When a team reaches the NFL playoffs they know that they have to be as close to flawless as possible. They only get one shot but things don’t always go their way. Even the best NFL players and coaches have sullied their names with poor performances at the worst possible time.
Today we’re going to take a look at 30 brutal NFL postseason defeats that sullied careers. Some of these defeats were terrible because they were blowouts. Others were very close and arguably all the more painful because of that. There are all kinds of players on this list, from quarterbacks to kickers, but all of them tarnished their careers to a degree because of one terrible moment or display. Check out the list below via Yardbreaker.
30. Donovan McNabb
The Eagles suffered a third consecutive NFC Championship game defeat in 2003. They came into the postseason strong as the number-one ranked seed. After suffering multiple agonies, their fans expected them to put everything together and go for glory. Unfortunately, their quarterback McNabb didn’t read the memo as he failed to show up in the NFC Championship game. They needed him well to perform but he didn’t.
Philly played the Carolina Panthers and were big favorites to win. However, McNabb sullied his image with a dreadful display. He threw not one, but three pick-sixes, and all of them to Ricky Manning. His 19.3 passer rating showed how bad he was on the day. It was performances like these that prevent fans from considering McNabb as a top-tier quarterback.
Arguably the worst performance of Favre’s career, this one came in the 2001 divisional playoff round against the St. Louis Rams. ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ Rams were a different kettle of fish and this proved to be the case as they ran through the Packers. Green Bay melted under the Rams’ relentless pressure as St. Louis blew them out 45-17. But the story of this game was Favre’s awful display.
He picked the worst possible time to implode. The Rams intercepted him six times as he failed to get to grips on the game. This was the middle of Favre’s career before the retirements and the fallout with Green Bay. He totaled 11 Pro Bowl appearances so fans expected nothing short of brilliance from him. But this was just one game too many for him and tarnished his season for sure.
Patrick Mahomes has helped Kansas City fans to forget a lifetime of pain. But this franchise has experienced a long period of postseason ineptitude before their savior came aboard. One of the most traumatic memories in its history was when Elliot missed three field goals in 1996. The Chiefs played the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round of the playoffs. But nobody could have expected the agony that Elliot and Chiefs’ fans would suffer.
He missed two field goals from 47 and 35 yards in the first half. However, if he converted his third attempt in the third quarter, fans would have forgiven him. This would have tied the game, but he failed to redeem himself from 42 yards. The Chiefs cut him after the game and Elliot became one of the most vilified players in the NFL. To say he sullied his reputation is a vast understatement.
In 1990, the Los Angeles Raiders were a powerful force. They won the AFC West division and crushed the Bengals in the divisional round. But that win came with a major cost. Bo Jackson (above), the only athlete to win MLB and NFL All-Star honors, suffered an injury in that game. Because of this, he couldn’t play in the championship game against the Buffalo Bills. Then, Schroeder found himself cast into the spotlight but he sullied his reputation.
Schroeder just wasn’t in the same class as Jackson and this showed on the playing field because he had a shocking game where he threw five interceptions. Furthermore, they proved costly as one was directly responsible for the Bills putting the game beyond reach in the very first quarter. He threw a pick-six that saw Darryl Talley make the score 21-3. It was over before it began for the Raiders.
The New York Jets have a unique ability that enables them to inflict pain upon their fans due to every possible scenario. Brien singlehandedly cost the Jets the chance to take on the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. He missed not one, but two kicks in the final two minutes of regulation. Finally, the Steelers won the game in overtime. Even when the Jets are good, they somehow manage to be awful.
Jets’ fans treat Brien like Lord Voldemort. Basically, don’t say his name because he will appear. The Jets did their best to ensure this never happened by releasing him immediately after the game. The Green Gang watched with bated breath before Brien sullied his reputation by missing the 43 and 47-yard kicks. But for everybody else, it was hilarious because it was so typical.
Cleveland fans, look away now. The Raiders met the Browns in the 1980 playoffs in a game notorious for the play ‘Red Right 88.’ That was one of the most traumatic moments in the history of the Browns’ franchise, but it doesn’t tell the full story of the game. It shouldn’t have come down to a single play, and if Sipe actually performed well, it might have been a different story.
The league MVP threw 30 touchdown passes and threw for over 4,000 yards in a stellar season. At least, stellar right up until that postseason game. Sipe went 13 for 40 with three interceptions in one of the worst displays of his entire career. It was the wrong time to have a meltdown because the team depended on him playing at his top form. However, he tarnished the entire season with just one awful performance.
The Cleveland Browns are a franchise accustomed to tarnished reps. In fact, it’s one of the few things they excel at. One of their most soul-destroying defeats came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. Their playoff defeat saw them lose by three points in a 36-33 game. But the worst part was that they could have and should have won had Northcutt not forgotten his lines.
Northcutt had already caught one touchdown pass in the game. With the Browns trailing and the game in the balance, Cleveland drove downfield. Kelly Holcomb had a magnificent game and the quarterback threw a sensational pass to Northcutt. However, Northcutt dropped the ball in the most agonizing manner. The poor Browns just couldn’t catch a break.
The Buffalo Bills special teams coordinator DeHaven had a nightmare against the Tenessee Titans due to the ‘Music City Miracle.’ Now to say that the inevitable defeat was his fault is unfair, but he was the game’s biggest casualty because the Bills fired him directly after. Buffalo had a lot of injuries and missed several key special teams players and they paid for it as the Titans took full advantage.
With just 16 seconds to play, the Bills led by a single point after Wade Phillips overruled DeHaven to call a field goal. DeHaven tried to catch the Titans out from the kickoff but it backfired because Lorenzo Neal took possession. Two passes and 75 yards later, the game was over. Kevin Dyson secured the win for Tennessee after a controversial pass from Frank Wycheck. What an ending it was.
“We want the ball and we’re going to score.” Those words will haunt Hasselbeck for the rest of his days. The Seattle Seahawks met the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Wild Card round. The game went to overtime and the Seahawks won the resulting coin toss. That’s when the Seattle quarterback spouted those infamous words. However, things could not have gone worse for him.
On their second drive, after both teams failed to score, Hasselbeck threw the most agonizing pick-six ever. Packers cornerback Al Harris intercepted the ball and stormed downfield to score the winning touchdown. All Hasselbeck could do was watch helplessly as the game ran away from him and Seattle. Never has karma made its presence on the playing field so powerfully felt.
The 9-7 Cardinals made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2008. Kurt Warner’s brilliance helped them at key moments but they were lucky to make it so far. However, they could thank the Panthers’ Delhomme for helping them in their quest. The quarterback was dreadful when the Panthers and Cardinals met in the divisional round in one of the worst quarterback postseason displays ever.
Delhomme threw five interceptions against the Cardinals and was responsible for six turnovers. He was definitely not the same player who led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance in his very first season. While he was the Panthers’ best quarterback until Cam Newton came along, he sullied his fans’ appreciation of him with that awful display. Some games are just cringeworthy to look back on.
Fouts was magnificent for the San Diego Chargers throughout 1979 as he became the first quarterback since Joe Namath to throw for over 4,000 yards. That was 13 years before the ‘Super’ Chargers met the Houston Oilers and saw their bubble burst. Analysts expected San Diego to win this game because their offense was so hot all season, but Fouts put on one of the worst displays of his entire career.
The Oilers were without league MVP Earl Campbell and star quarterback Dan Pastorini but it didn’t matter. This was because the Chargers were poor but Fouts was terrible. He threw five interceptions in an awful game for San Diego. A six-time Pro Bowl selection and 15-year Chargers’ veteran, the franchise should have gone deeper into the postseason that year, but those are the breaks.
One of the few Super Bowl moments on this list, Robinson ensured notoriety for life by soliciting an undercover police officer disguised as a hooker the night before the biggest game of his life. After Robinson discovered that he unfortunately had not encountered a prostitute, he spent the night at the local precinct. Meanwhile, this came after he won the Bart Starr award for good character. Needless to say, he handed that back following his release.
Then came the game itself. Dan Reeves made the ridiculous decision to start Robinson after his night from hell and maybe should be on this list instead. The corner tarnished his reputation first and foremost by trying to hook up with a hooker but played terribly to make things even worse. The worst moment was when Robinson gave up a 70-yard touchdown. In sum, it was the worst weekend of his life.
The Browns have provided the NFL some glorious moments of schadenfreude. Now it’s time for “The Fumble.” It was the 1987 AFC Championship game and the Browns faced off against the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium. After trailing 21-3 at halftime, QB Bernie Kosar reignited Cleveland and they used their momentum to come within a score of a tie game. Of course, the Browns sullied their comeback by making a mess of it.
Byner had the chance to score a touchdown from the one-yard line, but he couldn’t pull it off. The running back ran with the handoff but fumbled at a key moment. Broncos’ defensive end Jeremiah Castille instantly snatched the ball from his grasp and sealed the victory for Denver. Byner did go on to win a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins, but most remember him for ‘The Fumble.’
Cundiff signed for a staggering 13 different NFL franchises throughout his career. Basically, if a team needed a kicker to fill a spot on their roster, Cundiff was available. His time with the Baltimore Ravens was the most productive of his career and he even made the Pro Bowl. But he sullied his name in what turned out to be his final game for the Ravens in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns.
The kicker had a reputation for missing key kicks. After all, his last game with Dallas saw him miss two crucial field goals. The Ravens were behind 27-23 when Cundiff had the chance to send the game to overtime. But he sent his kick wide left from 32 yards. That was the end of his time in Maryland but the following season youngster Justin Tucker burst onto the scene. He’s the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Super Bowl XXIII saw the Cincinnati Bengals make their first and only appearance in the showpiece event. They faced the San Francisco 49ers but failed to bring home the rings. One big storyline from this Super Bowl was Wilson’s meltdown. Understandably nerves were high but Wilson’s response to this ended his career, nevermind tarnished it. Before a team meeting, Wilson said he needed to return to his hotel room.
When he didn’t resurface, coaches went in search of him. They discovered the running back on the floor of his room, out of his mind on crack cocaine. Forget the Super Bowl, Wilson never played in the NFL again because he broke the league’s drug rules so badly. Then, Joe Montana unleashed a clinic to decimate the Bengals on the big day. It was one of the most painful weekends in Bengals’ history.
Walsh was unbelievably consistent in 2015. He led the NFL for field goals throughout the regular season, including a stunning five-for-five against the New York Giants. This included a sensational 50-yard effort. When the Vikings faced the Seahawks in the playoffs, Walsh continued his good form by going three-for-three. But then came the most ‘clutch’ kick of them all. Could he hold his nerve?
Of course not, otherwise he wouldn’t be on this list. The worst thing about his crucial miss against Seattle was the fact that it was so easy on paper. It was a 27-yard chip shot, easy money for any NFL kicker. But he couldn’t convert the vital opportunity and the Seahawks won the game. This obviously tarnished his confidence because his form deteriorated over the next season and the Vikings finally released him.
Bono spent a lot of time as Joe Montana’s backup in San Francisco and Kansas City. He had a tense relationship with the fans of the latter. This came to a head when he claimed that the worst restaurant in San Francisco was better than the best in Kansas City. That stung the fans, but not as much as his performance in the 1994 season playoffs. The Chiefs played well all season with a 13-3 record but Bono let them down.
This was the same season where Bono ran for a 76-yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals, but he couldn’t reproduce that kind of magic against the Colts in a low-scoring game. Indianapolis won 10-7 on a day where Bono threw three interceptions. It was his last appearance in red and the Chiefs benched him for Rich Gannon in the fourth quarter. This one definitely tarnished his reputation at Arrowhead Stadium.
The New Orleans Saints met the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round in January 2018. It was a tight game but best-remembered for Williams and his mistake that led to the Minneapolis Miracle. The Saints led by a single point, with 25 seconds left, when the safety’s moment of personal agony came. He missed a tackle on Stefon Diggs and took out his own player instead.
The clock hit zero as soon as Diggs scored the touchdown and led to incredible scenes. This had never happened before in NFL history. Williams misjudged the flight of the ball and flapped haplessly. It was a tough moment for a young player to rebound from, especially because it was destined to be replayed forever. However, those are the breaks for every NFL star if they make such a high-profile mistake.
The Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years in 2020. But one man arguably prevented them from winning the trophy one season earlier. That was defensive coordinator Sutton, who tarnished his reputation throughout the campaign. The Chiefs made the AFC Championship game in 2019 but lost to the Patriots. While the Pats definitely received some favorable decisions from the officials, the Chiefs let themselves down on the day as well.
Defensively, they were their own worst enemies. Patrick Mahomes was sensational but there was only so much that he could do with that defense behind them. They yielded 13 New England third-down conversions, which was frankly unacceptable. The most damning indictment of Sutton’s abilities at the highest level was the fact that Kansas won a Super Bowl almost immediately after they fired him.
The Minnesota Vikings had Randy Moss and Randall Cunningham in 1998-1999. This was the greatest incarnation of the franchise to date, but they failed to capitalize on their incredible roster. Sure, they made it through the regular season with their blistering offense but fell short in the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons. They were literally a win away from a Super Bowl appearance, but they couldn’t make it.
Vikings’ fans had massive faith in Anderson. The kicker was perfect all season on field-goal attempts. However, faith is cruel and he tarnished his record at the worst possible time by missing a game-winning attempt. The 15-1 Vikings crashed out against a mediocre Atlanta team. The worst part was that the Broncos crushed the Falcons in the Super Bowl when the Vikings would have made the game much more interesting.
Stewart had two notorious postseason performances that defined him as a quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steeler had the talent but not the mentality to be a true franchise QB. The Steelers lost two AFC Championship games with Stewart as their starting play-caller. Firstly, in 1997 he threw away the game to the Denver Broncos in a cruel 24-21 defeat. But he was young there was sympathy for him.
But 2001 was a different story. The Steelers had the best defense in the league and a shiny new home stadium. All they needed was for Stewart, the team’s MVP and Pro Bowler, to perform to his level. New England lost Tom Brady to injury and brought on Drew Bledsoe. Meanwhile, the Patriots had a porous defense but it didn’t matter because Stewart missed passes and threw two pick-sixes in a miserable loss.
McCarthy led the Packers for 13 seasons and won a Super Bowl along the way. However, his legacy is diminished by the fact that he wasted the best years of Aaron Rodgers’ career. There’s little doubt that Rodgers should have appeared in far more Super Bowls and the head coach sullied his reputation in Green Bay by failing to achieve this. His dodgy decision-making was exemplified against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 NFC Championship game.
After the Packers built up a lead, McCarthy made the call to take the ball out of Rodgers’ hands. A strong offense was the best form of defense in this scenario, but McCarthy didn’t receive the memo and Green Bay imploded. His conservative playcalling was directly responsible for the Packers’ failure to cross the line. There’s no doubt that he was a solid coach, but it feels like he could have done more if he was braver.
Peyton Manning ensured Vanderjagt’s long-term infamy after he called him “an idiot kicker.” The former Colts’ star will never lose that moniker after missing a crucial field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning did everything right on the day as the Colts closed the gap from 21-3 to just three points. Then, Vanderjagt stepped forward ready to become a hero. But he simply couldn’t take it.
Vanderjagt hadn’t missed a field goal at home all season. After a fumble recovery, his chance came from 46 yards. But then he made a mess of the most important kick of his life. Nobody remembers or cares about his golden regular-season record, but everybody points toward his key miss. It handed the victory to the Steelers and sullied ‘that idiot kicker’s’ name for the rest of football history.
The Carolina Panthers annihilated the Arizona Cardinals in the 2015 playoffs. A big part of this defeat was the fact that Palmer, the Cardinals’ quarterback, had an awful game that tarnished fans’ perceptions of him. After patchy performances for the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, Palmer reignited his career in Arizona. Cam Newton won the 2015 NFL MVP award but Palmer was a close contender after his best year as a pro.
But it was probably just as well that he didn’t win it because his performance in the NFC Championship game was atrocious. Palmer turned the ball over six times as the Panthers hammered the Cardinals and showed just why Newton won the MVP award instead. It was an embarrassing display for everybody involved. Meanwhile, Palmer never played in the postseason again after the game tarnished his rep.
The Jets were one step away from the Super Bowl when they met the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. They believed that they could make it past Miami and had great faith in their quarterback Todd to make a difference. However, Todd chose the worst possible moment to have one of the worst games of his career. He was directly responsible for the Jets losing the game and sullied his legacy.
It was 1982, the year before Miami drafted a young quarterback named Dan Marino. Meanwhile, the Jets established themselves as Super Bowl favorites but couldn’t get it together on the Orange Bowl field. Todd threw five interceptions including a game-defining pick-six that resulted in the Dolphins winning 14-0. It was an awful way for the game to end and Todd could only hold his face in his hands.
Miami’s greatest-ever quarterback never won a Super Bowl but he broke all kinds of football records. His final game arrived in 2000 but fans didn’t expect this to be the last one. The Dolphins played the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional playoff round and expected to defeat their Florida rivals. However, that didn’t go to plan at all. Instead, Marino left the NFL with a whimper after one of the most crushing defeats in postseason history.
The Jaguars annihilated the Dolphins in a 62-7 massacre. Marino achieved just 97 passing yards because the Jags refused to allow him into the game. Meanwhile, he had two interceptions and a fumble as he endured the roughest afternoon of his life. Jacksonville sacked him hard throughout the game and majorly sullied his final appearance. There was to be no Super Bowl send-off for one of the sport’s most legendary signal-callers.
Revisionism has seen more people understand why Carroll didn’t make the call to run the ball with star running back Marshawn Lynch. But few postseason incidents have sullied reputations more than his final call at Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks were a yard away from winning their second successive Super Bowl when Carroll ordered Russell Wilson to attempt a pass play instead of offloading to the marauder that was Marshawn Lynch.
After the game, Carroll explained that statistically, Lynch was very ineffective from similar positions all season. However, fans and millions of viewers around the world didn’t see it that way at the time. All they saw was Malcolm Butler plucking the ball out of the air. It was extremely controversial at the time and Carroll endured insane criticism. Credit has to go to the veteran coach for enduring it getting past it.
Wide right. Poor Norwood will never shake those infamous words, even though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Sure, he missed the fateful kick that sullied the rest of his life, nevermind his career. The Bills played the Giants at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 and gave Norwood the opportunity to be a hero. However, Norwood discovered that real life isn’t the movies and duly kicked his 47-yard effort wide of the post.
Millions of eyes seared into Norwood before he buckled under the pressure and gave the Giants the win. Of course, Marc Levy and Jim Kelly made mistakes during the game that didn’t help the Bills but they left Norwood exposed with a brute of a kick. Engrained in NFL folklore, the Bills failed to shake off the legacy of ‘Wide-Right’ for an entire generation. But that’s what the game is about.
Snyder’s Falcons suffered the unfortunate record of dropping the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. Their meltdown against the New England Patriots remains notorious because it was a horrible collapse. Fatigue overcame the Falcons who couldn’t do anything to stop the Patriots on their trudge to victory. Meanwhile, it sulled the career of head coach Dan Quinn, who failed to change the momentum of the game.
Arguably, Kyle Shanahan was just as responsible because of his aggressive plays during the game, but then he went and took the 49ers’ head coach job. This meant that Quinn was alone in the spotlight to pick up the pieces and shake off the shadow of the Falcons’ nightmare. Atlanta subsequently deteriorated over the next couple of seasons until they finally put Quinn out of his misery.
The Cleveland Browns destroyed the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021 to win their first playoff game win in 25 years. The Browns were without their head coach Kevin Stefanski, their best offensive lineman, and also two starting cornerbacks. However, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt had no problem building up the biggest first-quarter lead in postseason history (28-0). Meanwhile, the Steelers were atrocious and this game badly sullied their otherwise good season.
Their entire team should take the blame for this one, but there’s no denying that ‘Big Ben’ was terrible. The two-time Super Bowl winner wore an expression of frustration and confusion throughout the entire game as the Browns ran riot. Pittsburgh did bounce back but ultimately Cleveland was much too good for them on the day. The long-term result could be the end of Roethlisberger’s NFL career.