NFL Nation: 2010 Week 2 Decisive Moment NFC

NFC South Week 2 decisive moment

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
1:03
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With eight minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were tied 7-7 Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. For just a second, it looked like Tampa Bay’s chances of starting 2-0 were in trouble, and it looked like the Panthers might have found a pass rush for the first time in the post Julius Peppers era.

For just a second.

Facing a third-and-17 from his 25-yard line, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman made the decisive play of the week in the NFC South and probably the most impressive play of his career so far. By all rights, Freeman should have been sacked -- twice.

But the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman shed individual tackle attempts by Charles Johnson and Eric Norwood and continued rolling to his right. When he finally was free, he squared his shoulders and threw a frozen rope down the sideline to tight end Kellen Winslow, who was well covered. But Freeman put the ball in the one spot where Winslow could get it and the tight end did.

On the next play, Freeman threw a touchdown pass and the Buccaneers took the lead for good.

NFC West Week 2 decisive moment

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
1:02
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

There were so many from which to choose during the San Francisco 49ers' 25-22 defeat against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.

Let's start near the beginning -- on the 49ers' third offensive play. Quarterback Alex Smith lined up in the shotgun formation. It was third-and-5 from the San Francisco 15. The snap from center David Baas sailed past Smith into the end zone. Smith beat onrushing Saints defenders to the ball and batted it from the end zone for a safety.

The 49ers had ceded momentum early. Down 2-0, they punted and the Saints turned the short field into a quick touchdown drive. The score was 9-0 before the 49ers had even attempted a pass.

There would be many more decisive moments later in the game -- some good for the 49ers, others costly. But none of them might have mattered as much if the 49ers hadn't fallen into such an early deficit against a smart, experienced opponent.

"We hand them two points on the first series," Smith lamented. "Not to take away anything from them. They’re a world champion football team. But we did a lot of things to ourselves that put ourselves behind the ball, and when you play a team like that, it's going to make it tough."

Too tough, in this case.

NFC North Week 2 decisive moment

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The Chicago Bears were trailing 7-3 in the first quarter Sunday when they faced a first-down play at the Dallas Cowboys’ 39-yard line. Quarterback Jay Cutler had been sacked once and hit on seven other occasions in the Bears’ first three possessions, and the Bears were teetering on the edge of implosion.

Cutler looked over the line of scrimmage and saw the Cowboys preparing to send another six-man blitz. Armed with a perfect play call from offensive coordinator Mike Martz, one that that considerably shortened his usual dropback, Cutler took the snap. He retreated two steps, spotted tight end Greg Olsen 7 yards downfield, and fired the ball off his back foot.

Olsen was in the no-man’s land behind the Cowboys’ linebackers and their secondary in what appeared to be a busted single-man coverage. Olsen, in fact, sprinted the final 32 yards through the Cowboys’ secondary, benefiting from a nice block by receiver Earl Bennett, for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 10-7 advantage.

Although they would lose the lead briefly later in the first half, the Bears credited that play with calming their frenzied offensive players and suggesting they could do more than compete with the Cowboys’ defense. For that reason, the Cutler-to-Olsen connection is our Week 2 decisive moment in the NFC North.

"We were reeling a little bit and sometimes it just takes one play to turn the momentum around," Cutler said. "I hit Greg, he's gone, and we're right back in it."

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

NFC East Week 2 decisive moment

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Lots to choose from this week, but I'm going with a decisive moment that turned Sunday's game around for the Chicago Bears and allowed offensive coordinator Mike Martz to plant seeds of doubt in coach Wade Phillips' mind. Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, the Bears were finally on the move. On the first three series, quarterback Jay Cutler had been battered behind an offensive line that had already lost left tackle Chris Williams to injury.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips dialed up a blitz with "zero" coverage that did not feature his usual free safety help in the middle of the field. Martz, who had already told Cutler to stop worrying about seven-step drops that took too long to develop, called for an empty backfield with four wide receivers and a tight end. Safety Alan Ball lined up across from tight end Greg Olsen, who would soon end up with a 39-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 10-7 lead.

Cowboys inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking bunched together and showed blitz up the middle. James would later tell ESPN 103.3 that he called a "check" that not everyone heard. Brooking held up on the blitz at the last second, but it was too late because Olsen came free across the middle. Since Ball was the player chasing Olsen, some of us assumed it was his fault. But Phillips said that Olsen wasn't Ball's responsibility. In his weekly Scout's Eye report for ESPNDallas.com, former Cowboys and Eagles scout Bryan Broaddus points out that James is normally quite vocal with his calls. Why wouldn't he have been more demonstrative in that situation?

It was a decisive moment in Sunday's game because it caused Phillips to back off some of the aggressive blitzes that allowed him to bother Cutler early in the game. The Cowboys did a nice job against the Bears on third downs (1-of-11), but they simply gave up too many big plays on the other downs. Martz made a really nice adjustment and the Cowboys didn't respond.

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