10 worst plays in NFL history

BY foxsports • June 30, 2017

October 18th is the one year anniversary of the Griff Whalen fake punt attempt for the Indianapolis Colts. So here are the 10 worst plays in NFL history…

It’s only been a year since one of the worst plays in NFL history. The Indianapolis Colts executed the worst play call in league history when head coach Chuck Pagano thought it was a good idea to run that Griff Whalen to Colt Anderson fake punt.

The Colts sent everybody else on that special teams unit to one side of the field. Whalen would snap the ball to Anderson, the New England Patriots would sack him for a turnover on downs, and the Sunday Night Football crew lost their minds.

We could hear Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth struggling to make sense of Pagano’s despicable play call. That happened on Sunday, October 18th, 2015. To commemorate one of the worst plays in NFL history, here are the 10 that were the absolute worst.

MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 12, 1972: (L to R) Placekicker Garo Yepremian

10. Garo’s Gaffe

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team in the Super Bowl era to have completed an undefeated season. Don Shula’s team went 17-0 that year, winning Super Bowl VII over the Washington Redskins.

That 1972 team was near perfect, but is best remembered for one of the worst plays in NFL’s history: Garo’s Gaffe. Perhaps the 1972 Dolphins’ weakness was its kicking game. Kicker Garo Yepremian had a knack for kicking the football too low on field goal attempts. He was an accurate kicker, but would get blocked occasionally.

Shula had his team up 14-0 on Washington late in the fourth quarter. Rather than going for it on fourth and four, Shula called on Yepremian to kick a 42-yard field goal. A made Yepremian field goal would have made it 17-0 Dolphins over the Redskins to cap off a perfect 7-0 season.

Well, Shula’s hubris got in the way and Yepremian’s goal attempt was blocked by Washington defensive tackle Bill Brunidge. The football would bounce back to Yepremian before holder/stellar backup quarterback Earl Morrall could get his hands on it.

Yepremian was running for his life in the Miami backfield. He tried to pass the ball to star running back Larry Csonka, who also blocked for the Dolphins on field goals. Yepremian’s pass went straight up in the air and he batted it right into Redskins cornerback Mike Bass’ hands. Bass would take the fumble back for a touchdown to make it 14-7 after the made Redskins PAT.

Miami would complete its pursuit of perfection by the same score. That 1972 team was perfect, but all anybody remembers about that Dolphins team was Garo’s Gaffe.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe (17) consults with head coach Sam Rutigliano during a 27-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on December 21, 1980, at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dennis Collins/Getty Images)

9. Red Right 88

Red Right 88 is one of the many plays associated with the tortured sports culture of Cleveland, Ohio. What stands out about this one is how stupid Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe was on this play call.

Cleveland was down 14-12 at home in the 1980 AFC Divisional Round to the Oakland Raiders. It was a frigid day at Cleveland Stadium with a game time temperature of 4-degrees Fahrenheit. The Browns had the football on the Raiders’ 13-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the game. It was cold outside, but the Browns were in range for an easy field goal to win the AFC Playoff game.

Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano told Sipe to run a play called “Red Slot Right, Halfback Stay, 88” on first down. Rutigliano instructed Sipe to “throw it into Lake Erie” if nobody was wide open in the end zone on that pass attempt.

Sipe misread the Raiders defense and tried to force the ball to tight end Ozzie Newsome. Raiders safety Mike Davis read Sipe’s telegraphed pass and pick him off in the end zone by jumping in front of Newsome. Oakland would run out the clock to win the AFC Playoff game on the road, 14-12. The Raiders would go on to win Super Bowl XV, 27-10 over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Cleveland had four plays to get three points and completely blew it on the first attempt. It wasn’t a sure thing that kicker Don Cockroft would have made the field goal, as he was playing with two herniated discs. If Sipe threw this ball into Lake Erie like Rutigliano instructed, maybe Cleveland would have won Super Bowl XV?

29 Oct 1995: Defensive lineman Leon Lett of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. The Cowboys won the game, 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport

8. Leon Lett It Go, II

The Dallas Cowboys were a beast of a football team in the NFC in the early to mid-1990s. Dallas would win three Super Bowls in four seasons with The Triplets of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin at the helm.

However, the two most memorable plays of that era of the Cowboys were embarrassing plays by defensive tackle Leon Lett. Lett would drop the football before crossing the goal line on a would-be defensive touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII, but the Cowboys would crush the Buffalo Bills, 52-17.

That play became known as Leon Lett It Go. However, Leon Lett It Go, II was substantially worse than his Super Bowl XXVII the year before. On the 1993 Thanksgiving Classic, the Cowboys were playing in a rare snow storm at home. Dallas was up 14-13 on the Miami Dolphins with 15 seconds left in the game.

Miami was going to attempt a 41-yard game-winning field goal. Dallas’ Jimmie Jones would block the field goal to presumably win the game. The Cowboys were jumping up and down on the sidelines because they thought they had won the game.

What they didn’t realize was that Lett tried to recover the blocked kick near goal. Lett slipped on some ice and muffed the recovery, allowing the Dolphins to get the ball back at the Cowboys’ one-yard line.

With three seconds left on the game clock, Miami would sink the game-winning field goal to make it 16-14 Dolphins. Why didn’t Leon just Lett it go? The Cowboys would win the Super Bowl that season and the Dolphins wouldn’t win another game in 1993, but that play was embarrassing.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Jerome Pathon scores with no time on the clock December 21, 2003 at Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida. Pathon scored on a play where the ball changed hands five times.The Jaguars won 20 – 19 when the Saints missed the extra point. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

7. River City Relay

There may not have ever been a sloppier seven seconds in NFL history than the series of plays known as the River City Relay. This was a Week 16 game between the New Orleans Saints (7-7) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) on December 21st, 2003.

The Saints needed to win their final two games of 2003 to qualify for the NFC Playoffs. Jacksonville was already out of the AFC Playoff picture, but was totally cool with playing the role of spoiler.

Down 20-13 with seven seconds remaining on their own 25-yard line, the Saints needed a touchdown and an extra point to force overtime to keep their playoff dreams alive. After a series of laterals (all legal), the Saints would get into the end zone on a Jerome Pathon dive well after time expired. Keep in mind this was only a few years after the Music City Miracle happened in Nashville for the Jaguars’ rival Tennessee Titans.

The officials would consult and confirm that Aaron Brooks to Donte Stallworth to Michael Lewis to Deuce McAllister to Pathan was a touchdown. All the Saints needed was a John Carney extra point to force overtime at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville.

Well, Carney missed the PAT wide right, costing the Saints a potential trip to the 2003 NFC Playoffs. This play would go on to win Best Play at the 2004 ESPYs.

Aug 25, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) lies on the turf after a tackle against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

6. Romo’s botched snap

Until recently, Tony Romo has been the reliable starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys as he had been the franchise quarterback in Dallas for a decade. He’s played his way into the conversation as one of the four best quarterbacks in Cowboys history with Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, and Danny White. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Romo in his first year on the job in 2006.

Romo would win the starting quarterback job in 2006 under head coach Bill Parcells. Dallas would make the NFC Playoffs with a 9-7 record that season and had to play the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.

Qwest Field as it was known at the time was not the raucous home field advantage CenturyLink Field is now for the Seahawks. Teams had their opportunities to win even playoff road game in Seattle.

The Cowboys were yards away from beating the Seahawks in the 2006 NFC Wild Card Game. Down 21-20 late in the fourth quarter, Dallas had a chance to take the lead on a 19-yard field goal. Romo, who was the holder at the time for the Cowboys, botched the snap and had to scramble towards the end zone to avoid a turnover on downs. He was tackled near the goal line.

Seattle would then proceed to go three-and-out on its next possession. Romo would get another opportunity to win the game on the road in Seattle, but couldn’t complete a Hail Mary in the back of the end zone. Dallas would lose 21-20.

Romo is a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback, but this is the play he’ll be remembered for. Coincidentally, it would be Seahawks that Romo would break his back against and then proceed to lose his starting job to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.


5. Brett Favre’s pick in the 2009 NFC Championship

Brett Favre built his reputation as one of the most durable players in NFL history, but also one of the biggest gamblers as a gunslinger from the quarterback position. He never missed starts for the Green Bay Packers, the New York Jets, and the Minnesota Vikings. Favre does have the NFL record for most career interceptions.

It was this reckless abandon mentality to the quarterback position that made Favre one of the greatest must-watch players in NFL history. We never knew what he was going to do with the football in his hands.

Favre’s last great season was in 2009 when he was quarterbacking the Vikings. Minnesota was playing a tight ball game against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome. This game would go on to be known for two things: the Bountygate Scandal and the worst interception of Favre’s NFL career.

Favre broke every passing rule on this atrocious pick. Minnesota was tied at 28 with 19 seconds left in the game. He runs to his right and then proceeds to throw across his body right into the arms of Saints defensive back Tracy Porter. The Saints would go on to win the game 31-28 in overtime on a first-possession field goal.

This game forced the NFL to not allow a first-possession field goal to decide overtime. Paul Allen’s call of this terrible play by Favre is one of the all-time great calls in NFL history. The Vikings could have taken a knee and attempted a 57-yard field in a dome instead of letting Favre blow this game away.

FLUSHING, NY – CIRCA 1970’s: Running back Larry Csonka

4. Miracle at the Meadowlands

The New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the most historic rivalries in the NFL. They play each other twice annually in the NFC East, yet there is one play that comes to mind in this rivalry: the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

New York was up 17-12 with seconds left against Philadelphia at home in Giants Stadium. The Eagles didn’t have any timeouts left and New York was poised to run out the clock en route to victory. Then something really stupid happened for New York.

Rather than take a knee to seal the deal, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik opted to hand the football off to the aging tailback Larry Csonka. The exchange between Pisarcik and Csonka was all kinds of awful.

This allowed Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards to pick up the fumble and return it for a 26-yard touchdown. Philadelphia would win the game 19-17 and reach the NFC Playoffs at 7-5. New York stumbled to 5-7 and failed to qualify for the postseason.

Edwards played to win the game. This was one of those plays that changed way the NFL saw how to ice the game with a lead. Taking knees weren’t generally accepted at that time and victory formation didn’t really exist. Teams will now have a safety valve behind the other 10 offensive players to avoid a Miracle at the Meadowlands type of late-game catastrophe.

Oct 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen (17) is tackled by New England Patriots defensive back Brandon King (36) during the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

3. Griff Whalen’s fake punt attempt

The NFL should have levied a two-game suspension for Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano for this horrid, monstrosity of a special teams play call a year ago against the New England Patriots. What moon of Saturn would this play call have worked on? This was pure trash.

Down 27-21 at home against the rival Patriots, Pagano decided it was the right time to execute the worst play call in NFL history. It was fourth-and-three from the Indianapolis 37-yard line with 1:14 left in the third quarter.

Rather than have reliable punter Pat McAfee boot the ball deep into Patriots territory, Pagano had the Colts go into a I-can’t-believe-this-is-legal formation. Nine of the Colts’ 11 special teamers on the field would run to the Colts’ side of field, leaving Griff Whalen to snap the ball to Colt Anderson.

The Patriots would leave three players to rush Anderson and put eight to the Colts’ overloaded side and New England would sack Anderson effortlessly. Indianapolis would fail to reach the AFC Playoffs at 8-8. New England would reach the AFC Championship. There may never be a worse play call in NFL history that could top this on-field debacle.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback Mark Sanchez

2. The Butt Fumble

It was Thanksgiving 2012 and quarterback Mark Sanchez was starting to fall out of favor with the New York Jets. New York was 4-5 on the year after reaching the AFC Championship two years before. The Rex Ryan defense had lost its luster and Sanchez was revealed as a bad franchise quarterback.

Against the New England Patriots at home on Thanksgiving Day, the world got to see something that became known as the Butt Fumble. The Jets lined up in I formation for what was supposed to be a fullback handoff to Lex Hilliard. The play call was designed to catch New England off guard by Sanchez handing the ball off to Hilliard instead of running back Shonn Greene.

Sanchez would execute this play horribly. He took the snap and turned the wrong direction, thinking that Hilliard would be there; he was not. To try and salvage something on this botched play, Sanchez tried to scramble back to the line of scrimmage to slide to stop the play.

While he was attempting to slide, Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork shoved Jets guard Brandon Moore right into the sliding Sanchez. Moore’s behind forced Sanchez to fumble the football. Patriots safety Steven Gregory would pick up the loose ball and take it back for a 32-yard fumble recovery touchdown.

New England would take a 21-0 lead over the Jets on the PAT and would win 49-19 in this Thanksgiving Day laugher. The play would go viral on the internet. Sanchez destroyed his quarterback reputation with this one play. He will be forever associated with the Butt Fumble.

PASADENA, CA- JANUARY 9: Jim Marshall #70 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on from the bench against the Oakland Raiders during Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Raiders won the Super Bowl 32 -14. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

1. Jim Marshall runs the wrong way

Jim Marshall has been a borderline Pro Football Hall of Famer for years. He was a prominent piece in the Minnesota Vikings Purple People Eaters defensive line in the 1960s and 1970s. Marshall holds two NFL records: most career fumble recoveries (30) and shortest play in NFL history (-66) yards. Both were prominent pieces in the worst play in NFL history.

The Vikings were playing the San Francisco 49ers on October 25th, 1964. 49ers wide receiver Billy Kilmer would fumble the football. Marshall would pick it up and run to the end zone untouched. The only problem was that it was the 49ers’ end zone.

Yes, Marshall ran the football 66 yards in the wrong direction for a 49ers safety. Marshall was so excited that he threw the football in the air in celebration that he scored a defensive touchdown for the Vikings.

His Vikings head coach Norm Van Brocklin would say to Marshall after this play, “Jim, you did the most interesting thing in this game today.” Despite giving the 49ers two points on a fumble recovery for a safety, the Vikings would still win the game 27-22.

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