Top 10 Catastrophic Decisions in NFL History

It is being called the worst play call in the history of North American professional sports, as dumb a decision as has ever been made in a big-game situation. The Seattle Seahawks were one yard away from defeating the New England Patriots and winning Super Bowl XLIX when quarterback Russell Wilson curiously dropped back to pass. Instead of throwing a ball toward the corner of the end zone that either would have resulted in a touchdown or an incomplete pass, Wilson went over the middle and threw a pass into traffic that was intercepted, the turnover that guaranteed victory for the Patriots.

Not running the ball in that scenario would have been a questionable call for any National Football League team. The Seahawks did not, on Super Bowl Sunday, have any standard running back in the team's backfield. Seattle had Marshawn Lynch, arguably the most punishing back in the league who nearly scored on first down from the five-yard line, and the Seahawks also had three opportunities to pick up a single yard via the ground game. Seattle nevertheless opted to pass the football, and that decision will live on as one that cost a team a championship that was well within its grasp.

There are times when bad decisions such as a poor draft selection or a regrettable action on the field can eventually be repaired and forgotten. That will not be the case for Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and for the previously mentioned Wilson. While those two have already been to the mountaintop of pro football, they will, until they once again win a Super Bowl, be remembered for being responsible for the worst decision in the history of the sport. They will live on in infamy, almost as if that Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos never happened at all.

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10 Drafting Ryan Leaf

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There were plenty of red flags hovering over Ryan Leaf heading into the 1998 NFL Draft. Some questioned his work ethic and his commitment to being a pro quarterback, and the majority of experts believed that Leaf was not at the level of Peyton Manning. While Manning went on to be the greatest regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL, Leaf spectacularly flamed out of the league in a few years. Considered to be one of the biggest draft busts of any pro sport, Leaf has, since being bounced out of the NFL, gone through legal problems that landed him in prison on more than one occasion.

9 Garo's Gaffe

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Miami Dolphins placekicker Garo Yepremian cemented his spot in NFL history at Super Bowl VII. With the Dolphins leading the Washington Redskins 14-0, Yepremian lined up to kick a field goal with a little over two minutes left on the clock. His attempt was blocked, however, and the ball bounced to Yepremian. Rather than just kill the play by falling on the ball, Yepremian tried to throw a pass. It did not end well, as the ball slipped out of his fingers. Mike Bass of the Redskins retrieved the ball and carried down the opposite end of the field for a touchdown, but the Dolphins held on for the win that completed what is, to date, the only perfect season in NFL history.

8 4th and 1

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The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles were tied at 17 late in a December 1995 regular season contest when the Cowboys were facing fourth down with a yard to go at their own 29-yard line. Rather than punt the ball away, Dallas head coach Barry Switzer did what the Seahawks did not do at Super Bowl XLIX: He fed his star running back. Emmitt Smith was stopped short of the marker, but Switzer was given second life due to the fact that the ball was not snapped before the two-minute warning. Switzer instead elected to run a similar play, and Smith was once again stopped short of the first down. The Eagles went on to kick a game-winning field goal to triumph over their division rivals.

7 Favre Forces it Again

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The Gunslinger was at it again in January 2010, starting at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings when the Vikes were away versus the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game. Minnesota was on the cusp of field-goal range with 19 seconds left on the clock when Brett Favre dropped back to pass. Just as he did in overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game, Favre tossed a costly interception. The Saints won the game in overtime, and New Orleans went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts at the Super Bowl. Minnesota, meanwhile, has not since come that close to winning the Big Game.

6 Leon Lett

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The Dallas Cowboys were leading the Miami Dolphins by a point on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 when Miami attempted a field goal with seconds left on the clock. Dallas blocked the kick, and the ball went across the line of scrimmage. All the Cowboys had to do was not make contact of the ball for the play to be blown dead and Dallas awarded possession. Defensive tackle Leon Lett did not get that memo, though, as he dove after the ball. He instead slipped on the ice-covered field, putting the ball in play by making contact with it. Miami recovered, and the Dolphins then kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

5 Drafting JaMarcus Russell

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The Oakland Raiders clearly did not do enough research into quarterback JaMarcus Russell before the 2007 NFL Draft. Russell was a hassle from the moment he was selected by the Raiders, holding out through September of his rookie campaign. He was an absolute flop on and off of the field, eventually ballooning to over 300 pounds. Oakland cut ties with Russell in 2010, and he failed to latch on with any other team. Experts go back and forth on whether Russell or Ryan Leaf is the biggest draft bust in NFL history. Either way, the Raiders and San Diego Chargers chose poorly on those draft days.

4 Prevent Defense Prevents you from Winning

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Denver Broncos legend quarterback John Elway gets plenty of credit for leading his offense down the field for that famous drive against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship Game, and deservedly so. What is too often forgotten is that the defense of the Browns made life easy for Elway and company, sitting back in an attempt to prevent the Broncos from hitting on a big play. Elway took advantage of the openings en route to the Broncos forcing the game into overtime where Denver won. The Browns have yet to come so close to advancing a Super Bowl, while Elway is now in the Hall of Fame.

3 Plaxico Burress Shoots Himself

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Burress made a terrible decision when he thought it wise to take a loaded pistol into a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008. The wide receiver accidentally shot himself in the leg on that fateful night, a mistake that ultimately landed him behind bars. That incident affected more than just Burress, who was playing for the New York Giants at the time. The Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, were the best team in the NFL that fall, and it is widely believed that Big Blue could have successfully defended their crowd had Burress merely remained home on the evening that changed his life.

2 Red Right 88

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The Cleveland Browns were trailing the Oakland Raiders 14-12 late in a 1981 NFL Playoff game when the Browns were 13 yards away from the end zone. Cleveland placekicker Don Cockroft had missed a couple of field goals earlier in the game, and thus head coach Sam Rutigliano chose to take a shot for a touchdown while at the same time instructing quarterback Brian Sipe to throw the ball away if he had any concerns about the pass. Sipe looked for tight end Ozzie Newsome, but the pass was intercepted by Oakland safety Mike Davis. That cost the Browns a chance to win a championship, and the Browns have still never played in a Super Bowl.

1 Super Bowl XLIX

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Blame Pete Carroll for allowing the play call to be made in the first place. Blame Russell Wilson for not calling an audible and for not throwing the ball away rather than attempting to force a pass into tight coverage. Fans of the Seattle Seahawks will understandably be questioning what is being referred to as the worst decision to ever be made during a football game, a horrendous pass play when barreling running back Marshawn Lynch only needed to pick up a yard to win Seattle the Super Bowl. I could live to be 100 years old and still not get what the Seahawks were doing at that point of the biggest game of the year.

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