Sunday, January 26, 2014

NFL Top 10 Games Of 2013

As we count down to the Superbowl, we look back on the ten best games of 2013 -


#10 - Chargers at Titans: Locker's Hail Mary
- Entering Week 3 San Diego had pulled off a dramatic back-and-forth win at Philadelphia while Tennessee was reeling from a bitter overtime loss at Houston.   Titans quarterback Jake Locker, in his second season as a starter, had struggled in 2012 but was showing some improvement as 2013 was progressing.   He also faced the daunting reality that the Titans franchise hadn't beaten San Diego since their infamous 1992 season as the Houston Oilers.  It started slowly as the Chargers clawed to a 10-3 lead but in the second quarter Locker ran in a touchdown and a late Chargers field goal attempt was blocked.   San Diego clawed to a 17-13 lead by the fourth quarter, but with 21 seconds to go Locker unloaded a 34-yard touchdown bomb caught by rookie Justin Hunter.   A pathetic avalanche of Chargers laterals recalling the infamous Stanford Band play ended in failure (natch) and the Titans were 20-17 winners, showcasing that Locker could play, and pull off clutch efforts.

#9 - Packers at Bengals: The Packers Comeback That Wasn't
- We stay with Week 3 here.  In the Aaron Rodgers era the Green Bay Packers had established a reputation as frontrunners, a team that would fail if a comeback attempt was needed.   Taking on the competitive-but-erratic Bengals at Cincinnati the Packers wound up proving this in uproarious fashion.    The Bengals raced to a 14-0 lead, then saw the Packers explode to 30 straight points.   The Bengals looked like the Bungles down 30-14 in the third, but Andy Dalton and company went to work; first Dalton unloaded a touchdown strike to rising receiver superstar A.J. Green; a Rodgers INT was wasted as the Bengals missed a FGA, then Rodgers got picked off again, leading to a Dalton score to Marvin Jones, marred by a missed PAT.  In the final four minutes on 4th and 1 a run by Jonathan Franklin was fumbled and the Bengals, despite fumbling the ball themselves, scored anyway.  Rodgers' final gasp effort flamed out and the Bengals were 34-30 winners; combined with the Titans win and wins by the Browns and Ravens, it was a good day for the former AFC Central.

#8 - Vikings at Ravens: 4th Quarter Scoring Blizzard
- The first three quarters saw a building snowstorm and a measely 7-6 Ravens lead, but in the fourth quarter the snow got worse and the offenses started heating up, first as Matt Cassel and Joe Flacco exchanged touchdown throws around a 4th down Vikings stop and an exchange of punts; it was in the final 130 seconds that all hell broke loose - Toby Gerhart scored for the Vikings, then on the ensuing kickoff Jacoby Jones ran back a 77-yard score; Cassel then unloaded a 79-yard touchdown to Cordarelle Patterson, then Flacco saw an interception wiped out on a Chad Greenway penalty; he got to the final nine seconds and whipped the winning touchdown to Marlon Brown and a wild 29-26 Ravens win in a game that set an NFL record for six lead changes in the fourth quarter and five touchdowns in the final two-plus minutes.

#7 - Cowboys at Lions: Stafford's Last-Minute Comeback #2
- In his career to date Matthew Stafford's signature game has been his 38-37 comeback win over the Cleveland Browns in 2009 despite incurring a season-ending shoulder injury on a last-second touchdown attempt; the game was extended by one down thanks to a pass interference penalty by the Browns and despite his injury Stafford threw the game-winning touchdown.   Four years later Stafford authored another amazing victory.   He opened the scoring on a short touchdown to Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, but the Cowboys clawed into the lead.   The Lions, despite two Stafford INTs, would not go away, in the final seven minutes down 27-17 Stafford led a touchdown drive ending in Reggie Bush's score; a Cowboys field goal before the final minute put them up 30-24, but Stafford, out of timeouts, raced the Lions downfield, completing four passes for 79 yards to the Cowboys 1-yard line with fourteen seconds remaining - he then faked the ball spike and shot the ball over the goalline for the winning touchdown.    The 31-30 Lions win was almost a 500-yard passing game for Stafford - he came up short with 488 passing yards, and lost in all of it was the Lions still rushed for 143 yards. 

#6 - Packers at Cowboys: Matt Flynn In Like Flint
- With injury sidelining Aaron Rodgers the Packers had re-signed former backup Matt Flynn.   At Dallas the Packers didn't look like much as the Cowboys stormed to a 26-3 halftime lead.   But Flynn had authored an amazing 45-41 win over the Lions in 2011 and now was letting the Packers know he could play; Flynn exploded to four touchdowns and the Packers trailed 36-31 in the final four minutes.   Tony Romo then did his thing - picked off with three minutes to go; after Flynn's drive ended in Eddie Lacy's rushing score and failed two-point try, Romo did his thing - and was intercepted again.   The 37-36 Packers win proved vital to making the playoffs.

Best Of The Rest
- There were other memorable games in 2013 that didn't quite make the cut.

When the Saints came to Foxboro in Week 6 they clawed to a 27-23 lead before Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds to go; the 30-27 win set off the now-famous "Unicorns and Show Ponies" exclamation from Patriots radiocaster Scott Zolak.

The week before on Monday Night Football the slumping Falcons erased a 27-14 gap to the New York Jets, but in the final two minutes the Jets stormed downfield and booted the winning field goal, for the 30-28 Jets win.

In Week 17 the Packers twice blew touchdown leads and trailed 28-20 in the fourth quarter before Aaron Rodgers, returning from injury, unloaded a late 48-yard score to Randall Cobb; the 33-28 win put the Packers in the playoffs as NFC North champions.

In October the Patriots rallied from down 17-3 to the Dolphins to the 27-17 win, then in December the Patriots erased a 17-7 halftime gap to beat the Houston Texans 34-31, then a week later the Browns stormed to a 26-14 lead with 2:43 to go, but the Patriots scored two touchdowns in a span of two minutes, then the Browns missed a last-second field goal for the shocking 27-26 Patriots win.

In Week 2 the Cardinals hosted the Lions and erased a 21-13 Lions lead to win 25-21, a win that put them in playoff contention, while the next game on our list was even more clutch...........

#5 - Cardinals at Titans: Fitzpatrick's Fit Of Frustration
- With Jake Locker lost for the season with injury, the Titans had to rely on former Bill Ryan Fitzpatrick, but a playoff bid steadily slid out of reach.   Entering Week 15 the surging Cardinals came to Nashville and a close first half was a 20-17 Cardinals lead that swelled into a 34-17 lead after Antoine Cason picked off Fitzpatrick and scored with just over six minutes to go.   Fitzpatrick then erupted; with a defensive stop and a successful onside kick recovery, the Titans stormed to 17 unanswered points led by two Michael Preston touchdown catches.   But Fitzpatrick, having gone from goat to hero, was picked off three plays into overtime by Cason and the Cardinals' field goal ended a 37-34 affair.  

#4 - Chargers at Chiefs: Introducing Seyi Ajirotutu
- The West became the deepest division in both conferences and in Week 12 the AFC West proved the focal point; the Titans rallied to a last-second win at Oakland while the Broncos would play the Sunday Night game at New England.   At Arrowhead Stadium the Chiefs, having seen their unbeaten streak ended the week before, hosted the 4-6 Chargers and the ensuing game became the highest-scoring match between the two clubs since 1986.   Philip Rivers and Alex Smith erupted as the game lead changed eight times; the Chargers came back from down 14-3 early but trailed 31-27 with less than ten minutes remaining.   Rivers and Smith traded touchdowns and in the final 88 seconds Rivers raced the Chargers downfield and with 31 seconds to go found perhaps the ultimate dark horse - Oluseyi Adekunleolum "Seyi" Ajirotutu, an undrafted receiver who'd caught two touchdowns for the Chargers in 2010, was let go for the Panthers in 2011, re-signed to San Diego in 2012, and caught his first touchdown since that 2010 season.   The 41-38 Chargers win was vital to San Diego's playoff run.

#3 - Broncos at Patriots: Brady's Historic Comeback
- Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning had been the rivalry of the 2001 period onward, and its fourteenth renewal came on a brutally cold late November in Foxboro.  It began in hideous fashion for the Patriots - Stevan Ridley's first quarter fumble became a Broncos touchdown and the embattled running back fell into Bill Belichick's doghouse on the sidelines (exacerbated by Belichick's subtle slam at Ridley's coachability on WEEI radio the next day).  It got worse; Brady was strip-sacked near his own red zone and the Broncos scored two plays later; a LeGarrette Blount fumble led to a 35-yard drive and another Broncos touchdown; the Patriots drove to the Broncos 30 but were stopped on fourth down. 

The Broncos led 24-0 at halftime but then the Patriots erupted; Brady erupted to four touchdown drives as the Broncos were bullied into two fumbles and a Manning INT; the Patriots led 31-24 before Manning tied it in the final three minutes.   Final drives by both clubs went nowhere and the game went into overtime (a first in the Brady-Manning rivalry), where the Patriots chose to defend the open-air north endzone, where the winds were strongest.  Both teams punted twice; on the Patriots second punt Wes Welker hesitated on calling whether to catch it or not; Tony Carter thus botched the catch and the Patriots fell on the ball at Denver's 13-yard line; two Broncos timeouts and the two-minute warning of overtime kept delaying the inevitable - the winning 31-yard field goal and New England's 34-31 win, the biggest comeback win in team history, surpassing the comeback from down 23 points to the Seahawks in 1984.

#2 - Broncos at Cowboys: All Guns Blazing
- Peyton Manning had long struggled against the Cowboys, having lost his previous two matchups against Dallas; his 2010 loss was a wild 38-35 overtime choke job.   Against the always-erratic Tony Romo, the scoring was expected to be plentiful.   No one had any idea; after the Cowboys jumped to a 14-0 lead Manning threw three touchdowns and ran in another, then after connecting with Wes Welker in the third, the Broncos led 35-20; Romo then exploded, outscoring the Broncos 21-6 with a Manning INT thrown in for extra measure; the two clubs traded touchdowns and by 2:44 the game was tied 48-48.   Presented with the golden opportunity to knock Manning down a peg, Tony Romo then did his thing - he threw a pick at his own 24 and the Broncos ran out clock and kicked the winning field goal.   The 51-48 Broncos win was a bloodbath of offense - 1,039 combined yards, nine touchdowns, two INTs; Romo broke 500 passing yards but the INT when his team needed him the most cemented his reputation for clutch failure.

The #1 Game Of 2013 - Chiefs at Colts: Andrew Luck's Ultimate Comeback
- The opening game of Wildcard weekend was the fourth playoff match between the Chiefs and Colts; the Chiefs had lost all three previous playoff games and had beaten the Colts only twice since 1990.   Yet the first two-thirds of this game belonged to the Chiefs as Alex Smith erupted to four touchdowns and a 38-10 Chiefs lead.   But Andrew Luck, despite three interceptions, started clawing the Colts back and the runaway became an instant classic.   By the final five minutes of the game the Colts only trailed 44-38, and Luck's 64-yard floater to T.Y. Hilton was the go-ahead touchdown, followed by an ugly flameout of a final drive by Alex Smith.   The 45-44 Colts win was the first playoff win for Indianapolis since 2009, and the collapse meant the Chiefs had now lost eight straight playoff games since beating the Oilers in 1993.  

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