Top 20 Games of 2011

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Game 19: Packers at Chiefs Week 15

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When I was a kid, I couldn't wait until Charlie Hough's turn came in the Texas Rangers rotation. He was a knuckleballer -- a quickly approaching middle age knuckleballer at that. But time and again, the less-than-mediocre ‘80s Rangers stayed in games with the A's ( Bash brothers), Yankees (bloated payroll), and Tigers (always competitive Sparkyball) when the unathletic, don't-really-know-where-the-ball-is-going Hough was on the mound.

It would be an ugly 3-2 game, with a lot of 3-2 counts, with either team having a 50-50 shot of winning. Without Hough on the mound, the Rangers were losing by seven runs. It was all any of us who trekked to the human erector set, Arlington Stadium, had to aspire to.

Ditto 2011 Chiefs fans taking the I-70 to Arrowhead (which began operation in 1972, the same year the aforementioned Arlington ballpark made its debut). Kansas City fans witnessed a lot of games that were the equivalent of a 3-2 game won on a Sac Fly. The Chiefs played the majority of the season without RB Jamaal Charles, TE Tony Moeaki, and QB Matt Cassel, all hitting IR and depleting an offense that was so-so to start. The end result was an offense that ranked 31st in the league in scoring, so the Chiefs’ best chance of winning was by grinding. So it was no surprise the Chiefs played a knuckleball of a game in Week 15, combining just enough offense with a superb defense in knocking off the 13-0 Green Bay Packers.

The Chiefs pulled out all the stops in the 19-14 win, using excellent third/fourth-down defense, efficient quarterbacking, and special teams to beat the best team in football. The biggest upset of 2011, and our 19th best game of said season, came in Romeo Crennel’s first game as the Chiefs’ interim coach, replacing the fired Todd Haley.

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The Chiefs secondary kept the Packer passing attack in check, one that was devoid of star receiver Greg Jennings. No excuse implied, as Kansas City safety Eric Berry was out as well. No, much of this game was about Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr playing ball, forcing NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to hold the ball longer than he wanted … until holding the ball wasn't an option anymore. First, right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down. Then swing linemen Derek Sherrod went down, too. That's when it got real. Green Bay was losing, Rodgers was struggling, and the hit-or-miss ground game was no savior (Rodgers amassed nearly a third of Green Bay's ground production.)

Down 19-7 in the fourth after a clutch Jackie Battle run, the Packers were in desperation mode. It wouldn't get much better for a Mike McCarthy offense that at one point had to go Wildcat because Rodgers was 6 of 17 for 59 yards at half. Aaron Rodgers going 6-for-17? That's like Metallica covering Kelly Clarkson at Farm Aid.

Crennel's defense mixed coverages, blitzed sparingly but effectively, while disrupting the best timing offense this side of Southern Louisiana. What a game plan. Hell, what a game. A knuckleball of a game that will be remembered any time a team goes undefeated this deep into a season.

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Can't Miss Play: Packers tight end Jermichael Finley's adjustment on the fly to a Rodgers deep ball on third-and-three in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. Finley dropped a few balls on this day, but his spinning over the shoulder catch, on a dead sprint no less, was quite the adjustment.

Controversial Call 1: Some people took exception with the Packers going for it on 4th-and-8 from the ChiefsChiefs’ 39-yard line just seconds into the fourth quarter. With the score just 9-7 Chiefs, it might have seemed risky. But really, what would've been riskier is a 56-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. A miss would put the Chiefs at the spot of the kick, the 46. Moreover, if Green Bay punted the ball into the endzone, the net field possession gain would be less than 20 yards. Good decision, even if the offense didn’t convert.

Controversial Call 2: It sure looked like Chiefs tight end Leonard Pope fumbled the ball through the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Stretching out to try to break the plane of the goal line in a 9-7 game, you can see from the replay that the ball slips out in bounds and shouldshould’ve been a touchback for the Packers. Head coach Mike McCarthy chose not not to challenge, giving the Chiefs an important five-point edge.

Best Player on the Field: Believe it or not, Kyle Orton. Romeo Crennel named the former Bronco his starter the week leading up to the game and was rewarded with a 23-of-31, 299-yard performance. More importantly, Orton didn't turn the ball over.

Why this game is No. 19: While devoid of offensive fireworks, there was an energy to this game that is hard to put your finger on. I watched the fourth quarter in Steve Mariucci's office, a Wisconsin native and a guy whose career catapulted from being the Packers quarterback coach in the early '90s.

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Mooch and I realized after both linemen went down that the Packers actually could lose this game, and more importantly, might not make it through the playoffs intact. The reliance on the passing game was great when Rodgers and the receivers were clicking. When it wasn't, Green Bay's one-dimensional offense would be problematic.

Either way, any time an undefeated team goes down late in the season due to an inspired defense playing out of its mind, it deserves mention. When Mooch saw Crennell get hugged by his players after a victorious debut as Chiefs head coach, my NFL Network colleague simply said, "That's cool."

It was.

Why not higher: As fun as Packers-Chiefs was, it still had lulls. In the broad scheme of things, this contest did not alter the playoff picture in either conference and it was filled with mistakes, mostly drops.

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Record Breakers: Rodgers’ third-quarter touchdown pass to Finley was his 40th of the season. Despite it only being his 14th game of the season, Rodgers’ broke Favre’s franchise record for touchdown passes (39) set back in 1996 -- the year Green Bay won the Super Bowl.

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