As leaves fall, cold winds blow and frost begins to cover grass and windshields in some parts of the nation, the football season turns. For some teams, Week 9 was the last straw, the final loss that leaves them playing only for draft order.
For some, however, Week 9 was where they started thawing out, heating up or even rocketing towards a playoff berth. For some teams, Week 9 was where they staked their claim to the postseason.
These are the plays that sealed fates, revived hopes and secured victory. These are the biggest plays of Week 9.
Michael Turner's 43-yard Run
With the Sunday Night Football score locked at six points apiece and just 1:34 left before the fourth quarter, it seemed like the first big play would win the game. Michael Turner, who many thought had no big plays left in his wheels, ripped off this 43-yard run that would set up the game's decisive first touchdown:
The Falcons are in an offset I-formation, with a tight end to the left and two receivers to the right. The fullback is offset to the weak side. The Cowboys are in their base 3-4, with safety Gerald Sensabaugh lined up over the slot receiver and one safety deep:
The Cowboys, guessing that on 2nd-and-2 the Falcons will try to run, run-blitz this play like crazy, sending three of their four linebackers, as well as Sensabaugh. The first block that makes this play work is the seal block by right tackle Tyson Clabo:
Clabo pushes DeMarcus Ware past the play, giving fullback Lousaka Polite a clear shot at defensive end Kenyon Coleman. But the second block that makes this play work comes from wide receiver Roddy White:
White so thoroughly shuts down Sensabaugh's blitz that Turner sees more daylight to the outside of White than behind his lead blocker, so he bounces the run outside:
If Julio Jones holds his block on the outside half as well as White held his, this play might have gone even farther. But since Turner punched it in himself shortly thereafter, this 43-yard run is still what broke the game open.
Tom Crabtree's 72-yard Bomb
With just seconds left in the third quarter, the Packers were trying to extend a one-score lead over the visiting Cardinals. Desperate not to lose pace in the breakneck NFC North race, Aaron Rodgers found a wide-open Tom Crabtree:
The Cardinals are set up in a 2-4-5 nickel, with three corners apparently matched up on the receivers and a Cover 2 shell helping out deep:
This formation the Packers are using is interesting. It's a shotgun-based, three-receiver set. They have a split end to the left, slot and flanker to the right. But Crabtree, a receiver, is lined up as what can best be described as shallow tailback to Rodgers' left, while tailback Alex Green is to Rodgers' right, at the usual depth for a shotgun tailback.
At the snap, Crabtree zips up the seam while Rodgers executes a play fake to Green. The Cardinals linebackers initially bite, then hesitate as they see the fake before they're drawn out of position. But look at cornerback William Gay:
Gay starts sneaking up to the line before Rodgers snaps, and he appears to blitz, passing off his man, Jarrett Boykin, to the safety. When Gay sees the play fake, though, he backs off.
Gay reads Rodgers' eyes, locking in on Boykin, and turns around and gives chase:
Meanwhile, Crabtree races past both middle linebackers. Rodgers resets, looks down the middle of the field and realizes there's nobody defending deep. Gay sees that the deep safety has peeled off to cover his man, Boykin, and Rodgers hasn't thrown the ball. Gay turns back around as Crabtree is whizzing past him:
Were the Cardinals corner-blitzing an anticipated draw? Gay clearly backed off when he saw the handoff was a fake. Did the linebackers have responsibility for Crabtree? Perhaps distracted by the play-action, they gave chase far too late. Either way, the coverage was blown, and the Packers took a commanding lead.
T.Y. Hilton & Andrew Luck's Huge Touchdown
In the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Indianapolis Colts were down 17-13 to the Miami Dolphins. Both teams needed a win to stay above .500 for the season, and the Colts needed a big play to get back on top. Interim head coach Bruce Arians dialed one up:
At the snap, this play looks anything but aggressive. It's an offset I, with flanker Reggie Wayne motioning closer to the tight end and split end T.Y. Hilton off to the left. The Dolphins are in their base 4-3, with a safety showing blitz:
This safety is key, because the Colts are planning to attack deep. Hilton streaks downfield, intending to run a skinny post to the end zone. Wayne flies up the seam, about to cut inside:
With one safety showing blitz, both receivers are now attacking deep. The corner covering Wayne allows him the inside. When Wayne actually cuts inside, the corner passes him off to the safety and continues downfield. The safety biting on Wayne is what cues Luck to throw to Hilton.
The corner covering Hilton has his hips turned inside, and he seems to be expecting Hilton to continue on a fly route down the sideline. Instead, Hilton cuts behind the safety toward the middle of the field. The corner originally covering Wayne converges on Hilton, too:
Ultimately, Hilton makes this play. If the ball had been there just a bit quicker, he would have caught it all alone. Instead, he outjumps both corners and hauls in the critical score.
Brian Urlacher's Pick-Six
No. 54 has been playing the game a long, long time. When Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune reported Urlacher had a controversial knee procedure in Europe, many wondered if he would play at all this year, or ever at a high level again.
But Urlacher made the first of what seemed like countless huge defensive plays in his Chicago Bears' hosing of the Tennessee Titans:
The Titans are lined up in a shotgun, empty backfield, five-wide set. Tailback Chris Johnson is split wide to the left; linebacker Lance Briggs follows him. The Bears are in a nickel personnel package, but with the Briggs motion they are lined up in a dime shape:
At the snap, we see that Johnson is truly a decoy. He literally just stands there. No, the real action is in the right slot, where tight end Jared Cook and slot receiver Damian Williams cross each other.
Cook runs 10 yards deep before cutting inside, and Williams cuts at five yards. This should get Williams "open" underneath, as the nickel corner over him scrambles to close the gap. It would have worked, except Urlacher:
The cagey veteran reads Matt Hasselbeck's eyes all the way and jumps the route.
After Urlacher makes the catch, he hurdles Hasselbeck and gets the one block he needs to score. Like Kobe Bryant before him, Urlacher's knee procedure is allowing him to remain a difference-maker on a championship contender.
You Decide: Which Is Biggest?
So who had the biggest play of Week 9? Which play was the most impressive, most explosive or most critical? Cast your ballot, hopefully not for the only time today!
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