We frequently reminisce about the best plays in NFL history, but let’s not forget about the worst plays in NFL history. After all, the worst plays in NFL history provide laughter, embarrassment, and confusion as the football community tries to wrap their heads around what just happened.
Coaches pride themselves on being prepared, playing smart, making the right decisions, and executing on game day. Unfortunately, things don’t always go their way on their football field and sometimes a play can take a turn for the worse in a hurry. You never know what might happen.
Sometimes it’s at the fault of the players, sometimes it’s at the fault of the play call, but most of the time it’s a combination of both. Either way, the worst plays in NFL history are sure to be the focal point of the team’s next practice — unless they decide to move on and just be better.
What Are the Worst Plays in NFL History?
It takes a special kind of play to be considered one of the worst plays in NFL history. One that makes everyone cringe in unison as they watch the play unfold. One that makes a coach throw their headset out of frustration or a player throw a fit on the sideline — those types of plays.
Let’s be honest, we get to witness at least one of those types of plays every week in the NFL, so there are plenty of plays to choose from when ranking the worst plays in NFL history. With that said, there are a select few that I’m sure everyone can agree are worse than other plays.
As we celebrate the same plays we should be forgetting, let’s take a look at some of the absolute worst plays in NFL history. Some of them might be personal to your favorite team, some of them might be from a rival, and others might even bring back some memories!
25. Brandon Weeden Throws Awkward Interception
Let’s take it back to 2013 when the Lions and Browns met in Week 6. The Lions had a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, but Cleveland scored 17 straight points in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. The Lions answered by scoring 17 straight of their own in the second half.
Down 24-17, Browns’ quarterback Brandon Weeden was looking to lead a late comeback. He had the ball in Lions’ territory and dropped back to pass, but no one was open and the pass rush was closing in. Instead of throwing the ball away, he threw a backhand lob right to the defense.
It was Weeden’s second interception of the game. The Browns went on to lose the game 31-17.
24. Dan Orlovsky Runs Out the Back of the Endzone
The Detroit Lions were on the positive end of the Weeden interception, but they also suffered one of the worst plays in NFL history. It was a Week 6 matchup in 2008 between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. The Lions were 0-4 and the Vikings were 2-3 entering the game.
Both teams were tied at zero entering the final minute of the first quarter. The Lions had the ball at their own one-yard line and quarterback Dan Orlovsky dropped back to pass. With the pass rush closing in quickly, he unknowingly ran out the back of the end zone while running away.
The play was ruled a safety, the Lions went down 2-0, and they eventually lost the game 12-10.
23. Blair Walsh Misses Game-Winning Field Goal
The Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks were matched up in a Wild Card game on January 10, 2016. The Vikings held a 9-0 lead over the Seahawks after three quarters, thanks in large part to Blair Walsh’s three field goals — two of which were from more than 43 yards out.
Seattle woke up in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and field goal within the first seven minutes of the quarter. Teddy Bridgewater led Minnesota down to the nine-yard line with 26 seconds left in the game, but Blair Walsh missed the 27-yard game-winning field goal.
It was a disappointing end to what was the best Vikings’ season since 2009. The Seattle Seahawks would go on to lose to the Carolina Panthers in the next round of the playoffs.
22. Stevie Johnson Drops Potential Game-Winner
When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills met in late-November 2010, no one expected the Bills to compete. The Steelers were 7-3 and the Bills were 2-8, but Buffalo managed to tie the game up at 16-16 with a 51-yard field goal with just a couple seconds left in regulation play.
The first two possessions of the overtime period were both punts, but the Buffalo Bills started to put a drive together. With just over 10 minutes left, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a beauty to Stevie Johnson in the end zone. Despite being wide open, Johnson dropped the pass incomplete.
The Bills were forced to punt a few plays later and gave up a game-winning field goal the ensuing possession. Buffalo lost the game 19-16 in overtime and fell to just 2-9 on the season.
21. Kirk Cousins Accidentally Kneels Instead of Spiking
Kirk Cousins had himself a fine game on December 26, 2015, throwing for 365 yards and four touchdowns in the Washington Redskins’ 38-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. With that said, he also had one of the worst plays in NFL history as the first half came to an end.
The Redskins were driving down the field with a 16-10 lead, eventually making it to the Eagles’ six-yard line with six seconds left. With no timeouts, Cousins went to spike the ball to stop the clock. Instead, he accidentally took a knee, the clock kept running, and the half came to an end.
You have to wonder what was going on in Kirk Cousins’ head, but sometimes mistakes happen. Despite the bone-headed play, the Vikings still won the game and improved to 8-7 on the year.
20. Tim Tebow’s Infamous 28-Yard Loss
Tim Tebow and the rest of the 2011 Denver Broncos entered Week 15 with an 8-5 record, a six-game win streak, and the division lead. They were playing another division leader in the New England Patriots, who made it clear they were the better team with a 41-23 Patriots’ victory.
Late in the fourth quarter of that game, Patriots’ linebacker Rob Ninkovich sacked Tim Tebow for what went down as a 28-yard loss. At the time, it was the longest sack in NFL history and felt like a dagger to a Broncos’ team that was losing 41-23 at the time of the Ninkovich sack.
The Broncos would follow this loss up with two more losses to end the season 8-8, but still won the division. After beating the Steelers in the Wild Card, they lost to the Patriots in the Divisional.
19. Kyle Williams Fumbles an Important Punt Return
Making it to the NFC Championship game is a great accomplishment and means you’re one game away from the Super Bowl. Suffering one of the worst plays in NFL history in an NFC Championship game, well, that’ll pretty much ruin your career — and it did for Kyle Williams.
He was filling in as the backup return specialist in the 2011 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. The game was tied 17-17 with under 10 minutes left in overtime and Williams was back to return a punt. Unfortunately, he fumbled the return and lost possession.
The Giants scored the game-winning field goal six plays later and went on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The 49ers, however, would win the Super Bowl in 2012.
18. Marcus Cooper Celebrates a Little Too Early
The Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers were battling it out in an overtime thriller in Week 3 of the 2017 NFL season, but it’s what happened at the end of the first half that made the news headlines. It was an excellent play at first, but turned bad in a hurry as the game clock expired.
With just seconds left, the Steelers had their field goal blocked by Sherrick McManis. Marcus Cooper recovered the fumble and had a clear shot at the end zone. Unfortunately, he slowed down and started to celebrate prematurely. He fumbled the ball before reaching the end zone.
The Bears got lucky and ended up getting the ball at the one-yard line thanks to a Steelers’ penalty on the play. They kicked a field goal and eventually went on to win the game in overtime.
17. Michael Koenen Throws Interception After Blocked Punt
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ punter Michael Koenen had a bit of a double-whammy play against the Kansas City Chiefs in a Week 6 matchup in 2012. His team was up 21-3 in the fourth quarter and he was getting ready to punt, but it was blocked by Chiefs’ running back Shaun Draughn.
The play didn’t stop there. Instead, Koenen picked the ball up to try and salvage the play, despite the ball being in the end zone. He quickly realized he didn’t have time or space and decided to throw the ball, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Chiefs’ LB Edgar Jones.
Luckily, that was the Chiefs’ only touchdown of the game and the Buccaneers went on to win 38-10. Koenen spent the next two seasons with Tama bay before retiring from the NFL.
16. Rahim Moore Allows Mile High Miracle With Botched Coverage
The Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens were matched up in the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff as they looked for a ticket to the AFC Championship. Both teams were scoring well, but Joe Flacco and the Ravens were down 35-28 with just one minute left in the fourth quarter.
On 3rd and 3, Joe Flacco dropped back to pass and found Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game. Rahim Moore is the player that got beat and allowed Jones to get open. The touchdown tied the game and sent the game into overtime.
The Ravens would go on to win the game 38-35 in a second overtime. Behind Joe Flacco, the Ravens won the Super Bowl that season and a lot of it is credited to Moore’s botched coverage.
15. Garo Yepremian Almost Ruins the 1972 Perfect Season
The Miami Dolphins were 16-0 heading into their Super Bowl VII matchup with the Washington Redskins. They were trying to do what no other team had ever done — the perfect season. All they needed was a victory and everything seemed to be going so well most of the game.
Up 14-0 with under three minutes left to play, the Dolphins sent out Garo Yepremian to attempt a 42-yard field goal kick. The kick was blocked by Washington, but recovered by Yepremian. He rolled out right and attempted to pass the ball, but his butterfingers fumbled the ball instead.
The fumble was recovered by Redskins’ defensive back Mike Bass and returned for a 49-yard touchdown. The Dolphins lead was cut in half, but they wound up winning 14-7 in the end.
14. Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving Day Blunder
On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle Leon Lett was at the center of one of the worst plays in NFL history. After surrendering an early touchdown to the Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys would score 14 unanswered points to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Dallas allowed a field goal in the third and fourth quarter to bring their lead down to just one. With Miami lining up for a game-winning field goal, the Cowboys blocked the kick and the ball sat near the 10-yard line. Then Leon Lett came crashing in, mishandling the ball into the end zone.
Miami was awarded the ball and another chance at a game-winning field goal. This time around, the field goal kick was good and the Dallas Cowboys walked away with a loss on Thanksgiving.
13. New Orleans Saints’ Secondary Breaks Down
The Minneapolis Miracle will go down as one of the greatest moments in NFL history for the Minnesota Vikings, but also one of the worst plays in NFL history for the New Orleans Saints. It all went down at the end of the 2017-18 NFC Divisional Playoff game and boy was it a doozy.
With 1:29 left in the game, the Vikings hit a field goal to take a 23-21 lead over the Saints. One minute later, the Saints answered with a field goal of their own to take a 24-23 lead. That’s when Case Keenum hit Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown as time expired to win the game.
When you watch the tape, you see how much of a blunder this was for Saints’ safety Marcus Williams, who not only missed his tackle on Diggs, but took his teammate out of the play.
12. New Orleans Saints Miss a Game-Tying Extra Point
Speaking of the New Orleans Saints, we can’t talk about the worst plays in NFL history without mentioning the infamous missed extra point — a play that’s known as the River City Relay. The Saints scored a touchdown as time expired thanks to three laterals executed to perfection.
The touchdown brought the Saints just one extra point away from tying the game and bringing it to overtime — keeping their playoff hopes alive. Instead, Saints’ kicker John Carney missed the extra point, New Orleans lost the Week 16 matchup, and they missed out on a playoff berth.
It’s crazy how quickly the tide can turn in a football game. Just when the Saints thought they tied the game and sent it to overtime, the Jacksonville Jaguars squeak away with a one-point win.
11. Brett Favre Throws a Late Interception
The 2009 NFC Championship game was one for the ages. The Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints — yeah, those teams again — were trading shots throughout the whole game. Both teams scored four touchdowns and were tied at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter.
Brett Favre and the Vikings were moving the ball down field and were almost in field goal position with under 30 seconds left. After a five-yard penalty made it 3rd and 15, Favre dropped back to pass, rolled to his right, and threw an interception as he tried to throw across his body.
While the Saints wouldn’t score off that turnover, it eventually sent the game to overtime. There, the Saints scored a field goal after putting together a nice drive to start the overtime period.
10. Cincinnati Bengals Fall Apart Late In the Game
It was the 2015-16 season and the Cincinnati Bengals just had their best season since 1988. They were matched up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game — the Bengals’ fifth-straight year in the Wild Card. Unfortunately, it was their fifth-straight loss, as well.
It’s not just one play that’s being considered as one of the worst plays in NFL history, but rather a string of plays that led to the Bengals’ loss. First, Bengals’ running back Jeremy Hill fumbles the ball with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter, giving Pittsburgh possession on their own 9-yard line.
After the Steelers drove the ball 50 yards in one minute, the Bengals suffered back-to-back 15-yard penalties — bringing the Steelers close enough for a game-winning field goal.
9. Miracle At the Meadowlands
This is a two-for-one in regards to the worst plays in NFL history. First, we have the Miracle at the Meadowlands. It occurred in 1978 when Herm Edwards returned a fumble for a touchdown as time expired, giving the Philadelphia Eagles a 19-17 win over the New York Giants.
Second, we have the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, which occurred in 2010 when the Philadelphia Eagles completed a 21-point comeback against the New York Giants as time expired with a DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown. The Giants completely dropped the ball.
Both of these plays are synonymous with how big the rivalry has gotten between the Giants and Eagles. Twice now the Giants have fallen after suffering two of the worst plays in NFL history.
8. Seattle Seahawks Pass Instead of Run
When the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots squared up for Super Bowl XLIX, both teams were hungry to end their season on the right foot. The game was going well for both teams until under a minute left in the fourth quarter when the Seahawks made a terrible call.
Down 28-24 with 26 seconds remaining in the game, the Seahawks decide to throw the ball on 2nd & Goal — opposed to running the ball with Marshawn Lynch. After dropping back to pass, Russell Wilson was picked off by Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler on the one-yard line.
The Patriots would go on to kneel and run the clock out. That’s how Super Bowl XLIX ended and that’s how close the Seattle Seahawks were to a win. All they had to do was run the ball.
7. Leon Lett It Go In the Super Bowl
Earlier on this list, we mentioned Leon Lett’s terrible blunder on Thanksgiving Day, but now let’s talk about his blunder at Super Bowl XXVII against the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys were leading 52-17 in the fourth quarter, but it was Leon Lett’s fumble recovery that made the headlines.
Lett recovered a fumble and ran it nearly 70 yards. As he neared the end zone, he started to celebrate a little too early. Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe was running his tail off trying to catch Lett, which he eventually did — forcing Lett to fumble the ball before crossing the end zone.
The Cowboys would go on to win the Super Bowl 52-17 over the Bills, but Leon Lett will forever be remembered for his two worst plays in NFL history — starting with this Super Bowl blunder.
6. Tony Romo Mishandles the Snap
The year was 2007 and the Seattle Seahawks were hosting the Dallas Cowboys in a NFC Wild Card Playoff matchup. With just 1:19 left in the game, the Cowboys were trailing 21-20 with the ball on the goal line. All they had to do was kick a field goal and everything would’ve been fine.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. They were lined up to kick the field goal, but Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo botched the snap. He tried to make a run for it, but failed to pick up a first down or a touchdown. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys suffered a turnover on downs.
Seattle would go on to win the game 21-20 after running the clock the following possession. While Tony Romo did a lot of good things for Dallas, he will forever be remembered for this play.
5. Jim Marshall Runs the Wrong Way
Whether you’re on offense or defense, it’s imperative that you understand which way to run and which end zone you’re trying to score in. While those are two very simple objectives, Jim Marshall completely botched them during a 1965 meeting between the Vikings and 49ers.
The 49ers’ quarterback dropped back to pass and completed one to his wide receiver. During the tackle, the receiver fumbles the ball and Marshall recovers it. With no one chasing him, he runs all the way into the end zone for what he believes to be a fumble recovery touchdown.
Unfortunately, Marshall ran the wrong way. When he threw the ball out the end zone to celebrate, the believed touchdown turned into a safety and two points for the 49ers.
4. Buffalo Bills Give Up Touchdown On Their Own Kickoff
Kickoffs are a fairly easy concept to understand, but the Buffalo Bills made a huge kickoff mistake during a Week 17 matchup with the New York Jets in 2017. Already down 23-3 with three minutes left in the final quarter, the Bills were set to receive a kickoff after a Jets’ field goal.
The kick was a little short and the Bills let the ball bounce into the end zone, which would’ve been fine if they covered the ball or kneeled with it. Instead, they chose to not field the kickoff, allowing the Jets to recover the kickoff in the endzone for a touchdown. A wicked turn of events.
The Bills would score a couple minutes later, but the damage was done. The Jets won the game 30-10, the Bills fell to 7-9 on the year, and their woes continued as the laughing stock of the NFL.
3. DeSean Jackson Drops the Ball
It was Week 2 of the 2015-16 season as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles looked to start their season off right. Things were going well on offense for both teams — the Eagles held a 27-21 lead in the second quarter, but then one of the worst plays in NFL history happened.
Everything looked good as Donovan McNabb completed what seemed to be a 61-yard touchdown pass to rookie DeSean Jackson. After further review, Jackson dropped the ball as part of his celebration too early, fumbling the ball on the one-yard line and taking a score away.
Eagles’ running back Brian Westbrook would score on the ensuing play, but both teams would continue battling for all four quarters. The Cowboys eventually won the game 41-37.
2. Mark Sanchez & the ‘Butt Fumble’
The year was 2012 and it was Week 12. The New York Jets were in the midst of a lost season, the New England Patriots were riding high with Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick was looking for his 200th win as a coach. With that said, it was Mark Sanchez that made the front page headlines.
It was the second quarter and the Jets had possession down 14-0. Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass, but immediately decided to start running the ball up the middle of the field. Before he could find some open room, he ran into his offensive lineman’s butt and fumbled the ball.
Steve Gregory recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 21-0. Their lead would grow to 35-0 in the second quarter, eventually winning the game 49-19.
1. Indianapolis Colts Forget How to Play Football
Coming in at No. 1 on our list of the worst plays in NFL history, the Indianapolis Colts had everyone scratching their heads after their bone-headed play against the New England Patriots on October 18, 2015. In fact, the play still has people scratching their heads to this day.
There was just over one minute left in the third quarter and the Colts were down 27-21. As they got ready to punt the ball, all the Colts’ players lined up near the sideline except Griff Whalen, who lined up as center, and Colt Anderson, who lined up as the quarterback. It looked awkward.
They should’ve never snapped the ball, especially considering there were multiple Patriots’ pass rushers and only one blocker (Whalen). Unfortunately, they did snap it and it resulted in a turnover on downs.
What Are the Worst Plays In Super Bowl History?
Having one of the worst plays in NFL history is one thing, but there’s nothing worse than having such a play on the biggest stage in the world — the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, we’ve seen it happen far too often and it generally costs a team their shot at a trip down championship lane.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks electing to pass the ball on the goal line instead of handing it off to Marshawn Lynch is one of the most famous flops in Super Bowl history. There’s also Packers’ head coach Mike Holmgren, who forgot what down it was in Super Bowl XXXII.
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The Atlanta Falcons not running the ball late in their Super Bowl LI loss, the Washington Redskins’ screen pass in their Super Bowl XVIII loss, and the Dallas Cowboys’ failed reverse play against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII are some other great examples.
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