For every thrilling pick six, last-second touchdown pass, and breathtaking run, there’s a gut-wrenching drop, a jaw-dropping turnover or a head-scratching coaching decision that has left a permanent mark on an NFL team and their fan base. Some of these moments have been forgiven over time, while others continue to haunt the franchise and the fans who witnessed the moment.
With the 2021 season just around the corner, we decided to take a look at each NFL team’s most desired do-over. As criteria for our list, we decided to identify plays where the team made the mistake as opposed to the opponent making a great play. For example, Joe Montana’s game-winning touchdown pass to Dwight Clark against the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game was more of a great play by Montana and Clark and not a breakdown by the Cowboys defense.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Arizona Cardinals: Kurt Warner’s pick six (Super Bowl XLIII)
After falling behind early, the Cardinals threatened to take the lead over the favored Steelers just before halftime. Instead of blitzing Warner, Steelers linebacker James Harrison moved back into coverage, where he stepped in front of Warner’s pass for Anquan Boldin at the goal line. Harrison then completed the longest pick six in Super Bowl history, a play that helped the Steelers defeat the Cardinals, 27-23. While there were several other plays the Cardinals likely wished they had back, Warner surely wishes he would have focused more on where Harrison — the league’s Defensive Player of the Year that season — was before firing his ill-advised pass.
Atlanta Falcons: Don’ta Hightower’s sack/forced fumble (Super Bowl LI)
If given the opportunity to do it again, then-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would have called a running play with the Falcons ahead 28-12 and facing a third-and-1 on the Patriots’ 36-yard line with 8:31 remaining in Super Bowl LI. Instead of giving the ball to one of his backs, Shanahan called for a pass play which resulted in Don’ta Hightower forcing a sack/forced fumble of Matt Ryan that was scooped up by Alan Branch. The Patriots made it a one-possession game two minutes later, and would go on to pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Buffalo Bills: Bruce Smith’s safety (Super Bowl XXV)
While it did not give them their desired result, the Bills had no chance but to bring out Scott Norwood to attempt a 47-yard kick (he had never made a kick of that distance on grass) with eight seconds left their 20-19 Super Bowl XXV loss. One quarter earlier, the Bills’ inability to stop Mark Ingram on a pivotal third-and-13 was more of a great play by Ingram and not a lapse in defense by the Bills. A play that sticks out just as much — if not more — than those plays was Bruce Smith’s sack of Jeff Hostetler with 8:52 remaining in the second quarter. While the sack resulted in a safety, Smith was unable to jar the football loose from Hostetler, who held on to the ball despite Bruce grabbing his right wrist. Had Bruce been able to force a fumble and either he or a teammate recovered it in the end zone, Buffalo would have led 17-3. Given how methodical the Giants offense moved in order to score points, a touchdown there may have made the difference in what was the smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.
Baltimore Ravens: Third and just short (2011 AFC Championship Game)
Trailing 23-20, Baltimore still had one timeout as it faced a second-and-1 on the Patriots’ 14-yard line with 27 seconds left in the AFC Championship Game. After Lee Evans dropped what would have been a sure touchdown, the Ravens attempted another pass at the same defender (Sterling Moore) that fell incomplete. Baltimore then eschewed going for the win and likely regretted its decision after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard attempt. With the benefit of hindsight, the Ravens probably would have tried a run on third down before using their third and final timeout.
Carolina Panthers: John Kasay’s misstep (Super Bowl XXXVIII)
One of the best kickers of his era, Kasay committed a costly error when he kicked the ball out of bounds just after the Panthers had tied Super Bowl XXXVIII. With a short field to work with, Tom Brady quickly moved the Patriots into field goal range, where Adam Vinatieri booted the game-winning kick in a 32-29 win. If given the chance at a do-over, Kasay said he would have kicked the ball “right down the hash” instead of trying to pin the kickoff near the right sideline.
Cincinnati Bengals: Lewis Billups’ dropped pick (Super Bowl XXIII)
Points were at a premium in Super Bowl XXIII. The game’s first touchdown wasn’t scored until Stanford Jennings’ 93-yard kickoff return gave the Bengals a 10-3 lead at the end of the third quarter. Less than two minutes later, Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups dropped what would have been an interception in the Bengals’ end zone. Joe Montana — who never threw an interception in 122 Super Bowl pass attempts — hit Jerry Rice for the game-tying score on the very next play. Cincinnati regained the lead (at 16-13) before Montana led the 49ers on an epic game-winning drive for a 20-16 victory.
Cleveland Browns: Right Right 88 (1980 AFC divisional playoff)
While a field goal would have given them the lead, the Browns attempted a pass on second down from the Raiders’ 13-yard line with under a minute to play in their 14-12 loss in the divisional round of the 1980 playoffs. Brian Sipe, after being instructed by coach Sam Rutigliano to “throw it into Lake Erie” if his receiver wasn’t open, threw a pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome that was intercepted by Oakland defensive back Mike Davis. Despite torrid weather conditions that contributed to the Browns being unsuccessful on four previous kicks, it’s safe to say that the Browns would have tried something other than Red Right 88, the play that ended their memorable season.
Chicago Bears: Rex’s gross pick six (Super Bowl XLI)
The Bears were still very much in Super Bowl XLI with 12 minutes to play. That changed, however, when quarterback Rex Grossman threw an ill-advised pass for Muhsin Muhammad that was intercepted by Kelvin Hayden and returned for a 56-yard touchdown, the final score in the Colts’ 29-17 win. Instead of throwing to Muhammad (who caught a 22-yard pass on the previous play) in a torrential downpour, the Bears would have been better-served giving the ball in that situation to running back Thomas Jones, who rushed for 112 yards on only 15 carries.
Dallas Cowboys: Jackie Smith’s drop (Super Bowl XIII)
Dallas was on the verge of tying Super Bowl XIII near the end of the third quarter. Facing a third down at its own 10-yard line, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach found a wide open Jackie Smith in the Steelers’ end zone. Smith’s drop was the first of three massive Cowboys miscues that allowed the Steelers to take a 35-17 lead en route to a 35-31 win. Staubach, if given the chance to try his fateful pass again, said he wouldn’t have lobbed his pass to Smith, who missed his one opportunity to win a Super Bowl in what was a 16-year Hall of Fame career.
Denver Broncos: ‘Giant’ mistake (Super Bowl XXI)
Despite having Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway at his disposal, offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan called consecutive running plays from the 2-yard line midway through the second quarter of Super Bowl XXI. After Giants linebacker Harry Carson nailed Gerald Willhite for no gain on second down, New York linebacker Carl Banks stuffed Sammy Winder for a 4-yard loss on third down. Ahead 10-7, the Broncos failed to extend their lead after Rich Karlis missed a 23-yard field goal, the shortest attempted miss in Super Bowl history. Karlis ended the half with another miss (this one 34 yards), as Denver was outscored 32-10 following the Giants’ goal-line stand en route to a 39-20 loss.
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Detroit Lions: Questionable fourth-down decision (2014 wild card playoff)
Anthony Hitchens’ coverage of Brandon Pettigrew late in the Lions’ 2014 wild card playoff game against the Cowboys is one of the worst non-calls in NFL playoff history. That being said, the Lions’ decision to punt on the ensuing play — they faced a fourth-and-1 on the Cowboys’ 46-yard line with 8:25 left — was one they immediately regretted after Sam Martin shanked the punt. With a short field, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo turned a 20-17 deficit into a 24-20 victory. Along with the fourth-down decision, the Lions twice settled for field goals earlier in the game when a touchdown may have put the game away.
Green Bay Packers: Mike Holmgren’s hiccup (Super Bowl XXXII)
The Packers had no answer for Terrell Davis in Super Bowl XXXII. Despite missing just about the entire second quarter with a migraine headache, Davis had rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns on his first 29 carries. His 30th carry resulted in his third touchdown that gave Denver a 31-24 lead with 1:47 left. While the Packers had not come up with a way to stop him, coach Mike Holmgren instructed his defense to let Davis score in order to give Brett Favre and the Packers more time at the end of the game. Favre ultimately drove the Packers to Denver’s 31-yard line before firing three straight incomplete passes. While Davis likely would have scored regardless, Holmgren’s decision to make it a certainty was not viewed well by Packers fans.
Houston Texans: A missed opportunity (2019 AFC divisional playoff)
Leading 21-0 in the divisional round of their 2019 playoff game against the Chiefs, the Texans probably felt OK settling for a field goal with 10:58 remaining in the second quarter to stretch their lead to 24-0. Houston likely regretted its decision not to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs’ 13-yard line after Patrick Mahomes got the Chiefs on the scoreboard less than a minute later. Kansas City scored again shortly after Houston failed to convert on a fourth-and-4 run. Things only got worse from there, as the Chiefs scored 51 of the game’s final 58 points en route to a 51-31 win. Would a 31-0 lead have been enough to break the Chiefs’ spirit? Texans fans will never know.
Indianapolis Colts: Manning’s miscue (Super Bowl XLIV)
Three years after winning his first Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and the Colts had a chance to tie Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints after falling behind 24-17. Facing a third-and-5 at the Saints’ 31-yard line, Manning uncharacteristically locked into his receiver, Reggie Wayne, allowing Tracy Porter to step in front of Wayne en route to a 74-yard pick six that capped a 31-17 New Orleans win. It’s safe to say that Manning would like to have that pass back.
Kansas City Chiefs: Dee Ford’s penalty (2018 AFC Championship Game)
This one was easy. Had Ford stayed onside, Charvarius Ward’s interception of Tom Brady would have stood, giving the Chiefs the ball and a four-point lead with 54 seconds left in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. Instead, the Patriots went on to defeat the Chiefs in overtime. The Chiefs won the following Super Bowl, but they missed out possibly winning another Super Bowl during Patrick Mahomes’ first season under center.
Los Angeles Chargers: What about L.T.? (2006 AFC divisional playoff)
With the scored tied late in their 2006 divisional round playoff game against the Patriots, the Chargers inexplicably forgot about LaDainian Tomlinson, the league’s MVP during the regular season. After a 5-yard run by Tomlinson on first down, quarterback Philip Rivers then threw an incomplete pass on second down, stopping the clock. Adding insult to injury was that the Chargers wasted a timeout after the incomplete pass, which they badly needed after falling behind with 1:14 left. Instead of having the timeout, Nate Kaeding was forced to try a 54-yard field goal with eight seconds left, a kick that hooked wide to the right in a 24-21 loss.
Los Angeles Rams: Vince Ferragamo’s one mistake (Super Bowl XIV)
Vince Ferragamo, a backup who led the Rams to the Super Bowl following Pat Haden’s late-season injury, outplayed eventual game MVP Terry Bradshaw for most of Super Bowl XIV. But with the Rams trailing the Steelers 24-19 late in the game, Ferragamo made his only mistake when he forced a pass through the middle of the Steelers defense that was intercepted by Jack Lambert deep in Pittsburgh territory. Making matters worse was that Ferragamo missed a wide-open Billy Waddy, who was left uncovered on a post pattern. The Steelers put the game away on their ensuing possession and went on to win 31-19.
Jacksonville Jaguars: More pressure on Brady (2017 AFC Championship Game)
Despite not parlaying Myles Jack’s forced turnover into points, the Jaguars still held a 20-10 lead over the Patriots with less than nine minutes remaining in the 2017 AFC Championship Game. The Jaguars, however, missed a golden opportunity to increase their odds at victory after allowing Tom Brady to complete a 21-yard pass to Danny Amendola on third-and-18 from the Patriots’ 25-yard line. The Patriots ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive and would ultimately defeat the Jaguars, 24-20. If given the chance at a do-over, it’s safe to say that the Jaguars would have rushed more than four players on that crucial third-down play.
Miami Dolphins: Kim Bokamper’s missed pick six (Super Bowl XVII)
The Dolphins’ Killer B’s held Washington to just 13 points through the first three quarters of Super Bowl XVII. With a 17-13 lead, Miami nearly took control of the game after defensive end Kim Bokamper nearly caught his own deflection of Joe Theismann’s pass inside Washington’s 5-yard line. Had Bokamper hung on to the pass, he would have waltzed into the end zone while giving the Dolphins a double-digit lead. Instead, Washington scored the go-ahead touchdown on John Riggins’ iconic 42-yard run on its next possession. The Dolphins ended up losing the game 27-17.
Minnesota Vikings: Brett Favre’s faux pas (2009 NFC Championship Game)
The Vikings were on the verge of punching their Super Bowl ticket near the end of the 2009 NFC Championship Game in New Orleans. With the scored tied 28-28, the Vikings had the ball at the Saints’ 33-yard line with 19 seconds left. But after a penalty pushed them back 5 yards, quarterback Brett Favre — instead of running for several yards, calling a timeout and setting up a game-winning field goal attempt — forced an errant pass that was picked off by Tracy Porter. Minnesota never got the ball back and ultimately lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints in overtime 31-28.
New England Patriots: David Tyree’s helmet catch (Super Bowl XLII)
Former Giants receiver David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII was incredible, but it’s safe to say that, had this play been attempted 1,000 times, Tyree’s improbable helmet catch wouldn’t have been duplicated. Similar to Brady’s third-down completion in the 2017 AFC title game, Bill Belichick likely would have put more heat on Eli Manning (New England rushed four players) if he had the chance of a do-over. Unfortunately for him, Belichick can’t reverse history, as the 2007 Patriots go down in the books as the greatest team not to win the Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints: Alvin! (2019 NFC Championship Game)
Alvin and the Chipmunk’s Dave never forgot about his Alvin, and Sean Payton should have given Alvin Kamara another touch late in the Saints’ 2019 NFC Championship Game matchup against the Rams. While they were victim of one of the worst missed calls in NFL history, the Saints nevertheless should have given either Kamara or Mark Ingram the ball on third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line with 1:49 left. Had the Saints run the ball, they would have forced the Rams to either call their third timeout or let 40 seconds drip off of the clock. Instead, the Saints — after temporarily taking the lead on Will Lutz’s field goal — gave the Rams just enough time to tie things up to force overtime. The Saints lost 26-23 in overtime in what was their best shot at returning to a Super Bowl with Drew Brees as their quarterback.
New York Giants: Manning’s misstep (2008 NFC divisional playoff)
Keith Hamilton’s phantom holding call (negating Jessie Armstead’s game-tying pick six) in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens was considered, but there’s nothing the Giants can/could do about a bad call. They could, however, have called a better play for Eli Manning with their season on the line in the divisional round of the 2008 playoffs. Down 20-11 and facing a fourth-and-1 on their own 44 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Giants passed on giving the ball to either Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward (who combined to rush for 138 yards on 31 carries that day) and instead had Manning lunge into the teeth of the Eagles defense. Manning was unable to convert, and the Giants’ title defense ended with a 23-11 loss to the visiting Eagles.
New York Jets: Killer B’s get the best of Rex (2010 AFC Championship Game)
The Jets rallied from 24 points down to pull to within five points of the Steelers with 3:09 left in the 2010 AFC Championship Game. After using all three of their timeouts, the Jets forced the Steelers into a third-and-6 from New York’s 40-yard line with 2:38 left. Rex Ryan’s defense was unable to stop Ben Roethlisberger, however, as Roethlisberger rolled to his right before hitting Antonio Brown, who was in single coverage against a linebacker, to ice a 24-19 victory. Ryan, whose team lost in the AFC title game for a second consecutive year, would undoubtedly try something else against Big Ben if given the opportunity.
Las Vegas/Oakland Raiders: Franco’s Immaculate Reception
The Tuck Rule play was also considered here, but similar to Keith Hamilton’s holding call, you can’t do much about a questionable call. Conversely, the odds of Jack Tatum deflecting Terry Bradshaw’s pass right to the feet of Franco Harris happening the way it did a second time is about as likely as Aaron Rodgers showing up in Green Bay anytime soon (too soon, Packers fans?). There’s also the chance that Jimmy Warren could have tackled Harris before he reached the end zone if given a do-over. Alas, John Madden’s team can’t reverse history, as the Immaculate Reception remains one of the NFL’s indelible plays.
Philadelphia Eagles: Barber closes down The Vet (2002 NFC Championship Game)
Down 20-10, the Eagles were on the verge of making it a three-point game with 3:27 left in the 2002 NFC Championship Game against the Buccaneers. After two consecutive completions to Antonio Freeman, Donovan McNabb looked his way one too many times. On first-and-goal from the Buccaneers’ 10-yard line, McNabb’s pass intended for Freeman was picked off by Rhonde Barber, who stepped in front of Freeman before racing across the field for the game-clinching score. In hindsight, McNabb probably would have thrown the ball to Duce Staley, who was open on the other side of the hash marks. The loss was the Eagles’ final game at Veterans Stadium, the franchise’s home for more than 30 years.
San Francisco 49ers: Garoppolo’s overthrow (Super Bowl LIV)
Despite two quick touchdowns by the Chiefs, the 49ers still had a chance to win Super Bowl LIV with 2:44 to go. Facing a third-and-10 on the Chiefs’ 49-yard line, Jimmy Garoppolo overthrew Emmanuel Sanders — who had managed to get behind the secondary — by several yards. Had Garoppolo not overthrown Sanders, the 49ers likely would have scored the go-ahead touchdown. Instead, Garoppolo was sacked by Frank Clark on the ensuing play. Damien Williams’ 38-yard touchdown two plays later sealed the Chiefs’ 31-20 victory.
Seattle Seahawks: The interception (Super Bowl XLIX)
This one was easy. Down 28-24 late in Super Bowl XLIX, a 33-yard-completion from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse put the Seahawks in position to win their second consecutive Super Bowl. After a 4-yard run by Marshawn Lynch got Seattle to New England’s 1-yard line with 26 seconds left, the Seahawks elected not to give the ball to Beast Mode and instead called for Wilson to throw a slant pass to Ricardo Lockette. While Lockette was initially open, rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped in front of him to record arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The play before ‘the pick’ (Super Bowl XXX)
Neil O’Donnell’s second interception to Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX is largely to blame for the Steelers’ first Super Bowl loss. But had Andre Hastings not dropped O’Donnell’s pass on the previous play (he was wide open and likely would have given the Steelers a first down near midfield with about four minutes remaining), O’Donnell likely wouldn’t have made his costly mistake that turned a three-point game into a 27-17 loss. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Hastings was otherwise brilliant that day; he caught a Steelers Super Bowl record 10 passes for 98 yards while being one of the main reasons why the Steelers nearly upset the favored Cowboys.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Warner’s perfect pass (1999 NFC Championship Game)
Shaun King’s ruled incomplete pass to Bert Emanuel (it would have counted in today’s NFL) sealed the Buccaneers’ fate in their 11-6 loss to the Rams in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. But that play wouldn’t have mattered had Kurt Warner not hit Ricky Proehl for the go-ahead score with 4:50 remaining. Despite playing a near-perfect game against the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the Buccaneers’ pass rush just missed getting to Warner, whose pass just evaded the reach of cornerback Brian Kelly. Arriving just after Proehl pulled in Warner’s pass was Hall of Fame safety John Lynch, who said he replayed the play in his head countless times in the days following the game.
Tennessee Titans: 1 yard away (Super Bowl XXXIV)
Spearheaded by Steve McNair’s Houdini-like effort, the Titans clawed to the Rams’ 10-yard line with five seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXXIV. Trailing 23-16, McNair hit Kevin Dyson on a slant pass 5 yards from the end zone. While Dyson appeared to have a clear path to the goal line, Rams linebacker Mike Jones, who had been covering tight end Frank Wycheck on the near sideline, turned his head at the last second before tackling Dyson 1 yard shy of the goal line. Had Wycheck done a better acting job, there’s a chance that he could have kept Jones’ attention while helping the Titans force overtime.
Washington Football Team: An unexpected defender (Super Bowl VII)
Down 14-0, Washington was threatening to make Super Bowl VII a one-score game late in the fourth quarter. On second-and-6 from the Dolphins’ 10-yard line, Billy Kilmer found tight end Jerry Smith wide open in the back of the end zone. The problem was that Kilmer’s pass never got there as it hit the cross bar. Eventual game MVP Jake Scott picked off Kilmer on the ensuing play. And while Mike Bass did make it a 14-7 game moments later on his 49-yard fumble return, Washington was never able to close the gap on Miami, the NFL’s first and last undefeated team.