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Power Ranking the 50 Gutsiest Decisions in NFL History

Dan Van WieContributor IIIJune 7, 2011

Power Ranking the 50 Gutsiest Decisions in NFL History

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    HONOLULU - JANUARY 30:  Bill Belichick (L) Head Coach of the American Football Conference team, and Michael Smith, Head Coach of the National Football Conference team greet each other at the end of the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on January 30, 201
    Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

    There will always be tough coaching decisions in the NFL, as that goes with the territory. Games are won and lost routinely on specific coaching decisions. As close as NFL teams are to each other in terms of talent, it is the ability of NFL head coaches to make gutsy decisions in the clutch that separates the great teams from the rest of the pack.

    Some gutsy decisions work out quite well, and the rewards are huge. Some other gutsy decisions turn out quite badly, and sometimes heads roll as a result. A gutsy move does not necessarily have to work out okay to make it gutsy.

    In fact, if a gutsy move doesn't pan out, that is really what makes it gutsy—because of what was at stake, and the probability that the move could backfire. When the results are what was hoped for, the move then transitions from gutsy to dumb or stupid.

    But we are going to strive to not stoop to that level. We will recognize 50 gutsy moves for what they were at the time the decision was made, gutsy. The results vary but that is why you make a gutsy move to begin with, because you don't know what the actual results will be until you put the idea in for real.

50) Mike Shanahan Ices Sebastian Janikowski

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 21:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos leads his team against the Buffalo Bills at Invesco Field at Mile High on December 21, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Bills defeated the Broncos 30-23.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Im
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    In a move that will be repeated time and again until the NFL comes up with yet another rule change, Denver Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan iced Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

    The scene was September 16, 2007. The Raiders and Broncos were tied in overtime, and just before Janikowski kicked a game-winning field goal, Shanahan called timeout. The kick was good by Janikowski, but was not allowed due to the timeout. After the timeout, Janikowski's next attempt bounced off the goal post.

    Jason Elam wound up kicking the winning field goal for the Broncos, and a whole new set of future coaching decisions were set in motion due to the "ice-the-kicker" move.

49) Marty Schottenheimer Buckles in Crunch Time

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    SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 14:  Head coach Marty Schottenheimer of the San Diego Chargers reacts during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New England Patriots held on January 14, 2007 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumen
    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    January 8, 2005. The New York Jets are on the road, playing at the San Diego Chargers in an AFC playoff game. The San Diego Chargers Head Coach—Marty Schottenheimer—was just named the NFL Coach of the Year earlier that day.

    Schottenheimer is leading a Chargers team that has not been to the playoffs in nine years. He pulls some crazy antics like running out on to the field and getting an unsportsmanlike penalty.

    During the first half, Schottenheimer opts to go conservative in his play-calling. The home crowd starts booing loudly. Despite having LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees and Antonio Gates, Schottenheimer sticks to his guns and the game winds up going to overtime.

    The Jets wind up kicking a field goal in the final minute of overtime, and that is one more first-round loss on the resume of Marty Schottenheimer. What is the old saying, misery loves company?

48) Super Bowl XVII: 4th Down and 1 Foot

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    Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins, needed to come up with a play. His team was losing to the Miami Dolphins 17-13 in Super Bowl XVII.

    It was in the fourth quarter, and the Redskins were facing a fourth down with one foot to go. Rather than attempt a straight dive that could have resulted in a first down, Gibbs gambled on a play that could have resulted in a loss in the backfield if the Redskins didn't execute perfectly on every block. The upside was that if everyone did their job, running back John Riggins would be isolated on a cornerback, and if he could run through him, it would be smooth sailing.

    The end result was that each Redskins lineman did their job, Riggins easily broke through the tackle of the Dolphins' much smaller cornerback, and the play wound up being a 43-yard touchdown run. The play wound up being the winning score, and the Redskins were Super Bowl XVII Champions.

47) Lovie Smith Goes for Broke

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    CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 12: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears is gang-tackled by (L-R) Alphonso Smith #27, Randy Phillips #25 and Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions during the NFL season opening game at Soldier Field on September 12, 2010 in Chicago, Il
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    On the opening weekend of the 2010 season, the Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions 19-14. In the fourth quarter, the Bears were down 14-13 in the fourth quarter.

    Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith decided to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal that would have given the Bears a lead. The Bears gave the ball to Matt Forte, and the Lions stopped him cold. The Lions held onto the lead until a Matt Forte catch late in the game gave the Bears the ultimate margin of victory.

    That lead was very much in doubt when Calvin Johnson appeared to catch the game winner, but replay officials denied him the catch.

    The gutsy decision to go for it by Lovie Smith backfired, but at least there was enough time left on the clock for the Bears to go to bat for their head coach and bail him out.

46) Hank Stram Slams It Home on 3rd on Goal

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    CANTON, OH - AUGUST 3:  Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Hank Stram waves after being presented with his bust during the 2003 NFL Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on August 3, 2003 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    Trying to run the ball in from the one-yard line can be tough in the NFL. Running the ball in from the five-yard line on 3rd-and-goal should be even tougher, especially if it is in a Super Bowl game.

    Well, that was the gutsy call made by Hank Stram, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The play came about in Super Bowl IV, and it increased the Chiefs lead over the Minnesota Vikings from 9-0 to 16-0.

    That was the final Super Bowl prior to the merger. The Chiefs won the game, and Hank Stram earned a place in the Hall of Fame.

45) Marty Mornhinweg Chooses the Wind, Not the Ball

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    DETROIT- DECEMBER 29:  A fan holds up a sign expressing his feelings on Detroit Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg during the last game of NFL regular season against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on December 29, 2002 in Detroit, Michigan.  The Viking
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    In 2002, Marty Mornhinweg was the head coach of the Detroit Lions. His team had just finished tied up at the end of regulation against the Chicago Bears. The game was being played in Chicago, so headed into overtime, the Lions won the coin toss. Mornhinweg opted to take the wind rather than the ball.

    The Bears promptly drove down the field (into the wind) and kicked the game-winning field goal. 

    Mornhinweg took the wind and the loss home with him. He actually took quite a few losses home with him. His record as head coach of the Lions was 5-27.

44) Joe Gibbs Refuses to Kneel

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 23:  Head coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins on the sidelines against the Minnesota Vikings December 23, 2007 at the H.H.H. Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins, was losing in Super Bowl XVIII when he thought he would try a gutsy move. The Redskins were already losing to the Los Angeles Raiders, 14-3. The Redskins had the ball inside their own 20-yard line, and there were fewer than 20 seconds left in the half.

    Take a knee, go into the locker room and regroup, right?

    Not Gibbs. He ordered up a screen pass, which had worked earlier in the regular season. The Raiders were ready for the play, and linebacker Jack Squirek stepped in front of the pass and easily scored to make it 21-3 at the half.

    The Raiders won this game going away 38-9. Joe Gibbs was a great coach for Washington, but that is one gutsy call I am sure he would have liked to take back.

43) Andy Reid Makes Questionable Promotion

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on against the Green Bay Packers during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Andy Reid is still looking for his first Super Bowl win. He may never get there. This offseason Reid decided to promote his offensive line coach of the past 13 years, Juan Castillo, to become the defensive coordinator for the Eagles.

    This is either a very gutsy call or one that is a clear signal that Reid has hit the proverbial wall. It could be thought of as a bold move, or a sign that Reid has finally lost it.

    It will sure be interesting to see how the Eagles fare in 2011, but this is one of the more interesting moves of the offseason.

42) Wade Phillips Benches Doug Flutie

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    To Buffalo Bills fans this is also known as the Doug Flutie Curse. The scene was a playoff game on January 8, 2000.

    Buffalo Bills head coach Wade Phillips saw his Bills team get a playoff berth thanks to quarterback Doug Flutie rallying the Bills for wins down the stretch drive. Flutie started 15 of the 16 games for the Bills during the season. How did Phillips reward Flutie? By benching him when the playoffs arrived, starting Rob Johnson instead.

    How did Johnson fare in the game? Johnson completed 10 passes out of 22 attempts for no touchdowns. He was sacked six times.

    The Bills lost the game 22-16, thanks to the Music City Miracle.

    The Bills have never gone to the playoffs since. It would take Wade Phillips 10 years to finally win his first playoff game. Phillips was fired one year later by the Bills and was replaced by the Titans Defensive Coordinator from this game, Gregg Williams.

41) Forrest Gregg Loves Him Some Old Time Football

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    6 Sep 1998:  Former player and coach Forrest Gregg makes a speech during a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tennessee Oilers at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Oilers defeated the Bengals 23-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Lyons  /Allsport
    Mark Lyons/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals were in a dog fight with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI.

    The Bengals had the ball at the 49ers' one-yard line and had multiple cracks at scoring a touchdown.

    Gregg decided that on fourth down, he would go with his battering ram, fullback Pete Johnson.

    Johnson was met by Dan Bunz, Hacksaw Reynolds and Ronnie Lott for no gain.

    The call was gutsy by Gregg, but proved costly, as the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl by the narrow margin of 26-21.

40) Dan Reeves, Eugene Robinson and Super Bowl XXXIV

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    31 Jan 1999:  Coach Dan Reeves of the Atlanta Falcons looking on during the Super Bowl XXXIII Game against the Denver Broncos at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Broncos defeated the Falcons 34-19.
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Falcons head coach Dan Reeves decided to start Eugene Robinson in Super Bowl XXXIV. On the surface, you say, what is so gutsy about that? Well, the night before the game, Robinson was busted for trying to solicit sex from an undercover female police officer, which got him arrested.

    Since his mind wasn't totally on the game, it is not surprising that Broncos quarterback John Elway took advantage and beat Robinson deep. The Broncos won the game 34-19.

    It was a gutsy move by Reeves to show faith in his player, but he failed to recognize that it was probably not in his team's best interests.

39) Bill Walsh Puts the Game in the Hands of Cool Joe

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    Super Bowl XXIII. The San Francisco 49ers drive the ball over 90 yards in the final three minutes to lead the 49ers and Head Coach Bill Walsh to a 20-16 victory in Super Bowl XXIII.

    The gutsy call in this game turned out to be the game-winner. Joe Montana hit John Taylor with a 10-yard slant to score the final points in the game.

    The game turned out to be the final game coached by the great Bill Walsh.

38) Jim Caldwell Rests His Starters

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Head coach Jim Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts coaches against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Jets won 17-16.  (Photo
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Jim Caldwell was sitting on a perfect season. His Colts were 14-0 and had already clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

    Caldwell decided to rest his regulars over the final two games, which the Colts lost. Caldwell figured that they could regain their momentum in the playoffs when the regulars were back in the lineup. It was a gutsy call and one that he probably still thinks about from time to time.

    The Colts did reach the Super Bowl, but failed to bring home the big prize. If Caldwell is faced with a similar decision again, it would be curious to see what he decides to do.

37) Tom Flores Airs It out

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    LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 6:  Head coach Tom Flores and his Los Angeles Raiders wait for team introductions to run onto the field prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 6, 1987 in Los Angeles, California.
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Tom Flores was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Raiders were up 7-3 in the game, and the first quarter was winding down. The Eagles had moved the ball on the drive before, so Flores wanted to turn momentum back to Oakland.

    The Raiders had the ball at their own 20-yard line and were looking at a third down and four yards to go. Flores made a gutsy call by throwing the ball down field to fullback Kenny King. The play resulted in a 80-yard touchdown and the Raiders coasted to victory from there.

36) New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Devery Henderson scores a first quarter touchdown  against the Atlanta Falcons on  ESPN Monday Night Football  game September 25, 2006 in New Orleans. The Saints won 23 - 3.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    September 25, 2006. The New Orleans Saints were hosting their first home game since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The entire city of New Orleans was still in a state of mourning. Reggie Bush was playing in his first Saint's home game as a rookie. President Bush was in attendance. The city of New Orleans turned out in force for the opener.

    Head Coach Sean Payton pulled out a trick play that he calls the Superdome Special. It is basically a double reverse, but it also places quarterback Drew Brees in a precarious position since he became a lead blocker on the play.

    The end result was a touchdown run by Devery Henderson, and the Saints went on to win by the score of 23-3. The game wasn't that close. It was included in this list because of the emotional lift that it gave the city of New Orleans, when they were really down.

    There was a lot of pressure on the Saints team, and they delivered. The team gave the game ball to the city of New Orleans in a fitting gesture.

35) Ray Malavasi Goes for It on 4th

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    In Super Bowl XIV, the Los Angeles Rams were lucky to be in the Super Bowl considering that they had a 9-7 record. So, it is easier for an underdog team to take some chances or gambles. Rams head coach Ray Malavasi was trying to keep his team in the game when they attempted to convert a fourth down and eight yards to go at the Pittsburgh 37.

    They decided not to try a long field goal, nor pin the Steelers back in their own end zone. Instead, Malavasi had quarterback Vince Ferragamo throw a pass to Billy Waddy and a first down. The Rams went on to score on a field goal and took the lead into halftime.

    The Steelers went on to win the game 31-19, but that didn't detract from the gutsy call that Malavasi made.

34) Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns, Red Right 88

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    January 4, 1981. Playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns.

    The Browns were trailing 14-12 with the ball at the Oakland 13-yard line. The Browns had 49 seconds left to set up a field goal, but Browns Head Coach Sam Rutigliano decided instead to go for a pass in the end zone. Brian Sipe threw the ball into the end zone, but Mike Davis stepped in front of the pass, and the interception killed the drive and the Browns' season.

    The play is known as Red Right 88. The gutsy call by Rutigliano backfired. Some may cite the weather conditions as the reason his decision was the right call, but the end result showed that he probably could have gone with a safer play call.

33) Jon Gruden Goes for Two

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    ATLANTA - DECEMBER 14: Coach Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers directs play against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 14, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The date was November 13, 2006, The Washington Redskins were beating the Tampa Bay Buccanners 35-28, and the Buccaneers were driving down the field at the end of regulation to try to pull out the game.

    The Buccaneers scored a touchdown before time expired. Now with the score 35-34, the extra point would be the final play of regulation time. The Redskins blocked the extra point, but were flagged for being offsides on the play. The penalty moved the ball up from the two-yard line to the one-yard line.

    Jon Gruden saw the potential to win the game right then and there, without gambling on what would happen in overtime. He had an asset like Mike Alstott, so he put him to work. Gruden ordered Alstott to dive in and he scored the two-point conversion, allowing the Bucs to win the game 36-35. Gutsy call by Gruden.

32) Mike Singletary Drops His Trousers

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sideline at the Edward Jones Dome on December 26, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Rams beat the 49ers 25-17. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    There are gutsy moves and then there is Mike Singletary. Singletary alienated both coaches on his own staff and his players by some of his decisions.

    From pulling down his pants in the locker room to make a point, to sending team captain Vernon Davis to the showers early in a game, to regularly benching starting quarterbacks, and firing his offensive coordinator, Singletary had a difficult time in winning the confidence and faith of his team.

    Singletary wanted winners, but his actions sent a different message to the rest of the organization. Hopefully he learned from his experience, but it will be interesting to see if anyone ever gives him a head coaching spot again.

31) Dick Vermeil Goes for the Win

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 1:  Head coach Dick Vermeil of the Kansas City Chiefs walks up the sideline before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 1, 2006 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Vermeil has announced his retirement, acco
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    In Week 9 of the 2005 regular season, Dick Vermeil had to make a gutsy decision. He was down three points to the Oakland Raiders with five seconds left to go in the game. Kick a field goal and send it to overtime would have been the easy call to make, but Vermeil instead decided that he wanted to go for the win.

    The ball was on the one-yard line, and Vermeil made the right call as the Chiefs scored the touchdown and earned the victory in the process.

30) Bill Cowher Gambles on 4th (Again, and Again, and Again...)

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    28 Jan 1996:   Running back Bam Morris of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs  as linebacker Godfrey Myles of the Dallas Cowboys tries to tackle him at Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.  The Cowboys won the game 27 - 17. Mandatory Credit: Ri
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    In Super Bowl XXX, the Pittsburgh Steelers were coached by Bill Cowher. He had a whole lot of river boat gambler in him that day, as he gambled three times on fourth down, frequently in bad field position.

    The Dallas Cowboys were considered the heavy favorites in the game, so Cowher must have decided he would take it upon himself to take the blame if his team came up short.

    Not only did Cowher gamble three times to go for it on fourth down, but he also ordered up a successful on-sides kick to boot. Cowher demonstrated that there was nothing conservative about him when it came to the big stage. 

    As good as the gambles paid off, the Steelers didn't have enough to beat the Cowboys that day as the Cowboys would go on to win the game 27-17.

29) Brad Childress Brings Back Randy

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    MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings on the sidelines against the Green Bay Packers at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 21, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Brad Childress had a veteran team set to win in Minnesota. He made a rather gutsy move in deciding to treat star quarterback Brett Favre on a different level than the rest of the team. It started with trying to woo him out of retirement and then continued when he allowed to come to training camp much later than the rest of the team.

    Randy Moss joined the circus in midseason, and that helped to further cause some unrest in the locker room that was already in chaos. The end result was that the Vikings were not a happy team, and it cost Childress his job. Giving one player preferential treatment is always a risky thing to do in a team sport.

28) Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans 2007

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on before the Saints take on the Seattle Seahawks during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A pair of gutsy coaching decisions helped to determine the outcome of this game, which Tampa Bay won 27-23 over the New Orleans Saints.

    Saints Head Coach Sean Payton trotted out one of his trick plays (The Superdome Special), which backfired. Reggie Bush had trouble executing the trick play, and the Bucs took advantage.

    Jon Gruden could have played it safe and gone for a field goal on a 4th-and-1 at the Saints 28, but he disdained the tie to go for the win. Gruden gave the ball to Earnest Graham, who got the first down. The result was the Bucs got the first down and proceeded to drive for the game-winning touchdown drive. Instead of a tied game at 23, the Bucs won 27-23.

27) Chuck Knox Sticks the Nail in the Coffin

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    Chuck Knox was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. The Miami Dolphins were coming in to Buffalo to open up the season, and had beaten the Bills in 20 straight games. Knox wanted to end that streak and start the Bills out on the right foot for the new year.

    The Bills were up three points and faced with a fourth down and goal to go. A field goal extends the lead to only six points, but a touchdown would put the Bills in command. Knox decided to give the ball to rookie running back Joe Cribbs, who managed to find the end zone and extend the Bills lead to 10 points. The Bills won the game 17-7 and officially ended the Miami streak.

26) George Seifert Throws Caution to the Wind

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    06 Jan 2002: Head coach George Seifert of the Carolina Panthers paces along the sideline during the game against the New England Patriots at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Patriots defeated the Panthers 38-6,  resulting in a record for
    Erik Perel/Getty Images

    George Seifert was the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2000. They were playing the St. Louis Rams on November 8th, and the game was tied at 24 with two minutes left in regulation. The Panthers were faced with a fourth down and two yards to go at the Rams 42-yard line. They could punt the ball, and would then take their chances in overtime. If they went for the first down, and failed, they would be giving the Rams great field position.

    Seifert wavered between punting and going for it, but eventually he decided to take his chances and make a gutsy call. He gave the ball to Tim Biakabutuka, who gained 10 yards on the play. The Panthers continued their drive and wound up winning it on a Joe Nedney field goal.

25) Jim Caldwell Calls an Ill-Advised Timeout

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    INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 14:  Jim Caldwell the Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts gives instructions to his team during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 14, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    In the 2010 playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts were playing against the New York Jets in the wild card round. The Colts were ahead 16-14 with less than a minute left and were driving the ball in hopes of attempting a long field goal of 50 yards or possibly longer.

    But for some strange reason, the Colts head coach Jim Caldwell called a timeout. Perhaps he thought he needed to rest his defense. But during that timeout, the Jets decided instead to throw the ball instead of running it. The play resulted in a 18-yard pass to Braylon Edwards, and Nick Folk then kicked the game-winning field goal.

    The timeout call by Caldwell was one of the gutsy, or stranger, moves of the playoffs.

24) Bill Belichick vs. New York Jets

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    The New England Patriots were playing their AFC East rivals New York Jets in the playoffs. The Patriots were losing 7-3 when Patrick Chung attempted a fake punt play. He botched the snap, and the play went nowhere.

    Taking advantage of the great field position, the Jets went in to score a touchdown, and that touchdown proved to be the margin of victory. Belichick refused to discuss or elaborate on the play in the postgame press conference.

    Even the best head coaches make some gutsy calls that backfire.

23) Jeff Fisher vs. Vince Young vs. Bud Adams

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    The Tennessee Titans experienced another rough year in 2010. The Titans had been experiencing long losing streaks in their recent history under head coach Jeff Fisher. There was a split forming in the organization between Jeff Fisher and quarterback Vince Young.

    Titans owner Bud Adams wanted Fisher to start Young, but Fisher remained adamant that Young would not be his starting quarterback.

    It turned out to be a gutsy decision, but one that cost Fisher his job, as Adams decided it was best to part ways with his long-tenured head coach at the end of the 2010 season.

    With the expected release of Vince Young once the NFL lifts the free agency lockout, it appears that there were not any winners in this triangle.

22) Bill Parcells, Super Bowl XXI

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 25:  Head coach Bill Parcells of the New York Giants gets carried off the field following the game against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California. The Giants defeated th
    George Rose/Getty Images

    During Super Bowl XXI, New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells was faced with a decision. His Giants were losing to the Denver Broncos 10-9 and had the ball on their own 46-yard line.

    It was fourth down and one yard to go for a first down. The Giants were in a punt formation, but then Parcells opted to have backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge line up behind center and sneak the ball just before the play clock wound down. The decision worked, and the Giants scored a touchdown on that drive.

    The Giants crushed Denver in the second half and won the game 39-20 to become Super Bowl XXI Champions.

21) Bill Parcells, Super Bowl XXV

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27:  Cornerback Nate Odomes #37 of the Buffalo Bills tackles running back Ottis Anderson #24 of the New York Giants during Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium on January 27, 1991 in Tampa, Florida. The Giants defeated the Bills 20-19.  (Ph
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Four years later, Bill Parcells was again faced with a fourth-down decision in the Super Bowl. His Giants were beating the Buffalo Bills 17-12 in the second half.

    The Giants were at the Bills' 35-yard line with a fourth down and two yards to go and could have easily tried a field goal to go up by eight points. Instead, Parcells opted to go for it. The Bills stuffed Otis Anderson on the play, and just four plays after the decision backfired, Thurman Thomas scored on a long run to give the Bills the lead.

    Some decisions work out better than others, but it takes guts to keep going against popular wisdom.

20) Brad Childress Puts the Game in the Hands of Brett Favre

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    NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09:  Head coach Sean Payton (R) of the New Orleans Saints talks with head coach Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In the 2009 NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. They drove the ball from their own 21-yard line to the New Orleans Saints' 38.

    The game was being played in the dome at New Orleans, so there were not any wind or weather conditions to deter a long field goal try. All the Vikings had to do was come up with a play that would net them about 10 yards, and they could potentially be headed to the Super Bowl.

    Brad Childress wasn't able to dial up the right play, as Vikings quarterback Brett Favre scrambled around and threw the ball across the field. Tracy Porter intercepted the pass, and the Saints' Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime, which ultimately sent them to their first Super Bowl win, something that Vikings fans have also wanted for a long time.

19) Mike Holmgren Lets the Broncos Score

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    25 Jan 1998:  Terrell Davis #30 of the Denver Broncos celebrates scoring a touch down during the NFL Super Bowl XXXII Game against the Green Bay Packers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Broncos defeated the Packers 31-24. Mandatory Cr
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos were tied up in Super Bowl XXXII at 24 all. Denver had been on a long drive and was sitting at the one-yard line. The Green Bay Packers were being coached by Mike Holmgren.

    Holmgren assessed the situation and came up with a strange, gutsy call to let the Denver Broncos score a touchdown. Holmgren reasoned that the Packers could control the clock that way and have a chance to come back and score on their own.

    Due to the pressure of the situation, think of all the bad things that could have occurred to the Broncos. Somebody could have been called for holding. Somebody might have stripped the ball away. But, we will never know, because the Broncos let Terrell Davis score uncontested.

    Of course, the Packers never scored, and the easy touchdown proved to be the difference in the 31-24 Broncos victory.

18) Mike Shanahan Benches Donovan McNabb

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    LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 02: Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan makes a point with a referee in the fourth quarter of a game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field on January 2, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. The Giants won the game 17-14.  (Phot
    Win McNamee/Getty Images

    On Halloween 2010, the Washington Redskins were involved in a tight game with the Detroit Lions. The game was coming down to the final two minutes, and the Redskins had the ball.

    Mike Shanahan, the Redskins coach, made a gutsy move and decided to bench his starting quarterback Donovan McNabb and bring in Rex Grossman, who had been sitting on the bench for the entire game. On the first play from scrimmage, Grossman fumbled the ball, and Detroit was able to come away with a win.

    That was a major turning point in the relationship between Shanahan and McNabb going south. It will be considered a major surprise if McNabb returns in 2011.

17) Mike Shanahan and the 2-Point Conversion

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    DENVER - SEPTEMBER 14:  Wide receiver Eddie Royal #19 of the Denver Broncos leaves the field after facing the San Diego Chargers during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 14, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 3
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The scene was November 18, 2008. The San Diego Chargers were beating the Denver Broncos 38-31 with less than a minute to play. Denver scored a touchdown on fourth down to cut the lead to 38-37.

    There were only 24 seconds left on the clock. The extra point would undoubtedly send the game into overtime. But Denver Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan had a gut feeling. He decided instead to ride the momentum that his team had been building and decided to go for broke and a two-point conversion.

    Jay Cutler had just hit Eddie Royal with the touchdown pass on the play before for the touchdown, so Shanahan had the two hook up again for a successful two-point play. Denver won the game 39-38. The move by Shanahan even shocked the Broncos players.

16) Tony Dungy Goes for Two

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts hugs head coach Tony Dungy as they celebrate their 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fl
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    In the 2006 AFC Championship Game, when the Indianapolis Colts played the New England Patriots, the Colts had to make a furious comeback to make it to the Super Bowl.

    There were two key plays that needed to work, and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy made gutsy calls on both. Down on the one-yard line, he called for a pass to go to defensive tackle Dan Klecko, who caught the ball for an improbable touchdown. Now down 21-19, Dungy then ordered the Colts to go for a two-point conversion. The play was a pass to Marvin Harrison that tied up the game.

    Both plays were needed, but the fact that Dungy had the confidence in his players to execute them led the Colts to continue their big comeback.

15) Bill Cowher

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    Steelers Hines Ward, who won the MVP, holds the Vince Lombardi trophy after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 2006. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers were beating the Seattle Seahawks 14-10 in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL. The Steelers needed a big play to pad their lead, and a gutsy call was needed by head coach Bill Cowher. 

    Cowher went with a gadget play, as Willie Parker ran a reverse, handing the ball off to ex-college quarterback Antwaan Randle El, who then threw the ball to wide receiver Hines Ward for a 43-yard touchdown and an eventual 21 - 10 victory in Super Bowl XL.

14) Bill Parcells' Trickery Ends Jets Season

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    17 Jan 1999: Head coach Bill Parcells of the New York Jets walks off the field during the AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Jets 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Alls
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    In the 1997 regular season, the New York Jets were on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs under Bill Parcells. The Jets were only down a field goal late in the fourth quarter to the Detroit Lions. The Jets drove down to the nine-yard line. A field goal sends the game into overtime. A win sends the Jets to the playoffs. A turnover sends the Jets home for the offseason.

    Parcells makes the gutsy call for an option pass by running back Leon Johnson, who promptly throws an interception. Just like that, the Jets are eliminated from playoff contention.

13) Bill Belichick: 4th Down and 2 Yards to Go

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    INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots speaks to head coach Bill Belichick in the fourth quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    In November of 2009, the New England Patriots were playing the Indianapolis Colts.

    The Patriots led Indianapolis 34-28, and had the ball on their own 28 with just a little over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Rather than punt the ball and make the Colts drive the field to score, head coach Bill Belichick opts to go for it on fourth down and two yards to go.

    Of course, the Patriots come up short. Indianapolis takes the gift field position and turns it into a touchdown and a 35-34 win.

12) Bill Belichick Runs the Two-Minute Drill

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    03 Feb 2002:   Adam Vinatieri #4 of the New England Patriots breaks into celebration after kicking the game winning field goal against the St.Louis Rams during Superbowl XXXVI at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    In Super Bowl XXXVI, the New England Patriots had just witnessed the St. Louis Rams tie up the game at 17 with just 1:30 left in the contest.

    After the kickoff, the Patriots had the ball at their own 21-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Conventional wisdom suggested that playing it safe and running out the clock would allow the team to take their chances in overtime.

    But for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he decided to roll the dice with Tom Brady.

    Brady was a new starter for the Patriots that year, but Belichick had faith in his quarterback.

    The Patriots and Brady came out firing. They moved the ball 53 yards, and Adam Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 20-17 win. That was the start of the Tom Brady legacy as well as the beginning of the Patriots dynasty.

11) Tom Coughlin, Super Bowl XLII

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03:  Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants congratulates Osi Umenyiora #72 during Super Bowl XLII against the New England Patriots on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by D
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Tom Coughlin learned his lesson the hard way. He saw Tom Brady shred his secondary to the tune of over 350 yards in the final game of the 2007 season.

    The Giants sat back in that game and let Brady pick them apart. So, when it came time for the two teams to face each other in Super Bowl XLII, Coughlin decided to mix things up.

    The biggest change that Coughlin wanted was to apply pressure to Tom Brady. That is a gutsy strategy, because if Brady has any time to throw, he can pick you apart. The Patriots had a solid offensive line and should be able to still protect their quarterback.

    The gutsy strategy worked for Coughlin, as the end result was that Brady was sacked five times in the game. The Giants went on to upset the Patriots 17-14.

10) Dennis Green: 1998 NFC Championship Game

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    1 Oct 2000: Head Coach Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings stands on the sidelines during a game against the Detroit Lions at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The Vikings defeated the Lions 24-31.Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon  /Allsport
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons were tied at 27 in the 1998 NFC Championship game. With 30 seconds left in the game and two timeouts left to use, the Vikings had the ball at their own 30-yard line, faced with a third down and three yards to go. Vikings head coach Dennis Green decided to play it safe and run out the clock rather than go for the win.

    The Falcons were the first team in overtime to score, and their 30 - 27 victory sent them to the Super Bowl. For Dennis Green, he was left to think about what he could or should have done.

9) Miracle at the Meadowlands

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    In 1978, the New York Giants were about to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 17-12. All they had to do was kneel down with 20 seconds left in the game, and the victory formation play would result in a key win.

    Instead New York Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson called for a running play to Larry Csonka, who asked in the huddle to not get the ball. Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik and Csonka botched the handoff, and Herman Edwards scooped up the fumble and rambled in from 26 yards out for the 19-17 Eagles victory.

    Due to his gutsy call, Gibson was fired the next day. At the end of the season, head coach John McVay was fired as well. Philadelphia used the momentum from that game to make the playoffs.

    Today, all NFL teams line up in a special victory formation to make sure that the Miracle of the Meadowlands is never repeated again.

8) Mike Tomlin Goes Deep

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball after a catch against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Pho
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    In the Pittsburgh Steelers' AFC Divisional playoff game on January 15th, 2011, they were all tied up at 24 with the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers had the ball at their 38-yard line and were looking at a third down with 19 yards to go, which is basically a regrettable scenario. With less than four minutes remaining on the clock in regulation, this game had the look of heading into overtime.

    But rather than play it conservatively and go for overtime, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin opted for a deep pass to Antonio Brown. What must have surprised the Steelers was that John Harbaugh only decided to rush three Ravens defenders and had the rest of the defense back in prevent mode.

    The pass to Brown connected however and was good for 58 yards. It set up the Steelers at the Ravens' four-yard line and allowed them to advance to the AFC Championship Game, where they would defeat the New York Jets and go on to the Super Bowl. Those are the kind of gutsy calls it takes to move on in the playoffs.

7) Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oliers: The Comeback

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    3 Jan 1993: Quarterback Frank Reich of the Buffalo Bills (left) celebrates with teammate kicker Steve Christie after a playoff game against the Houston Oilers at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills won the game in overtime, 41-38.
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    January 3, 1993. In the game now known as the greatest comeback in NFL history, the Buffalo Bills rallied from a 35-3 second half deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime.

    The Bills were trailing 35-24 when Henry Jones intercepted a pass and brought it back to the Houston 23. The drive stalled and the Bills were faced with a fourth down and five yards to go. Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy decided to pass up the field goal to make it an eight-point game and went for the first down instead. The play turned into a touchdown pass from Frank Reich to Andre Reed.

    That turned the score to 35-31 and helped the Bills close the lead to four points. They were going into a stiff wind for the fourth quarter, and the narrow margin proved to be something the Bills were still able to overcome.

    This is one gutsy call that worked out in the end. It should also be noted in the same game that Levy ordered an onsides kick when the Bills were trailing 35-10. Steve Christie recovered his own kick, and the ensuing touchdown that followed on that drive cut the lead to 35-17.

6) Patriots Fail on 4th Down

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on during Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Giants defeated the Patriots
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    In Super Bowl 42, the New England Patriots were nursing a 7 - 3 lead in the second half. With the ball at the New York Giants 31 yard line, a 48 yard field goal would have provided the Patriots with a solid seven point lead.

    Instead, head coach Bill Belichick decided on fourth down and 13 yards to go, that he would attempt to go for the first down. Tom Brady's pass failed to convert and the Patriots wasted the scoring opportunity.

    The New York Giants wound up winning the game 17 - 14, and we will never know if the Patriots had attempted that field goal, how the game would have turned out.

     

     

     

5) Barry Switzer: Dallas vs. Philadelphia

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    22 Sep 1996: Head coach Barry Switzer of the Dallas Cowboys in action on the field as he heads toward the sideline during pre game introductions before the Cowboys 10-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    In one of the strangest gutsy decisions you will ever see, Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Barry Switzer was concerned about punting into the wind late in the fourth quarter of a tied game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Faced with a fourth down and a foot to go, Switzer opted to go for the first down rather than punt. The Eagles stuffed the play, and with the great field position, were able to kick a 42-yard field goal to win the game 20-17.

    The interesting highlight was that Jimmy Johnson was up in the broadcast booth, and when this decision was made, Johnson came up with the following: "One problem is that Barry doesn't have anyone on his staff to say, 'What are you, nuts?'"

4) Super Bowl XXXIV: St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans

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    ATLANTA - JANUARY 30:  Kevin Dyson #87 of the Tennessee Titans reaches for the end zone with the ball as Mike Jones #52 of the St. Louis Rams tackles him on the last play of the game during the Super Bowl XXXIV Game at the Georgia Dome on January 30, 2000
    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    With the Rams winning 23-16 and six seconds left in the game, the Titans had the ball at the Rams' 10-yard line. With no timeouts left, the Titans either had to go for a sideline route or throw the ball into the end zone.

    Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher decided to do neither. He went with a pass to Kevin Dyson inside the numbers. Dyson caught the ball at the three-yard line, and his momentum carried him to the one-yard line. He stretched out the ball toward the goal line but came up just short. The game-saving tackle was made by linebacker Mike Jones.

    The play call was gutsy indeed. Unfortunately, it was the only Super Bowl appearance for Fisher and the Titans. Both parties have parted ways since then. This was one gutsy call that came up short.

3) Chuck Noll: Super Bowl X

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    23 Sep 1990:  Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll looks on during a game against the Los Angeles Raiders at  the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  The Raiders won the game, 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine  /Allsport
    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    In Super Bowl X, the Pittsburgh Steelers were winning 21-17 with less than two minutes left in the game. The Cowboys had just scored and tried an onsides kick that the Steelers recovered.

    The Steelers tried to kill the clock but were unable to move the ball. They at least had favorable field position due to the onsides kick. So, on fourth down, rather than try a punt that could be blocked, Chuck Noll decided to run the ball on fourth and nine and let his defense protect the lead over the last 90 seconds remaining.

    The decision to not punt was a gutsy move, but it proved to be the right call, and the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

2) Sean Payton's Onsides Kick Call: Super Bowl XLIV

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fl
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton needed to change the momentum of Super Bowl XLIV. His New Orleans Saints were trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-6 at halftime. The Who were performing the halftime show. Peyton Manning hadn't exploded yet, and since the Colts were due to receive the ball to start off the second half, the Saints coach did not the Colts to go on a long drive and widen the gap.

    So, Payton made one of the guttiest calls in recent memory and ordered Saints kicker Garrett Hartley to execute an onsides kick. The Saints recovered the kickoff, and the momentum abruptly changed right then and there.

    The Saints outscored the Colts 25-7 in the second half and went on to win the game 31-17. If the Colts had recovered the kickoff, they would have undoubtedly had great field position and would have probably scored to increase their lead. Sometimes a gutsy call pays off, and this was one of the biggest and best moves.

1) Bart Starr's Ice Bowl Sneak

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    Future Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach of the Green Bay Packers Vince Lombardi poses here as a student at Fordham University circa the mid-1930s. (Photo by Fordham University/Getty Images)
    Fordham University/Getty Images

    We have all seen the video replay of the Ice Bowl game. It was the 1967 NFL Championship Game. The Green Bay Packers were losing to the Dallas Cowboys 17 - 14. There was only time for one last play on the clock.

    On the previous two plays, the Cowboys defense had stuffed the Packers at the goal line. Packers head coach Vince Lombardi was going to go with a running play to his fullback Chuck Mercein, but Bart Starr talked Lombardi out of the call.

    The end result was that Starr sneaked in for the touchdown, and the Packers were able to win consecutive Super Bowls. It was a gutsy move by Lombardi, but to listen to your player and not go with your own play, earns him the number one slot in this presentation. In case you are wondering, here is a 1933 picture of a much younger Vince Lombardi.

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