The Super Bowl is by far the biggest stage in American professional sports. With that being the case, it should come as no surprise that Super Bowl Sunday always has been (and always will be) a day where ordinary players become National Football League legends, and a day where teams are able to prove they deserve to be mentioned among the best squads in NFL history.
On the flip side, Super Bowl Sunday also presents players and teams with an opportunity to forever live in sports infamy. For every player and team that surprisingly turn in a big-time performance in the big game, there are those who crumble under the pressure of playing for a world championship. In this article, we are going to look at the 10 biggest Super Bowl chokes (by a team) in NFL history.
The following 10 teams made this list for a variety of reasons. It could have been due to an inexcusable second half collapse, one individual play that directly altered the outcome of the game, or simply because of a disappointing performance by a heavily favored team. With that being said, here are the 10 biggest chokes in NFL history.
1. Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl 51
Bottom line: The Falcons should be in the midst of celebrating their franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Instead, Atlanta chokes, and it is the New England Patriots who are (again) enjoying everything that comes with winning a world championship.
Behind a dominating performance on both sides of the ball, the Falcons looked like they were well on their way to victory in Super Bowl 51 through the game’s first three quarters. Shortly into the second half, Atlanta stretched their lead to 28-3, and went into the fourth quarter with a comfortable 28-9 cushion. Just when it appeared as though the game was headed towards blowout status, Tom Brady and the Pats caught fire and scored 19 fourth quarter points to send the game into overtime. New England then scored a touchdown on the first (and only) possession in overtime to complete the biggest come from behind victory (by a score of 34-28) in Super Bowl history.
2. Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLIX
We are still in disbelief over what went down in the final quarter of Super Bowl XLIX. First and foremost, the Seattle Seahawks choked and managed to squander away the 10-point lead they held going into the fourth quarter. After falling behind by four points, Seattle got the ball back with just over two minutes to play and managed to rally and put together an impressive offensive drive that took them all the way down to the New England one yard line. And that’s where it all came crashing down.
Rather than handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who at the time was arguably the best goalline running back in the league, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell foolishly called a pass play. New England cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped in front of Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and picked off Russell Wilson’s pass to clinch a 28-24 win for the Patriots.
It may have been caused by a poor coaching decision, but the Seahawks clearly choked away their chance at a second Lombardi Trophy.
3. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLII
The Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII with a perfect 18-0 record and were widely considered to be among the best teams in NFL history. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas listed them as 14-point favorites over the New York Giants, and to most people it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Pats would join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in NFL history to post a perfect season.
Instead, New England’s high-powered offense was stifled by the Giants’ defense, and New York quarterback Eli Manning delivered a clutch fourth quarter drive to pull off the upset by a score of 17-14. At the end of the day, this is likely a game the Patriots would have won nine times out of ten. This is by far one of the biggest chokes in NFL history.
4. St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXVI
The Rams’ choke job in Super Bowl XXXVI served as the official start to the New England Patriots ongoing dynasty. St. Louis, behind “The Greatest Show on Turf,” entered the game as 14-point favorites against the upstart Patriots, who were being quarterbacked by a second-year pro named Tom Brady.
The Pats turned in an outstanding defensive performance from start to finish and Brady delivered in a major way in the fourth quarter. The result was a 20-17 upset victory for New England, and the Rams have never again been serious Super Bowl contenders.
5. Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XXXII
With the parity of the NFL, it’s extremely rare to see a double-digit point spread in a Super Bowl. When it does happen, though, it’s clear that one team is widely perceived to be substantially better than their counterpart. When the Packers squared off with the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII, they were 12-point favorites.
The Packers scored the game’s first touchdown, but after that it was clear that the Broncos weren’t going to back down. In one of the biggest chokes in Super Bowl history, Denver beat Green Bay by a score of 31-24 to claim the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
6. Buffalo Bills, Super Bowl XXV
Super Bowl XXV is the closest the Bills have come to winning a world championship. Buffalo entered the game with the league’s best scoring offense, while their opponent, the New York Giants, had the NFL’s best scoring defense during the regular season. As expected, the game was hard-fought throughout and came down to the final seconds.
With eight seconds remaining in the game and his team trailing the Giants by a score of 20-19, Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood pushed a potential game-winning field goal wide right. After Norwood’s miss, New York ran out the clock and celebrated their dramatic victory.
To this day, Norwood’s Super Bowl XXV choke is one of the most heart-breaking plays in NFL history.
7. Baltimore Colts, Super Bowl III
Super Bowl III will forever be remembered for the guarantee that New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath made in the days leading up to the game. Despite being 17-point underdogs to the Baltimore Colts, Namath guaranteed a Jets victory, and “Broadway Joe” ultimately backed up everything he said.
The Jets pulled out 16-7 victory over the Colts, and Namath became an instant sports legend.
8. Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXII
As the saying goes, it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. Super Bowl XXII was a prime example of this. John Elway guided the Broncos to a 10-0 lead through the first quarter, but it all went downhill from there. Denver wouldn’t score another point for the remainder of the game, and the Redskins scored 35 points in the second quarter alone. The final score ended up being 42-10 in favor of Washington after it initially looked like the Broncos were on their way to their franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
9. New England Patriots, Super Bowl XLVI
Super Bowl XLVI was the Patriots’ chance to get revenge for their loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII four years earlier. Despite a strong effort from Tom Brady and their defense, New England simply missed out on far too many valuable opportunities (specifically by dropping multiple passes in key situations) in this game. When it was all said and done, the Giants defeated the Patriots by a score of 21-17, and the Patriots choked again.
10. Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XLVIII
Super Bowl XLVIII was proof that defense wins championships. The Broncos entered the game with the best offense in league history with Peyton Manning running the show, and the Seattle Seahawks were a young team with a dominant defense but not much postseason experience.
Most people expected the Broncos to light up the scoreboard and walk away with their franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy. But when the first offensive snap of the game flew over Manning’s head and resulted in a safety, it quickly became clear that Denver was in for a long day. Seattle embarrassed Denver by physically dominating the game from start to finish en route to a 43-8 victory, leading to one of the biggest chokes in NFL and Super Bowl history.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.