NFL Playoffs: 25 Worst Turnovers In Postseason History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2011

NFL Playoffs: 25 Worst Turnovers In Postseason History

0 of 25

    PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 05:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Bobby McCray #93 of the Jacksonville Jaguars on the Steelers' final drive during the AFC Wild Card game on January 5, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pi
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    NFL playoffs usually hinge on one statistic. Not yards rushing, passes completed, or sacks allowed, but turnovers.

    Every head coach talks about winning the turnover battle and the 2010 playoffs have been no exception.

    Take the Steelers-Ravens game last Saturday. The Steelers committed two first half turovers and fell behind 21-7. Then in the second half, the Ravens committed three turnovers, and ultimately lost the game. 

    That's usually how it goes in the postseason. 

    And throughout history there have been some season crushing turnovers committed by offenses at key moments. 

    Taking into account all the factors (where and when it happened, the magnitude of the game and the result), we've ranked the 25 worst turnovers in postseason history.

    Check them out, but if you're a fan of the team that committed the turnover, you might not want to watch. 

No. 25: Dolphin Doug Swift Picks Off Cleveland's Mike Phipps...Again

1 of 25

    When: 1972 AFC Divisional

    The Situation:  Cleveland quarterback Mike Phipps had a bad day, being picked off by the undefeated Dolphins four times. And although they trailed 20-14 with barely a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Phipps and the Browns had one last chance, set up near midfield. 

    What Happened: Phipps dropped back to pass, but Swift—just another member of the Dolphins no-name defense—stepped in front of the pass deep in Miami territory, sealing the win. 

    The Result: Miami ran out the clock, won the game, defeated Pittsburgh and Washington the following two weeks to complete the only perfect season in the Super Bowl era. 

No. 24: Joe Theismann Never Sees Jack Squirek

2 of 25

    When: Super Bowl XVIII

    The Situation: The underdog Raiders had surprised the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the first half. Behind Jim Plunkett and a special teams' touchdown, Los Angeles led 14-3.

    After a Ray Guy punt pinned Washington deep in their own territory with 12 seconds to play before halftime, everyone expected the Redskins to play it conservative or take a knee. But Joe Theismann convinced Joe Gibbs to run a screen pass. 

    What Happened: Theismann floated the ball in the direction of running back Joe Washington. He didn't account for unheralded linebacker Jack Squirek, who returned the ball for a touchdown. 

    The Result: Ahead 21-3, the Raiders could afford to lean on Marcus Allen the rest of the game and they cruised to a 38-9 victory and their third Super Bowl in eight years. 

No. 23: Willie Clay Ruins the Jaguars Fairy Tale

3 of 25

    5 Jan 1997:  Defensive back Willie Clay of the New England Patriots celebrates after making an interception during a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  The Patriots won the game, 28-3. Mandatory C
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    When: 1996 AFC Championship

    The Situation: Behind just 13-6 late in the fourth quarter, the upstart second-year expansion Jacksonville Jaguars had a third consecutive upset within their grasp. 

    After pushing the ball deep into New England territory, the Jaguars had a second-and-goal at the Patriots' five yard line with under four minutes to play. 

    What Happened: Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell targeted his enormous tight end, Derek Brown, across the goal line. Reserve defensive back Willie Clay stepped in front of Brown and picked off the pass to stop the drive. 

    The Result: The Jags had one more opportunity to score but Otis Smith returned a James Stewart fumble to clinch the Pats trip to Super Bowl XXXI. 

No. 22: Warren Moon Can't Stop the Oilers' Bleeding

4 of 25

    When: 1992 AFC Wild Card

    The Situation: After coming back from their 35-3 second half deficit, the Buffalo Bills found themselves in overtime with the Houston Oilers, who won the coin toss. After throwing for 371 yards and four touchdowns, Warren Moon faced a third-and-seven at their own 27 yard line on the first possession of sudden death. 

    What Happened: Looking for a receiver to open up, Moon waited in the pocket then released a pass near the sideline intended for Haywood Jefferies. Cornerback Nate Odomes intercepted the ball, setting the Bills up with great field position. 

    The Result: Three plays after Odomes' pick, Steve Christie nailed a 32-yard field goal, completing the greatest comeback in NFL history and keeping the Bills on track for a third straight Super Bowl. 

No. 21: Raiders Fumble-Turned-Touchdown Puts Patriots In AFC Championship

5 of 25

    LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 5:  Cornerback Sam Seale #43 of the Los Angeles Raiders runs up field with the ball during the 1985 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the New England Patriots at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 5, 1986 in Los Angeles,
    George Rose/Getty Images

    When: 1985 AFC Divisional

    The Situation: Behind 20-17 in the third quarter, Patriots kicker Tony Franklin nailed a 32-yard field goal to tie the host Raiders at the L.A.  Coliseum. Franklin kicked off to the Raiders, who were expected to continue to pound the ball with running back Marcus Allen. The league MVP was dominant that day, finishing with 21 carries, 121 yards and a touchdown. 

    What Happened: Franklin's kick landed in the arms of returner Sam Seale, who dropped the ball, recovered it, then fumbled it again when Mosi Tatupu (Lofa's father) hit him. Rookie safety Jim Bowman recovered the ball, which had bounced back into the end zone, resulting in the go-ahead touchdown. 

    The Result: The Pats' defense shut out the Raiders in the fourth quarter, won the game, and eventually became the first team to win three road playoff games in the same season, before being crushed by the Bears in Super Bowl XX. 

No. 20: Kordell Stewart Throws Another Away

6 of 25

    27 Jan 2002 : Quarterback Kordell Stewart #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Patriots won 24-17. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: E
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    When: 2001 AFC Championship

    The Situation: Two special teams disasters and an interception by quarterback Kordell Stewart set the Steelers up for a third home AFC Championship Game failure in seven seasons. Trailing 21-3 in the third quarter however, Stewart led Pittsburgh on two touchdown drives.

    Behind 24-17, Stewart was again picked off by Tebucky Jones with three minutes to play, but the Steelers defense force a long field goal that Adam Vinatieri surprisingly missed. Given one last chance, just before the two-minute warning, the Steelers took possession at their own 40-yard-line.

    What Happened: Stewart terribly overthrew Plaxico Burress down the middle of the field, where Laywer Milloy snagged the ball for Stewart's sixth interception in two AFC Championship Game starts. 

    The Result: New England ran out the clock, advanced to Super Bowl XXXVI where they pulled off another huge upset, defeating the Rams 20-17. 

No. 19: Earl Morrall and the Florida A&M Band

7 of 25

    When: Super Bowl III

    The Situation: Even though they trailed the New York Jets 7-0 late in the second quarter, no one thought the Colts would actually lose to the AFL's 18-point underdogs. After all, they had the league MVP, quarterback Earl Morrall. And after a defensive stop, they had the ball at the Jets 42-yard line. 

    What Happened: With only 12 seconds remaining, the Colts stunned the Jets with a flea-flicker that froze the secondary, leaving wide receiver Jimmy Orr wide open. But because it was so close to halftime, the Florida A&M band was standing just on the edge of the endzone as well.

    And since they too were wearing Colts blue, Morrall never saw Orr. Instead he tried to dump the ball off to Jerry Hill. Jets safety Jimmy Hudson picked off the pass, ending the Colts drive.  

    The Result: Morrall was later replaced by Johnny Unitas, who produced a fourth quarter but the Colts just didn't have enough offense on that day and the Jets completed one of the greatest upsets in sports history. 

No. 18: Aaron Rodgers Can't Escape Michael Adams

8 of 25

    When: 2009 NFC Wild Card

    The Situation: In what was probably the greatest offensive battle in playoff history, the Cardinals and Packers needed overtime to decide the winner of a game that featured over 1,000 yards of offense. With the scored tied 45-45, the Packers faced a third-and-six on the first sudden death possession. 

    What Happened: Aaron Rodgers, who had completed 28-of-42 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns, was sacked at the 20 yard line by blitzing corner Michael Adams. Karlos Dansby picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown to win the game. 

    The Result: A week later, the Cardinals and Kurt Warner (379 yards, five touchdowns) had nothing left the next week and fell to the eventual world champion New Orleans Saints. 

No. 17: Ray Lewis Gets the Best of Eddie George

9 of 25

    When: 2000 AFC Divisional

    The Situation: In a predictably low scoring game, the Ravens and defending AFC Champion Titans were tied at 10 entering the fourth quarter. Baltimore then took the lead when defensive back Anthony Mitchell returned a blocked field goal attempt 90 yards. Behind 17-10, Titans quarterback Steve McNair looked to tie the game with under seven minutes remaining. 

    What Happened: Near midfield, McNair dumped a ball in the flats to Eddie George, who bobbled the ball. NFL Defensive Player of the Year hauled it in and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. 

    The Result: Against the Ravens' historically great defense, McNair had no chance of overcoming a14-point lead with barely six minutes to play. Baltimore won 24-10, won a week later in Oakland, and then won Super Bowl XXXV. 

No. 16: Donovan McNabb, Meet Ronde Barber

10 of 25

    When: 2002 NFC Championship

    The Situation: In the last game ever played at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles fell behind the Bucs 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter. Donovan McNabb then drove Philadelphia 73 yards, all the way down to the Bucs' 10. A  touchdown or even a field goal would keep the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes alive.

    What Happened: McNabb tried to complete a curl route to one of his receivers, but Tampa bay corner Ronde Barber stole the pass out of the air and returned it 92 yards for the game clincher. 

    The Result: Tampa closed the door on the Eagles then added five more turnovers two weeks later against the Raiders to win Super Bowl XXXVII. 

No. 15: Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, and the Immaculate Redemption

11 of 25

    (Fast forward to 2:20 mark)

    When: 2005 AFC Divisional

    The Situation: Leading the top-seeded Colts by three points, the sixth seeded Steelers were nearing one of the greatest upsets in modern playoff history. With a little more than two minutes to play, the Steelers Joey Porter sacked Peyton Manning on a fourth down, turning the ball over with 90 seconds remaining. Because they couldn't completely drain the clock (the Colts still had timeouts), taking a knee wasn't how Steelers head coach Bill Cowher proceeded. 

    What Happened: On first and goal from the two, Ben Roethlisberger handed off to the Steelers' goal line specialist, Jerome Bettis, who hadn't fumbled once all season. With his helmet, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett knocked out the ball, which corner Nick Harper scooped up and headed for the endzone. By sheer luck, Roethlisberger managed to trip up Harper at the Colts' 42 yard line. 

    The Result: Manning drove the Colts in position for a game-tying field goal, but Mike Vanderjagt missed the 46-yarder and the Steelers won. Three weeks later, they won Super Bowl XL. 

No. 14: Roger Craig and Erik Howard's Helmet

12 of 25

    When: 1990 NFC Championship Game

    The Situation: Despite knocking league MVP Joe Montana out of the game and limiting the two-time defending Super Bowl champions to just one touchdown, the New York Giants still trailed the 49ers 13-12 with less than three minutes to play. After a long pass to Brent Jones put the 49ers well past midfield, the 49ers could effectively run out the clock. 

    What Happened: After gaining a first down, running back Roger Craig (who had fumbled on the drive's first play) ran into the middle of the line to keep the clock moving. Giants defensive tackle Erik Howard's helmet knocked the ball out of Craig's hands and Lawrence Taylor caught the fumble mid-air. 

    The Result: Backup Jeff Hostetler led the Giants down the field in the final two and a half minutes, setting up Matt Bahr's game-winner which sent the Giants to Super Bowl XXV. 

No. 13: Joe Namath and the Jets Can't Repeat

13 of 25

    When: 1969 AFL Title Game

    The Situation: A season after leading the Jets to their miracle Super Bowl, Broadway Joe Namath looked to produce the repeat title. Hosting the Chiefs at a freezing and windy Shea Stadium, the Jets fell behind 13-6 when Len Dawson connected on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Gloster Richardson. In the final two minutes, Namath, who would only complete 14 of 40 attempts that day, nudged the Jets close to the Chiefs' goal line. 

    What Happened: Namath targeted receiver Blake Turner in the Kansas City end zone, but rookie safety Jim Marsalis (who had picked off Namath earlier in the game) undercut the pass and nabbed the pass, effectively sealing the Chiefs victory. 

    The Result: Kansas City again went on the road, defeated the Raiders, then trounced the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the last game ever played by the American Football League. 

No. 12: Leon Lett Celebrates Early, Don Beebe Make Him Pay

14 of 25

    When: Super Bowl XXVII

    The Situation: The game was already over. Dallas was crushing the Bills, 52-17 with less than five minutes to play. Nevertheless, Buffalo's Don Beebe didn't give up when the Cowboys stripped quarterback Frank Reich and defensive tackle returned the ball 64 yards. 

    What Happened: The 300-pound Lett slowed up just as he neared the goal line and waved the ball out, starting his celebration. But Beebe chased him down and knocked the ball out just before he crossed the plane. 

    The Result: The play resulted in a touchback and the Bills regained possession. Although it was a moral victory, Beebe's strip of Lett kept the Bills from setting a new record for points allowed in a Super Bowl. 

No. 11: James Harrison Turns Around Super Bowl XLIII

15 of 25

    When: Super Bowl XLIII

    The Situation: Pittsburgh darted out to a 10 point lead against the Cardinals, but a touchdown pass by Kurt Warner narrowed the score at 10-7. Then a Ben Roethlisberger interception set Arizona up with great field position. Kurt Warner drove the Cardinals to the Pittsburgh five yard line with 18 seconds remaining in the half. 

    What Happened: From the shotgun, Warner targeted Anquan Boldin right at the goal line, but he didn't notice that NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison had dropped into coverage, instead of blitzing. Harrison returned the interception a Super Bowl record 100 yards and sent Pittsburgh into the half ahead 17-7 (instead of tied at 10 or behind 14-10).

    Result: Warner continued to make plays against the Steeler defense, grabbing a 23-20 lead late in the game, but Pittsburgh pulled out a sixth Super Bowl win by scoring a touchdown in the final minute, then sack/stripping Warner near midfield. 

No. 10: Matt Hasselbeck's Prediction Comes Up Short

16 of 25

    When: 2003 NFC Wild Card Game

    The Situation: After 60 minutes of a fantastic back-and-forth pitting Brett Favre and the Packers against the former coach Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks, overtime was needed to determine a winner. At the center of Lambeau Field, the Seahawks won the coin toss and captain quarterback Matt Hasselbeck announced they would take the ball. Well, that's not all: "We want the ball and we're gonna score," is what he actually said. 

    What Happened: After the Packers and Seahawks traded possessions in overtime, Hasselbeck attempted a sideline pass intended for Alex Bannister. Al Harris picked the ball off at his own 48 then returned it for the game-winning touchdown. 

    The Result: The Packers won, but a week later in Philadelphia, they were on the opposite side of another playoff miracle: The Eagles conversion on fourth and 26 that eventually produced a Philly 20-17 overtime win. 

No. 9: The Packers Render Dallas "Next Year's Champion"

17 of 25

    When: 1966 NFL Title Game

    The Situation: Hosting Vince Lombardi's Packers at the Cotton Bowl, the Cowboys fell behind 34-20 early in the fourth quarter. But behind the big arm of quarterback Don Meredith, who threw a 68-yard touchdown to Frank Clark, they cut the deficit in half.

    A pass interference penalty helped Dallas reach the Packers two yard line with 28 seconds remaining. 

    What Happened: On fourth down, Meredith rolled to his right trying to avoid blitzing linebacker Dave Robinson. But he couldn't, so Meredith heaved the ball into the end zone. Packers defensive back and a former centerfielder for the Washington Senators picked off the pass, preserving the Packers' fourth NFL title in six years.  

    The Result: Green Bay advanced to the first Super Bowl, where in the second half they pulled away from the Kansas City Chiefs to win 35-10. 

No. 8: Brian Sipe Begins a Decade Full Browns Championship Sadness

18 of 25

    When: 1980 AFC Divisional

    The Situation: At home, trailing the Wild Card Raiders by two, the Browns pushed to the Oakland 13 yard line with 1:12 remaining. But the cold and winds off Lake Erie made kicking a potential game-winning field goal dicey to say the least: the Browns had botched or missed three field goals and one extra point. After a long time out, the Browns attempted to go for the touchdown. 

    What Happened: League MVP Brian Sipe sat in the pocket waiting an open receiver. He saw Ozzie Newsome in the back right corner and heaved the ball towards his All Pro tight end, but safety Mike Davis beat Newsome to the ball and intercepted it to end Cleveland's hope of reaching their first-ever Super Bowl. 

    The Result: The Raiders eventually advanced to Super Bowl XV (the first ever Wild Card team to do so) where they defeated the Eagles in the more favorable climates of the Superdome. 

No. 7: Brett Favre Interception, Part I

19 of 25

    When: 2007 NFC Championship

    The Situation: In his final game as a Packer, Brett Favre caught two lucky breaks in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game: Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes missed two potential game-winning field goals, giving the Packers and opportunity to win the NFC title game before the Lambeau fans. 

    Green Bay won the coin toss and was set up with a first and 10 at their own 26 yard line. After a Ryan Grant carry netted two yards, Favre went to the air. 

    What Happened: The 38-year-old quarterback targeted Donald Driver at the Green Bay 43, but Giants corner Corey Webster jumped the route and pulled it in before Driver had a chance. 

    The Result: The Giants ran three plays, setting up Tynes chance to redeem himself. He nailed a 47-yarder to send New York to Super Bowl XLII. 

No. 6: Brett Favre Interception, Part II

20 of 25

    When: 2009 NFC Championship Game

    The Situation: After tying the game with an Adrian Peterson touchdown, the Vikings drove into Saints territory with less than 30 seconds remaining. At the 33 yard line, the Vikings suffered a false start penalty that pushed them just to the edge of Ryan Longwell's field goal range. 

    What Happened: Rather than looking to get a few yards on the ground (they did have a timeout) or keeping the play call simple, Brett Favre broke from the pocket and chucked the ball across midfield, where it was intercepted by cornerback Tracy Porter, leading to overtime. 

    The Result: In the last sudden death playoff game ever, the Saints kicked a game winner, advancing to Super Bowl XLIV.

    Although both were equally crushing to their fans, this Favre pick was slighty worst than the 2007 edition for two reasons:

    1. Unlike when his Packers faced the Giants in overtime two years earlier, Favre and the Vikings were already in field goal range: on turf in a dome, a 55-yarder had to be at least a possibility. 

    2. Favre had already led the Packers to two Super Bowls, one of which he won. It had been 33 years since the Vikings even reach the Super Bowl, a game they've never won. 

No. 5: The Fumble

21 of 25

    When: 1987 AFC Championship Game

    The Situation: The visiting Cleveland Browns (only 359 days removed from losing via "The Drive") overcame an 18-point third quarter lead to tie the game at 31 midway through the fourth quarter. But John Elway regained the lead for Denver by throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Winder.

    Bernie Kosar then drove the Browns to Denver's eight yard line with under a minute remaining.  

    What Happened: On second and five, Kosar gave the ball to running back Earnest Byner, who had totaled 187 yards and two touchdowns that day. Behind a great block from pulling guard Dan Fink, Byner neared the goal line, until Denver's Jeremiah Castille stripped him of the ball at the two. 

    The Result: The Browns lost to Denver for the second straight season and added another crushing disappointment to the long list of Cleveland sports tragedies. 

No. 4: Y.A. Tittle Limps To the Finish Line

22 of 25

    When: 1963 NFL Title Game

    The Situation: The Bears trailed the Giants 10-7 at the half, but in the third quarter they surged ahead thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Billy Wade. 

    Throughout the second half, quarterback Y.A. Tittle tried to bring the Giants back despite a gimpy knee, the result of a hit by the Bears' Larry Morris. And even though Tittle had already thrown four interceptions, he and the Giants had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Behind 14-10, Tittle drove New York from their own 16 to the Bears 38 yard line with under two minutes to play. 

    What Happened: Tittle, the league's 38-year-old league MVP, heaved the ball into the endzone where Chicago safety and future three-time Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, Richie Petitbone picked off the pass.

    The Result: Chicago ran out the clock, giving George Halas his eighth and final NFL title. 

No. 3: Peyton Manning Succumbs To Tracy Porter

23 of 25

    When: Super Bowl XLIV

    The Situation: Behind 17-13 midway through the third period, the Saints followed up a long field goal with a nine-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that gave New Orleans a 24-17 lead late in the final period.

    But with Peyton Manning on the other sideline, the Saints knew their lead was tenuous at best. Manning drove the Colts from their own 30 to the New Orleans 31 yard line with 3:24 remaining. 

    What Happened: Faced with a third and five, Manning targeted his favorite receiver, Reggie Wayne. At the 26 yard line, Tracy Porter, the same man who picked off Brett Favre in the final minute of the NFC Championship (number six on this list) and returned it for a game-changing touchdown. 

    The Result: The Saints didn't allow a miracle comeback by Manning and they won their first Super Bowl, 31-17.

No. 2: Neil O'Donnell (Or Was It Corey Holliday?) Hand Dallas the Title

24 of 25

    (Fast forward to 3:20)

    When: Super Bowl XXX

    The Situation: After being dominated through the first quarter and a half, the Steelers narrowed the score to 13-7 heading into halftime. On the Steelers' second drive of the second half, O'Donnell wildly overthrew his receiver and cornerback Larry Brown nabbed the game's first turnover.

    But after the Cowboys turned that interception into an Emmitt Smith touchdown, the Steelers bounced back, scoring 10 unanswered points. Midway through the final period, the Steelers' defense forced a Dallas punt, giving Pittsburgh a chance to overcome their 20-17 deficit. 

    What Happened: With four minutes to play, O'Donnell took a shotgun snap and surveyed the field. He looked right, but because his best clutch receiver, Ernie Mills, had left the game with a torn ACL, rookie Corey Holliday (who had caught three passes all season) was his target. Whether it was a horrible throw or there was miscommunication between Holliday and O'Donnell, Larry Brown nabbed a second gift-wrapped interception. 

    Result: The Cowboys capitalized on the turnover, scoring a touchdown to secure their record third Super Bowl championship in four seasons. 

No. 1: Craig Morton and the Fitting End To the Sloppiest Super Bowl Ever

25 of 25

    When: Super Bowl V

    The Situation: Often dubbed "The Blunder Bowl," the Cowboys-Colts showdown in Miami was filled with mistakes: penalties, fumbles, and interceptions. Naturally, that kept the score low. With two minutes to play, the Cowboys' Doomsday defense forced a punt from the Colts.

    After a loss on the ground, a sack (that was negated because Dallas was penalized for holding), the Cowboys were left with a second and 35 from their own 27. 

    What Happened: With one minute remaining, quarterback Craig Morton, who had managed to keep Roger Staubach on the bench most of the season, rolled out of the pocket and looked for running back Dan Reeves out of the backfield. But the ball was thrown behind Reeves and it bounced off his arm and into the hands of Baltimore linebacker Mike Curtis. 

    The Result: The Colts ran the ball twice and sent kicker Jim O'Brien out to attempt a 32-yarder. The rookie nailed it to give the Colts a slight piece of redemption for their loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III. 

    Because this turnover came in the final minute of a tied Super Bowl and led directly to the team's loss, it has to be considered the worst in playoff history. 

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!