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Ten plays that saved the season

Posted Mar 4, 2011

Packers.com is conducting a retrospective of the 2010 season with a series of ‘Top 10’ lists, which will look back at all the big happenings that helped produce the franchise’s 13th world championship.

The Packers made it into the postseason without a win to spare and had close calls throughout the playoffs, as well. Here are the 10 plays, ranked in ascending order of importance, that could have changed everything had they gone the other way.

10. Replay reverses Percy Harvin
In week seven, the Packers were 3-3, coming off back-to-back overtime losses and facing former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in prime time.

Trailing 28-24, Favre fired an apparent 35-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone right near the goal post to Harvin with 48 seconds left. The crowd of 71,107 Lambeau Field faithful was stunned silent, and Favre began a jubilant celebration, jumping into the arms of teammates. A second straight win as the enemy in the stadium he called home for 16 seasons appeared imminent.

Upon further review, however, Harvin got only one foot down in bounds, and the call was reversed.

The Vikings didn’t score, and the Packers won the first of four straight to climb into playoff contention. Replay saved the day and a potential loss that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to swallow.

9. Charles Woodson dives for six
In week four, the Packers led the Lions 21-14 as the third quarter began. Detroit backup quarterback Shaun Hill was on fire, completing 21 of 26 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and taking the ball to start the second.

Enter Woodson, who was called for pass interference against receiver Calvin Johnson on the first snap of the half. Two plays later, Hill went that way again, only this time the throw was behind Johnson and Woodson read it all the way.

He made a diving interception, got up and with a convoy of blockers ran 48 yards for a touchdown, diving across the goal line for a snapshot that made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Those were the last points the Packers would score, as the Lions kicked four field goals and Green Bay barely held on for a 28-26 win.

8. Michael Vick stopped on fourth-and-one
In the season-opener, the Packers hadn’t prepared for Vick but were forced to deal with him after Philadelphia starter Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

The Eagles trailed 27-10 in the fourth quarter, but as Vick’s career was being reborn with 175 yards passing and 103 rushing in a rousing comeback, the Packers were just trying to survive.

Now 27-20, Vick had the Eagles at the Green Bay 42-yard line, facing fourth-and-one at the two-minute warning. From the shotgun, Vick tried a keeper off the left side, but linebacker Clay Matthews beat a pair of Philadelphia blockers at the point of attack to blow up the play as a host of Packers piled on for the stop and the win.

7. Aaron Rodgers fires Super missile to Greg Jennings
Six minutes from a championship, the Packers had a lead but seemingly no momentum. The Steelers had just scored a touchdown to get to within 28-25, and a sack and false start on the ensuing series put Rodgers in third-and-10 from his own 25. Punting from deep in their own territory might have doomed the Packers.

Lined up in the left slot, Jennings got the slightest of steps on cornerback Ike Taylor on a post route. Rodgers fired and as the ball whizzed past Taylor’s fingertips, Jennings snagged it and was upended by safety Troy Polamalu after a 31-yard gain.

If it wasn’t the best throw of Rodgers’ career, it’s in the discussion. The Packers went on to drive for a field goal to help hold off the Steelers.

6. The Miracle at the New Meadowlands
With many of the Packers players and coaches on the bus en route from their hotel in Providence, R.I., to Gillette Stadium for that night’s game against the Patriots, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson capped a comeback for the ages that helped the Packers considerably in the playoff chase.

Jackson’s 65-yard punt return on the final play of the Eagles-Giants game finished Philadelphia’s rally from a 21-point deficit in the final eight minutes. New York’s loss, combined with Tampa Bay’s defeat moments earlier in overtime against Detroit, put the Packers in control of their own playoff destiny despite falling to New England later that night.

Green Bay’s players weren’t even fully aware of the situation until after the game. Frustrated and dejected at having come up 15 yards short of the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots, many of the Packers thought their season might be over.

As media entered the postgame locker room, however, and began relaying the news that the Packers would make the playoffs with wins in their final two games, there was hope. There was plenty of it, as it turned out.

5. Charlie Peprah keeps Bears within reach
Needing to beat the Bears in the regular-season finale to get into the playoffs, the Packers trailed 3-0 when Chicago’s Charles Tillman picked off Rodgers’ first pass of the third quarter and returned it to the Green Bay 15.

The Bears looked certain to add to their lead. Holding them to a field goal would have been big. Peprah’s interception was huge.

Following a holding penalty, the Bears faced third-and-19 from the 24 as quarterback Jay Cutler tried to force a deep throw to a double-covered Johnny Knox in the end zone. Peprah slid over for an easy pick, and the deficit remained just three points.

That wasn’t, however, the only season-saving play in this game.

4. Nick Collins secures a playoff spot
The Packers used Peprah’s interception to spark a 10-point rally, and they led 10-3 as the Bears – who had nothing at stake playoff-wise but played their starters the whole game in an attempt to knock the Packers out of playoff contention – put together one final drive.

Starting from their own 2, the Bears marched 66 yards to the Green Bay 32. With 20 seconds left, Cutler tried to go deep over the middle to Devin Hester but overthrew him and Collins was there for the playoff-clinching pick.

3. Sam Shields seals the NFC title
The Bears’ attempt to keep the Packers out of the playoffs proved prescient because the NFC North rivals met again three weeks later at Soldier Field with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Rallying from a 14-point deficit in the final six minutes, the Bears were within 21-14 and faced fourth-and-five from the Green Bay 29 as the clock ticked under a minute to go. Knox ran a deep route along the left hash but Shields, knowing he had help from Collins over the top, stayed underneath Knox. Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie’s throw came right to him for Shields’ second interception of the game.

With nothing to gain, Shields made the rookie mistake of trying to return the pick as the coaches and players along the Green Bay sideline screamed and gestured for him to hit the deck. He finally did with 37 seconds left and the Packers were headed to Dallas.

2. Rashard Mendenhall coughs it up
The Steelers were trying to pull off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Down 21-3, they had climbed to within 21-17 and looked poised to score again, with second-and-two at the Green Bay 33 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Mendenhall, averaging 5.1 yards per carry to that point, took a handoff to the right and looked to cut back to his left. Defensive end Ryan Pickett, at the urging of teammate Matthews just prior to the snap, got penetration to the inside and took away the cutback lane. Matthews lowered the boom with a big hit to the midsection, the ball popped out and linebacker Desmond Bishop recovered.

The Packers responded with a 55-yard drive for a touchdown to reclaim a two-score lead, and the Steelers never got any closer to completing their comeback.

1. Tramon Williams leaps for high pass in single bound
The NFC Wild Card game was the first playoff contest, but it just as easily could have been the last.

With Vick bringing the Eagles from behind again, the Packers were protecting a 21-16 lead. On first-and-10 from the Green Bay 27 with under a minute left, Vick went for it all.

Rookie receiver Riley Cooper slow-played a go route at the line of scrimmage and then took off up the far sideline, but Williams wasn’t fooled. He stayed with Cooper and turned his head at just the right moment to see that Vick’s pass was slightly underthrown.

Had he not reacted to the ball, Williams might have run past Cooper or run over him in the end zone for pass-interference to put the ball on the 1-yard line. Instead, he timed his leap perfectly, hauled in the throw, and the Packers’ magical playoff run was underway.

TO SEE THE ACCOMPANYING VIDEO OF ALL 10 PLAYS, CLICK HERE.

Mike Spofford is a 1995 Masters graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who worked as a sports reporter for two daily newspapers in Wisconsin. Spofford has been a packers.com staff writer since 2006.

 
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