Patriots

The NFL's Greatest Play? Here's 20 of them from Tom E. Curran

The NFL's Greatest Play? Here's 20 of them from Tom E. Curran

I didn’t include the final play from the Greatest Game Ever Played Or Bart Starr capping the iconic Ice Bowl with a quarterback sneak. I didn’t include the Butt Fumble, the Miami Miracle, the River City Relay or Billy Sims’ karate kick run.

As iconic, outlandish, memorable or indelible as those plays are, they just didn’t make the cut. Your results may vary.

With the NFL entering its 100th season, the league partnered with the Associated Press and asked a panel of 50 voters (the same panel that votes for the NFL Awards and the All-Pro team) to make their selections on a series of polls. The first one was Greatest Play. We were provided with a list of 100 plays and charged with whittling those down to 50.

We’ll also vote on Greatest Teams, Greatest Games, Game Changers and Greatest Characters.

Since any list like this is going to be subjective based on the voter’s definition of “great”, no two lists will be identical. I’d be surprised if many of us even agreed on the top five. It was left up to us. And, knowing how much people will care about this ranking when it’s unveiled, it was both daunting and an honor.

When I made my selections, I gave the most weight to the importance of the game and when the play occurred in said game. So I’m Super Bowl-heavy at the top.

Next, I weighed the play for improbability/degree of difficulty. Call it the “Fall Off The Couch” quotient.

I gave added importance to the plays that “launched” something. Say, a dynasty. Like The Catch, Adam Vinatieri’s kick through a blizzard to tie the Snow Bowl and the Immaculate Reception.

After that, I was going by feel. The most incredible plays (Odell Beckham’s catch), the most stunning plays (Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary against the Lions) and plays that summed up the essence of some of the game’s legendary players (Jim Brown’s 5-yard gain where it took most of the Cowboys defense to bring him down, Gale Sayers’ 85-yard punt return for a touchdown, Jerry Rice’s one-handed catch against the Rams, Barry Sanders undressing the Cowboys).

The omissions are what drove me crazy. Some were easy to excise. Garo Yepremian’s gaffe in Super Bowl VII. Jim Marshall’s wrong-way jaunt for the Vikings in 1964. Refrigerator Perry bulldozing in from the 1 in Super Bowl XX. The Butt Fumble. We remember them but they weren’t “great.”

But Derrick Henry’s 99-yard touchdown run? De’Andre Hopkins tipping the ball to himself for a toe-tap touchdown? John Mackey and Mike Ditka bulldozing humans like they were toys? Steve Gleason’s blocked punt for the Saints in the first game in the Superdome post-Katrina? A case could be made for any of those – and some others – bopping off Leon Lett getting tracked down by Don Beebe at the end of a Super Bowl blowout, for instance, which I had at 32.

The Patriots were involved in 11 of the 100 plays on the list. Malcolm Butler’s pick, Julian Edelman’s catch, Vinatieri’s Snow Bowl kick, Randy Moss’ one-handed catch over Darrelle Revis, the Butt Fumble and Ben Watson’s chase-down of Champ Bailey were all there. So were the Helmet Catch, Miami Miracle, Philly Special, Mario Manningham’s catch in Super Bowl 46 and Barry Sanders spinning Maurice Hurst like a top.

One oversight, in my opinion, was failing to include Tom Brady to Randy Moss in the 2007 season finale that clinched the 16-0 season and set the touchdown pass and touchdown reception record. Another would be Vinatieri’s game-winner in Super Bowl 36 but kicks – made and missed – were virtually absent except for the Snow Bowl.

But there won’t be a fanbase in the league that isn’t left wondering, “Hey, what about (fill in the play)!?” That’s bound to happen when you take 100 years worth of football and try to catalog the best of the best ever.   

Here’s my Top 20 (click to watch each play): 

1. Malcolm Butler’s interception in SB49

2. Santonio Holmes game-winning catch in SB43

3. Rams WR Kevin Dyson tackled at the 1 on the last play of SB34

4. The Immaculate Reception

5. Snow Bowl Kick

6. The Catch

7. James Harrison’s Immaculate Interception in SB43

8. Joe Montana to John Taylor in SB23

9. Helmet Catch

10. Edelman’s Catch in SB51

11. Minneapolis Miracle in 2018

12. Sea of Hands

13. Music City Miracle

14. The Original Hail Mary

15. Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary vs. Cardinals

16. Lynn Swann’s tip catch in SB10

17. Elway to Mark Jackson to complete The Drive

18. OBJ’s one-handed catch

19. Tony Nathan’s Hook and Lateral

20. Philly Special

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

 

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty knew where the question was going before it had even been asked.

"At his press conference yesterday," a reporter started, "Sam Darnold..."

McCourty laughed. He was already aware of what Darnold said Thursday. But he didn't want to be the one generating headlines ahead of Monday night's matchup with the Jets, reacting to something said at a podium by a second-year quarterback he'd soon be tasked with trying to stop.

"We'll see," McCourty said. "I don't have a comment on that right now. We'll see how it goes."

Darnold, fresh off his team's first win last weekend and AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, didn't say anything that would be considered by an impartial observer as incredibly inflammatory. 

But these are the Patriots. They've long had a reputation of taking slights, real or perceived, and using them to their advantage. A little extra motivation never hurt. And it wouldn't be surprising if what Darnold said this week serves as fuel for his opponents.

"Their defense is good, they have been all year,” Darnold said of the Patriots. "But just like any team, they’re not unbeatable. So we’ve just got to go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. So that’s what we’re going to do on Monday night."

The word "weakness" seems to have been the one that struck a chord with certain Patriots when they were asked about it Friday.

"I wonder what that is," Kyle Van Noy said, shrugging his shoulders.

Van Noy was at the center of things the last time we found out that the Patriots latched onto an opponent's words in the week leading up to the game.

After Bills tackle Dion Dawkins suggested in Week 4 that the Patriots hadn't done anything in 2019 until playing in Buffalo, Van Noy said after his team’s win, "Just wanted to make sure Dawkins knew who we were."

The Patriots, of course, have the league's attention. They rank first in the NFL in scoring defense (8.0 points per game) and first in defensive passer rating (42.6). They are, in the eyes of many, the easy choice as the best defense in football right now. 

Still, Darnold likes his offense's chances. If they can get tight end Chris Herndon back, Darnold said the Jets can be "unstoppable." (Herndon is dealing with a hamstring injury and isn't expected to play Monday.)

"Right now, we're just missing Chris," Darnold said. “Once all the guys are back together, I think we're unstoppable as an offense -- or we can be.  

"It's just up to us and how we execute. It's really up to us how many points we score, I think. I think we're capable of so many points. With our offensive line, too, the way they played last game, with the way we've been running the ball and the way they've been protecting, sky's the limit for us."

Darnold's comments -- comments from a confident young quarterback who undoubtedly is trying to instill confidence in his team ahead of their biggest game of the season -- could be ones he comes to regret. 

Not that the Patriots wanted to suggest as much ahead of the game.

"I don't know," Stephon Gilmore said for his reaction to Darnold's "weakness" comment. "You can ask him that, I don't know."

"I hadn't heard him," JC Jackson said. "I'm not on the internet. I don't pay attention to what other guys say.  We just show up. We let our play do the talking. We're just gonna play ball. We ain't got time for the talking. We're just going to show up and do what we do."

Jonathan Jones said his reaction to Darnold saying what he said is, "to go back to the film to find what he finds and find it before he does, I guess." 

"There's always some plays," Jones continued, "that they're going to be looking at and say, 'Hey, we had them here.' They might not have completed it or targeted the guy, but we'll definitely try to find those plays and anticipate those."

"It's not really [a slight]. There's always going to be plays out there. I don't care how good you are. Whether it be the front disrupting him and the quarterback didn't have time to get through his read and make the throw. but there's always plays that we can get better from. Hopefully, we can find those corrections before he does."

The Patriots are near the top of the league in just about every defensive category, though perhaps the Jets will try to run the football as New England ranks closer to the middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed (4.2). 

But calling that phase of their defense a "weakness" would be a stretch, as interior defenders Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have been among two of Bill Belichick's best players on that side of the ball this season. Their front seven is loaded with athletic and experienced linebackers capable of stopping the run as well.

Darnold probably felt as though what he said Thursday wasn't a big deal at the time. But he might not be familiar with the time-honored Patriots tradition of taking an opponent’s words and using them as a spark.

They'll take any morsel of motivation they get and gnaw on it until the clock strikes zeros. Using the word "weakness" when talking about a defense on a historic pace probably qualifies as more than a morsel. As would suggesting the Jets offense can't be stopped.

The Patriots didn’t let on that they were zeroed-in on Darnold’s comments Friday. But it would come as little surprise — depending on how Monday night goes, of course — if they later acknowledge those words breathed a little extra oxygen into the fire that’s burned under their defense through the season’s first month and a half.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

new-england-patriots-indianapolis-colts-fake-punt-2015.jpg
AP Images

Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

Perhaps Denver Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon knew the anniversary of the NFL's worst fake punt was upon us.

Why else would McMahon, formerly the Indianapolis Colts special teams coach, call for probably the second-worst fake punt on Thursday night in Denver's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs? 

Did he really think this (see below) would work?

Metaphorically, at least, haven't we all been Broncos punter Colby Wadman at one time or another?

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe pointed out that McMahon was also the mastermind behind the Colts' fake punt with a formation-never-before-seen in football that came four years ago today in a Patriots' 34-27 victory in Indianapolis.

That one left backup wide receiver Griff Whalen snapping the ball to safety Colt Anderson, all by their lonesome, with the rest of the formation yards away and not on the line of scrimmage, which led to a subsequent illegal formation penalty flag, but only after Whalen and Anderson got blasted by five Pats defenders.

Next time, McMahon draws up a fake punt, (if there is indeed a next time), his head coach might want to just go for it. It couldn't be any worse. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.