Football produces some magnificent moments. There’s nothing like a ferocious tackle or a brilliantly executed play. Despite being a team game, it also allows individuals to shine. But sometimes players make mistakes that haunt their careers and also cost their teams at crucial moments.
Today, we’re going to take a look at 40 of the worst blunders in NFL history. Some of them are hilarious and embarrassing. It’s impossible to know what these men were thinking or how they ended up in this position. Meanwhile, others were just desperately unfortunate. To sum up, these blunders effectively defined most of these players’ careers. They can’t make a major mistake in front of the watching world because it will never be forgotten.
Matt LaFleur made one of the biggest mistakes of his career in January 2021. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ahead by eight, he decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the eight-yard line with 2:05 remaining in the NFC championship. They scored but it actually reduced their chance of winning because Tom Brady just held onto the ball for the remaining minutes of the game.
Furthermore, it damaged LaFleur’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers. The star quarterback had an MVP season but the disappointment was visible on his face after his coach took the game from him. It was one of those mistakes that could have major consequences for the future of a franchise. Everybody who watched this game shook their heads because the Packers effectively kicked the game away.
The Raiders thought that they had unearthed a precious gem in JaMarcus Russell but he turned out to be a piece of costume jewelry. His lack of motivation was infamous. A Raiders’ coach famously gave him a DVD to watch and provide feedback the next day. He asked Russell what he thought about it and the QB said he agreed with everything. However, the punchline is that it was a blank DVD.
Furthermore, he once turned up to training camp 30 pounds overweight. Definitely one of the biggest mistakes in draft history, he turned the ball over 48 times in 25 starts. Meanwhile, he also lost 18 of those games. This was just an all-around disaster for the Oakland Raiders who believed that Russell was franchise quarterback material. That turned out not to be the case.
The heir to Eli Manning, Daniel Jones has endured a mixed career so far in New York. The Giants are a team in transition and appear committed to the former Duke quarterback. However, he hasn’t had the easiest time in the Big Apple. One of his biggest mistakes came against the Philadelphia Eagles during a dreadful year for the 2020 NFC East. But this one was hilarious.
It looked like Jones was set to score an incredible 88-yard touchdown. He ran like a madman down the field with only eight yards to cover before he made one of the most bizarre mistakes of the season. Somehow, Jones just fell over. He didn’t even appear to trip over his own feet, he simply fell to the ground. In the end, Jones claimed that his mind worked too quickly for his body.
The San Diego Chargers desperately wanted Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft but accepted that he was on his way to Indianapolis. But it didn’t bother them too much because Ryan Leaf was also available. It’s crazy to look back at, but many analysts put Leaf on par with Manning, or even above the Super Bowl winner. However, his selection became one of the worst mistakes in league history.
This was a disaster from beginning to end. Leaf lost eight of his nine starts and only played four more times for San Diego. Meanwhile, he threw 15 interceptions with just two touchdowns all season. The Washington State star also played for the Dallas Cowboys but failed to make any kind of meaningful impression in Texas. Every team has a terrible pick, but Leaf is one of the worst.
‘Gang Green’ has one of the most distinctive uniforms in the NFL. Their dark green is one of the few good things about the franchise in recent years because it’s a clean and classic look. In 2014, the Jets tried to run a trick play that involved their iconic color scheme. They played the Buffalo Bills in an AFC East divisional game when they attempted this ridiculous tactic.
After Buffalo kicked a field goal in the third quarter of their game, the Jets attempted to deceive their opponents. T.J. Graham lay down in the endzone hoping none of the Bills players would notice him. Of course, Graham had a white helmet and white sleeves so it wasn’t exactly the best camouflage. In the end, their play failed and became one of the dumbest mistakes in Jets history.
Jim Zorn didn’t have a good relationship with Dan Snyder. In fact, it was so bad that Snyder actually removed his head coach from playcalling duties. However, one of Zorn’s biggest mistakes definitely didn’t improve his legacy in Washington. Of course, we’re talking about the infamous fake field goal fail against the New York Giants. The Giants led 24-0 and Zorn threw caution to the wind.
First, they attempted this ridiculous play not once but twice. The Redskins lined up in a bizarre formation so Tom Coughlin responded with a timeout. Washington should have reassessed their lives but instead went with the same play. The Giants instantly picked off the fake field goal attempt and it instantly entered the annals of NFL infamous mistakes.
There are many bad draft picks out there, but Smith was one of the worst ever. The Cincinnati Bengals thought that it was a good idea to bring him to the Queen City but it turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history. There is simply nothing good to say about the quarterback’s time there because he only started 17 games in four seasons with a 46.6 passer rating and just three wins.
Smith only threw five touchdowns but somehow tossed 13 interceptions. Meanwhile, New Orleans was desperate to obtain Ricky Williams the same year. They wanted to trade their 1999 first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh selections, as well as their first-round picks in 2000 and 2001. However, the Bengals rejected this and instead made one of the worst draft mistakes ever.
Everybody loves a trick play when they work, but that is often easier said than done. More often than not, they lead to embarrassing mistakes. One of the most hilarious recent failures was the Dallas Cowboys’ awful attempt at a fake punt against the Washington Football team. The Cowboys were having a dreadful season and this pretty much summed up their general ineptitude all year.
With just 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, on fourth and 10, coach Mike McCarthy gave the go-ahead for this bemusing effort. Washington quickly snuffed out the fake punt attempt and scored from the very next play. To make matters worse, they produced 21 points before Dallas knew what had happened. Needless to say, rival fans across the league found this very amusing.
Drew Brees had a solid 2019 regular season for the New Orleans Saints. The franchise set an NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a season. They only conceded eight as they demonstrated efficiency with the ball. Furthermore, Brees himself was excellent in this regard. Just four interceptions and zero fumbles all year showed his talents as one of the NFL’s most consistent quarterbacks.
However, all good things must come to an end and Brees broke his clean sheet at the worst possible time. Some mistakes are more costly than others and this especially holds true in the postseason. The Saints trailed the Vikings but had the chance to regain momentum with Brees bizarrely fumbled and gave the ball back to the Vikings who went on to win the game.
Peyton Manning is one of the NFL’s greatest ever quarterbacks. However, this doesn’t mean he knows what makes a good head coach. During his time in Denver, he built up a strong relationship with QB coach Adam Gase. Furthermore, he credited Gase with rejuvenating his career. When Gase wanted the New York Jets’ head coach job, he asked Manning to speak on his behalf.
The Jets were suitably impressed because Manning is obviously one of the NFL’s most eminent figures. However, this became one of those mistakes that set franchises back years. Gase was a disaster in New York and led the Green Gang to back-to-back losing seasons before they finally pulled the plug. Of course, there have been many bad coaching hires through history, but this was one of the worst in recent memory.
If it had worked, it would have been brilliant. But there are no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ in the ruthless world of professional sports. In Superbowl III, the ‘flea-flicker’ almost came off perfectly for the Baltimore Colts. Quarterback Earl Morrall handed off to Tom Matte, who sent the ball back to Morrall.
Jimmy Orr was wide open. But somehow, Morall didn’t see him and tried to hit another pass. Then Jim Hudson intercepted the ball and the Jets went on to win their historic 17-16 victory. It’s definitely not the most embarrassing of mistakes on this list, but fine margins cost you games.
Kasay kicked hundreds of balls throughout his career. It might seem unfair to focus on one, but when it puts your team on the path to losing the Super Bowl, then it’s definitely unacceptable. This went straight out of bounds. This gave Tom Brady the ball on the 40.
To sum up, it all went downhill from there. Brady drove the Patriots to a score. They overwhelmed the Panthers on the way to winning Super Bowl XXXVIII. On such a massive occasion, every little detail counts. Kasay cursed his luck after the game.
Super Bowl week is not the best time to go off the rails. Super Bowl XXXII saw the Atlanta Falcons face the Denver Broncos. Robinson had had a brilliant season. Everybody expected him to star for the Falcons in the showpiece event. Nobody expected him to go out and solicit a prostitute the night before the big game.
Typically, Robinson’s ‘prostitute’ was actually an undercover police officer. After securing his release, Robinson was free to play the match. Even so, he was dreadful throughout the whole thing. It was a terrible way to end the season as the Broncos went on to claim Super Bowl glory.
The Arizona Cardinals were about to score right before halftime in Super Bowl XLI when this agonizing moment happened. Warner threw an awful pass into coverage. The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison picked it up before charging 100 yards down the field to score a touchdown.
Warner must have wanted the ground to swallow him up because this was absolutely dreadful. However, you can blame the rest of the team for not bringing Harrison down. Pittsburgh was up 17-7 at the break and went on to win the Super Bowl. Warner’s mistake was crucial in this game.
It looked like the San Francisco 49ers were en route to winning an unprecedented third consecutive Super Bowl. After showing their class against the Washington Redskins, they only had the New York Giants left in their path to glory. But there was another twist in this tale.
San Francisco was leading 13-12 in the fourth quarter with just over two minutes left on the clock. But then disaster struck. Craig lost the ball behind the line of scrimmage. The Giants drove upfield and got the game-winning touchdown. It was a terrible moment for Craig. The worst mistakes cost teams games and this was exactly the situation.
This is a memory that will make all Giants fans shudder. Even though they’ve won two Super Bowls since this, it is still painful to think about. The Giants were in the playoffs against the San Franciso 49ers when a moment of individual horror went down. Enter Junkin and his botched snap.
41-year-old Junkin had only signed for the Giants days earlier. The Giants had blown a 38-14 lead after the 49ers scored 25 unanswered points. But they had the chance for redemption from a field goal. Unfortunately, Junkin managed to botch the snap. It was a horrendous error.
The Oilers feature a couple of times on this list because they’ve had a few truly harrowing moments. This one is up there with their worst. In short, they were beating the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs by a score of 35-3 with just 10 minutes left in the third quarter in 1992. That should have been an insurmountable score, but this is the Oilers we’re talking about.
Instead of seeing the game out in comfort, they got complacent and ended up blowing the biggest lead in NFL history. The Bills managed to salvage a 41-38 win after the Oilers hit the self-destruct button. To make matters worse, the Oilers missed out on a Super Bowl appearance.
Favre is an NFL icon. Rightfully considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, he’s a Packers legend. But he also played for the New York Jets and more controversially, the Minnesota Vikings. After the best individual season of his career, he appeared to be on the brink of leading them to their first Super Bowl appearance in 30 years against the eventual champion New Orlean Saints.
That wasn’t the case. To sum up, Favre fluffed his lines. With the game tied and less than 30 seconds remaining, the Vikings got in Ryan Longwell’s shooting territory. Favre didn’t want to risk a 54-yard field goal so he put the ball up to get the Vikings closer. The Saints intercepted and won the game in overtime.
Here is one of the most brutal and harrowing entries on this list. The Houston Oilers thought they had drawn level in the 1979 AFC Championship game when the officials decided to crush their hopes and dreams. Trailing 17-10, Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini passed to wide receiver Mike Renfro who touched down.
At least he thought he had. However, the referee inexplicably ruled the pass incomplete. The Oilers got a drop goal but went on to lose after the Steelers scored two more touchdowns. Who knows how momentum would have shifted if this mistake hadn’t been made?
Smith was playing for the Dallas Cowboys against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. His moment of horror came with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cowboys were trailing 21-14 but were on the attack and nearly scored until Smith dropped the ball.
Roger Staubach spotted the backup tight end. But Smith dropped the pass so the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. Ultimately it ended up costing them the game. It took the Cowboys another 15 years to win a rematch against the Steelers.
Norwood must have been in agony after this game. The Buffalo Bills were trailing the New York Giants by a single point. In short, the opportunity was there for Norwood to be a hero. The placekicker had an opportunity to kick a field goal in favorable conditions.
Infamously, he put it wide right and set the Bills on the path to four straight Super Bowl losses. With only seconds left on the clock, the game was over. He retired early and went into seclusion. We don’t blame him because it’s hard to escape something that big hanging over you.
This one is going to leave you shaking your head. The tale of Thomas and his helmet is epic in its ludicrousness. Super Bowl XXVI went down in 1991 between the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills. Thomas had had a magnificent season for the Bills but missed the first two plays of Buffalo’s first drive.
Thomas couldn’t find his helmet and wasn’t able to enter the game. To sum up, one of his teammates had mistakenly picked up Thomas’s helmet and then put it down when he realized his error. Finally, after a frantic search, Thomas was able to come on in the third play.
The first of two incidents involving Lett. Despite taking place in the Super Bowl, this one actually wasn’t as bad because it didn’t cost his team the game. The Cowboys were playing the Bills in the showpiece event when Lett immortalized himself in Super Bowl history.
After recovering a fumble, Lett ran downfield. For some reason, he celebrated early when he was almost at the touchline. This was a big mistake because it gave Don Beebe the chance to catch up and smack the ball out of his hands. Lett looked incredibly stupid. Instead of a touchdown, the ruling was a touchback. Never celebrate early.
We’ve no idea what Koenen was trying to do here. Somehow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen found himself in the quarterback role. In short, this turned out to be like trying to teach a chicken to be a duck. He ended up making one of the most bizarre plays we’ve ever seen and the strangest of mistakes.
Koenen’s kick blocked down. So he tried to keep it going. All he had to do was throw it to the side. But he threw a pick-six to the Chiefs’ Edgar Jones instead. The Chiefs went on and secured the touchdown. Luckily for Koenen, the Chiefs were awful and the Buccaneers still dominated the game.
This story doesn’t even begin with Tulloch. No, it starts with Aaron Rodgers, whose ‘discount double-check dance became a fan-favorite. Tulloch then experienced a moment of pure karma. He decided to mock Rodgers by imitating the dance after successfully sacking him.
But then his knee buckled and he collapsed to the turf. The injury forced Tulloch off the field and onto the Lions’ injury list. He tore his ACL and was out of action for months. When asked if he regretted it, Tulloch was emphatic. He told the Detroit Free Press: “Hell, no. I’d do it again, brother.”
This classic moment from NFL history happened in 2012. The Patriots were running through the New York Jets like a knife through butter. A single play sums up just how awful the Jets were in this shambolic performance. That’s right, we’re talking about the glorious ‘Butt Fumble,’ one of the most hilarious mistakes ever.
Mark Sanchez tried to hand the ball to his running back, but he made a total mess of it by running straight into the backside of his offensive lineman. In doing so, he managed to fumble the ball. The Patriots responded ruthlessly by going straight up the other end of the field. They won the game 49-19. Thank you, Mark Sanchez.
Brooks’ moment of magic went down in 2004. The New Orleans Saints were playing against the San Diego Chargers in the middle of a mediocre season for the Louisiana franchise. This was a miserable occasion for the Saints because they went on to lose 43-17 to the Chargers.
From the get-go, this was an awful performance by New Orleans. Already seven points down from the start, Brooks got his hands on the ball in their first possession. He took the snap and threw the ball 25 yards backward. It cost the Saints vital space and the Chargers went on to destroy them. An infamous moment.
This play cost the Seahawks the Super Bowl. It happened at the 49th edition of the NFL’s showpiece event and cost the Seahawks back-to-back wins. Wilson and his team were right on the touchline, looking for that score that would seal consecutive rings. But then, disaster happened.
Wilson tried to pick out his wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. However, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler read the moment perfectly and intercepted. This gave the New England side the fourth win of the Brady-Belichick era. Unfortunately, the Seahawks made the wrong call. All Wilson had to do was hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch.
Some of the incidents on this list are unfortunate. Others are just incredibly stupid. Reynaud was playing as a kick returner for the Tennessee Titans against the Pittsburgh Steelers when this idiotic moment happened. He fielded the opening kickoff from the Steelers in week one of the 2013 season.
His left foot was in front of the goal line. Apparently, he didn’t realize this because he stepped back into the end zone and took a knee. Instead of getting a touchback, he gave the Steelers a ‘safety’ and a two-point lead. To make matters worse, that was literally the Titans’ first touch of the season.
An emotionally charged Washington Redskins were playing against the Buffalo Bills in 2007. It was their first game after the tragic death of Sean Taylor so the Redskins wanted this one more than ever. However, they ended up throwing the points away in farcical circumstances after poor coaching by Joe Gibbs.
With just four seconds left, the Bills were losing by two points. But they had a chance to win the game with a 51-yard field kick. Gibbs called time out as the kicker was about to step up. There’s nothing wrong with that. That is until he called time out again. This resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike play. The Bills won the game thanks in part to one of the dumbest mistakes ever.
If you want to see one of the worst plays in the history of the NFL, go back to 2015. The Indianapolis Colts were playing the New England Patriots in an eagerly-anticipated clash. This was an entertaining game. One botched fake punt from this game is perhaps the worst NFL play ever.
It came in the third quarter with the Colts trailing. Nine Colts players ran a swing gate formation, leaving their safety and wide receiver to act as snapper and quarterback. Despite needing three yards and five Patriots defenders in the way, they still ran the play. The Patriots obviously stopped them and were out of sight six plays later. In sum, it was one of the worst play-calling mistakes we’ve seen.
When you score a touchdown, it must be one of the greatest feelings in the world. The first thing players do when they get one is to celebrate wildly. But you shouldn’t celebrate before you actually secure the score. That’s where Jackson enters this list in style with one of the most unique mistakes ever.
The rookie got open and caught a stray pass from Donovan McNabb and charged into the end zone for the touchdown. But he didn’t actually get it because he started celebrating too early and dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. It was an embarrassing moment but didn’t cost the Eagles the win.
Orlovsky was the Detroit Lions’ backup quarterback. Injuries allowed him to be a starter and he came in against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, Orlovsky would go on to cost his team the game. The Lions had the ball at their own one-yard line. The quarterback needed to be careful in his decision making so as not to cost his team points with any mistakes.
So when Jared Allen came charging his way, Orlovsky definitely shouldn’t have run backward out of his own endzone. Even when he went out of bounds he still kept running. This resulted in a safety and the Vikings getting two vital points. They ended up winning 12-10, so Orlovsky literally lost his team the game.
Romo will surely cringe every time he looks back on this one. Back in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys were playing the Seahawks in the playoff. The Cowboys had a late chance to win the game but then Romo totally fluffed his lines. Instead, they went on to lose by the devastatingly close scoreline of 21-20.
The Cowboys were a field goal away from reaching the next round of the playoffs. All Romo had to do was catch the snap. Insanely he let it slip as kicker Martin Gramatica attempted a field. The Seahawks were able to close the game out. Romo had a decent career but this was definitely a defining moment.
Some moments haunt you forever. New Orleans had managed to pull the game back from the brink thanks to a miraculous bit of play called the ‘River City Relay.’ Down by a single point, John Carney had an easy opportunity to bring them level and send the game into overtime. But somehow he missed the kick.
Match commentator Jim Henderson’s response is probably the best way to sum this up. He famously said: “NOOOO!!! He missed the extra point wide right! Oh my God, how could he do that?” It was there on a plate for Carney but he just wilted under the pressure.
Anderson was having a sensational season for the Minnesota Vikings in 1998-1999. The placekicker hadn’t missed a kick all year and had helped Minnesota to the NFC Conference Final. The winner would go on to the Super Bowl. After a 15-1 season, the Vikings were heavy favorites against the Atlanta Falcons.
But they ended up losing in incredible circumstances. They were ahead 27-20 with five minutes to go when Anderson had a chance to wrap up the points. However, he missed a sent a routine 38-yard kick wide-left. Reinvigorated, the Falcons tied the game and won in overtime. This was one of those career-defining mistakes.
Watching the football game on Thanksgiving Day is a tradition for many Americans. So millions saw Lett’s awful blunder live on TV. With just 15 seconds left, the Dallas Cowboys were up 14-13 against the Miami Dolphins. Pete Stoyanovich had a chance to win the game for the Dolphins with a 41-yard kick.
But the Cowboys’ Jimmie Jones blocked the shot and the ball came to rest. Then came Lett’s moment of madness. He thought the ball was still live and sent the ball back into play. The Dolphins recovered it and scored the winner from a chip shot field goal. All he had to do was leave it alone and the Cowboys would have won. Lett made several high-profile mistakes but this was up there with the worst.
One decision cost Bob Gibson his entire coaching career. In 1978, he was the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants. The Giants were beating the Philidelphia Eagles when he made a fatal decision. Instead of instructing quarterback Joe Pisarcik to take a knee and let time expire, he got him to make another play.
Pisarcik fumbled his pass to Larry Csonka and the Eagles scooped up the ball. Their defensive back Herman Edwards ran 26 yards for the winning touchdown. The next day the Giants sacked Gibson, who never coached again. He ended up opening a bait shop back in Florida.
The Cleveland Browns were beating Kansas City by two points with just a couple of seconds left. It looked like the game was over but the Chiefs had one last opportunity. John Tait had the chance to attack. However, Rudd pushed him off the field. The Browns had won the game right? Not quite.
Thinking he got a sack, Rudd tore off his helmet and threw it in euphoric celebration. But that excitement turned to agony very quickly. But everybody knows you just can’t do that. The Chiefs won the game from the ensuing penalty. That was a harsh lesson for Rudd, who cost his team the game with the most ill-timed of mistakes.
T Marshall was playing for the Minnesota Vikings against the San Francisco 49ers in 1964. After recovering a fumble, Marshall took the ball and ran into the endzone. The problem was that he inexplicably ran the wrong way into his own endzone. His own teammates were shouting at him to turn around.
Oblivious to the world, Marshall kept going. Believing that he had scored a touchdown, Marshall threw the ball away in celebration. Then the ball went out of bounds, resulting in a safety for the 49ers. Despite Marshall’s iconic incident, the Vikings still won the game. It was an incredible moment though and one of the most famous mistakes in NFL history.