This past Sunday, San Francisco and St. Louis finished their divisional tilt in a tie, much to the surprise of the participants, meaning there was no memorable, game-winning play that took place. NFL history is full of just such moments, but it’s those endings that make you stand up, shake your head in disbelief and in your best Jack Buck impression shout “I don’t believe what I just saw!” that really stand out. Here are our choices for the craziest, most improbable, have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed game-ending moments in NFL history.
(Listed in chronological order, most recent to earliest)
Sept. 24, 2012 – Green Bay at Seattle
Replacement Refs Leave Lasting Impression in Their Final Game
In what ended up being the final game officiated by the replacement referees, the final play of this Monday night game in Seattle provided one of the strangest endings to an NFL game ever. From the determination and subsequent debate of “simultaneous possession” to the bizarre scene of a needless extra point taking place some 10 minutes after the final play, the ending to this game featured many sights never seen before. It also represented the last time the replacement referees would be seen, as the “real” officials were back on the job that Thursday following this debacle that played out in front of a national primetime audience.
Dec. 19, 2010 – Philadelphia at New York Giants
DeSean Jackson’s Punt Return Caps Eagles’ Furious Comeback Against Giants
The Eagles trailed the Giants 24-3 at halftime, but scored three touchdowns in a little more than a six-minute span in the fourth quarter to draw even. Then with just 14 seconds left, the Giants were forced to punt, and rookie punter Matt Dodge was instructed by Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin to punt the ball away from DeSean Jackson. Dodge didn’t follow through on those orders and Jackson ended up taking the punt back 65 yards for the game-winning score. Not only was that the longest game-winning touchdown on the final play of regulation since 1960, it also ended up being the deciding game in the NFC East race. Both teams were 9-4 entering this game, but thanks to this improbable, last-second victory, the Eagles grabbed a one-game lead over the Giants. That was all the difference as both finished with identical 10-6 records, but the Eagles won the NFC East title by virtue of their 4-2 divisional record. Even though they won 10 games, the Giants didn’t even make it into the playoffs that season.
Dec. 21, 2003 – New Orleans at Jacksonville
Saints Execute (Almost) Everything to Perfection
Trailing Jacksonville 20-13 with just six seconds left, New Orleans had the ball on their own 25. Aaron Brooks threw a pass downfield to Donte’ Stallworth, who caught the ball at the 50, broke a few tackles and then flipped the ball to fellow wide receiver Michael Lewis. Lewis pitched it to running back Deuce McAllister, who then lateraled it to wideout Jerome Pathon. Pathon took it the final 21 yards for the score. After just having pulled off the seemingly impossible, the Saints lined up for what figured to be the easiest part of this miraculous comeback attempt, the PAT. Alas, that was not to be, as the normally reliable John Carney missed the potential game-tying kick wide right. Besides going from the ecstasy of victory to the agony of defeat in a matter of moments, the 20-19 loss also eliminated the Saints from playoff contention. Talk about your kick in the you-know-where.
Nov. 6, 2000 – Minnesota at Green Bay
Antonio Freeman - “He did what?”
This Monday Night Football matchup in 2000 between division rivals Minnesota and Green Bay went into overtime. The Packers got the ball first in the extra period and Brett Favre proceeded to drive his team to the Vikings’ 43-yard line. From there, Favre dropped back and threw the ball in the direction of Antonio Freeman, who was covered pretty well by a Vikings defender who actually got his hands on the pass. The ball seemed to fall incomplete next to Freeman’s body, but he got up off the ground with it and ran towards the end zone, much to the surprise of the Vikings’ defense. As Freeman celebrated with a “Lambeau Leap,” replays showed that Freeman somehow managed to keep the ball off of the ground the entire time it bounced around his body. After a lengthy review, the play stood, giving the Packers the win. Widely recognized as one of the most incredible catches in NFL history, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels summed up everyone’s reaction best when he said, “He did what?”
Jan. 8, 2000 - Buffalo at Tennessee
“The Music City Miracle”
The 1999 season was a memorable one for the Tennessee Titans and their fans in many ways, highlighted by what took place in the 2000 AFC Wild Card game. The playoff game between the Titans and Buffalo Bills was a close-knit affair, one that featured three lead changes in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bills took a 16-15 lead on a field goal with 16 seconds left. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, all that did was set the stage for one of the greatest all-time finishes to a football game. Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the kick off at the 25 and then immediately handed it to tight end Frank Wychek. Wychek started running toward the right sideline, and then turned around and lateraled the ball across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson did the rest, sprinting down the left sideline 75 yards for the score. A lengthy review upheld the play, and thus “The Music City Miracle” was born.
Nov. 25, 1993 – Miami at Dallas
Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving to Forget
Even though this Thanksgiving Day game between the Cowboys and Dolphins was already memorable in that it was being played in a rare snow and sleet storm, Lett made sure this one would never be forgotten. Trailing 14-13 with 15 seconds remaining, the Dolphins attempted a 41-yard field goal to take the lead, but the kick was blocked. For reasons known only to him, Lett attempted to recover the ball, but instead slipped on the snow-covered field. If he had just left the ball alone, the Cowboys would have taken over possession and been able to run out the remaining time on the clock. Instead, his “muff” offfered the Dolphins a second chance, as they fell on the ball at the one-yard line and the clock was stopped with three seconds remaining. The shorter field goal attempt was successful, allowing the Dolphins to snatch victory from the seeming jaws of defeat and handing Cowboys' fans a bitter pill to swallow on a day known for eating.
Nov. 19, 1978 – Philadelphia at New York Giants
Herm Edwards and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”
It’s a play that’s been immortalized by NFL Films and is the indisputable highlight of Herm Edwards’ playing career. The Giants led the Eagles 17-12 with 31 seconds to play. The home team also had the ball and needed to run just one more play to seal the victory. After receiving the snap, instead of taking a knee, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik tried to hand the ball to his fullback, Larry Csonka. Csonka never got it, however, as the ball hit his hip and bounced away. Edwards, who played cornerback for the Eagles, picked it up and ran it back 26 yards for the game-winning score that stunned the Giants team and fans in the stands.
Sept. 10, 1978 – Oakland at San Diego
Whether you call it the “Holy Roller” or “Immaculate Deception,” the play that ended this game between the Raiders and Chargers is also one of the most controversial in NFL history. The Chargers led the Raiders 20-14 with 10 seconds left in the game, but the Raiders had the ball on the San Diego 14-yard line looking to tie the score. Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass, but a Charger defender hit him, causing him to lose the football. Running back Pete Banaszak recovered the ball and flipped it forward to tight end Dave Casper. Casper, seemingly unable to get a firm grip, proceeded to roll the ball toward the end zone, eventually falling on it in the end zone as time expired. The Raiders kicked the extra point to win 21-20 thanks to a play that forced the NFL to change the rules regarding fumbles.
Dec. 28, 1975 – Dallas at Minnesota
The NFL’s Original “Hail Mary”
A staple of the modern day lexicon when it comes to game-winning touchdown passes, the origins of the “Hail Mary” in NFL lore go back to a NFC playoff game in 1975 between the Cowboys and Vikings. Trailing 14-10 on the road with just 1:50 left, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and the offense began what turned out to be the game-winning drive from their own 15. A spectacular sideline catch by wide receiver Drew Pearson on fourth and long got the Cowboys to midfield with just 37 seconds left. Following an incompletion, Staubach dropped back to pass with 32 ticks left on the clock and threw a desperation heave in the direction of Pearson, who made the catch at the five and backed his way into the end zone with 24 seconds left on the clock. The Cowboys would win the game 17-14. Afterwards during a post-game interview, Staubach, a devoted Catholic, said of the play, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”
Dec. 23, 1972 – Oakland at Pittsburgh
The “Immaculate Reception”
One of the most iconic plays in football history, the “Immaculate Reception” has stood the test of time despite having occurred almost 40 years ago. Besides being known for its greatness, the play also is recognized as being one of the most controversial ones in NFL history. Following a 30-yard touchdown run by Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, the Steelers found themselves trailing the Raiders 7-6 at home with just 1:17 left. Facing a fourth-and-10 on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to halfback John Fuqua around the Raiders’ 35. Raiders safety Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua, jarring the ball loose, sending it backwards and setting the stage for fullback Franco Harris. Harris, who was initially blocking on the play, scooped up the tumbling ball before it hit the ground, stiff-armed a Raiders defender and rambled into the end zone to give the Steelers the improbable win. The rest, as they say, is history.
— Published on Nov. 14, 2012