Pity New Orleans Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams.
In the history of sports blunders, his gaffe will rank among the worst all-time. His missed tackle on Minnesota Vikings WR Stefon Diggs on a last gasp play with just seconds left will be played on TV bloopers loop in perpetuity.
The botched play cost the Saints a shot at a NFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl — while also wrecking what was otherwise a fine season for a freshman defensive back.
Judging by the memes on social media, Williams moment of ignominy won’t soon be forgotten. No one, absolutely no one, will remember his interception of a Case Keenum pass earlier in the fourth quarter that helped put the Saints in position to win the game.
But, to his credit, the youngster out of the University of Utah owned his massive blunder, saying to reporters after, “Man, it was just my play to make…that’s just on me.”
Just where his play ranks in the annals of bonehead plays in NFL post-season play is open for debate.
Here are 15 of the worst NFL playoff blunders ever, in order.
15. Lee Evans And Billy Cundiff, Baltimore Ravens – 2011 AFC Championship Game
One would think that after many years of being on the outside looking in, and relative regular season success, that Ravens WR Lee Evans would have rose to the occasion in the 2011 playoffs against hated foe New England. In what would be his last season — and game — after seven straight lousy seasons in Buffalo, Evans failed to hold on to a ball that would have got Baltimore to a Super Bowl. We’ll also pile on here and say that kicker Billy Cundiff’s miss on a 32-yard shortie field goal, which would have sent the game to overtime, was also a critical blunder of epic proportions. First to Evans. With the reviled Patriots up 23-20 with just under two minutes to go, QB Joe Flacco flung enough passes into the arms of WR Anquan Boldin to get his team to New England’s 14-yard line. He then found Evans seemingly all alone in the corner of the end zone, but he dropped it under mild pressure from New England DB Sterling Moore. Enter Cundiff after another failed pass. He had already gone two-for-two in field goals that day (one from 39 yards), but at the easy distance of 32 yards and just 15 seconds left, he sailed it wide, sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
14. Garo Yepremian, Miami Dolphins – Super Bowl VII
This one doesn’t go down as costing a team a championship, but it is a huge gaffe anyway. The Miami Dolphins had a dream season in 1972, going 14-0 in regular season play, then eating Cleveland in the AFC divisional playoffs and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship. That set up a Super Bowl match-up with NFC champion Washington, with the Fish heavily favored to win. Miami gave no bookies pause for reflection, jumping out to a commanding 14-0 lead and holding it until late in the fourth quarter. With just 2:38 and victory all but assured, normally sure-footed kicker and two-time Pro Bowler Garo Yepremian came out to boot a 42-yard field goal to make it an unrealistic three possession game for Washington. But, the kick was blocked and in the mayhem Yepremian picked it up and tried to throw it, only to flub it into the hands of Redskins defender Mike Bass, who returned it for a TD. The shutout was lost and that idiotic play made things a little too close for comfort. Even still, the Fish are the only undefeated team, wire-to-wire, ever.
13. Referees – 1979 AFC Championship Game
In the days before instant replay was used liberally — like it is today — to second guess calls on the field, it was totally up to the game officials to get it right. Well, as we all know, no one is perfect and in the 1979 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Houston Oilers, that axiom held true. The Steelers were up 17-10 late in the third quarter, when a Houston Oilers drive threatened a tying score. Oilers QB Dan Pastorini hit receiver Mike Renfro in the back of Pittsburgh’s end zone for what should have been a tying TD pass. But, the referee closest to the play signaled incomplete pass, forcing the Oilers to settle for a field goal. Upon further review (not available on the field then), Renfro did get both feet inbounds and should have had a TD catch. Pittsburgh did go on to win by two touchdowns, but there will always be a “what if” tied to this long ago game.
12. Gary Anderson, Minnesota Vikings – 1998 NFC Championship Game
Before Case Keenum’s hail Mary to win it in a walk off this year– aided by Marcus Williams aforementioned brain cramp — the Vikings playoff history was dotted by soul-crushing bad plays and mishaps. The 1998 Vikes were a powerful club, quarterbacked ably by Randall Cunningham and featuring future Hall of Famer Randy Moss. They were 16-1, too, heading into the showdown with 15-2 Atlanta. Minnesota was up 27-20 with just a little over two minutes to play. Kicker Anderson, who had already hit two out of two field goals from 29 and 35 yards and who was perfect on all kicks in the regular season (the only one ever to do so), lined up for a fairly easy 38-yarder to put the game mostly out of reach. However, even the most sure-footed kickers screw things up and Anderson, with horrid timing, missed wide left. Atlanta got the ball back and scored a TD to tie it, then won it in OT on a field goal by their own Morten Andersen.
11. Roger Craig, San Francisco 49ers – 1990 NFC Championship Game
It might be interesting to note for current Niners fans born after 1990 that their team was once a perennial powerhouse which actually won Super Bowls. Only, the mighty fall too, once in a while. The 49ers, who had won two straight Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989 and four total in the 1980s, entered the 1990 playoffs as provisional favorites to repeat as champs. With MVP Joe Montana behind center flinging passes to Jerry Rice, or handing the ball off to All-Star running back Roger Craig, the 49ers offence was nearly unstoppable. San Francisco was leading the New York Giants 13-12 in the ’90 NFC championship, with around two and a half minutes left to play. A Niners drive was eating up the clock, when the unthinkable happened. Craig took a hand-off from replacement QB Steve Young and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Erik Howard, popping the ball loose. The Giants recovered the ball and with little time left, got downfield far enough for K Matt Bahr to win it. Sad end to a dynasty.
10. Mike Vanderjagt, Indianapolis Colts – 2005 AFC Divisional Playoffs
At one time, legendary Colts QB Peyton Manning called out Canadian kicker Mike Vanderjagt for bad-mouthing him after a playoff loss in 2003, calling him “our idiot kicker…who got liquored up and ran his mouth.” One of the most accurate kickers ever in both the NFL and CFL, Vanderjagt would later get a chance to put his money where his mouth was in the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Vanderjagt hit 92 percent of his field goals that season as the Colts went 14-2 and looked like favorites to win it all. They were facing Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoffs and found themselves down 21-18 with little time left on the clock and having recovered a fumble for possession. Manning go the team down to the Pittsburgh 28, setting up Vanderjagt, who was perfect in the post-season to that point, for a makeable 46-yard field goal with 17 seconds left. He missed wide right, handing the ball to the Steelers, who ran out the clock for the upset victory. The petulant hoofer infamously tossed his helmet after, incurring a 15-yard penalty.
9. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys – 2006 NFC Wild Card Game
Love him, or hate him, most Dallas Cowboys fans sided on the latter when it came to former QB Tony Romo. On one hand he was a four-time Pro Bowler who brought the crowd to their feet on many occasions. On the other, he was a perennial loser/choke artist in the post-season who delivered two playoff victories in 10 seasons as the Cowboys starter. In 2006, his first year as starter (he took over six games in), Romo was decent, getting nominated for the Pro Bowl and leading Dallas to a 6-4 record (9-7 overall). They went into Seattle in the wild card game with a chance to beat the Seahawks, pre-Russell Wilson. Romo played very well in his first ever playoff game and with just over one minute remaining and his team down 21-20, got the team to the Seattle 19. They lined up for an easy game-winning kick, but on the snap Romo fumbled the ball, recovered but was unable to run it in for the game-winning score. Thus began a long run of futility.
8. Trey Junkin, New York Giants – 2002 NFC Wild Card Game
The playoff God giveth and the playoff God taketh away. Years after Roger Craig’s inglorious fumble against the Giants that cost the Niners a three-peat, the powers that be gave one back to San Francisco in the 2002 NFC wild card game. And, hanging the monumental choke perpetrated by the Giants against San Fran in the wild card game on long snapper Trey Junkin is just expedient. The Giants held what should have been an insurmountable 38-14 lead with under five minutes to go in the third quarter. Not wanting to be outdone by Kerry Collins, 49ers pivot Jeff Garcia got his team all the way back, a field goal with one minute left putting San Francisco in the lead, 39-38. Collins, as he had done all day, drove the team downfield in a hurry, setting up a 41-yard field goal to salvage a victory. However, the veteran Junkin, who was signed to the team just that week, botched the snap. In the ensuing melee, the holder tried to throw downfield, where a 49ers defender interfered on the play. But, the Giants had an illegal man in and incurred a penalty that negated the Niners foul, ending a wild game.
7. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings – 2009 NFC Championship Game
Under the file of humiliating Minnesota Vikings playoff defeats — prior to the 2017 post-season heroics — we present Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s inexcusable play call against the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Favre was coming off his best season as a quarterback, leading the 13-4 Vikes into the old Louisiana Superdome to tangle with Drew Brees and the Saints in the NFC Championship game (sound familiar?). In what would be his second last season in the NFL, Favre had the chance to prove he could win the big one without Green Bay. He and Brees went toe-to-toe and with just under 30 seconds remaining and the score tied 28-28, Minnesota had the ball on the New Orleans 38. A prospective 54-yard field goal was within Minnesota kicker Ryan Longwell’s range, but Favre decided on third and 15 to try one more pass to get Longwell closer. It sailed right into the arms of Saints DB Tracy Porter. New Orleans would end up winning in OT, and going on to beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.
6. Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints – 2017 NFC Divisional Playoffs
We told you Marcus Williams screwed up and we think it’s fitting that his blunder ends up in front of Brett Favre’s poor playing calling in another infamous Minnesota-New Orleans match that ended up in favor of the Saints. Williams, a rookie safety, name will forever be a footnote to the only walk-off touchdown in NFL playoff history, blatantly missing an easy tackle on Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, allowing the fleet wideout to score the game-winning TD on a last-second heave from Minnesota QB Case Keenum. As we said, the young safety had a great season for ‘Nawlins, registering 73 tackles, seven successful pass defences and four interceptions in 15 games. He kept it up through most of two playoff games, with another 13 tackles and a key interception on Keenum that helped New Orleans take a lead they should have kept. It was a crazy way to end his, and his team’s, season.
5. Earl Morrall, Baltimore Colts – Super Bowl III
It’s a good thing that former QB Earl Morrall, later won three Super Bowls. Morrall, who replaced legendary pivot Johnny Unitas during the 1968 season, led the heavily favored Baltimore Colts into their first post-merger championship, Super Bowl III against Joe Namath and the New York Jets in January 1969. It was Namath and the Jets, though, who roared out to an early lead, while the veteran Morrall struggled. The Jets were up 7-0 late in the second quarter, when Morrall drove the Colts downfield, aided by a 58-yard scamper from RB Tom Matte to the Jets 16. Two plays later Morrall and Matte pulled off a great flea flicker, fooling the Jets’ D and the TV cameras. This play left Colts receiver Jimmy Orr wide open, but Morrall tried to hit RB Jerry Hill and was intercepted. That pick was Morrall’s third of the game and led to his replacement by Unitas in a game Baltimore would lose 16-7.
4. Jackie Smith, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl XIII
Ten years after Earl Morrall’s lack of vision on football’s big stage, future Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith failed to seize the day — and the football — in Super Bowl XIII. Smith, who was 38 and had come out of retirement to join the Cowboys in 1978 after 15 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, was used primarily as a blocking end during that season. When the playoffs came, Smith used his size and speed to catch three passes in a divisional playoff game, including a touchdown, to help the Cowboys get to the Super Bowl. Dallas and rival Pittsburgh hooked up in the big game in Miami and in the middle of the third quarter the Cowboys trailed 21-14. This is where Smith comes in. Quarterback Roger Staubach threw a third-down pass that should have been an easy catch for a touchdown to Smith, but he ended up dropping it. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal, but that play ended up being a turning point in a loss, with Smith wearing the goat horns for a long, long time.
3. Leon Lett, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl XXVII
Unlike former Dallas Cowboy Jackie Smith, there would be a measure of redemption for Leon Lett. The Cowboys big defensive tackle was a fixture on three Cowboys Super Bowl winning teams, including XXVII against the hapless Buffalo Bills. Lett, however, was prone to make mistakes and on one infamous play in that game against the Bills, he let his inner Michael Irvin out just a bit too much. With his team holding a commanding 52-17 lead in the fourth quarter, Lett recovered a fumble in his Cowboys territory and started racing to the opposite end zone. With around 10 yards to go to pay dirt, Lett extended his arm to celebrate what should have been a touchdown. However, upon slowing down to showboat, he was caught by Buffalo’s Don Beebe, who knocked the pigskin loose, resulting in a touchback. Not a great moment for a Pro Bowl defender, for sure.
2. Scott Norwood, Buffalo Bills – Super Bowl XXV
A Google search of “Scott Norwood” invariably turns up the term “Wide Right.” The football Gods did not smile kindly on the one-time All-Pro kicker in what would ultimately be the only Super Bowl decided by a single point — and could have been a defining moment in his seven-year career. Only, his missed field goal would define him in a way he never could have imagined. With just seconds left on the clock and the Bills trailing the New York Giants 20-19, Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal in favorable conditions. Only, instead of the ball splitting the uprights, the call “wide right” was the only thing ringing in Bills fans’ ears. That botched kick would start Buffalo on a string of four straight Super Bowl losses and force Norwood into early retirement, not to mention a flight into seclusion for many years after.
1. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks – Super Bowl XLIX
Great dynasties are born on making great plays at the right time. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll effectively ended a dynasty by approving a call that cost Seattle back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Seattle was locked in a duel with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in XLIX, with the Patriots taking a 38-24 lead with 2:06 to go. But Seattle, which pounded Denver 43-8 in the previous Super Bowl, still had some magic left. Russell Wilson marched the Seahawks downfield, completing three huge passes to take his team from their own 20 to the New England five yard line. On first down, Marshawn Lynch, who was a monster that game, rumbled four yards to put the ball on the one-yard line and just 26 seconds left to play. Then “the call” came in. Instead of jamming the ball into the hands of Lynch on second-and-one for what should have been an easy TD, Wilson threw a pass into tight coverage, which was intercepted by Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler. Game over. The Seahawks have been snakebit since.