NFL's 100 Greatest Plays: The final five unveiled

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  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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It's come down to this.

Across 100 autumns, the NFL has been a showcase for hallowed highlights -- jaw-dropping catches, ridiculous runs, efforts of excellence, top-class throws and clutch performances that live on long after the game has concluded.

In the midst of the NFL's 100th season celebration, NFL Network unveiled the 100 greatest plays of all-time and has arrived at the final five; the most celebrated, the most memorable and the greatest of the great.

5. Malcolm Butler picks off a Super Bowl win


Everyone in Glendale, Arizona, everyone watching at home, everyone watching around the world thought Marshawn Lynch was getting the ball with the game on the line and the Seahawks trailing the Patriots by four points in Super Bowl XLIX.

With the clock ticking under 30 seconds, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took the snap from the 1-yard line from the shotgun and stunningly looked for the pass.

But Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler -- the No. 5 cornerback on the roster -- wasn't fooled. Butler jumped the route and jumped in front of Ricardo Lockette to seal a 28-24 Super Bowl triumph.

The decision to throw rather than run has been referred to as the "Seattle Special," but it was special for Butler and New England. Just a rookie at the time, Butler hadn't recorded an NFL interception until coming up clutch in the grandest of ways on the grandest of stages.

The Seahawks were just a yard away from likely winning their second Super Bowl title, but the anticipation and athleticism of Butler secured the Patriots their fourth championship and maintained a dynasty that is still marching on in the NFL's 100th season.

4. Titans connect on a home run and a miracle is had


"Home Run Throwback" was the name of the play, but it will be forever known as the "Music City Miracle" -- the play that propelled the Titans to a stunning 22-16 come-from-behind AFC wild-card victory over Buffalo on the road to a Super Bowl appearance.

It was already a nailbiter of a game when Bills kicker Steve Christie booted a 41-yard field goal for a 16-15 advantage with but 16 ticks left on the clock. But Christie's foot wouldn't deliver a Bills victory, it would instead deliver the Titans a miracle.

On the ensuing kickoff, Christie pooched it and the ball was fielded by fullback Lorenzo Neal, who immediately handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck. As the Bills chased Wycheck to the right side of the field, coverage lanes broke down and wide receiver Kevin Dyson came open. Wycheck stopped and heaved a pass across the field. Seventy-five yards later, Dyson found the end zone, a victory and a miracle.

Of course, all that had to wait for an official review, as Wycheck's toss was picked apart to decipher whether it was a lateral or an illegal forward pass. It's still debated to this day, but the officials upheld the call. Dyson scored. The Titans won and moved on. The right arm of a tight end was golden, the shoestring catch of a receiver was true and a miracle was had in Nashville.

3. Eli escapes, Tyree uses his head to catch a SB XLIII triumph


A great pair of hands has long been regarded as a wide receiver's best asset, but when the game is on the line, a good helmet apparently helps, as well.

The setting was Super Bowl XLII with the undefeated New England Patriots clinging to a four-point lead after a go-ahead Randy Moss touchdown catch from Tom Brady with 2:42 to go in the game. Staring at third-and-5 with 1:15 to go on their own 44-yard line, the "Helmet Catch" came to be.

In reality, David Tyree's catch was amazing, but the play as a whole was stupendous. Giants quarterback Eli Manning faced pressure almost immediately at the snap and Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green each had a hold of him, but Manning pulled loose and rolled to his right before letting fly a jump ball as linebacker Mike Vrabel barreled down on him. Tyree went to the sky, battling safety Rodney Harrison. Tyree grabbed the ball with both hands, but Harrison swiped away at it and knocked it loose. Somehow, some way, Tyree was able to keep hold of the ball with just his right hand and pinned the pigskin to his helmet before securing it with both hands. It ended up as a 32-yard gain, a third-down conversion with 58 seconds left that kept Big Blue's big hopes alive.

Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress for the game-winning score.

It was Eli's escape and Tyree's helmet catch that live on, however, and were oh-so instrumental in the Giants knocking the Patriots from the ranks of the undefeated and claiming the Super Bowl XLII crown.

2. Only two words needed: "The Catch"


Montana rolls right, flutters a pass that appears to be going nowhere and Clark steals it from the sky. Niners win.

It's a defining moment in the birth of the San Francisco 49ers dynasty. It's an indelible moment in NFL history. Plain and simple, it's "The Catch."

On Jan. 10, 1982, the 49ers had never been to a Super Bowl, much less won one. But a formidable drive and a legendary touchdown changed all that as the 28-27 win in the NFC Championship game over the Cowboys proved to be an NFC changing of the guard and moved the Niners on to their first Super Bowl, where they would defeat the Bengals.

With 4:54 to play, Joe Montana and the 49ers offense set up shop on their 11-yard line and forged forward into history.

The drive was 14 plays and 83 yards, but it's the six-yard scoring conclusion that lives on forever.

"Looking, looking, throwing in the end zone," Vin Scully echoed.

The play was designed to go to receiver Freddie Solomon, but he slipped. And the Cowboys' pass rush was on Montana. Montana backpedaled and seemed destined to be sacked or throwing the ball out of bounds. But destiny found Clark's fingertips. Montana floated a high pass into the back of the end zone and Dwight Clark appeared on the scene, clinging to a catch that became "The Catch."

Often lost in history, the play tied the score and a Ray Wersching extra point stood as the game-winning point. But it was "The Catch" that birthed a dynasty and created a legend that lives on.

1. The "Immaculate Reception" still amazing, controversial after all this time


It's a seemingly impossible task to say "immaculate" and not follow it with "reception."

Following the heroics of Franco Harris, the words seem forever linked.

Two days ahead of Christmas in 1972 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, somehow Terry Bradshaw escaped a mighty pass rush and let fly a laser of a pass. Somehow, John "Frenchy" Fuqua survived a savage hit from Raiders safety Jack Tatum that sent the pass pinballing away. And somehow, Harris caught the deflection in mid-air during a full sprint, never slowing until he reached the end zone.

Though the Steelers didn't advance to the Super Bowl that year, it was this play that many believe was the starting point to their dynastic 1970s run.

Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope coined it the "Immaculate Reception." It began with 22 seconds remaining and the Steelers looking at fourth and 10 from their own 40. It ended with controversy and a jubilant home crowd celebrating a 13-7 win on the field.

Years later, it's still a controversial play as many believe the ball only touched Fuqua and/or that it hit the ground before Harris caught it. Either would have been ruled an incomplete pass due to NFL rules at the time.

The controversy, the drama, the sheer amazement of the play has kept its legend alive all these years later.

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