Ranking the Top January Sports Performances Since 2010
January is usually a time in sports when three major traditions collide: The NFL playoffs, college football's bowl season and, of course, the NHL Winter Classic.
With a new year and some fantastic performances already in the books, we developed a list of the best January showings by athletes dating back to 2010.
Using the events listed above, we ranked these performances based on significance of each game, statistics, an athlete's value to a team and how memorable each moment turned out to be.
With the criteria in place, it's time to see who took the No. 1 slot.
Riveting January performances can't ever be limited to a top-10 list. So we figured a slide for honorable mentions was necessary.
Here are the athletes who barely missed out on making the cut:
- Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos QB, 2011 NFL Wild Card Game
- Michael Rupp, New York Rangers center, 2012 NHL Winter Classic
- Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks CB, 2013 NFC Championship Game
- Jeremy Shelley, Alabama Crimson Tide K, 2012 BCS National Championship
- Allen Bailey, Kansas City Chiefs DE, 2015 NFL Wild Card Game
- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues RW, 2017 NHL Winter Classic
- Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles QB, 2014 BCS National Championship
10. 2017 Rose Bowl: Penn State Running Back Saquon Barkley
Even in a losing effort, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley churned out a memorable January performance.
Barkley bounced around the field, registering 25 carries for 194 yards and two scores. On the receiving end, he also nabbed five receptions for 55 yards and an additional TD.
Penn State might have lost the Rose Bowl to USC, 52-49, but Barkley cemented himself as a future NFL commodity on a big stage.
Since he's a sophomore, Penn State will get to enjoy at least one more year of Barkley’s services. His vision and rumble mentality are refreshing to have in the Nittany Lions offense.
9. 2011 NFL Playoffs: Denver Broncos Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas
Before Demaryius Thomas had the luxury of Peyton Manning stepping into the Denver Broncos' offense, he played pitch-and-catch with quarterback Tim Tebow.
Tebow, not really known for being an elite passer, leaned on Thomas during the AFC Wild Card playoffs of 2011. In classic Tebow fashion, the volume wasn't there. Thomas only managed to corral four catches.
But the yardage came in vast chunks. Those four receptions translated to 204 yards receiving and a game-winning, 80-yard scamper in overtime.
Thomas' brilliance creating yardage after the catch and winning the game moved Denver into Round 2 of the 2011 postseason. A feat unimaginable today with Tebow comfortably out of professional football.
8. 2010 Sugar Bowl: Florida Gators Quarterback Tim Tebow
Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow created a serious movement down in Gainesville, Florida. The coach and quarterback morphed the Florida Gators into a BCS powerhouse in only three years.
Tebow hoisted a Heisman Trophy, won the 2009 BCS title game and became somewhat legendary in the process—his name still holds clout today. But he gave one of the best January performances at the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
After falling to Alabama in the SEC title contest, the Gators were forced to play the Cincinnati Bearcats for Sugar Bowl bragging rights. Without skipping a beat, Tebow went out and put the screws to the Ohio natives.
His final stat line looked like this: He completed 31 of 35 passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns. Rushing the ball, he added 14 carries for 51 yards and a score.
It was one of many times throughout his career where Tebow simply looked unstoppable. The Bearcats were crushed, 51-24, and Tebow left Florida for the NFL as a winner.
7. 2010 NHL Winter Classic: Boston Bruins Winger Marco Sturm
The 2010 Winter Classic was a low-scoring affair but somehow managed to be remarkably thrilling. A clash between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers went from being a 1-1 tie late in the third period to an eventual overtime Boston win courtesy of former Bruins winger Marco Sturm.
Behind the excellent goaltending of Tim Thomas, the Bruins were able to tie the game late in the third period with Mark Recchi's goal. When the contest was propelled into overtime, Sturm placed his name into Bruins history.
Just under two minutes into OT, Sturm stepped forth and netted the winner. Looking back, his positioning was sufficient throughout, despite not registering a ton of points. It was a Winter Classic performance worth remembering.
It was fitting Sturm was the one to end up winning the 2010 Winter Classic. He played exceptional from start to finish and gave the 38,112 fans in attendance at Fenway Park, per the Washington Post, a moment they won't ever forget.
6. 2017 Rose Bowl: USC Quarterback Sam Darnold
USC seems to have another star in the making with freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The 6'4", 225-pound passer helped carry the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State by eviscerating defensive backs.
In what turned out to be a point-fest, Darnold remained laser-sharp. He completed 33 passes for 453 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
Besides his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly and all of those lofty numbers, Darnold also appeared to showcase a level of poise rarely seen from freshmen quarterbacks. He took control in a game where points ran amok, helping secure a 52-49 win.
Darnold impressed from the get-go, moving the chains and taking risks. This wasn't a checkdown QB performance; it was a riveting one.
5. 2012 NFL Playoffs: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick
Four seasons ago, life was much different for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Chosen by Jim Harbaugh to lead the Niners to the promise land, the dual-threat Kaepernick was groomed and protected by Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Behind a strong defense and sound rushing attack, Kaepernick developed into a weapon. This weapon could be used under center in the form of quick drops and downfield throws, or, outside the pocket, creating movement and disrupting a defense's ability to read a play.
The pinnacle of Kaepernick under the tutelage of Harbaugh came during the 2012 Divisional playoffs. It was there that he ran all over the Green Bay Packers in a 45-31 victory.
His stats were video game-like. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards on 16 carries, slamming two touchdowns home in the process. He also threw the ball well, despite completing 54.8 percent of his passes. His 263 yards passing, two scores and one interception were solid.
This performance ranks highly because Kaepernick fused himself into an unstoppable object mid-game. He plowed through the Packers' defense and helped the 49ers sustain themselves as championship contenders.
4. 2014 NHL Winter Classic: Toronto Maple Leafs Center Tyler Bozak
In Winter Classic history, there's one game we will never forget: the 2014 showdown between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings in front of a record 105,491 fans at Michigan Stadium.
For the simple fact that over 105,000 people attended, the 2014 Winter Classic put the NHL on a pedestal. Braving the frigid, arctic conditions, Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak shined. Shrouded in layers of warming gear—as seen in the picture above—Bozak scored the initial go-ahead goal in the third period.
He wasn't done yet.
Detroit came back and tied the contest, forcing overtime. During the ensuing shootout, Bozak blasted the game-winner into the net against Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.
The moment was glorious. An electrified crowd witnessed a back-and-forth contest between two historic NHL franchises, while Bozak became the herculean hero of the 2014 Winter Classic.
3. 2012 Orange Bowl: West Virginia Mountaineers Quarterback Geno Smith
Don’t you wish 2012 Orange Bowl Geno Smith made the transition to New York Jets Geno Smith?
Prior to landing with the Jets in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, Smith became a hero for the West Virginia Mountaineers. In 2012, he marched onto the Orange Bowl field and dismantled Clemson at every turn.
When we say "dismantled," we’re not using the word lightly. Smith went out and completed 74.4 percent of his passes for 407 yards and six touchdowns. He looked like a man possessed. His passes were clean, his footwork was sound and his confidence...well, that soared.
In the end, West Virginia pummeled Clemson by a final score of 70-33, cementing Smith as a prominent figure in Mountaineer history.
2. 2010 NFL Playoffs: Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
There is great quarterback play in the NFL, and then there’s "Who can stop this guy?" play. Aaron Rodgers, historically speaking, has usually provided the latter.
When he’s locked in, no franchise is safe from defeat. Take the 2010 NFL Divisional Game as proof. Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers marched into Atlanta and proceeded to systematically break down the Falcons.
He completed 31 of 36 passing attempts for 366 yards and three touchdowns. But Rodgers’ didn’t stop there. He also added a rushing score as well to bring his total up to four.
A 48-21 destruction of the top-seeded Falcons eventually led to the Packers' running the table and winning a Super Bowl title. This performance is important because it began a Super Bowl run and cemented Rodgers as an all-time great.
1. 2012 NFL Playoffs: Baltimore Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco’s career with the Baltimore Ravens has been strange. He’s teetered between mediocre and excellent for years now, garnering criticism and praise along the way.
Peak Flacco emerged during the Ravens’ run to Super Bowl XLVII. It was there that Flacco transitioned into a postseason hero with timely throws—remember his downfield toss to Jacoby Jones?—and poise.
Not counting the Super Bowl win, Flacco threw for 853 yards and eight touchdowns in three January playoff games. It was a magical run which resulted in victories over the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
His Super Bowl-winning showing against the San Francisco 49ers capped off a memorable January (note that the Super Bowl was played in February). In the big game, where the Ravens won 34-31, Flacco threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns versus a top-flight defense.
We might never see Flacco return to this level. His January postseason run was iconic. But for two months, he was great. And that greatness resulted in the Ravens’ second Super Bowl title.
All stats, box scores and information via Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.