NFL

30 Brutal NFL Playoff Defeats That Sullied Careers

Darren - January 15, 2021
NFL

30 Brutal NFL Playoff Defeats That Sullied Careers

Darren - January 15, 2021
Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

16. Stanley Wilson

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.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

15. Blair Walsh

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?

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

14. Steve Bono

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

13. Marcus Williams

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

12. Bob Sutton

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

11. Gary Anderson

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

10. Kordell Stewart

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

9. Mike McCarthy

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

8. Mike Vanderjagt

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

7. Carson Palmer

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

6. Richard Todd

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

5. Dan Marino

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

4. Pete Carroll

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

3. Scott Norwood

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.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

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.

Mandatory Credit: Sky Sports

2. Dan Quinn

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

1. Ben Roethlisberger

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.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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.

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