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Decisions, decisions: the good (and bad) of NFL coaches' calls

Three famous calls that worked out . . . and three that didn't.

November 17, 2009

Three calls that worked

* Dec. 31, 1967, "The Ice Bowl," NFL championship.

Trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 17-14, with third and goal on the one-yard line and 16 seconds left, Packers quarterback Bart Starr calls Green Bay's final timeout and talks to coach Vince Lombardi. Instead of the expected pass, Starr runs a quarterback sneak and scores a touchdown for a 21-17 win and their third straight NFL title.

* Nov. 3, 2003, New England vs. Denver.

With the Patriots trailing the Broncos by a point and facing fourth down from their one late in the fourth quarter, Coach Bill Belichick tells Lonie Paxton to snap the ball out of the end zone for an intentional safety. The play gives Denver a 26-23 lead, but the Patriots get a free kick from the 20 instead of a punt from the back of the end zone. The kick pins Denver back on its 16. The Broncos go three and out and punt. New England gets the ball on its 42 and Tom Brady leads the Patriots to the winning TD with 30 seconds remaining.

* Sept. 14, 2008, Denver vs. San Diego.

The Broncos, coached by Mike Shanahan, score a touchdown with 24 seconds left in Qualcomm Stadium to pull to within one point of the Chargers, 38-37. Surprising even his players, Shanahan tells his offense to stay on the field for a two-point conversion. Jay Cutler passes to Eddie Royal in the end zone and the Broncos win.

Three calls that failed

* Nov. 19, 1978, New York Giants vs. Philadelphia.

The Giants lead the Eagles, 17-12, with 20 seconds left. The Eagles have no timeouts, so all Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik has to do is take a knee and the Giants win. Instead, Giants coach John McVay and offensive coordinator Bob Gibson call for a handoff to Larry Csonka. The exchange is botched; Herman Edwards snags the loose ball and runs 26 yards for the winning touchdown.

* Sept. 20, 1987, Cincinnati vs. San Francisco.

The Bengals are protecting a 26-20 lead over the 49ers when they get the ball on their own 45 with 54 seconds left. On fourth down at the Bengals 30 with six seconds left, Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche orders a sweep by James Brooks, figuring Brooks will run out the clock. Instead, Brooks gets stopped with two seconds left. Joe Montana throws a touchdown pass to Jerry Rice with no time left and the 49ers win on Ray Wersching's extra point.

* Dec. 10, 1995, Dallas vs. Philadelphia.

With the score tied, 17-17, and the Cowboys a yard shy of a first down on their own 29 late in the fourth quarter, Dallas coach Barry Switzer elects to run Emmitt Smith up the middle rather than punt. Smith is stopped, but the play is ruled dead because the ball wasn't snapped before the two-minute warning. Switzer then runs the same play again, and Smith is again stopped. The Eagles get possession on downs and kick the winning field goal.

-- Houston Mitchell

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