Pittsburgh's Jesse James played a lead role in one of the most bizarre endings to a game this season
A regulation NFL game may be 60 minutes long, but Sunday's finish in the NFC Divisional Playoff between New Orleans and Minnesota is yet another example of how quickly the outcome can change. In the span of a few seconds, the Saints and Vikings swapped places as it relates to feeling the thrill of victory vs. enduring the agony of defeat. With emphasis on the agony if you are a New Orleans fan.
This was just one of the incredible, improbable and/or downright bizarre endings the NFL has treated fans to this season. Here are the five craziest, and remember there are still three games to go.
Minnesota 29, New Orleans 24
Jan. 14, 2018 — NFC Divisional Round (Minneapolis)
Saints' Big Fourth-Quarter Comeback Thwarted by Diggs' Sideline Sprint
Minnesota was cruising at home, up 17-0 at halftime on New Orleans, who couldn't get anything going on offense. But after finally breaking through late in the third quarter, the Saints came alive. A pair of Drew Brees touchdown passes in the fourth quarter gave New Orleans its first lead of the game at 21-20 with three minutes remaining. Case Keenum and the Vikings responded, putting Kai Forbath in position for a 53-yard field goal, which he made as the No. 2 seed went back in front.
But Brees wasn't done, answering with an 11-play, 50-yard drive that included a 13-yard completion to Willie Snead on 4th-and-10 to set up Will Lutz for a 43-yard field goal that gave New Orleans a 24-23 lead with just 25 seconds remaining. After the touchback, a false start got Minnesota off on the wrong foot and three plays later, the Vikings were staring at 3rd-and-10 from their own 39 with just 10 ticks left on the clock. Keenum dropped back, threw the ball into a crowd along the sideline, which Stefon Diggs (above, right) corralled (thanks to an assist from Saints cornerback Marcus Williams, who whiffed on his attempted tackle) and took the rest of the way to finish the improbable, game-winning 61-yard TD.
New England 27, Pittsburgh 24
Dec. 17, 2017 — Week 15 (Pittsburgh)
Steelers Lose Potential Game-Winning TD to Replay Reversal
The AFC's top two teams entered this Week 15 contest with many already looking ahead to the postseason. The prevailing thought was the winner of this game would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which is not something to discount, especially when talking about the Patriots' postseason dominance in Gillette Stadium. The Steelers, however, seemed primed to put their claim on the No. 1 seed as a Le'Veon Bell touchdown run game them a 26-14 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
New England wasn't ready to go down without a fight though and a five-play, 77-yard drive that featured a lot of Rob Gronkowski (three catches for 69 yards) was capped with an eight-yard TD pass from Tom Brady to Dion Lewis. The two-point conversion to Gronk made it 27-24 with less than a minute to go. Ben Roethlisberger didn't waste any time answering back, even though he was without injured All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. A 69-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster put Pittsburgh on the doorstep of the end zone and following a time out, Big Ben connected with tight end Jesse James for what appeared to be the go-ahead score. However, upon review it was ruled that James' catch did not "survive the ground," and was waved off. A short completion on the next play netted just three yards and with no timeouts remaining, Roethlisberger didn't spike the ball on third down and instead went for the win. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted up in the air and picked off as the Patriots escaped and Pittsburgh was left seething.
Oakland 31, Kansas City 30
Oct. 19, 2017 — Week 7 (Oakland, Calif.)
Third Time is a Charm as Raiders Score on Final Play Aided by Back-to-Back Penalties
Kansas City was comfortably ahead 30-21 on the road against AFC West rival Oakland entering the fourth quarter. A Raiders field goal cut it to 30-24 but a three-and-out on their next possession meant it was going to come down to their last possession. From their own 15, Derek Carr marched his team down the field and seemingly connected with tight end Jared Cook on a go-ahead, 29-yard touchdown. But upon review, it was determined that Cook stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line. With just 18 seconds left, Oakland was down to its last gasp. Or so everyone thought.
On the next play, Carr hit Michael Crabtree in the end zone, only for the wide receiver to be flagged for offensive pass interference. Backed up to the 10, Carr tried to find Cook in the end zone as time expired. The pass went off Cook's hands as he tried to jump to corral it, but a holding call on the Chiefs' Ron Parker meant the game wasn’t over. From the 5-yard line, Carr tried to connect with receiver Cordarelle Patterson in the back of the end zone and even though it wasn’t successful, Eric Murray was called for defensive holding. On the next play, Carr found Crabtree in the front corner of the end zone. This time the TD was confirmed and the subsequent extra point capped off the frantic finish.
Atlanta 30, Detroit 26
Sept. 24, 2017 — Week 3 (Detroit)
Falcons Win Thanks to 10-Second Runoff on Lions' Overturned TD
The visiting Falcons led the Lions 30-23 following a touchdown to open the fourth quarter. Detroit responded with a field goal and then a Matt Ryan interception in the red zone squandered a scoring opportunity for Atlanta. The teams traded punts on the next four possessions, giving the Lions a chance with 2:23 remaining and the ball at their 11-yard line.
With no timeouts (clock did stop at the two-minute warning), four completions and an 11-yard scramble by Matthew Stafford set Detroit up in the red zone with a little more than a minute left. Back-to-back penalties backed the Lions up to the Falcons' 38 and on 2nd-and-30, Robert Alford seemed to end the game with an interception in the end zone, only to have teammate Desmond Trufant called for holding. Three plays later, a pass interference call on Trufant on 3rd-and-10 from the 19 moved the ball to the 1-yard line with 19 seconds left.
After two incompletions, Stafford connected with Golden Tate on a quick slant, who appeared to get into the end zone after catching the pass. However, upon review it was determined that Tate was down just inside the 1 with eight seconds left. By rule, 10 seconds had to run off the clock and since Detroit had no timeouts, the game ended. The explanation being that had the play been called correctly, the clock would have kept running, and the Lions wouldn't have had enough time to run another play. Not that this explanation matters one bit to Detroit players, coaches or fans.
Philadelphia 27, New York Giants 24
Sept. 4, 2017 — Week 3 (Philadelphia)
Eagles’ Rookie Kicker Nails Two Field Goals in Final Minute to Beat Giants
A 14-0 Eagles lead after three quarters turned into a 21-14 deficit following three straight Eli Manning touchdown passes in the fourth. Philadelphia then tied the game on a Corey Clement 15-yard touchdown run only to see the Giants retake the lead on a 41-yard field goal with a little more than three minutes remaining.
From there it was Jake Elliott's turn. The rookie kicker, who was originally drafted by Cincinnati before losing the starting job to Randy Bullock and then ended up replacing an injured Caleb Sturgis for Philadelphia, had missed from 52 yards out in the third quarter after misfiring on a field goal and an extra point in his first NFL game the week prior. Undeterred, he first connected from 46 yards out with less than a minute to go to tie the game. And then, following a three-and-out by New York, he was given a shot to win it. All he needed to do was make the longest field goal in franchise history, but first he had to convince his coaches he was up to the challenge. A quick conference later, Elliott lined up the record attempt as the ball was snapped from the Giants' 43-yard line. The rest, as they say, is history.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)