Trick plays have always been a part of the NFL. From the early days of the black and white films seeing players try to confuse their opponents, to the games of today when coaches try to implement plays that will not only pay off in big ways, but make the highlight films that night, trick plays are not only fun, but inventive.
There has been many over the years, and some of which have been duplicated, while some have been run once and never heard from again. There’s even a few that are now illegal (are you reading this Dan Marino?), that the NFL has outlawed because they think it’s just a little too tricky and unfair to opponents.
Coaches like the Paul Brown to the modern day sideline walkers like the Saints' Sean Payton have all run trick plays during their tenures. The more inventive the play, the more it gets tinkered with and tried again by coaches, and coordinators, who usually don’t even get mentioned when the play turns out to be a success.
The key to a trick play is rather simple, make it interesting, make it creative, and most importantly, make it a play that is successful. While most plays are on offense, a few took place on special teams that have been huge trick plays in the biggest of games.
Today we give you the very best of the best, 15 trick plays that have not only made fans cheer, but some that have turned out to give their teams the competitive edge in games that wound up being huge wins. So here we go – get ready for tricks and treats that will get you thinking about plays from the past in our list of the “Best 15 Trick Plays in NFL History.”
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15 The Playoff Hook and Lateral – Chargers vs Dolphins (AFC Divisional Playoff Game - 1981)
This 1981 playoff game started about as bad as possible for the Dophins. The Chargers jumped to a 24-0 lead, and Don Shula knew the Dolphins needed a spark. He replaced QB David Woodley with one of his favorite old veterans – Don Strock.
The play that will always be remembered took place with :06 left in the first half, and the Chargers up 24-10. Shula called the hook-and-ladder, a play that he has since referred to as the ‘hook-and-lateral.’
The play saw Strock, from the Chargers 40, fire a perfect pass to Duriel Harris, who made a catch on his knees 15 yards downfield at the 25. Harris made a flip to running back Tony Nathan, who was trailing the play and took the flip the final 25 yards for the score.
While Strock ended the day with 403 yards, the Chargers had just enough in the epic game to pull out a 41-38 win.
14 River City Relay – New Orleans Saints vs Jacksonville Jaguars (2003)
In 2003, the Saints were 7-7 and still hopeful of a playoff birth as they took on the Jagaurs in week 15 of the NFL season. Things looked bleak for the Saints as they trailed 20-13 with seven seconds left, and the Saints were forced to try to pull off a last-second miracle to try and tie the game up.
The final play started on the Saints 25, on a second and 10. The play saw QB Aaron Brooks throw a pass to receiver Donte Stallworth, who caught it at the 50. Stallworth was able to shake a tackle, and then break two more. By then the clock hit zero, and Stallworth, at the Jags 34-yard, pitched the ball to Michael Lewis.
Lewis pitched the ball to RB Deuce McAllister, who ran to the Jaguars 20. McAllister then pitched the ball to the right to WR Jerome Pathon, who caught the ball at the 24 and raced downfield to the end-zone, much to the shock of the crowd in Jacksonville.
An even more shocking play took place when veteran kicker John Carney pushed the extra point wide right, putting the Saints at 7-8 and out of the postseason.
13 The "Bumerooski" – Broncos at Chargers (2006)
A play dubbed the "Bumerooski" by the late Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips, was duplicated in 2006 by the Chargers in a game against the Broncos.
It’s a rather simple play, as the QB hands the ball between his legs to the running back instead of leaving the ball on the ground, which is illegal. In this case, QB Philip Rivers placed the ball between his legs, and FB Lorenzo Neal took the ball, raced left, and four yards later was in the end zone, much to the confusion of the Broncos defense.
The play has been done a number of times, and if done right can be an effective play.
12 Dolphins Wildcat – Dolphins vs Patriots (2008)
The Dolphins started a trend in 2008 that many teams would try to duplicate, the ‘Wildcat’ offense. The first time it was used effectively was on September 21st, 2008 as the Dolphins took on the Patriots. The Patriots defense was no match for the trickery of the Wildcat, as the combo of running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ran all over the Pats.
It was Brown who really did in the Dolphins, as he had four rushing touchdowns and a passing TD in the Dolphins 38-13 win.
The play that started it all was a simple one, as Brown took a direct snap and handed off to Williams for a two-yard score.
11 Steelers Super Fake Reverse Pass – Steelers vs Seahawks (2006)
The Steelers were leading the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL 14-10 in the 4th quarter, when OC Ken Whisenhunt made one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history.
From the Seahawks 43, QB Ben Roethlisberger gave the ball on a flip to RB Willie Parker, who handed it off to WR Antwaan Randle El who ran and reared back, throwing a perfect pass right into the arms of Hines Ward, who leaped into the end zone for the score.
It was a play that defined the game for the Steelers, and it was the first time in NFL history a wide out would throw a touchdown in a Super Bowl.
10 Fitz’s Flea Flicker Grab – (Falcons vs Cardinals NFC Wild Card Game - 2008)
The flea flicker has been run thousands of times in the NFL, but this play pulled off for a TD by the Cardinals was one of the best.
QB Kurt Warner handed the ball off, then got it back on a flip, and fired a pass to his favorite target, Larry Fitzgerald, who made an amazing catch 42 yards downfield for a touchdown in the eventual 30-24 Arizona win. Fitzgerald made the play leaping between two defenders for the score.
9 Onside Magic – Colts vs Texans (2014)
Colts punter Pat McAfee pulled off a memorable onside kick vs the Texans in 2014, kicking a perfect onside kick up the middle, then running up and recovering it with room to spare. The Texans clearly had no idea the kick was coming, and the play resulted in the Colts getting the ball back in an eventual 33-28 win.
The very next play after the kick, the Colts got a touchdown, proving just how important McAfee was in showing toughness recovering the kick.
8 Browns Field Goal Fakery – Vikings vs Browns (1989)
The Browns and Vikings played a memorable game in December of 1989, and the game went into overtime tied at 17. Cleveland lined up for a game-winning OT field goal try, and holder Mike Pagel took the snap, and instead of placing the ball down, stood up, and fired a perfect pass to linebacker Van Waters from 14 yards out for the win. The Browns fired a similar play last year with Jordan Cameron and Brian Hoyer.
The win paved the way for Cleveland to make a playoff run.
7 Fooling the Bengals – Steelers vs Bengals (AFC Wild Card Game - 2006)
The Steelers led the Bengals 21-17 when they pulled trickery to put the Bengals away in a 2005 playoff affair in Cincinnati. The play that sealed the win saw WR Antwaan Randle El take a handoff, and then throw across the field back to QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers QB threw a pass to WR Cedric Wilson, who went in for a TD to make it 28-17. The play covered 43 yards.
6 Punt Misdirection – Seahawks vs Rams (2014)
The 1-4 Rams pulled a trick on the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, leading to a 28-26 win in October of 2014.
The trick came on a punt, as Seahawks punter John Ryan punted the ball, and everyone thought it was going to Rams kick returner Tavon Austin. On the other side of the field, the ball landed in the hands of Rams Stedman Bailey, who raced up the sideline for the 90-yard score.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll claimed Austin called for a fair catch, but replays showed he didn’t, and it was a successful fake.
5 Sideline Trick – Seahawks vs Bills (2008)
The Bills were up 20-10 over the Seahawks on opening day 2008 with 2:21 to play in the third quarter. Lined up for a field goal to extend the lead, no one noticed Bills defensive end Ryan Denney lined up on the sideline.
Punter Brian Moorman took the snap and threw to a wide open Denney, who went the last few yards for the 19-yard score to make it a 27-10 lead in the eventual Bills victory.
4 Brady’s Fake Statue - Jaguars at Patriots (AFC Divisional Playoff Game - 2008)
Nothing could go wrong for the Patriots in 2008, as the Pats went 16-0 in the regular season and made it to the Super Bowl before finally falling to the New York Giants. Against the Jags in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, they pulled off a nifty trick play, started by, who else, Tom Brady.
The fake ‘Statue of Liberty’ play worked perfectly, as Brady faked the ball going over his head, then faked a handoff to Kevin Faulk, and then with everyone off guard, threw a perfect touchdown pass to Wes Welker from six yards out.
3 Music City Miracle – Bills at Titans (AFC Wild Card Game - 2000)
A play that to this day Bills fans say was illegal, the ‘Music City Miracle’ was a throwback to the opposite side on a kickoff that saw the Titans rally to beat the Bills in the 1999 AFC Wild Card game in Nashville.
Down 16-14 with 15 seconds left after a Bills field goal, the kickoff saw Lorenzo Neal take the kick, and hand it to tight end Frank Wycheck. The tight end heaved a pass across the field to wide out Kevin Dyson, who raced down the sideline 75 yards for the score to make it 22-16.
The Bills and their fans were convinced that Wycheck’s pass was forward, thus illegal. We're not going to get involved in this debate...
2 The Fake Spike – Jets at Dolphins (1994)
The Dolphins completed a memorable comeback against the Jets with a play that is no longer legal, with Dan Marino faking a spike and throwing a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram. The fake was carried out as Marino signaled that he was going to spike the ball, then instead went back to pass and fired a strike to Ingram.
The play completed a comeback of 17-0 down for the Dolphins, who would go on to make the postseason in 1994, while the Jets went into a complete dive, helping then coach Pete Carroll get fired.
1 Payton’s Ambush – Saints vs Colts (Super Bowl XLIV - 2009)
Saints coach Sean Payton decided to gamble to start the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, going with an onside kick against the surprised Colts. The play was entitled ‘Ambush’ and caught the Colts off guard. The ball hit off the facemask of Colts WR Hank Baskett, and was recovered by Saints LB Jonathan Casillas.
The play jump started the Saints eventual 31-17 win and their first NFL championship.
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