Football is a brutal game. When you’re on the field for 60 to 70 plays a game over the course of a 16-game season, you’re probably going to get beat sometimes (unless your name is Anthony Muñoz).
But some drubbings sting worse than others — and some a player will never forget. We’re not talking about getting lit up by a blindside shot on a punt return like Browns safety Jordan Poyer was recently. That’s unfortunate. We're talking about those other plays — where a player gets flat-out beat or commits mental error and probably wants to avoid the head coach as he returns to the sideline. Gaffes like the famed Chuck Pagano fake punt debacle and Mark Sanchez’s Thanksgiving "butt fumble" have been excluded because they're once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But here's a rundown of the rest.
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When a defender gets blasted by a stiff-arm and thrown to ground
Chargers Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson was a master with the stiff-arm and subjected numerous opponents to brutal shots, like the one he doled out here to former Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. It’s not pleasant getting trucked by a running back, or totally faked out (sometimes resulting in “air tackles”), but it’s particularly devastating to get dismissed to the grass with a stiff-arm punch as the running back coasts toward the end zone.
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When a pass catcher drops a wide open pass or sure-thing touchdown
The most famous and heartbreaking example comes from Super Bowl XIII between the Steelers and Cowboys when veteran tight end Jackie Smith ran wide open across the end zone and a catchable ball from Roger Staubach bounced off his hands.
“Oh, bless his heart,” Verne Lundquist said on the Cowboys’ radio broadcast. “He’s got to be the sickest man in America.”
Instead of tying the game at 21, the Cowboys settled for a field goal and trailed 21-17 in an eventual 35-31 loss.
“You just feel like you let a lot of people down,” Smith said after the game. “I hope it won’t haunt me. But it probably will.”
Maybe they’re not haunted, but Smith certainly isn't the only player who’s dropped a pass or would-be interceptions. For example, had Patriots defensive back Asante Samuel come down with an errant Eli Manning pass in Super Bowl XLII, that would have ended the game.
A pancake is the pinnacle of offensive line play. In the play pictured, Broncos right tackle Russell Okung flattened Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy on a C.J. Anderson carry in Week 1. This image is also symbolic of the entire Panthers’ 2016 campaign.
When an offensive lineman gets put on skates (or flat-out bulldozed) by a pass rusher
It’s the Von Miller treatment. But we go to the college ranks in 2015 when former Alabama lineman Robert Nkemdiche beat an overmatched Auburn guard so badly that Nkemdiche, a first-round pick by the Cardinals, actually shoved the guard into the quarterback. Here’s another example when Joey Bosa trucked a helpless tackle into his own QB last year.
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When a running back literally gets hurdled while attempting to block a pass rusher
This is only slightly better than when a running back (1) wanders in the backfield looking for someone to block when a pass rusher comes bursting through the gap he was supposed to cover, or (2) the RB completely whiffs on a block. In the example pictured above, at least the running back knew his assignment and reported for duty; he just got leaped over by a superior athlete (Alabama’s Jonathan Allen) after an offensive lineman blew his assignment.
When a kicker misses a field goal in crunch time
Kickers have one job. It’s a position that most NFL teams (besides the Buccaneers) don’t bother filling in the draft. But it’s not an easy job. Short-range, high percentage “chip shots” are supposed to be easy ... but things happen. And when they do happen, hearts sink, effort feels wasted, coaches throw their play sheets, hope slips away. The Vikings' Blair Walsh has lived it, as have Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro and Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka in subsequent possessions in Week 7.
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When a placeholder botches a snap
The Seahawks have benefited from opposing teams’ field goal unit woes in the playoffs more than once. You probably recall this one from the 2006 season when Cowboys QB Tony Romo supplanted Drew Bledsoe as the starter. Romo was also the team’s placeholder. And with just over a minute remaining in a Wild Card game, Dallas lined up for a 19-yard field goal when Romo mishandled the snap and was forced to make a run for it ... only to get stuffed as the Seahawks escaped with a miraculous win 20-19 win. (More about that fateful play here.)
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When a defensive back falls down in pass coverage and leaves a receiver wide open
Here, Patriots defensive back Justin Coleman experienced it first-hand, leaving Giants receiver Dwayne Harris free to reel in an easy touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.
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When a QB throws the ball directly at an opponent (without a soul on his own team around)
The example shown comes from Super Bowl XXX, when Cowboys defensive back Larry Brown caught his second interception of the game off of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Neil O’Donnell. "Neil anticipated an out route," Steelers offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt said. "[The receiver] ran a hitch route." Brown, an unlikely hero, read the throw whole way and returned the ball to the 6-yard line, setting up a score that put Dallas ahead 27-17 late in the game.
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When a defender jumps offsides on fourth down and less than five yards
It’s bad when the offense is trying to draw the defense offsides with a hard count or wacky formations. It’s even worse when a player jumps when the offense is in a punt formation and is fully expected to punt.
Back to Alabama again for the example. This play occurred in November 2012 when the undefeated No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide hosted No. 15 Texas A&M and trailed 29-24 with 40 seconds left in the game, forcing the Aggies to punt the ball on a 4th and 1 from their own 12-yard line. Only, Alabama’s Tyler Hayes jumped offsides and gave Texas A&M a first down, thereby sealing the Aggies' victory. (Alabama still went on to win the National Championship.)
When a wide receiver simply runs the wrong route, causing a turnover
There are QB-WR miscommunications, and then there are wide receiver errors when he’s supposed to run a particular route but runs another, often resulting in interceptions charged to the QB, but really are the fault of the receiver.
One such instance apparently occurred this past Sunday, when Case Keenum sailed a pass to the corner of the end zone. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher blamed WR Brian Quick for running the wrong route, leaving Giants DB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all alone underneath a punt-like pass with time enough to contemplate how terrified he was of dropping the ball. "That's like a nightmare," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It was too easy, so in your head you're like, ‘Please don't drop this ball.’But I came down with it and shoot, happy to get that win."
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Ex-Browns punter Spencer Lanning caught kick to face when attempting to tackle Steelers return man Antonio Brown. It’s good to have a sense of humor about it. Lanning tweeted the photo after the game. “Wait, wait, wait...When did this happen?!?”