This week’s installment of “Signature snaps” features the top five clutch plays of 2011, listed here in chronological order.
These plays weren’t quite dynamic enough to make any of our previous top five lists, but they all happened in the fourth quarter, at critical times, to contribute to a Green Bay victory.
Be sure to watch the video and cast your vote in the poll for your favorite play. (Note: From last week’s top five special teams plays, Randall Cobb’s 108-yard kickoff return for a TD against the Saints was the fans’ overwhelming top choice, earning 85 percent of the vote.)
Charlie Peprah, INT at Atlanta
The Packers had rallied from a 14-0 deficit for a 22-14 lead against the Falcons in Week 5, but the defense needed one more stop. Atlanta had driven from its 16-yard line to the Green Bay 29 midway through the fourth quarter and had a shot at the tying touchdown when Desmond Bishop sacked QB Matt Ryan on first down, pushing the Falcons back to the 40.
Then, on second-and-long, Ryan tried to go deep over the middle to tight end Tony Gonzalez, when Peprah made, perhaps, the most impressive play of his career. Leaping for the ball along with Gonzalez, Peprah deflected it up into the air, then spun around as he landed, re-located the ball and grabbed it for a crucial interception. The Packers drained the next six-plus minutes off the clock and kicked a field goal to seal the win.
James Starks, 13-yard run at Minnesota
The Vikings trailed, 33-27, and punted the ball back to the Packers with 2:37 and all three of their timeouts left. Minnesota was counting on getting one more defensive stop to get the ball back one final time.
It didn’t happen. The Packers began killing the clock as Starks broke off runs of 15 and 20 yards for a pair of first downs. On third-and-7 from the Minnesota 43 with the clock ticking under 1:20, the Vikings were down to their last chance, and Starks turned a handoff to the right into a game-clinching, 13-yard run. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga sealed off the outside while right guard Josh Sitton threw a great second-level block on linebacker Chad Greenway, and all that was left was for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to take a knee.
Jordy Nelson, 40-yard TD vs. Tampa Bay
The Packers never trailed against the Buccaneers, but they struggled all day to put them away. Tampa Bay had pulled within 28-26 on a touchdown with 4:25 left, and Green Bay recovered the ensuing onside kick near midfield.
Three plays later, the Packers faced a crucial third-and-4, and with the wind-chill factor in the mid-20s, they were out of field-goal range. Nelson had one-on-one coverage on the outside against cornerback Myron Lewis, and he blew by him down the near sideline, hauling in a perfect pass from Rodgers for the score that finally ended the Bucs’ upset bid.
Nelson, 27-yard catch at N.Y. Giants
Tied in the final minute against the Giants, the Packers pulled out one of their most dramatic wins of the year thanks to this big play by Nelson. Tight end Jermichael Finley had just gained 24 yards on a crossing route when Nelson put a quick double move on former Packers corner Will Blackmon, and Rodgers hit him right in stride up the sideline for 27 more yards.
The play got the Packers into field-goal range at the New York 29, and an additional completion to Greg Jennings made it a chip shot for Mason Crosby, whose 30-yard kick completed the 38-35 victory.
Sam Shields, INT vs. Detroit
The shootout with the Lions on Jan. 1 came down to the final half-minute, with the Packers trying to protect a 45-41 lead. Detroit had driven from its own 20 to the Green Bay 37 when QB Matthew Stafford tried a throw toward the left sideline for receiver Nate Burleson.
Shields had the angle and plucked it out of the air for a game-sealing interception that finished off the Packers’ 15-1 regular season. The play also allowed backup QB Matt Flynn’s single-game franchise records of 480 yards and six TD passes to come in victory.
Don’t forget to watch the video and cast a vote for your favorite. Next week, a final “Signature Snaps” will allow fans to vote for their “Play of the year.” The top vote-getter in each of the previous five editions will be eligible.