November 30, 2009
Time is running short on the last year of the '00s, so it's time to dive into the daunting task of ranking the NFL's best of the decade. Best what? Best everything. We're going with a series of top 10 lists, and if something miraculous happens between now and Dec. 31, well, we'll just have to catch it at the end of 2019.
10. Sept. 25, 2006, Saints first game back in the Superdome. Saints 23, Falcons 3.
There wasn't much suspense to the game itself, but the atmosphere that pumped through the television was moving to anyone watching. It was the Saints' first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, and the emotion attached to the occasion transcended football. Everyone was a Saints fan that night, and when they blocked a punt early in the first quarter, and Curtis DeLoatch(notes) turned it into a Saints touchdown, the entire nation got a case of the warm fuzzies.
9. Jan. 21, 2007, Manning finally beats Brady: Colts 38, Patriots 34.
Before the Colts could finally break through and win a Super Bowl, they had to solve Tom Brady(notes) and the Patriots. Manning had been 0-for-2 against the Pats in the playoffs, but this one was his. It was a classic back-and-forth game, and given the quarterbacks involved, perhaps a signature game of the '00s. The Patriots went up 34-31 with 3:49 left, but Manning responded with a perfect 80-yard drive for the win.
8. Jan. 11, 2004, fourth-and-26: Eagles 20, Packers 17.
Also known as "Freddie Mitchell's lone contribution to the '00s," Donovan McNabb(notes) connected with Mitchell on one of the most unlikely and memorable plays of the decade. Down 17-14, a penalty, a sack and a couple of incompletions put the Eagles squarely behind the 8-ball with a fourth-and-26. Mitchell ran a deep slant over the middle, Green Bay inexplicably played behind him, McNabb got him the ball and Mitchell made the play. It set up a field goal to send the game into overtime, where the Eagles were able to finish it off.
7. Jan. 15, 2006, Bettis Fumble, Roethlisberger Tackle: Steelers 21, Colts 18.
Quite possibly the wildest finish I've ever seen in a big-time game situation. The Steelers led by three and would've put the game away on a Jerome Bettis goal-line carry. Bettis coughed it up, though; the first time he'd fumbled all season. Nick Harper(notes) of the Colts picked it up and started hauling toward the other end zone, and a return touchdown looked like a possibility. Somehow, a stumbling Ben Roethlisberger(notes) got a piece of Harper's ankle and tripped him up at the Colts' 42, making a game-saving play. The Colts still had a little time and they drove it into field-goal range, but Mike Vanderjagt(notes) straight-up shanked the 45-yard attempt.
6. Feb. 1, 2009, Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23.
You've seen the tippy-toe catch by Santonio Holmes(notes) about 7,000 times by now, but had that play not been made, it would be a 64-yard touchdown from Larry Fitzgerald(notes) with 2:34 to play that would be seared into your brain. The game also featured a 100-yard interception return from which James Harrison(notes) has still not caught his breath, and a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback from the Cardinals. The '00s were filled with some great Super Bowl games, and this one ranks as one of the best.
5. Jan. 19, 2002, Tuck Rule Game: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT).
We learned after the fact that it was actually the right call by the letter of the NFL rule book, but at the time, nothing made less sense than the "Tuck Rule." Tom Brady had the ball, he didn't throw it, it got knocked away from him, and that was something other than a fumble? I guess. The snow also helped make the game memorable, as did a couple of clutch Adam Vinatieri(notes) field goals in difficult conditions ... field goals that might have never happened without the "Tuck Rule."
4. Oct. 23, 2000, The Monday Night Miracle: Jets 40, Dolphins 37.
The score after three quarters: 30-7, Dolphins. The score of the fourth quarter: 30-7, Jets. No one expects to come back from a 30-7 deficit, but this one was weirder than most. There had been no indication that the Jets had a scoring explosion in them. They barely moved the ball in the first half, and Miami had a great defense that year. In the fourth quarter, though, Vinny Testaverde(notes) caught fire and the Jets racked up 20 first downs in the last 15 minutes of regulation. The last touchdown was a tackle-eligible pass to Jumbo Elliot, who caught the ball with all the grace you'd expect from a guy named "Jumbo." Well after 1:00 a.m. ET, John Hall(notes) made the 40-yard field goal in overtime to get the Jets the improbable win.
3. Jan. 8, 2000, Music City Miracle: Titans 22, Bills 16.
A Steve Christie field goal put the Bills ahead 16-15 with 16 seconds left in the game. Lorenzo Neal(notes) fielded the ensuing kickoff, handed it to Frank Wycheck, and Wycheck threw it juuuuuuust barely backward to Kevin Dyson, who took it to the house. A lot of people still believe the pass was a forward lateral (many of these people reside in Buffalo), but there was no video replay to show that conclusively. The miracle play stood, and the Titans advanced in the playoffs.
2. Jan. 30, 2000, Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16.
Down a touchdown and with the clock at zeroes, Kevin Dyson (there he is again) needed to get into the endzone. He had caught a Steve McNair(notes) pass, turned it upfield, stretched it out as far as he could, and he came up one ... yard ... short. Unheralded linebacker Mike Jones made the tackle, ending the game, and sending the Lombardi Trophy home with St. Louis.
1. Feb. 3, 2008, Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14.
18-1. Many people went into the game thinking it would be a formality; a coronation for the undefeated Patriots. The Giants, though, had given the Patriots a pretty good fight in the final week of the regular season, which gave them all the confidence they needed. David Tyree(notes) pinned a ball to his helmet, Plaxico Burress(notes) caught a touchdown pass, and Eli Manning(notes) and the Giants pulled off the upset of the decade.
Comments, criticisms, omissions, and your own top ten lists are encouraged in the comments below.
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