NFL Nation: 2010 Week 15 Decisive Moment

AFC East Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The AFC East game with the most on the line took place at Heinz Field between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The New England Patriots already had clinched a playoff berth and met a nonconference opponent Sunday night. The Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins game was a formality.

The Jets, though, were in a bind.

"It was damn near a must win for us," Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis told me.

The Jets executed several pivotal plays to beat the Steelers 22-17.

Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to relieve a strangulating pressure. On fourth down late in the third quarter, Mark Sanchez tied the score on a 7-yard bootleg run for the offense's first touchdown in 12 quarters. The Jets' defense stopped Ben Roethlisberger twice from the 10-yard line in the final seconds.

The most decisive moment, however, occurred when Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor threw Steelers running back Mewelde Moore for a safety with 2:45 to play.

The Steelers still had a chance to win the game, but Taylor's safety was essential in doing two things:
  • It increased the Jets' lead to five points and forced the Steelers to score a touchdown.
  • It afforded the Steelers just one opportunity to do so because the Jets received the ensuing free kick and made the Steelers burn timeouts.

The Steelers forced a three-and-out, but Jets punter Steve Weatherford pinned the Steelers at the 8-yard line. Roethlisberger needed to go 92 yards against the Jets' prevent defense but traveled only 82.

AFC North Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

It wasn't the prettiest or most exciting play in the Baltimore Ravens' landmark win Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. But it was the most symbolic.

With Baltimore leading by a field goal and needing a late fourth-quarter stop -- something the Ravens have struggled with all year -- Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees made his biggest mistake of the day by throwing an interception. Brees stepped up in the pocket with less than two minutes remaining and tried to throw over Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who tipped the ball. It landed in the hands of fellow lineman Cory Redding. It was the first interception of Redding's career, and the Ravens added a field goal to seal the 30-24 victory.

Baltimore (10-4) entered its game against the Saints (10-4) having blown back-to-back fourth-quarter leads to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. Baltimore's last two opponents outscored the Ravens 25-0 in the fourth period.

But Redding's decisive moment was a step in the right direction for the Ravens. This is the time of year when good teams finish games, and Baltimore now has the momentum it's looking for during its push to the playoffs.

NFC East Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

It's difficult not to choose DeSean Jackson's 65-yard walk-off punt return for a touchdown to end the game against the Giants, but we'll give it a try. That play doesn't happen without a perfectly executed onside kick by the Philadelphia Eagles with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin insists that his players were warned about an onside kick, but you couldn't tell by looking at them. Veteran kicker David Akers approached the ball just like he was planning to kick it deep, but then induced a perfect lob wedge that rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper fielded without any problem.

Replays showed that Giants reserve receiver Duke Calhoun already had begun his retreat as Akers made contact with the ball. Apparently the warning didn't get through to the return unit. Once Michael Vick jogged onto the field with his team trailing 31-17, the Giants were in big trouble. He led two quick scoring drives, which set up Jackson's dramatic return.

Eagles special teams coach Bobby April has received a lot of (deserved) criticism for the way his units have played, but the kickoff coverage group completely duped the Giants at a critical time in the game. And that's why the onside kick is our decisive moment of the week. And depending on where the Eagles go from here, it may end up being one of the most decisive moments of the season.

AFC West Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley has been a gambling man all season.

Sometimes, Haley’s risky ways work and sometimes, they fail.

Sunday, they lifted the first-place Chiefs.

There were about nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, and St. Louis was leading the Chiefs, 6-0. Kansas City had shown nothing all game, and the Rams’ offense was having its way with Kansas City’s defense.

The Chiefs were in a fourth-and-1 situation at their own 48 --- and Haley went for it.

It was a major risk. Giving the Rams possession in Kansas City territory with a chance to go up by two touchdowns early in the second quarter surely qualifies as a risk.

No problem.

The Chiefs converted the first down and went down the field to score a touchdown. It sparked the entire team. The Rams didn’t score again until there were four minutes remaining in the game in an eventual 27-13 win for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs needed to make a play, and it was Jackie Battle’s seven-yard gain to extend a drive for Kansas City in the second quarter that gave the Chiefs life and eventually allowed them to keep a one-game lead in the AFC West.

AFC South Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

We’re going to be rebellious here and go with three moments instead of one, because they are easily grouped.

The Titans were super-aggressive on fourth down early in their 31-17 win over the Texans at LP Field on Sunday.

They converted a fourth-and-8 from the Houston 49 on the first possession of the game, with Kerry Collins hitting Damian Williams up the left side for a 39-yard gain.

They stuffed Arian Foster for a 4-yard loss when the Texans went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 35 on their first possession. Linebacker Tim Shaw stuffed Foster and set the Titans up for a second quick scoring drive.

Then, the Titans converted a fourth-and-1 from the Houston 1 as Collins hit Justin Gage on a fade for a touchdown. With just 8:22 gone in the game, the Titans were up 14-0 and on their way.

“We felt good about what we had, and as I said after the game, we felt good about being able to anticipate some things that we might get and attack them,” Jeff Fisher said. “We predicted and guessed right and it helps that we were able to execute.”

NFC South Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

If people could just ignore his spot as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Atlanta defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson would be a decent player.

But it’s tough for fans and media to forget the lofty expectations that came with Anderson. The current Atlanta coaching staff and front office, however, deserve a lot of credit for quietly adjusting their expectations of Anderson and salvaging something out of his career.

Sometime before or early in the 2009 season, the Falcons came to the conclusion Anderson never was going to be a dominant pass-rusher. That’s when Mike Smith and his staff turned Anderson into a situational player and started shuffling him between defensive end and defensive tackle.

Anderson’s main strength is against the run, but he also has showed the ability to generate a little bit of a pass rush from the inside. On Sunday, for one of the few times in his career, Anderson generated a pass rush from the outside.

With the Falcons leading 17-10, punter Michael Koenen pinned the Seattle Seahawks at their 4-yard line with a 56-yard punt early in the third quarter. On the first play after that, Anderson lined up at left defensive end and beat his blocker. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, rolling to his right, was on a collision course with Anderson, who stripped the ball loose.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux fell on the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and the Falcons were firmly in control of the game, in which they recorded their eighth consecutive victory and improved their record to an NFC-best 12-2.

NFC North Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Chicago Bears were on their heels. The Minnesota Vikings, behind surprise starter Brett Favre, had taken a 7-3 lead and were threatening to make it difficult for the Bears to clinch the NFC North title on a snowy Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Bears took over near midfield for their third possession and immediately started moving backward. Left guard Chris Williams was penalized for illegal use of hands. Center Olin Kreutz was called for holding. Suddenly, the Bears faced a first-and-30 play from their 33-yard line.

There aren't many plays designed to get you out of that mess, especially for a Bears team that has succeeded almost exclusively with the short passing game. Entering Monday night's game, quarterback Jay Cutler had attempted only 13 passes that traveled 30 or more yards in the air. None had gone for touchdowns.

There is a first time for everything, of course. The Vikings sent their standard pass rush against the Bears' three-receiver set. The offensive line protected Cutler long enough to pump-fake toward receiver Johnny Knox, who already had a step on cornerback Lito Sheppard and was running near the right sideline.

Cutler hit Knox in stride at the Vikings' 32-yard line, capitalizing on a poor angle from safety Madieu Williams for a wide-open 67-yard touchdown. The score gave the Bears a 10-7 lead they would not relinquish on the way to the NFC North title.

"We had some stuff going on early," Cutler said. "We knew what type of defense they were going to be in. We had a good feel for them up front. We were able to mix in some runs. We had a good game plan. I'm glad we were able to execute as well as we were."

The play was obviously a decisive moment in the game, but it was also important to put on tape for the Bears' future playoff opponent -- lest anyone sleep on the Bears' dormant but potential-filled downfield passing game.

NFC West Week 15 decisive moment

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would later say he had receiver Ben Obomanu open for a possible 96-yard touchdown.

Instead, the Atlanta Falcons scored on a pivotal third-quarter play, stretching a 17-10 lead into double digits on their way to a 34-18 victory that threatened to end Hasselbeck's run as the Seahawks' starting quarterback.

Hasselbeck took the snap from center and rolled to his right on first-and-10 from the Seattle 4, but Falcons defensive end Jamaal Anderson was on him before Hasselbeck could set his feet, let alone throw the ball. Anderson knocked the ball free. He also might have committed a facemask penalty -- Hasselbeck lobbied for a call, to no avail. Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recovered in the end zone.

"If I make the guy miss -- there’s an 'if' there, I guess -- but that’s a 14-point swing, and as much as we preach about turnovers, turning the ball over is unacceptable," Hasselbeck told reporters after the game.

Down by two touchdowns after the Babineaux recovery, Hasselbeck admittedly began pressing. He threw interceptions on the Seahawks' next two drives. That was enough for coach Pete Carroll to send in backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to finish the game. It was also enough to doom Seattle to its eighth double-digit defeat of the season when a victory would have left the Seahawks alone atop the NFC West with two games remaining.

"We realize how we fought really hard in this game, had a chance to kind of be involved with a really good football team well into this game," Carroll told reporters Monday. "Our third-quarter play just put us behind too far to catch up on a good squad."

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