Monday, December 14, 2009

Decade In Review: Top 10 Plays

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be reviewing the decade that was in Steelers football. For many of us, this was the greatest decade in Steelers football we have ever seen. For those of our readers that remember the 70s, this was the second greatest decade in Steelers football.

Despite the disappointing end to the decade, the Steelers won two Super Bowls, went to three AFC Championship games, and won five division titles, putting them up there amongst the most dominant teams of the decade. Only New England won more division titles (7 if they hang on this year), and Super Bowls (3). But Pittsburgh was never accused of cheating.

We'll have a whole series of these, and while we could make quite extensive lists, people love top 10 lists. 10 is a great round number, and it leaves plenty of room for people to debate. Of course, these are just our opinions, so feel free to give us your own in the comments!

If you thought Monday's list was difficult to determine, tonight's was even harder. The Steelers have played over 170 games this decade, each one filled with countless plays. Somehow, we siphoned through all the games and picked, what we believe, are the top 10 plays of the decade. For obvious reasons, this list is heavily weighted towards playoff games, since those are win-or-go-home scenarios.

Honorable Mentions
  • Santonio Holmes 67-yard touchdown to beat the Bengals in Overtime (2006 season)
  • Hines Ward touchdown with 4 Browns defenders around him to pull the Steelers within one score (2002 playoffs)
  • Bryant McFadden breaks up a pass intended for Reggie Wayne in the end zone that would have completed the Colts comeback against the Steelers. Because of McFadden's play, Indy was forced to attempt a field goal, which Mike Vanderjagt missed. (2005 playoffs)
  • Deshea Townsend's pick-six at the end of the first quarter against New England to put the Steelers up 21-3. (2004 season)
Top 10 Plays

10. Jerome Bettis runs over Brian Urlacher
2005 season vs. Chicago

The importance of this game was documented in our "Top 10 Games" post. This might be the run that defines Bettis' career. As the snow was falling and the field got sloppier, Bettis excelled. On this run, Bettis took it off-tackle from 5 yards out, plowed through two Bears, then was met head-on by tackling machine Brian Urlacher. In theory, Urlacher had the advantage. His tackle was perfect form, and he had lower leverage. However, Bettis was more determined, and he plowed through Urlacher, then two more Bears to reach the end zone.

9. Deshea Townsend downs Dallas
2008 season vs. Dallas

The Steelers were dead and buried, but Ben led the offense back against a dominant Cowboys defense to tie the game at 13. With just under two minutes to play, the Cowboys attempted to run the clock out and play for overtime. However, Tomlin opted to use a timeout to try to win the game in regulation. Never one to shy away from a challenge to their offense, the Cowboys came out throwing. Romo's pass was no where near Jason Witten and Deshea picked it off and beat Witten to the corner of the end zone to give the Steelers a 20-13 lead. Not only did this spark the Steelers run through the most difficult part of their 2008 schedule, it also caused the implosion of the Dallas locker room as TO openly criticized Romo for not throwing to him enough, and Dallas limped to the finish, missing the playoffs.

8. Troy Polamalu sends the Steelers to the Super Bowl
2008 playoffs vs. Baltimore

In the 2008 AFC Championship Game, Baltimore had snuck within 2 points and had the ball with three minutes to play. After a LaMarr Woodley sack on second down, Polamalu stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass, cut back across the field, and dashed through the Ravens offense to find the end zone and put the Steelers ahead for good. This was the fifth defensive touchdown of the 2008 season on a Renegade drive, and sealed the deal to put the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

7. Heath Miller rumbles for 87 yards
2006 season vs. Miami

The Steelers longest offensive play of the decade wasn't a Willie Parker run or a Ben Roethlisberger pass. It came at the beginning of the 2006 season when Ben was on the bench coming off an appendectomy. Charlie Batch was in against the Miami Dolphins. Early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers trailing 17-14, Batch hit Miller on a simple out-route. Heath turned it upfield and rumbled 87 yards to the house to put the Steelers ahead 21-14. Incredible play by the best tight end in Steelers history.

6. Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala completes comeback against Browns
2002 playoffs vs. Cleveland

In the second best game of the decade and the best game of the Steelers-Browns rivalry, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala put the icing on the cake by dashing into the end zone from 3 yards out with 50 seconds to play to put the Steelers ahead. The touchdown capped one of the greatest comebacks in Steelers history. It was successful because the Steelers had fought their way back behind the Tommy Gun passing attack, and the Browns were looking pass all the way. When Mike Mularkey hit them with the draw play, they weren't prepared for it and didn't have the defenders in place to stop it.

5. Antwaan Randle El reverse pass to Hines Ward
Super Bowl XL
2005 playoffs vs. Seattle

The play that won Hines Ward the MVP for Super Bowl XL ranks in at #5 on our list. The Steelers had utilized Randle El's running and passing abilities all season, and went to the well one more time against Seattle. Clinging to a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Randle El heaved the ball downfield to a wide open Hines Ward streaking for the end zone. Ward made the catch and jumped into the end zone, giving us the enduring image of our first Super Bowl in 26 years and wrapping up the One For The Thumb campaign.

4. Willie Parker 75-yard touchdown run
Super Bowl XL
2005 playoffs vs. Seattle

The longest run in Super Bowl history came on a 75-yard dash by Willie Parker. Just after halftime, the Steelers went to their bread-and-butter guard-pull play. With Alan Faneca leading the way, Parker busted through the line and dashed to daylight. The play broke open the Super Bowl, giving the Steelers a 14-3 lead. The whole offensive line did a great job of sealing up their blocks, and Parker had to make one move in the hole around Max Starks' block, and he was gone.

3. The Tackle
2005 playoffs vs. Indianapolis

If not for this play, there would have been no Super Bowl XL. The Steelers had the ball at the Colts 1 with a little over a minute to play. However, Indy had timeouts left so Pittsburgh had to run a play. The Bus uncharacteristically fumbled, and corner Nick Harper scooped it up off the turf, taking off for the end zone. He tried to make an inside-outside move on Ben, and as Ben was falling down, he reached out with his right arm, getting just enough of Harper to take him down. In the open field, no one would ever expect Ben Roethlisberger to make that tackle on Nick Harper. But somehow he did, and the Steelers went on to beat the Colts on a missed field goal.

2. Santonio Holmes touchdown catch
Super Bowl XLIII
2008 playoffs vs. Arizona

It was very hard to determine which plays should be #1 and #2. Both plays had an incredible "wow" factor to them and they were both instrumental in the Steelers winning their sixth Super Bowl. The Santonio Holmes catch comes in at #2 because, while it was an incredible play, it happened on 2nd down. Not to belittle what Santonio did. He only made a finger-tip catch while toe-ing the corner with three defenders around him. This one moment is immortalized in the memory of Steelers fans forever as the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. Santonio had four big catches on the final drive that took the Steelers 88 yards to Super Bowl glory.

1. James Harrison 100-yard interception return
Super Bowl XLIII
2008 playoffs vs. Arizona

The longest play of the decade and the longest play in Super Bowl history tops our list. What makes this play so incredible is that it never should have happened. Harrison was responsible for the running back on the play, but instead dropped into coverage. Kurt Warner looked for Anquan Boldin on a quick slant, and Harrison stepped in front of the ball. With the Steelers leading 10-7, a touchdown would have put the Cardinals ahead and given them momentum at halftime. Rather, the Defensive Player of the Year made the play of the decade by intercepting the pass then taking it upfield, getting blocks, running through, over, and around Cardinals before rolling into the end zone as time expired in the half. The mantra that "big players make big plays in big games" was in evidence here, as the Defensive Player of the Year, who was cut 4 times out of college, stepped up and returned the interception 100 yards on the biggest stage of them all.

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