NFL Nation: 2010 Week 1 Decisive Moment

NFC West Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:02
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Three years had passed since Marcus Trufant last returned an interception for a touchdown.

The Seattle Seahawks cornerback was a Pro Bowl player back then. He played at that level Sunday and his 32-yard interception return for a touchdown turned a potentially tenuous Seattle lead into a rout during the Seahawks' 31-6 victory over the favored San Francisco 49ers.

The score was 14-6 when 49ers quarterback Alex Smith dropped back to pass on third-and-8 during the opening drive of the second half. A touchdown drive could have returned momentum to the 49ers. Instead, Trufant lined up tight against receiver Josh Morgan, then peeled off to intercept a pass intended for Michael Crabtree. The pass was thrown inaccurately, 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. Trufant tracked the ball right away and quickly transitioned to offense, stepping over Crabtree and running up the left sideline for the score.

The Seahawks have told their corners to play more aggressively this season.

"Yeah, plays are going to come to you when you’re flying around," Trufant told reporters after the game.

NFC North Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:02
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

We've spent plenty of time this week discussing Calvin Johnson's touchdown-turned-incomplete pass at the end of the Detroit Lions' 19-14 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears. So for our first-ever NFC North decisive moment of the week, let's take a look at the fourth-down play that ensured the Green Bay Packers' 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles.

(Video of the play available on NFL.com.)

At the 2-minute warning, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-1 situation from the Packers' 42-yard line. The Eagles were out of timeouts, so it would be their final play if unsuccessful. Quarterback Michael Vick had already rushed for 103 yards in the game, so even though the Eagles set up in a shotgun formation, the Packers lined up in what for them amounted to a run-stopping defense.

In fact, it was one of only six snaps in the game in which the Packers had as many as seven men on the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Clay Matthews was one of them, lined up on the far right side of the defensive formation, just outside Eagles tight end Brent Celek.

After Vick took the snap, Matthews shed Celek and burst through the gap vacated by left tackle Jason Peters, who had charged beyond the line to block linebacker Brandon Chillar. Vick took one step backward before sprinting toward the line on a quarterback draw.

Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji held his ground against Eagles left guard Todd Herremans, limiting the size of the off-tackle hole. Running back LeSean McCoy made a weak attempt to shoulder-block Matthews, but Matthews stood his ground. Vick had nowhere to go, and linebacker Nick Barnett soon arrived to help Matthews seal the play.

The Packers' offense took over, kneeled three times and won the game.

AFC West Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The theme of Oakland’s 38-13 loss at Tennessee developed very quickly. How fast?

The opening kickoff.

It became immediately apparent this was not going to be Oakland’s day. After Tennessee won the coin toss and deferred until the second half, Oakland return man Yamon Figurs took the opening kickoff in the end zone and started running. He was smashed at the Oakland 19-yard line and the ball popped out.

There was a long, spirited scrum, and Oakland eventually was awarded possession. But it was a bad sign of things to come.

The Raiders then went three-and-out with an incomplete pass by quarterback Jason Campbell, a delay of game penalty on Campbell, a 2-yard run by Darren McFadden and a 5-yard pass from Campbell to tight Brandon Myers on third-and-13. Oakland was clearly flat and out of sorts at the start of the game.

It never got better, and any intrigue in this game quickly went out the door. We knew right away Oakland was in for a long day, and they ended up trailing 24-6 at halftime.

NFC South Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

This one wasn’t as blatantly gutsy as his onside kick in the Super Bowl, but Saints coach Sean Payton went against conventional wisdom with a play call late in the fourth quarter and it turned out to be the decisive moment in New Orleans’ victory against Minnesota on Thursday night.

With a 14-9 lead and facing a third-and-1, Payton needed a first down or else he would risk the danger of giving Brett Favre the ball back for one last-gasp drive. It’s difficult to run on the Vikings, but it sure looked like that’s what the Saints were going to do.

They came out in a formation with two tight ends and running back Pierre Thomas lined up behind fullback Heath Evans as the Vikings stacked the box. But when you’re dealing with Payton, looks can be deceiving and this one was.

The call wasn’t for a run. Instead, quarterback Drew Brees faked a handoff to Thomas. As that was happening, Evans faked, at first, as if he was going to be the lead blocker for a Thomas run. Then he quickly drifted over into the left flat.

Brees lofted a short pass to Evans in the flat. The Saints had their first down and the drive was extended while Favre stayed on the sideline.

AFC South Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Texans came out of halftime determined to run it and wear down the Colts on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. They did it about as well as could be imagined.

But had one crucial call not panned out, things might have been very different.

The Texans led only 13-10 with 10:04 on the clock in the third quarter, facing a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 20-yard line. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison decided to stick with what they were doing.

Arian Foster ran right, and found his line pushed back. He had to patiently go around the backside of right tackle Eric Winston, then bounce all the way outside. Owen Daniels tied up Clint Session long enough for Foster to pick up some steam and make it past the marker on the right side.

Houston moved on and Foster scored the first of his three touchdowns, helping Houston to a 20-10 lead. It was never less than two scores the rest of the way.

NFC East Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips didn't exactly ease his way back into the starting lineup Sunday after a grueling 11 months of rehabilitation from microfracture surgery. The former Miami Hurricane was incredibly active and I thought he made a play on the Panthers' third possession that changed the course of New York's 31-18 victory.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams appeared to have a clear path to the end zone when Phillips dove at his feet and made a shoestring tackle to prevent the touchdown. The Panthers settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. I thought that play set the tone for the rest of the game. Yes, I know Deon Grant's interception at the goal line on the previous possession was big, but Phillips' tackle prevented what appeared to be a walk-in touchdown.

"I grabbed his legs, but he’s a big, strong runner," Phillips told reporters after the game. "It takes a little bit more than that. But he fell down before the [first] down."

The Giants were held hostage by the safety position in 2009 but the arrival of Antrel Rolle and Grant has fortified that group. And with Phillips returning, the position has become a major strength for the Giants. There were a lot of decisive moments in the Beast in Week 1 (Alex Barron, anyone?), but Phillips' tackle really stood out.

AFC North Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

In the few seconds that it took running back Rashard Mendenhall to gallop 50 yards for a touchdown in overtime, all the offseason stress for the Pittsburgh Steelers temporarily disappeared.

For those precious moments, there were no concerns about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension, and the Steelers couldn't have cared less about their sputtering offense the previous four quarters. All that mattered was Mendenhall's sprint up the right sideline gave a jubilant Pittsburgh team its first victory of the season, a 15-9 decision over the Atlanta Falcons.

It doesn't get more decisive than overtime -- and Mendenhall was ready for the big moment.

"In the run game, you just have to be patient," said Mendenhall, who rushed for 120 yards on 22 carries. "We knew that something was going to open up, and it did in overtime."

There were many important plays in the AFC North this weekend. But Mendenhall's clearly was the biggest. Roethlisberger will miss three more games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, but the Steelers proved they can win without him.

The Steelers (1-0) will need more big plays from Mendenhall and others when they travel to play the Tennessee Titans (1-0) on Sunday.

AFC East Week 1 decisive moment

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Buffalo Bills might have been beaten on their first offensive series Sunday, when Miami Dolphins inside linebacker Karlos Dansby blitzed unabated and pulverized quarterback Trent Edwards, setting a tone for the afternoon.

Or maybe it was the perfectly placed Chad Henne pass to tight end Anthony Fasano to the Bills' 1-yard line, setting up Ronnie Brown's touchdown plunge a play later.

Those were mammoth plays, but they weren't demoralizing enough. The Bills hung tough. They were down two scores for only 8:23 of the game and climbed within a field goal with 5:13 to play.

That's why a clutch punt claims the first edition of a new weekly series that identifies the decisive moment of the weekend.

Brandon Fields, who struggled with the winds at Ralph Wilson Stadium, dropped a 48-yard punt at Buffalo's 1-yard line, and Jason Allen downed it with 1:48 to play.

"Huuuuuge," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said of the play. "That was a big punt. I just grabbed the kid and told him that's the way to battle back."

That left the Bills, who had 157 yards of total offense at that time, with no shot of getting within field goal range against a prevent defense. Three straight incomplete passes made Bills coach Chan Gailey manufacture hope with an intentional safety.

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