TOP 20 GAMES OF 2012

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Game 16: Steelers at Cowboys Week 15

Pick of the Litter

He was slow, undrafted and had a nickname that didn't sound very football-like: "Cubby."

Yep, Everson Walls didn't seem to be destined for NFL greatness. Nonetheless, the Grambling State product brought one thing to the Dallas Cowboys in 1981 that every premier corner has:

Instinct.

Walls had passing-game intuition to the nth degree, and capitalized on that trait with a complete willingness to gamble. He rolled the dice enough on third-down situations to drive legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry crazy at times. He also pushed his chips to the middle of the table enough to pick off 11 balls ... as a rookie. Good luck seeing a first-year CB pull that off these days.

Dallas would have given away a Ryan brother to get 11 picks from the football Gods last year. The defense managed just seven interceptions in 2012, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the league's lowest total. Walls got that many in the strike-shortened 1982 season alone, which was just a nine-game campaign. In fact, he led the league three times in this category -- adding nine more in 1985 -- the only man to ever accomplish such a feat (note: Ed Reed has since matched this accomplishment).

To further put this in perspective, no Dallas corner has had more than six picks in a season since Y2K. That's disgusting.

Total Team Interceptions – Since 2000
Interceptions Rank
Packers 271 1st
Ravens 260 2nd
Patriots 256 3rd
Buccaneers 250 4th
Bears 236 5th
Cowboys 183 31st


This lack of takeaways was a huge reason the Cowboys were only 7-6 heading into a Week 15 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, despite having a highly explosive offense. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't really give teams like the Cowboys freebies, either. Having thrown only five interceptions entering this game at Dallas, the franchise quarterback was once again a huge reason the Steelers were playoff viable, despite also being 7-6.

So, wouldn't you know it, this Week 15 Pittsburgh-Dallas classic was determined by a Cowboys interception. And no, Tony Romo didn't throw it.

The unusual suspect was Cowboys corner Brandon Carr. Except, compared to Walls, Carr should have been the usual suspect. Unlike Walls, Carr has speed. Like 4.4 speed. Unlike Walls, Carr was drafted. And I can guarantee you Walls never made $26.5 million guaranteed like youknowwho.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones received a nice return on his free agency investment on this Sunday.

Somebody had to make a play. After 60 minutes of action, the game was knotted at 24-all and headed to overtime. We'd seen three lead changes and three ties, with most of the big plays coming on offense. Roethlisberger was well over 300 yards passing. Ditto Romo. The teams were over 800 total yards combined.

Carr had seen the Dallas defense give up chunk yardage time and again in 2012, without the interceptions to make teams pay for taking chances down the field.

No longer. For Carr, it was all instinct and guts.

On the first possession of overtime, Roethlisberger dropped back to his own 20, pivoted to his right and looked to Mike Wallace, who was running a 15-yard out. Given that it was second-and-4, many Dallas defenders were thinking run. Not Carr, who diagnosed the route and broke before the Steelers quarterback released the football.

If it was a pump fake, Carr was dead in the water.

It wasn't.

Carr's instincts allowed him to make the play that saved the game, and for the moment, the season.

Pick. Return to the one-foot line. Bring out the kicker. Game over.

Bring back some more Everson Walls.

Historical Symmetry I: Watching Brandon Carr run with that interception must have felt awfully familiar to Steelers fans -- and quite gleeful for Dallasites.

It was just 17 years prior that Larry Brown picked Neil O'Donnell (twice) to seal the 1995 Steelers' fate in Super Bowl XXX. Who could ever forget the second O'Donnell INT, where it looked like he was throwing to nobody?

Dallas pulled off the never-done-before feat of winning three Lombardi Trophies in four years. (The Patriots followed suit in the early 2000s.) As for O'Donnell, that would be his last game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Can't-Miss Play: Big Ben provided one of his patented I'm-Ben-Roethlisberger-and-I'm-gonna-pull-a-great-play-out-of-my-arse moments late in the first half.

Trailing 10-3 and at the Dallas 30, Roethlisberger looked to throw the ball on short out to his right. Covered. Feeling pressure, he stepped up hoping to get the ball vertical ... only to pump fake and pull it back down ... then spin backward out of a potential sack ... only to pump again (that guy wasn't open either) ... then shuffle to his left to avoid Sean Lissemore ... before finally spotting Heath Miller alone near the right sideline. Roethlisberger got it out there, Miller caught it and sprinted the rest of the way. Touchdown.

(Almost) Play of the Game: Roethlisberger strikes again. Trailing 17-10 in the third quarter, the Steelers needed to answer Dallas' touchdown on the previous possession.

Uh, they did.

Mike Wallace's 60-yard catch put the Steelers in position to even the score at 17-17 during the third quarter.

Roethlisberger loaded up and heaved a bomb that travelled 62 yards in the air, hitting Wallace at the Dallas 2 and setting up a Jonathan Dwyer TD plunge. That's 62 yards in the air, in pads, after playing two hours of hotly contested football. Not bad, No. 7.

Best Player on the Field: Coming into Week 15, no quarterback had thrown for 300 yards against the Steelers' defense in 20 games. Tony Romo went 30-for-42 for 341, two touchdowns and no picks.

Boneheaded Moment of the Day: Antonio Brown did the Cowboys a huge solid when he got stripped after a 22-yard punt return.

Pittsburgh's defense had just made a big stop with a little over 10 minutes to play. Protecting a 24-17 lead, the Steelers' goal was to keep the ball, burn some clock and perhaps get a Shaun Suisham field goal to go up 10 with a few minutes to play.

Instead Dallas recovered, got the offense going and ultimately scored on a DeMarco Murray run to tie the game at 24-24.

Historical Symmetry II: The first time Dallas and Pittsburgh met in a game of any significance was Super Bowl X. The Cowboys banked on a defensive gamble in that game, too. Except, it didn't quite go as planned.

Down 15-10 late in the fourth quarter, and with Pittsburgh facing a pivotal third-and-four, Landry rolled the dice. Cliff Harris blitzed from his safety position, leaving Mark Washington in man coverage on Lynn Swann.

Steelers fullback Rocky Bleier upended the blitzing Harris, but the All-Pro safety made it back to his feet quickly. Both he and teammate Larry Cole nailed Terry Bradshaw in the back a split second after the Hall of Fame quarterback let fly. Sixty-four yards downfield, Swann waltzed into the end zone, the recipient of one of the most clutch throws in NFL history.

Pittsburgh went on to win that Super Bowl, 21-17.

Why This Game is No. 16: Pittsburgh-Dallas Week 15 might not have been a playoff game, but it certainly played like one. Both of these teams were fighting for their respective seasons, and that's what this contest felt like: Two teams trying to make something of 2012. Pittsburgh's loss dropped its record to 7-7, putting the Steelers in a hole they were unable to climb out of. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' win put them in position to play for the division title in Washington two weeks later. (A game they lost.)

Any time you get to see two streetballer quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Romo duke it out, there's high potential for an exciting game. Both quarterbacks provided their own special brand of high-risk, high-reward plays. And yet, it was a thrilling defensive gamble that won the day, making Pittsburgh-Dallas our No. 16 game of 2012.

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