NFL | May 23, 2023

Ranking the Worst Plays in NFL History

By Harry Bazley

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In the 101-year history of the NFL, there have been many moments of pure brilliance and jaw-dropping athleticism. However, not all plays are created equal and some plays have left fans scratching their heads or throwing their drinks in anger.

In this article, we'll delve into the long history of football to rank the worst plays ever witnessed. From questionable calls to fumbles gone awry, these plays will forever be etched in the minds of football fans.

8. Stevie Johnson's Overtime Drop

For our first cringe-worthy moment, we're going to the Buffalo Bills' wide receiver Stevie Johnson

In a critical game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, Stevie Johnson dropped a game winning touchdown pass in the end zone during overtime. His failure to secure the catch cost his team the victory, as the Steelers went on to win 19-16.

The missed opportunity not only haunted Johnson but has also left Bills fans heartbroken to this day.

7. Kirk Cousins' Accidental Kneel

During a game between the Washington Football Team and the New York Giants on December 22, 2013, a memorable and somewhat comical moment occurred involving quarterback Kirk Cousins. With the game tied in the closing seconds, Cousins attempted to orchestrate a last-minute drive to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.

In a hurry-up situation, the Washington offense advanced into field goal range and with the clock ticking down and no timeouts remaining, Cousins was tasked with stopping the clock to give his team a chance to attempt the game-winning kick. The common strategy in this situation is for the quarterback to "spike" the ball by intentionally throwing it into the ground immediately after receiving the snap. This stops the clock and allows the offense time to regroup.

But, in a moment of confusion, Cousins accidentally kneeled instead of spiking the ball, essentially ending the play...

6. Brett Favre's Wild Card Interception

In the 2010 NFC championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings found themselves within field goal range with 20 seconds on the clock and the score tied 28-28.

Running back Adrian Peterson, who had bullied the Saints defense all day, was prepped to earn an extra few yards and run the clock down to kick a game-winning field goal...

Instead, the head coach opted for a pass play, so Brett Favre took the snap, rolled out to his right and threw a cross-body interception, squandering a potential game-winning opportunity and leaving Vikings fans bewildered...

5. Super Bowl Showboating

Next up is an unfortunate blunder by Miami Dolphins' defensive lineman Leon Lett.

In Super Bowl XXVII, Lett recovered a fumble during the fourth quarter and appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. However, he prematurely celebrated by showboating, holding the ball out for all to see. This allowed the opposing Dallas Cowboys to catch up and strip the ball from his hands just before he crossed the goal line.

Lett's lack of focus cost his team a touchdown and made for one of the most embarrassing plays in Super Bowl history.

4. The Butt Fumble

One play that immediately comes to mind is the infamous "Butt Fumble." It occurred during a game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots in 2012.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez attempted to run with the ball but collided with his own lineman, causing him to fumble the ball and, embarrassingly, collide with his own rear end. This play epitomises a lack of coordination and awareness, earning its place on this list of worst plays in NFL history.

3. Dan Orlovsky's Safety

On October 12, 2008, during a game between the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions were backed up near their own end zone. Detroit's quarterback Dan Orlovsky lined up in the shotgun formation, took the snap and dropped back to attempt a pass.

However, he failed to realise that as he was moving backward and rolling out of the pocket, he stepped out of the back of the end zone. Unaware of his position on the field, Orlovsky continued to run towards the sideline, believing the play was still alive.

It was immediately ruled a safety by the officials, and the two points awarded to the Vikings for the safety only added to the Lions' struggles that day, as they went on to lose the game 12-10.

2. Seahawks Super Bowl Interception

The Seattle Seahawks' decision to throw an interception in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots remains perhaps the most scrutinised play call in NFL history.

With less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock and one timeout in hand, the Seahawks had a crucial second down and goal at the Patriots' one-yard line. At that moment, the whole world expected Marshawn Lynch - known for his powerful running style - to bulldoze his way into the endzone like he had done all season long...

But for some unknown reason, Pete Carroll elected to pass the ball and it was intercepted on the goal line by Malcolm Butler. It was undoubtedly a great play by the rookie cornerback, but the decision to not hand the ball off is certainly what cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl victory.

Just listen to the commentators after the play...

1. Jim Marshall Runs the Wrong Way

Lastly, let's take a trip back to 1964 when the Minnesota Vikings' Jim Marshall made a colossal mistake. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall recovered a fumble and sprinted toward the end zone. In his excitement, he forgot the cardinal rule of football: always run toward your opponent's end zone.

Marshall, disoriented following a scramble for the loose ball, ended up running the wrong way towards his own team's end zone. He crossed the goal line and threw the ball away in celebration, thinking he had scored a touchdown. Little did he know, this blunder resulted in a safety for the opposing team, giving them two points.

Jim Marshall's accidental safety truly set the standard for the worst plays in NFL history.

So, that wraps up our picks for the worst plays in NFL history, from fumbles that could have been recovered to potential game winners thrown away. These plays serve as reminders of the unpredictability and unforgiving nature of the game, many of which will stick with fans for decades to come.

Did we miss any of your favourite plays from our list? Let us know on Twitter & Instagram.