Every week, there are plays made or not made that change the course of a game. In Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season, 10 such plays stood out.
In some games, like the Chicago Bears versus the Indianapolis Colts, there was not one defining play. While in the game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, a case can be made that there was more than one.
Here are 10 game-changing plays from Week 1.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers leading 13-7 with 5:35 left in the third quarter, Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning hit Demaryius Thomas with a quick pass in the left flat. Wide receiver Eric Decker got a solid shield block on the cornerback. Offensive guard Zane Beadles, who looked athletic in space, kept safety Ryan Mundy occupied 20 yards downfield long enough to allow Thomas to split the seam and score.
Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu took a poor inside-out angle to the play and was walled off by left tackle Ryan Clady.
This huge touchdown was another breakdown by the Steelers secondary, reminiscent of Thomas’ long touchdown catch and run in the playoffs last season.
Though the Steelers did come back, Manning and the Broncos offense wore down a beaten-down Steelers defense for the victory.
After Green Bay's Randall Cobb returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and the Packers defense had forced a 49ers punt, the momentum seemed to have shifted in Green Bay's favor, despite trailing at home 23-15 with 8:59 remaining.
On the game's pivotal play, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was under a lot of pressure most of the game, had a clean pocket and tried to hit wide receiver Greg Jennings on a seam pattern to the left side of the field. But NaVorro Bowman dropped into coverage and went high up to snag the football.
Rodgers seemed to stare down Jennings and made a poor throw. Bowman made the NFL MVP pay.
Running back Frank Gore scored on a 23-yard run the next play and the 49ers left Lambeau Field 1-0.
The New York Jets, who only scored one touchdown in the preseason, were already up on the Buffalo Bills 14-0 when the game-changing play occurred. Jeremy Kerley, who missed a majority of the preseason with a hamstring injury, was back to receive a punt.
With 12:50 to play in the second quarter, he caught the football at the Jets 32-yard line, started left, then shot straight up the field between several member of the Buffalo punt coverage unit. The touchdown was the Jets’ first punt-return score since Santana Moss’ in 2002.
The Billslooked deflated after that play and took another blow when starting running back Fred Jackson went out of the game with a knee injury.
The Cincinnati Bengals had one last chance to get back in the game versus the Baltimore Ravens. But when Ed Reed intercepted Andy Dalton's pass, the game was over.
The Ravens were already leading 27-13, but the Reed touchdown was the nail in the coffin for the Bengals. It came at :22 mark of the third quarter.
Dalton’s pass was intended for tight end Jermaine Gresham on a quick stick route up the right seam. The pass was high. Gresham tipped the ball into the waiting hands of Reed, who returned it 34 yards. In so doing, he set a career NFL record with 1,497 return yards.
The return passed Hall of Fame great Rod Woodson and cemented Reed as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The interception return for a touchdown was the 13th total score of his career.
The Buccaneers were up 13-7 in the fourth quarter. Panthers rookie Brad Nortman was back to punt and and hopefully turn around the field position for the Panthers.
Instead, Talib from his wing position on the left side of the punt block formation shot through unblocked and knocked the football down.
It was recovered by defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn on the Carolina 42-yard line, and the Panthers never recovered. Quarterback Josh Freeman ate up a majority of the rest of the clock, and kicker Connor Barth sealed the win with a 22-yard field goal with 2:50 to play.
With the Redskins leading 33-25 late in the fourth quarter, the Saints had a 1st-and-10 on their 27-yard line with 3:35 to play.
Given time to throw, quarterback Drew Brees fired a pass down the middle of the field intended for wide receiver Lance Moore. But Dejon Gomes jumped the route, snatched the football and returned it to the Saints 3-yard line.
Rookie running back Alfred Morris then sealed the win with a three-yard touchdown run.
In a see-saw battle in Detroit, the St. Louis Rams led the Lions 23-20 with two minutes remaining. Matthew Stafford, who had played one of his worst games as a professional. had driven the Lions into Rams territory.
After burning the team's last timeout, Stafford and his teammates faced a 2nd-and-7 situation with 30 seconds left on the clock. Stafford dropped back to pass and hit a wide-open Johnson in the middle of the field for an 18-yard gain to put his team in position for a game-tying field goal.
Instead, Stafford cooly got his team to the line of scrimmage, spiked the football and regrouped before running back Kevin Smith plowed into the end zone for the winning score.
Atlanta was leading the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-17, and the Chiefs had the ball on their 15-yard line with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter when quarterback Matt Cassel dropped back to pass.
On the snap, right defensive end John Abraham fired out of his three-point stance and raced past left tackle Branden Albert, who was left grasping for air. Abraham swiped at the ball as he hit Cassel and forced a fumble. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas dove on the football at the Kansas City 7-yard line.
On the next play, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan hit tight end Tony Gonzalez with a seven-yard touchdown strike, and the game was over.
Travis Goethel was put in a tough position on Monday night when normal long snapper Jon Cordo was injured in the game against the San Diego Chargers. With Goethel snapping, the Raiders punt team fell apart.
In the fourth quarter with the game still very much on the line, the Chargers led 19-6 when Shane Lechler, who had a punt blocked earlier in the game, went back to punt again. On 4th and 21, Goethel rolled a snap back to Lechler that the Pro Bowl punter could not field, turning the ball over to the Chargers on the Raiders 42-yard line.
The Chargers proceeded to score on a 27-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding to seal the win.
With 14 seconds left in the game, the Vikings trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars by three points. The Jaguars had just scored on a long touchdown pass from quarterback Blaine Gabbert to wide receiver Cecil Shorts and looked to have all the momentum.
Ponder took the snap from his 31-yard line and quickly found Devin Aromashodu up the right side for a gain of 26 yards. This clutch throw in a pressure situation allowed the Vikings to get into field-goal range for rookie Blair Walsh. The rookie did not disappoint, hitting a game-tying, 55-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
The Vikings, now with the momentum on their side, went on to win, 26-23, thanks in large part to the calm, clutch play of Ponder.