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The NFL’s top 10 games this season

Times NFL writer Sam Farmer looks at the 10 most memorable and pivotal games from the 2009 season:


FOR THE RECORD: An article listing the top 10 moments of the NFL season in Tuesday’s Sports section referred to the 1996 Bowl Championship Series title game between Texas and USC. That game was played in 2006.


Like Old Times

10Think Brett Favre magic is a thing of the past? Not so fast. In a Week 3 game against San Francisco, Minnesota’s Favre fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis with two seconds to play for a 27-24 victory at the Metrodome. It was Favre’s 42nd career comeback from fourth-quarter deficits or ties. “It’s hard to even recall all of ‘em,” he said. “This one was pretty special.” For the Vikings, it was validation that all those on-again, off-again Favre flirtations had paid off.

The Big Chill

9Favre played plenty of great games at Lambeau Field, but none quite like this one. He made his return to Green Bay wearing the purple of the hated Vikings, and left with a 38-26 victory that included four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Even Favre might have been surprised by the sheer volume of the boos, but it made sense to him. “Packer fans cheer for the Packers first,” he said. “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.’ ”

The Longest Yard

8New England Coach Bill Belichick gambled and lost in a Week 10 game at Indianapolis. The Patriots, leading by six points, needed a first down to clinch the victory, and Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and two from his 28 with 2:08 remaining. It was a stunningly bold call, and sent the message that the Patriots coach didn’t trust his defense to stop Peyton Manning. A short pass to Kevin Faulk wasn’t enough -- he was tackled just short of the first down by safety Melvin Bullitt -- and Manning came back to win with a short touchdown drive. Said Belichick: “I thought we could make a yard.” They did. But they needed two.

Die Hard

7No team could match the turnaround of the Tennessee Titans, who lost their first six games before switching quarterbacks (from Kerry Collins to Vince Young) and winning eight of their last 10. The most dramatic of those victories came in Week 12 against Arizona. Young won it with an 18-play, 99-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt as time expired. It was shades of the 1996 Bowl Championship Series title game between Texas and USC, because it was once again Young versus Matt Leinart, who was filling in for Kurt Warner.

Mr. Wrong

6When Chicago traded for Denver’s Jay Cutler, the Bears thought they’d finally gotten their franchise quarterback. If his first season in the Windy City was an indicator of things to come, the Bears had better keep looking. He finished with 27 touchdown passes but also a league-high 26 interceptions, including four in his debut. His worst game came in Week 10 when he had fives passes picked off in a 10-6 loss at San Francisco. The five interceptions were the most by a Bears quarterback since Zeke Bratkowski’s seven in a loss to Baltimore in 1960.

The Perfect Storm

5In a move that left frustrated Colts fans lamenting what could have been, Indianapolis Coach Jim Caldwell essentially gave up on the possibility of a “perfect” season by pulling Manning during the third quarter of the regular-season home finale against the New York Jets. The Colts were 14-0 at the time, and had a five-point lead. The Jets feasted on the mistakes of untested replacement quarterback Curtis Painter and won pulling away, 29-15. Hometown fans were livid. “I don’t blame them a bit, man,” Colts center Jeff Saturday said. “I probably would have booed, too. I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games, and we didn’t get it done.”

The Green Mile

4Who could have predicted the Jets would get as far as they did? Even first-year Coach Rex Ryan mistakenly thought his team had been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention before they actually made the playoffs. The most dramatic victory was their last one, when the Jets rolled into San Diego and shocked the Chargers, 17-14, in a divisional playoff game. San Diego, which had won 11 games in a row, didn’t get help from Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding, who missed three field-goal tries. The Jets advanced to their first AFC championship game since 1998 with a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez), running back (Shonn Greene), and coach.

High Noon

3Hard to believe, but the highest-scoring playoff game in history was decided by defense. In an unforgettable shootout in the desert, Arizona beat Green Bay in overtime, 51-45, when Karlos Dansby returned an Aaron Rodgers fumble 17 yards for a touchdown in sudden death. Warner, playing in what would be the last home game of his career, matched his career best with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers, making his first playoffs start, threw for a postseason-record 422 yards and four touchdowns. “That,” Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “is probably one of the best games ever played in the playoffs.” Yeah, but he won.

Miracle

2Aints no longer, the New Orleans Saints reached their first Super Bowl when Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime to beat Minnesota, 31-28. Statistically speaking, the Vikings had a far better game. But the Saints collected five turnovers, and beat the stuffing out of Favre, to pave the path to Miami. The Saints started 13-0 but lost their last three games. That made New Orleans the first team to reach the Super Bowl despite starting the postseason with a losing streak of three or more games. “The city is on its way to recovery, and in a lot of ways has come back better than ever,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’ve used the strength and resiliency of our fans to go out and play every Sunday and play with the confidence that we can do it, that we can achieve everything we’ve set out to achieve.”

As Good As It Gets

1Who Dat Nation rejoices! Making their first Super Bowl appearance in the 43-year history of the franchise, the Saints toppled the favored Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. Brees played a remarkable game, tying Tom Brady’s Super Bowl record with 32 completions and outplaying four-time most valuable player Manning. Cornerback Tracy Porter is the hero of the New Orleans defense, returning an interception 74 yards for a touchdown with three minutes to play and slamming the door on a team looking to win a second ring in four seasons. To a man, the Saints say they weren’t just playing for their team, but for the entire storm-ravaged region. Finally, the Saints can plant their flag atop the NFL’s mountaintop.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer


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