The NFL playoff final stage is set with the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50. Along the way several great franchises fell short including New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Each had a chance and then had their moments crushed. How bad were these defeats? Were they among the worst? Here are the 10 worst NFL playoff meltdowns of all time.
To define the worst we have to look at a few points. First, the game had to be meaningful. If a team was “just happy to be there” then a close game at the end isn’t necessarily crushing. What if a team has a wonderful season only to flame out when it matters? What if your team is leading the whole game until the final minutes and loses, resulting in a true “gut punch” game? Yes, it matters and definitely factors into this list.
Honorable mention goes to the 1940 Redskins. They are not from the modern age of football, but still worth noting due the way they lost. In the NFC championship game they went up against the Chicago Bears, a team they defeated 7-3 just three weeks prior. They lost 73-0!
A lot of teams are here including the Dolphins, Giants, Packers and even the Patriots. Who isn’t included? The Browns, because they have suffered enough. Here are your top 10 worst playoff meltdowns of all time:
10 2002 New York Giants
It was an NFC Wild Card game and the Giants were leading 38-14 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Some refer to this as the “Trey Junkin” game, but there is too much at fault in this collapse to place the blame on one snap. The 49ers quickly scored two touchdowns, converted two two-point conversions and added a field goal to close the lead to 5 with 8 minutes left to go. The 49ers then went up in the 4th, giving them a lead of 39-38. The Giants had one more chance, lining up for a 41-yard field goal, but the snap was low, disrupting the play and resulting in a Giants loss. The snapper was Trey Junkin.
9 1992 Houston Oilers
How did the Oilers blow a 29-3 half-time lead in this AFC Wild Card game against Buffalo? Should mention they were also playing against the Bills' backup quarterback, Frank Reich. To begin the third the Oilers added a defensive touchdown to extend their lead to 35-3. Then, it slowly fell apart. First a touchdown and then an onside kick followed by a second touchdown to make it 35-17. After a big punt return the Oilers struck again, with a 26-yard pass to make it 35-24 with over 4 minutes left in the third quarter. Another two touchdowns and the Bills were leading 38-35. The Oilers tied it, pushing it to overtime, but blew it in overtime, losing 41-38.
8 2011 Green Bay Packers
The Packers finished the regular season with a 15-1 record. Up to this point, no team had fell short of the conference championship after posting 15 wins, which changed. The Packers drew the Giants for the NFC Divisional playoff and pretty much everything went wrong at home at Lambeau Field. There were a lot of fumbles, dropped passes and even a completed Hail Mary from Eli Manning to Hakeem Knicks. At one point the Giants stretched the lead to 30-13. Green Bay got one more touchdown, but that was it, a complete let down from a successful regular season.
7 1999 Miami Dolphins
This was the last game of Hall of Fame quarterback, Dan Marino. It was not a great way to go out. This Divisional playoff game had the Jacksonville Jaguars favored; after all they had finished with 14 wins while Miami had only won 9, but still… this game got out of hand early, the Jaguars jumped up 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and were down 38-0 by the time Marino completed his first pass. The numbers were staggering, a Marino career low 95 yards passing, the Dolphins defense giving up 520 yards and most importantly, the score: 62-7.
6 2010 New England Patriots
It’s a little hard to include the Patriots given all of their recent success, but hey, I guess that’s why it hurts a little more when it’s a bad loss. The brought the New York Jets to Foxboro to play the Patriots. The game changed after a bad fake punt gave way to the Jets converting a touchdown and being ahead 14-3 at the half. Each time the Patriots scored or made a move the Jets had an answer. This was the third postseason in a row where the Patriots lost and it appeared that maybe the dynasty was over. Probably wouldn’t have hurt as much if they had looked into their crystal balls.
5 2006 San Diego Chargers
For years the Chargers just couldn’t get “over the hump” and this game was a classic example. The AFC Divisional playoff game welcomed the Patriots to San Diego, a team that finished the season with 14 wins. The Chargers had a 21-13 lead against the Patriots when they intercepted Tom Brady, but then fumbled the ball, resulting in a Patriot touchdown, just five plays later. A two-point conversion tied it up and then the Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, kicked what would be the winning points. The Chargers did try a 54-yard attempt, but yeah, these Chargers never could get it right.
4 2005 Indianapolis Colts
In 2005 the Colts started the season 13-0, finishing 14-2 with the top seed in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers came to town for the AFC Divisional playoffs it didn’t take long before the upset was in the works. The Steelers were up 21-3 in the fourth quarter before a late surge made it 21-18. They still had a chance, due a Jerome Bettis fumble and recovery by Nick Harper who took off running to be caught by Steeler dough boy Ben Roethlisberger. Still, they had a chance, but the kicker went wide right. Peyton Manning would have to wait another year for his shot at the Super Bowl.
3 1986 Chicago Bears
The 1985 Bears were one of the greatest teams of all time; however, 1986 was a different story. During the regular season they were again dominant, posting a 14-2 record. The 1986 Bears defense actually allowed fewer points than the famed 1985 squad. They got the Washington Redskins in the Divisional playoff game and allowed quarterback Jay Schroeder to complete two touchdowns to Art Monk. The Bears didn’t score the second half and lost 27-13. The “greatest team in the world” was no longer and they never did get back to the big game with Mike Ditka and his legendary defense.
2 1997 New York Giants
The Giants have a storied past if you like both happy and sad-ending stories. In 1997 the Giants played the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card game. The Giants led the game by 9 points with just over a minute left to play in the game. A poor punt gave Randall Cunningham a chance to throw a touchdown and narrow the lead two. Of course this was followed by an on-side kick that the Vikings recovered. Eddie Murray kicked a 24-yard field goal with only 10 ticks left on the clock to win 23-22. The Giants had led the game 19-3 at halftime.
1 2014 Green Bay Packers
This one is still fresh for many. The 2015 NFC Championship game put the Packers on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks were home and favorites, but Green Bay had a great game plan and had a 19-7 lead with five minutes left to play. Poor clock management was the root of the loss, but also a lot of bad plays that if any one doesn’t happen, the Packers win the game. These included the Morgan Burnett slide, three run plays and a punt, Wilson touchdown, Seahawks onside kick recovered after it goes through Brandon Bostick’s hands, Marshawn Lynch touchdown, and then a two point conversion. This gave the Seahawks a three-point lead that got tied up by a last minute Aaron Rodgers drive. The Seahawks went on to win it in overtime. It wasn’t any one thing, it was all of them…