The NFL's Longest Touchdowns of All Time
Football is a game of inches, but it would take several thousand inches to measure each of the longest touchdowns recorded in NFL history.
Rather than retelling the stories of a bunch of kickoffs returned 108 yards for scores, we'll be taking a look back at the longest touchdown of each type: passing, rushing, kickoff return, punt return, interception return, fumble return and, yes, even a record-setting return of a missed field goal.
In case that isn't enough, we'll also reminisce about the longest offensive, defensive and special teams touchdowns in Super Bowl history.
Some of these records can and will be broken one day. Others can only be tied. But none of these plays will ever be forgotten.
Longest Passing Touchdown (99 Yards)
There have been 13 99-yard passing touchdowns in NFL history, the most recent of which were Eli Manning to Victor Cruz and Tom Brady to Wes Welker during the 2011 season. But only one instantly resulted in a victory.
During Week 10 of the 1985 season, it seemed like the Philadelphia Eagles were going to cruise to victory over the 1-8 Atlanta Falcons. They were pitching a shutout until the Falcons scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. And when Atlanta's rookie punter, Rick Donnelly, pinned the Eagles inside their own 1-yard line, it looked like they were up a creek without a paddle.
After fruitlessly trying to run on first down, they dialed up a passing play on second. Ron Jaworski dropped back and delivered a strike to Mike Quick at the 20. The eventual five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver split two defenders while making the reception and was home free, waving goodbye to the Falcons as he ran the final 25 yards of the game-winning touchdown.
The Eagles lost four of their next five games and ended up nowhere close to the playoff picture, but that win did temporarily give the fans some hope for a postseason push.
As far as the aftermath is concerned, the most intriguing 99-yarder was Manning to Cruz. Those New York Giants were trailing the New York Jets 7-3 late in the second quarter of a must-win game. That pass sparked an incredible six-game winning streak, culminating in their second Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in five years.
Longest Rushing Touchdown (99 Yards)
While there have been many 99-yard passing touchdowns, the full-field rushing touchdown has only been done twice—each in a prime-time game.
Tony Dorsett was the first to pull it off, doing so during the Monday night game of the final week of the 1982 season. The Dallas Cowboys had already locked up their seed in the playoffs, but that didn't stop Dorsett from giving his full effort during the fourth quarter of a close game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Dorsett took a handoff right up the gut before juking John Swain so hard that his attempted tackle looked like a man trying to hang onto a stop sign to keep from blowing away in a hurricane. The only other player to get a touch on the ball-carrier was Willie Teal, but Dorsett shoved him aside as if he were nothing more than a mosquito.
That record was matched 36 years later during Week 14 of the 2018 season. The Jacksonville Jaguars had just run seven plays from inside the Tennessee Titans' 7-yard line, but the drive ended when Leonard Fournette was stuffed at the goal line on fourth down. On the first play after that poor excuse for red-zone offense, Derrick Henry ran it up the middle and went the distance.
Henry had to work a lot harder for his 99 yards than Dorsett did. He stiff-armed A.J. Bouye and knocked the cornerback several yards backward. He twice stiff-armed Leon Jacobs and broke his attempted tackle. And he had one final stiff arm for Myles Jack before rumbling across the goal line.
Dorsett and the Cowboys ended up losing 31-27 when Tommy Kramer found Rickey Young for the game-deciding touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. Henry and the Titans had a much different outcome, as he scored four times and rushed for 238 yards in a 30-9 victory. Henry also rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the following game, producing a two-week stretch a lot of Titans fans and fantasy football players will never forget.
Longest Kickoff Return Touchdown (109 Yards)
The Minnesota Vikings were hosting the Green Bay Packers for the Sunday night game in Week 8 of the 2013 season.
The Packers were well on their way to the fifth of eight consecutive postseason appearances, but things weren't exactly going well for the Vikings. They entered the night with a 1-5 record and were desperate for some sort of spark.
Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson provided a big one on the game's opening kickoff. Tim Masthay almost kicked it out the back of the end zone, but Patterson corralled it with his back foot nearly touching the end line and took off up the middle. Though there wasn't much of a lane, he made it look easy, bursting untouched through a crowd of blockers and would-be tacklers at the 15.
Packers cornerback Micah Hyde was the only one to get a finger on Patterson, diving in and grazing Patterson's leg as he executed a jump cut at the 25. He then left Masthay in the dust on his way to a 109-yard touchdown.
Both Hyde and the Packers would have their revenge. He returned a second-quarter punt 93 yards for a touchdown while Green Bay opened up an insurmountable lead. Defense was a major problem for the Vikings that season, and this game was no exception. Aside from taking knees in the halves' closing seconds, the Packers scored on every possession of a 44-31 victory.
Longest Punt Return Touchdown (103 Yards)
In a battle between two NFC teams going nowhere fast, the New Orleans Saints held a 37-27 lead over the Los Angeles Rams late in the fourth quarter during Week 8 of the 1994 season. Saints punter Tommy Barnhardt attempted to pin the Rams deep inside their own territory, but he put a little too much mustard on a kick that landed in the end zone before bouncing out of bounds.
Or did it?
The ball bounced toward the back of the end zone but took a backspin hop and landed three yards deep in the painted area. Half a dozen players from the Saints' punt-coverage team stood around thinking the play was over when Robert Bailey alertly scooped it up and ran 103 yards before anyone else knew what was going on.
Of all the plays on the list, this one was the flukiest, and one that wouldn't even count in today's game for several reasons. Presently, the play is blown dead once a punted ball touches the end zone, provided the receiving team didn't already touch it. And with both the offense and defense coming onto the field in preparation for the start of the next drive, the referees should have called back the return due to offsetting penalties.
And that's why even though this is technically the most breakable of the regular-season long-touchdown records, it's hard to imagine it will ever fall. Unless it's the last play before halftime or the end of regulation, no returner in his right mind would field a punt four or more yards into the end zone. The only feasible scenario is a ball deflecting off a blocker, bouncing deep into the end zone as a live ball and then being scooped up and returned for 104 or more yards.
Short of that, Bailey's record should hold for many years to come.
Bailey's return made the final four minutes a little more interesting, but no more points were scored in the contest. New Orleans held on for a 37-34 victory. And it ended up being the only time Bailey returned a punt or kickoff, so he's got the record for "career average on returns" locked down, too.
Longest Interception Return Touchdown (107 Yards)
It was Week 12 of the 2008 season when the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens visited the 5-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles for what felt like a must-win game for both squads. The Ravens had opened up a 22-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles put together a long drive with plans to make it a one-score game.
On second and goal from inside the 1-yard line, the Eagles called a play-action pass, hoping the Ravens defense would sell out to stop the run. Ed Reed wasn't fooled, though, sticking right with Reggie Brown in the back of the end zone before jumping the route and taking off in the opposite direction for his second long return of the day. (Reed also had a 43-yard interception return in the second quarter.)
Quarterback Kevin Kolb took a great angle to either tackle Reed or force him out of bounds at the Ravens 25, but it only took a slight cut for Reed to blow by him like he wasn't even there. Running back Brian Westbrook also had a good angle, catching up to Reed before midfield. However, Reed broke his attempted tackle while barely breaking stride. Brent Celek was Philadelphia's last chance at the 20, but Reed cut back inside and left the tight end stumbling over his own feet en route to the 107-yard touchdown.
The best part is that Reed broke his own NFL record in the process. He had previously returned an interception 106 yards for a touchdown during the 2004 season, meaning he is both first and second for this category in the record books.
Instead of allowing the game to turn into a 22-14 nail-biter, Baltimore took a 29-7 lead and cruised to a 36-7 victory. The win was a critical one, as the Ravens edged out the New England Patriots in a tiebreaker for the final playoff spot and ultimately reached the AFC Championship. The Eagles also got into the postseason by the skin of their teeth before making a run to the NFC Championship.
Longest Fumble Return Touchdown (104 Yards)
In NFL history, two fumbles have been returned 104 yards for touchdowns. Both happened when a running back fumbled the ball forward into the end zone, and both were crucial to the outcome of the game.
The original was accomplished by Oakland's Jack Tatum during Week 2 of the 1972 season. Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Hunter flipped the ball out to MacArthur Lane at the Oakland 6-yard line on an option play, but he was unable to secure it. The ball rolled forward 10 yards before it was scooped up by Tatum, who then ran untouched up the sideline to give the Raiders a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter. No one even got within five yards of him.
Twenty-eight years later, Aeneas Williams matched Tatum's feat when Washington's Stephen Davis fumbled at the one-inch line on a run up the gut. Williams alertly snatched up the ball, ran over a referee, juked the life out of poor Jeff George and took it the rest of the way without much resistance. It looked like Washington was going to take an early 7-0 lead, but it was instead the Arizona Cardinals who got on the board first.
Neither fumble was the game-winning score, but both proved to be the difference. Tatum's Raiders won 20-14, and Williams' Cardinals eked out a 16-15 victory. Not only did both teams need to stop those opposing touchdowns from happening, but they also needed the return touchdowns to put up enough points in low-scoring contests.
Longest Missed Field Goal Return Touchdown (109 Yards)
In Week 9 of the 2007 season, the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings were tied at 7-7 with four seconds remaining in the second quarter. Minnesota had the ball on San Diego's 39 and opted to attempt a 57-yard field goal rather than a Hail Mary, in part because Brooks Bollinger had just replaced Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback earlier in the drive.
Three weeks earlier, Ryan Longwell made a career-long 55-yarder as time expired in a Vikings victory over the Chicago Bears, and they were hopeful he could find the muscle for another two yards. But anticipating the possibility of a short kick, the Chargers had second-year cornerback Antonio Cromartie waiting deep in the end zone for a return.
Longwell's attempt missed the crossbar by maybe a foot, but Cromartie was there for a remarkable catch, keeping his left foot in bounds by inches while reaching out of bounds for the ball. Unless the NFL expands the field for some reason, we'll never see a longer touchdown.
Once he had the ball, the return was effortless. No one even came close to touching Cromartie, and he only needed two or three blocks while sprinting right past a field-goal unit comprised almost entirely of linemen.
Cromartie's return gave San Diego a 14-7 lead and all of the theoretical momentum heading into halftime, but they were annihilated after that. This NFL record ended up being the second-most noteworthy of the game, as Adrian Peterson racked up 253 of his record 296 yards in the second half of Minnesota's 35-17 victory.
Longest Super Bowl Offensive Touchdown (85 Yards)
Midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the New England Patriots were leading the Carolina Panthers 21-16. The Panthers had not held a lead yet in the game, but Tom Brady opened the door by throwing one of the ugliest interceptions of his entire career, ending a Patriots drive that should have at least produced a field goal.
Three plays later on 3rd-and-10 from their own 15, the Panthers offensive line gave Jake Delhomme all the time in the world to scan the field. The Patriots were in zone coverage trying to prevent the first down, but they forgot about Muhsin Muhammad—the only Carolina receiver who went further than 10 yards downfield—streaking along the left sideline.
Muhammad was a good five yards beyond rookie defensive back Eugene Wilson when Delhomme hit him perfectly in stride with a ball that traveled more than 50 yards through the air. Wilson caught up with Muhammad, but one stiff arm to the chest was all it took to finish off the 85-yard touchdown.
Not only was it the longest offensive touchdown in Super Bowl history, but it was the longest play in the career of either player. Delhomme's next-longest pass was an 80-yarder, and Muhammad never had another reception go for more than 72 yards.
Unfortunately for Panthers fans, it wasn't enough. Brady and the Patriots marched right back down the field to retake the lead. And though the Panthers were able to tie the game up on their next possession, John Kasay shanked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to set the Patriots up at their own 40 with three timeouts and more than a minute remaining on the clock. Brady and Adam Vinatieri were clutch en route to the game-winning field goal.
Longest Super Bowl Defensive Touchdown (100 Yards)
The Pittsburgh Steelers were leading the Arizona Cardinals 10-7 with 18 seconds remaining before halftime of Super Bowl XLIII, but the Cardinals had the ball at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line with plans to punch in the go-ahead score. They had no timeouts left, but the worst-case scenario (so they thought) was three incomplete passes followed by a game-tying chip shot for Neil Rackers.
Kurt Warner dropped back on first down and stared down his intended target, Anquan Boldin, before delivering a slant pass in his direction. What Warner didn't see, however, was that James Harrison—a pass-rusher who had 16 sacks in 2008 and only three interceptions to that point in his career—had dropped back into zone coverage and read the route perfectly to pick it off at the goal line.
Harrison then took off on a 100-yard race up the sideline. Deshea Townsend—who initially appeared to be trying to get Harrison to hand him the ball—blocked Warner from making the tackle at the Pittsburgh 30. LaMarr Woodley took Tim Hightower out of the play at the Arizona 30. And by the time Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston finally got their hands on Harrison, it was too late. They tackled him into the end zone, giving the Steelers a two-score lead at the break.
There was no time left on the clock when he crossed the plane, but Arizona was flagged for a face mask during the run back, meaning the Steelers would have received an untimed down to kick a field goal if Harrison had been brought down short. But they needed those "extra" points.
The Cardinals stormed back with 16 unanswered points to take a 23-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. Because Harrison's interception resulted in a touchdown and not a field goal, though, the Ben Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes touchdown with 35 seconds left put Pittsburgh ahead by the final score of 27-23.
Longest Super Bowl Kick/Punt Return (108 Yards)
We may never come to an agreement on whether Joe Flacco was elite, but he was undeniably on fire early in Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco had three passing touchdowns in the first half, staking the Baltimore Ravens to a 21-6 lead over the San Francisco 49ers by the time Beyoncé and Destiny's Child did their halftime thing.
Baltimore got the ball to start the second half, which Jacoby Jones—who was also on the receiving end of one of Flacco's touchdown passes—immediately took 108 yards to the house. And he made it look easy, practically running in a straight line and only needing to break one arm tackle.
It was obviously the biggest return of Jones' career, but it was also one of five kick-return touchdowns he had in his three-year run with Baltimore.
A few minutes later, there was a partial power outage at the Superdome, halting play for more than half an hour. When the lights came back on, the 49ers staged quite the comeback, scoring 17 unanswered points.
With two minutes remaining in a 34-29 game, San Francisco got down to Baltimore's 5-yard line with a chance to take the lead. However, Colin Kaepernick threw three consecutive incomplete passes, allowing the Ravens to hang on and win their second Super Bowl.
While the game-winning points didn't technically come from Jones' return, he did score Baltimore's final touchdown and finished the night with a staggering 290 all-purpose yards.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.