100 Most Memorable Moments in the NFL Since 2000
Since the start of the new millennium, there have been dozens, even hundreds, of moments that the average NFL fan will never forget. From memorable post-game rants by coaches to individual record-setting performances to last-second game-winning touchdowns in the Super Bowl, there has been no shortage of unforgettable moments. Anything that will be talked about and remembered by fans for years to come is eligible for this list.
The most difficult part? Narrowing it down to the top 100 and ranking them in order. That's what this article attempts to do.
So in reverse order, they are as follows: the 100 most memorable moments in the National Football League since the start of the new millennium (2000).
100. 2009: Brett Favre Leads Minneapolis Miracle
Everything seemed to go right for Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. Favre played all 16 games, posted the highest single-season passer rating of his career and even swept the Green Bay Packers, his old team.
And in week four, he completed one of the most incredible finishes to a game in the last decade.
Trailing 24-20 late in the fourth quarter to the San Francisco 49ers, Favre and the Vikings faced a third-and-three from the 32-yard line. Favre rolled right and unleashed a cannon the back of the end zone that was caught, somehow, by Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone. A replay confirmed that Lewis had both feet in-bounds, giving the Vikings an improbable victory.
For Favre, it was one of hundreds of highlights in a future Hall of Fame career. For Lewis, it was the only touchdown he would score in a Vikings uniform and one of just eight in his career.
99. 2009: Brandon Stokley GW Tip Drill Touchdown
As far as late-game dramatics go, this is the kind of play you'll see once every decade.
Here's what happened. The Bengals had just scored a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead in the final minute. The Broncos had 2nd and 10 from their own 13-yard line. 28 seconds remained in the game. Kyle Orton heaved a deep pass intended for Brandon Stokley. The pass was tipped straight up in the air by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall. Stokley grabbed the deflected ball and sprinted untouched 87 yards into the end zone for the game-winning score.
The game was the first of rookie head coach Josh McDaniels' tenure and it helped the Broncos start the year with a 6-0 record.
98. 2009: Big Ben Hits 500 on Season-Saving Walkoff Touchdown
Fresh off their second Super Bowl title in four seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers started hot, winning six of their first eight games. They looked every bit a threat to compete for another Super Bowl title, which would cement their place in football lore as a dynasty.
Then disaster struck, as the Steelers dropped, incredibly, five straight games, all coming down to the final minute. The playoffs remained a distant possibility for a Pittsburgh squad that stood at 6-7, needing three straight victories, and some help, to earn a postseason berth.
A week 15 contest against the Green Bay Packers turned into a shootout, with the teams combining for 35 total points in the fourth quarter. The game came down to a classic two-minute drive by Ben Roethlisberger, as the Steelers quarterback led them from their own 14-yard line. The final play, a 19-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace in the left corner of the end zone, gave the Steelers a dramatic 37-36 victory.
97. 2007: Patriots Stay Perfect with MNF Drive Against Ravens
On fourth and 1 from the Ravens' 30-yard line, Brady was stuffed on a quarterback sneak but a sideline timeout from defensive coordinator Rex Ryan gave the Patriots another chance.
On fourth and 1 again, the Patriots were stopped on a Heath Evans run, but a false start by right guard Ross Hochstein gave the Patriots a third chance.
On fourth and 1 for the third time, Brady scrambled for 12 yards up the middle.
On fourth and 6 from the Ravens' 13-yard line, Brady threw an incompletion over the middle to Benjamin Watson but a holding penalty by defensive back Jamaine Winborne gave the Patriots a first down and one more chance.
It's impossible for a team to win all 16 games without having at least some luck. For the 2007 New England Patriots, the luck came against the Baltimore Ravens in week 13.
Here's what happened. The Ravens led the Patriots 24-20 when Brady and company took over at their own 27-yard line. Three and a half minutes remained in the game.
Brady managed to lead the Patriots on an improbable 70-yard touchdown drive, culminating in an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 55 seconds remaining in the game. During the drive, the Patriots escaped four fourth downs.
After the Patriots took a three-point lead with their touchdown, the Ravens still had a chance. Incredibly, the game ended when quarterback Kyle Boller completed a 52-yard Hail Mary pass to Mark Clayton... down to the one-yard line.
96. 2011: New Rookie CBA
In 2010, Sam Bradford signed a six-year deal worth $78 million, including $50 million in guaranteed money. That's the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. Oh, and Bradford had never played a snap in the NFL.
That was the final straw for the NFL, which realized that guaranteed contracts for unproven rookie players were spiraling completely out of control. Before the 2011 season, the league voted to change the rookie wage scale, decreasing contracts for players by more than 50 percent.
The number one overall draft pick in 2011, Cam Newton, signed a four-year deal worth $22.03 million. Although his entire contract is guaranteed, it's a significant decrease from Bradford and previous high draft picks. Teams can now free up a lot more cap space by spending significantly less money on their top picks.
95. 2003: Willie McGinest Stuffs Edgerrin James to Win Home-Field
Home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs was likely at stake when the 9-2 New England Patriots traveled to Indianapolis to play the 9-2 Colts in week 13. The Patriots jumped out to a 31-10 lead late in the third quarter but Peyton Manning, the eventual league MVP., rallied the Colts back, setting the stage for a dramatic ending.
Trailing 38-34, the Colts faced a first-and-goal from the two-yard line. Just 40 seconds remained in the game. And that's when the Patriots pulled off the goal-line stand of the century, stopping Edgerrin James on first and second down, forcing an incompletion on third down and stuffing James on fourth and goal from the one.
The victory enabled the Patriots to clinch the top overall seed in the AFC, which came in handy when they hosted (and defeated) the Colts in the AFC championship.
94. 2007: Dallas Stuns Buffalo on MNF
For the Buffalo Bills, this was their Super Bowl. They hadn't made the postseason since 1999 and finally earned the right to host a Monday Night game for the first time since 1994.
For 57 minutes, the Bills dominated the Cowboys. They caused six turnovers (five interceptions, one lost fumble) and held a 24-16 lead late in the fourth quarter. Tony Romo led Dallas on a touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 24-22 with just 24 seconds remaining but when the Cowboys missed the two-point conversion attempt, it appeared the game was over.
But the 'Boys recovered an onside kick and Romo completed two quick passes to put Dallas in long field goal range. That's when Nick Folk made not one, but two field goals from 53 yards (the first was nullified by a Buffalo timeout) to give Dallas its fifth victory, keeping them undefeated on the season.
93. 2006: Vince Young Rookie Winning Streak
Vince Young entered the NFL as a rookie following one of the greatest seasons by a college quarterback in history. He finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy, led Texas to a national championship and was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the third overall pick.
As a rookie, he didn't impress anyone statistically but he managed to lead the Titans on a six-game winning streak after they started the year with a 2-7 record.
The most impressive victory came against the New York Giants when the Titans trailed 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Young led the Titans to 24 points in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, throwing a pair of touchdown passes and rushing for another. The Titans won on a walkoff field goal.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, who entered the game with a 10-1 record, he engineered a last-minute game-winning drive, setting up Rob Bironas's walkoff 60-yard field goal. Against the Houston Texans, he ran 39 yards for a touchdown in overtime to clinch a victory. And against the Buffalo Bills, he led the Titans back from nine points down in the final quarter.
Young's miraculous winning streak had the Titans on the brink of the playoffs before a season-ending loss to the New England Patriots. For his efforts, Young was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
92. 2007: AP Rushes for 296 Against San Diego
It's one of the greatest single-game performances by a running back in NFL history. Against the San Diego Chargers, rookie Adrian Peterson carried 30 times for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
The 296 yards broke Jamal Lewis's old record of 295 yards, and 253 of his rushing yards came in the second half. The Vikings held on to win 35-17 in a game that was also marked by Antonio Cromartie's 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown.
91. 2012: Smith, Harbaugh Down Brees, Payton in Playoff Shootout
The ending to the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints had probably the most dramatic final four minutes in the history of the postseason.
The 49ers took an early 17-0 lead but the Saints rallied, with a 44-yard screen pass to Darren Sproles giving New Orleans a 24-23 lead with 4:11 remaining.
Alex Smith put the 49ers back on top with a 28-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown but Drew Brees responded, hooking up with tight end Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard touchdown to give New Orleans a 32-29 lead.
Smith answered back, driving the 49ers 85 yards in just 1:23. He hit Vernon Davis for a 47-yard gain to put the 49ers in easy field goal range. Two plays later, he fired the game-winner, a 14-yard strike to Davis that gave the 49ers a 36-32 victory.
The game was the first in postseason history with four touchdowns in the final five minutes. It was a truly memorable postseason debut for Smith and rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh.
90. 2007: Super Bowl XLI 1/2
As far as regular season matchups, you really couldn't have scripted a bigger game than Patriots at Colts in week 9 of the 2007 season. Both teams entered the game with undefeated records, the Patriots at 8-0 and the Colts at 7-0. Add in the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and it's easy to see why the media took to calling the game Super Bowl XLI ½.
As it turned out, neither quarterback played quite as well as they usually did, but it was Tom Brady who led a 10-point comeback in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter. When Peyton Manning lost a fumble with 2:34 remaining, the Patriots clinched a four-point victory. They eventually finished the season with the second undefeated record in the modern era.
89. 2014: Luck-Y Comeback Against Chiefs
The 2013 season was a tale of two halves for the Kansas City Chiefs. It's only fitting that their wild-card playoff game went the same way.
After a dominant 9-0 start to their season, the Chiefs stumbled late, losing five of their final seven games and finishing as the top wild-card team in the AFC. They traveled to Indianapolis to play Andrew Luck and the Colts, where they jumped all over Indianapolis, leading 38-10 in the third quarter, despite losing All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles in the first quarter.
Then Luck happened. The Colts' second-year signal caller threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter, added a lucky fumble return for a touchdown early in the fourth and hit TY Hilton for a 64-yard game-winning touchdown with just over four minutes to play.
The comeback, the second-largest in the history of the NFL, sent the Chiefs packing and vaulted the Colts into the divisional round for the first time since the Peyton Manning era.
88. 2005: Minnesota Vikings Love Boat Scandal
The dysfunction of the Minnesota Vikings as a franchise became apparent on October 6th, 2005, when 17 members of the team made headlines for participating in what was dubbed the 'love boat scandal'. Prostitutes were flown in from Atlanta and Florida. The two boats contained more than 90 people and one anonymous player claimed it wasn't the first time such an incident had happened.
The alleged ringleader for the operation was cornerback Fred Smoot, who was one of three teammates charged with indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd conduct. The other three were quarterback Daunte Culpepper, running back Moe Williams and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Throw in a $100,000 fine by the NFL for organizing and profiting from a Super Bowl ticket scalping operation, and it's easy to see why Vikings head coach was fired after the 2005 season.
87. 2007: All-Black Head Coach Super Bowl
For 40 years, no black head coach appeared in the Super Bowl. Then in the 2006 season, both head coaches were black: Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts came away with a 29-17 victory, making Dungy the first black coach to win a Super Bowl.
86. 2012: Chuckstrong
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, despite their 2-14 season the previous year. After the departure of Peyton Manning in free agency, the Colts selected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. They also hired former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as their new head coach.
But disaster struck the team in September, as Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. He took a leave of absence from the team, spending three months at a cancer treatment center. In November, it was announced that his cancer was in remission. During Pagano's absence, 20 Colts players and two of the cheerleaders shaved their heads as part of a movement called Chuckstrong.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over Pagano's head coaching duties for the next 12 games, leading the Colts to a postseason berth. He became the first interim head coach to win AP NFL Coach of the Year and was named the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason.
85. 2010: Metrodome Roof Collapses
A severe winter storm left 17 inches of snow on top of the roof at the Metrodome stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. Strong winds made the roof unsafe for snow removal, which caused the roof to sag in the center.
While setting up for the Vikings' week 14 game, a FOX camera crew noticed water leaking from the roof and kept camera on all night. What they captured was the roof breaking open and thousands of pounds of snow and ice falling onto the field below. No part of the stadium was damaged other than the roof.
The NFL moved the Vikings-Giants game to Monday night but eventually switched it to Ford Field in Detroit. The next week the Vikings played at the home stadium of the University of Minnesota. During the offseason, the stadium roof was repaired. At the start of the 2016 season, the Vikings will have a new stadium.
84. 2002: Michael Vick 46-Yard Overtime Touchdown Run
Michael Vick capped off the greatest rushing day by a quarterback in NFL history (at that point) by scrambling 46 yards for a touchdown in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings. Vick's memorable touchdown included a pair of broken tackles around the 20-yard line when two Vikings defenders crashed into each other attempting to bring down the fleet-flooted quarterback.
Throughout the game, Vick rushed 10 times for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns, which made up for his brutal passing day (11-of-28 for 173 yards, a touchdown and an interception).
83. 2009: Colts Start 14-0, Rest Starters
What's more important: a perfect season or a chance to win a Super Bowl? For the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, just six quarters remained between the third undefeated regular season in modern NFL history.
The Colts led 15-10 midway through the third quarter against a young Jets squad fighting for a postseason berth. Then disaster struck. More specifically, Curtis Painter entered the game. The rookie quarterback immediately lost a fumble for a touchdown, giving the Jets a lead they would not relinquish.
The Colts were even less competitive the following week, suffering a blowout loss to the lowly Buffalo Bills. Painter finished the season with eight completions in 28 pass attempts, playing the largest role in the Colts squandering away a chance at a perfect 16-0 season.
82. 2010: Defensive Touchdown Ends Warner-Rodgers Shootout
It could have been a passing of the torch. The veteran, two-time MVP and former Super Bowl champion faced the future franchise quarterback in a contest that looked like it might be the last postseason contest for the one and the first of many for the other.
Only that's not at all what happened. This game, one for the ages, consisted of the veteran outdueling the future great.
In what may truly be the greatest passing performance in the history of the NFL, Warner completed 29-of-33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns. He led the Cardinals to 45 points, despite playing without wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 422 yards and four touchdowns while leading the Cardinals to a 21-point comeback in the second half. But Rodgers lost a fumble on the first play of overtime, which was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Karlos Dansby.
The victory was the last of Kurt Warner's career, as he suffered a chest injury against the New Orleans Saints the following week. Warner announced his retirement after the season, making his last full game arguably his best.
81. 2009: Jay Cutler Traded to Bears
The Chicago Bears have not had a franchise quarterback since the days of Sid Luckman more than six decades ago. You could say they've gotten a little bit desperate.
In spring of 2009, they made arguably the biggest trade in franchise history, sending two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick.
Cutler, just 25, was coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he threw for 4526 yards and 25 touchdowns. The former first-round pick was expected to make the Bears Super Bowl contenders.
Five years later, a case could be made for Cutler as a major disappointment. He's played all 16 games just once. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2009.
He failed to finish the NFC championship game in 2010 because of an injury that caused him to become the subject of much controversy. And he suffered injuries down the stretch in both 2011 and 2013 that prevented the Bears from reaching the postseason.
80. 2009: Belichick Fails on 4th-and-2
It was the ultimate sign of respect to an opposing quarterback. Clinging to a 34-28 lead with just over two minutes remaining, Bill Belichick elected to go for 4th and 2 on his own 28-yard line rather than give the ball back to Peyton Manning. The Patriots called for a short pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who bobbled the ball and was tackled just short of the first-down marker.
Predictably, Manning marched the Colts right down the field and a touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne gave Indianapolis an improbable victory.
Belichick’s decision was highly criticized by the media. But he gained some revenge in 2013 when he elected to kick the ball to Peyton Manning at the start of overtime, a game in which the Patriots had overcome a 24-point deficit and won on a muffed punt late in overtime.
79. 2013: Mike Tomlin Sideline Dance
During the 2010 season, New York Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi stuck out his knee and tripped a return man as he ran down the sideline. He was fired and has not coached in the NFL since the incident. Three years later, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin came dangerously close to doing the exact same thing.
Against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, Tomlin had to jump out of the way at the last second as returner Jacoby Jones broke down the sideline for a potential touchdown. This caused Jones to veer inside, where he was brought down around midfield. No penalty was called on Tomlin for interference even though he had stood in the white area near the field reserved for the officials.
Tomlin denied intentionally interfering with the play, claiming that he was watching the return on the Jumbotron and accidentally wandered onto the field. He was eventually fined $100,000 for his actions. The NFL also threatened to strip the Steelers of a 2014 draft pick, eventually deciding that they would only do so if the Ravens missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker in the form of point differential (which did not happen).
78. 2003: Brett Favre Throws Four Scores After Tragedy
When it comes to playing after a personal tragedy, no one in history did it better than Brett Favre.
In 2003, Brett's father tragically passed away on a Sunday in late December. The Packers, who were fighting for a playoff spot, had a game that Monday night in Oakland. Brett chose to play, just the day after the tragedy, where he torched the Raiders for 399 yards and four touchdowns. The Packers won 41-7 and clinched a playoff spot in week 17.
Favre's performance earned an ESPY award the following July and is one of the signature moments of his professional career.
77. 2003: Trey Junkin Bad Snap Completes 49ers Comeback
The New York Giants needed a long snapper before their wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in 2002, so they called veteran Trey Junkin out of retirement, giving Junkin an opportunity to end his career in storybook fashion. But what happened to Junkin falls under the horror category.
The Giants took a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter behind 342 passing yards and four touchdowns by Kerry Collins. But Jeff Garcia and the 49ers launched a historic comeback, eventually taking a 39-38 lead on a touchdown pass to Tai Streets with just 1:05 remaining.
Collins and the Giants still had time to drive for a game-winning field goal though, and that's exactly what they did. The game's final play came down to a 41-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant, who had missed a 42-yard field goal three minutes earlier following a bad snap by Junkin.
This time, Bryant never even got his chance. Another bad snap by Junkin led to a scramble and a desperate heave downfield by punter Matt Allen. The pass, intended for guard Rich Seubert, fell incomplete, but a penalty should have been called on defensive end Chike Okeafor, who clearly pulled Seubert down before the ball reached either player.
Instead a penalty was called on guard Tam Hopkins for being an illegal man downfield, which was the correct call. Since no penalty was called on the 49ers, the game ended. Yet offsetting penalties would have given the Giants another chance at a game-winning field goal had the referees made the right call.
The NFL admitted its mistake the next day, but the damage had been done, and the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.
Ironically, three of the key members of the play would never again play in the NFL: Hopkins, Allen and Junkin. For Junkin, the snap was just the fourth bad snap of his career. Two had come in the previous 19 seasons. Two came in the same game on consecutive snaps.
76. 2004: Steve Smith Double Overtime Touchdown Ends Rams' Reign
You could call the Greatest Show On Turf the dynasty that never was. Its ending point was probably Super Bowl XXXVI when Adam Vinatieri's walkoff field goal stunned the football world. But the Rams officially ceased even fielding a competitive football team following their disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers in the 2003 divisional playoffs.
The Rams erased an 11-point deficit against the Panthers in the final minutes but head coach Mike Martz chose to play for overtime instead of going for a game-winning touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. Although the Rams tied the game on Jeff Wilkins' 33-yard field goal, their offense stalled in overtime. Wilkins missed a potential game-winning field goal and Marc Bulger threw an interception near the end of the fifth period.
On the first play of double overtime, Smith caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme, sending the Rams home and sending the Panthers into the conference championship.
75. 2006: Champ 100 Yard INT Hands Tom Brady First Playoff Loss
No team could beat the New England Patriots in the postseason from 2001 to 2004. Not the 2001 St. Louis Rams, the 2003 Indianapolis Colts or the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots won nine straight games, including three Super Bowls.
When the Patriots dismantled the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card round of the 2005 postseason, giving them their tenth straight victory in the playoffs, they appeared to be well on their way to another Super Bowl title.
Then the Denver Broncos happened. More specifically, Champ Bailey happened.
The Broncos led 10-6 late in the third quarter but the Patriots were threatening to take the lead. They had third-and-goal from the five-yard line when Brady looked for Troy Brown at the goal line. The pass was intercepted by All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey and returned 100 yards down the sideline before he was forced out of bounds by Patriots tight end Ben Watson (on an unrelated note, Watson's hit was one of the hardest in history).
The Broncos scored on the next play to take a 17-6 lead. They held on for a 27-13 win, effectively ending the Patriots' dynasty.
74. 2013: Faxgate
In the 21st century, it's shocking that NFL teams still need to use fax machines. But they do, and in the case of the Denver Broncos, it led to the release of one of their best defensive players last offseason.
In 2012, Elvis Dumervil collected 11 sacks and forced six fumbles for the Broncos. Scheduled to hit free agency on March 15, the Broncos planned to restructure his contract to keep him around for a few more seasons. But his agent accidentally faxed in his contract six minutes after the cutoff time, essentially causing the Broncos to release him. The move counted as $4.869 million against their 2013 salary cap and led to Dumervil firing his agent.
The Baltimore Ravens signed the 29-year-old the following week, inking him to a five-year deal worth $35 million. While he wasn't quite as productive in 2013, he still recorded 9.5 sacks and rated as the third-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
73. 2007: Devin Hester Super Bowl Kick Return Touchdown
The two biggest storylines heading into Super Bowl XLI were Peyton Manning and Rex Grossman, specifically whether Manning would play well enough to earn his first ring and which Rex, good or bad, would show up.
But rookie return man Devin Hester put the focus of the game completely on him when he returned the opening kick back 92 yards for a touchdown, a feat never before accomplished in NFL history. The touchdown was Hester's seventh return touchdown of the season.
The Colts were so rattled by Hester that they spent the rest of the game kicking away from him. He would touch the ball just once more (a three-yard punt return), as the Colts came away with a 29-17 victory.
72. 2010: Seattle Wins Division at 7-9
The St. Louis Rams entered the final week of the 2010 season with a 7-8 record. The Seahawks were even worse at 6-9. Yet both teams controlled their own destiny for the postseason, and the winner of their week 17 matchup would be crowned the NFC West division champion.
It was the Seahawks who came away with a 16-6 victory, setting up a home playoff game with an 11-5 New Orleans team that was expected to crush Seattle.
But the Seahawks came away with a dramatic 41-36 victory, highlighted by a memorable 67-yard touchdown from Marshawn Lynch. They are the only team in NFL history to win a postseason game despite a losing record in the regular season.
71. 2008: Tom Brady Tears ACL
As far as individual player injuries go, this is one of the most memorable in NFL history.
In the first game of the 2008 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL on a hit by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard. Brady missed the entire 2008 season, although the superior coaching of Bill Belichick and the solid play of backup Mat Cassel enabled the Patriots to win 11 games.
Brady returned in 2009 but he didn’t regain elite status until the 2010 season. The NFL passed a new rule during the 2009 offseason designed to increase protection for quarterbacks, specifically on hits at the knees.
70. 2013: Flacco Outduels Peyton, Rahim Moore
Nobody gave Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens much of a chance, if any, on the road against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the postseason. The Ravens had backed their way into the playoffs, losing four of their final five games, and they were overmatched against the explosive Broncos.
One of the most thrilling postseason games of the last decade came down to the final minute, as Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown to Jacoby Jones, tying the game. The pass traveled just a foot over the outstretched hand of safety Rahim Moore.
The Broncos chose to kneel at the end of regulation, opting to play for overtime instead of trying for the game-winning score. Neither offense could move the ball in the extra session until Peyton Manning threw an interception to Corey Graham.
The Ravens capitalized on great field position, with kicker Justin Tucker converting a 47-yard field goal early in the second overtime period to send Baltimore into the conference championship game.
69. 2004: Ty Law Rule
In the 1970s, there was the Mel Blount rule, named after the Hall of Fame Steelers cornerback whose aggressive style of play forced the NFL to change the rules regarding contact with wide receivers.
Following the 2003 postseason, the NFL voted to more strictly enforce the illegal five-yard contact penalty on wide receivers.
The rule was primarily caused by Law’s domination of the Indianapolis Colts’ receivers in the postseason. He intercepted three passes from Peyton Manning, helping the Patriots secure their second Super Bowl title in three seasons.
68. 2007: Sean Taylor Tragic Death
Late in the 2007 season, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor lost his life when he was shot and killed during a home burglary.
Taylor, just 24, had been selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft. He established himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL, earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections (the second posthumously) in his four-year career.
The Redskins honored Taylor by using just 10 players on the field for their first defensive play against the Buffalo Bills. They ended the season by winning their final four games, becoming just the fourth 5-7 team to reach the postseason.
67. 2010: Miracle at the New Meadowlands
As far as individual games go, it doesn’t get any better than the matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants on December 19th, 2010. With the division title on the line, the Giants took a 31-10 lead over the Eagles midway through the fourth quarter.
But the Eagles, led by explosive quarterback Michael Vick, mounted a comeback. Two passing touchdowns, a Vick rushing touchdown and a surprise onside kick set the stage for the most dramatic play in NFL history: DeSean Jackson’s 65-yard walkoff punt return touchdown.
The Eagles won the division by tiebreaker, while the Giants missed the playoffs.
66. 2010: Brett Favre Texting Scandal
Not a lot went right for Brett Favre in his final year in the NFL. First his consecutive games played streak ended. Then he found himself caught in one of the more awkward controversies of the decade.
According to reports, Favre had allegedly sent inappropriate pictures of himself to Jenn Sterger, an employee of the New York Jets. The NFL investigated the matter and concluded that they couldn't prove Favre had sent picture to Sterger. But they fined him $50,000 for not being candid during the whole process.
65. 2006: Saints Come Marching in
The 2005 season might be the most frustrating in franchise history. The team won just three games, head coach Jim Haslett was fired and quarterback Aaron Brooks was released following a disappointing campaign. Oh, and the Saints couldn't play any of their home games in the Superdome following the damage to the stadium from Hurricane Katrina.
But things were going to change in 2006. Sean Payton was hired as the new head coach. Drew Brees was brought in as the new quarterback. And the Superdome was finally opened again.
In week three, the Saints hosted Michael Vick and the divisional rival Atlanta Falcons. Both teams boasted 2-0 records. Fittingly, the game was played on Monday Night Football.
The signature play of the game, season and perhaps in franchise history, up until that point, came on the fourth play of the game. Safety Steve Gleason blocked a Falcons punt, which was recovered by another defensive back, Curtis Deloatch, for a touchdown. From that point on, the Saints cruised to an easy 23-3 victory.
64. 2005: Terrell Owens Suspended by Eagles
Terrell Owens, or T.O. as he was known, had the city of Philadelphia in the palm of his hand in 2004. He scored 14 touchdowns and returned from a broken ankle, against doctors' orders, to deliver one of the most underrated Super Bowl performances in history.
But things started going south immediately following the Super Bowl loss. Owens hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent and demanded a new contract. He took a shot at Donovan McNabb for getting tired during the Super Bowl. Then during the season, he announced on his WIP radio show that he would not have signed with the Eagles if he could go back a year and a half ago. He wore a Cowboys Michael Irvin jersey on the team plane following a blowout loss to Dallas. He picked a fight with team ambassador Hugh Douglas.
The final straw was an ESPN interview where he took shots at the franchise, complaining that the Eagles would be undefeated with veteran Brett Favre (who was in the middle of the worst season of his career) at quarterback. He also called the Eagles a classless organization for not recognizing his 100th career touchdown.
As a result, head coach Andy Reid suspended Owens for four games for conduct detrimental to the team. After Owens' suspension, the Eagles deactivated him for the rest of the season and then released him.
63. 2004: We Want the Ball and We're Going to Score
You had to admire the confidence of Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, even if it didn't actually lead to desired results.
Heading into overtime of the wild-card playoff game between the Packers and the Seahawks, Hasselbeck boldly declared, “We want the ball and we're going to score” after Seattle won the coin toss.
Well, scoring on the first possession is actually what happened... just not the way Seattle wanted it. On the sixth play of the drive, Hasselbeck was intercepted by Al Harris, who returned the pass 52 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
Ironically, it was the Packers who would fall victim to an overtime interception the next week, losing to the Eagles in the famous 4th and 26 game.
62. 2008: Plaxico Burress Shoots Himself
The 2007 season was the most memorable of Plaxico Burress's career, as he scored 12 touchdowns, caught 11 passes for 154 yards in the conference championship game, boldly predicted a Super Bowl victory over the undefeated New England Patriots and then caught the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
The Giants looked to have all the ingredients to repeat as champions in 2008, winning 10 of their first 11 games. Then disaster struck, as the Giants' top receiver accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a New York City nightclub on November 28th.
Burress was not seriously injured but he was suspended by the Giants for the final four games of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. He was arrested for criminal possession of a handgun and was sentenced to two years in prison, starting in August of 2009.
Needless to say, his tenure with the New York Giants was finished.
61. 2001: Michael Strahan Controversial Record Sack
Michael Strahan entered the final game of the 2001 season with 21.5 sacks under his belt. He needed just one sack to break Mark Gastineau's single-season record of 22 sacks, set in 1984.
Give credit to the Green Bay Packers, whose offensive line held Strahan without a sack all game. Then Brett Favre decided to rewrite history.
With the Packers leading by nine and fewer than three minutes remaining, Favre took a snap, rolled to his right and was immediately tackled by Strahan for the record-setting sack. If the play looks suspicious, that's because it was. It couldn't have been more obvious that Favre took a dive, literally, just to give Strahan the record. After all, he changed the play without telling any of his teammates.
The record books show Strahan as the single-season leader with 22.5 sacks, but it should come with one big asterisk next to it (and for more than one reason, as Deacon Jones reportedly collected 26 sacks in 1967.)
60. 2007: Tony Romo Fumbles Snap
The Cowboys trailed the Seattle Seahawks 21-20 with 1:19 remaining in the wild-card game. All that stood between the Tony Romo and his first career playoff victory was a 19-yard field goal. That's an easy kick that any team could convert more than 99 percent of the time.
Consider this part of the one percent, as Dallas never even got a chance to attempt the field goal. As the holder, Romo fumbled the snap. He picked up the loose ball and attempted to run it in for a touchdown but he was brought down from behind on the two-yard line, turning the ball over on downs.
The Seahawks ran out the clock and collected the victory, ending a storybook second half of the season for both Romo and the Cowboys.
59. 2011: Suck for Luck
You see tanking happen in the NBA almost every year. You rarely see it in the NFL. The most notable exception was the 2011 season, when a number of fanbases openly rooted for their team to lose as many games as possible in the hope that they could secure the number one draft pick.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was the obvious choice as the top overall pick, hence the “Suck for Luck” campaign. Luck was regarded as a once-a-generation college prospect, a player who could instantly turn a losing team into a winner and keep them there for the next 15 seasons.
The Indianapolis Colts emerged as the winner in the Suck for Luck sweepstakes, as their 2-14 record enabled them to draft the Stanford star with the top pick.
58. 2003: Cardinals 4th and 25 Walkoff Keeps Vikes from Playoffs
The 2003 Arizona Cardinals ranked last in the NFL in points scored, points allowed and point differential. They trailed the Minnesota Vikings 17-6 with two minutes remaining in the season finale. Yet somehow, incredibly, they came away with a victory.
A quick touchdown pass cut the Cardinals' deficit to 17-12 and a successful onside kick gave them a final chance at victory. Rookie Josh McCown drove the Cardinals down the field but the drive stalled and the Cardinals faced a 4th-and-25 from the 28-yard line with just four ticks remaining on the clock.
If the Cardinals won the game, Brett Favre and the Packers would win the NFC North. But if the Vikings stopped the Cardinals, likely a 99 percent probability, they would be division champions.
What happened next is one of the most incredible endings to a game in NFL history. McCown took the snap, rolled right and fired to Nate Poole in the end zone. Poole caught the ball in midair and was forced out-of-bounds by a pair of Packers defenders. The play was ruled a touchdown, giving the Cardinals an 18-17 victory.
For what it's worth, the play cost the Cardinals the number one pick in the NFL draft, which turned out to be two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. (They picked Larry Fitzgerald third overall.) The Vikings became the second team to start a season 6-0 and miss the postseason.
It's only fitting that while the Packers qualified for the postseason on a 4th and 25 conversion, it was a 4th and 26 play that knocked them out several weeks later.
57. 2006: Houston Drafts Super Mario over Reggie
It's got to be one of the boldest draft-day decisions in NFL history. USC running back Reggie Bush was widely considered one of the best college football players of all time, and his departure for the NFL following his junior year was expected to result in the number one overall pick. It was a slam-dunk decision that even the Texans couldn't mess up.
But instead, general manager Charlie Casserly picked defensive end Mario Williams, citing Williams as a player who could help turn his team's new 4-3 defense into a championship team. Williams ended up earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections, while Bush never came close to fulfilling expectations.
Bonus points to the Texans for also passing on college standout Vince Young, the hometown quarterback many expected to turn into a superstar (as well as Matt Leinart).
56. 2006: Steelers, Refs Beat Seahawks in Super Bowl
It's a shame that Super Bowl XL isn't remembered for the Steelers winning their record-tying fifth Super Bowl. Or Fast Willie Parker's record-setting 75-yard touchdown run. Or Hines Ward's 43-yard touchdown catch from versatile receiver Antwaan Randle El.
No, let's be honest. We remember this game for the questionable officiating that may or may not have cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl title.
Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson caught a 16-yard touchdown, only to be flagged for offensive pass interference. Tight end Jerramy Stevens caught an 18-yard pass down to the one-yard line, but a holding penalty brought the play back.
Referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing both calls.
There was also Ben Roethlisberger's rushing touchdown, a play where the Steelers quarterback was clearly down on the one-yard line. And there was the play where Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception and was called for a low block penalty on the return.
The Steelers ended up winning 21-10.
55. 2010: Big Ben Suspended for Sexual Assault
It was the worst case scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the second time in three seasons, their best player, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, had been accused of sexually assualting a woman. And this time, commissioner Roger Goodell wasn't going to look the other way. Not again.
Even though no criminal charges were fired against Roethlisberger, Goodell elected to suspend the 28-year-old for the first six games of the 2010 season. The punishment, for violating the league's personal conduct policy, was later reduced to four games for good behavior.
Roethlisberger became the 16th player suspended by Goodell, although he was the first who had not been arrested or charged with a crime. Despite missing a quarter of the season, he led the Steelers to their third Super Bowl appearance in six years.
54. 2010: Michael Vick Comeback Season
When Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion in the 2010 season opener, it opened the door for veteran Michael Vick to start in his place. And when the dust had settled, it was Kolb who remained on the bench, while Vick capped off one of the greatest Comeback Player of the Year seasons in NFL history.
Vick threw for 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He posted a 100.2 passer rating. He rushed for 676 yards and nine scores. And he led the Eagles to a surprising NFC East title.
53. 2012: Lee Evans Drop, Billy Cundiff Miss Sends Patriots to Super Bowl
In a span of 30 seconds in the final minute of the AFC championship game, the Baltimore Ravens committed not one, but two unforgivable blunders that prevented the team from defeating the New England Patriots and reaching the Super Bowl.
First, veteran wide receiver Lee Evans had a pass knocked right out of his hands in the end zone by rookie defensive back Sterling Moore. Had Evans secured the ball for the touchdown, the Ravens would have undoubtedly reached the Super Bowl.
Then two plays later, kicker Billy Cundiff missed an easy 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. A Pro Bowler the previous season, Cundiff was released during the offseason (as was Evans). The Patriots advanced to their fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons.
52. 2012: Butt Fumble
You really couldn't have scripted a more embarrassing play... maybe ever... in the history of the NFL. It's the play that summed up the season for the New York Jets, as well as the career for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving, Sanchez scrambled with the ball after a botched handoff before he slid down to protect himself from a big hit. During his slide, well, this happened, the ball bounced away and was picked by Patriots defensive back Steve Gregory, who returned it for a 32-yard touchdown.
The play was voted Worst of the Worst by ESPN's SportsCenter for 40 straight weeks until it was retired before the start of the 2013 season.
51. 2012: Adrian Peterson Rushes for 2000 Yards off Torn ACL
What Adrian Peterson did in 2012 just defies what a football player, or any athlete in general, should be able to do.
On Christmas Eve in 2011, AP tore his ACL. He was listed as questionable for the start of the 2012 season, eight months after a serious knee injury. All he did was rush for 84 yards and two touchdowns in week one.
It didn't stop there. Peterson finished the year with 2097 rushing yards, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. He rushed for 1322 yards in the second half of the season. That's 165 rushing yards per game. He topped 150 yards seven times. He scored 13 touchdowns. And he helped the Vikings earn a playoff spot.
For his record-setting season, Peterson was named both the NFL's Most Valuable Player and the Comeback Player of the Year.
50. 2011: Pack Stop Big Ben's Super Bowl Comeback Attempt
All that separated Ben Roethlisberger from a third Super Bowl title was one drive. Trailing 31-25, Roethlisberger needed to take the Steelers the length of the field (87 yards) in two minutes, similar to what he did against the Arizona Cardinals two years earlier.
He began the drive with a pair of completions for 20 yards. But then Pittsburgh's offense stalled, and Green Bay forced three straight incompletions to clinch their fourth Super Bowl title.
49. 2007: Brady & Moss Record Touchdown Equals 16-0
It couldn't end this way for the Patriots. Not after 15 games, all wins. Not on national TV with a chance to become just the second undefeated team in modern NFL history.
The Patriots trailed the Giants 28-23 with just 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter when Bill Belichick dialed up his favorite play: a bomb from Tom Brady to Randy Moss. Only the play didn't work, as the pass fell incomplete. So what did Belichick call on 3rd and 10?
Same play. And this time it worked, as a streaking Moss caught Brady's perfect pass and sprinted 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The pass broke a pair of single-season records, with Brady throwing his 50th touchdown and Moss catching his 23rd. And more importantly, the Patriots held on for a 38-35 victory, clinching an undefeated season.
48. 2003: River City Relay
There's only one thing for a team to do when they're down to their final play of the game, trailing by seven, 80 yards from the end zone. A Hail Mary is out of the question. The only option is to hope for a bunch of crazy lateral passes that somehow result in a touchdown.
For the 2003 New Orleans Saints against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 16, that's exactly what happened. The Saints trailed 20-13 with seven seconds left on the clock and the ball on their own 25-yard-line. Aaron Brooks completed a 25-yard pass to Donte Stallworth, who broke a couple of tackles before pitching the ball back to wide receiver Michael Lewis. Lewis ran nine yards before pitching the ball to running back Deuce McAllister who threw a pass back across the field to wide receiver Jerome Pathon. Pathon sprinted the final 24 yards and dove into the end zone for the touchdown.
Then the incredible happened. Kicker John Carney lined up for the game-tying extra point... and missed. The miss was just the sixth in his 16 years in the NFL but it cost the Saints a chance for a victory and eliminated the team from postseason contention.
47. 2000: Antonio Freeman Catch
You could call it the greatest catch in NFL history. You could also call it the luckiest catch in NFL history. You'd be right for both.
Antonio Freeman somehow caught a deep pass from Brett Favre in overtime after the ball squirted through the hands of Vikings defender Chris Dishman. The pass bounced off Freeman's body multiple times before the receiver, who was laying on his back on the ground, plucked the ball out of the air right before it touched the ground. He then juked a defender and raced untouched into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
The play is remembered for Al Michael's famous “He did what?!” call. In 2005, the catch was voted the best play in Monday Night Football history by ESPN.
46. 2000: Monday Night Miracle
It's the second-largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history. As far as endings go, this is probably the best in Monday Night Football history.
The Jets trailed the Miami Dolphins 30-7 entering the fourth quarter before they staged a furious rally. Four touchdown passes by Vinny Testaverde, plus a field goal, led to a 37-37 tie heading into overtime. The final score came on a tackle-eligible three-yard touchdown to 35-year-old tackle Jumbo Elliott with just over a minute remaining in the game.
In overtime, Jets cornerback Marcus Coleman intercepted Jay Fiedler twice (fumbling away the first one), which led to a game-winning field goal by John Hall.
45. 2008: Giants Pick Favre to Advance to Super Bowl
It's probably one of the five worst turnovers in NFL postseason history, factoring in what was at stake for both teams.
The Packers headed to overtime against the Giants with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. But on the second play of the extra period, Favre's pass to Donald Driver was intercepted by Corey Webster, who returned the ball nine yards. The Giants advanced to the Super Bowl just three plays later when Lawrence Tynes connected for a 47-yard field goal, an ironic ending considering he missed two field goals in the final half of the fourth quarter.
Favre's overtime interception was his last pass as a member of the Packers and it made him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw an interception in overtime of two different playoff games.
44. 2010: Saints Super Bowl Onside Kick
The playcall is easily one of the gutsiest, most daring decisions by a head coach in Super Bowl history. Trailing 10-6 at halftime against the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton knew his team desperately needed a spark if they were going to come away with a victory.
So he called for a surprise onside kick on the first play of the second half. Punter Thomas Morstead squibbed a 15-yard kick which bounced off the facemask of Colts receiver Hank Baskett. A massive pileup ensued, during which safety Chris Reis came away with the recovery. The Saints ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive to take a 13-10 lead.
They eventually won 31-17, securing the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
43. 2010: Suspensions for Helmet-to-Helmet Hits
The amount of concussions resulting from helmet-to-helmet hits had reached a breaking point in the NFL around the middle of the 2010 season, particularly in week six when the league viewed four different hits as dangerous helmet-to-helmet shots.
So commissioner Goodell announced that players would now be potentially suspended for helmet-to-helmet hits, instead of just getting fined. You could call it the James Harrison rule, for the Steelers linebacker, but it was more than just one player.
The first player in the NFL suspended from a helmet-to-helmet hit was, not surprisingly, Harrison. In week 13 of the 2011 season, he delivered a hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy that gave him a concussion. Harrison was suspended against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football the next week, costing him $215,000 in salary. Goodell said that he chose to suspend Harrison because it was his fifth helmet-to-helmet hit in the last three seasons.
42. 2006: Big Ben Makes the Tackle After Bettis Fumble
Jerome Bettis came oh so close to an extremely awkward ending to a potential Hall of Fame career.
Bettis had announced his intention to retire following the 2005 season, a year in which the Steelers won their final four games to finish 11-5 and grab the AFC's sixth seed in the playoffs. After a road win against Carson Palmer and the Bengals in the wild-card round, the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis to play the Colts, easily the best team in the NFL during the regular season.
The Steelers jumped out to a 21-3 lead before a couple of Peyton Manning touchdowns cut Pittsburgh's lead to 21-18. But the Steelers had a chance to clinch the victory in the final minutes after a turnover on downs gave them the ball at the two-yard line.
That's when Bettis, who hadn't fumbled all season, lost the football at the goal line. Colts safety Nick Harper, who had been stabbed in the knee by his wife during a domestic dispute the night before, picked up the bouncing pigskin and raced upfield. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pursued Harper and somehow brought him down with a sensational arm tackle after a 35-yard gain.
Manning completed a pair of passes to move the Colts into field goal range but kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, missed by about 10 yards to the right on what would have been a game-tying 46-yard field goal. It was about as heartbreaking a loss as any game in Peyton Manning's career (and he's had some tough losses).
The Colts, who had started the season 13-0, failed to win a playoff game, while the Steelers ended up as the first six seed to win the Super Bowl.
41. 2012: Fail Mary
Everybody feared that it was going to happen. The replacement refs couldn't continue making mistakes without it eventually affecting the outcome of a game. And that's exactly what happened on the final play of Monday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks in week 3.
Trailing 12-7, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson floated a Hail Mary touchdown into the end zone. The ball was caught by Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings for an apparent game-sealing interception. Only that's not how the refs, and I use that term loosely, saw it.
Replacement ref Lance Easley ruled that wide receiver Golden Tate had possessed the ball, giving Seattle a walkoff touchdown. Outrage from the game, to say the least, was extreme, with criticism coming from former players, analysts, the media and fans.
Both teams ended up reaching the postseason but it was Green Bay who missed out on a chance to host a divisional playoff game because of the controversial call.
40. 2011: Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode Playoff Touchdown
They said the Seattle Seahawks had no chance against Drew Brees and high-powered New Orleans Saints. After all, the Saints won 11 games, while the Seahawks snuck into the postseason by virtue of a winner-take-all season finale between a pair of teams with losing records.
And when the Saints took a 10-0 lead, well, it looked like the Seahawks were just going to roll over and lose in a blowout. But they rallied, scoring the next four touchdowns to take a 31-20 lead.
Fast forward to the what will forever be remembered as one of the most memorable plays in Seahawks history. Seattle had the ball with under four minutes remaining, trying to run out the clock and protect a four-point lead.
The Seahawks called a simple running play for Marshawn Lynch, who broke eight tackles on his way to a 67-yard touchdown run in a play that may go down as the greatest individual running effort in the history of the NFL. Lynch's most memorable moment during the run was a stiff arm on cornerback Tracy Porter that sent him three or four yards backwards.
The play clinched a Seahawks victory and caused such an eruption in the crowd that it literally caused a small earthquake, according to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.
39. 2003: Gannon Throws 3 INT TDs in Super Bowl Rout
In Super Bowl XXXVII, Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, the league MVP during the regular season, went from goat to potential hero to goat again.
That's because his three interceptions gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers an early 34-3 lead. He led three touchdown drives to bring the Raiders to within 13 points, 34-21. And his two late interception touchdowns clinched a 48-21 blowout victory for the Buccaneers.
38. 2002: Emmitt Smith Breaks Walter Payton's Rushing Record
Emmitt Smith had accomplished just about everything he wanted to in his NFL career. He was a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, a four-time rushing champion and the holder of the single-season record for touchdowns (25). The only thing he had left to accomplish was breaking Walter Payton's career record for rushing yards.
On October 27th, 2002, the 33-year-old running back surpassed Payton, carrying 24 times for 109 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Smith played two more seasons in the NFL, both with the Arizona Cardinals, eventually retiring with 18,355 rushing yards. Smith's record is widely regarded as one of the most unbreakable in NFL history.
37. 2009: Saints Pick Favre, Advance to Super Bowl
In December, the Saints were 13-0 with visions of both an undefeated season and a Super Bowl title dancing in their heads. A month later, they were fighting on for dear life, locked in a tie game with Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in the conference championship game.
It was the Saints' offense who scored 510 points and stole the headlines during the regular season but it was the defense that finished second in the NFL in turnovers and would end up sending the team to its first-ever Super Bowl.
Here's what happened. The Vikings were driving, having just crossed midfield in the final seconds against the Saints. The game was tied at 28. The Vikings faced a 3rd-and-15 on New Orleans' 38-yard line, meaning they would have a 55-yard field goal attempt if Favre's third-down pass fell incomplete.
The veteran quarterback took the snap, rolled to his right and fired a bullet across his body in the middle of the field... right into the arms of cornerback Tracy Porter, who returned the interception 26 yards. Although the Saints didn't score in the final seconds of overtime, it was Brees who led the team down the field on the first drive of overtime. When Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard field goal, the Saints were NFC champions for the first time in franchise history.
36. 2002: Oakland Trades Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay
Two first-round picks. Two second-round picks. And eight million dollars in cash. There are probably only three or four players in the NFL right now with that kind of value. And in 2002, that's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided Jon Gruden was worth, as they traded with the Oakland Raiders to obtain the 38-year-old head coach.
Gruden had coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001, leading Oakland to three straight postseason berths. But he couldn't lead the team to the Super Bowl. Ironically, the man he replaced in Tampa Bay, Tony Dungy, had suffered the same fate, leading the Bucs to the playoffs without a Super Bowl appearance in each of the previous three seasons.
In classic storybook fashion, Gruden led the Bucs to the league's top-ranked defense and a Super Bowl title in his first year with the team. The Bucs defeated the Eagles 27-10 in the NFC championship game, extracting revenge on the team that had eliminated them in each of the previous two postseasons. In the Super Bowl, they dismantled Gruden's old team, the Raiders, by a 48-21 score, returning three interceptions for touchdowns.
35. 2013: Flacco Beats 49ers, Blackout
Nothing could have stopped the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Not Colin Kaepernick's legs. Not Jim Harbaugh's brains (or sideline antics). Not even a blackout that stopped the game for 34 minutes in the third quarter.
The Ravens cruised to a 28-6 lead against the Ravens before hanging on late for a 34-29 victory. It was Joe Flacco who earned game's Most Valuable Player honors after throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
It was Ray Lewis who rode off into the sunset, a la John Elway, Jerome Bettis and Michael Strahan of previous seasons, by winning a Super Bowl title in his final game.
And it was John Harbaugh, who became the first head coach in professional sports history to defeat his brother in a postseason contest.
34. 2003: NFL Network Created
Imagine life without NFL Network, which was created ten years ago.
We wouldn't have NFL Films. Hard Knocks. Top 10 lists. A Football Life. The red zone during game days. The draft. The Scouting Combine. And Thursday Night Football.
When all you want is football, it's there for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
33. 2007: Peyton Comeback Sends Colts to Super Bowl
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots owned Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, especially in the postseason. They beat them 24-14 in the 2003 conference championship game and they dismantled them 20-3 in the 2004 divisional round.
So when the Colts and Patriots met again in the 2006 playoffs, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, most expected the same result. And when the Patriots jumped to an early 21-3 lead, including a pick-six of Manning, well, the game was over. The Patriots would advance to their fourth Super Bowl in six seasons, while the Colts would spend the winter wondering what went wrong... again.
Then the impossible happened. Manning and the Colts tied the game at 21 by the end of the third quarter and drove the length of the field with the game on the line in the final minutes to take a 38-34 lead. When safety Marlin Jackson intercepted Brady's pass at midfield in the final seconds, the comeback was complete, ending the greatest postseason game of the decade. After nine seasons and many disappointing outings in the playoffs, Manning and the Colts were finally headed to the Super Bowl.
32. 2012: Year of the Rookie Quarterback
In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts selected rookie Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. Widely regarded as one of the best quarterback prospects ever, Luck led the Colts to 11 wins, a nine-game improvement over the previous season, which included seven fourth-quarter comebacks.
The Washington Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III with the second pick and the multi-talented dual-threat quarterback exceeded all expectations, leading the NFL in yards per attempt as both a passer and a runner. The Redskins won the season’s final seven games and clinched the NFC East title.
A third-round pick, Russell Wilson used his combination of passing (26 touchdowns, 100.0 passer rating) and running (489 yards, four scores) to lead the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a playoff victory.
Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins also showed potential as a franchise quarterback, while Philadelphia’s Nick Foles exploded in his sophomore season despite opening the season as a backup. And who knows how Washington’s Kirk Cousins and Denver’s Brock Osweiler will fare when they get a chance to play on a regular basis.
History has dubbed the 1983 NFL draft as the best quarterback class ever, as Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly were all selected in the first round. But wait 30 years and we’ll see if the 2012 season can surpass the 1983 group.
31. 2008: Birth, and Death, of the Wildcat
If you blinked, you missed it. For one season, in 2008, the Miami Dolphins emerged as a surprise AFC East champion, largely because of their usage of the wildcat formation.
Offensive coordinator Dan Henning first used the formation in 2008 in week three against the New England Patriots. The Dolphins used the wildcat for six plays, which resulted in five touchdowns (four rushing, one passing) in a 38-13 upset victory. Through the season's first 11 games, the Dolphins had averaged more than seven yards per play out of the formation.
But defenses figured out the formation pretty quickly and the wildcat fad was all but gone after just one season.
30. 2004: Peyton Manning Throws 49th Touchdown Pass
Breaking a record was the last thing on Peyton Manning's mind. All he cared about was winning the game. Thanks to a furious comeback against the San Diego Chargers in week 16, Manning achieved both.
His 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with just 56 seconds left in the game (coupled with Edgerrin James' two-point conversion) tied the game at 31, just minutes after the Colts trailed 31-16.
Their victory clinched the number three seed in the AFC. For Manning, his 49th touchdown broke Dan Marino's previous record of 48, set in 1984.
29. 2006: Roger Goodell Named Commissioner
Roger Goodell has taken the NFL by storm since he was named commissioner more than seven years ago. Considered the most powerful man in sports by some, Goodell has been influential in changing the league in two major ways.
He's cracked down on player conduct, famously handing out suspensions to players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Donte Stallworth. He handed out historic penalties to both the New England Patriots (spygate) and New Orleans Saints (bountygate).
The other major change has been regarding player safety. Goodell started fining players, namely James Harrison, for helmet-to-helmet hits. A series of devastating hits in 2010 led to the commissioner handing out suspensions for especially dangerous hits.
28. 2004: 4th and 26
The situation could be described as bleak, at best. The Eagles trailed Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers 17-14 with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. And the Eagles needed at least 26 yards on fourth down to keep their drive alive.
The Eagles called for 74 Double Go, a slant route to Freddie Mitchell. The Packers used a Cover 2 defensive formation, which completely broke down. Linebacker Nick Barnett bit on the tight end while safety Darren Sharper played deep for an interception. This enabled Mitchell to grab a 28-yard leaping reception for the improbable first down.
The Eagles ended up tying the game on a last-second field goal by David Akers. A Brian Dawkins interception in overtime set up another Akers field goal, which allowed the Eagles to advance to their third consecutive NFC championship game.
27. 2001: 9/11 Leads to Suspension of Games
Only one time in United States history has a nationwide incident resulted in the postponement of professional sports leagues.
That occurred following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when the National Football League chose to postpone all games from week two, on September 16. The games were rescheduled for January 6, which would have been the first week of the wild-card playoffs.
26. 2001: Ravens Clinch Greatest Defense of Modern Era
Super Bowl XXXV could have stretched on for hours, days, even weeks, and the New York Giants wouldn't have scored an offensive point. Not against the mighty 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens intercepted Kerry Collins four times, with cornerback Duane Starks returning one 49 yards for a touchdown. Only a kick return touchdown by Ron Dixon prevented the first shutout in Super Bowl history.
That concluded a postseason in which the Ravens allowed just 23 points in four games (and that includes the kick return touchdown in the Super Bowl).
During the regular season, the Ravens allowed just 165 points, the lowest in a single season in NFL history. They surrendered a mind-boggling 2.7 yards per rush attempt, while forcing 49 turnovers and allowing just a 61.1 passer rating.
25. 2006: Bears Are Who We Thought They Were
It's only fitting that one of the most memorable post-game rants in NFL history concluded one of the wildest games we've ever seen. No one will ever forget Arizona head coach Dennis Green pounding the podium and yelling “The Bears are who we thought they were!”
Green had every reason to be livid. The Cardinals jumped out to a 23-3 lead late in the third quarter, but the Bears scored three touchdowns (two on fumble returns and one on a punt return) to take a 24-23 lead in the final minutes. Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers missed a 40-yard field goal on the game's final play, keeping the Bears undefeated for the season.
It was the start of good Rex/bad Rex for the Bears quarterback, who completed just 14-of-37 passes for four interceptions, plus two lost fumbles. But somehow, someway, the Bears came away with a victory, which would prove to be their trend for the remainder of the season.
24. 2004: Pat Tillman Killed
Most seventh-round draft picks are lucky to make the 53-man roster of an NFL team and if they do, they might stick around for a season or two. But safety Pat Tillman turned into one of the league's top young safeties as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Named to Sports Illustrated writer Dr. Z's All-Pro team following the 2000 season, Tillman made the unprecedented move of retiring from the National Football League after 2001, his fourth year in the league.
Instead of continuing his football career, Tillman joined the Army Rangers and served several tours in combat over the next few years. But tragedy struck on April 22nd, 2004, when Tillman died in the mountains in Afghanistan. His death was caused by friendly fire. He was just 27 years old.
Tillman was posthumously given a number of awards, including the Purple Heart and Silver Star. His #40 jersey was retired by the Arizona Cardinals.
23. 2012: Eli to Manningham Wins Second Super Bowl
Compare the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2011 to their Super Bowl run in 2007. There's probably never been a more deja vu moment in the history of the NFL, maybe in the history of professional sports.
Both Super Bowls featured a heavy underdog Giants team facing a dominant Patriots squad. Both games came down to the final drive. And both ended with Eli Manning leading the Giants to a victory.
In Super Bowl XLVII, it was Manning's 38-yard throw to Mario Manningham in double coverage with just 3:39 remaining that gave the Giants the ball at midfield. A couple more passes to Manningham set the stage for Ahmad Bradshaw's game-winning touchdown.
22. 2011: NFL Lockout
Only once in professional sports history has an entire season been wiped away by a lockout, and that was the NHL in 2003-04. But a couple of years ago, the NFL feared the worst regarding its own work stoppage.
A work stoppage that began on March 12th was finally brought to an end on July 25th. A newly-established collective bargaining agreement contained three major changes in the NFL: a set salary cap for teams at $120.375 million, increased minimum wages for NFL players and decreased wages for rookie contracts.
Most importantly, the NFL season began on time.
21. 2013: Bullygate
There's no end in sight for Bullygate between Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The story is incomplete but what is known is that Martin has accused Incognito of repeated bullying and harassment that eventually led to Martin leaving the team in November of 2013.
Martin chose not to return to the team, while Incognito was suspended. It's unclear where either player will be playing in 2014.
20. 2014: Legion of Boom Shuts Down Peyton's 600-Point Attack
On paper, Super Bowl XLVIII was as good as any championship game in the history of the NFL. After all, something had to give. The high-powered Denver Broncos, fresh off the first 600-point season in league history plus a record-setting year from league MVP Peyton Manning, were playing the Seattle Seahawks, who boasted an amazing defense that featured one of the best secondaries in recent memory.
The Broncos were slight favorites and many experts said that a victory and solid performance by Peyton Manning would hand him the title of greatest quarterback in NFL history.
But what happened is something that nobody saw coming. Seattle controlled the game for 60 minutes, thoroughly dominating the Broncos in all three phases of the game. They allowed Peyton Manning to set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions but those passes went for just 280 yards. Time after time Seattle's defense allowed Manning to dump off a short pass for a four or five-yard gain before a swarm of tacklers brought down the receiver.
Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown, while safety Kam Chancellor also added an interception. Defensive end Chris Clemons forced two fumbles.
When the dust had settled, it was the Seahawks who had steamrolled their way to a 43-8 victory in arguably the most dominant Super Bowl performance in the history of the sport.
19. 2010: Brett Favre Consecutive Games Streak Ends
It’s one of the most impressive records in the history of the National Football League. From 1992 to 2010, Brett Favre started every single game at quarterback. His 297 consecutive games played, plus 24 more in the postseason, is the longest ever by a position player.
Throughout his career, Favre played through a right shoulder separation, a swollen ankle six times its normal size, a sprained MCL, a broken thumb on his right hand, small fractures to his ankle, a hip pointer, a concussion and severe bruising to just about every part of his body. Eight times he was knocked out of a game as the Packers quarterback. Each time he returned the following week.
Not only did Favre play, but he played well. He won three straight Most Valuable Player awards, led the Packers to a Super Bowl title and holds all-time records for attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns.
His streak finally ended in 2010, at the age of 41, when a hit from Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats caused a sprained sternoclavicular joint in his right shoulder. After 92 times on the injury report, Favre’s streak finally came to an end the next week.
18. 2013: Harbaugh Bowl
You've got to wonder the emotions going through the heasds of John and Jim Harbaugh as they prepared for Super Bowl XLVII. For both, it was the first Super Bowl appearance of their career.
And nobody even wanted to talk about the game.
That's because the game marked the first time in professional sports history that opposing coaches in any postseason game were brothers.
It was the Ravens who emerged victorious by a 34-31 score, thanks to three touchdown passes by Joe Flacco and a 108-yard kick return touchdown from Jacoby Jones.
17. 2001: Jim Mora: Playoffs?!
“Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game. Any game.”
It’s the most famous soundbite in NFL history, possibly in all of sports. Everybody has seen it many times. Parodies have even been done in commercials.
The real story is that former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora was asked about his team’s chances of reaching the postseason following a disastrous loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which Peyton Manning committed five turnovers.
Mora was fired following the season, a year in which the Colts lost 10 games and allowed a ridiculous 486 points, the most by any NFL team in 20 years.
16. 2007: Michael Vick Dogfighting Scandal
This was a scandal that nobody saw coming. In April 2007, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison following his role in an illegal dogfighting ring. Vick had operated the ring for five years and had provided much of the money for the gambling side of the operation.
Vick was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2008, following the loss of his endorsement deals and NFL salary. His fall from the number one overall draft pick and a potential franchise quarterback to an imprisoned athlete who some thought would never play again is unprecedented.
And it made his comeback two years later that much sweeter.
15. 2002: Divisions Realign; New Team Added
In 2001, the National Football League had six divisions consisting of 31 teams: five divisions with five teams and six teams in the AFC Central.
In 2002, the NFL added a 32nd team to the mix, the Houston Texans, which allowed the league to create eight four-team divisions. The Seattle Seahawks also switched from the AFC to the NFC.
The new division alignment affected the playoff picture too. Instead of three division winners and three wild-card teams (which had allowed the top wild-card team to host a playoff game), the league uses four division winners and two wild-card teams.
14. 2012: Peyton Manning Sweepstakes
It might be the boldest decision an NFL team has ever made. In March of 2012, the Indianapolis Colts released four-time MVP Peyton Manning, rather than pay him a $28 million bonus. Manning had missed the entire 2011 season with neck injuries and there were doubts on whether he would ever play again, let alone return to elite form.
The release of Manning allowed the Colts to draft highly-regarded quarterback Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick and it allowed Manning to sign wherever he wanted.
ESPN reported that 12 teams initially reached out to Manning’s agent, with the sweepstakes eventually narrowed down to three teams: the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans.
Manning ultimately chose Denver, instantly upgrading their quarterback position from one of the worst in the league (Tim Tebow) to one of the best.
13. 2008: Detroit Lions Lose All 16
Losing every single game. It’s the ultimate shame for an NFL team and it’s something no fanbase should have to suffer through. It happened just once in the modern era, as the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost all 14 games in their debut season.
The 2008 Detroit Lions became the second modern team to achieve that dubious distinction. They allowed 517 points, the third team to top the 500 mark in a single season. They suffered through three starting quarterbacks, with the signature play of the year happening when Dan Orlovsky accidentally ran out the back of the end zone for a safety.
12. 2011/2012: Tebow Time
In one of the most improbable upsets in NFL postseason history, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos stunned the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime of the wild-card playoffs.
Tebow, who had led the Broncos to one improbable victory after another in the regular season, struggled in the season’s final three games. Against the number one defense in the NFL in the wild-card round of the playoffs, he completed 10 of 21 passes for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 31.6 yards per completion set a single-game postseason record and the final touchdown was a dramatic 80-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
The game was almost certainly Tebow’s last victory as a starting quarterback in the NFL and it concluded a magical season in which he led the Broncos to six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.
11. 2004: Second Vinatieri Super Bowl Walkoff
The final quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII had more excitement than the first three quarters combined. It had more points too, as the Patriots and Panthers scored a combined 37 points in the final period after scoring just 24 in the first three quarters.
Tom Brady led the Patriots on a go-ahead scoring drive, culminating in a touchdown pass to linebacker/tight end Mike Vrabel with 2:55 remaining. But Jake Delhomme and the Panthers responded, and veteran Ricky Proehl caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with just over a minute left on the clock.
That gave Brady time for one last drive. He marched the Patriots 37 yards in less than a minute, setting up Adam Vinateri's game-winning 41-yard field goal—his second in three seasons.
10. 2010: Tracy Porter Picks Peyton to Win Super Bowl
There were many experts who argued that Peyton Manning would earn the title of greatest quarterback in NFL history if he could lead the Indianapolis Colts past the New Orleans Saints for his second Super Bowl title. After all, Manning was a four-time MVP who was widely regarded as the greatest regular season quarterback ever. It was his postseason record, just 9-8 heading into Super Bowl XLIV, that was a little bit spotty.
A back-and-forth Super Bowl set up the potential for a perfect ending for Manning. Trailing 24-17, the Colts got the ball with 5:35 remaining and a chance to make history. Manning led the Colts into field goal range but on 3rd-and-5, his pass for Reggie Wayne was intercepted by Tracy Porter and returned 74 yards for a touchdown. That was the dagger, as the Saints held on to win 31-17.
While watching his father play for the Saints in the 1970s, Peyton's childhood dream was undoubtedly to throw the game-winning touchdown for the Saints in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, in Super Bowl XLIV, that's exactly what he did.
9. 2000: Music City Miracle
The Tennessee Titans needed nothing short of a miracle to defeat the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round.
Trailing 16-15 with just 16 seconds to play, Buffalo kicker Steve Christie booted a high and short kick, which was fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal at the 25-yard line. Neal handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck, who moved to his right and then threw a pass across the field to wide receiver Dyson, who streaked down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown.
Incredibly, it was Derrick Mason, not Dyson, who was supposed to catch the lateral pass. But Mason was injured earlier in the game and couldn't play. Dyson had rarely practiced with the special teams unit and was unfamiliar with the layout of the play, which was known as Home Run Throwback in Tennessee's playbook.
8. 2006-2010: Brett Favre Yearly Retirement Circus
There have been a number of professional athletes over the years who have made a big scene of retiring before returning to their sport the next year. But nobody, and I mean nobody, knew how to play the retirement game as well as Brett Favre.
The Packers quarterback reportedly considered retirement in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. After the end of the 2007 season, his 17th in the NFL, Favre officially retired as a member of the Green Bay Packers. This opened the door for Aaron Rodgers, the team's first-round draft pick from 2005 who had spent the previous three seasons on the bench. Favre changed his mind later in the offseason and tried to re-join the Packers but they rejected him, leading to an eventual trade to the New York Jets.
Favre played for the Jets in 2008 but retired after the season, his second official retirement. In May, Minnesota Vkings head coach Brad Childress attempted to talk Favre out of retirement but Favre declined. He ended up accepting the Vikings' offer in August and played the entire 2009 season, where he posted his best statistical season and had the Vikings within three points of the Super Bowl.
Favre retired for the third time in August of 2010, largely because of an injured ankle that had not healed during surgery and rehabilitation. But he unretired for a third time just two weeks later when a couple of his Vikings teammates talked him into returning for one more season.
Speculation arose during training camp in 2011 that the Eagles were interested in making Favre a backup to Mike Vick. Later during the season, a report surfaced that Favre was interested in joining the Chicago Bears if they were also interested.
And just a few months ago, in October, the St. Louis Rams called the 44-year-old to see if he would become their starting quarterback following the season-ending injury to Sam Bradford. But Favre declined their offer and it's a virtual certainty that the former three-time MVP is actually retired.
We think so.
7. 2002: Tuck Rule
It's one of the more controversial plays in recent memory, and it's the moment that helped shape one of the most impressive dynasties in NFL history.
The Patriots trailed the Oakland Raiders 13-10 with just under two minutes remaining in the AFC divisional playoffs. Tom Brady dropped back to pass and lost the ball after he was hit by a blitzing Charles Woodson. When the Raiders pounced on the fumble, it appeared the game was over.
But the refs called for the tuck rule, which ruled that Brady's pass was an incompletion because he attempted to tuck it back into his body. Brady capitalized on the opportunity, leading New England to a tying score, thanks to Adam Vinatieri's 45-yard line drive field goal in the snow.
The Patriots won in overtime, 16-13, with their thrilling victory setting the stage for their first of three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span.
6. 2002: Vinatieri's Super Bowl Walkoff Caps Huge Upset
On paper, the New England Patriots looked like they had no chance to defeat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams, nicknamed The Greatest Show On Turf, cruised to a 14-2 record during the regular season, scoring more than 500 points. Kurt Warner won the NFL MVP award for the second time in three seasons, while versatile running back Marshall Faulk earned his third straight Offensive Player of the Year award.
Meanwhile, the Patriots won just 11 games and didn't have a single dominant player on either side of the ball. Quarterback Tom Brady was young and inexperienced, having been thrust into a starting role in week three after Drew Bledsoe suffered a season-ending injury. And the Patriots needed a miraculous comeback and rarely-used call by the refs (the famous Tuck Rule call) to even reach the Super Bowl in the first place.
During the Super Bowl, the Patriots did what they do best: feasted off the other team's mistakes. Ty Law provided the biggest play of the first half, returning an interception for a touchdown. The Patriots took a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter but the high-powered Rams rallied with a pair of touchdowns, the second coming with just 1:37 left in the game.
At this point, commentator John Madden famously stated that the Patriots should just kneel the ball and head into overtime. But Brady completed five passes, the biggest a 23-yarder to Troy Brown, moving the ball to the Rams' 30-yard line and setting up a field goal attempt for Adam Vinatieri.
When Vinatieri's 48-yard kick sailed through the uprights, the Patriots had completed one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history and taken the first step toward establishing themselves as a dynasty. For the Rams, the disappointing loss signaled the end of a dominant yet short reign of terror on the rest of the football world.
5. 2000: One Yard Short
It's probably the single most dramatic ending to a Super Bowl in the history of the NFL. It's the closest a game has ever come to overtime.
With six seconds remaining in the game, the Tennessee Titans trailed the St. Louis Rams 23-16. Steve McNair had driven the Titans down the field in less than two minutes but now Tennessee needed to punch the ball in from the ten-yard line to send the game into sudden-death overtime.
McNair took the snap, dropped back and fired to a wide-open Kevin Dyson in the middle of the field. Dyson caught the ball at the five-yard line and was wrapped up by Rams linebacker Mike Jones at around the two-and-a-half yard-line. Dyson rolled on top of Jones and reached for the end zone but came up just a single yard (less than a yard) short.
The tackle, notably the form, the execution and, of course, the timing, is widely regarded as one of the best in NFL history. Everything worked out perfectly, and the Rams collected their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
4. 2009: Santonio Holmes Catch
It's only fitting that one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history came after the single most thrilling, entertaining Super Bowl in history.
The Cardinals took a 23-20 lead with just 2:37 remaining in Super Bowl XLIII after Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown. But there was still plenty of time for Ben Roethlisberger to work his late-game magic for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On the final drive, Roethlisberger completed 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards. He hit Santonio Holmes for gains of 14, 13 and 40, setting up a second-and-goal from the 6-yard line with 42 seconds left in the game.
What happened next is probably the most famous play in Steelers history and that includes the Immaculate Reception of 1972.
Roethlisberger took the snap, looked to his right and delivered a bullet to the corner of the end zone. Holmes somehow made the catch, keeping both feet in bounds, despite triple coverage from the Cardinals.
The Steelers clinched a victory by forcing a fumble on the game's final play, which also prevented a potentially dangerous Hail Mary from Warner to Fitzgerald. The Steelers became the first team to win the Super Bowl six times.
3. 2012: Bountygate
If you want an example of how much the NFL has changed over the last few decades, look no further than Bountygate involving the New Orleans Saints. Just a couple of decades ago, teams would regularly put bounties on opposing players with absolutely no fear of retribution from the league. Not anymore.
In March of 2012, the NFL concluded its investigation of the Saints, concluding that the team had used a slush fund to put bounties on opposing players. Run by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the program began in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Among the players targeted and injured in Bountygate were Kurt Warner, who was knocked out of the final game of his career in the 2009 divisional playoffs, and Brett Favre, who was repeatedly hit in the 2009 conference championship game.
The NFL came down hard on the Saints, suspending Williams indefinitely, head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games and forcing the team to forfeit its second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013, as well as paying a $500,000 fine. Four Saints players were also suspended for being ringleaders in the scandal, with linebacker Jonathan Vilma earning a year-long suspension.
But the NFL later vacated all of the players' suspensions, casting the majority of the blame for the scandal on the coaches.
2. 2007: Spygate
From 2001 to 2006, Bill Belichick established himself as one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history. Three times he led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl title, twice winning on a last-second field goal. He also developed Tom Brady into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
But one incident in week one of the 2007 season threatened to permanently change Belichick's legacy... forever. New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini, formerly an assistant of Belichick's on the Patriots, turned in his former coach for videotaping Jets' defensive coaches' signals from the sideline during a game.
Commissioner Goodell imposed the maximum penalty on the Patriots, fining Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000, while also stripping the franchise of their first-round pick in the 2008 draft. The penalty was easily the largest on an individual in NFL history.
It became pretty apparent that the Patriots took out their anger from the incident on the rest of the NFL, winning all 16 regular season games by an average of 19.7 points per game. They reached the Super Bowl as a heavy favorite against the New York Giants but suffered a heartbreaking last-second loss on the luckiest play in NFL history.
You can draw your own conclusions about the impact of Spygate on the Patriots' success during the six years from 2001 to 2006 but here are the facts.
Since the conclusion of Spygate, the Patriots have reached the playoffs in six of the seven seasons, only missing in 2008 when Brady suffered a torn ACL in week one (the Patriots still managed to win 11 games). They've reached the Super Bowl twice, losing both in the final minute to the Giants, while also appearing twice in the AFC championship game. They've collected an average of 12.57 regular season victories over the last seven years, but, most importantly, they have not won a Super Bowl.
1. 2008: David Tyree Helmet Catch
The David Tyree catch is the most memorable moment in the NFL since the turn of the millennium. It's probably the most memorable, unlikely, luckiest play in Super Bowl era.
Here's what happened. The New York Giants trailed the New England Patriots, who were undefeated on the season, with just over a minute remaining in the game. Trailing 14-10, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 44-yard line. Manning called the play, 76 Union Y Sail, and took the snap in a shotgun formation. He was immediately pressured by a trio of Patriots defenders, one grabbing him by the shoulder and another clinging to the back of his jersey. But Manning broke free of the defenders and scrambled backward into space.
He heaved the ball to the middle of the field, where Giants wide receiver David Tyree made a leaping reception by catching the ball against the side of his helmet. The catch was good for 32 yards, and made Tyree, who had caught just four passes during the regular season, an instant hero.
Eli capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burress, completing one of the greatest upsets (and probably the greatest drive) in history. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of a championship game when anything less than a touchdown would have resulted in a loss.
Just think about how different NFL history would be had the play never happened. Bill Belichick would likely be considered the greatest coach in NFL history and Tom Brady would likely be considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The Patriots would be considered the best single-season team ever following a 19-0 perfect season.
Instead, Brady, Belichick and company will go down as the best of the rest... that is, the best team in NFL history to not win a Super Bowl.