because he'll do this again.
4. Beast Mode 2.0
Last year, Marshawn Lynch showed the world what "Beast Mode" can do when he demolished the Saints' repeat hopes on a single play.
Here, he decided it was Beast Mode time again on Thursday Night Football.
The result was not fun for the Philadelphia Eagles, and must have sucked for their fans.
We liked it.
3. I. AM. GRONKENSTEIN!
How do you a cover a tight end as fast as a wide receiver, but as strong as a defensive end?
How do you tackle a guy who clearly was grown in a laboratory somewhere?
All the Washington Redskins could tell you after this play is,
2. A Blount Object
LeGarrette Blount is just one of those bruising backs who will kill you on any given play.
When the Blount object is rolling, you might as well jump out of the way, because otherwise you'll end up on your back.
The least the Buccaneers can do would be to get him some offensive linemen.
1. Stick the Landing
I had planned to put a different play at No. 1, but after further review, the ruling on the field stands. This IS the best play of the 2011 regular season.
The pure athleticism displayed by Jerome Simpson here is the stuff of legend. We'll be seeing this on ESPN until the first big play of the 2012 season for sure.
He should get an invite to be an honorary member of the U.S Olympic gymnastics team.