When thinking about the NFL’s all-time great plays, there’s many that instantly come to mind – The Catch, The Immaculate Reception, Beast Mode, Tyree’s Helmet Catch, etc. These are plays that will go down in history because someone not only made the impossible happen, but they did it when it counted the most.
On the opposite end, there are plays that are so completely absurd that they will also go down in history for all the wrong reasons. Often a team has the game in the bag, if they literally do nothing it will all turn out fine. But then someone decides to try to make a play for no reason and completely botches it. Most often these plays are what people think of when the phrase “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” gets said.
Unfortunately, these types of plays cost people their jobs and ruin legacies. For some, their careers were already over and their legacies nonexistent. But for others, they were talented individuals who made many great plays but will forever be remembered for the one play that they blew.
Many of these are so terrible that you just can’t look away. Here are the top 15 worst blunders in NFL history.
15. The Butt Fumble
On Thanksgiving Day in prime time, the New York Jets were getting their clocks cleaned right from the very start of the game by the rival Patriots. What set everything completely up in flames was Mark Sanchez failing to hand the ball to his running back. After botching it, he tried to salvage what he could and took off running… right into the backside of his offensive linemen…and fumbled the ball.
New England recovered and returned it for a touchdown, giving them a 21 – 0 lead halfway through the second quarter. The Patriots went on to with the game 49 – 19 in one of the most embarrassing games in sports history.
14. The Swinging Gate
With the Redskins getting crushed 24 – 0, Washington had a chance to get some points on the board with two seconds left in the half. Not wanting to settle for a field goal, they tried to catch New York sleeping with the Swinging Gate play – a play starts out with a field goal formation but then splits all but about three players out wide.
The play only works if you catch your opponent off guard. Which Washington did, as New York promptly called a timeout.
With New York fully prepared, Washington lined up for a field goal and did the exact same thing and snapped the ball. They blocked exactly zero defenders, yet Hunter Smith somehow managed to get the ball in the air. Unfortunately, it was to a group of defenders who easily picked the ball off.
13. Aaron Brooks’ Backwards Pass
The Saints were a mediocre team at 3-4 around the midpoint of the season. This was the chance for them to turn it around. Unfortunately, it turned into a 43 – 17 blowout loss to San Diego.
The game got off to a terrible start. On the very first possession, already down seven points, Aaron Brooks took the snap from the 45 yard line and threw the ball backwards. It was recovered by the Saints but he lost about 25 yards on the play.
The whole thing was horribly absurd. It would make sense if Brooks was getting sacked and got spun around while trying to make a play. But that wasn’t the case. Without anyone touching him, Brooks turned around and threw the ball a solid 25 yards backwards.
There is no reason an NFL quarterback should ever do something like that.
12. Russell Wilson Super Bowl Interception
With less than 30 seconds left on the play clock and the ball inside the two yard line, the Seahawks were down by four points but looked to be well on their way to winning their second straight Super bowl.
Many felt that handing the ball off to famed running back Marshawn Lynch would’ve been the best call on the goal line. Instead, they called an in-route that had no second option.
The route got jumped by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler, who made one the greatest clutch plays in NFL history. The interception sealed the Super bowl win for the New England patriots.
11. The Darius Reynaud Safety
Darius Reynaud had the worst season opening play in the history of the NFL. He fielded the kick off half a step out of the end zone, then took a step back and took a knee. This was ruled a safety and Pittsburgh got two points and the ball to start the game.
The worst part about this is the fact that it was the first play of the regular season. There probably isn’t a faster way to ruin any excitement your teammates or your fans had.
10. Joe Gibbs’ Timeout
The context makes this sadder than most botched plays. This was Washington’s first game after the death of Sean Taylor. It was a very hard time for many people and this game meant a lot to Washington.
Down two points with four seconds left, Buffalo was ready to attempt a game-winning 51 yard field goal. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs went ahead with the old icing the kicker trick…and then a second time.
Calling back-to-back timeouts is against the rules and results in a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The ball was moved to the 36 yard line, a chip shot for Bills kicker Ryan Lindell. He hit it and Buffalo walked away with a 17-16 victory.
9. The Dan Orlovsky Safety
The legendary 2008 Detroit Lions season – a year that was so bad, it was almost impressive. They somehow managed to lose every single game they played. If there was a play that you could use to summarize the entire year, it would be quarterback Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
The ball was snapped right from the goal line and Orlovsky took a deep drop back. The instant Vikings defensive end Jared Allen got off his block, Orlovsky took another step back to avoid him. That step was out of the back of the end zone, giving Minnesota a safety.
Orlovsky’s complete lack of awareness is just embarrassing.
8. John Carney Misses the Extra Point
Beating the Jaguars meant that the Saints slim playoff hopes would stay alive for another week.
After being dominated for most of the game, the New Orleans Saints made a 1 in 100 play as time expired. The age old lateral play actually paid off and resulted in a touchdown. Unfortunately, they followed it up with another 1 in 100 play when John Carney missed the extra point to tie the game and the Saints were eliminated.
7. Romo’s Botched Hold
In the 2006 NFC wild-card game, the Dallas Cowboys were going up against the Seattle Seahawks. Like most of the biggest mistakes, this one came at the very end of the game with the chance to win it. Dallas was down by a single point with 1:19 on the clock. They set up for a 19 yard field goal that any NFL kicker could make in their sleep. Dallas was set to ice the game.
The snap was perfect. Yet, it was mishandled by holder Tony Romo. He picked it up and tried to run it in, but came up a couple yards shy, handing the playoff game to Seattle.
6. The Perfect Gary Anderson Misses
Gary Anderson hadn’t missed a kick all year. He was having a historic season.
With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Anderson’s Vikings were leading the Falcons 27 – 20 with fewer than five minutes to go. Anderson had the chance to seal the game with a routine 38 yard attempt.
But the ball went wide left. It gave the Falcons life and they drove down to tie the game with under a minute left. Atlanta then sealed it in overtime, as well as their trip to the Super Bowl, in a game that still haunts every Minnesota Vikings fan.
5. Leon Lett Keeps The Ball In Play
On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, Miami was down by a single point with less than 15 seconds left in the game. They lined up to kick a 41 yard field goal with the game on the line. Miraculously, Dallas blocked the kick.
At that point, the game was over. Except Leon Lett, a player who didn’t typically play special teams mistakenly thought the ball was still live. Trying to make a play, Lett dove onto the ball as it was surrounded by Dolphins and kicked it. This sent the ball back into play where it was recovered by Miami.
The Dolphins hit the chip shot field goal from the one yard line and won the game.
4. Miracle at the Meadowlands
The New York Giants had the ball and the lead with time expiring. They only needed to take a knee to send the Eagles packing. Yet instead, Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson called a run play. The handoff was mishandled and the ball grabbed by Eagles defender Herm Edwards and returned for the game winning touchdown.
Gibson not only lost his job, but his entire football career. His blunder gave way to the new “victory formation” that is still in use today.
3. The Dwayne Rudd Helmet Throw
There was only a few seconds left and Kansas City was trailing Cleveland by two points in 2002. With the ball at the 40, KC had one last chance to win the game. Quarterback Trent Green was instantly under pressure after the snap. As a last ditch effort, he threw the ball back to his offensive linemen. For a second, it appeared John Tait might make history as he had quite a bit of open field to work with. Unfortunately, he got pushed out at the 30 and the game was over.
Not quite. Dwayne Rudd was the player who brought the pressure on Green. Thinking he had gotten a sack, he took off his helmet and threw it in celebration. As every fan, and certainly ever player should know, that is not allowed.
Rudd was given a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, setting up a short field goal. Kansas City won the game by one point.
2. The Tuck Rule
The Tuck Rule Game is named after one of the most famous miscalls in NFL history.
Essentially the rule states that if the quarterback loses the ball as his arm is moving forward, it’s an incomplete pass. If he loses it, after tucking the ball in, it’s a fumble.
With the Patriots down by three points and the clock running down in the AFC Championship game, Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson got to Tom Brady and knocked the ball lose. The play was ruled a fumble and it appeared the Raiders would seal the victory and move on to the Super Bowl.
Despite the fact that Brady had already pulled the ball back into his chest after the mild pump fake, the referee still decided there was irrefutable evidence of it being an incompletion. New England ended up scoring on the drive and went off to not only win the game, but also the Super Bowl.
1. Marshal Running The Wrong Way!
Minnesota strips the ball after a completion and it’s scooped by Jim Marshal, who’s off to the races!
Unfortunately, he went the wrong way. With his teammates yelling at him to turn around, Marshal continued to run into the end zone where he threw the ball in celebration, resulting in a safety. This will forever be remembered as one of the most boneheaded plays in NFL history and for good reason.
At the same time, it’s a shame that it happened to such a good player. Marshal perhaps wasn’t an elite player, but he was very good for a long time. His career lasted a staggering 20 seasons. He deserves praise for his career and, while it’s understandable, it’s a disappointing that this is what he’s remembered for.
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