The Best NFL Game from Each of the Last 10 SeasonsJuly 6, 2018
The Best NFL Game from Each of the Last 10 Seasons
Individual stats and team records quickly slip from the minds of NFL fans as one season ends and another approaches, but the most exciting games are etched into our memories.
Regardless of whether we had a rooting interest, specific games from every campaign are easily recalled. Highlight-reel plays, multi-touchdown comebacks and dramatic finishes are all foundations of lasting NFL moments.
Let's journey to memory lane for a subjective review of the best game in every NFL season since 2008.
Games from both the regular season and playoffs were considered, and the list is largely made up of the latter group. Four of the past decade's Super Bowls made the cut.
2008: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 (Super Bowl XLIII)
The Pittsburgh Steelers were in control for most of Super Bowl XLIII, building a 20-7 lead through three quarters. That stretch included a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by James Harrison on the final play of the first half.
But the Arizona Cardinals made a charge.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Kurt Warner hooked up with Larry Fitzgerald for a short touchdown. Then, after a Pittsburgh penalty in the end zone resulted in a safety, the duo connected for a 64-yard score that gave Arizona a 23-20 advantage.
However, the Steelers' collapse set up Santonio Holmes' heroic moment. In the closing minute, Ben Roethlisberger rifled a pass through triple coverage to the back corner of the end zone, and Holmes toe-dragged his way into Super Bowl history.
"Was that a 60-minute game, or what?" Steelers linebacker James Farrior told reporters. "It came down to the last play, and we made it."
2009: Cardinals 51, Packers 45 in OT (Wild Card Round)
The emotions connected to the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl victory remain strong for some, but the Wild Card matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers was a thriller.
Arizona cruised to a 17-0 edge through 15 minutes and held a 24-10 advantage at the break. Then, following a Warner-to-Fitzgerald touchdown early in the third quarter, the Cardinals were in a comfortable position. That 21-point lead didn't last long, though.
Within 16 game minutes, Aaron Rodgers led four touchdown drives—throwing three scores—and evened the score at 38. Green Bay ultimately scored on seven consecutive possessions as the teams entered overtime locked up at 45 apiece.
But at the perfect moment, Arizona's defense reemerged.
Michael Adams blitzed off the edge and hit Rodgers, who lost control of the ball—which bounced off his foot and into the waiting arms of Karlos Dansby for a 17-yard game-winning touchdown return.
2010: Eagles 38, Giants 31 (Week 15)
Dubbed the "Miracle at the New Meadowlands," the Week 15 clash between NFC East rivals included a magnificent comeback and jaw-dropping finish that helped decide the division.
Eli Manning tossed three scores in the first half, and his New York Giants owned a 24-3 halftime lead on the Philadelphia Eagles. The teams traded touchdowns over the next 22-plus minutes to give New York a commanding 31-10 edge with 8:17 remaining in the game.
Commanding, though not insurmountable.
Over the next seven minutes, the Eagles scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, scored, forced a punt and scored again to tie. New York's ensuing drive went nowhere, setting up the most memorable punt return of DeSean Jackson's career.
He initially mishandled the punt and retreated a few steps before finding a hole, evading three tacklers and getting one huge block. As time expired, Jackson celebrated for the final 35 yards—plus the length of the goal line—to cap a dramatic 38-31 triumph.
The victory handed Philly the tiebreaker over New York, and it eventually resulted in the NFC East crown.
2011: 49ers 36, Saints 32 (Divisional Round)
In a matchup between 13-3 division champions, the San Francisco 49ers—during the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era and their first playoff game in nine years—narrowly bested the New Orleans Saints.
San Francisco jumped out to a 17-point first-quarter lead, but Drew Brees and Co. slowly trimmed the gap to 20-17 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. And what a wild frame it was.
Following a 48-yard field goal by New Orleans' John Kasay, David Akers hit a 37-yarder for the Niners. Brees found Darren Sproles for a 44-yard touchdown and 24-23 edge, but Alex Smith's 28-yard run put San Francisco in front 29-24.
Brees then connected with Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard go-ahead score with 1:37 remaining. However, Vernon Davis made a critical 47-yard catch to set up his 14-yard touchdown reception, and the 49ers celebrated a thrilling 36-32 victory.
"It might be time to give Alex [Smith] some credit, huh?" Harbaugh said after the victory.
2012: Ravens 38, Broncos 35 in 2OT (Divisional Round)
During the 2012 offseason, Peyton Manning made the emotional decision to leave the only franchise he'd ever known. But the Indianapolis Colts' loss was the Denver Broncos' gain.
The Baltimore Ravens, however, ended the chance of a storybook season for Manning.
Interestingly, neither club kicked a field goal or led by more than a touchdown in regulation. The teams combined for three non-offensive scores, and that wasn't even the most dramatic part of the day. That happened when Baltimore found a "Mile High Miracle."
Trailing 35-28 in the final minute of the fourth quarter, Joe Flacco reared back and launched a downfield pass to Jacoby Jones. Broncos safety Rahim Moore badly misplayed the ball, which dropped into Jones' arms for a 70-yard touchdown.
Although a scoreless quarter followed, the Ravens eventually won in the second overtime period on Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal. Three weeks later, they'd defeat the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
2013: Colts 45, Chiefs 44 (Wild Card Round)
This season's best game was especially tough to decide. Considering the stakes, Seattle's 23-17 victory over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game could be viewed more favorably by some.
But we love comebacks.
During the Wild Card Round, Andrew Luck assembled a stunning surge to propel the Colts past the Kansas City Chiefs. The second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history began with Indianapolis behind 38-10 after Kansas City's early second-half touchdown.
From there, the Colts put together five touchdown drives. Luck accounted for four of those scores, including a remarkable fumble recovery near the goal line and the decisive 64-yard toss to T.Y. Hilton.
Luck finished with 488 total offensive yards and five touchdowns in the 45-44 triumph.
2014: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 (Super Bowl XLIX)
Two weeks after sending the Packers home in gut-wrenching fashion in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks lost a heartbreaker of their own.
After alternating touchdowns with New England in the first half, Seattle broke the 14-14 tie and took a 10-point advantage in the third quarter. The lead eventually evaporated as Tom Brady threw two touchdowns to give the Patriots a 28-24 lead late in the fourth quarter.
But when Jermaine Kearse, on his back, somehow snagged a bouncing ball for a 33-yard reception, the result felt inevitable. Seattle only needed five yards to retake the lead and gained four on 1st-and-goal. One more handoff, and this was the Seahawks' game.
Instead—right or wrong—Seattle elected to throw, and Malcolm Butler jumped in front of Russell Wilson's pass.
The interception secured New England's first Super Bowl win since the 2004 season and served as the catalyst for another dynasty.
2015: Cardinals 26, Packers 20 in OT (Divisional Round)
There's something about Green Bay and Arizona in the playoffs, apparently.
In this divisional-round contest, the Cardinals struck first with a Michael Floyd touchdown catch. Green Bay responded with a couple of field goals and a Jeff Janis touchdown reception, but Arizona rattled off the next 13 points for a 20-13 lead late in the fourth quarter.
On the Packers' desperation drive, things went a little haywire. After two incompletions and a sack, Rodgers faced a 4th-and-20 but launched a 60-yard bomb to Janis. Then, as regulation time expired, Rodgers reared back and uncorked an improbable 41-yard score to Janis.
Similar to the meeting in the 2009 playoffs, though, the Cardinals wasted little time sealing the game. On the opening play of overtime, Carson Palmer found a wide-open Fitzgerald.
The veteran turned a simple 15-yard catch into a game-breaking 75-yard gain. Two plays later, Palmer hit Fitzgerald for the winning score.
"As simple a word as 'special' is, it describes him probably the best," Palmer said of Fitzgerald.
2016: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 in OT (Super Bowl LI)
Don't let the dramatic games featured in this article distract you from the fact that the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead.
The complete and utter meltdown happened during Super Bowl LI. After a scoreless opening frame, the Falcons rattled off 21 straight points and carried a 21-3 margin into the locker room at halftime. They added another touchdown in the third quarter.
But in the final 17:06 of regulation, Brady led four scoring drives—the last of which included Julian Edelman's stunning catch between the legs of a Falcons defender—to even the score at 28 and force an extra period.
New England won the coin toss in overtime, and a methodical drive where Brady and Co. never faced a third down ended in James White's two-yard game-winning touchdown.
2017: Eagles 41, Patriots 33 (Super Bowl LII)
In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX, offense ruled the day. The Eagles and Patriots combined for 1,151 yards and 74 points.
Philadelphia scored first and enjoyed a 22-12 halftime advantage thanks to a trick play moments before the break. Quarterback Nick Foles—who replaced injured starter and MVP candidate Carson Wentz late in the regular season—caught a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton.
But five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady wasn't done. He tossed a trio of scores in the second half to give the Patriots a 33-32 edge. Following the third touchdown, though, the Eagles embarked on a seven-minute drive that ended with Zach Ertz's go-ahead score.
On the ensuing drive, Brandon Graham sacked Brady and forced a turnover that Philly turned into a field goal and a 41-33 lead. New England had one final chance, but Brady's end-zone heave toward Rob Gronkowski fell harmlessly to the ground as time expired.