Top 10 Trick Plays in NFL History
In football, trick plays are like slot machines. If you fail to pull the trigger at the perfect time, you lose big. Time it just right, though, and you’re generously rewarded for your risk.
Thousands of hours in the film room translate to nothing if the opposition doesn’t know what’s coming. Trick plays can be an extreme changeup, a trap set to kill, or an attempt at a miracle. In order to complete that changeup, trap or miracle, coming up with something no team has ever done before definitely helps.
Inventive creativity, flawless execution and precise timing: the plays on this list have one, two, or all of the three characteristics needed to pull off a trick that leaves an opposing defense dumbfounded. Here are the top 10 trick plays in NFL history:
10. Patriots' Reverse Statue of Liberty
Instead of faking a pass and handing the ball off to a receiver on a reverse like the traditional Statue of Liberty play, the Pats did the opposite.
Halfback Kevin Faulk faked a direct snap while Tom Brady halfheartedly faked like the snap went over his head. Brady's Oscar-worthy acting fooled the Jags defense completely.
With his back turned to the defense for nearly a second, Brady waited until just the right time to turn around and hit Wes Welker in the back of the end zone to give New England a 21-14 lead. Jacksonville would never catch up from there.
9. Redskins' Fake Field Goal/Fake Punt Pass
Nailing a 53-yard field goal would've been a satisfying ending to a drive for the Washington Redskins. Pinning the Denver Broncos inside the five-yard line would've been an acceptable outcome as well. Each was a realistic outcome that Denver could've seen coming.
What the Broncos never saw headed their way was a Hunter Smith touchdown pass to Mike Sellers, who broke free off of a wheel route. Sellers had his hand down on the other side of the field and managed to get behind a baffled Broncos special teams unit.
The 2009 matchup between the two franchises ended with a 27-17 victory for Washington as the Skins rode that momentum until the clock hit zero.
8. Dolphins' Hook and Ladder
The Miami Dolphins' hook and ladder in their famous 1982 playoff battle against the San Diego Chargers was one of the highlights of the game despite the final outcome. With just six seconds left on the clock, Miami perfectly executed the play, cutting San Diego's lead from 14 to seven.
The rapid change in direction caused by the pitch from Duriel Harris to Tony Nathan was too quick for the defense to react. It was all for naught, though, as the Chargers won 41-38 in overtime.
7. Titans' Fake Punt Run
In a preseason game with retro jerseys between the two teams represented in the Music City Miracle, why not pull off another memorable trick play?
Punter A.J. Trapaso is currently without a job in the league, but he'll be forever remembered for scoring on this brilliant fake punt.
Faking the actual punt would've probably sold it, but no; Trapaso took the ball behind his back racking up the style points. He showed off speed so blinding that Brian Mooreman got jealous on the sideline.
One has to wonder why the Titans didn't save the play for a meaningful game. Executing a successful trick play in the preseason forced every single one of Tennessee's opponents to spend valuable practice time during the week preparing to defend that play.
Even though the play didn't directly translate to a victory, the Titans gained an unnoticed advantage without any risk involved.
6. Saints' Miracle Lateral
A trick play doesn't have to be scripted to be a work of art.
2003's River City Relay was the NFL's version of the Cal Bears' kickoff return over Stanford. Somehow, someway, the New Orleans Saints managed to lateral the ball, escaping the claws of Jacksonville Jaguar defenders. When Jerome Pathon crossed the goal line, it was instantly one of the greatest finishes in league history.
But it wasn't finished though. Saints kicker John Carney missed the extra point losing the game for New Orleans 20-19.
Believe it or not, the nightmare ending could've even been worse for the Saints had the Dallas Cowboys lost that week because if Dallas lost, Carney's missed layup would've cost New Orleans a playoff berth.
5. Bears' Punt Return Misdirection
Albert who? Einstein doesn't have anything on Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
Inventively creative: check. Precise timing: check. Flawless execution: che--stupid ref.
Holding happens on every play and the referee had to call a meaningless, minute grab of the jersey on one of the greatest special teams/trick plays ever.
No matter what the outcome of the play was in reality, it was still arguably the greatest designed trick in NFL history. 10 out of 11 Green Bay Packers were fooled, leaving nothing but a pitiful punter to tackle Johnny Knox with a lead blocker out in front: ingenious.
4. Steelers' Wide Receiver Reverse Pass
Antwaan Randle El threw the best pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
Ken Whisenhunt used multiple gadget plays to get the Steelers to the big game and they sealed it with another. The 43-yard touchdown pass put Pittsburgh up 21-10, giving them a lead that the Seattle Seahawks couldn't overcome.
The game was filled with so many memorable plays, Willie Parker's 75-yard run, Ben Roethlisberger's touchdown run as well as others that the Randle El-to-Ward connection occasionally gets forgotten among the controversy surrounding the game which is a shame.
The play deserves mention, not only among the greatest trick plays of all time, but the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.
3. Saints' Surprise Onside Kick
Sean Payton made the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history, calling a surprise onside kick to start the second half. Down 10-6, giving the ball back to Peyton Manning could've put the New Orleans Saints in a big hole. Instead, the play changed the momentum of the game.
The Indianapolis Colts weren't ready, most notably Hank Baskett. The Saints took a 13-10 lead on that drive and without that touchdown, maybe Manning doesn't throw that game-clinching pick-six to Tracey Porter.
2. Dolphins' Fake Spike
And some people try to say that Dan Marino isn't clutch.
One of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time pulled off one of the greatest plays of all-time against the New York Jets, The Clock Play. Down 24-21 with time winding down, the Miami Dolphins signal caller could've been conservative and lived to compete in overtime.
Actually, that's what the Jets thought Marino was doing as he yelled "clock, clock, clock" and signaled like he was going to spike the football.
New York's defense stood around and watched the fake spike that was not as Marino stole the W with seven points.
1. Titans' Cross-Field Lateral
No other trick play tops the Music City Miracle when factoring in creativity and the context in which it was executed.
Down one point with 16 seconds left in the AFC Wild Card round against the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans chose to attempt running a kickoff back for six instead of a throwing up a Hail Mary. They made the right decision.
Lorenzo Neal and Frank Wycheck were top-notch football players, but both will be remembered by many mainly because of the the Music City Miracle; Kevin Dyson had another play slightly more memorable and/or painful.
Wycheck threw a Joe Montana-like pass to Dyson who the Bills had no chance of touching as a wall of Tennessee blockers paved the way to victory. And if you're still in denial about the tight end's perfect pass, wipe the snow from your eyes and witness the definition of pinpoint accuracy.
David Daniels is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and a Syndicated Writer. Follow him on Twitter.