Momentum is huge in football, and often effects the outcome of games. There are key plays that change momentum that are very subtle and may not make the highlight package on your favorite sports show. Sure, these shows do a great job of showing incredible catches, hits, and runs, or of showing you the scoring plays in a game, but do they really tell the whole story?
While a drive might end in a 5-yard TD pass or a 10-yard TD run, is that really the key play in a 7, 8, 9 or 10 play drive? Would the scoring play even be possible without the key completion on third and long earlier in the drive? Or that receiver who made a key block freeing up the running back to get to the outside to pick up a first down?
The purpose of this column is to highlight some key plays that greatly effected the outcome of their games, yet they might not have made highlight reels. This isn’t to take away from the importance of a big scoring play or turnover, but without these plays the highlight reel play would not have happened.
Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills (Fitzpatrick’s turnovers)
This was a battle of two teams who just can’t play defense, as displayed in the 21-20 halftime score. In fact in the first half, we even saw three touchdowns in a span of 25 seconds. It looked like it was a game where whichever had the ball last would win. Tennessee did not stop Buffalo once in the first half, as in four possessions they had two touchdowns and two field goals.
Leodis McKelvin of the Bills took the second half kick off, and after a good return, the Bills started on their own 46-yard line. With such great field position it seemed to be the Bills turn to put points on the board, and our shootout looked to continue. However this would be a series where finally a defensive player made a big play. Kamerion Wimbley beat Bills’ Left Tackle Chris Hairston and sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick causing him to fumble. It was picked up by Derrick Morgan and the Titans had the ball deep in Bills Territory. A few plays later Jamie Harper scored his second TD of the game giving the Titans an eight point lead at the time. This was one play that kept the Titans in the game, as overall they just weren’t making enough stops on defence. The Bills would scored touchdowns on their next two drives, and overall scored on six of their first seven possessions.
It would be 34-28 Buffalo when our next big play occurred. With 2:57 to play in the game on a 3rd and 7 in Buffalo territory, Ryan Fitzpatrick made another game-changing mistake. He tried to force a pass down the right sideline to Donald Jones. The ball was underthrown and Jarred McCourty intercepted and gave the Titans great field position. again. This was quite simply a pass that never should have been thrown as Jones was extremely well covered on the play. Given the six-point lead, the Bills position at their own 40, and the time on the clock, the absolute worst thing Fitzpatrick could have done was throw a low percentage pass here. Even a sack would have been better than an incompletion (never mind an interception) as it would have run time off the clock, or forced the Titans to use a time out before punting the ball away. Matt Hasselbeck took full advantage leading the game-winning touchdown drive.
This, once again, just goes to show that even when an offence is humming as the Bills’ was yesterday, turnovers can be extremely costly. The Bills were the better team for most of the day, and the Titans showed little ability to stop the Buffalo offence. However two huge mistakes by Ryan Fitzpatrick turned a win into a one-point loss for the Bills.
Baltimore Ravens @ Houston Texans; (Texans Defense sets the tone early)
For the past two weeks many analysts had openly questioned if the Houston Texans’ defense could compete at a high level without their leader, middle linebacker Brian Cushing. Obviously there is an adjustment for an team that loses their defensive leader and arguably their best defensive player. Last Sunday night the nation watched in primetime as the Texans were ripped apart by the Packers. This week we saw the Texans make their adjustments and once again play like one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Things didn’t start out that great though, as on the first drive of the game the Ravens took the ball 48 yards down the field and took the lead with an early field goal. The Ravens offence has been good all year, and momentum seemed to be going against the Texans again, but things would quickly change. The Texans forced a three-and-out on the Ravens’ next possession, and after a stalled Houston drive, punter Donnie Jones unleashed a 62-yard punt for the Texans, pinning the Ravens at their own three-yard line for their third possession of the game. A pair of sacks by Whitney Mercilus and Connor Barwin led to a safety and really set the tone for the Texans. The Texans scored a TD on the ensuing possession to take a 9-3 lead, and the next time the Ravens had the ball Jonathan Joseph intercepted Joe Flacco and took it to the house for a pick-six. The Texans now led 16-3 and the rout was on. The sacks by Mercilus and Barwin really set the tone for Houston, and they never looked back, creating pressure on Flacco all day long.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants (The difference between a rookie RGIII and veteran Eli Manning)
This was a tremendous game, and had a fantastic finish. The game was tied at 13 late in the third quarter, and the Redskins were driving. They took the ball into Giants’ territory and seemed to be ready to take the lead. Robert Griffin III, has been great all season, but on this possession showed that he’s still a rookie quarterback, and is prone to rookie mistakes. Looking deep down the middle RG III overthrew his receiver and the ball sailed right into the waiting arms of the Giants’ Stevie Brown, who returned the interception to the Redskins 35-yard line. The Giants capitalized and Ahmad Bradshaw gave them the go-ahead TD early in the fourth quarter.
On their next drive the Redskins again marched into Giants territory, but Jason Pierre Paul got to RGIII caused a fumble and essentially snuffed out a promising drive and chance to tie the game.
Griffin redeemed himself though. In the last two minutes he got the ball one more time. On a first down in Redskins territory, with 1:54 to play, the Giants defensive line got into the Redskins’ backfield and pressured the young signal caller, but RGIII scrambled away and ran for 24 yards and brought the Skins into Giants territory. Shortly thereafter the drive would end with an RGIII touchdown pass to Santana Moss that gave the Skins a three-point lead.
By now though, we should all know that you just can’t hold Eli down in the fourth quarter. As he got the ball back and quickly hooked up with his favorite receiver, Victor Cruz, for a 77-yard touchdown to win the game. RGIII’s 4th quarter turnovers proved to be costly, and he will learn from them, but it’s the price of being a rookie QB in the NFL. The Redskins can only hope he will one day be as poised as Eli Manning when the game is on the line.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Hustle! and Game of Inches)
Midway through the 3rd quarter the score was 28-21 for the Saints, and the Bucs took over the ball at their own 4 yard line. Josh Freeman hit Vincent Jackson with a short pass, however Jackson turned on the speed and took off down the field. After getting through the Saints Secondary it looked like it surely was a touchdown for the Bucs. However Malcolm Jenkins didn’t think so. He took off from the other side of the field, chasing down Jackson, and tackling him at the 1 yard line. It was a 95 yard play for Jackson, but the hustle of Jenkins kept him just short of the endzone. The Saints would go on to stuff the Bucs on 4 straight plays, and then would put together a TD drive of their own to go up by 14. Hats off to Jenkins for never giving up on a play many defenders would have.
Later in the game Tampa had gotten one of the scores back and was now only down by 7. They drove down the field eventually getting the ball to the New Orleans 9 yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 9, Josh Freeman again looked to Vincent Jackson, this time in the back of the endzone. It looked like Jackson had the game tying touchdown catch, but the heel of his left foot hit the backline of the endzone. The difference between a tie game and heading to OT and a key incompletion was a matter of just a couple of inches as Jackson got 90% of his foot in bounds. However 90% just isn’t good enough. On 4th and goal, Mike Williams also appeared to have caught a TD pass to tie the game. However he had gone out of bounds and was the first receiver to touch the ball after coming back into the play. The referee correctly called “Illegal touching” as a receiver who is out of bounds can not come back into the field and make the catch without first establishing possesion. Football is a funny game, and the inch that Jackson was out the back of the endzone, and the one step Williams had out of bounds on 4th down were huge in getting the Saints their 2nd win in a row. It truly is a game of inches at times.
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