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Survival Sunday lives up to hype with incredible slate of games

"That (expletive) was nuts!"
-- Philadelphia Eagles guard Todd Herremans

When a team storms back from a 14-0 third-quarter deficit to claim a 34-20 victory, in a late-season battle of division leaders staged amid a blizzard that looks like a scene out of "The Shining," it's safe to say that Survival Sunday has lived up to its hype.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Philadelphia Eagles' 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions from Week 14 on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. ET.

» NFL Network schedule

And when the game in question, an Eagles triumph over the Detroit Lions that featured eight fumbles, two return touchdowns and a franchise-record rushing performance by Philly's LeSean McCoy, ranks as no better than the fourth or fifth most compelling clash of the early slate -- well, it's a very, very good day to be a football fan.

There's a reason the NFL is the predominant American sports league, not to mention the television equivalent of presents under the tree on Christmas morning -- ritualistic, unavoidable and inevitably worth the effort and expense.

During Survival Sunday's nine-game opening act (which, incidentally, followed a "Thursday Night Football" prelude that claimed the first coaching casualty of the year), that meant a topsy-turvy fourth quarter in Baltimore that ranked among the wildest in NFL history, a five-lateral, desperation play in Pittsburgh that came within a couple of inches of mimicking The Play and -- oh yeah -- Tom Brady throwing two touchdown passes in the final 61 seconds to stun the Cleveland Browns in Foxborough.

Other than that, it was kind of an uneventful 45 minutes.

If, thanks to the magic of 21st century technology, you were one of the lucky ones who saw it all play out in a hectic, high-def flurry of excitement, you don't necessarily need me to help you relive it.

I will anyway, however, because, as one veteran NFL coach told me of his own impending efforts early Sunday morning, I'm gonna make it do what it do.

I'm not joking -- this is my job.

"Shoot, after I scored, I thought it was over. Then up and down with each score. No, never (seen anything like it). The weather and how it ended. That was nuts."
-- Minnesota Vikings halfback Toby Gerhart

OK, so Adrian Peterson -- the best running back the NFL has seen since Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson were in their respective primes, and already one of the greatest ever -- went down with a seemingly significant foot injury in the second quarter and later went on a Twitter rant against the snowball-throwing fans at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium and the officiating crew.

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And all of that was an afterthought in the wake of the Vikings' 29-26 defeat to the Ravens, who needed two miracle finishes to improve to 7-6 and remain in position to claim the AFC's sixth and final playoff seed.

This game featured six fourth-quarter lead changes -- the most in NFL history -- and four touchdowns in the final 87 seconds. Yeah, it was that good.

First, Gerhart, doing his best Peterson impression, ripped off a 41-yard scoring run to give the Vikes a 19-15 lead with 1:27 to go. He and his teammates were still celebrating on the sideline when Jacoby Jones took the ensuing kickoff and raced 77 yards for a score, with no footloose-and-fancy-free coach to thwart his efforts, Mike Tomlin-style.

The Vikings got the ball back and, on third-and-10 from their 21-yard-line, Matt Cassel threw a short pass to rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who broke the play open for a scintillating touchdown that should have stood as the highlight of Minnesota's otherwise regrettable season.

Instead, the Vikings' 26-22 lead held for all of 41 seconds. Joe Flacco's 9-yard scoring pass to Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four ticks remaining on the clock completed a stunning sequence that featured more mood swings than "Silver Linings Playbook."

A bit later, as if they were parties to an especially torturous "Punk'd" episode, the Vikings learned that a catering truck had crashed into their charter plane at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, causing a delay that would keep them in the visitors' locker room for several hours.

Good times.

As veteran defensive end Jared Allen put it while sequestered with his frustrated teammates, "Yup -- just that kind of day."

"Ouch."
-- New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, early Monday morning, after seeing a highlight of the Pittsburgh Steelers' five-lateral, last-gasp attempt against the Miami Dolphins

For all of the Steelers' well-documented struggles this season, they had a golden opportunity to stay in the postseason hunt with a victory Sunday against the equally drama-tinged Dolphins. On paper, it should have been an easy endeavor: Subdue the visitors from sunny South Florida at snowy Heinz Field with superior grit and comfort with the elements.

Instead, they wilted, falling behind 34-28. With the clock rapidly ticking down, the Steelers barely got off one, final snap from their own 26 just before time expired -- and then Steeltown became surreal, with the home team seeming to summon some Immaculate Reception-style magic.

It began when Emmanuel Sanders caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger and, 20 yards downfield, flipped the ball to fellow receiver Jerricho Cotchery. He gave it to rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who threw the ball to tackle Marcus Gilbert, who lateralled it back to Roethlisberger.

Big Ben ran to the Pittsburgh 33 before lofting what appeared to be a forward lateral to Antonio Brown. There were no flags, however, as Brown slipped down the left sideline and into the end zone for a spirited but short-lived celebration.

Officials ruled that Brown had stepped out of bounds at the Miami 12 -- if only Tomlin had been there to redirect his path -- and that was that: The Dolphins (7-6) kept pace with the Ravens, while the Steelers (5-8) were left to fantasize about what might have been and start confronting what is sure to be an offseason of organizational uncertainty.

Remarkably, the football gods weren't done providing fantastic finishes.

"I'm speechless. I feel like we won the game. If we recover the onside kick, we win the game."
-- Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson

"We've had so many crazy games this year. Kinda used to it now. Got a great team attitude, always grinding. But that was (expletive) crazy today. It definitely helps having '12' back there."
-- New England Patriots offensive tackle Will Svitek

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New England Patriots' 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns from Week 14 on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. ET.

» NFL Network schedule

"That one stings a little more than usual. We were ready to take a knee. So many crazy endings."
-- Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas

This one was pretty simple. The underdog Browns (4-9) outplayed the Patriots (10-3) for most of Sunday's game, jumping out to a 19-3 lead and pulling ahead 26-14 on a Jason Campbell touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron with 2:39 remaining. And then, it happened: Timely plays, good luck, a fortuitous and controversial call ... and most of all, a man named Brady.

When the likely Hall of Famethrew a 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 1:01 remaining to cut the deficit to five, coach Bill Belichick knew his team would have to recover an onside kick to stay afloat. No biggie: The Pats hadn't done that since Jan. 1, 1995 -- in an AFC playoff game against the Browns, who were then coached by Belichick.

Naturally, Stephen Gostkowski's kick bounced off Cleveland's Fozzy Whittaker and was recovered by New England's Kyle Arrington. Two plays later, Brady threw to Josh Boyce -- Yeah, I know: Who? -- tightly covered in the end zone by Leon McFadden, and a flag for defensive pass-interference was thrown.

To the Pats, this was a welcome payback for the controversial finish they endured in a 24-20 defeat to the Carolina Panthers last month, when tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't get an end-zone interference call after being manhandled by linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Gronkowski wasn't around for Sunday's finish, having suffered a torn ACL and MCL earlier in Sunday's game, which made Brady's subsequent 1-yard scoring pass to Danny Amendola a bit bittersweet. Yet the Pats, who overcame a deficit of 10 points or more to win for the third consecutive week -- making them the first team to accomplish that feat since the 2000 Kansas City Chiefs -- certainly savored their 27-26 victory, which kept them ahead of the North-leading Cincinnati Bengals in the race for the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed.

This being the type of day it was, the Browns didn't succumb without a last-gasp rally of their own, advancing the ball to the New England 40 with one second remaining before Billy Cundiff's straight-as-Tim-Tebow 58-yard field-goal attempt fell short.

And with that, a franchise horribly accustomed to experiencing the agony of defeat was left to deal with that old, sinking feeling.

"I feel so robbed," one Cleveland player said Sunday night. "The Browns should just change their name to Murphy's Law."

For those viewers whose allegiances were less charged, however, Survival Sunday was the gift that kept on giving.

The early slate also included the Bengals' 42-28 victory over the Colts in a clash of AFC division leaders (Indy would back into the AFC South title a few hours later) and the Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) eking out a 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons -- their first in six tries since star quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. If Rodgers can return this week, the Pack is well-positioned to make a run at the Lions and Bears (who host the Dallas Cowboys, locked in a tight NFC East race with the Eagles, on "Monday Night Football") for the NFC North crown.

And the hits kept coming: The late four-game slate featured the San Francisco 49ers' dramatic 19-17 victory over the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks in the second installment of what is currently the league's spiciest rivalry. Oh, and there was also an NFL-record 64-yard field goal by the Denver Broncos' Matt Prater midway through his 11-2 team's come-from-behind 51-28 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans, during which Peyton Manning smashed that whole sucks in the cold narrative to smithereens.

When, in Sunday night's finale, the New Orleans Saints seized control of the NFC South with a resounding 31-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers, it was almost a relief that clarity came early. At that point, there was nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

What a day. What a sport. And what a great time to turn to our three-dozen-minus-four queries that slot the victorious and the vanquished for your argumentative enjoyment:

1) Seattle Seahawks: Which late 49ers run was more ruinous Sunday -- Frank Gore's 51-yarder or Colin Kaepernick's 8-yarder on third-and-7?

2) Denver Broncos: Who was more excited by Prater's record-setting 64-yard field goal -- the guy who kicked it, or the long-haired dude who prays to him in this classic SNL skit?

3) New Orleans Saints: Where has Sean Payton been stashing the real Marques Colston this season -- and how timely was the wideout's reemergence against the Panthers on Sunday night?

4) Carolina Panthers: Did Junior Galette tug on Superman's cape -- and will Cam Newton have a suitably splashy response in Charlotte later this month?

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the San Francisco 49ers' 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks from Week 14 on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

» NFL Network schedule

5) New England Patriots: Yo, Matt Patricia -- do you actually take notes with that pencil behind your ear, or is it just a trend-setting fashion statement?

6) San Francisco 49ers: Was the Niners' victory over the Seahawks their loudest statement since last January's NFC Championship Game -- and will there be a third meeting between the heated rivals?

7) Cincinnati Bengals: What was more embarrassing -- the six missed tackles on this LaVon Brazill touchdown catch, or Jeff Triplette's missed call on this unconscionable replay-reversal that gave BenJarvus Green-Ellis a pivotal touchdown on fourth-and-goal?

8) Kansas City Chiefs: If Andy Reid really wanted to display his regard for Nelson Mandela following Sunday's victory over Washington, shouldn't he have referred to the late South African leader as Madiba?

9) Indianapolis Colts: Is it fair to speculate that rookie outside linebacker Daniel Adongo would have become Mandela's favorite NFL player?

10) Philadelphia Eagles: If Nick Foles is, in fact, the Eagles' quarterback 1,000 years from now, can we take heart in the fact that he'll only be slightly less mobile than he is today?

11) Dallas Cowboys: Do you prefer Jerry Jones' pet name for tampering, or Naughty By Nature's (and mine)?

12) Arizona Cardinals: When Carson Palmer texted that he'd be ready for Sunday's game after having missed a week of practice with an injured throwing elbow, wouldn't it have been helpful if he'd added "and I'll be a beast"?

13) Detroit Lions: Is Jeremy Ross the Snow Globe Devin Hester -- and how painful is it for Packers fans to watch him flourish for a division rival?

14) Chicago Bears: After a certain Bears defensive tackle referred to Monday night's meeting with the Cowboys as "just another game," was Jones tempted to retort, "Jeremiah is just another name"?

15) Baltimore Ravens: What's more surprising -- that Asa Jackson warmed up shirtless at snowy M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, or that the dude is a Californian?

16) Green Bay Packers: Doesn't it seem like Eddie Lacy seeks out as much contact as possible from opposing defenders -- and is there any way he'll hold up long enough to command a potentially lucrative second contract?

17) Miami Dolphins: Who knew that the Dolphins would heat up in the chilly northeast -- and that Charles Clay would become a bigger impact player than Mike Wallace?

CHARGERS AT BRONCOS
Thursday, Dec. 12, 8 p.m. ET
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18) St. Louis Rams: Will this mark the end of the Lost Decade -- and can St. Louis fans form a support group with their counterparts in Buffalo, Cleveland and Oakland?

19) San Diego Chargers: Was Mike McCoy paying homage to Joe Namath when he declared, "We're going to beat Denver on Thursday night," or was he merely trying to help NFL Network promote its final 'TNF' telecast of 2013?

20) New York Jets: When Santonio Holmes said after Sunday's victory over the Raiders that "if anybody's down right now, then they should probably be slapping themselves in the face," should someone have reminded him about the first and second rules of Fight Club?

21) Pittsburgh Steelers: Doesn't Big Ben seem a little immature sometimes?

22) Tennessee Titans: Should Mike Munchak be careful what he wishes for -- and will the third-year coach soon be out in the cold?

23) Cleveland Browns: Will this very angry Browns fan have some new material after Sunday's heartbreaking defeat in Foxborough -- and is Gillette Stadium Cundiff's personal Factory of Sadness?

24) Jacksonville Jaguars: If the Jags beat the Titans in two weeks, could they get two coaches fired before season's end?

25) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Before we start celebrating Greg Schiano for coaching the Bucs to four victories in their past five games, shouldn't we be pondering why it took them until midseason to win their first one?

26) New York Giants: If a team facing playoff elimination came out this flat for a coach who was less accomplished than Tom Coughlin, how hard would it be for that coach to retain his job?

27) Minnesota Vikings: If that catering truck had hit the Vikings' team plane when Randy Moss was in his second stint with the team, what kind of pandemonium might have ensued?

28) Oakland Raiders: This can't be a good sign, can it?

29) Buffalo Bills: Um, perhaps Doug Marrone should have held his team meeting to talk about accountability before Sunday's game?

30) Atlanta Falcons: Is it just Mike Smith's fate to have every fourth-down decision seem dubious in retrospect?

31) Washington Redskins: Is this revisionist history, a preemptive strike in the name of spin control, or simply a self-fulfilling prophecy?

32) Houston Texans: Is Bob McNair lovin' Lovie -- or will he make a persuasive run at Chucky?

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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