10 Most Pathetic Regular Season Collapses in NFL History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2011

10 Most Pathetic Regular Season Collapses in NFL History

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    Imagine for a second, just a second that the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers or even the 8-0 Green Bay Packers somehow went in the tank and ended up missing the playoffs. 

    It's almost unthinkable, isn't it? Both have been so good and so consistent this season that it would take a choke of colossal proportions. But not necessarily unprecedented proportions.

    Throughout the long rich history of the NFL, there have been several teams who coasted through the majority of the regular season only to fall flat on their faces when it mattered most: late November through the end of December. 

    Here is a collection of 10 teams that the high-riding 49ers and Packers want to steer clear of. 

No. 10: 1988 Los Angeles Raiders

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    Peak Record: 6-5

    Final Record: 7-9

    In Week 13 of the 1988 NFL season, the Raiders headed north to San Francisco to play the 49ers.

    That day at Candlestick Park, Mike Shanahan's defense dominated Joe Montana and Jerry Rice—both of whom were suffering from injuries—as well as the 49ers offense, allowing just one field goal and 219 yards of offense in a 9-3 victory. This was no small achievement considering the 49ers team would go on to win Super Bowl XXIII two months later. 

    The win helped fans forget about an early season swoon, in which LA lost four of five games, and kept them even with both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks for first place in the AFC West. 

    But, despite their two Heisman Trophy winning running backs—Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen—they lost the next two games and barely survived a home game with Denver, which they led 21-0 in the third quarter and won 21-20.  Then, they yielded a combined 80 points in consecutive losses to close out the regular season. 

    The late Al Davis seemed to always have personality conflicts with his young head coaches—Jon Gruden, Lane Kiffin and Shanahan—but the collapse in 1988 had to be a chief reason why he was fired the following October. 

No. 9: 1977 Cleveland Browns

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    Peak Record: 5-2

    Final Record: 6-8

    I suppose this forerunner would be considered the Anti-Kardiac Kids. 

    Led by Forrest Gregg and pro bowler Greg Pruitt, the Browns made some noise in 1977, winning three straight games to improve to 5-2 to take a one-game lead in the AFC Central over the powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers, whose strangle hold on the AFC looked like it was ending. 

    Cleveland lost tough, close games to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks to stop their momentum, but there season was hardly over. And, a win the next week against the Giants kept them deadlocked with the Steelers. 

    Four consecutive losses to close the season however, crushed Cleveland's shot at the playoffs and cost Pruitt his job: He resigned not long after owner Art Modell criticized the head coach for a 9-0 home loss to the Rams in which Cleveland's offense collected 91 total yards.

    Still, the regular season finale, in which they squandered a nine-point fourth quarter lead to the Seahawks, an expansion team the previous year, was probably worse. 

No. 8: 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Peak Record: 7-4

    Final Record: 7-9

    A critical home win over the Jaguars in Week 12 kept the 1998 Steelers alive in the race for the AFC Central and certainly in contention for a wild card. You know what happened next: The infamous overtime coin toss on the Thanksgiving Day in Detroit—Jerome Bettis' hometown. Detroit won the toss, took the ball and ended the game with a Jason Hanson field goal. 

    While that loss was crushing and in some ways unfair—the argument about whether or not he said heads or tails is for another slideshow—it shouldn't have been that crippling. But, it was. 

    After the loss to Detroit, Pittsburgh was pathetic immediately afterwards, scoring just one offensive touchdown the rest of the regular season.

    In losses to New England, Tampa  Bay, Cincinnati and Jacksonville, Kordell Stewart's offense managed a total of 16 points, thus beginning the calls for him to be replaced as the starting quarterback. 

No. 7: 1996 Kansas City Chiefs

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    Peak Record: 8-3

    Final Record: 9-7

    Sorry, Marcus Allen, but two of your teams are on this list. 

    The 1996 Chiefs looked primed to put the pain of the previous season's home playoff upset at the hands of the Colts behind them: Marty Schottenheimer's team won their first four games, the last a win over the Broncos in which KC's defense made John Elway look very pedestrian.

    The Chiefs hit a rough patch over the next month, losing three of the next four, but because they rebounded with  three very impressive wins—including a 27-20 victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers—they were sitting pretty at 8-3. Even though they trailed the Broncos by two games, they seemed destined for a wild card, and still had a shot at winning the division, since they still had to play the rematch in Denver. 

    But after a Thanksgiving Day win in Detroit, the Chiefs were pounded by rival Oakland, again upset at home by the scrappy Colts, then were manhandled during a must-win game in Buffalo against the Bills to miss out completely on the postseason. 

No. 6: 2003 Minnesota Vikings

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    Peak Record: 6-0

    Final Record: 9-7

    Five years after their incredible 1998 season—despite a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, new running back and the retirement of Cris Carter—the Vikings stirred up a similar buzz in early fall 2003. 

    Under Mike Tice, Minnesota started out 6-0, scoring a ton of points on the strength of Randy Moss' finest individual season to date. Moss had career highs in catches, yards and tied his 17 touchdown performance as a rookie. 

    The Randy-ratio didn't really diminish at any point that season, but Viking wins sure did. They lost four in a row, were embarrassed in the second half of a 45-17 loss to the Rams, then lost a fourth straight road game to the Bears to fall to 9-6. Still, all they needed to do to qualify for a wild card was defeat the lowly 4-11 Cardinals in Week 17.

    That seemed to be in the bag late in the fourth quarter: They led 17-6. Then, Josh McCown engineered back-to-back touchdown drives, the second of which was Nate Poole's last-second miracle catch in the end zone, and the collapse was complete. 

No. 5: 1960 Baltimore Colts

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    Peak Record: 6-2

    Final Record: 6-6

    In the pre-merger NFL only two teams made the postseason: There was only two divisions and there weren't wild cards.  So, to have a great start to the regular season and miss out on the playoffs wasn't necessarily a choke.

    Still, when Johnny Unitas is the quarterback, Lenny Moore and Alan Ameche are in the backfield, Raymond Berry is catching pass and both lines are among the best in the league, you wouldn't expect a complete late season collapse. 

    Nevertheless, that's what happened in 1960, just two years after Baltimore's historic win in the NFL title game.

    After a comeback win over the Bears in Wrigley Field—by way of Unitas' last-second touchdown pass to Moore—the 6-2 Colts blew fourth quarter home leads in consecutive weeks to the 49ers and Lions. Then Weeb Ewbank's team went to L.A. and scored just three points in a loss to the Rams to lose any shot at usurping the first-place Packers.

    In the finale, a rematch with the 49ers, the Colts ensured their first non-winning season in four years, allowing 24 unanswered points during a 34-10 loss in Kezar Stadium. 

No. 4: 1994 Philadelphia Eagles

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    Peak Record: 7-2

    Final Record: 7-9

    Oh, Rich Kotite. 

    Certainly the fans in Philly are hard—sometimes too hard—on their players and coaches. But, not in this case. 

    In 1993, the Eagles started out 4-0, then lost Randall Cunningham and went on a six-game losing skid to miss the postseason. A year later, they did even worse.

    Kotite's team won seven of their first nine games, then completely imploded, losing six in a row to ruin any chances of contending with the Cowboys for the NFC East. And by their regular season finale, the Eagles had already been eliminated from wild card contention, but a win over the lowly Bengals would at least secure a .500 record. 

    They looked to have that secured early in the third quarter when a Mike Zordich pick-six pushed them ahead 27-10.  Naturally, behind Jeff Blake the Bengals roared back, scoring four times to tie the game with three seconds remaining.

    In a merciful act just before overtime, that saved Eagles fans from being forced to watch more football that season, Brian O'Neal muffed the ensuing squib kick, Cincy recovered it and kicked the game-winner with no time remaining. 

No. 3: 2008 New York Jets

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    Peak Record: 8-3

    Final Record: 9-7

    There does seem to be a pattern developing here, doesn't there? Head coaches at the helm of total choke jobs—Kotite, Gregg and Shanahan—don't really tend to hang around too long after the collapse is complete. The best recent example of that is probably Mangini.

    Prying Brett Favre out of Green Bay looked to be a brilliant move by Thanksgiving 2008. The Jets were 8-3, had a two-game lead in the AFC East and in the previous two weeks beat rival New England in Foxboro and thumped the recently undefeated Titans 34-13 in Tennessee. 

    The only thing that could stop them: Brett Favre injuries, interceptions and inconsistencies.

    New York lost two in a row, barely beat a bad Bills bunch and scored just three points in a loss to the Seahawks. Still, they had a chance to win the division and earn the playoffs: All they had to do was beat the Dolphins at home in the Meadowlands.  

    Enter a revenge-hungry Chad Pennington and three more Favre picks and the Jets spent the postseason at home, while Mangini spent the postseason looking for a home in Northeastern, Ohio. 

No. 2: 1978 Washington Redskins

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    Peak Record: 6-0

    Final Record: 8-8

    Neither the defensive personnel nor the bulk of the incomparable Hogs offensive line that helped Washington win a Super Bowl four years later were in place in 1978. And Jack Pardee, not the great Joe Gibbs, was the head coach. 

    But, both John Riggins and Joe Theismann were, and they were far younger and less battered. So no one should have been surprised to see them bolt out of the gate with a 6-0 record. And look who they beat during that stretch: The defending champion Cowboys, eventual AFC East champion New England and a pretty decent Jets team. 

    Then they completely tanked, losing eight of their final 10 games.

    As bad as that was, you'd have to think that the worst part of all of it was the way they played down the stretch, losing their final five games, including three at home. 

No. 1: 1987 San Diego Chargers

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    Peak Record: 8-1

    Final Record: 8-7

    Granted, the players' strike of 1987 compromised every team's record that season. Still, at the start of the Chargers epic failure, all their regulars were back and the strike had long since ended. 

    So, that's no excuse. 

    Coming off of a big win over the Raiders, San Diego went to Seattle and were pounded 34-3. Similar fates befell Al Saunders club in the next two weeks, before they lost a tight game to the Steelers, 20-16. 

    Still, none of that was as bad as their output in the season's last two contests. After scoring an early touchdown against the Colts, they were shut out in the final three periods, losing 20-7. They then pushed their scoreless streak to seven quarters with a 24-0 loss to Denver. 

    Granted every team on this list has some horrific losing streak that completely ruined their season, and the Chargers six-game skid to close out 1987 is as bad as any. But, the reason they earn the top spot on this list? That epic failure marked the end of two Hall of Fame careers, Dan Fouts' and Kellen Winslow's.

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