50 Biggest Crunch-Time Fails in NFL History
For every hero, there must be a goat—for every winner, there must be a loser.
Unfortunately for the men and teams included on this list, the latter was their portion when the bright lights shined down on them and the pressure became too intense.
These are the biggest crunch-time failures in NFL history since the beginning of the Super Bowl Era.
Lifetime Achievement Awards
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These next couple of slides are dedicated to the unfortunates who failed to perform when it mattered, time and time again.
Marty Schottenheimer's Playoff Career
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Let me start by saying this: I have an enormous amount of respect for Marty Schottenheimer. He was a tremendous head coach in the NFL who won 200 regular-season games with five different teams.
That being said, he failed when it mattered most. In his long and successful career as a head coach, Schottenheimer's playoff record is a dismal 5-13, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com—a winning percentage of .278.
It boggles the mind, really, because Schotty coached a number of exceptional teams and won 10 games or more during the regular season 11 times.
For that reason, Schottenheimer lives in infamy as one of the least clutch NFL head coaches in the history of the league.
Buffalo Bills Losing Four Straight Super Bowls
Right before the infamous "Wide Right"
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The Buffalo Bills featured one of the best teams in the NFL for half a decade during the early 90s. They accumulated a regular-season record of 49-15 during the years between 1990 to 1994, earning four straight trips to the Super Bowl.
Incredibly, they lost all four games.
Never again will we see such a display of crunch-time ineptitude, though, in their defense, the Bills were certainly under a curse of some kind.
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These next three slides are dedicated to the crunch-time fails that featured not one, but two big-time goats.
Trey Junkin's Botched Snap, Officials' Botched Call
The New York Giants had an excellent opportunity to win the 2002 NFC Wild-Card game against the San Francisco 49ers. They were set up for an easy 34-yard field goal that would have sealed their victory when two massive fails derailed their chances.
First, Trey Junkin forgot he was playing football and tried to bowl the football to holder Matt Allen.
Epic fail under the circumstances.
Then, when Allen tried to make the best out of a crappy situation by heaving a desperation pass downfield, a defender from the 49ers completely took Rich Seubert out while the ball was in the air.
The officials then called a penalty on the Giants for having an ineligible man downfield and ended the game. They were wrong, and later issued a statement saying just that, according to SI.com.
Mike Vanderjagt Missed Field Goal, Nick Harper Gets Caught by Big Ben
Mike Vanderjagt finished his career as the best field-goal kicker in NFL history in terms of field-goal percentage.
He also came up empty when the Colts needed him the most in the 2005 AFC playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, missing a 46-yarder that would have tied the game.
That kick shouldn't have been an issue to start with, though, after Jerome Bettis coughed up the football on the goal line.
Nick Harper, a defensive back, recovered the fumble. It looked like he'd score an easy touchdown when Ben Roethlisberger, of all people, saved the day for the Steelers and made a shoestring tackle.
It was a bad, bad day for Colts fans.
Eugene Robinson: Super Bowl XXXIII
Eugene Robinson received the Bart Starr Award from the religious group Athletes in Action for his "high moral character" on the Saturday morning before Super Bowl XXXIII, according to SI.com.
Twelve hours later, Robinson was arrested in a prostitution sting.
To make matters worse, Robinson—one of the leaders on defense for the Atlanta Falcons—allowed Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith to run right past him for the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Epic fail in crunch time.
What in the World Were You Thinking?
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These next five slides will focus on men who made us wonder...
Thurman Thomas Loses Helmet in Super Bowl XXVI
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Thurman Thomas was an incredible football player who is better known by casual fans for losing his helmet at the beginning of Super Bowl XXVI.
Of course, his performance once he found said helmet deserves a spot on this list, too. Thomas only managed to gain 19 yards on 11 carries in that game.
All in all, Super Bowl XXVI is one that Thomas wishes he and the rest of the world could just forget.
Garo Yepremian Attempts a Pass in Super Bowl VII
The Miami Dolphins were up 14-0 in Super Bowl VII. They were on the brink of completing their perfect season, when Garo Yepremian's field goal was blocked.
All he had to do was fall on the ball once he caught the rebound. Instead, Yepremian gave the Washington Redskins a gift of a touchdown that cut the score to 14-7. For his sake, it's a good thing that the Dolphins ended up winning that game.
Either way, this was one of the biggest crunch-time fails in a winning effort in the history of the NFL.
Donovan McNabb Not Aware of Overtime Rules
Donovan McNabb has the honor of occupying the only non-playoff slide in this feature. His name will forever be attached to the game when he led the Philadelphia Eagles to a tie against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2008 season.
It's worth noting that the officials go over the overtime rules before every overtime game at midfield before they flip the coin in the air.
At least it didn't cost his team a playoff berth.
John Kasay: Super Bowl XXXVIII
To watch play, go to 5:15 mark of video.
Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay choked on the big one in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
He kicked the ball out of bounds late in the fourth quarter on a kickoff, allowing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots the chance to start from their own 40-yard line.
We all know what happened next...
Tony Dungy Kicking to Devin Hester in Super Bowl XLI
Granted, Devin Hester was only a rookie when Tony Dungy decided to kick to him in Super Bowl XLI, but he had already made his mark on the league, running two kickoff returns and three punt returns back for touchdowns in 2006.
Thankfully for Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts, they still had a guy named Peyton Manning. Still, this was one of the more hair-brained decisions from any coach in Super Bowl history.
More on Manning later...
It Takes a Village
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These next six slides will focus on team-wide crunch-time fails.
Cleveland Browns' Defense on 'The Drive'
John Elway led the Denver Broncos on a 98-yard, game-winning drive against the Cleveland Browns defense in the 1986 AFC Championship game.
Some point to Elway's brilliance as the primary reason the Broncos were able to win that game.
Not me. The Browns choked big time, and their failure to stop the Broncos cost them a Super Bowl appearance.
Houston Oilers in Second Half of 1993 AFC Championship Game
The Buffalo Bills were down 35-3 to the Houston Oilers in the 1992 AFC Wild-Card game with less than a half to play. They ended up winning the game in overtime, 41-38. It was at the time and still is the greatest comeback in NFL history.
As good as the Bills were in the final stages of that historic game, the Oilers were equally as bad. Their collapse represents one of the biggest crunch-time fails by a team in NFL history.
Raiders Lose to Bills 51-3 in 1990 AFC Championship Game
The Oakland Raiders got absolutely railroaded in this game against the Buffalo Bills.
It was one of the most embarrassing losses in playoff history and is one of the games the folks of Raider Nation would rather forget.
Hey, at least they scored...
Vikings Lose to Giants 41-0 in 2000 NFC Championship Game
It's bad enough that the Minnesota Vikings were routed 41-0 by the New York Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship game.
The real crime? They let Kerry Collins throw for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
After the game, a nonplussed Randy Moss told reporters, via SI.com: "It's going to be hard for us to win a Super Bowl in Minnesota. I don't want to say Minnesota will never win a Super Bowl, but it is going to be hard."
Moss is no prophet, but he's not wrong.
Denver Broncos Lose Super Bowl XXIV 55-10 to the San Francisco 49ers
The Denver Broncos were mercilessly slaughtered by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. They lost 55-10.
55-10. In. The. Super. Bowl.
It's the worst team-wide crunch-time fail in the history of the NFL.
Nobody showed up to play that day for the Broncos.
From Hero to Goat…Just Like That
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The next seven slides are dedicated to those unfortunate souls who had a chance to make a big play for their team but failed.
These men could've been heroes, but their lot was to play the role of goat.
Asante Samuel Whiffs on Interception to Seal Perfection in Super Bowl XLII
The New England Patriots should have won Super Bowl XLII to finish the season with a perfect record of 19-0.
Asante Samuel had a chance to put the game away on the final drive, but he booted Eli Manning's gift-wrapped interception and allowed the New York Giants to continue driving for the winning score.
But he's not the only Patriot who failed on this fateful drive...
Rodney Harrison Can't Break Up Pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII
Rodney Harrison was known for breaking up passes, usually in a violent fashion.
He failed to do so at the most crucial moment for the New England Patriots in their Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, and it cost them the game.
It's also noteworthy to include the Patriots' pass-rushers, who couldn't wrap up Eli Manning. They had him, but failed to wrap him up.
For Giants fans, this game will be remembered as one of the greatest games in team history. Patriots fans might have a different take on the subject.
Gary Anderson Misses First Field Goal in Two Years in 1998 NFC Championship Game
Missed kick at the 8:30 mark.
Gary Anderson had not missed a field goal for two years until he missed this one in crunch time for the Minnesota Vikings.
He didn't lose the game, but Anderson's miss took the wind right out of the sails for the Vikings, who ended up losing the game to the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.
Hank Baskett Can't Recover Onside Kick in Super Bowl XLIV
Hank Baskett of the Indianapolis Colts had a chance to flip the script on Sean Payton's surprise onside kick to start the first half of Super Bowl XLIV.
He had the ball right in front of him with nobody else around, and he booted it.
It was the play that turned the game in favor of the New Orleans Saints, who were losing the game at the time, and the Colts never recovered.
Tony Romo Botched Snap in Wild Card Game Against Seahawks
Unless Tony Romo ends up leading the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory, this play will be the lasting image of him in the minds of fans everywhere.
The snap was perfect, but Romo couldn't hold on.
The Cowboys would have won that game with a made field goal, but they never had the chance.
Earnest Byner Fumble in 1987 AFC Championship Game
Bear with the 80s music.
Earnest Byner had the chance to tie the game for the Cleveland Browns against the Denver Broncos in this AFC Championship game.
He was headed for the end zone, and he would have scored if not for his ill-timed fumble at the goal line.
And we wonder why Browns fans are so bitter...
Lee Evans Drops Game-Winning Touchdown in 2011 AFC Championship Game
The Baltimore Ravens should have represented the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI.
Lee Evans failed his team at the worst possible moment, though, dropping the game-winning pass.
It was a perfectly-thrown ball from Joe Flacco, too. Evans couldn't hold on, though, and his drop cost them their chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy.
Momentum Shifts…in the Wrong Direction
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The next four slides are focused on plays that turned the tide of the game...just not in a good way for these players and teams.
Jackie Smith Dropped Touchdown Pass in Super Bowl XIII
Go to 2:50 mark to see the play.
The Dallas Cowboys surprised most fans by the way they were able to score against the "Steel Curtain" defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they may have ended up with the victory if not for an inexplicable dropped pass by tight end Jackie Smith in the third quarter.
Roger Staubach had him wide open in the end zone, but Smith couldn't catch a ball that my two-year-old son is capable of hauling in.
The Cowboys never recovered from that mishap, and they ended up losing the game 35-31.
Thurman Thomas Fumbles to Open Third Quarter in Super Bowl XXVIII
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The Buffalo Bills were leading the Dallas Cowboys 13-6 at halftime in Super Bowl XXVIII. They had all the momentum going in their favor...
Until Thurman Thomas coughed up the ball within the first minute of the third quarter, leading to a recovery for a touchdown for the Cowboys.
It was the beginning of the end for the Bills' Super Bowl chances that year, as the Cowboys ended up outscoring them 24-0 in the second half of that game to win 30-13.
That one's gonna leave a mark.
Packers' Defense Against Eagles: 4th and 26
The Green Bay Packers' defense had been dominating the Philadelphia Eagles' offense all game long in the 2003 NFC Championship game.
All they had to do was stop the Eagles on fourth down with 26 yards to go.
We all know what happened next.
Kurt Warner Intercepted by James Harrison in Super Bowl XLIII
The Arizona Cardinals were driving late in the first quarter and looked to score right before halftime to take the lead 14-10 over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers ended up taking a 17-7 lead into halftime and ultimately won the game.
I love Warner, but this was one of the biggest crunch-time fails in NFL history.
The Complete-Game Tank-Jobs
Photo Credit: Gazettenet.com
These next 15 slides are reserved for players who completely disappeared when the pressure was on in the postseason.
Joe Flacco 2008 AFC Championship Game
Joe Flacco was phenomenal as a rookie quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, but he completely melted down in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He threw for 141 yards on 30 attempts—completing only 13 of them—and was intercepted three times while throwing for zero touchdowns.
It was an ugly performance, and it cost his team a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning Against the New York Jets in 2002 Wild-Card Game
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In one of his most humbling experiences as a professional, Peyton Manning completely fell apart in the 2002 Wild-Card game against the New York Jets.
Manning was only able to convert 14 out of 31 attempts for 137 yards, throwing two interceptions and zero touchdowns.
The Indianapolis Colts ended up losing the game 41-0, and Manning's failure to perform was one of the biggest reasons for the blowout.
Peyton Manning's 2003 AFC Championship Game Against the Patriots
Another Peyton Manning playoff fail.
He was abysmal in this game against the New England Patriots, completing less than half of his passes while throwing four interceptions compared to just one touchdown.
It's a shame, too, because the Patriots didn't fare that well against the defense of the Indianapolis Colts, scoring just 24 points.
It was enough for the win, though, as Manning and his offense were only able to generate 14 points in the loss.
LaDainian Tomlinson 2007 AFC Championship Game
LaDainian Tomlinson only carried the ball two times in the 2007 AFC Championship game due to a sprained MCL.
The lasting image of that game for me will always be Tomlinson sulking on the sideline with his darkened helmet and oversized jacket.
Injuries aren't anything to make light of, but I will always agree with Deion Sanders and his assessment.
Donovan McNabb 2003 NFC Championship Game
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The Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers only scored 17 total points in the 2003 NFC Championship game—one of the ugliest playoff games in recent memory.
The Eagles only scored three of those points, and Donovan McNabb put together one of his worst games in the process. He completed only 10 out of 22 passes for 100 yards, while throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
The game was ripe for the taking if only McNabb and the Eagles could have managed to play with some competence on offense.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
Jake Delhomme Throws Five Interceptions in NFC Playoffs Against Cardinals
Jake Delhomme turned the ball over six times for the Carolina Panthers during the 2008 NFC divisional round against the Arizona Cardinals.
He threw for five interceptions and lost one fumble. It was the low-light of his career, and one of the biggest crunch-time fails in NFL history.
Brett Favre Throws Six Picks in Divisional Round Against St. Louis Rams
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Brett Favre was one of the greatest NFL players of all-time, but he was also one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks ever to have played the game.
His performance against the St. Louis Rams in the 2001 divisional round was the ugliest game a quarterback has ever put together, as Favre threw for six interceptions in a 45-17 blowout loss.
Six interceptions. In one game. In crunch time. When his team needed him the most. Ugh.
Barry Sanders: Minus-One Yards Rushing Against Packers in 1994 Playoffs
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Barry Sanders was one of the greatest running backs ever to have played in the NFL, but even he wasn't immune to having a bad day every once in a while.
Unfortunately for him and the Detroit Lions, one of his worst games came at a time when his team needed him the most.
He was completely stifled by the Green Bay Packers in the 1994 playoffs, carrying the ball for negative yards on 13 attempts, finishing the game with minus-one yards and zero touchdowns.
The Lions surely would have won if not for the egg he laid, as they lost the game 16-12.
Neil O'Donnell in Super Bowl XXX
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell had a bad day against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
He threw for three interceptions, including the one to Larry Brown that sealed the fate of the Steelers in the fourth quarter.
The worst part about his game is that his interceptions were thrown so badly that calling them "wounded ducks" would be a disservice to wounded ducks everywhere.
Rich Gannon in Super Bowl XXXVII
Rich Gannon's lone Super Bowl start is one he'd rather forget ever happened.
He was atrocious against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, completing less than half of his passes while throwing five interceptions and two touchdowns.
It surely is no coincidence that Jon Gruden, Gannon's former head coach, was the leader of the Buccaneers team that destroyed him.
All in all, Gannon's performance in Super Bowl XXXVII was one of the worst in Super Bowl history.
Kerry Collins in Super Bowl XXXV
With all due respect to Kerry Collins, he didn't have a chance in this game against the 2000 Baltimore Ravens' defense.
Collins ended up completing less than 40 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions and zero touchdowns in one of the worst quarterbacking performances in Super Bowl history.
Billy Kilmer in Super Bowl VII
The only points the Washington Redskins were able to score on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII came off of Garo Yepremian's failed attempt to pass the ball after a blocked field goal.
One of the biggest reasons for their inability to score is that Billy Kilmer, their starting quarterback, had a terrible game on the NFL's biggest stage.
Kilmer managed to complete only 14-of-28 passes for 104 yards while throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
Not going to get it done, son.
Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl IX
Fran Tarkenton is a Hall of Fame quarterback who had many highlights throughout his long and successful career.
Unfortunately for him, the Minnesota Vikings and their fans, his performance in Super Bowl IX isn't one of them.
Tarkenton was abused by the Pittsburgh Steelers in this game, completing only 11-of-26 passes for 102 yards while throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
Needless to say, the Steelers won that game 16-6.
Craig Morton in Super Bowl XII
Craig Morton's Super Bowl XII performance can only be described in negative terms, and I'm sure some older Denver Broncos fans have some colorful ways of expressing what they think about the way he played.
Consider this abominable stat line: four completions in 15 attempts for 39 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
Yeah, it was that kind of day for Morton and the Broncos.
The Game-Losing Plays
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The last nine slides are reserved for players whose misfortune it was to lose big games for their respective teams.
Music City Miracle: Bills Should Have Seen That One Coming...
The Buffalo Bills had to know that the Tennessee Titans would try to pull something like this off. Heck, even little kids knew the Titans would try a trick play.
The fact that they allowed this play to happen is inexcusable.
Red Right 88
The Cleveland Browns had the ball at the 14-yard line trailing the Oakland Raiders 14-12 with less than a minute remaining on the clock.
Head coach Sam Rutigliano called for a passing play to try and score a touchdown—the now infamous "Red Right 88" play—instead of counting on his field goal kicker to try and win the game.
He told quarterback Brian Sipe that if the play wasn't open he should "throw it into Lake Erie" to avoid a costly turnover.
Sipe apparently didn't pay attention to his coach's instructions, because he tried to fit a ball into a tight spot and ended up getting intercepted for the game-losing play.
Billy Cundiff Sends the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI
Lee Evans dropped a sure game-winning touchdown only a few plays before this kick, but we've already covered that crunch-time fail.
Billy Cundiff's missed field goal at the end of regulation was like pouring salt all over that wound to the Baltimore Ravens.
It wasn't even close, either. Terrible display of nerves, this one.
Kyle Williams Botches Punt in 2011 NFC Championship Game
The San Francisco 49ers should have been the representatives for the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI, but Kyle Williams' botched punt in overtime derailed their chances.
All the New York Giants had to do from this point was kick a game-winning field goal after that, and they were only too happy to oblige.
Brett Favre Is Picked at the End of the 2009 NFC Championship Game
All Brett Favre had to do here was run the ball out of bounds. He had enough room to easily gain five, if not ten yards to set up the game-winning field goal, but Favre never thought about it.
Instead, he threw the game away trying to throw the ball across his body—something he should have never done under the circumstances.
The Vikings should have gone to the Super Bowl that year. They did everything right up until this point. Favre's decision to throw the ball here was unforgivable.
Aaron Rodgers Fumbles in Overtime Against Cardinals
One of the wildest playoff games in the history of the NFL ended on a wild note, when Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby returned an Aaron Rodgers fumble for a game-winning touchdown.
As good as Rodgers is at avoiding the rush most of the time, he was off his game and didn't cover the ball at the worst possible moment for the Green Bay Packers.
It's worth noting that the Packers' offensive line was out of sorts on the play, and they deserve some of the blame, too.
Peyton Manning Throws a Pick Six to Lose Super Bowl XLIV
Peyton Manning had the Indianapolis Colts driving down the field with under four minutes to play. They were down by one touchdown, but there was still plenty of time left on the clock for a comeback.
Tracy Porter jumped in front of Manning's pass to Reggie Wayne and took it the other way for a touchdown to put the game away.
The Buffalo Bills were poised to win Super Bowl XXV with a 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Scott Norwood then infamously missed his attempt by about two feet to the right on the play that is now known as "Wide Right."
Now, I know that a 46-yarder is no gimme, but Norwood had plenty of leg to make the kick and simply choked on the pressure of the moment.
Brett Favre Gets Picked off to Lose 2007 NFC Championship Game
This would be the last throw Brett Favre ever made for the Green Bay Packers, and it's one he wishes he could have back.
Vintage Favre, though, as he never shied away from trying to fit his passes into tight spots, even when the game was on the line.