Thursday, January 29, 2015

What if the “Tuck Call” Never Happened?

How one referee’s decision could have radically changed pro football as we know it.

“The Butterfly Effect: This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results.”

-- The Fractal Foundation

“Woodson, showing blitz, Woodson comes, here he is, he’s bearing down on Brady, he caused a fumble, Biekert dives on the ball … the Raiders have the ball!” 

-- Greg Papa, Jan. 19, 2002

January 19, 2002

Referee Walt Coleman returns from the video booth.

“After reviewing the play,” he says to a gasping Foxboro crowd, “the ruling on the field stands … Oakland has possession.”

A chorus of boos, accompanied shortly by a barrage of snowballs, follows. With two minutes left in the game, the Raiders utilize Charlie Garner to plow their way to a first down that effectively ends the game.

A distraught Tom Brady walks off the field, while a disgruntled Bill Belichick glares at the scoreboard, reading “OAK 13, NE 10.”

As the Raiders celebrate a hard fought road victory, Greg Gumble and Phil Simms bring up a Patriots game from earlier in the year  -- a game against the Jets in which an obscure ruling, known as “the tuck rule,” negated a New England defensive turnover.

“You know, for years, Patriots fans are going to rue this game,” Gumble says. “I don’t think fans in New England are ever going to get over this one.”

January 27, 2002

Fueled by last week’s win in the snow, the Raiders jump out to an early 14-0 lead against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. A late touchdown pass to Tim Brown puts the Raiders up 21-7 heading into halftime. The Steelers mount a small comeback, but an additional TD pass, this time to tight end Doug Jolley, ultimately proves the clincher for Oakland. The Raiders win 28-17, securing their first Super Bowl bid in almost two decades.

Over in the NFC Championship Game, the highly favored St. Louis Rams initially struggle against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, but by halftime, “The Greatest Show on Turf” manages to get things rolling with Marshall Faulk. Capped off by three consecutive field goals from Jeff Wilkins, the Rams win 31-20.

February 3, 2002

At the Super Dome, it’s an unofficial “Battle of Los Angeles” as the former southern California squads face off for the Lombardi Trophy. Bucking tradition, the Oakland Raiders, who are 14-point underdogs, choose to be announced as a team in lieu of being formally introduced, position-by-position.

On the very first drive, Rich Gannon connects with Jerry Rice on a 40-yard TD pass. The Raiders D manages to stuff Kurt Warner and the Rams throughout the first half, jumping out to an early 13-0 lead. Eventually, the Rams do warm up, with Isaac Bruce reeling in an 8-yard pass to put St. Louis on the board. A Wilkins FG makes it a 13-10 game heading into the third quarter.

Midway through the third, Charles Woodson intercepts a pass intended for Torry Holt, returning it for a nearly 60-yard touchdown. Making matters worse for the Rams, Marshall Faulk leaves the field before the fourth quarter, apparently suffering from a high ankle injury.

The Rams do manage to score a rushing TD with Justin Watson, but it’s not enough to overcome the Silver and Black onslaught. Gannon hits Rice for another TD with four minutes to go in the final quarter, as Oakland wins Super Bowl XXXVI 30-17.

With his two touchdown receptions, Rice is named MVP. He accepts the award, while draped in a U.S. flag.

An emotional John Madden then makes a call that would soon become iconic: “after the terrible tragedy this country has witnessed, it’s only fitting that the nation -- our Raider Nation -- rises triumphant this evening.”

2002 Offseason 

While rumors run high that Jon Gruden is contemplating leaving Oakland, the Super Bowl winning-coach announces that he will remain with the Raiders for  the 2002-2003 season. Tony Dungy leaves Tampa Bay to accept the head coaching job in Washington, while the Indianapolis Colts recruit Steve Spurrier to replace Jim Mora.

The biggest position change happens just a week before the start of the regular season. Upset with Tom Brady’s preseason performance, Belichick benches the QB in favor of long-time starter Drew Bledsoe.

2002 Regular Season

The Raiders dominant the AFC, cruising their way to a league-best 14-2 record. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers tie for best record in the NFC, each garnering 12 wins a piece.

With dual injuries to Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, the St. Louis Rams incur a disappointing 7 win season, while Dungy’s Buccaneers barely hit .500. A 9-7 Bledsoe led team fail to win the AFC North, as the surprising NY Jets best them by one-game to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts compile a 5-11 record, with the “Spurrier Experiment” deemed a massive failure.

2002-03 Playoffs

In the AFC, the Raiders and Titans receive byes. In the wildcard round, the Pittsburgh Steelers battle back against the sixth-seeded Browns to win on an overtime field goal, while the Jets mercilessly pile points atop fifth-seeded Miami, 41-7.

In the NFC, the upstart Falcons upset heated rival New Orleans, 28-14, while the San Francisco 49ers hold off the N.Y. Giants in a defensive struggle.

In the divisional round, the Raiders breeze past the Jets, while the Titans eke out an overtime victory against Pittsburgh. The Eagles decimate the Falcons, 21-6, while the Packers trounce the Niners, 28-10.

The Raiders have no problem dispatching the Titans, besting Tennessee 48-21 to earn their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Meanwhile, the Eagles scrap by to defeat the Packers, 28 to 21; a fourth and 26 pass with two minutes left in the fourth from Donovan McNabb to James Thrash becomes the most iconic play of the postseason.

Super Bowl XXXVII

It’s a defensive struggle in San Diego, as the Raiders and Eagles duke it out to a 14-14 tie heading into the third. With Rod Woodson picking up a defensive touchdown, Oakland quickly begins to pull away, with Rich Gannon scrambling for a 14-yard TD run early in the fourth. The Eagles manage to put another TD on the board, but it’s not enough to hold off the Raiders offense. Gannon tosses his fourth TD of the game to Tim Brown, as the Raiders win their second Super Bowl in a row, 35-21.

Rich Gannon is named MVP, as the Silver and Black pop the bubbly for the second time in 365 days.

“As good as this team has looked the last two seasons,” John Madden quips, “you’ve got to be thinking this team is going to be a dynasty -- a real force in football for the foreseeable future.”

2003 Offseason

Bill Parcells is named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys … and with him, he gets QB Tom Brady, who is traded to “America’s Team.” John Fox heads to Carolina and Jack Del Rio accepts a coaching gig in Jacksonville, while Tom Coughlin becomes the new coach of the Colts; Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski all announce their retirements.

2003 Regular Season

The Raiders dynasty comes to a halt, as Oakland can muster no better than a 7-9 season, leaving room for the surprising Kansas City Chiefs to take home the League’s best record at 13-3.

Marc Bulger is injured in the first game of the season. Unfortunately for the Rams, Warner isn’t the same player he was in 2001 -- St. Louis finishes the year with a 6-10 record, and miss the playoffs. A preseason injury to Michael Vick also decimates the Falcons chances of regular season success.

The Patriots suffer a devastating loss when Drew Bledsoe is diagnosed with a season-ending injury. They fall to 5-11 on the year, which is the same fate for the Indianapolis Colts. After two years of dismal results, rumors run wild that Peyton Manning -- now considered a draft bust -- will soon be on the trading block.

2003-04 Playoffs

In the AFC, the Chiefs and Titans receive byes. The Dolphins best the Broncos in the wildcard round, while the Ravens demolish Cincinnati.

In the NFC, the Eagles and Packers yet again earn first round passes. In the opening round, the Panthers beat the Cowboys and the Seahawks triumph over the Vikings.

The Titans finally get past the Ravens, albeit barely with a 20-17 victory in the divisional round. The Dolphins, led by Jay Fiedler, utterly embarrass the Chiefs, winning 30-3. Over in the NFC, upsets abound; Jake DelHomme because the first QB to ever defeat Brett Favre at home during the playoffs, while the Seahawks, powered by Shaun Alexander’s legs, bump off the Eagles 28-20.

After being spanked in last year’s AFC game, the Titans knock out the Dolphins 27-14, while the Panthers just barely make their way past the Seahawks, 14-9.

Super Bowl XXXVIII

In a largely defensive struggle, the Cinderella Panthers defeat the slightly favored Titans 21-14. The big hero of the game turns out to be a rather unexpected player -- none other than Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, who wins Carolina the game (and the Super Bowl MVP honors) after he kick returns the ball 86 yards with four minutes left to go in the fourth.

2004 Offseason

As expected, Peyton Manning does indeed get traded … to Washington, where he joins new head coach Tony Dungy. The Chargers select Eli Manning first overall, whom is later traded to the Giants; with the eighth pick in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars pick up Miami (OH) QB Ben Roethlisberger; in turn, the Steelers select WR Reggie Williams with their first round pick. Lovie Smith replaces Dan Reeves as head coach of the Falcons, while Mike Mularkey takes over the Giants. Jim Mora Jr. becomes the new coach of the Bucs.

2004 Regular Season

Two surprise teams -- the Jaguars and the Chargers -- dominate the AFC, each going 12-4. With a 13-3 record, the Philadelphia Eagles walk away with the League’s highest W-L percentage; the runner-ups in the NFC are Atlanta (12-4), and Green Bay (11-5.)

The year’s Super Bowl teams -- the Panthers and Titans -- both finish the season with sub-.500 averages, thanks in no small part to injuries to Steve McNair and Jake Delhomme.

The Patriots finish a disappointing 5-11 in what will be Drew Bledsoe’s last season. The Cowboys and Redskins finish out 8-8, while the Eli-led Giants pull up the NFC East rear with a 6-10 record. With Kordell Stewart hampered by injury, the Steelers compile a League worst 2-14 record -- they are followed by the 49ers, who go 3-13.

2004-05 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Baltimore Ravens bump off the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets barely edge out a win against the 9-7 Buffalo Bills. On the NFC side of things, the Packers crush the Saints while the Seahawks have no trouble with the Vikings, who barely snuck into the postseason with an 8-8 record.

The Ravens, led by Kyle Boller, knock off the highly touted Chargers in an upset, while the Jaguars throttle the Jets, 37-10. The Eagles steamroll the Seahawks, 48-0, while Brett Favre tosses five interceptions in a 28-7 loss to Vick’s Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Donovan McNabb’s Eagles, now with standout WR Terrell Owens, have no problem with the Falcons, besting Atlanta 43-10. And the unthinkable Jaguars run -- led by rookie QB “Big Ben” -- continues with a thrilling OT win against the Ravens, inconceivably giving the Jacksonville Jaguars home field advantage in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XXXIX

In a rainy, mushy evening in northern Florida, both McNabb's Eagles and Big Ben's Jags have difficulties making much headway in the first half. Scoreless heading into the second quarter, the Eagles get on the board first with Brian Westbrook reeling in a 17-yard TD. Josh Scobee kicks a field goal to make it a 7-3 game heading into half-time.

The Eagles get the ball back and immediately, McNabb connects with Owens for a 48-yard TD. Big Ben puts together a long drive all the way to Philadelphia's red zone shortly before the end of the third quarter, but Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala turns the ball over in what would've have been a TD rush for the Jags. Owens reels in one more TD in the fourth quarter, as Andy Reid's Eagles cruise to a fairly facile 28-7 victory.

2005 Offeseason

Following an injury plagued 2004 season, former Super Bowl MVP Rich Gannon announces his retirement. In the NFL Draft, the Raiders acquire QB Aaron Rodgers, while the Green Bay Packers land cornerback Fabian Washington. Bill Parcells steps down as coach of the Cowboys, who is replaced by Bill Bilichick. Nick Saban becomes coach of the New England Patriots; Alex Smith is drafted by the Miami Dolphins.

2005 Regular Season

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints play their home games at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Every single team in the NFC south finishes above 500, with last year's Super Bowl winners Philadelphia finishing last place with a 9-7 record.

The Cowboys and Seahawks finish with league best 13-3 records, while the abysmal New England Patriots, now quarterbacked by Byron Leftwich, finish with an NFL worst 1-15 record; ironically, their sole win of the year came against the eventual AFC East champion Miami Dolphins.

2005-2006 Playoffs

The NFC teams are Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Chicago, New York and Washington. In the AFC, the postseason squads are Jacksonville, Denver, Cincinnati, Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The Rodgers-led Raiders score a big upset over Cincinnati, while the Dolphins steamroll the Steelers. The Giants and Redskins both win in their wildcard match-ups. In divisional action, Jacksonville defeats Oakland while Miami bests Denver; the Cowboys defeat the Giants, while the Seahawks scrape by the Redskins. In the championship games, Jacksonville beats Miami for their second Super Bowl appearance; meanwhile, the Seahawks beat the Cowboys 17-14, when Tom Brady bumbles a snap on the last play of the game -- a field goal attempt that would've sent the game to overtime.

Super Bowl XL

With Shaun Alexander putting on a record-breaking year, the Seahawks are dealt a crushing blow when their star RB is injured early in the first quarter. With a snakebit offense, Big Ben's Jags begin a slow rout of the Tim Hasselback-lead Hawks. At halftime, the score at Ford Field is 21-0 in favor of the Jags; with five touchdown passes, Big Ben is named Super Bowl MVP, as Jacksonville crushes Seattle 42-10 to earn their franchise first Lombardi trophy.

2006 Offseason

Jay Fielder becomes the new QB of the Patriots. Warren Sapp retires, as Jon Gruden leaves Oakland for Tampa Bay. Sean Payton becomes the new coach of the Raiders, while the Saints pick up Rex Ryan. Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber both announce their retirements.

2006 Regular Season

The Saints and Bucs duke it out for control of the NFC South, while the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys slug it out all season long for the NFC East crown. The Chicago Bears end up the only team in the NFC Central with a winning record, while every team in the NFC West finish with .500 or lower records.

The Jags once again win the AFC South, while the Raiders win the AFC West. The surprise Jets take the AFC East from the Dolphins on the last game of the season, while the resurgent Ravens win the AFC Central.

2006-2007 Playoffs

In wildcard play, the Cowboys knock off the Bears while the Bucs annihilate the 8-8 Rams. The Chargers upset highly favored Raiders in Oakland, while the Ravens easily ward off the Miami Dolphins in Maryland.

The top-seeded Saints conquer the Bucs in a thrilling double OT game, and the Cowboys run all over second-seeded New York. The Jags best the Chargers and the Ravens handily defeat the Jets. The next week, the Jaguars top the Ravens for their third consecutive AFC championship, while the Cowboys defeat the Saints at the Super Dome on a season-ending INT TD in overtime.

Super Bowl XLI

It's Tom Brady's Cowboys up against Big Ben's slightly favored Jags down in Miami. Julius Jones and Marion Barber III pick up a rushing TD a piece, as the Cowboys take a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. However, Big Ben fires back with two consecutive TD passes to make it a 17-14 game headed into the fourth. Brady connects with Terrell Owens to give the 'Boys a 21-17 lead with four minutes left in the fourth, but improbably, the Jags march down the field and light up the scoreboard with a Reggie Williams TD with just thirty seconds left in the game. A hail mary from Brady fails, as the Jags win their second Super Bowl in a row 24-21.

2007 Offseason

The Packers select their QB of the future with Jamarcus Russell, who is taken first overall in the 2007 draft. The Falcons select Georgia Tech standout Calvin Johnson second overall. The Patriots pick up Tony Romo, as Nick Saban jumps ship back to the SEC -- the Pats coaching vacancy is filled by Bobby Petrino. Wade Phillips becomes the new Steelers coach, while Mike Tomlin joins the Vikings.

Seeking to build the ultimate team, Jerry Jones brings in Randy Moss to complement the Cowboys aerial threat. Dallas winds up trading three draft picks to acquire Ladanian Tomlinson from the Chargers.

2007 Regular Season

The Cowboys go on the warpath, winning 15 out of 16 games -- their only loss coming at the hands of Peyton Manning's Redskins, who finish second in the NFC East. The Bucs dominate the NFC South, as Joey Harrington struggles to lead the Falcons, sans Mike Vick, who is arrested on drug trafficking charges before the start of week three.

The AFC is absolute bedlam, with long-time losers Buffalo, Cleveland and Indianapolis (now led by Vince Young) winning their respective divisions. The Raiders are the top seed in the AFC -- wildcard teams are Denver and Pittsburgh. Expected by many to make a run for a third consecutive league championship, the Jags finish 8-8 and miss the postseason altogether.

2007-2008 Playoffs

NFC teams are Dallas, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington and Chicago. AFC teams are Oakland, Cleveland, Indy, Buffalo, Denver and Pittsburgh. In wild card play, the Steelers -- now led by Steve McNair -- knock off the heavily favored Colts while Buffalo, led by Trent Edwards, knock off the Broncos. Upsets abound in the NFC, as lower seeds Washington and Chicago knock off Minnesota and Seattle, respectively.

The Cowboys stomp Chicago, 48-0, while the Redskins upset the heavily favored Buccaneers. The Steelers shock Oakland with a 26-13 victory in the Black Hole, while Buffalo surmounts Cleveland in a snowy, sloppy divisional match-up.

In what becomes immortalized as "Upset Sunday," the surprise Steelers best the Bills in Orchard Park and the Redskins, an 18 point underdog, sneak past the Cowboys on a last second field goal.

Super Bowl XLII

Powered by running back sensation Devin Hester, the Steelers jump out to an early 14-0 lead in the desert. However, Peyton Manning connects with James Thrash and Brandon Lloyd to knot things up heading into the second half.

The Skins strike first, with Clinton Portis rushing for a four yard TD. However, Hester breaks loose on the next possession for Pittsburgh, rumbling for a 64 yard TD run. In the fourth, Manning threads the needle to Santana Moss twice, giving the Redskins an eventual 35-28 victory over Pittsburgh. With four touchdown runs, Devin Hester becomes the first Super Bowl MVP since Chuck Howley to play on a losing squad.

2008 Offseason

The Atlanta Falcons draft QB Joe Flacco, while the Baltimore Ravens pick up Matt Ryan. Kurt Warner returns to the St. Louis Rams, who are now coached by Ken Whisenhunt. Brett Favre announces his retirement in February, only to sign with the Giants in July. As a result, Eli Manning packs his bags and ends up becoming the new QB in Indy.

2008 Regular Season

The Steelers nearly run the table, going 15-1 and recording the league's best overall record. Over in the NFC, it's a slugfest all season long, particularly in the eastern division, where the Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles and Giants all finish within one game of each other. The Packers, led by Jamarcus Russell, record a league worst 1-15 record; the Detroit Lions, powered by new QB Vince Young, record their best season in ages, going 8-8 and falling a game short of making the playoffs.

2008-2009 Playoffs

Pittsburgh and Miami receive byes in the AFC, while the Redskins and Bucs receive byes in the NFC.

In the wildcard round, the Jaguars knock off the Raiders while the Colts survive a scare from Baltimore. Meanwhile, the Cowboys knock off the Bears and the Rams triumph over the Falcons.

Pittsburgh wins a wild overtime dual against Indianapolis and the Jaguars topple Miami. The Cowboys get past hated rivals the Redskins and the Rams shellshock the Bucs, 37-0. In the championship games, the Steelers just barely squeak past the Jags and the Rams, on a last second pass, upset Dallas 35-28.

Super Bowl XLIII

Once again led by Steve McNair, the Steelers got the ball moving early, scoring on their first two possessions. They manage to put another TD on the board before the first quarter is over, making the game a 21-0 early route against St. Louis.

In the second quarter, however, Kurt Warner comes alive and hits new receiver Anquan Boldin for the Rams' first points of the game. Followed by a Steven Jackson rushing TD, the Rams close the gap to 21-17 at halftime.

Following a controversial concert performance in which Bruce Springsteen briefly exposed his genitals, the Rams take the lead after Warner connects with Torry Holt on a blistering 69-yard pass. A pair of TDs to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, however, give Pittsburgh a 35-24 lead heading into the fourth. A late pick six for Tyrone Carter drives the dagger through the heart of the Rams, as Pittsburgh coasts to their fifth Super Bowl championship.

2009 Offseason

Kurt Warner and Steve Mcnair both announce their retirements. So does Brett Favre, who then announces he has signed with the Bears less than three weeks later.

With the first pick in the NFL Draft, the Vikings select QB Matt Stafford, while the Seahawks land Mark Sanchez. Michael Vick becomes the starter for the NY Jets. Rex Ryan is named the new head coach of the Denver Broncos, as Jim Mora  takes over the Saints.

2009 Regular Season

The Cowboys and Bears tie for the best record in the NFC, each going 12-4. The Big Ben-commandeers Jaguars and the Alex Smith-led Dolphins finish with the best records in the AFC, with the Raiders and Ravens dominating their respective decisions. Just a year removed from the Super Bowl, neither the Steelers or Rams make the playoffs; the Packers, at 2-14, yet again take home the League's worst overall record.

2009-2010 Playoffs

In the wild card round, the Falcons knock off the Lions and the Seahawks topple the Vikings. Over in the AFC, Aaron Rodgers' Raiders steamroll Cleveland and Matt Ryan's Ravens have no problem dispatching the Chargers.

Brady's Cowboys crush Flacco's Falcons in the divisional round, and Favre's Bears barely squeak by Sanchez's Seahawks. Miami defeats Oakland in double O.T., while the Jags defeat the Ravens on a last second field goal.

In a north Florida vs. south Florida showdown, the Jaguars earn yet another AFC Championship, besting the Dolphins 34-21. The Cowboys go on to defeat the Bears 34-31, with an overtime field goal on their first possession sealing the game -- and an overhaul of overtime playoff procedures the next season.

Super Bowl XLIV

In Miami Gardens, the Cowboys get off to a hot start, with Tom Brady connecting with Terrell Owens on the game's first drive. A follow-up rushing TD by Ladanian Tomlinson gives Dallas a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

Big Ben hits star receiver Santonio Holmes to cut the lead to 7. A pair of rushing touchdowns from Chris Johnson puts Jacksonville ahead 21-14 heading into the third.

It's a defensive stalemate in the third, with both teams unable to move the chains. The Cowboys do manage to hit a field goal, however, to reduce the deficit to 21-17. In the fourth, Miles Austin breaks loose on a 74 TD reception to give Dallas the lead, 28-17. With four minutes to go, Big Ben tosses a costly interception, as Terence Newman takes it all the way to endzone, effectively ending the game. With a final score of 38-20, the Cowboys celebrate their sixth Super Bowl championship, as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick finally get an opportunity to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

2010 Offseason

Sensing the Jamarcus Russell experiment was a massive failure, the Packers take Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft. Ndamaukong Suh gets picked up by the Rams, and Dez Bryant is selected by the Patriots. Tim Tebow goes to the Cardinals, while Aaron Hernandez is picked up by the 49ers. Pete Carroll becomes the new head coach of the Giants.

2010 Regular Season

The New England Patriots powered by Tony Romo's League-best passer-rating, wind up with the best record in the AFC, going 13-3. In the NFC, the Bears and Falcons duke it out for supremacy, with each squad going 12-4 -- Favre's Bears get a first round bye, based on a better in-conference record.  Even with a new QB at the helm, the Packers continue to stagnate, going 3-13. Other teams faring poorly include the 4-12 Ravens, the 5-11 Steelers, and the 6-10 Jaguars, who saw their star QB Ben Roethlisberger sit out the entire season due to neck surgery. With an 8-8 record, the Cowboys miss the playoffs altogether, just one year after winning the Super Bowl.

2010-2011 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Cardinals and Giants upset the third and fourth seeded Eagles and 49ers, after having both lost their previous regular season match-ups with their much-hated division rivals. In the AFC, the Raiders muscle past the Browns and the Colts gallop away from Dolphins.

In the divisional round, the Bears are eliminated by the Cardinals, with Tim Tebow chunking a Hail Mary to give Arizona a thrilling, last second 38-31 victory at Soldier Field. The Falcons are also upset, with the Giants -- once again led by Eli Manning -- decimating Atlanta, 24-10. Over in the AFC, the Patriots survive a scare from the Colts, winning 23-17, as the Cinderella Bengals -- anchored by Jake Delhomme, of all people -- beat the Raiders in O.T.

In what is largely considered the best back-to-back Championship Sunday in modern league history, both Conference title games head to O.T., with Eli's Giants outgunning Tebow's Cardinals and Romo's Pats outlasting Cincy.

Super Bowl XLV

Deep down in Dallas, the Giants get off to an early lead, putting up 14 points in their first two possessions. The Pats fire right back, ultimately jumping out to a 21-14 lead at halftime. With running back sensation Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, the Giants score a set of TDS in the third, which is all the team needs en route to a 31-21 victory.

2011 Offseason 

Peyton Manning shocks the football world by announcing his retirement just a week after his brother is named NFL MVP. Coach changes a plenty follow, with Jason Garrett taking over the Seahawks, Ji Harbaugh heading to Pittsburgh, Pat Shurmur taking over the Broncos and Jeff Fisher taking over the Browns. In the NFL draft, the Ravens select Blaine Gabbert, while the Packers pick up AJ Green. Cam Newton goes to the Bills and Andy Dalton winds up in Tennessee. J.J. Watt becomes an Oakland Raider.

2011 Regular Season

Despite fears of a lockout, the NFL season starts off as planned, with all teams competing in 16 game schedules. After disappointing seasons, the Cowboys and Jaguars both bounce back, with the two locking up the best records in their respective conferences. The Redskins also put in a surprising showing, with new QB Matt Schaub propelling the team to a wildcard berth. After losing the first four games of the season, Tebow is benched in Arizona; Favre is also replaced in Chicago after poor play, as the team immediately jumps back into the playoff race with QB Jason Campbell under center.
The Packers finish with an 8-8 record, but miss the playoffs, as do the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants, who can only muster a 7-9 record. The Jets, Bucs and 49ers all tie for worst win-loss percentage, each dropping 13 games a piece.

2011-2012 Playoffs

In the NFC, the Cowboys and Falcons lock up first round byes, while in the AFC, the Jaguars and Patriots receive byes. In wildcard play, the Redskins destroy the Seahawks, 48-0 and the Bears rout the Lions, 36-3. In the AFC, the Raiders knock off the Browns, 21-10, and the Bengals best the Colts, 13,9.

The Redskins upset the Falcons in the divisional round, and the Cowboys have no problems getting past the Bears. The Raiders defeat the Patriots in overtime, and the Jags easily trounce the Bengals, 48-14.

In a heated contest, the Cowboys manage to get past the Redskins, 24-19, to win the NFC Championship. In an incredibly emotional contest, the Raiders defeat the Jaguars, with Michael Huff returning a Roethlisberger INT 79-yards in overtime to send Oakland to their first Super Bowl since 2004. The game is played just 12 hours after the sudden death of longtime Raiders owner Al Davis.

Super Bowl XLVI

It's Aaron Rodgers against Tom Brady in a shootout in Indianapolis, with each QB racking up three touchdowns a piece in the first half. In the second half, the Raiders take it to the Cowboys, with Darren McFadden running wild for 120 yards and two touch downs in the second a half. A late Dallas TD pass in the fourth makes it close, but the Raiders manage to hold on for a 38-28 victory, and their record tying sixth Lombardi trophy.

2012 Offseason

Brett Favre announces his retirement once more, but this time, he keeps his promise. In the draft, the Jets pick up Andrew Luck while the Bucs select Robert Griffin III. Nick Foles is picked up by the Chargers, with the team trading Drew Brees to the Eagles a few weeks later. Brandon Weeden is picked up by the Broncos, and the 49ers choose Ryan Tannehill. Time Tebow is traded to the Dolphins, and Colin Kapernick winds up as a back-up for the Vikings.

2012 Regular Season

The ferocious Raiders' D and potent offense propels them to a League-best 14-2 record. Over in the NFC, the Cowboys accrue a conference-best 12-4 season, with the Cinderella Buccaneers going 11-5 under rookie sensation RGIII. The Falcons, Cardinals and Texans tie for worst records, with each squad going 3-13. After years of abysmal regular season play, the Packers finally re-enter the playoffs, as do the long-suffering 49ers.

2012-2013 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Dolphins upset the Jags, 30-26, while the Colts fend off the Browns, 13-10. In NFC play, the Packers best the Lions while the 49ers overcome a large halftime deficit to defeat the Giants.

In the divisional round, Tim Tebow's Dolphins upset the Raiders in the Black Hole, with tight end Kyle Miller reeling in a remarkable one-handed catch with three seconds left in the fourth to give the Fins the victory. Romo's Patriots have no difficulties getting over the Colts, besting them 48-20. In the NFC, the Cowboys crush the 49ers 53-0, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just barely escape from the Packers on a last second field goal.

In the championship games, the Cowboys topple the Buccaneers 34-7, as RGIII exits the game early with a knee injury. In the AFC championship game, the so-called "Miracle Fins" outgun the heavily favored Patriots, with Tim Tebow once again engineering a late fourth quarter drive to give his team the victory.

Super Bowl XLVII

The Cowboys offensive juggernaut gets rolling early, with Tom Brady launching three touchdown passes in the first quarter. Only able to muster a set of field goals, Dallas jumps out to a dizzying 35-6 lead at halftime.

Unfortunately, the game's second half was severely delayed, with a lighting outage postponing play until almost 10 p.m, New Orleans time.

On the opening drive of the second half, running back Adrian Peterson fumbles, allowing a Miami defensive touchdown. Following a special teams fumble on the very next possession, Tebow hits Marlon Moore for a TD, thus cutting the lead down to 35-20. Unbelievably, Tom Brady follows that up with a pick 6 chunked to Bryan McCann, who gallops into the endzone to make it a 35-27 game.

The fourth quarter remains a defensive struggle, with neither team able to put any points on the board. Kicker Nate Kaeding does hit a field goal, closing the gap to 35-30, but Tebow is intercepted by Sterling Moore on 4th and goal, giving the Cowboys their record-shattering seventh Super Bowl Championship.

2013 Offseason

Tim Tebow shocks the sports world when he announces he will retire from pro football, citing his Super Bowl loss as prove that "God wanted him elsewhere." After lengthy Hall of Fame-worthy careers, both Randy Moss and Terrell Owens -- who had anchored the receiving core of the Cowboys for years -- retire. Ray Lewis also calls it quits, and Colin Kapernick's arrest on murder charges stuns the nation. With the first pick of the NFL Draft, the Houston Texans acquire QB Andrew Luck.

2013 Regular Season

A stingy 49ers defense propels them to the top of the NFC West, while the lowly Texans surge to first place in the AFC south. The Falcons, Packers and Broncos also mount comebacks, with each team winning their respective divisions. With QB Andy Dalton in the backfield, the Dolphins fall to a league worst 3-13 record, just a season after their miraculous Super Bowl run.

2013-2014 Playoffs

The 49ers and Cowboys lock up byes in the NFC, while the Patriots and Texans earn first round passes in the AFC. In the wildcard round, the Seahawks upset the Falcons, while the Packers barely get past arch rivals Chicago. Denver gets eliminated by Baltimore, while Cincinnati -- led by out-of-nowhere QB sensation Bruce Gradkowksi -- crush the Raiders.

The Niners edge past the Seahawks in low-scoring affair, while the Cowboys breeze past the Pack. Romo's Patriots defeat the Ravens, while the Cinderella Bengals knock off the heavily-favored Texans.

In the AFC Championship game, the Pats barely overcome the Bengals, winning 20-19 on a last second rushing TD. The 49ers, anchored by Alex Smith, have no problems with the Cowboys, besting their arch nemesis 24-13 in San Fran.

Super Bowl XLVIII

It's the league-best offense taking on the league-best defense, and it's an utter nightmare for the Pats. On the very first play of the game, Romo gets sacked for a safety, breaking his collarbone. Back-up QB Brandon Weeden proceeds to throw three consecutive interceptions, as the 49ers jump out to an unfathomable 30-0 lead at halftime. Things don't improve much in the second half, as the Patriots can only muster a lone rushing TD, in a dazzling 53-7 route at the hands of San Francisco

2014 Offseason

Long-time Jags QB Ben Roethlisberger is traded to the Steelers, while a distraught Tony Romo is traded to Washington -- whom, due to an executive decree from President Hilary Clinton, cannot be called "the Redskins" on national broadcasts. The Dolphins select Johnny Manziel with the first pick in the NFL Draft, with the Bills acquiring Blake Bortles. Eli Manning, Darren McFadden and Michael Vick all announce their retirements.

2014-2015 Regular Season

Controversy rears its ugly head early in the season, with reports alleging Cowboys QB Tom Brady assaulted his wife, Tyra Banks, in a hotel elevator. Despite intense scrutiny from the public, NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell allows Brady to continue playing, until TMZ leaks the raw footage, which appears to show the star quarterback Tombstone Piledriving his spouse repeatedly. Initially given a lifetime ban, the NFLPA overturns the suspension, allowing Brady to miss only three games. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson breaks the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season, as he an defensive MVP Aaron Hernandez anchor a Cowboys squad that loses just one game all year.

2015 Playoffs

NFC qualifying teams are Dallas, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina and Green Bay, and in the AFC, its Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Jets. During wildcard weekend, the Washington 'Skins upset Green Bay, while Seattle has no problems against Carolina, who make the playoffs in spite of an unfathomable 5-10-1 record.  In the AFC, the fifth and sixth seeded Ravens and Jets score victories over the higher-seeded Texans and Bills.

Dallas defeats Washington 20-16, with losing QB Tony Romo claiming, quote, "I'm telling you, those balls sure did feel funny down there." The reigning Super Bowl Champion 49ers best Seattle in double overtime, with Frank Gore going "beast mode" on a 67-yard game winning rush. In the AFC, the Ravens upset number one-seeded Cincinnati, while the heavily favored Broncos fall against the Jets.

For the second year in a row, it's the Cowboys and 49ers dueling for the NFC championship, and this year, Belichick's 'Boys exact their revenge, winning 30-14. Alex Smith, as did Tony Romo before him, also alleges oddities afoot during the game. "I swear," he tells ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, "those balls felt like they were filled with helium or something." Meanwhile, Matt Ryan's Ravens take down Mark Sanchez's Jets in the Meadowlands, with "Matty Ice" tossing four touchdowns in a 48-10 route.

Super Bowl  XLIX

In the suburbs of Phoenix, the heavily, heavily favored Cowboys jump put to an early lead, with running back Adrian Peterson chugging along for an 80-yard TD on the opening drive. However, Matt Ryan responds with three consecutive touchdown passes, as the underdog Ravens go up 21-7 at halftime. A Brady TD pass to free agency acquisition Tony Gonzalez makes it a 21-14 game, but Ravens running back Ray Rice rattles off back to back touchdown runs to give the Ravens a 35-14 lead. The Cowboys manage to net a pair of field goals, but its' too little, too late: the sixth-seeded Ravens defeat the Cowboys, 38-20, with Ray Rice -- whom, a day earlier, was given the NFL Player Association's "Man of the Year" Award -- receiving MVP honors.

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