Major League Baseball has the walk-off home run. The National Basketball Association has the buzzer-beater. For the National Football League, the most thrilling, game-ending play is clearly the Hail Mary. On Saturday night, football fans were treated to one of the greatest postseason games of all time, as the Arizona Cardinals knocked off the Green Bay Packers 26-20 in overtime in an NFC Divisional Round matchup. While the contest was absolutely loaded with “He did what?” moments, the Hail Mary that ended regulation was arguably at the top.
A hookup from Aaron Rodgers to Janis brought the Packers back from the dead and kept them alive for the time being, solidifying the play as truly unforgettable. Due to the numerous factors that have to go right for a team to actually convert a successful Hail Mary, they seem to be far more rare than baseball’s walk-off and basketball’s buzzer-beater. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five of this decade’s most memorable last-second heaves in the NFL.
*Note: There have been nine successful Hail Mary plays in the league since 2010, but these are, we believe, the most memorable — listed in chronological order.
1. Shaun Hill and Titus Young answer the Detroit Lions’ prayer
Date: September 23, 2012 (Week 3)
Situation: Detroit Lions trail Tennessee Titans 41-34 with six seconds left in regulation
In this early-season intra-conference contest, Shaun Hill and the Detroit Lions faced a seven-point deficit at the hands of the Tennessee Titans with only six seconds remaining in regulation. Hill took the shotgun snap from around midfield as a trio of Titans players rushed the passer. He stepped up, scrambled a bit, and avoided the pressure to get a good running start on the miracle hurl.
As the clock struck zero — with a cluster of players from both teams in the general vicinity of the pass — the ball made its way to the end zone, but was knocked away by a Tennessee defender. Titus Young found himself in the right place at the right time, secured the catch off of the deflection, and stunningly rumbled in for the score. The official distance on the Hill bomb was 46 yards, and with the ensuing extra point, the game went into overtime. The Titans would have the last laugh in this one though, as Rob Bironas kicked a game-winning field goal to get the victory, 44-41.
2. The “Fail Mary”
Date: September 24, 2012 (Week 3)
Situation: Seattle Seahawks trail Green Bay Packers 12-7 with eight seconds left in regulation
The appropriately nicknamed “Fail Mary” remarkably occurred just one day following No. 1 on this list. In Week 3’s Monday Night Football showdown, the Seattle Seahawks were behind the Green Bay Packers 12-7 with less than 10 seconds left in the game. Then-rookie Russell Wilson was playing in just his third-ever NFL game, hoping to make a name for himself on the big stage. Other than a 41-yard touchdown catch by Golden Tate in the second quarter, Wilson and the Seahawks offense had been completely neutralized by Clay Matthews and company.
No. 3 took the snap, scurried out of the pocket, and readied himself for the hurl from about the 40-yard line. As the ball made its way into the end zone, four Green Bay defenders were around the pigskin, as opposed to just a pair of Seattle receivers. Both Tate of the Seahawks and M.D. Jennings of the Packers got their paws on the ball midair, coming down with it simultaneously. Understandably, all hell broke loose.
Camera angles and the naked eye appeared to show Jennings with a pretty clear interception, but one referee surrounding the play waved it off, signaling the end of the game, while the other put his arms up for a touchdown call. The play was reviewed, upheld, and Seattle came away with the extremely controversial victory. Of course, this was the last time we ever saw the short-lived “replacement referees” on an NFL gridiron.
3. A.J. Green’s miracle catch sends it to OT
Date: November 10, 2013 (Week 10)
Situation: Cincinnati Bengals trail Baltimore Ravens 17-10 with two seconds left in regulation
In their first meeting of the 2013 season with the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals were stuck at their own 49-yard line. With only two seconds left in regulation, barring a defensive penalty, this would be their final chance to send it to overtime. After being shut out 17-0 in the first half, it had been an uphill climb all day long and it appeared that the comeback bid would fall just short. After being sacked on a second down for a seven-yard loss, Dalton was forced to spike the ball and stop the clock.
On fourth and 15, the Red Rifle lined up in a shotgun formation and took the snap. With limited momentum on the chuck and never having left the pocket, Dalton’s 51-yard heave fell just short of the end zone and was deflected by a Ravens defender. With the ball still in the air, it made it into pay dirt and was ricocheted yet again, before falling into the hands of A.J. Green. An extra point sent it to overtime, and the Bengals eventually lost by a score of 20-17.
4. Rodgers to Rodgers wins it for the Packers
Date: December 3, 2015 (Week 13)
Situation: Green Bay Packers trail Detroit Lions 23-21 with no time left in regulation
Just over six weeks prior to electrifying millions of viewers this past Saturday night, Rodgers was at it again, this time against the Lions. Coming off losses in four of their previous five games, the Packers stood at 7-4 entering their Thursday night battle with their division counterpart. Some critics were ready to call the Pack’s chance at the playoffs dead when they trailed 17-0 at halftime on the road. A strong third quarter made it 20-14 in favor of Detroit heading into the final 15 minutes of action.
After a field goal by Matt Prater put the Lions up by nine, Rodgers made the deficit two again with a huge 17-yard scamper for a TD. After holding strong on defense, Green Bay’s offense got the ball back at their own 21-yard line with 29 seconds left. A pair of incomplete passes made it third and 10 with six seconds left. After a complete pass to James Jones and two laterals, it looked like the Lions had this one in the bag. A crucial, iffy face-mask penalty against Devin Taylor on the tackle gave the Packers one last chance though.
With triple zeros showing on the game clock and still from their own 39, No. 12 took the snap, scrambled, and was nearly sacked. After avoiding the takedown, Rodgers collected himself and got a running start to chuck it from about the 35. With a bevy of players awaiting the ball, tight end Richard Rodgers leapt high into the Detroit air and came down with the game-winner, securing the 27-23 win.
5. Jeff Janis’s TD pushes playoff game to OT
Date: January 16, 2016 (Divisional Round)
Situation: Green Bay Packers trail Arizona Cardinals 20-13 with five seconds left in regulation
It was simply one of the best NFL playoffs games ever. An absolute battle until the end between the host Cardinals and visiting Packers for the right to play for the NFC Championship. In a back-and-forth affair, Green Bay led 13-10 going into the fourth quarter. With under four minutes to go though, Michael Floyd caught his second TD of the game (yet another crazy play that came off of a deflection) to put Arizona on top 17-13. A field goal by Chandler Catanzaro made it a 20-13 advantage and the Pack got the ball back with under two minutes left.
Two incomplete passes sandwiched a 10-yard sack, putting the Packers deep in their own territory with 55 tics left and a nearly impossible fourth-and-20 situation. In a prelude of what was to come, Rodgers uncorked a cannonball throw to Janis for a first down and much more, totaling 60 yards on the hurl. A declined penalty and one more incomplete pass put it at second and 15 from the Cards’ 41-yard line with only five seconds remaining.
With loads of pressure rushing him, Rodgers scurried away from trouble and launched an off-balance throw from his own side of the field. Displaying his majestic arm strength, No. 12 got the ball into the end zone, but the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson were there, along with Janis. The backup wide receiver timed his jump perfectly and made the catch of his life, coming down with the unfathomable score. Mason Crosby’s extra point sent it to overtime, where Larry Fitzgerald won the game for the Cardinals. This one was an instant classic.
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