Memorable Moments of the 2009 Season
The Pick Six
The New Orleans Saints brought a memorable close to the NFL's 90th season with Tracy Porter intercepting Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter and returning it for the final touchdown in the Saints' 31-17 win in the Super Bowl. Here are some other memorable moments of another thrilling season.
In Patriots lore, it'll forever be known as The Call, the ultimate example of some Bill Belichick bravado that backfired. Leading the Colts by six points with 2:08 to go, Belichick decided to go for it on fourth-and-two from New England's 28. The Patriots came up short, the Colts scored to win 35-34 and the second-guessing began. "I've been around Bill Belichick a long time and he's made a lot of great coaching decisions, but this was the worst coaching decision I have ever seen Bill Belichick make,'' said former Patriot Rodney Harrison.
During a season in which last season's starting Super Bowl quarterbacks -- Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner -- missed games due to concussions they sustained, the NFL got really serious about head injuries. In response to mounting criticism about the league's lack of a satisfactory response to the long-term effects of brain injuries among its players, commissioner Roger Goodell, in early December, issued a new policy that requires any player who exhibits any symptom of a concussion to be removed from a game or practice, and forbids him from returning to play that same day. Previously, under 2007 guidelines, players were barred from re-entry only if they had lost consciousness.
The Defense Rests
Until five minutes and 36 seconds remained in the third quarter of the Colts' Week 16 game against the Jets, Peyton Manning and company seemed to be a good bet to become the third NFL franchise to finish the regular season undefeated, and even the first to go 19-0. Then first-year head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning and many of his other starters, and a 15-10 lead turned into a 29-15 loss, and the Jets were back in the playoff hunt. Thus began the debate over whether resting players destroyed the integrity of the game. At season's end, commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that he didn't yet have a solution for the problem.
Famous Last Words
On the heels of a third straight loss, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin proclaimed, "We will unleash hell here in December." Funny thing is, the Steelers lost their next two games (to lowly Oakland and Cleveland), becoming the first defending Super Bowl champion to lose five games the following season.
The Washington Redskins may have outdone themselves in 2009. Sitting at 2-4 in mid-October, the team stripped head coach Jim Zorn (far left) of the play-calling duties and handed them to a guy who had been calling bingo numbers at a senior center when the season started. Truth be told, Sherman Lewis had spent 22 years as an NFL assistant before retiring after the 2004 season.
Hit The Road, Jack
If not for the new Twitter phenomenon, running back Larry Johnson might have finished the season with the Chiefs. Instead, he was fined, suspended and given a one-way ticket out of town after tweeting, ''My father played for the coach from 'rememeber the titans.' Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefley. Our coach. Nuthn.'' Johnson also used disparaging remarks in his tweets to Chiefs fans.
"I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings," new Jets head coach Rex Ryan said on June 4 . . . and with that a new media darling was born. Ryan's team fed off of his bravado, not to mention his defensive genius, and knocked off Belichick's Patriots in Week 2. After that they trusted their emotional -- and sometimes teary -- head man enough to reach an unlikely AFC Championship berth.
Less than five years after the battered Superdome provided last-resort shelter to 30,000 New Orleans residents as Hurricane Katrina raged outside, Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints eked out a 31-28 NFC Championship game win in overtime inside the structure to give the city its first Super Bowl appearance. "It's a surreal moment," said Brees of winning the game in the repaired and deafeningly loud stadium. "You can draw so many parallels between our team and our city. In reality, we had to lean on each other to survive and get to where we are now. The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways is better than ever."
The Sanchize Arrives
After Mark Sanchez caused a buzz by eating a hot dog on the bench during a game at Oakland, coach Rex Ryan said, "Hey, that's not the biggest mistake he's ever going to make." He was right. Weeks later Sanchez ignored sliding lessons he received from Yankees skipper Joe Girardi and dove head first on a run against Buffalo, injuring his knee in the process. By the end of that night, Ryan was saying, "[Girardi] is probably calling him a knucklehead or something like that. -- He's our knucklehead and we love him." The Sanchize helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1999.
Good Plan Gone Bad
For a guy who the Chicago Bears thought could lead them to a Super Bowl, Jay Cutler didn't have even get the Bears to the playoffs in 2009. His career-high 26 interceptions were the most in the league and included a four-interception outing in the season opener vs. Green Bay and a five-pick game in Week 10 against San Francisco.
Michael Crabtree missed the first six weeks of the season with an ill-advised holdout that didn't get him anywhere near the money he thought he deserved.
Brett Favre became the first quarterback in NFL history to start for three different teams in successive years when he took the field for the Minnesota Vikings in a Week 1 game against Cleveland. Favre completed 14 of 21 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown; this after he had told the team on July 28 that he wouldn't end his second retirement to play for them.
He's Back, Too
Having served 18 months in prison for his role in running a dogfighting ring, Michael Vick made his return to the NFL in 2009 and played his first game on Sept. 27, against the Kansas City Chiefs. By season's end he had started one game, completed six of 13 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown, and rushed 24 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
One of the zaniest plays of the season came in Week 1 when Denver's Brandon Stokley caught a deflected pass in the final minute and finished off the 87-yard touchdown by running parallel to the goal line for a couple of seconds to run time off the clock. The Immaculate Reception against Cincinnati gave rookie coach Josh McDaniels his first win. Denver started the season 6-0 but missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
The Great Escape
As giddy as the Buffalo Bills were in the preseason about adding Terrell Owens to their roster, they were equally as crestfallen after a Leodis McKelvin fumble on a kickoff return let the Patriots off the hook in the season opener. The Bills were leading New England by five points with 2:06 to go when McKelvin lost the handle on a 33-yard return and kicker Steven Gostkowski (#3) recovered at the 31. Tom Brady, in his first game back from surgery, threw the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson three plays later, Brady's second TD pass in the final 2:06.
The Palace Near Dallas
It cost $1.2 billion to build, it costs $75 to park your car there, and 90 feet above its field hangs the world's largest high-definition television -- 11,520 square feet of brightly glowing pixels. Fears that the new Cowboys Stadium's display would be struck with a punt -- as Tennessee's A.J. Trapasso managed to do during the preseason -- proved unfounded in the regular season. And much to the delight of Cowboys fans, Jerry Jones' NFL-style Taj Mahal played host to an altogether more welcome moment: the franchise's first playoff win since 1996, a 34-14 demolition of the Eagles on Jan. 9.
"Packer fans cheer for the Packers first. I know that. But I hope that everyone in the stadium watching tonight said, 'I sure hate those jokers on the other side, but he does play the way he's always played.'" That's how Brett Favre summed up his return to Lambeau Stadium on a night in which he threw four touchdown passes in an oh-so-sweet 38-26 victory over his former employers.
Anyone who questioned whether the Vikings made the right decision in signing Brett Favre out of retirement had to give a tip of the hat when he fired a 32-yard laser to Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone with two seconds left to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 27-24. The victory marked the 40th time Favre had mounted a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. "He's been in many, many, many, many situations like that," coach Brad Childress said, "so it never hurts you to have a veteran like him going down the field."
Last-second Magic II
Of the handful of last-play, game-winning touchdown passes in 2009, Pittsburgh fans will fondly remember Ben Roethlisberger's 19-yard strike to rookie Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers a 37-36 win over Green Bay. Big Ben threw for a franchise-record 503 yards in that game to help end a five-game losing streak.
Last-second Magic III
As last-second touchdown passes go, it's hard to top the fourth-and-goal, 10-yarder that Tennessee's Vince Young threw to Kenny Britt to cap a 99-yard scoring drive and 20-17 victory over Arizona. The Titans converted three fourth downs on the final drive and won their fifth straight game. They became the first team in NFL history to start 0-6 and then win five in a row.
Last-second Magic IV
Matthew Stafford didn't single-handedly keep the Lions from going 0-16 again, but give him credit for running back onto the field with a freshly injured shoulder and throwing the winning touchdown with no time left as Detroit beat Cleveland 38-37. "Matt's best play of the day might have been eluding four team doctors to get back on the field," joked Detroit coach Jim Schwartz after Stafford's rookie-record fifth TD pass of the day.
Above the Call of Duty
Three days after his wife died of unknown causes, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made the tough decision to coach that weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. The inspired Bengals won the battle for first place in the AFC North, 17-14, and gave Zimmer a game ball in an emotional locker room afterwards. The playoff-bound Bengals ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the season.
Three days after teammate Chris Henry died from injuries incurred after falling from a truck, Ochocinco refrained from wearing his friend's No. 15 jersey as a tribute, but did pay homage to Henry after catching a 49-yard touchdown pass against the Chargers.
Now You Have It, Now You Don't
NFL fans could hardly believe what they saw on Dec. 6 when Robert Meachem chased down Redskins defensive back Kareem Moore, ripped away a ball Moore had intercepted, and ran it back 44 yards the other way for a touchdown that tied the game 17-17 at the half.
The Curse is Broken
The Falcons didn't make the playoffs, but they did finish with consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Among their season highlights, last-minute, fourth-and-goal, game-winning touchdown passes by Matt Ryan (to Tony Gonzalez -- pictured -- against the Giants) and backup Chris Redman (to Roddy White, against the Bucs).
The 2009 season wasn't a good one for errant field goal kickers, just ask the likes of (from top left) Shaun Suisham, Jason Elam, Nick Folk, (from bottom left) Steve Hauschka, John Carney, Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus, each of whom got the boot after failing to live up to expectations.
Twice is Nice
Before this season, no player had scored twice in the same game on plays of 100 yards or more of any kind. It happened twice in 2009, first with Ted Ginn (far left) returning third-quarter kickoffs for 100 and 101 yards against the Jets, and then Joshua Cribbs scoring on 100- and 103-yard kickoff returns against Kansas City. Cribbs holds the NFL career record for touchdown returns with eight.
Across the Pond
A sellout crowd of 84,254 attended the NFL's third regular season game at England's Wembley Stadium, where Tom Brady and the Patriots drilled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 in October. The Bucs gave up a home game to play in London. In 2010, San Francisco will do the same when it plays against Denver.
Move Over, Jim Brown
Ten days after Cleveland shocked Pittsburgh 13-6 -- which was newsworthy in and of itself -- Jerome Harrison had the third-best rushing performance in NFL history -- 286 yards against Kansas City. In surpassing Jim Brown's franchise record, Harrison was 10 yards shy of matching Adrian Peterson's NFL record 296-yard game, set in 2007.( Jamal Lewis sits second with 295, set in 2003.)
Every Coach's Dream
Chris Johnson, who refers to himself as Every Coach's Dream, became the sixth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, finishing with an NFL record 2,509 total yards from scrimmage. Along the way to eclipsing the 2,429 yards compiled by Marshall Faulk in 1999, Johnson became the first player to score touchdowns of 50-plus, 60-plus and 91-plus in the same game when he had 57- and 91-yard scoring runs and a 69-yard TD reception in Week 2. His three touchdown runs of 85 yards or longer last season are more than any other player has in an entire career.
Several breakout players emerged this season, including Dallas wideout Miles Austin, whose 11 touchdown receptions trailed only Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss among wide receivers (both with 13) and whose 1,320 receiving yards were behind only Andre Johnson's 1,659 and Wes Welker's 1,348.
Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers doesn't look like much of a leaper at 345 pounds, but he has 14 blocked kicks in his career, most among active players. In a Week 4 game against Cincinnati, he deflected a 23-yard-field goal attempt in the first quarter and an extra point attempt that would have given the Bengals a 21-20 victory. Instead, the game went into overtime and the Bengals won 23-20.
Cheers and Jeers
A three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and formerly the face of the Falcons franchise, Michael Vick made his NFL return to Atlanta to a mixture of boos and cheers on Dec. 6. His five-yard scoring run in the third quarter was his first NFL touchdown since Oct. 15, 2006.
The Marshall Plan
Brandon Marshall set an NFL record with 21 receptions in Week 13 against the Colts on a day when quarterback Kyle Orton targeted the tall receiver 28 times. Marshall broke the mark set in December 2000 by Terrell Owens, who was then with the 49ers.
Cakewalk in the Snow
On a snowy October Sunday in Foxboro, Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes in the second quarter against Tennessee, the most ever in a single NFL quarter. The Patriots led 45-0 at halftime, another NFL first, and ended up winning 59-0.
Better Than Ever
Ricky Williams became a 1,000-yard rusher again, six years after it last happened. His is the longest gap between 1,000-yard rushing seasons in NFL history.
Goodbye, Giants Stadium
It was never one of the league's crown jewels, but the 34-year-old Giants Stadium hosted more NFL games than any other building, thanks to the two franchises that called it home. Both teams bid farewell to their memory-filled home in different ways. The stadium's namesakes lost 41-9 to the Panthers on Dec. 27; the Jets clinched a playoff berth with a 37-0 demolition of the Bengals on Jan. 3, and afterward did a lap of the old place to express their gratitude to fans. Both teams will next season move to the gleaming new facility that was constructed across the parking lot -- which, at $1.6 billion, cost more than 21 times to build than did its bare-bones predecessor.
The NFL's Highest Scoring Playoff Game
It went on and on, did the Cardinals' Jan. 10 wild-card game against the Packers, the teams like a pair of pugilists delivering blow after blow, each refusing to go down. Then, just like that, it was over, the Cardinals' knockout blow coming on the fourth play of overtime, when cornerback Michael Adams sacked and stripped Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Linebacker Karlos Dansby picked up the fumble and raced 17 yards for the touchdown to end the NFL's highest scoring playoff game, 51-45.
No surprise that the Saints relied on their vaunted passing game to defeat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. But when the trivia question is asked years from now as to who scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the season's final game, remember the name Jeremy Shockey. His two-yarder gave the Saints a 22-17 lead, followed by a successful two-point conversion catch by Lance Moore.