Top 10 Most Heartbreaking NFL Losses Since 1990

What makes a loss heartbreaking? It’s pretty simple: When a team fails to meet its fans expectations. When the new season begins, back in the off season, every team starts off on a clean slate. Even fans start off fresh. They believe a few key changes in the front office, coaching staff or personnel can propel their team to the Super Bowl. And, many times, it can.

However, when teams have amazing off seasons, their fan bases expect them to fulfill their direct and indirect promises. The following teams failed to live up to their lofty expectations. They failed to keep their promise and as a result, they’ve ended up on this sad list.

Many of these teams were powerhouses that failed to win a big game, often in the last moments. Some are teams that had victory in the palms of their hands before they gave up a big play and let their hopes and dreams wash away. But every team has one thing in common: They’ve garnered an emotional reaction like no other from two different and passionate fan bases. One fan base celebrates, while one wishes they could erase the moment from their memory.

These losses, or wins for the opposing team, are what make sports special. While we have no control over the game’s outcome, we are still on the edge of our seat trying to will our team to victory. If we pray long enough and hard enough, maybe we can sit back and bask in the glory. But many times, those prayers go unanswered. And this is what this article is all about. Unanswered prayers.


10 4th and 26th (2004)

While Favre’s overtime interception was pivotal, the game’s outcome may been decided earlier in the fourth quarter when the Packers opted to kick a field goal instead of go for a touchdown on 4th and goal. If the Packers had scored a touchdown, the 4th and 26 conversion, game tying field goal, and overtime Favre interception would have never taking place. Instead, this game is now known as the “Fourth and 26th” game.

When you hear that teams don’t create certain plays for certain situations, you have heard correctly. There is likely no specific play for 4th and 26. McNabb heaved the ball to Freddie Mitchell, who had the only important play of his career. Eagles’ kicker David Akers later won this game in overtime with a 31-yard field goal, but the game was won much earlier.

9 Tony Romo Botches Field Goal (2007)


Since he entered the league, Romo has been one of the NFL’s most publicized lightning rods. His stint with celebrity girlfriends and seemingly inconsistent style of play, while playing for a team always under the spot light, has always put the 10-year veteran under a microscope. It doesn’t help that he also signed a six-year contract worth up to $108 million in 2013 and the Cowboys have failed to record a winning record in four years. So, phew, that’s a lot of pressure, but where did it all start?

In 2007, Romo had his first crack at helping the Cowboys compete in the playoffs, but botched a field-goal snap that would have put Dallas ahead of Seattle. Instead, they lost 21-20. While he proved that year he was a better starting option than fading quarterback Drew Bledsoe, many judged Romo’s year on this one play.

8 Colts Wild Comeback vs Chiefs (2014)

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images

This past season saw the second largest post season comeback in NFL history. Up 31-10 going into the third quarter, the Colts mustered a massive comeback to pull off a playoff victory that no one has witnessed since the Bills ousted the Oilers in 1993. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck woke up in the second half and threw three touchdowns, while also grabbing a fumble near the Chiefs’ goal line and running in for a score.

Up 38-10 early in the second quarter, the Chiefs appeared unstoppable, but in today’s offensive-oriented NFL, that’s all unstoppable is—an illusion. By midway through the third quarter, the Colts had narrowed the lead to 38-24 and eventually 41-31 prior to the third period’s end. As quickly as they scored their last touchdown, the Colts scored again when Andrew Luck recovered his team’s fumble and quickly leapied into the end zone. While the Chiefs’ managed a five minute drive that put them up 44-38, it could do little to halt the Colts’ momentum. With about four minutes remaining Luck hit receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard touchdown pass. It was the dagger that shocked Kansas City and viewing audiences.

Could anything be more heartbreaking than how the Chiefs lost? Actually, there is a stat worse than the game’s outcome.  Consider this: The Chiefs have not won a post season game since January 1994. They had their chance last season and let it slip away.

7 Vikings Squander their Talent (1999)


The 1998 Vikings were filled with misfits and second-chance players, as well as Hall-of-Famers who yearned for their first Super-Bowl ring. These players included kicker Gary Anderson, receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss and quarterback Randall Cunningham. It was also coach Dennis Green’s best opportunity to win that elusive ring.

Said Cris Cater on the Vikings’ chances to win the NFC Championship: “I thought. In that moment. That everything I had done, that my payoff would be the Super Bowl. We brought our “A” game. We going to show them our “A” game today."

Most should have seen the bad omen that indicated a Vikings’ defeat when it appeared early in the game. The Falcons chopped blocked Vikings’ star defensive lineman John Randall and he was never the same for the remainder of the contest. Minnesota also missed key, early opportunities, which would have never put victory in doubt. Instead, they let the Falcons cling to hope. Randy Moss dropped a would-be touchdown in the first quarter and always steady kicker Gary Anderson shockingly missed a late-game field goal. Cris Carter didn’t want the game to go to overtime. It did, and the Falcons pulled out the victory 30-27.

6 Titans Miss the Super Bowl by a Yard (2000)

Trailing by seven points with six seconds remaining, the Titans had one last chance to win the Super Bowl. After mounting a vicious drive, McNair’s Titans stood at the Rams 10-yard line with six seconds remaining in the game. You only see these situations play out in movies. The Rams had begun to prepare for overtime, which would have been a Super Bowl first.

What might have been the most exhilarating two minutes in any Super Bowl, Steve McNair called the game’s last play. The play asked tight end Frank Wycheck to run a vertical route in to the end zone and take multiple Rams players with him. This would leave receiver Kevin Dyson open in the middle of the field. However, as Wycheck ran straight, Rams’ linebacker Mike Jones realized McNair was looking for Dyson and dropped off of Wycheck. Dyson caught the ball, made a shifty move to try and shake Jones, and reached for the goal line, but was one yard short.

Said Jones about the last play, “The first thing on my mind was please [McNair] don’t run…when he let that ball go, there was sense of relief. My God thank you. We got a shot.”

McNair didn’t run and the Rams won their first Super Bowl, while the Titans will always be left wondering what might have happened if McNair had ran.

5 Vinatieri Kills the Rams Dreams (2002)


Love them or hate them, the Patriots are usually in big playoff games that often define themselves and their opponents. In this case, this Super Bowl defined both teams.

The Patriots entered and came away from this contest as the scratchy, blue-collar underdogs willing to do anything to win, and the Rams came away as the narrow-minded, one-trick pony team who couldn’t muster up enough strength in the end to win. And yes, narrow-minded is the right word. The Rams’ Mike Martz chose not to take advantage of the Patriots cover package defensive schemes and instead wanted to win the game his way.

Because the Rams chose not to run against the Patriots’ lighter packages, the Patriots continued to batter the opposing receivers. Eventually they did enough to hold off St. Louis’ potent offense to win their first Super Bowl and end a budding dynasty. Adam Vinatieri ended up being the hero as he's accustomed to.

4 Music City Miracle (2000)

The Titans beat the Bills on their first kickoff return for a touchdown since 1988. The play was dubbed the “Music City Miracle,” and it took place with 16 seconds remaining in the game and the Titans trailing 16-15.

The Bills had just celebrated a go-ahead field goal, which left the Titans scrambling to position themselves for their next play called the “Home Run Throwback.” According to a piece by ESPN’s Rick Weinberg, the Titans only planned to call the play when they trailed and expected a squib kick from the opposing team. The “Home Run Throwback” called for tight end Frank Wycheck to receive the kick, run up field and then pass it across his body to returner Derrick Mason. The Titans had the correct situation—they were trailing and expected Buffalo to squib kick—but were missing one of the play’s key players. Mason was sidelined with a concussion and alternative Anthony Dorsett sat helpless on the sideline with leg cramps.

Enter wide out Kevin Dyson. Moments before Dyson received the ensuing lateral pass from Wycheck, special teams’ coach Alan Lowry ran with Dyson onto the field, anxiously explaining to him the basics of the play. Mere minutes later, Dyson was jolting 75-yards down the sideline for a touchdown and a Titans’ victory. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since.


3 More Bills Misfortune (1991)


In 1992, Sports Illustrated featured an article on a once “untouchable,” but now disgraced kicker of the Bills’ organizations. Norwoods’ journey through the NFL started the same way it ended, unforgiven. Originally a free agent out of James Madison University, Norwood had a hard time planting his foot (yes, pun intended) with the Falcons, the United States Football League and several other NFL teams. He finally scored with the Bills.

Norwood was not one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. He ranks as Pro Football Reference’s 73rd most accurate kicker. However, he did hit 32 out of 37 field goals in 1988, so that has to count for something. But this story isn’t just about Norwood. It’s about the misfortunate Buffalo Bills, who posted regular season winning records during the 1990s, but always came up just a bit short. Or in this case, just wide right.

Down 20-19 versus the Giants, Norwood had the game on his foot and knocked the ball past the right goal post. More despair for the poor city of Buffalo.

2 The Snowjob (2002)

The Patriots made their last game at the old, run-down Foxboro stadium count when they beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13. This game is infamous for having one of the more ridiculous calls in NFL history which cost Oakland a chance at the Super Bowl. Although Oakland returned to the playoffs and then the Super Bowl in the following years, this playoff loss stuck with the franchise.

With 1:43 left in regulation, Oakland Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson blitzed and hit then second-year quarterback Tom Brady and knocked the ball loose. Linebacker Greg Bikert recovered at the Raiders 47-yard line, and the game appeared all, but won for Oakland. However, a mysterious “tuck-rule” call negated the turnover and the Patriots received a second chance, down by only three points. Brady then rallied the Patriots into field-goal position and Adam Vinateri knocked an impossible 45-yard field goal through the blustery winter wind to tie the game. He eventually won the game on a 23-yard field goal.

The reason this game is on this list is simple: the Tuck Rule. One simple play set off a heat of debate for days and months, and even today it is still talked about. In 2012, ESPN published an article titled, “Happy 10th Birthday, Tuck Rule game.” Raiders fans likely disagree with the title.

1 The Helmet Catch (2008)


The Patriots were 18-0 and on the verge of history. They had already racked up a number of records throughout the regular season, including the most offensive points, most passing touchdowns, and receiving touchdowns in a season. One game and team stood between them and perfection: Super Bowl 42 and the Giants.

That year, the Giants managed their way into the Wild-Card round and fought their way through Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay before they faced the powerhouse Patriots in Arizona. New York had a gritty team, which it showcased in its week 16 finale against New England. During that matchup, New York proved it had the troops to stand tall against any team. In the last week of the regular season, the 15-0 Patriots faced a 28-16 deficit early in the third quarter before they mounted a fierce comeback that eventually helped them edge out New York 38-35.

Going undefeated would have helped the Patriots also erase the harsh memory of their SpyGate scandal, which eventually cost them a 2008 first-round selection and hefty fines. More importantly it would have supplanted them as the greatest NFL team of all time. Period.


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