Highlighting Every NFL Team's Defining Moment so Far This Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2012

Highlighting Every NFL Team's Defining Moment so Far This Season

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    Not every defining moment is positive during the NFL season. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who won't forget the call that went against them in Seattle in Week 3.

    That infamous play is just one a host of notorious moments to make the list. The teams in question may want to forget them, but they have still defined their respective seasons.

    It's not all bad though. There are plenty of highlight-worthy, game-winning moments that make this list.

    For instance, choosing a defining moment for the 2012 Washington Redskins simply involved picking Robert Griffin III's best highlight.

    Here is the complete list of every team's defining moment from the 2012 NFL season so far.

1. Arizona Cardinals: Surrendering Nine Sacks to the St. Louis Rams in Week 5

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    The Arizona Cardinals shocked many by beginning the season with four straight wins. However, their bubble was well and truly burst in Week 5.

    The Cardinals were defeated by the St. Louis Rams who logged a whopping nine sacks. The beating began the demise of Kevin Kolb and revealed the frailty of Arizona's offensive line.

    Issues at quarterback and along the front have since crippled the Cardinals' season. They have undermined a talented defense and been chiefly responsible for a seven-game losing skid.

    It all began in St. Louis in Week 5.

2. Atlanta Falcons: Both Games vs. New Orleans Saints, Weeks 10 and 13

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    After they began the season with eight wins, the rest of the league waited for the Atlanta Falcons to lose. Their first defeat came in Week 10 against hated NFC South rivals, the New Orleans Saints.

    The Falcons appeared sluggish after that defeat. They managed only two narrow wins over the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    However, they got their revenge in Thursday night's 23-13 win to all but end the Saints' slim playoff hopes.

    They still don't have the aura of a dominant team and haven't looked the same since Week 10. Yet it's still hard to argue against an 11-1 team.

3. Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice, 4th-and-29 vs. San Diego Chargers, Week 12

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    The Baltimore Ravens' defining moment just has to be Ray Rice's incredible fourth down conversion. His catch and scamper on 4th-and-29 against the San Diego Chargers summed up the 2012 Ravens.

    The team has had to overcome injuries to stars like Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. They have endured some indifferent performances from quarterback Joe Flacco.

    According to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, head coach John Harbaugh even had to quell a potential revolt.

    Yet somehow, the Ravens have endured and kept winning. Their 9-2 record is a tribute to the effort and knack for the clutch play Rice displayed in Week 12.

4. Buffalo Bills: Giving Up 48 Points vs. New York Jets, Week 1

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    The moment they allowed Mark Sanchez to throw three touchdowns, the Buffalo Bills weren't going to live up to their hype.

    More specifically, their highly-touted and expensively-assembled defense wasn't going to live up to the hype.

    So it has proved, as high-priced free agents like Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have largely disappointed. New coordinator Dave Wannstedt has failed to make his schemes work.

    The 48-28 opening-day loss to the New York Jets showed the Bills could put up points. It also showed they would struggle to stop opponents doing the same.

    Results as the season has progressed only emphasise this point. That disparity has condemned the Bills to yet another year of failure. It's their 30th-ranked scoring defense that deserves the blame.

    Wannstedt's bunch has improved in recent weeks. However, fans of a team anticipating a first playoff berth since 1999 must wish it had come sooner.

5. Carolina Panthers: Rushing for Only 10 Yards vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 1

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    Like the Bills, the Carolina Panthers were given an ominous precursor of how their season would unfold in Week 1. It came in the form of an anaemic rushing performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Despite having Cam Newton under center and DeAngelo Williams in the backfield, the Panthers gained just 10 yards rushing. That set the pattern for a disappointing season from a team that should have been pushing for the playoffs.

    Without a consistent ground attack, the Panthers just haven't been the scoring threat they were in 2011. Their offense ranks 25th in points, and that's why they're 3-8.

6. Chicago Bears: Giving Up 5.5 Sacks to Aldon Smith on Monday Night, Week 11

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    Aldon Smith's 5.5 sacks in Week 11 highlighted a problem the Chicago Bears have had for far too long.

    That Chicago's struggles in pass protection have defined another season shouldn't come as a surprise. The Bears have been woeful in this area for the last three years.

    It's why you can't really take the Bears seriously as Super Bowl contenders, when you should be able to.

    After all, this is a team with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and a suffocating defense. However, you should still pick the Packers, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants to beat them.

    Why? Because Cutler will struggle to get a pass off against any of those defenses. Giving up six sacks to the 49ers on Monday night two weeks ago is not even their worst performance.

    The Bears had already surrendered seven sacks to the Packers in Week 2. That resulted in another costly defeat to their bitter NFC North rivals.

    For the season, the Bears have given up 35 sacks. That makes it 140 since the start of the 2010 season.

    Does anyone know how that recommended ex-line coach Mike Tice for a promotion to offensive coordinator?

7. Cincinnati Bengals: Beating the Defending Super Bowl Champions, Week 10

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    For a long time, it appeared the Cincinnati Bengals would wilt under the expectation created by their 2011 season.

    However, that was until the young Bengals dominated the New York Giants in Week 10. Led by star pairing Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Cincinnati destroyed the defending Super Bowl champions.

    That 31-13 triumph seems to have sparked belief that the Bengals can repeat last season's playoff push. Since then they have recorded convincing victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.

    That's pushed their record to 6-5 and gives Marvin Lewis and his players a great chance for a postseason return.

8. Cleveland Browns: Overtime Loss vs. Dallas Cowboys, Week 11

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    Beating fierce rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12 was a real feel-good moment for the Cleveland Browns.

    However, it is Week 11's overtime loss against the Dallas Cowboys that really defines the Browns' season.

    Young head coach Pat Shurmur and his youthful team have simply not been able to close out games in 2012. Of their eight losses this season, five have been by a touchdown or less. Two others have been by 10 points.

    Their road trip to take on the Cowboys provided the perfect embodiment of the Browns' issues. They were solid on offense and very near dominant on defense.

    Yet they again contrived to throw a lead away.

    There is talent on the NFL's youngest roster. Too many close losses probably means Shurmur and his staff won't be around to guide it next season.

9. Dallas Cowboys: Thanksgiving Defeat vs. Washington Redskins, Week 12

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    Even when they think something is working, it is sure to soon go wrong for the Dallas Cowboys. Week 12's Thanksgiving loss to the Washington Redskins perfectly proved that point.

    After being let down by their defense in recent years, the Cowboys are 5-6, largely because of their offense.

    Rob Ryan's unit has been the one thing the Cowboys have been able to rely on. However, in typical Cowboys fashion, that reliable defense deserted them on Thanksgiving.

    That it happened the week the offense actually managed to put up 31 points sums up the Cowboys' recent history. A roster with as much talent as any in the league just cannot find any consistency.

10. Denver Broncos: Comeback Win over the San Diego Chargers, Week 6

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    Entering Week 6, the jury was still out on Peyton Manning's return from injury. Things didn't look to be getting better against an old nemesis, the San Diego Chargers

    After Manning threw three touchdowns to spark a Denver Broncos comeback from 24-0, any doubts were erased.

    The Chargers had to feel confident in front of their own crowd. They had frustrated Manning more than once when he played for the Indianapolis Colts.

    Racing to a 24-point lead only boosted that confidence, before the Broncos took over and defined their season.

    Manning exposed San Diego's defense with surgical precision. This was the game's ultimate field general back to his best.

    While Manning turned back the clock, pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller clamped down on Philip Rivers.

    This was how the Broncos hoped their team would work when they acquired Manning. That's how the team has worked ever since this thrilling comeback on Monday Night Football.

11. Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz's Bad Call vs. Houston Texans, Week 12

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    A season of calamity for the Detroit Lions was encapsulated by head coach Jim Schwartz's Thanksgiving gaffe. In Week 12, Schwartz managed to gift the Houston Texans a touchdown.

    Texans' backup Justin Forsett had scored on an 81-yard run, after appearing to be down. For reasons beyond understanding, Schwartz threw a challenge flag to review an automatically-reviewed scoring play.

    That was punished by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and meant that no review of the bogus touchdown took place.

    According to USA TODAYSchwartz even later acknowledged being aware of the rule to begin with.

    Schwartz had clearly lost his temper and his undisciplined error of judgement perfectly defines his wayward team. How many times have his players lost control, on and off the field?

    The whole sorry episode can be used to explain why a team as talented as the Lions are 4-7.

12. Green Bay Packers: THAT Call vs. Seattle Seahawks, Week 3

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    No matter what happens to the Green Bay Packers, this season will be defined by events from Week 3.

    That night the Packers were the victims of a baffling call by the replacement officials. Defensive back M.D. Jennings had clearly intercepted a last-second heave into the end zone against the Seattle Seahawks.

    In one of the most astonishing refereeing mishaps in any sport, the Seahawks were awarded the touchdown. They weren't just awarded it once, they were given it twice.

    Even after looking at the play in review, the replacement refs didn't get it right.

    The sight of two officials contradicting in the end zone will forever symbolise 2012's referee strike.

    It will also live in infamy in the annals of Packers history.

13. Houston Texans: Road Win vs. Chicago Bears, Week 11

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    As dominant as they had been in the AFC, the Houston Texans needed to beat a solid NFC team.

    This was certainly true after witnessing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers destroy them in Week 6. Thrashing the Baltimore Ravens the next week restored some faith, but the real test would come in Week 11.

    That's when the Texans made the trip to Chicago to face the Bears on Sunday Night Football. Coming away with a 13-6 win was hugely significant.

    It showed that the Texans could dominate away from Houston, against a playoff contender. Dominate they did, as their defense knocked Jay Cutler out of the game.

    Arian Foster also trampled over the Bears' vaunted defense for 102 yards and caught a touchdown. This win cemented the Texans' status as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

14. Indianapolis Colts: Beating Green Bay Packers, Week 5

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    There's no more uplifting performance this season, than the Indianapolis Colts beating the Green Bay Packers in Week 5.

    Just nine days after head coach Chuck Pagano began his treatment for leukemia, the upstart Colts beat the powerhouse Packers.

    Their thrilling victory was sparked by top overall draft pick Andrew Luck. The rookie quarterback proved he was ready to herald a new era after the Peyton Manning years.

    He received brilliant support from a mainstay of Manning's time, wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Luck and Wayne have gone on to inspire the young Colts to a 7-4 record.

    They are on the brink of playoff contention, and their run began with this great win.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Henne Takes over for Blaine Gabbert

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    Since Chad Henne stepped in, the Jacksonville Jaguars are doing something that had almost become an alien concept to them. They are scoring points.

    Henne relieved an injured Gabbert against the Texans in Week 11 and was soon piling up the yards. He hurled four touchdowns, prompting head coach Mike Mularkey to name him the starter.

    In Week 12, Henne justified that call by leading the Jaguars to only their second win this season. He steered them past the Tennessee Titans with two more touchdown passes.

    Need an indication of how effective Henne has been? Since he took over, top draft pick Justin Blackmon has actually caught some touchdowns.

16. Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles Rushes for 233 Yards, Week 3

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    Next to nothing has gone right for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, but at least they have Jamaal Charles. The most exciting running back in the NFL has been magnificent this season.

    His signature game inspired the Chiefs only win. Charles tore through the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, rushing for 233 yards.

    The highlight was his stunning 91-yard effort up the sideline. It showcased his breathtaking acceleration and elite speed.

    Charles has 928 yards on the ground this season. He is averaging 4.8 yards every time he carries the ball.

    Charles is also the Chiefs only hope for points and a second win.

17. Miami Dolphins: Brian Hartline Records 253 Receiving Yards, Week 4

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    Diminutive wide receiver Brian Hartline has been one of the hidden gems of the 2012 season. In Week 4, the Miami Dolphins pass-catcher shredded the Arizona Cardinals secondary for 253 yards.

    Hartline exposed Arizona's zone coverage to get more open than any receiver should be, for an 80-yard score. That was the highlight of a 12-catch effort. It is also the only touchdown of an otherwise breakout season.

    Hartline has caught 55 passes for 807 yards and emerged as the favourite target for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

18. Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson vs. Seattle Seahawks, Week 9

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    Any performance by Adrian Peterson could be used to define the Minnesota Vikings this season. His effort against the Seattle Seahawks from Week 9 is as good a choice as any.

    Peterson scampered through and around the usually stubborn Seattle defense for 182 yards. You're not supposed to be able to run on Red Bryant and the Seahawks like that.

    You're also not supposed to perform as well as Peterson has after serious knee surgery.

19. New England Patriots: Thrashing the St. Louis Rams at Wembley, Week 8

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    When they arrived in London for their second game at Wembley since 2009, the New England Patriots didn't appear dominant.

    After all, they had already lost three times, including defeats to the Cardinals and Seahawks. The week before Wembley, the Patriots had narrowly bested the Jets at home.

    However, it soon became clear that Tom Brady and company had just been warming up. After falling behind to an early touchdown, Brady and the Patriots simply annihilated the St. Louis Rams.

    Brady threw four touchdowns, and Stevan Ridley ran for 127 yards. The defense forced three turnovers.

    The 45-7 massacre in London was the Patriots most complete performance of the season. It served as a precursor for their recent comprehensive victories over the Colts and Jets.

20. New Orleans Saints: Losing to the Washington Redskins at Home, Week 1

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    Many wondered if perennial contenders the New Orleans Saints would struggle without suspended head coach Sean Payton. When they began the season by losing at home to the Washington Redskins, the Saints provided a depressing answer.

    The 40-32 reverse showed that despite their talent, the Saints would indeed struggle without their familiar leaders. It also revealed that the defense, under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, would be far from improved.

    The opening-day defeat was the start of a four-game losing streak that all but wrecked the Saints' season.

21. New York Giants: Beating the San Francisco 49ers, Week 6

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    How do the New York Giants consistently raise their level of play for the biggest games? It's a secret 31 other teams would likely love to know.

    The defining example from the best clutch team in the NFL came in Week 6. The Giants had already been beaten by the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

    Big Blue had also been pushed all the way at home by the Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now they had to face a daunting trip to San Francisco to battle the powerful 49ers.

    Surely the Giants were primed for a beating? Not exactly.

    The defending Super Bowl champions toyed with the 49ers en route to an emphatic 26-3 victory. The most impressive aspects came in the running game.

    The Giants blanked the usually prolific San Francisco ground attack. They also established one of their own, against one of the stingiest rush defenses in league history.

    The Giants have the habit of delivering their best performances when it matters most. It's the best habit to have in sports.

22. New York Jets: Embarrassing Fumble vs. New England Patriots, Week 12

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    The New York Jets' season has been a comedy of errors. No calamity has provoked more ridicule than Mark Sanchez's fumble against the New England Patriots in Week 12.

    Sanchez spilled possession after colliding with the rear of offensive lineman Brandon Moore. Need a microcosm of the Jets in 2012? That is it.

23. Oakland Raiders: Surrendering 55 Points to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10

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    The 2012 Oakland Raiders are bad. Want to know just how bad? Take a look back at their Week 10 drubbing at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

    The game finished 55-20, and it wasn't even that close. It is the low point of a season full of heavy defeats.

    Rookie head coach Dennis Allen faces a major task getting the Raiders even close to competitive. At this rate, Allen and new general manager Reggie McKenzie might not even be around to try next season.

24. Philadelphia Eagles: Late Collapse vs. Detroit Lions, Week 6

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    There was a time this season when the Philadelphia Eagles actually had a winning record. Entering Week 5 they were 3-1 and had just knocked off their biggest rival, the New York Giants.

    They followed that by losing a two-pointer to the Pittsburgh Steelers after allowing a last-gasp field goal. There's no shame in a close loss on the road against the Steelers.

    However, when they blew another lead the next week against the Detroit Lions, the Eagles' season collapsed. Allowing another late rally led to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

    Heralded as a popular move at the time, Castillo's departure has seen Philadelphia's defense fall apart. The problems that were beneath the surface of their close, early wins have become more pronounced.

    The Eagles have not won since that Lions comeback.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger's Injury, Week 10

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    When Ben Roethlisberger went down injured in Week 10, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl hopes went with him.

    With Roethlisberger on the sidelines, the Steelers have lost two straight. Worse still, both defeats have come in the AFC North.

    Never mind catching the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers now have to worry about staying ahead of the Bengals.

26. San Diego Chargers : Week 5 Collapse vs. Denver Broncos

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    Scoring 24 points in one half, then conceding 35 in the next perfectly sums up the San Diego Chargers. This is a talented team that somehow always finds new ways to fall out of contention.

    They certainly did when they let a four-score lead slip at home against the Denver Broncos in Week 5.

    Quarterback Philip Rivers could do no wrong in the first two quarters. He could do nothing right in the third and fourth. That line could be used to describe Rivers' career and the Chargers' season.

27. San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick Steps in Against Chicago Bears

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    It's hard to believe there's actually a quarterback controversy brewing on a team as smoothly-run as the San Francisco 49ers.

    The issue began when second-year pro Colin Kaepernick stepped in for the injured Alex Smith in Week 11. He oversaw a 32-7 triumph over the Bears. The next week he led a victory over the Saints in New Orleans.

    Head coach Jim Harbaugh has named Kaepernick the starter the rest of the way. However, his "hot hand" rationale is hardly the biggest endorsement.

    Tight end Vernon Davies didn't exactly walk the party line when he appeared to back Smith as "the guy."

    The 49ers are a model of efficiency. This kind of uncertainty could prove to be a dangerous distraction.

    One way or the other, it will certainly define their season.

28. Seattle Seahawks: Golden Tate's Apparent TD Catch, Week 3

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    The Seahawks have led a charmed life in Seattle this season. Fortune certainly favoured them when Golden Tate was given the winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.

    That infamous play gave the Seahawks the win over Green Bay. The victory marked the first of a few high-profile victims of Pete Carroll's team on their home field.

    They've also beaten the Patriots, Vikings and Jets in Seattle. That home form has kept the Seahawks on the brink of playoff contention.

    If only they could win on the road.

29. St. Louis Rams: Sweeping the Arizona Cardinals, Week 12

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    Sweeping the Arizona Cardinals is big for the St. Louis Rams. They had lost 10 of 11 games to the Cardinals before the 2012 season.

    Before completing the double, they were without a win in five games after a positive start to Jeff Fisher's reign. In fact, the Rams last win before Week 12 was their first win over the Cardinals in Week 5.

    Just when doubts might have arisen about Fisher's rebuilding efforts, his young team proved they are on the right track.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin's Breakout Performance, Week 8

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    When rookie running back Doug Martin broke out in Week 8, he transformed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Martin rushed for 135 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, sparking a huge 36-17 road win.

    Since then, the Buccaneers have gone from a struggling rebuilding team, to playoff contenders. Martin amassed 251 yards against the Raiders a week after dominating the Vikings.

    He added 138 more against the Panthers two weeks ago. The first-year runner is leading a genuine revival in Tampa Bay.

31. Tennessee Titans: Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 6

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    Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6 showed what the Tennessee Titans can do when they are at their best. Arguably the most inconsistent team in the NFL, the Titans have the talent to beat anybody.

    Yet they are also fragile enough to lose to anybody. Their results this season are bizarre just to look at, let alone analyse.

    When they have been on form they have impressed, just as they did against the Steelers. When they have been below par, they have been hammered, as they were by the Chicago Bears in Week 9.

32. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin's 76-Yard Game Winner, Week 6

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    If there's one play that defines Robert Griffin III's impact on the Washington Redskins, it came in Week 6. Griffin sealed a frantic win over the Minnesota Vikings by sprinting 76 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

    The Redskins had been dominating behind yet more big plays from their rookie phenom. However, the Vikings had battled back and pulled to within just five points.

    The Redskins needed one big, game-breaking play. Griffin delivered it because that's exactly what he is for the Redskins.

    He is their game winner, and this play is the most memorable of many that prove it.