The Pi-Rate Ratings

December 10, 2013

PiRate Ratings–NFL for Week 15, December 12-16, 2013

Most Exciting Moments, Part II

Last week, we divulged what we thought were the most exciting moments in each of the AFC teams’ history.  Today, it’s the NFC teams’ turn.  Our selection process can talk about one particular play, one particular game, or even a series of games.


NFC East

Dallas: With 32 seconds left in the 1975 opening round playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, it appeared that Dallas was going to lose, as they trailed 14-10 thanks to a late fourth quarter Vikings’ touchdown.


Dallas had the ball at the 50 yard line with time for maybe three or four plays.  Quarterback Roger Staubach dropped back 10 yards and fired deep down the right sideline toward receiver Drew Pearson.  Vikings’ defensive back Nate Wright appeared to have the play well-covered, and Pearson may have pushed off a little.  The ball appeared to have come down on Wright’s leg and carom upward into Pearson’s hands just shy of the 10.  Pearson took the ball in and scampered semi-backwards into the end zone with Wright and Paul Krausse looking on in bewilderment.  The Cowboys won 17-14.  After the game, Staubach admitted that he closed his eyes and said a “Hail Mary” before that play.  Forever, the desperation pass at the end of halves is now called a “Hail Mary.”


New York Giants: This was a close one between multiple options, but we chose the 1956 NFL Championship Game.  The Giants had two legendary coaches, but at the time, they were the coordinators.  Vince Lombardi ran the offense for Head Coach Jim Lee Howell, and Tom Landry ran the defense.


This Giant team was loaded with stars: quarterback Charlie Conerly, halfbacks Alex Webster and Frank Gifford, fullback Mel Triplett, end Kyle Rote, middle linebacker Sam Huff, defensive tackles Rosey Grier and Dick Modzelewski, defensive end Andy Robustelli, defensive back Emlen Tunnell, and even the best pair of kickers in punter Don Chandler and placekicker Ben Agajanian. 


This Giant team was not flashy, and they entered the NFL Championship Game as the underdogs to the Chicago Bears.  The Bears were clearly the best offensive team in the league, highly competent on the ground or through the air. 


During the regular season, these teams played to a 17-17 tie.  So, nobody expected the outcome at Yankee Stadium that day.  It was an icy day, and the Giants did something they had made famous more than two decades earlier—they wore sneakers instead of cleats.  It made a big difference.


Lombardi’s offense came out running the ball early, establishing Triplett inside the tackles, and the Bears began to think “stop the run,” before it was too late.  Lombardi’s game plans typically followed a familiar script—run the ball and control the clock.


Except, Lombardi had a surprise up his sleeve.  He posited that the icy field would make it hard to cover the pass.  Conerly repeatedly found Gifford and Webster out of the backfield for short passes.  A couple of these passes became long gainers when Bears’ defenders could not get proper footing. 


The Giants led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter and 34-7 at the half to win going away 47-7.  It was the last championship until Bill Parcells came along.


Philadelphia: This one was close, with the most famous fumble return in the history of the game narrowly missing out.  The Eagles have not won the NFL title since 1960, and the play of one person must be considered better than the Herman Edwards fumble return against the Giants. Chuck Bednarik was both a center and a linebacker, the last NFL player to go both ways and play 60 minutes per game.  As a center, he blocked better than most both for the run and to protect quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.  As a linebacker, he was one of the best.  He played ferociously, frightening running backs with hits that were delivered like a Mack Truck.


In the 1960 Championship Game, the Eagles led the Green Bay Packers 17-13 with less than a minute in the game, but the Packers were driving for the winning score.  Bart Starr had begun this long march from the Green Bay 35 with less than two minutes to go and had brought the Packers to the Eagles’ 22 yard line.  Out of time outs, Starr dropped back quickly and fired a slant-in pass to fullback Jim Taylor.  Taylor escaped initial contact and cut to the middle of the field inside the 10, looking like he might break free to score.  Bednarik was the last man that could stop Taylor, and the Eagle star came through with the tackle.  He held Taylor down as the gun went off to end the game with the Packers just yards away from winning the game.


Washington: This one was rather easy, although there were some days in the 1960’s where Sonny Jurgensen was the equal or superior of Unitas and Starr.  However, John Riggins’ Super Bowl XVII run has to top everything.  Trailing 17-13, the Redskins had the ball at the Miami 43 yard line.  QB Joe Theismann handed the ball to Riggins on an isolation slant to the left.  The Redskins’ offensive line, known then as “The Hogs,” blasted into the Dolphins’ front and created a nice gap.  Riggins ran into Dolphins’ defensive back Don McNeal about three yard past the line of scrimmage, but McNeal could not even slow Riggins down.  He escaped the attempted tackle and scampered down the left sidelines to touchdown, as Washington took a lead it would never relinquish in winning its first Super Bowl.


NFC North

Chicago:  The Bears have many highlights, but this one is the most obvious of all 32 teams.  Even though we weren’t around when it happened, this is like the 1927 New York Yankees.  The 1940 Bears played Washington in the NFL Championship Game and won 73-0, the all-time biggest score and margin of victory in NFL history.  In a day where teams used the Single Wing, Double Wing, and Short Punt formations, the Bears were the first pro team to use the Straight-T formation. 


Bill Osmanski scampered 68 yards for the first score on the second play of the game.  It was the start of a 382-yard rushing day for the Bears.  Quarterback Sid Luckman attempted just four passes, completing three.  However, the three completions were good for 88 yards and a touchdown, or 22 yards per attempt.


Detroit: The Lions were the defending NFL champions in 1953, but the second consecutive championship in December of 1953 trumps the first.  In 1953, the Lions faced overwhelming favorite Cleveland for the NFL title.  The Browns led 16-10 well into the fourth quarter, when quarterback Bobby Layne began firing missiles to receivers Cloyce Box and Jim Doran.  Layne led the Lions on a final drive, hitting Doran for a 33-yard touchdown pass, as the Lions won 17-16. 


Layne got all the accolades that day as the best comeback player in NFL history.  Teammate Doak Walker said that “Bobby Layne never lost a game; he just ran out of time.  However, the Detroit defense was the real star that day, holding the great Otto Graham to just three completions.


Green Bay:  The Packers have a very rich history with big plays and big games.  The entire 1962 season could be the choice here, as this was the best team to ever take the field.  However, there is one moment that shines above all others—the QB Sneak.


In the infamous “Ice Bowl” game of 1967 that decided the NFL Championship and representative in Super Bowl II, Bart Starr snuck it in over Jerry Kramer’s most famous block of all time to put the Packers back in the Super Bowl against Oakland.


Minnesota: September 28, 1969, found the Vikings entering the day with a 0-1 record after suffering a surprising upset loss to the New York Giants.  The opponent this day was the defending NFL champion Colts, and an 0-2 start might doom Minnesota’s chances to beat out Detroit for the NFL Central division title.


Quarterback Joe Kapp was from the mold of Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote.  He was one tough hombre.  The Vikings’ offense ran through his arm, as the running game had to rely with slow but powerful backs in Dave Osborn and Bill Brown.


Kapp tossed two touchdown passes in the first quarter including a long bomb to the one true speedster on the team, Gene Washington, and the Vikings led 14-0.  After a Colts’ drive for a touchdown, Kapp went back to work and led the purple and white on another scoring drive, culminated by a TD pass to backup wide receiver Bob Grim. 


Late in the second quarter, Kapp guided the Vikings on a short drive that ended when he spotted tight end Kent Kramer open at the goal line for his fourth TD pass in the half.


Kapp did not let up.  Another bomb to Washington made it five TD passes, and then two more to backups gave him seven TD passes on the day as Minnesota blew the Colts away 52-14.


NFC South

Atlanta: The 1998 NFC Championship Game’s best highlight was the missed field goal by the other team’s kicker, so we cannot use that as the most exciting highlight.  We are going to go back to 1973, when the Falcons were on Monday Night Football against the 9-0 Vikings.  This Viking team looked capable of matching the undefeated feat pulled off by Miami the year before.  Fran Tarkenton was now quarterback, and he had a serious deep threat in John Gilliam.  The great Chuck Foreman was in the backfield, and opponents could not expect to stop the Vikings’ passing game without worrying about leaving Foreman open to breakaway runs.


The Falcons were enjoying their best season ever in their short eight year existence.  They were in contention in the NFC West at 6-3, still within striking distance of the 8-2 Los Angeles Rams and tied with Dallas/Washington for the Wildcard spot.


This was Atlanta’s biggest nationally televised game to date, and what better way to appear on the national stage than to have a QB with the official real name of Robert Lee!  Bob Lee had actually been the backup with Minnesota prior to 1973, and he had some payback to give his old team.


After a scoreless first quarter, Lee threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter to lead the Falcons to the locker up 17-7.  The game was decided by then as the teams failed to do much in the second half.  Atlanta knocked off the Vikings to move to 7-3, and they would win the next week to improve to 8-3 and take a one-game lead for the Wildcard.


Alas, a late-season collapse led to a 9-5 finish, missing out on the playoffs by a game.  To add insult to injury, their star running back Dave Hampton topped the 1,000 rushing mark in the fourth quarter of the final game of the year.  The game was stopped, and Hampton received the ball from the carry that topped 1,000.  On the next play, on a sweep, he lost four yards and fell back to 997.  He did not get another chance to carry the ball and became the only player ever to lose a 1,000 yard season.


Carolina: A second year team was not supposed to win its last seven games of the regular season to finish 12-4 and make the NFL playoffs, but the 1996 Panthers did just that.  Now, they were facing the defending Super Bowl champs in the opening round of the playoffs.


It was not flashy, but the Panthers’ defense frustrated Dallas all day.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio sent the kitchen sink with more than a dozen different blitzes against Dallas QB Troy Aikman.  Aikman was sacked just twice, but he tossed three interceptions and forced several other hurried passes.  Emmitt Smith had one big run in the first half, but after that, he was not a threat.


Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins did just enough to lead the Panthers on a couple of extended drives, and kicker John Kasay booted four field goals to put mini-daggers in the backs of the Cowboys.  Carolina upset Dallas to advance to the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay.


New Orleans: Obviously, when a team has won just one Super Bowl, that Super Bowl win must be the most exciting, and the excellent surprise onside kick to start the second half has to be the most exciting play in that game.  However, we actually went with another big moment.


When a kicker with a club foot and only part of a right arm sets the just broken NFL record with a 63yard field goal to win a game, that too could be the most exciting moment in a team’s history, but still we chose something else.


The Saints played their first game in 1967 in a time when expansion teams were not given enough resources and personnel to compete for years.  In fact, New Orleans would go the longest of any expansion team before enjoying a winning season, 21 seasons.


In 1967, opening at the old Tulane Stadium, the Saints hosted what would prove to be the best NFL team in the regular season that year—Los Angeles.  The Rams were heavy favorites, expected to win by more than three touchdowns.


New Orleans had one really good young player on this team—receiver John Gilliam (see Minnesota above).  The Rams did not know much about this rookie, so it was no big deal for All-pro kicker Bruce Gossett to kick to him.  Gilliam took the kick at the Saints’ six yard line and ran straight up the middle untouched.  When he reached midfield, he faded to the left sideline and continue to run with only Gossett to beat.  Gossett was a non-factor, and Gilliam easily sprinted the rest of the way for a touchdown on the very first play of the Saints’ existence!


Tampa Bay: In Super Bowl IIIVII, the Buccaneers were leading the Oakland Raiders 27-3 in the third quarter, when the Raiders started to move the ball.  Raiders QB Rich Gannon attempted a pass over the middle about 15 yards downfield, and defensive back Dwight Smith stepped in front and intercepted the pass.  He took off full speed, and no Raiders could catch him.  The interception put the game out of reach and made the Bucs Super Bowl Champions.  Smith wasn’t finished.  His second interception went 50 yards for a score to cap the scoring, and it came just moments after Derrick Brooks returned an interception 44 yards for a score.  The Tampa Bay defense outscored the Oakland offense 21-15 (The Raiders scored on a blocked punt).


NFC West

Arizona: We go back to 1970 when this team was in St. Louis.  The Cardinals appeared to be the class of the NFL for nearly three months.  At 6-2, St. Louis had just pulled off shutout slaughters over the Oilers and Patriots by a combined 75-0.  They held a one game lead over Dallas, and they were set to play the Cowboys in Dallas on Monday Night Football.


Dallas was a slight favorite, but this Cardinals’ team was peaking at the right time.  A trio of runners, led by MacArthur Lane led a running game that was averaging close to five yards per attempt.  Young quarterback Jim Hart was beginning to show promise that he would live up to the potential scouts believed he had.  John Gilliam (yes that same one already mentioned in New Orleans and Minnesota) offered a speedy target, while tight end Jackie Smith was the best pass receiver in the league at his position.  Defensively, the Cards had the best ball-hawking secondary in the league.  Roger Werhli and Miller Farr were the best cornerback tandem, and Larry Wilson was the free safety in football, and Jerry Stovall was a bone-crushing strong safety.


Dallas coach Tom Landry was trying something new in 1970.  He had time of the top quarterbacks in the league in Craig Morton and Roger Staubach.  Morton had begun the year as the starter, but Staubach was now seeing almost as much time under center.  At one point, Landry alternated quarterbacks on every play.


In this nationally televised game, when Howard Cosell wasn’t dominating the action, the Cards were.  They scored in the first quarter when Johnny Roland returned a punt more than 70 yards.  It would prove to be enough, as the St. Louis defense, especially the pass defense, completely shut down the Cowboys’ offense.  It would lead to an unprecedented in modern day NFL football third consecutive shutout.


Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offense got untracked.  It started when Gilliam ran a reverse that fooled Dallas and went for a long touchdown run.  The score was 17-0 at the half, and St. Louis added three long touchdown drives in the second half to win 38-0.


The Cardinals improved to 7-2 with their second win of the season over the 5-4 Cowboys.  A 3-2 finish would take the NFC East Division.  The Cardinals faced their in-state rival Chiefs the following Sunday.  Kansas City was holding onto a narrow lead in the AFC West, and the two teams fought to a 6-6 tie, making it six points allowed in four games.  The following week, St. Louis beat Philadelphia to move to 8-2-1 with three games to go.  Dallas had won twice to improve to 7-4.


The Cardinals fell apart.  They lost at Detroit, who was contending for a Wildcard spot that they would eventually earn, and fell to 8-3-1, while Dallas won again to improve to 8-4.  They then faced another 8-4 team in the New York Giants.  The winner would own first place in the NFC East.  Fran Tarkenton tore the Cardinals’ defense apart, winning easily.  Dallas won as well, and now St. Louis was a half-game behind both rivals.  Dallas faced a weak Houston team to close out the season, while New York faced a mediocre Rams team.  The Cardinals faced a mediocre Redskins team in DC, needing a win plus losses by both New York and Dallas to win the division.  They also held a slim chance to earn the wildcard, if Detroit lost to the weakest Packer team since before Vince Lombardi took over.

The RFK Stadium scoreboard operator made the scores of those three games as conspicuous as he could.  When both the Lions and Cowboys quickly shot out to big leads, the Cardinals had nothing left to play for, and they lost this one as well to end at 8-5-1.


St. Louis:  There have been big moments for this franchise in four different cities—Cleveland, Los Anglese, Anaheim, and St. Louis.  The great defensive stop against the Titans on the last play of the Super Bowl or Kurt Warner’s long bomb completion to Isaac Bruce after Tennessee had come back to tie the game could have been chosen, but we went with another.


We could have gone with the greatest offensive team in NFL history, the 1950 Rams, who hold an unbreakable team record of scoring 135 total points in two consecutive games, but we still went with another.


We chose the final game of the 1967 regular season as this team’s most exciting moment.  It had been 12 years since the Rams were last in the postseason, and that 1955 game was a losing playoff to break a tie for the Western Conference title.


Through 13 games in 1967, the Rams were 10-1-2, including a convincing win over Green Bay.  However, the Rams found themselves in second place in the NFL’s new Coastal Division.  Their rivals, the Baltimore Colts were 11-0-2.  The winner would make the playoffs, while the loser’s season would end.  If for some reason the teams tied, like they had at the start of the season, Baltimore would win the division.


This had been a big year for football in Los Angeles.  UCLA quarterback Gary Beban had just won the Heisman Trophy, while USC had been named national champion (awarded before the bowls in those days).  Still, the Rams dominated the sports pages, and this game had a build-up like it was the Super Bowl.


Both teams were tight early, and then the Rams benefitted from good field position to get into field goal range.  Their drive stalled at the Baltimore 40, and Coach George Allen sent strong-legged kicker Bruce Gossett into the game to try a 47 yard field goal (goalposts were on the goal line in those days).  Gossett punched the ball forward with his big leg, and the ball cleared the goalpost to give LA a 3-0 lead.


The Colts came charging back and legendary QB Johnny Unitas led Baltimore on a nice drive that ended when he spotted Willie Richardson opened in the end zone.  The Colts led 7-3, but that lead would not last long.


In the second quarter, Rams QB Roman Gabriel spotted split end Jack Snow opened on the perimeter and gave him just enough lead for Snow to catch the ball at full speed.  Snow sprinted all the way to make it an 80-yard touchdown to put the Rams up 10-7.


Now the Rams’ defense began to take control of the game.  The “Fearsome Foursome” front line of tackles Merlin Olsen and Roger Brown and ends Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones began to push back the Colts’ offensive line.  The running game stalled, and Unitas started to be rushed.  Jones, possibly the best pass rusher in NFL history, started to meet Unitas at the pocket when he dropped back.  Unitas ate turf six times over the next three periods and had to rush several other passes.  Two of those passes ended up in the hands of a Rams’ defender.  Linebacker Jack Pardee returned one a long way to set up a short Rams TD drive.  Los Angeles cruised to a 34-10 slaughter to win the Coastal Division.


San Francisco: The 49ers have enjoyed numerous great moments, especially during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Still, there is one play that stands out above all others and has to rank as one of the five most memorable of all time.


In the 1981 NFC Championship Game, there were 58 seconds left in the game, and San Francisco trailed Dallas 27-21.  The 49ers had the ball on the Dallas six yard line after beginning the drive at their own 11 and faced a third down and three yards to go.  Smart money would have bet that San Francisco would have thrown short trying to get the first down and then use their last timeout to give themselves four attempts to score.  49ers coach Bill Walsh had other ideas.


The 49ers came out in a twins set to the right and split backs, giving the appearance that they might run a power play to the left side.  Dallas was in its flex defense, appearing to be playing man-to-man in the secondary.


Quarterback Joe Montana sprinted to the right perimeter with the backs blocking rather than running a pass pattern.  It looked like Montana was looking for Freddie Solomon coming off a pick route with Dwight Clark.  Montana could not spot an open receiver and had to retreat dangerously close to the sideline as two Cowboys’ defenders closed in.


At the last moment before either a sack or the out of bounds line ended the play, Montana launched the ball off his back foot over the outstretched hands of Ed “Too Tall” Jones (6 foot 9) to the back of the end zone; it appeared he was trying to throw it through the end zone to set up a fourth down play.  However, he had practiced a circumstance like this with Clark before.  Clark leapt as high as he possibly could and grabbed onto the ball to score the go ahead touchdown with 51 seconds left and start the 49er dynasty.


Seattle: The Seahawks have been to one Super Bowl, but we believe their most exciting moment came in a different playoff game.


In 2010, Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 record while teams with as many as 10 wins did not qualify for the playoffs.  Because they were a division winner, they benefitted by hosting the best wildcard, which in this case was the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints. 


New Orleans entered the game as a double digit favorite and few fans expected Seattle to keep it close.  And, the Saints made the experts look good quickly, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter.


Riding the arm of Matt Hasselbeck and the legs of Marshawn Lynch, Seattle fought back and took a 24-20 lead at the half.  The second half was more of the same, as the Seahawk offense continued to move the ball equally well on the ground and through the air.


New Orleans did not quit, cutting the lead to 34-30 in the fourth quarter and looking like one more defensive stop would be enough for Drew Brees to lead the Saints on the winning touchdown drive.


Seattle looked to be stopped, facing third and eight from their own 33 yard line.  Coach Pete Carroll was more interested in running as much of the clock as he could before punting to New Orleans, and he did not want to risk an incomplete pass or sack, or worst yet, an interception.  He called for a simple I-formation power run by Lynch.


Lynch took the handoff and veered slightly to the left between the guard and tackle looking to get through the small opening for maybe a four or five yard gain.  Two pancake blocks brought him into the second wave of Saints defenders at the 39.  Lynch sandwiched them and kept his balance as neither could get a clean hit on him.  Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter then had clean chances to bring him down, but Lynch could not be brought down.  Tackle Tyler Polumbus had sprinted down the field with Lynch, and he threw the final block on Roman Harper that sprung Lynch into the end zone for the game clinching score.


The fans erupted with such applause that it registered on a University of Washington seismograph as an earthquake.  Oddly enough, Seattle fans registered multiple earthquakes two weeks ago in their home game against——New Orleans.


This Week’s PiRate Ratings

Current NFL PiRate Ratings






Philadelphia Eagles




Dallas Cowboys




New York Giants




Washington Redskins








Detroit Lions




Chicago Bears




Minnesota Vikings




Green Bay Packers








New Orleans Saints




Carolina Panthers




Tampa Bay Buccaneers




Atlanta Falcons












Seattle Seahawks




San Francisco 49ers




Arizona Cardinals




St. Louis Rams










New England Patriots




Miami Dolphins




Buffalo Bills




New York Jets








Cincinnati Bengals




Baltimore Ravens




Pittsburgh Steelers




Cleveland Browns








Indianapolis Colts




Tennessee Titans




Houston Texans




Jacksonville Jaguars








Denver Broncos




Kansas City Chiefs




San Diego Chargers




Oakland Raiders





This Week’s PiRate Spreads

Home Visitor




Denver San Diego




Atlanta Washington




Cleveland Chicago




Tennessee Arizona




Indianapolis Houston




St. Louis New Orleans




Miami New England




Minnesota Philadelphia




N Y Giants Seattle




Jacksonville Buffalo




Tampa Bay San Francisco




Carolina N Y Jets




Oakland Kansas City




Dallas Green Bay




Pittsburgh Cincinnati




Detroit Baltimore





This Week’s PiRate Playoff Projections


1. Denver

2. Cincinnati

3. New England

4. Indianapolis

5. Kansas City

6. Miami



1. Seattle

2. New Orleans

3. Philadelphia

4. Detroit

5. Carolina

6. San Francisco


Wildcard Round

New England over Miami

Kansas City over Indianapolis

Philadelphia over San Francisco

Detroit over Carolina


Divisional Round

Denver over Kansas City

Cincinnati over New England

Seattle over Detroit

Philadelphia over New Orleans


Conference Championships

Denver over Cincinnati

Seattle over Philadelphia


Super Bowl

Seattle over Denver

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