Ranking the NFL's 10 Worst Plays in the Last Decade

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 10, 2020

Ranking the NFL's 10 Worst Plays in the Last Decade

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    Some of them were terribly planned, others were terribly executed. In fact, the worst of them were terribly planned AND terribly executed. Some of them resulted in hilarity, others in catastrophe. And some had dire consequences, while others merely served to entertain us.

    Regardless, they are all very, very bad football plays. 

    In the past, we had Leon Lett's gaffe(s), Tony Romo's botched hold and Jim Marshall's run in the wrong direction. Those pre-2010 bad plays will live in infamy, but so should these abysmal, comical, sometimes sickening plays from the last decade of NFL football. 

    These aren't the good, the bad or the ugly. They're whatever comes next. 

Dishonorable Mentions

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Stevie Johnson drops potential game-winner, appears to blame God: Not only did the Buffalo Bills wide receiver commit one of the most egregious drops in NFL history when he was wide open and couldn't haul in what would have been a game-winner in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, but he doubled down by taking to Twitter and seemingly pinning it on God. (He did follow up with somewhat of an explanation.)

    Kirk Cousins accidentally kneels when he meant to spike: The mistake likely cost Cousins' Washington Redskins at least three points just before halftime in a close, important December 2015 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was lucky Washington still won. "For lack of a better word, I just had a lapse in my decision-making and took a knee when I should've thrown the ball away to stop the clock," he later said. "We were fortunate it didn't end up hurting us."

    Josh Allen's dangerous lateral in the 2019 playoffs: After picking up a first down on a scramble late in a recent postseason tilt with the Houston Texans, the Bills quarterback made a baffling decision on the fly by inexplicably trying to lateral as he was being tackled. He was saved by tight end Dawson Knox, who batted the ball out of bounds, and Buffalo still drove for a game-tying field goal. Still, it was one of those moments that caused the nation to jump and scream collectively.

10. Tim Tebow Loses 28 Yards on One Play

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    Date: Dec. 18, 2011

    Score when it happened: Patriots 41, Broncos 23 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 4-17-NE 37 (2:29) (Shotgun) T.Tebow sacked at DEN 35 for -28 yards (R.Ninkovich).


    What happened

    Facing a large deficit late, Denver was admittedly desperate and Tebow deserves some kudos for his will in a last-gasp situation, but he had to recognize that his pocket was collapsing quickly. He still escaped a sack early on the play but then made an extremely odd decision to turn back rather than up into the pocket with only the massive Vince Wilfork to beat. 

    From that point forward it was almost as if he was trying to reach his own end zone. And by the time he was finally taken down, he was in a spot at which he'd need a 45-yard completion to keep the drive alive. 

    It was one of just three 28-plus-yard losses in the decade. But on the bright side for Tebow, a Hall of Fame quarterback once suffered an even longer sack

9. Kyle Williams Fumbles Away a Shot at the Super Bowl

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    Date: Jan. 22, 2012

    Score when it happened: Giants 17, 49ers 17 (overtime)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 4-13-NYG 44 (9:42) S.Weatherford punts 37 yards to SF 19, Center-Z.DeOssie. K.Williams to SF 24 for 5 yards (J.Williams). FUMBLES (J.Williams), RECOVERED by NYG-D.Thomas at SF 24. D.Thomas to SF 24 for no gain (C.Spillman).


    What happened

    Unless you're a Giants fan, this one is painful to watch. It might have cost both Williams and the 49ers a championship, and at the time it felt so predictable and preventable. 

    In overtime of the 2011 NFC Championship Game, Williams—who wasn't the 49ers' regular punt returner and was only playing that role because Ted Ginn Jr. was injured—became a legendary goat.

    The game was probably only in overtime because he muffed a punt with San Francisco leading by four points in the fourth quarter, and he had made a risky, sliding catch on an earlier punt. 

    And yet not only was he back there again when the Giants were forced to punt in sudden-death overtime with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line, but he fielded Steve Weatherford's punt with little room to run and was almost immediately stripped by Jacquian Williams of the Giants.

    The Giants didn't have to throw another pass and were NFC champions only a few plays later. 

    Tragically, the miscues led to death threats toward Williams, who at the time was only 23 years old. 

    "It will be a tough one," 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the loss. "It will take a while to get over."

    The reality is Harbaugh deserves some of the blame for leaving the shaky Williams in there.

8. Marcus Cooper's Premature Celebration

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press


    Date: Sept. 24, 2017

    Score when it happened: Bears 14, Steelers 7 (second quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 1-10-CHI 18 (:06) (Field Goal formation) C.Boswell 35 yard field goal is BLOCKED (S.McManis), Center-K.Canaday, Holder-J.Berry, RECOVERED by CHI-M.Cooper at CHI 26. M.Cooper to PIT 1 for 73 yards (V.McDonald). FUMBLES (V.McDonald), ball out of bounds in End Zone, Touchback. PENALTY on PIT-J.Berry, Illegal Bat, 0 yards, enforced at PIT 1.


    What happened

    On the final play of the first half of this early-season inter-conference battle at Soldier Field, Cooper had a Leon Lett/DeSean Jackson moment when he grabbed the ball following a blocked field-goal attempt and sprinted the other way with nobody to beat. 

    Nobody except himself. 

    The cornerback slowed down at around the 10-yard line and strangely decided to essentially walk it in, but he was tracked down by a hustling Vance McDonald, who forced a fumble on the one-yard line. The ball went through the end zone, but an illegal bat on Pittsburgh at least gave the Bears a chance to salvage three points with a field goal on an untimed down. 

    "That was just a mistake on my part," Cooper said following the game. "I thought I was in [the end zone] but obviously I wasn't."

    When the Bears managed to win in overtime, Cooper's sigh of relief could reportedly be heard in Naperville. 

7. Michael Koenen (Sort of) Throws a Pick-Six After His Punt Is Blocked

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    Date: Oct. 14, 2012

    Score when it happened: Buccaneers 21, Chiefs 3 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 4-6-TB 18 (14:15) (Punt formation) M.Koenen punt is BLOCKED by S.Draughn, Center-A.Economos, recovered by TB-M.Koenen at TB 0. M.Koenen to TB 1 for 1 yard (S.Draughn). FUMBLES (S.Draughn), RECOVERED by KC-E.Jones at TB 11. E.Jones for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    Few bad plays in NFL history compare to the comedy of errors that plagued Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian following a blocked field-goal attempt in Super Bowl VII, but Koenen's antics under otherwise mundane circumstances in a one-sided game against the Chiefs are at least reminiscent of "Garo's Gaffe."

    After Koenen's punt was blocked by Kansas City's Shaun Draughn, the veteran punter impressively outraced and fought off Draughn in order to position himself to recover and avoid a Chiefs touchdown. He even avoided a safety by riskily scooping the ball up in the end zone and running with it. But then...then he tried to throw a pass? 

    Koenen was hammered by Draughn as he released just beyond the goal line, and the ball landed in the hands of Kansas City's Edgar Jones, who dove into the end zone for the only touchdown of his pro football career. 

    It was technically a fumble and not an interception, but video of the play on the league's official website calls it a pick-six, it sure looked like an interception, and it's funnier that way anyway. 

    Fortunately for both Koenen and Yepremian, they still won their respective games. The latter was a little more important than the former, but Koenen was still likely extremely relieved that his ridiculous moment didn't cost the Bucs a W. 

6. Bills Decide to Not Touch Kickoff, Give Up Touchdown

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press


    Date: Jan. 1, 2017

    Score when it happened: Jets 23, Bills 3 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: N.Folk kicks 65 yards from NYJ 35 to BUF 0. RECOVERED by NYJ-D.Middleton, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    It was an utter brain-fart moment for the Bills, who might have been thinking about the looming offseason with just minutes remaining in a losing campaign. Or maybe they were just a little absent-minded on New Year's Day. 

    Were they partying at Times Square the night before? Were they under the impression they were still there? It's not as though they were a model of enthusiasm in a blowout loss to a Jets team earning just its fifth win on the season at MetLife Stadium that day.

    But when they forgot to return a kickoff with about three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, they at least provided viewers with some comedic entertainment. 

    It started when Buffalo return man Mike Gillislee drastically misjudged and overran Nick Folk's kick. But the real "Huh?" moment came when Gillislee sprinted back to the ball and then just...stared at it while New York's Doug Middleton dove on it in the end zone for the easiest touchdown of his life (and also the only one of his career). 

    And the funny thing is even Middleton hesitated before finally jumping on the ball. It was a brief moment in which everybody on the field seemed to be locked in the Neuralyzer from Men in Black

    It's pretty obvious Gillislee—who returned just one kick in his NFL career and wasn't a frequent returner in college—got confused about what constitutes a touchback. And ultimately, the mistake didn't make a big difference. Still, it's a joy to watch. 

    This tweet from the team's official account summed it up. 

5. Matt Dodge's Punt That Led to the Miracle at the New Meadowlands

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    Date: Dec. 19, 2010

    Score when it happened: Eagles 31, Giants 31 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 4-17-NYG 29 (:14) M.Dodge punts 36 yards to PHI 35, Center-Z.DeOssie. D.Jackson MUFFS catch, and recovers at PHI 35. D.Jackson for 65 yards, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    With the Giants and Eagles seemingly headed to overtime in a critical late-season divisional matchup at MetLife (which was then known as New Meadowlands Stadium), all Dodge had to do was hammer a punt out of bounds on Philly's side of the field. 

    That would have almost certainly caused the Eagles to take a knee with just a few seconds remaining. 

    Instead, the rookie punter baffled the football world by firing a line drive directly at one of the game's most dangerous weapons, DeSean Jackson. Eighteen seconds later, Jackson was in the end zone and the Eagles had landed a victory that would ultimately give them the division crown over the Giants, who missed the playoffs by one game. 

    "Sometimes you try so hard to do something—to get it out of boundsand you just lose your head," Dodge said of the mishap. "That's kind of what happened."

    "I'll take full responsibility for the last play," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "The young punter was told to punt it out of bounds. He got a high snap and didn't feel like he could."

    Dodge's career was over just two weeks later, although it's important to remember that he doesn't deserve all of the blame. After all, the Giants had already blown a 21-point fourth-quarter lead at home, and that had little to do with their punter. 

4. The Butt Fumble

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press


    Date: Nov. 22, 2012

    Score when it happened: Patriots 14, Jets 0 (second quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 1-10-NYJ 31 (9:10) M.Sanchez up the middle to NYJ 32 for 1 yard. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by NE-S.Gregory at NYJ 32. S.Gregory for 32 yards, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    I'd have to imagine academic dissertations have been written on the Butt Fumble, which has emerged as a symbol for all that has been good with the Patriots and bad with the Jets this century. It's the first play on this list that has its own Wikipedia page as a result of its notoriety, but it can really be summarized quite simply.

    In the midst of a blowout home loss to the bully Pats, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez took a snap, turned the wrong way for an anticipated handoff, scrambled forward in an attempt to salvage the broken play and ran directly into offensive lineman Brandon Moore's derriere. Said collision caused Sanchez to fumble, and the ball was scooped up by New England's Steve Gregory, who ran unopposed to the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown to give the Pats a 21-0 lead. 

    New England would score 35 points in that quarter alone, but all that mattered was the Butt Fumble. 

    "It's embarrassing," Sanchez later said. "You screw up the play and I'm trying to do the right thing. It's not like I'm trying to force something. I start to slide and I slide in the worst spot I possibly could—right into Brandon Moore. I guess [I was] more stunned than anything. It was just like...a car accident. I was like, 'Whoa, what just happened? The ball is gone.' It was weird, man. That sucked."

    It certainly did suck. And it's not going anywhere. 

3. Rahim Moore's Botched Coverage on the Mile High Miracle

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    Date: Jan. 12, 2013

    Score when it happened: Broncos 35, Ravens 28 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 3-3-BLT 30 (:41) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass deep right to J.Jones for 70 yards, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    Every "miracle" play for one team relies on a level of ineptitude from its opponent.

    The Ravens' miracle en route to the Super Bowl in 2012 came when quarterback Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones for a Hail Mary-like 70-yard touchdown to force overtime in the final minute of their playoff matchup with the Broncos.

    But that miracle doesn't happen if the Broncos don't completely blow it on defense. 

    Jones found a soft spot in coverage between cornerback Tony Carter and safety Rahim Moore, who greatly misjudged Flacco's bomb, began backtracking while Jones was still sprinting forward and embarrassed himself on a leap that fell far short of the pass and left him out of position to at least make the tackle. 

    "I just misjudged it," said Moore, who took full responsibility after the loss. "I let it get over my head first of all and I didn't do what I do best which is watch the flight of the ball and I didn't do that right. I didn't capitalize and it hurt us."

    Baltimore would eventually go on to win the game in overtime. 

    "I think he was trying to make a play and we caught him slipping," Jones later said of Moore. "They weren't up for us. Bingo."

2. Marcus Williams' Botched Defense on the Minneapolis Miracle

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    Date: Jan. 14, 2018

    Score when it happened: Saints 24, Vikings 23 (fourth quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 3-10-MIN 39 (:10) (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass deep right to S.Diggs for 61 yards, TOUCHDOWN.


    What happened

    Speaking of "miracles" that required goats, one of the most memorable walk-off finishes in NFL history wouldn't have happened if not for shoddy defense from Saints safety Marcus Williams. 

    Vikings fans will never forget Case Keenum's 61-yard game-winning hookup with Stefon Diggs to beat the Saints in a do-or-die situation as time ran out in their 2017 playoff matchup, but Saints fans will never forget how Williams essentially pulled a Rahim Moore on that fateful play. 

    With the Saints trying to protect a one-point lead, Diggs caught Keenum's pass at the New Orleans 35-yard line with five seconds remaining. With the Vikes out of timeouts and Williams over the top, all the rookie had to do was position himself to tackle Diggs when he came down off-balance after high-pointing the ball. 

    But Williams over-committed, missed Diggs entirely and took out teammate Ken Crawley, who might have had a chance to catch Diggs for a game-saving tackle. 

    The rest is the good kind of history if you're a Vikings fan and the bad kind if you're a Saints supporter. 

    It's a shame, because Williams is a superb player who had a tremendous rookie season, but he might forever be remembered for that moment. 

    "I feel like I was a little early, but at that point, I've just got to make the tackle when he comes down," Williams said at the time. "It's just those little things that you see, and you've got to make sure you do all that you can to get him down, regardless of if there were 10 seconds left. I knew the situation. You've just got to make sure you make the play."

    And while Williams has taken the brunt of criticism on the play, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen deserves heat for his play call in that situation. With just 10 seconds remaining in a one-point game, the Saints should have been protecting the 40-yard marker like it was the goal line on a Hail Mary attempt. Instead, they inexplicably rushed four and had guys lurking underneath covering nobody, leaving far too much margin for error on the back end. 

    It was a real clustersomething. 

1. Whatever the Hell This Was

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press


    Date: Oct. 18, 2015

    Score when it happened: Patriots 27, Colts 21 (third quarter)

    How it looked in the boxscore: 4-3-IND 37 (1:14) (Punt formation) C.Anderson up the middle to IND 36 for -1 yards (B.Bolden). Penalty on IND, Illegal Formation, declined.


    What happened

    Poor planning, poor execution, big spot. That's a hell of a combination for the Colts, who in a rivalry game on national television decided to run one of the weirdest and least effective trick plays in NFL history. 

    On fourth down on their own side of the field, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano sent out the punt team, which got into position and then realigned en masse into a "swinging gate" which left just wide receiver/de facto center Griff Whalen and safety/de facto quarterback Colt Anderson on the ball in the middle of the field. 

    The purpose, naturally, was to disorient the New England defense. But the switch-up was so slow-moving and awkward that the Patriots adjusted in time to have several defenders on Whalen, Anderson and the ball and several others dealing with the rest of the "offense," which was uselessly clumped together out wide.

    With the element of surprise shot, the numbers working against them and the play clock too depleted to readjust, the Colts probably should have called timeout and punted it away without further embarrassing themselves. But instead, Whalen snapped the ball to Anderson, who was immediately tackled for a loss by several New England players. 

    Oh, and then we heard from referee Tony Corrente: "Illegal formation, the whole right side of the line was not on the line of scrimmage, offense. This penalty is declined. The result of the play is first down for New England."

    So, yeah, probably should have just taken the five-yard delay-of-game penalty. There's no way Whalen was supposed to snap that ball

    "The whole idea there was on fourth-and-3 or less, we shift to an alignment to where we could catch them misaligned," Pagano said afterward. "They tried to sub some people in. Catch them with more men on the field—12 men on the field. And if you get a certain look, you have three (or) two yards to make a play.

    "We shifted over and I didn't do a good enough job coaching it during the week. Alignment-wise, we weren't lined up correctly and we had a communication breakdown between the quarterback and snapper. That's on me."

    With a short field as a result of Indy's failed gamble, the Patriots were in the end zone just a few minutes later. That fourth-quarter touchdown was ultimately the game-winner. 

    The best (or worst) part? The Colts had apparently been practicing the play for months. But then-punter Pat McAfee to WFBQ-FM (h/t NFL.com) Whalen wasn't supposed to be the center and was only there because Clayton Geathers was injured earlier in the game. And yet they somehow still decided to attempt the trick play without him.

    Make that poor planning, poor execution, poor communication and—quite simply—poor coaching.