Kenbrell Thompkins, Jabari Greer

2013 NFL Season in Review: A Look Back At The 10 Best Games of The Year

Kenbrell Thompkins, Jabari Greer

With the 2013 NFL season now officially in the books, there’s no better way for fans and players alike to fill their football voids than by reflecting on an action-packed year which was filled with shocking finishes and few certainties.

In ranking the best games of this past season, unfortunately, some exceptional matchups barely missed the cut. And it can be painful to omit riveting performances, but the large number of worthy selections here is a stark contrast to the small sample from my recently-published top 20 Super Bowls of all-time article, which featured some snooze fests before the turn of the century rolled around.

After sifting through 512 games from this past year, I’ve narrowed them down to the 10 best for viewers. Enjoy, and feel free to comment on my selections.

#10: Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens (Week 14)

Score: Ravens 29, Vikings 26

Game in a nutshell: After three dull quarters and only 13 combined points, Baltimore and Minnesota suddenly exploded in the fourth for 42 points in the final 15 minutes.

A snowy day at M&T Bank Stadium ended with five touchdowns in the final 2:05 and featured the most fourth-quarter lead changes in NFL history. That in itself makes this game list-worthy.

Flacco may have had a fall from grace-type season after wining Super Bowl XLVII MVP, and Pro Football Focus’ grade for the year ranked him 23rd out of 28 passers. However, his strong arm and clutch late-game performances in this game and at Detroit kept the Ravens’ title-repeating hopes alive for a bit longer.

And I’m still not sure how Marlon Brown got his feet down on the game-winning touchdown with just four seconds remaining (see below).

Lasting images:

GIF via The Big Lead

Word from Twitter:

What made this game special: The first three-and-a-half quarters of the game underwhelmed, but the absurdly frenetic nature of this finish and its life-or-death ramifications on the Ravens’ playoff hopes nearly outweigh the fact that they would still go on to miss the postseason.

A surprising stat line from this game is that these two physical teams combined for only seven rushing first downs, on a snow-filled afternoon, mind you.

#9: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (Week 12)

Score: Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)

Game in a nutshell:
When Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off, the public is usually treated to an aerial slugfest. However, Manning passed for only 150 yards (to Brady’s 344) in this game, and the Broncos instead rallied behind Knowshon Moreno’s 37 carries for 224 yards.

Despite losing fumbles on each of their three opening possessions in the game, which Manning parlayed into a 24-0 lead, Brady came out of the half on fire and rallied his team back to push the game into overtime. But it didn’t come down to a Brady-Manning battle of wits in the extra session. Rather, a turnover when Wes Welker failed to signal Tony Carter away on a punt deep in Broncos territory (see below).

Lasting images:

punt turnover

GIF via FanSided

Word from Twitter: 

What made this game special: The 14th meeting between the two veteran quarterbacks went to  overtime, and nearly ended in a tie. And Brady’s 24-0 comeback was nothing short of spectacular.

The Broncos also exposed the Patriots defensive front in this game, gashing them for roughly six yards per carry on the evening, even in the loss. And they used this information roughly two months later to return the favor and get revenge in the AFC Championship Game.

#8: Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 14)

Score: Dolphins 34, Steelers 28

Game in a nutshell: A back-and-forth battle between two desperate squads competing in the AFC playoff race ended on an incredibly well-executed stretch of laterals. However, the potential-game-winning TD in the final seconds was called back as Antonio Brown just barely tapped his foot on the sideline while evading the final defender inside the 15-yard line.

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What made this game special: AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, separated by only 240 miles, headlined a 1 p.m. ET slate in Week 14 that surpassed any regular season stretch this season. Neither they nor Miami would reach the postseason, but this 67-yard play—spanning sideline to sideline after five laterals—once again proved the Steelers have a knack for rising to the occasion with their backs against the wall.

#7: New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots (Week 6)

Score: Patriots 30, Saints 27

Game in a nutshell: Brady had struggled for most of the second half in this game—and during much of the 2013 season leading up to that point as well—but New Orleans gave one of the best quarterbacks of all-time too many chances. After consecutive Saints drives failed to yield a first down, Brady took New England 70 yards in 1:08, capped off by a 17-yard TD pass to UDFA rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with just five seconds remaining in the game.

Lasting images:

GIF via GridironGrit

Word from Twitter:

What made this game special: New England had mustered just six second-half points when Brady got the ball back with 1:13 remaining.

After Kenny Stills hauled in a 34-yard touchdown grab, and the Patriots turned the football over on consecutive drives (downs, INT) late in the fourth quarter, it felt like the Saints were clearly going to emerge as victors. But then Brady awoke from his slumber in spectacular fashion, and found a way to win the game, as great quarterbacks often do.

#6: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts (Week 7)

Score: Colts 39, Broncos 33

Game in a nutshell:  Manning’s triumphant return to Indianapolis was a game for the ages. He was well received by Colts fans, and received a very kind ovation before kick off. But Luck and the young Colts team were looking to play the role of spoilers, and did.

Gamblers were beginning to line up and buy betting tickets in Las Vegas, putting their faith in the six-win Broncos to finish the season undefeated. That all ended Sunday night as Andrew Luck and Co. spoiled Manning’s return to Indy with a balanced offense and timely turnovers. And no one has a knack for takeaways in the most timely moments quite like Robert Mathis, who unloaded on his former teammate (see below).

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What made this game special: It was hard to remember what it looked like to see the Broncos lose, and they almost came back late after scoring two touchdowns in three minutes to cut the deficit to six points. The fact that it was Luck’s squad beating their former franchise QB set the perfect narrative, and Manning’s late charge to make the game interesting provided the drama on Sunday Night Football.

#5: Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions (Week 8)

Score: Lions 31, Cowboys 30

Game in a nutshell: Calvin Johnson hauled in 14 catches for 329 yards (!), and was key in the Lions final game-winning drive. Johnson was responsible for more than half of the 80 yards the Lions amassed in just over a minute on their drive, capped off by Matthew Stafford’s spin on an old Dan Marino classic—faking the spike before scoring the game-winning touchdown.

The Cowboys had a 27-17 lead with six minutes remaining in the game, and blew it. This epic chokejob cost Dallas an NFC East title win, and equated to their third straight 8-8 season.

Lasting images:

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What made this game special: The Lions win probability sank to 0.5 percent at one point late in the game, as they had to go 63 yards with roughly 30 seconds remaining for the game-winning score. Yet Monte Kiffin’s defense still found a way to blow the lead.

Also, Twitter and the blogosphere erupted with many #hottakes following this game, before we knew what Dez Bryant actually said—from calling him a child to branding him the next Terrell Owens. This is an example of why a watchdog needs to pull a Rudy Giuliani and clean up the Twitter streets. In-game tweets can produce an overflow of hot garbage even on a well-curated timeline.

#4: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (Wild Card Round)

Score: Colts 45, Chiefs 44

Game in a nutshell:The legend of Andrew Luck was officially born after this game, as the young QB won his first career playoff matchup. And he did it in style, coming back from 28 points down in the second half.

Alex Smith and the Chiefs WRs nearly buried the Colts by halftime, benefiting from some missed tackles and blown coverages to give receivers ample real estate after catching the football.

But T.Y. Hilton was unstoppable in this game, hauling in 13 catches for 224 yards (2 TDs). The Luck-to-Hilton hookup absolutely torched KC’s once-vaunted defense for big plays, until the Colts finally pulled ahead with 4:21 remaining in the game. And when Donald Brown’s goal-line fumble miraculously turned into a Luck scoop-and-score in the beginning of the fourth quarter—cutting the lead to just three points—Chiefs fans sank in their chairs.

Lasting images:

Word from Twitter:

What made this game special: Luck was able to rally his team back from a 28-point rally in the second half. This was the largest of his eight career fourth-quarter comebacks—on pace to catch Peyton Manning’s record mark by 2021—especially if the Colts continue to struggle immensely in the first halves of games.

#3: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Wild Card Round)

Score: Niners 23, Packers 20

Game in a nutshell:  Who said the warm-weather 49ers couldn’t win in the cold? With a 5-degree temperature at kickoff, many fans enjoyed watching a frigid game from Lambeau Field from home.

With 47.1 million viewers, this epic NFC dogfight drew higher ratings than the Oscars. These two teams have put together some postseason classics in the past, and this year’s subarctic slugfest ranks among the best of them.

The banged-up Aaron Rodgers came out a bit rusty and struggled in the first half. He then looked like his unstoppable self in the second, giving the Packers new life. But it was too little, too late as Colin Kaepernick burned Green Bay with his legs yet again in the game’s final moments, which moved the chains and effectively iced the game (see below).

Lasting images:

Word from Twitter:

What made this game special: Head coaches Mike McCarthy and Jim Harbaugh both entered the game with excellent game plans, and this matchup was close throughout.

Both quarterbacks each came up big in the clutch. Kaepernick’s 98 yards rushing are burned into the minds of Packers fans for another offseason, while Eddie Lacy’s supreme toughness in the cold (forced six missed tackles) bodes well for future postseason appearances.

The most-watched Wild Card round game in NFL history was well worth the time for casual fans as well as die-hards.

#2: Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys (Week 5)

Score: Broncos 51, Cowboys 48

Game in a nutshell: In an electrifying game that featured plenty of offensive fireworks and little defense, Manning tossed five touchdown passes and Tony Romo broke the Cowboys’ single-game record with 506 yards via the air.

Yet it ended all too familiar for Cowboys fans, with Romo coming up just short in the clutch moments of a highly publicized game. A spectacular diving interception by Danny Trevathan put the Broncos in position to win late in the game, and Matt Prater kicked a game-winning field goal with no time remaining.

Lasting images:

GIF via @gifdsports

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What made this game special: For nearly 59 minutes, Romo showed that when he’s on, his ceiling is as high as any QB in the league. His PFF grade that game surpassed any one Manning would attain during the entirety of his 2013 record-shattering season. However, any Cowboys fan that follows the team during the Romo era, knows this story only ends one way.

This game featured 1,039 total yards, with the Cowboys averaging nearly 10 yards per play. And for offensive-minded fans, it was easily the best game of the year.

#1: San Francisco at Seattle Seahawks (NFC Championship Game)

Score: Seahawks 23, Niners 17

Game in a nutshell: The consistent Russell Wilson used his methodical style of play to manage the game and keep the score close throughout. The athletic QB didn’t turn the football over and finished with an efficient 104 QB rating on the day. And the high-risk, high-reward Kaepernick was effective with his legs—rushing 11 times for 130 yards. But he forced a throw into the corner of the end zone to Michael Crabtree when the game mattered most, and should’ve just made the smart decision to toss it away.

“War of attrition” never quite does justice to an NFC West battle, especially if it decides the fate of the conference, as well as clinches home field for the entirety of the NFC playoffs. This game was for all the marbles, as the Seahawks would hold on to win this game as well as Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle came out of the gate slow and started the game on a bad note, after an Aldon Smith strip-sack. But they eventually recovered and outscored San Francisco 10-0 in the fourth quarter, fueled by three forced turnovers. The 49ers nearly gave the Seahawks flashbacks to Matt Ryan’s late-game drive in the divisional round last season. But Richard Sherman finished the job and tipped a pass intended for Michael Crabtree late in the game leading to an interception by Malcolm Smith—only the second pass thrown at the shutdown CB that day.

Lasting images:

Word from Twitter:

What made this game special: Wilson and Kaepernick gave us a taste of what the new breed of quarterbacks have to offer, Marshawn Lynch became the first running back all year to gash the Niners for triple-digit yards and Richard Sherman gave us both GIF and a soundbite for the ages. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion for the third consecutive year. If it’s any consolation: It will go down in history as the “real” 2013 Super Bowl, as Sherman said after Seattle absolutely dominated Denver.

Oddly enough, both offenses produced exactly 308 yards on the day. This game was as close as the yardage dictated and played out as an old-fashioned, grind-it-out divisional battle.

Thomas Emerick

About Thomas Emerick

Merry freelancer. NFL Lead Writer at The Sports Daily, Contributor to Sporting News. May have also seen my work at USA Today, Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and the late AOL FanHouse. VT grad. I am also an avid diabetic.