While players from both teams make big plays during the fourth quarter of a game, the ones who help their team shut the door on their opponents during those final 15 minutes are even more noteworthy. Last Sunday, eleven games were still very much up in the air during the fourth quarter of play, with the teams separated by fourteen points or less. Here are the players from the winning teams who dug a bit deeper during that final period of play to make sure their team walked off the field with the win.
Oakland Raiders: Bruce Gradkowski
Although the Raiders trailed by four to the Steelers as the fourth quarter
opened, Gradkowski converted a fourth-down situation with a run, scrambled for
an 8-yard gain on a third down and then completed a 17-yard pass for a touchdown
to snatch the lead. Pittsburgh responded two plays later and restored their
lead, testing Gradkowski's fortitude. It took him just three plays, including a
75-yard pass play to Louis Murphy to show that he wasn't going to wither under
Then Gradkowski was handed another four-point deficit when the Steelers
scored again. He trotted onto the field with less than two minutes remaining and
the ball sitting on the Raiders 12-yard line. The fourth-year player completed
ten of 15 passes for 82 yards, including an 11-yard strike to Murphy on a
second-down play with just 15 seconds remaining for the win.
Honorable Mention: WR Louis Murphy, who grabbed three of
Gradkowski's throws during the winning drive for 53 yards and the score.
New York Giants: Domenik Hixon
The Giants led by four points with just under 11 minutes to play and tacked
on a field goal roughly three minutes later. But the game was really over when
Hixon returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown with just under six minutes
Honorable Mention: WR Steve Smith caught a 25-yard pass
with 9:47 remaining to help set up the field goal. RB Ahmad Bradshaw also
contributed to those points with a 29-yard scamper to the Dallas 9-yard line. CB
Terrell Thomas made a key stop on a third-and-17 at the Dallas 11 to force a
punt. CB Aaron Ross made a terrific tackle on RB Marion Barber for no gain
on another third-down play in the final minutes.
Miami Dolphins: Vontae Davis
Vontae Davis robbed Patriots WR Randy Moss of a touchdown catch.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
The Patriots held a two-point lead over the Dolphins heading into the fourth
quarter and New England was threatening to make it a nine-point lead with the
ball at the Miami 5-yard line. But the Dolphins rookie cornerback intercepted a
Tom Brady pass that was intended for Randy Moss in the end zone with 9:39 left,
putting himself in perfect position to make the big play.
That kept the door open for the Dolphins to win the game with just a field goal
instead of two scores.
Honorable Mention: DE Randy Starks, who stuffed Patriots RB
Kevin Faulk for no gain on a third-down play at the New England 40-yard line,
forcing a punt with 7:35 left in the game. QB Chad Henne completed three of five
passes for 40 yards and three first downs--including a fourth-and-six
situation--to move the Dolphins into field goal position for the winning score.
Kicker Dan Carpenter booted the 41-yard game-winner. LB Cameron Wake hit Tom
Brady as he tried a desperation throw that fell into the hands of LB Channing Crowder with 42 seconds left in the game to shut the door on New
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
With just over ten minutes remaining, Manning
engineered a 15-play, 69-yard drive that ate up all but three minutes of the
final period. He completed five out of six passes for 46 yards and mixed in
running plays using three different running backs to set up a 36-yard field goal
to put the game out of reach.
Honorable Mention: WR Reggie Wayne,
who caught a pair of third-down passes on that drive for 34 yards.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Benson
Cincinnati held a 13-point lead as the final 15 minutes of the game began to
tick away. The Bengals turned to their top running back to chew up some of that
clock and he delivered. Benson carried the ball seven times during a 13-play
drive for 29 yards, moving the chains three times--including a fourth-and-one
that he converted with a seven-yard gain. By the time the Bengals kicked the
23-yard field goal to increase their lead to 16, the Lions only had eight
minutes left to play catch up.
Honorable Mention: Rookie safety Tom Nelson snagged an
interception at the Bengals 32-yard line with seven minutes remaining. Rookie DE
Michael Johnson sacked QB Matthew Stafford on a second-down play with just over
four minutes left in the game. Detroit couldn't recover and turned the ball over
New Orleans Saints: Robert Meachem
Robert Meachem had a big day against the Redskins.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
With just under 13 minutes remaining and the Redskins clinging to a 10-point
lead, Meachem pulled in a pair of passes from Drew Brees for 38 yards to set up
a field goal that cut the lead to a single score. And then with just 1:27
left on the clock, Meachem caught a deep pass for a 53-yard touchdown that sent
the game into overtime, giving his team the chance to win it in overtime with a
Honorable Mention: QB Drew Brees for helping the offense tally
13 points on three of their last four possessions. DT Sedrick Ellis made three
consecutive stops of Saints running backs for a net gain of 2 yards when the
Redskins had the ball at the New Orleans 7-yard line with 3:32 left in the game.
The Redskins then missed a field goal on fourth down after another run for just
one yard that was stopped by DE Charles Grant. LB Jonathan Vilma picked-off
Redskins QB Jason Campbell with just 35 seconds left in regulation to send the
game into overtime. CB Chris McAlister forced and recovered a fumble in overtime
to set up the Saints for the winning score.
Chicago Bears: Hunter Hillenmeyer
With the Bears leading by eight points and 3:35 remaining in the game, the
seventh-year linebacker intercepted a pass thrown by Rams quarterback Kyle Boller at the Chicago 40-yard line. Chicago ran the clock down to 1:50 and the
Rams weren't able to move the ball past the Chicago 41 on their final possession
of the game.
Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck
With the 49ers and Seahawks tied heading into fourth quarter, Hasselbeck
sparked two drives that set up a pair of field goals to give the Seahawks a
narrow victory. On the first drive, Hasselbeck not only tossed three passes for
33 yards, he also scrambled for a two-yard gain to set the first field goal
attempt. Then he hit rookie WR Deon Butler for a 32-yard gain to the 49ers
15-yard line prior to the game-winning field goal by Olindo Mare.
Honorable Mention: Safety Jordan Babineaux forced a fumble at
the Seattle 26-yard line that was recovered by CB Josh Wilson and returned 43
yards with 9:11 left and the game tied. WR Nate Burleson's 21-yard punt return
set Seattle up at their own 48 with just 21 seconds left in the game.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
San Diego held a 13-point lead over the Browns with 9:15 remaining in the
game. Rivers tossed two big passes on the Chargers' next possession to help set
up a field goal that put the game out of reach with just over four minutes
remaining. Rivers connected with Vincent Jackson for a 41-yard strike to the
Cleveland 24-yard line and then again a few plays later for 11 more.
Honorable Mention: WR Vincent Jackson for his two catches on
the clinching drive.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
The Houston Texans had trailed by 11 when the fourth quarter began, but
closed that gap to five with 4:01 left in the game. The Texans kicked the ball
deep, counting on their defense to get the ball back, but Jones-Drew decided to
play keep-away instead. The Jaguars running back carried the ball seven
consecutive times for 38 yards, earning three first downs, forcing the Texans to
burn all three of their timeouts before the two-minute warning. QB David Garrard
was able to take a knee three times to run out the clock.
Honorable Mention: Safety Gerald Alexander intercepted a pass
thrown by RB Chris Brown from the Jaguars' 5-yard line to end a scoring threat
with just over eight minutes left in the game.
Carolina Panthers: Chris Harris
The Panthers held a 13-6 edge over the Buccaneers heading into the fourth
quarter, but the Buccaneers drove to the Carolina 3-yard line, threatening to tie the
game. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw a short pass intended for Maurice Stovall, but the Panthers safety stepped up and picked-off the pass. The play
resulted in a touchback, giving the Panthers offense the ball at their 20-yard
line. They took advantage of the opportunity, driving for a field goal that put
the game out of reach for good.
Honorable Mention: QB Matt Moore and WR Steve Smith hooked up
66-yard pass play that set up the field goal that gave Carolina a ten-point lead
with seven minutes remaining. CB Richard Marshall stopped a third-down pass
play short of the chains, forcing a field goal that was missed by the Bucs. CB
Chris Gamble made a diving interception at the Carolina 8-yard line with 28
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com.