The Top 10 Defensive Plays at the NFL's Midseason Mark
Offense may still rule the highlight package every NFL weekend, but that hasn't stopped defenses from making their share of top 10 plays through the midway point of the 2012 season.
Whether it be a game-changing interception, a pivotal sack late or a scoop-and-score fumble recovery, defenses have found a number of spectacular ways to get into the highlights this season.
In the following slides, we'll give you the top 10 defensive plays of the 2012 season, complete with video highlights provided by NFL.com.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Gambles and Loses on Revis Island
Very few quarterbacks have dared to vacation at Revis Island and come home without at least a sunburn. Revis did Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills one better in Week 1.
While Fitzpatrick's perimeter throw to Stevie Johnson appeared to be a somewhat safe decision, Revis undercut the route in a flash and made an improbable tip-toe catch along the sidelines. The play set up an eventual touchdown for the Jets in a 48-28 romp.
The beauty of his pick? It was the first defensive possession of 2012 for the Jets, and the first time all season a quarterback dared to challenge Revis. Quarterbacks won't have anymore chances to challenge him this season (torn ACL, IR), but Revis made a strong opening statement in Week 1 with this interception.
Bowman Picks off Rodgers' Comeback Bid
The San Francisco 49ers bested the Green Bay Packers in one of the better Week 1 matchups, and NaVorro Bowman's interception in the fourth quarter was a big reason why.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was given the ball back with the Packers down 23-15 and 8:59 left in the fourth quarter. Green Bay had just scored on its last possession to cut the lead to eight, and Rodgers had a chance to tie the game with another touchdown and two-point conversion.
Bowman ended that opportunity on Green Bay's first play.
While originally appearing to cover John Kuhn out of the backfield, Bowman actually drops back into the middle of the field and picks off Rodgers. The reigning MVP threw just six picks all of last season.
On the 49ers' next play, Frank Gore rumbled in from 23 yards out to essentially seal a season-opening win for San Francisco.
Porter Does Is Again
Tracy Porter sealed the New Orleans Saints' first-ever Super Bowl championship with a late pick-six of then Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. In Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Porter did it again.
With the Broncos clinging to a six-point lead with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter, Porter stepped in front of a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 43-yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
The pick and resulting run back were both eerily similar to Porter's signature moment in Super Bowl XLIV. While the play didn't win Manning a Super Bowl, it did ensure his first win as the Broncos' new quarterback.
Cardinals Capitalize Big on Vick Fumble
Down 17 points on the road and with just seconds left in the first half, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid decided to get greedy. Instead of taking the sure three points, Reid sent Michael Vick and the offense back onto the field.
It backfired on both Reid and Vick.
Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes blew up Vick on a backside blitz, causing a fumble that James Sanders picked up and returned 93 yards for a back-breaking touchdown as the first half expired. Instead of a 17-3 or 17-7 game, Arizona led 24-0 at half. Game over.
The Cardinals would hold on for an impressive 27-6 win to improve to 3-0 on the young season. Vick and the Eagles still can't quit turning the football over.
Wright's Tricky Pick and Touchdown Return
Speaking of mistakes late in the first half, Giants quarterback Eli Manning comes close to outdoing Vick and the Eagles in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Down 17-13 with under 15 seconds to go in the first half, Manning attempts a short pass to Victor Cruz to get the Giants into field goal range. Tampa Bay cornerback Eric Wright had other plans for the play.
While on the blitz off the edge, Wright has the ball thrown right to him, and then he does the rest with an impressive return. Wright jukes his way out of trouble, then outruns the Giants offensive for a huge touchdown.
Manning would respond with 510 yards in a Giants win, but Wright's play is arguably the most impressive defensive play of the young season.
Weddle's One-Hander Sparks a Turnover Frenzy
San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle certainly knows how to get a turnover party started.
On the Kansas City Chiefs' first offensive possession in Week 4, Weddle picked off Matt Cassel with an impressive one-handed catch near the sidelines. The Chargers would score on the resulting possession, but the turnovers were just getting started.
The Chiefs would turn the ball over six times on this day, which ultimately led to a 38-20 win for the Chargers on the road at Arrowhead Stadium.
DeCoud Gets One of His League-Leading Picks on MNF
This interception from Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud doesn't look all that difficult. Peyton Manning makes a poor read, and DeCoud does well to rotate over and make the pick.
However, this was arguably the most impressive of Atlanta's three first-quarter interceptions of Manning, and never before had Manning thrown three picks in the first 15 minutes of a game. Historically, that has to count for something.
Also, DeCoud is currently the NFL's interception leader with four. Perfect reads like this are a big reason why he's No. 1.
Packers Prove Adept at Catching Cutler Passes
Technically, this isn't "one" play. But few defenses this season have made a quarterback look as bad as the Green Bay Packers did to Jay Cutler in Week 2.
Green Bay picked off Cutler four times, sacked him on seven other plays and even got the quarterback in trouble for bumping his offensive tackle.
The picks were the standout plays for Green Bay.
Veteran Charles Woodson secured the 55th interception of his Hall of Fame career, while Tramon Williams had a diving pick and another thanks to a tipped ball. Rookie Jerron McMillian got the fourth and final mistake from Cutler late. All but Williams' second pick (tip) could have earned a spot on this list.
Wright's Reservation for Six
No defense has scored as many touchdowns this season as the Chicago Bears. The team's five—all coming on interceptions—are two more than the next closest defense.
Safety Major Wright got into the act during a Week 3 win over the St. Louis Rams.
With the Rams down seven points and on the drive, Wright made the game-winning play. Off a juggled pass, Wright intercepted Sam Bradford and returned the pick 46 yards to put the Bears up 20-6
Both touchdowns from Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman this season could have also made the list. But we gave the slight nod to Wright, partly because his dance in the end zone was, well, offensive.
Nink Finishes off the Jets in OT
Can a defensive play really get any better than one that ends a ballgame?
Rob Ninkovich of the New England Patriots doesn't think so.
Holding a three-point lead in overtime against the New York Jets Sunday, Ninkovich sacked and stripped Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on second down. His recovery of the ensuing fumble both ended the game and sent the Patriots to the top of the AFC East.
Game. Set. Match.
BONUS: JJ's Pick Six, Thanks to J.J.'s Tip
Ten plays wasn't enough to satisfy you're appetite, was it? Good, because J.J. Watt, Jonathan Joseph and the Houston Texans have one more for you.
Watt, arguably the NFL's defensive player of the year so far in 2012, deflected this Joe Flacco attempt Sunday, helping give cornerback Jonathan Joseph an easy interception and touchdown.
Including this play, Watt already has 10 pass defensed this season. Mind you, the league leader in pass defensed (Richard Sherman) has 11. Besides Watt, no other non-defensive back is currently in the top 50 for passes defenses in 2012.
Oh, and his nine sacks lead the NFL. Watt needed to be on this list somewhere.