If you missed the NFC Divisional Playoff game between Green Bay and Arizona on Jan. 16, that’s a shame. The fact the Cardinals won 26-20 in overtime doesn’t begin to encapsulate this game, which featured one of the most bizarre, improbable finishes in NFL history.
And while there are still three games left, including the Super Bowl, which has been the scene of some pretty memorable plays recently, there has been no lack of have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed finishes this season. The playoffs alone have already featured three such endings.
(Listed in chronological order, from earliest to most recent)
Jan. 16, 2016 – NFC Divisional Round: Green Bay at Arizona
Fitzgerald’s “Hail Larry” Helps Cardinals Overcome Rodgers’ Hail Mary
Two teams who are no strangers to postseason theatrics (Arizona beat Green Bay 51-45 in overtime in the wild-card round in 2009), came up with a script that even Hollywood couldn’t write. This game had a little of everything, including a tipped pass in the end zone that landed in Michael Floyd’s hands to give the Cardinals a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Arizona looked to ice the game with a late field goal, but a questionable pass play before the two-minute warning gave Aaron Rodgers 1:55 to work with down 20-13. He would need every bit of it too, as Rodgers’ 41-yard desperation heave as the clock expired landed in the hands of Jeff Janis in the end zone despite being harassed by two defenders.
Stunned, the Cardinals and Packers gathered at midfield for the coin toss, only to watch the coin not actually flip in the air, leading to a re-flip and plenty of confusion. Arizona won the toss, and following a touchback, Carson Palmer, not exactly known for being mobile in the pocket, avoided Green Bay’s rush (and nearly got taken down by one of his own offensive linemen) and threw across his body to find a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald, who almost ended the game right there before being tackled at the five-yard line. Following an incompletion to Fitzgerald, head coach Bruce Arians called his wide receiver’s name again, this time on a shuffle pass (of course), as the future Hall of Famer added yet another memorable play to his resume with the game-winning reception.
Jan. 10, 2016 – NFC Wild Card Round: Seattle at Minnesota
Seahawks Survive Frigid Temperatures, Vikings Following Walsh’s Missed Chip Shot FG
Through three quarters the Vikings were in complete control at home despite the sub-zero temperatures. Trailing 9-0 on the road, Seattle finally got on the board with a TD pass and then followed that up with a field goal to take a 10-9 lead with eight minutes to go. Both defenses held firm from there and the Vikings got the ball back with 1:20 to go. From their own 39-yard line, Teddy Bridgewater moved his team all the way to the Seahawks’ nine, thanks in large part to a 15-yard pass interference penalty and a 24-yard catch by tight end Kyle Rudolph. With just 26 seconds remaining and both teams’ timeouts exhausted, Blair Walsh, whose three field goals were responsible for all of the Vikings’ scoring, lined up for a 27-yard field goal. Referred to in the business as a “chip shot,” Walsh watched helplessly as his kick sailed wide left, giving the Seahawks the improbable come-from-behind win and Vikings’ fan yet another painful postseason exit.
Jan. 9, 2016 – AFC Wild Card Round: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Bengals Implode Late as Steelers Escape With Wild Win
Visiting Pittsburgh was up 15-0 after three quarters. Cincinnati had backup quarterback AJ McCarron making his first career postseason start. But despite his early struggles, McCarron and the Bengals woke up in the fourth quarter. An A.J. Green touchdown catch gave the Bengals a 16-15 lead, although the missed two-point conversion would come back to haunt them. Still with less than two minutes to go, Cincinnati appeared to be in pretty good shape, especially following Vontaze Burfict’s interception of Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones.
Deep in Pittsburgh territory, all the Bengals had to do was run out the clock. Unfortunately, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball on the first play, giving the Steelers one more shot with 1:23 remaining. A hurting Ben Roethlisberger, who had to be replaced by Jones following a hard sack, returned and moved his team to about midfield with 22 seconds remaining. Then on the next play (starting around 6:45 mark of video below), a vicious hit by Burfict on Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown led to a 15-yard penalty, which was made worse when Cincinnati’s Adam Jones got flagged another 15 yards for his altercation with Steelers’ assistant coach Joey Porter, who had come on the field when Brown was getting looked at by the trainers. The end result was the ball was placed on the Bengals’ 17-yard line, from which Chris Boswell drilled a 35-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh ahead 18-16. A desperation heave went unanswered, as Cincinnati’s playoff drought reached eight games, a streak that now dates back to the 1990 season. As painful as some of these losses have been this one especially hurts as the Bengals have no one to blame but themselves.
Dec. 7, 2015 – Week 13: Dallas at Washington
NFC East Archrivals Save Best for Last 74 Seconds
For the first 58 minutes, the Cowboys and Redskins could do no better than trade field goals. Despite the team’s sub-.500 records, this game was plenty important, as a mediocre NFC East was still open for the taking. But with less than two minutes to go, the score was tied at 9-9 with Dallas set to punt. And that’s when things got interesting. DeSean Jackson fielded the punt deep in Washington territory, advanced it past the 20 and then proceeded to retreat all the way to his own one-yard line in hopes of finding room to run. Jackson lost the ball, which the Cowboys recovered at the Redskins’ 15. Two plays later Darren McFadden ran it in as the visiting team went up 16-9 with 1:14 left. Game over, right? Wrong.
A 41-yard kickoff return tacked on with a 15-yard facemask penalty gave Washington the ball at Dallas’ 43-yard line with 1:06 remaining. Three plays and a timeout later Kirk Cousins connected with Jackson for a redeeming, 28-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 44 seconds left. The Cowboys then got the big kick return, this one 46 yards, and Matt Cassel found Dez Bryant twice to move the ball to the Redskins’ 36 with 21 ticks on the clock. Two incompletions left Dan Bailey with a 54-yard attempt, which he calmly nailed with just nine seconds left. Washington’s last-ditch attempt on the subsequent kickoff lasted all of two laterals, as Dallas climbed back into the division race, despite a 4-8 record, following the furious finish at FedEx Field.
Dec. 3, 2015 – Week 13: Green Bay at Detroit
Rodgers-to-Rodgers Caps Packers’ Improbable Comeback Against Lions
Detroit led Green Bay 17-0 at halftime and 20-0 nearly midway through the third quarter. The Lions seemingly had the Packers on the ropes, but failed to deliver the knockout blow. A Randal Cobb fumble recovery in the end zone finally got Green Bay on the scoreboard and then a Detroit turnover resulted in another touchdown. The Packers answered a Lions field goal with their third touchdown of the second half to make the score 23-21 with 3:04 remaining. A big third-down conversion allowed Detroit the opportunity to take the clock all the way down to just 29 seconds left before punting the ball away.
Green Bay took over at its 21-yard line with no timeouts and just 21 seconds on the clock. Two incompletions set up third down and seemingly the last play of the game. But a face mask penalty on the Lions gave the Packers one last chance. From his own 39-yard line Aaron Rodgers avoided the rush, buying just enough time to heave the ball high in the air. At the other end, tight end Richard Rodgers backed his way into the end zone and timed his leap just right to corral his quarterback’s heave for the touchdown. The failed two-point conversion was purely procedural, as the damage had already been done, allowing Green Bay to escape Ford Field thanks to the longest, game-winning, game-ending Hail Mary in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Nov. 30, 2015 – Week 12: Baltimore at Cleveland
Ravens Walk-Off Vs. the Browns on Blocked Field Goal
Week 12 action concluded with an AFC North matchup between the Ravens and Browns. By this point of the season, both teams were merely playing for pride and draft positioning, but it didn’t stop the divisional foes from staging a memorable final two minutes. A 42-yard touchdown pass from Cleveland third-string quarterback Austin Davis to Travis Benjamin tied the game at 27 with just 1:47 remaining. Each team punted on its next possession, as the game appeared headed to overtime. But Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub (also pressed into duty because of injuries) was intercepted, giving the Browns the ball in Baltimore territory with 50 seconds left and two timeouts. Davis completed one pass for six yards and scrambled for seven, setting up Travis Coons for the potential, game-winning 51-yard field goal with three ticks on the clock. However, the Ravens had a completely different ending in mind, as Brent Urban blocked the kick and Will Hill returned it 64 yards for the score after time had expired. For Baltimore, a break finally went its way, as Cleveland fans discovered a new, equally painful way to lose a game.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)