Eight in the Box: The best plays from Weeks 1 through 4
Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season.
We're only four weeks (plus one Thursday night game) into the season, and yet we already have a bevy of spectacular plays etched on the 2013 film. In fact, picking just eight of those plays to spotlight here was quite the challenge.
Left off the list, among others: Richard Sherman's pick-six, Martellus Bennett's clutch catch late vs. Minnesota, Stevie Johnson's last-second TD and Jordy Nelson's amazing reception along the sideline in San Francisco. Eight in the Box easily could have rolled out a full roster instead.
But the limits of our weekly list forced the candidates to be pared down to eight, with one bonus selection. Here are the best of the best so far this season:
Honorable mention: Justin Hunter's game-winner vs. San Diego.
The degree of difficulty may not have been as high as some of the others on our list (though it certainly was not an uncovered grab), but the circumstances of Hunter's catch earn him some bonus points. The catch was his first as an NFL rookie, and it gave the Titans a comeback win over the Chargers.
8. Honey Badger's hustle play.
The Rams beat the Cardinals in Week 1, and Jared Cook had a monster day. It would have been even more of a standout performance had Tyrann Mathieu not robbed him of a touchdown.
Cook appeared to be gone after catching a pass from Sam Bradford and splitting the Rams' secondary. About 10 yards shy of the end zone, though, Mathieu caught him by surprise, somehow punching the ball from Cook's grip with a diving effort.
7. Brian Cushing completes Houston's Monday night rally.
The Texans had sliced 14 points off San Diego's 28-7 lead when Philip Rivers dropped to throw on 1st-and-10. With pressure quickly approaching him, Rivers tried to sneak a quick pass out on a slant route. Cushing was all over it. The Texans' linebacker made a diving interception, got to his feet and sprinted to the end zone for a critical touchdown.
6. Reggie Bush kicks it old school.
When he is going well, Reggie Bush remains one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He had his A-game in Week 4 against the Bears, after sitting out a Week 3 win over Washington.
Bush culminated the Lions' first-half onslaught vs. Chicago with a 37-yard scamper to the end zone that brought back memories of his USC days. With his offensive line opening a hole for him, Bush accelerated for 10 yards, made a leaping cut over a prone Chicago defender and outraced two more Bears to the end zone.
5. Donte Whitner lays out.
San Francisco safety Donte Whitner had an interception fall out of his hands -- and into the arms of Jared Cook for a completion -- early in his team's Week 4 win over the Rams. He did not miss given a second opportunity.
His teammate, cornerback Tarell Brown, managed to tip a deep ball away from Brian Quick ... and Whitner came flying in for the pick, while managing to somehow stay inbounds and maintain possession.
4. Jermaine Kearse (Jermaine Kearse??!) rescues the Seahawks.
Of all the players that could have saved Seattle from a lethargic Week 1 loss in Carolina, Kearse probably fell way down the list. But his second catch of that game -- and the fifth of his two-year NFL career -- was an absolute highlight-reel moment that wrestled victory from the arms of defeat.
After streaking down the right sideline, Kearse turned and leapt over cornerback Josh Thomas to bring down Russell Wilson's bomb. He then ducked under a flying hit attempt by Charles Godfrey and tumbled into the end zone for what would be the game-winning score.
3. Earl Bennett and Antonio Brown's battle of dueling TDs.
Brown's remarkable grab pulled the Steelers back into their game with the Bears. Bennett's toe-tapping job put Pittsburgh on ice.
Brown had to stretch out with one-hand to reel in a pass from Ben Roethlisberger. He did so, bringing the ball back into his body and dragging his left foot for a TD. Later, Bennett also deftly navigated the sideline -- with some help from a Jay Cutler pass that came down in the only spot Bennett could have possibly gotten to it.
2. Dexter McCluster breaks the Giants' backs.
The Giants still had a shot at their first win of 2013 last Sunday, right up until the point that they punted to Dexter McCluster late in the third quarter. McCluster fielded the ball on his own 13, then broke off a return that was as close to a video-game play as you'll see in real life.
Spin move-juke-juke-turbo ...
1. - DeAndre Hopkins doubles down on Tennessee.
The Texans knew they had something special when they drafted WR DeAndre Hopkins. He offered quite the glimpse of what's to come with a pair of Week 2 daggers against Tennessee.
After Houston stormed back to force overtime (then missed a field goal that would have won it), Hopkins took charge. On 3rd-and-10 from the Tennessee 26, Hopkins delivered a jaw-dropping grab despite tight coverage from Jason McCourty. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal from the 3, Hopkins did it again -- schooling McCourty for a second time and making sure to get both feet in for the touchdown.