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.
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.
The playoff picture
How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. **More ...**
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.
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.
As veteran defensive end Jared Allen put it while sequestered with his frustrated teammates, "Yup -- just that kind of day."
-- 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.
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.
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 Famer threw 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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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?
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?