10 Most Unbelievable Finishes in NFL History
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It is said no one remembers who finishes second.
That holds true unless the losing team is involved in one of the greatest finishes in NFL history.
This list is all about games that ended in such shocking fashion it caused you to scream like a schoolgirl meeting Tim Tebow and may have even caused a few tears. It caused you to run around like a kid on Christmas Day who got the hard-to-find gift of the year.
Regardless of your emotion, you can explicitly remember where you were, how you felt and who you watched the game with.
For those who weren't alive for a game on this list, you will recall hearing the story for the first time and saying to yourself, "That didn't really happen, did it?" Maybe this is the first time you've heard of the "River City Relay" or "The Catch, Part II." If that's the case, a video from YouTube conveniently accompanies each slide.
The list is not here to cover the greatest games, such as the '58 NFL championship between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts.
It will not cover the greatest upsets, which would include the New York Jets getting the best of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
This is all about the greatest finishes in NFL history.
No. 10: Holy Roller
That can't be legal, right?
A quick trip to Raiders.com reveals how strange the game and, more importantly, the ending were.
Kenny Stabler threw three interceptions, the San Diego Chargers nearly doubled the Raiders in time of possession and on the final play of the game the Raiders fumbled.
It all added up to a win for the Silver and Black.
Oakland trailed the Chargers 20-14 with the ball on San Diego's 14 and 10 seconds remaining in the game.
As Stabler rolled right, linebacker Woodrow Lowe hit the Oakland quarterback. Raiders fans will probably tell you the hit caused the ball to go forward, while Chargers fans and the rest of the world know the ball was deliberately fumbled forward.
As the ball bounced toward the Chargers end zone, Raiders fullback Pete Banaszak slapped the ball forward. Tight end Dave Casper finished things off by giving the ball a slight kick into the end zone before he flopped on the pigskin.
Following the extra point, Oakland won 21-20.
The play caused the NFL to outlaw forward fumbles, and it set in motion an example of not-so-instant karma.
Twenty-four years later, the Raiders were finally burned by a fumble in the "Tuck Rule Game."
No. 9: River City Relay
Never trust a kicker. Never.
This relatively unknown game got some extra pub earlier in the season when New Orleans traveled to Jacksonville for the first time since 2003.
The Saints traveled to Jacksonville in search of a playoff berth with a 7-7 record in the NFC.
Trailing 20-13 with seven seconds remaining, quarterback Aaron Brooks went into the shotgun with the ball spotted at the New Orleans 25-yard line.
Brooks found Donte' Stallworth near midfield, who then broke a couple tackles before lateraling the ball to Michael Lewis. The former beer truck driver tossed the rock back to running back Deuce McAllister, who then flicked the magic bean across the field to Jerome Pathon for the game-tying touchdown.
Technically the touchdown didn't tie the game, but it basically did because the only thing left was an extra point. However, John Carney, who currently ranks third on the all-time scoring list, proceeded to miss only the fifth extra point of his career.
No. 8: Music City Miracle
Oh those Buffalo Bills.
There was no way Frank Wycheck tossed a lateral to Kevin Dyson in the Wild Card Round of the 2000 playoffs. Then, as the play unfolded time and time again, it seemed like the impossible just happened.
Phil Luckett was the only thing standing between a great ending and a illegal forward pass.
Luckett was the same ref who claimed Jerome Bettis called heads for an overtime coin toss against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day the year before. The entire country heard Bettis call tails thanks to Luckett's microphone during the toss.
Thankfully, Luckett did not become the answer to a second trivia question. He made the correct call, and Tennessee held on for a 22-16 win.
The best part of the play was not how it unfolded; it was Wade Phillips' reaction on the sideline.
Good old Wade looked like he knew the game would send Buffalo into a tailspin and eventually drive him out of town.
The Bills have not been back to the playoffs since, and Phillips lasted one more season in Buffalo.
The exact opposite happened for Tennessee.
The Titans went to the Super Bowl that year and lost to the Rams 23-16, and Jeff Fisher enjoyed 11 more seasons in Tennessee.
No. 7: The Catch, Part II
In 1998 Terrell Owens began to make a name for himself as a potentially dominant receiver in the NFL.
He only caught 67 passes in '98, which marked his third year in the NFL, but he hauled in 14 touchdowns. Owens wasn't known for having the best hands in the league, but it was evident he could make the big plays.
In a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers, Owens dropped pass after pass from Steve Young.
Owens was singlehandedly killing his team on the field. The strange part is he wasn't providing any distractions to do the damage; he was just having an awful game.
With eight seconds remaining in the game, San Francisco found itself on the Packers 25-yard line and trailing 27-23.
Young ignored all of the mishaps and hit Owens in the end zone despite Green Bay safeties Pat Terrell and Darren Sharper drilling T.O. as he caught the game-winning touchdown.
Fast forward to the 7:50 mark if you only want to see the play. But if you want to see some old names, watch the whole thing.
The play was unbelievable for two reasons: First, it was shocking to see Owens finally catch a pass after such a poor performance beforehand; and second, it was hard to believe Young would even look Owens' way, let alone throw it to him in a crowd of defenders.
"The Catch, Part II" helped launch Owens into stardom. (But maybe all of the success also led to his downfall with various teams.)
Regardless of how you feel about him, it will go down as one of the greatest catches and most memorable finishes of all time.
No. 6: The Hail Mary
You can't have a list of unbelievable finishes without including the original Hail Mary.
The incredible part about the ending wasn't even the final play. With 44 seconds to play Dallas faced a 4th-and-17 from its own 25.
Roger Staubach threw a deep out to Drew Pearson that sailed. Pearson somehow went up to make the catch, and on his way down he was pushed out of bounds. At the time a player did not have to come down with both feet in-bounds in a push-out situation.
Such was the case as Minnesota defensive back Nate Wright pushed Pearson out of bounds before the receiver could come down with both feet.
Two plays later Staubach went back to Pearson for the game-winning touchdown.
In an interview with ProFootballTalk.com in 2010, Pearson denied pushing Wright off on the final play of the game for the Cowboys.
The fans in Minnesota didn't exactly see it that way.
Objects were thrown onto the field, and the official who missed the call was hit in the head by a bottle. If you watch the video long enough, you will see him curled up in the fetal position on the field.
Dallas reached the Super Bowl that year and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17 in what many consider one of the greatest Super Bowls ever.
No. 5: Another Miracle in the Meadowlands
Just another miracle.
The Eagles have three miracles in the Meadowlands.
Each was incredibly demoralizing to the New York Giants—but only one capped off an incredible comeback that won the division for the Eagles.
When Eli Manning hit tight end Kevin Boss for a nine-yard touchdown with 8:17 remaining in the game, the Giants went up 31-10 and ended their five-game slide against the Eagles.
Or so everyone thought.
A touchdown here, onside kick there and a pair of touchdowns over there knotted everything up.
The game was destined for overtime, though, as Eagles kicker David Akers kicked off with 1:16 remaining. Everyone was wrong again.
The Giants didn't chew up the clock and were forced to punt with 14 seconds to go.
This time everyone knew for a fact that Matt Dodge would punt the ball out of bounds to prevent a DeSean Jackson punt return.
Once again, everyone's assumptions were proven incorrect.
Dodge punted the ball directly to Jackson, who proceeded to muff it. At this point no one knew what to expect.
Jackson took off like a scalded puppy and split the Giants punt coverage like a fat man splitting his pants.
It was the first time in NFL history a game ended in regulation with a punt return for a touchdown.
Unfortunately for Eagles fans, their team has one win since the miracle.
No. 4: The Catch
White men CAN jump.
The catch was never supposed to happen.
"I overthrew Freddie Solomon the play before that," Joe Montana said in an interview with KTBB. "(Solomon) would have walked into the end zone. He was so open and I threw it three feet over his head."
Montana goes on to talk about how he never threw the ball to Dwight Clark on that play because Clark was supposed to set a pick for Solomon. As fate would have it, Solomon fell down and wideout Clark continued to run his route.
Some people think Montana tried to throw the ball away in that spot, but Montana denies it.
"I didn't try to throw it that high. When I let it go I didn't think he would have to jump that high. I thought it was above his head. I was also trying to throw over Too Tall (Jones), which is not easy."
None of it takes the pain away from Cowboys fans, but those are the facts from arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
If you want to get right to the action, jump to the 6:10 mark and let it go.
No. 3: Roethlisberger to Holmes
What up Holmes?
Ben Roethlisberger will never be considered a prototypical pocket passer, but those with even an ounce of football knowledge know he's a winner.
Big Ben was ripped, and rightfully so, for his disastrous Super Bowl victory against the Seattle Seahawks. He was 9-of-21 passing for 123 yards and two picks. It added up to a 22.6 quarterback rating—the worst ever for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
He had something to prove when he got a shot against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
The video starts things off with Larry Fitzgerald turning a slant pass into a 65-yard touchdown. It gave Arizona its first lead of the game at 23-20.
Most quarterbacks would buckle if their team gave up a lead that late in the game. Roethlisberger drove his team to the Arizona 6-yard line when unbelievable finish No. 3 unfolded.
Facing a 2nd-and-goal with 43 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger could have played it safe and settled for a field goal. He opted to take a shot in the corner of the end zone with WR Santonio Holmes.
The pass went over three Cardinal defenders and into the outstretched arms of Holmes, who also, incredibly, managed to get his toes down for one of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history.
Roethlisberger finished the game with 256 yards passing on a 21-of-30 performance with one touchdown against one pick and a 93.2 QB rating.
No. 2: The Immaculate Reception
Don't let Pittsburgh fans fool you—the Steelers used to stink.
Things were so bad in Pittsburgh that the Steelers never won a playoff game until 1972.
It was worth the wait though, as the final play of the game produced "The Immaculate Reception," which gave the Steelers a 13-7 win over the Oakland Raiders and was the catalyst to producing four Super Bowl titles in the '70s.
Raiders fans were outraged by the play because, in their eyes, the catch was illegal.
At the time a reception was nullified if two consecutive offensive players touched the ball. It was known as a "double-tap."
Raiders fans contend Jack Tatum hit Steelers running back John Fuqua and the ball grazed Fuqua before landing in the hands of Steelers fullback Franco Harris. If the play went down like that, the touchdown should have come off the board.
Steelers fans say the ball went directly off Tatum's shoulder and into Harris' eagerly waiting paws.
Outside the Silver and Black fans, countless NFL fans were thrilled the play stood because it produced an ending no one would ever forget. Many also thought the ending would never be topped.
But it was.
No. 1: Truly Unbelievable
It still makes everyone shake their head. Even Giants fans.
How could Eli Manning, a quarterback with three playoff wins, find a way to beat Tom Brady, a quarterback who won three Super Bowls?
And how were the Giants, a six-loss, overachieving team, supposed to beat the New England Patriots—considered one of the greatest teams of all time after they reached the Super Bowl with a perfect record?
Some will say it took a lot of luck and some fluke plays down the stretch, while others say it was simply a matter of a player capitalizing upon the opportunities given.
Regardless of how you saw the game's final moments unfold, you have to admit the ending was unbelievable.
The Giants converted a 4th-and-short with fullback Brandon Jacobs despite the Patriots getting a solid push up the middle. Manning avoided a game-ending fumble when New England defender Adalius Thomas tracked down the slow-moving quarterback scrambling for five yards.
The next play made everyone think something weird was about to go down. Manning and wideout David Tyree weren't on the same page, and it resulted in Asante Samuel having a golden opportunity to pick off the errant pass to seal the Pats' fourth Super Bowl.
The ball went through his hands, and the Giants had new life.
Manning wasted no time to go back to Tyree. On the next play, Manning evaded the Patriots pass rush as if he were Fran Tarkenton and Randall Cunningham rolled into one, escaping the grasp of a couple Patriot linemen in the process, and heaved up a prayer that was answered by Tyree.
Even with Rodney Harrison draped all over him, magically, Tyree managed to make the leaping catch and pin the ball against his helmet to keep the Giants rolling toward pay dirt.
Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather felt the pain of Samuel, as he too dropped a wayward Manning pass.
Two plays later Plaxico Burress burned cornerback Ellis Hobbs and was wide open in the end zone. Unlike Samuel and Meriweather, Manning didn't miss his opportunity.
With it, NFL fans were treated to the most unbelievable finish in NFL history.