One of the most exciting aspects of football is the way a game can suddenly flip in the final moments. Nothing is more exciting than a late game-winning play. Teams may be ahead by a touchdown or find that they need to shut the opposition out for just a few seconds. But that’s not easy when you’re under the spotlight.
This is where elite quarterbacks truly come into their own. Proving they have the ability to make things happen with a crazy Hail Mary or an inventive play that totally stuns the defense is the stuff that makes real stars. But it’s not all about the QBs. Punters, receivers and running backs all produce moments of magic in every game from the regular season through to the Super Bowl. So today we’re going to take a look at 25 game-winning plays you have to see to believe. Some are beautiful, others were ugly, but they were all incredibly dramatic. Check out the list below via Seatgeek.com.
25. Hail Jaguars
Let’s start this list off with a trip to Jacksonville, where the Jaguars stunned the Houston Texans in 2010. With his team trailing and needing to score, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard chucked the ball up the field with all of his might. It wasn’t the greatest Hail Mary we’ve ever seen, but it ended with the right result. But it was not how you might imagine. The ball traveled 51 yards toward Texans’ safety Glover Quin.
Quin had the chance to guarantee victory for his team but instead, he cost the Texans the game. Instead of knocking the ball away to safety or catching it, he smacked it straight into the hands of Mike Thomas. The wide receiver was happy to retrieve the loose ball and scored the game-winning touchdown. It wasn’t the cleanest score on this list, but it was a very entertaining one.
Intentional forward fumbles are no longer a thing in the NFL, and you can thank Ken Stabler for that. The Oakland Raiders played the San Diego Chargers in 1978 when this very strange play occurred. Raiders quarterback Stabler deliberately fumbled the ball forward to prevent a game-ending sack. Against the spirit of the game? Absolutely. Against the rules? In short, it wasn’t at the time. In fact, you have to admire Stabler’s ingenuity.
His team trailed by six points when he acted. Then Pete Banaszak pushed the ball forward before Dave Casper kicked it and fell on it to score a touchdown. It was all a bit ridiculous but there was never anything like it ever again. The NFL acted because they didn’t want this to turn into a regular TD-scoring routine. However, it’s moments like these that make the game so special.
The Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions in 2017 when they pulled off a ridiculous comeback at Ford Field. They trailed 20-0 in the second half before they stunned the Lions in scorching style. It was ultimately Aaron Rodgers who stole the show with an insane Hail Mary pass. Richard Rodgers caught it and scored the game-winning touchdown. The quarterback threw for a 61-yard score on the final play of the game.
Nobody could believe what they had witnessed. The game ended 27-23 with the Lions in tatters. Furthermore, this was the longest game-winning Hail Mary play in the history of the NFL. When you have a legendary quarterback like Rodgers starting, anything is possible. He scrambled free from the Detroit pressure and made magic happen. Credit to his namesake, Richard, for putting the final touch on an incredible moment.
Tebow’s time in the NFL was short but notable and chaotic. However, despite being a bust overall, he did have a truly iconic moment. After going three straight games without throwing for 200 yards, the Broncos didn’t have much hope of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. But they didn’t reckon on Tebow having the game of his life against the Steelers as he suddenly became a playoff winner that day.
Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime ended the game 29-23 for Denver. It was the quickest ending to an NFL overtime game ever and nobody could believe what they had seen. After just 11 seconds, overtime was over. Meanwhile, Tebow’s total of 316 passing yards gave the NFL false hope that this was a new dawn for the former Florida Gators star. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be but he always has this moment.
Former Green Bay Packer receiver Antonio Freeman conjured up one of the strangest game-winning plays ever seen in NFL history. The Minnesota Vikings missed a field goal against the Packers to set in motion an incredible sequence. They had the chance to send the game into overtime when Mitch Berger threw an interception. But then Freeman caught the ball in the most astonishing manner to seal the victory for the Packers.
Somehow, the Vikings’ Chris Dishman deflected the pass twice. It hit Freeman’s shoulder and he managed to make the catch. Then he ran for 15 yards to score a crazy touchdown. In short, it was a wild series of events that ended in a famous victory for the Packers. It wasn’t the prettiest game-winning play on this list but it was entertaining. Sometimes, those are the most memorable.
The Seattle Seahawks played the Green Bay Packers on a Monday night that ended in a massive controversy. It coincided with the 2012 referee lockout, which meant that not every official on the field was good. Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the endzone where Golden Tate awaited. No one could have predicted the drama that was about to erupt.
One official signaled that it was a touchdown while the other called it a touchback. Meanwhile, Tate pushed the Packers’ Sam Shields with both hands which should have negated the touchdown regardless. In the end, the final decision was to allow the score. This was a game-winning play that shouldn’t have been, but was nonetheless immensely entertaining. Unless you’re a Green Bay fan, of course.
A game-winning field goal is a very special moment. Kickers have to endure immense pressure as they only have one opportunity to get it right. Nobody wants to miss it because they know it could define their careers. In 2006, we saw one of the best-ever when Matt Bryant booted a sensational 62-yard field goal. It was just a regular-season game but it was still an extraordinary play to witness.
The Philadelphia Eagles played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and overcame a 17 point deficit to lead the game. However, the Bucs were able to salvage a victory through Bryant. ‘Clutch’ should be his middle name because he didn’t feel the pressure at all with one of the longest field goals you’ll ever see. That type of accuracy from that distance in that stressful situation is remarkable.
The Cardinals somehow came back to beat the Buffalo Bills after a glorious Hail Mary pass from Kyler Murray. With just seconds left on the clock, he flung the ball at DeAndre Hopkins, who caught it for a touchdown. This spectacular moment was one of the most incredible of a bizarre season. It meant that the Cardinals won the game 32-30 to break the Bills’ hearts.
This just wasn’t Buffalo’s day and they couldn’t believe what had just happened. Hopkins is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL and proved it with an outrageous catch. This Cardinals team has a lot of heart as they demonstrated a few weeks earlier against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a case of never say die when you have the chance to fight back and make something happen.
Green Bay faced San Francisco with the intention of extending their winning run over the Niners to four straight seasons. However, this time around, San Francisco had other ideas. But their win came the hard way after Brett Favre forced the Packers 89 yards up the field in a ferocious driver. Then Antonio Freeman scored a touchdown. In sum, the 49ers were up against it.
Then the 49ers responded and drove forward themselves. They forced themselves 76 yards upfield before Steve Young connected with Terell Owens to score an amazing touchdown. In the end, San Francisco won 30-27 and stopped Green Bay from reaching a third consecutive Super Bowl. Dynasties rise and fall on moments like these. This was a classic play.
The Oakland Raiders combined to put in a Spartan-like final assault against the Miami Dolphins in one of the most-famous game-winning plays forever remembered as the ‘Sea of Hands.’ Ken Stabler his team 60 yards down the field before calling the Raiders’ final timeout. With just two minutes left on the clock and trailing 26-21, time was running out for the Raiders to snatch a win.
However, not only did they win, they did so in style. Stabler had an ocean of Dolphins in front of him and struggled to find an open receiver. But just as it looked as though a Dolphins defender was about to sack him, he released the ball. Clarence Davis caught it and rode the challenge of three Miami players to score a brilliant touchdown. It was heartbreaking for Miami but sheer will and determination saw Oakland get through.
This record-setting field goal is also one of the most incredible game-winning plays of all-time. Dempsey’s kick against the Detroit Lions is the stuff of legends. The Lions led against the New Orleans Saints with 11 seconds left on the clock. Dempsey – with no fingers on one hand and a club foot – stepped forward to seal his place in history. His record for the longest field goal stood for more than 40 years.
He also handed his team a 19-17 win over the Lions. Controversy followed Dempsey because he wore a special square shoe on his right foot as he had no toes. However, ESPN analyzed his footwear and claimed that it had a smaller surface area than regular shoes at the time. In sum, Dempsey was supremely talented and made light of his apparent disabilities. What an inspiration and a sensational play.
The Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills clashed in Nashville in 2000 in one of the most famous showdowns in NFL history. Down by a point with seconds left, the Titans had no time to waste if they wanted to make something happen and rescue the game. Kevin Dyson saved the day even though he didn’t even expect to play. Check out the stunning touchdown below.
Frank Wycheck threw a controversial lateral pass to the wide receiver who set off on his way. He ran for 75 yards to score and secure an improbable victory over the Bills. It’s always fantastic when a less-famous player gets to seal their name in history because of something like this. Overall, Dyson enjoyed a stunning moment and was a hero throughout Tennessee.
After trailing the Cleveland Browns into the fourth quarter, the Minnesota Vikings somehow contrived to turn the game around. The Browns were ahead 23-9 before the Vikings erupted and went for the win. As the clock struck zero, they scored the game-winning touchdown in outrageous circumstances. Overall, the combination of Tommy Kramer and Ahmed Rashad changed the game.
Kramer threw to his wide receiver but saw the pass deflected. However, Kramer calmly stuck out to grab it as though it were a newspaper. This stunning one-handed catch sealed a 28-21 victory for the Vikings. Finally, it just goes to show that it’s never too late to make something happen in the NFL if you’re only a touchdown behind. The Miracle at the Met stands as a testament to that fact.
The Indianapolis Colts played the New England Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship. After losing their last two playoff games against the Pats, the Colts had an opportunity for revenge in front of their home fans. However, New England took a 21-3 lead before the Colts had even warmed up. No matter though, as the Colts brought the game back level before a Stephen Gostkowski field goal put the Pats ahead 34-31.
With two minutes to go, Peyton Manning moved his offense forward 70 yards in just 19 seconds. Joseph Addai scored a touchdown for Indianapolis before Tom Brady tried to set up a counter for the Patriots. But Marlin Jackson intercepted the pass. The Colts moved closer to a famous Super Bowl title after a stunning game of football. Not one of Brady’s favorite moments.
San Francisco superstar Joe Montana has a couple of moments on this list. Two weeks before the 49ers won Super Bowl XVI, they played the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship. It was ‘America’s Team’ who led 27-21 with a minute left on the clock. But Montana was an elite quarterback as we all know and demonstrated his class in a career-defining moment. He threw to Dwight Clark, who produced a catch that would go down in history to score a touchdown.
Montana couldn’t even see where he was throwing as he improvised and flung toward the endzone. Somehow, Clark managed to snatch it out of the air in stunning fashion. Clark’s leap was like an Olympic high-jumper because it was so high. Some plays are timeless as this one proves. It was definitely one of the most spectacular game-winning moments of all-time.
It may not actually have been the first Hail Mary pass ever, but it was the source of the name. Few things are better in football than when a quarterback risks everything by fling the ball as far as he can. The Dallas Cowboys trailed against the Minnesota Vikings in 1975 when this insanely brilliant moment occurred and Roger Staubach coined the term we all use today.
The Cowboys’ quarterback threw the ball for 50 yards to Drew Pearson. Then, the wide receiver sprinted forward to cap a comeback victory against Minnesota. After Staubach successfully completed his pass, they won the game 17-14 to stun the Vikings. In his post-game interview, he described the moment as a ‘Hail Mary pass,’ embedding the phrase in football vernacular for the rest of time.
A truly heartbreaking moment for the New York Giants that saw them lose to the Philadelphia Eagles in the most agonizing of circumstances. The Giants led by 21 points with just eight minutes left before they imploded. Suddenly, the Eagles took flight and scored four unanswered touchdowns to seal the most unlikely of victories. Obviously the last was the most dramatic because it was the game-winning moment.
It was a nightmare for punter Matt Dodge, who kicked the ball into the hands of DeSean Jackson instead of aiming it out of bounds. Jackson sensationally returned the punt for a touchdown and cost the Giants a place in the postseason despite their 10-6 record. It was the defining moment of Jackson’s career as he produced a scintillating touchdown with everything on the line.
This time the Dallas Cowboys were on the receiving end of a dramatic game-winning play. They led the Green Bay Packers 17-14 in the NFC Championship game. The game was barely playable because the conditions were so bad. However, Green Bay still had some gas left in the tank and they went forward with one last push. Finally, with just 16 seconds left on the clock, they pulled off a simple but audacious move.
Quarterback Bart Starr called the Packers’ last timeout with barely any time left. With coach Vince Lombardi, he agreed to do a QB sneak. The play worked perfectly as Green Bay’s superb blocking allowed Starr to slip into the end zone and claim the championship. That was the first step on their way to Super Bowl glory. A brilliant play paved the way.
1978 saw one of the most iconic Philly wins of all-time. The Eagles trailed against the New York Giants in the dying minutes of the game. Leading 17-12 after Philadelphia used up all of their timeouts, New York just needed to see out the game and could have taken a knee. But instead, they bizarrely called for a handoff. Then quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled the ball and Herman Edwards picked it up.
The Giants watched helplessly as he ran to the endzone and scored a dramatic late touchdown to break their hearts. Meanwhile, New York missed out on the playoffs as a direct result of losing this game. Who went instead? You guessed it, the Eagles. The Miracle at the Meadowlands was one of the most dramatic game-winning moments in NFL history and also a terrible blooper.
Every NFL diehard knows about this legendary game-winning moment. However, it was incredibly controversial at the time. Pittsburgh back Franco Harris caught a deflected pass and rumbled forward like an unstoppable train to score an iconic touchdown. With 30 seconds left, he stormed for 60 yards to win the game 13-7 for the Steelers. You can check out the clip to see it for yourself below.
The controversy came because some believe that John Fuqua touched the ball before his teammate, Harris, picked it up. Of course, this would have nullified the touchdown if the decision went that way. Others think that it hit the ground before Harris caught it, which would have had the same result. In the end, history remembers the winners and Harris ensured victory over in this one.
One of the best endings in Super Bowl history, this was a phenomenal game for the neutral fan. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Arizona Cardinals in the hunt for glory. First of all, it looked like the Cardinals had won the game. Kurt Warner threw to Larry Fitzgerald who went 64 yards to score a go-ahead touchdown. Everybody thought that this was the epic ending to the game, but there was another twist in the tale.
Pittsburgh had another moment of magic left. Ben Roethlisberger inspired his team to a sensational comeback as the Steelers became the first team to win six Super Bowls. They edged closer and closer to the endzone until ‘Big Ben’ suddenly threw to Santonio Holmes. In one of the most ludicrous game-winning plays ever, Holmes defied gravity to catch the ball and avoided falling out of the endzone to secure the touchdown.
The New Orleans Saints led against the Minnesota Vikings with just 25 seconds left. After blasting back from a 17-0 deficit, it looked like the Saints had completed a spectacular comeback. But this game had another twist, as the Vikings cruelly but spectacularly broke New Orleans’s hearts. Case Keenum threw 27 yards to Stefon Diggs, who raced clear of the defense for 61 yards to seal the win.
Marcus Williams stumbled and allowed Diggs to find the space to run. Furthermore, no playoff game ever saw a touchdown with time expired at the same moment before. This made this game-winning play all the more special. Depending on your perspective it’s one of the greatest or most embarrassing moments. Firstly, you have Diggs’ brilliance but then you also have Williams’ brutal failure.
Joe Montana produced a moment worthy of cinematic recognition in 1989. The San Francisco 49ers played the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl and amazingly the Bengals were winning. Montana ensured the 49ers mounted a stunning comeback. Leading 16-13, the Bengals trapped the Niners in their own eight with less than three minutes to go.
This is the kind of moment that elite quarterbacks dream of. Montana stepped up and set in motion one of the greatest game-winning plays ever. He passed 27 yards upfield to build momentum and sent another to John Taylor to score the defining touchdown. You can check out the clip above to see how smooth this sequence was. During this Super Bowl, Montana was really on another level.
Few things are better than the Patriots losing a Super Bowl. Leave it to Eli Manning to ensure their demise in the 2007 season. In sum, Manning combined with Plaxico Burress for one of the most dramatic game-winning plays in NFL history. First of all, he wriggled free and threw deep to David Tyree who pulled off the famous ‘helmet catch.’ Three plays later, the ball was in the endzone.
Manning found Burress who scored and ended the Patriots’ hopes of a 19-0 unbeaten season. This was all the sweeter for the Giants who ran out 17-14 winners. Meanwhile, Manning won the Super Bowl MVP award for his contribution. In sum, he stayed consistent to help win the game for New York. What a game this was and what a way for it to end.
White earns the top spot on this list after his astonishing game-winning touchdown in the dying seconds of Super Bowl LI in 2017. The New England Patriots played the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 and won in the most stunning of circumstances. Atlanta blew a massive 28-3 lead in one of the worst meltdowns ever. But White’s game-winning touchdown on the final play sealed the deal.
His marauding effort came in overtime after the Falcons threw the game away. Furthermore, he probably should have won the Super Bowl MVP award because he had 110 receiving yards, 29 rushing yards, and three touchdowns, in addition to that moment of epicness. Of course, Tom Brady claimed that individual honor and, to be fair, did play extremely well by throwing for 466 yards. But even Brady believed White deserved the award.