Ranking the 11 worst plays of the 2021 NFL regular season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The 2021 NFL regular season is over.
The Las Vegas Raiders took down the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football in an overtime thriller, bringing an end to the 18-week marathon to the postseason.
The league’s inaugural 17-game season featured a ton of thrilling moments, from Justin Tucker’s record 64-yard game-winner to Amon-Ra St. Brown’s walk-off touchdown for Detroit’s first victory and T.J. Watt’s single-season record-tying sack, among several others.
But for all the record-setting performances, game-winning scores and sensational plays over the last 18 weeks, there was also some ugly football mixed in.
From terrible turnovers to embarrassing blunders and more, here were the 11 worst plays of the regular season:
11. Kirk Cousins lines up for snap under wrong lineman
This wasn’t technically a play since the ball was never snapped, but the moment was too hilarious not to include.
Before a fourth-quarter fourth-and-goal against the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ran to the right side of the formation to give out pre-snap instructions to his teammates. Cousins then returned to the line and tried to snap the ball, but nothing happened.
Why? Well, Cousins lined up under the right guard instead of the center. Running back Alexander Mattison tried to help his QB out before Minnesota was forced to burn its second timeout late in a one-score game.
The Vikings failed to score following the timeout and wound up losing the Week 12 contest by eight. It was an embarrassing brain fart by Cousins in a high-leverage situation, yet it wasn’t even his worst moment of the season (more on that later).
10. Eagles and Titans try to recreate history, fail miserably
Sometimes it’s better to leave what’s in the past in the past. The Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans each learned that the hard way.
There wound up being a major problem though, as Jalen Hurts was not nearly as open as Nick Foles was in Super Bowl 52. The 49ers played it perfectly, and wideout (and former college quarterback) Greg Ward Jr. threw the ball well over Hurts’ head for a turnover on downs.
Doug Pederson had to be shaking his head somewhere after watching the “Not-So Philly Special.”
Then, with the Buffalo Bills visiting in Week 6, the Titans just couldn’t resist the urge of trying to recreate the Music City Miracle.
During a first-quarter punt, Titans returner Chester Rogers fielded the ball and immediately threw it across the field to cornerback Chris Jackson. While Jackson went on to pick up 22 yards, it was pretty apparent right away that Rogers threw an illegal forward pass, and he didn’t get away with it.
Not the greatest Frank Wycheck impersonation by Rogers there.
9. Evan McPherson celebrates his missed field goal
Remember how wild this game was? Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson and Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby combined to miss five consecutive field goals from the final minutes of the fourth quarter to the final minutes of overtime.
The sequence was capped by one of the most infamous moments of the season. McPherson, who hit the upright on his previous kick from 57 yards, started celebrating his 49-yard game-winning attempt in OT before making sure the ball actually went through the uprights. That proved to be a mistake.
Crosby connected on his next attempt, also a 49-yarder, to end the kicking madness and give Green Bay the Week 5 victory.
8. Texans’ Cameron Johnston punts ball into teammate
More special teams misfortune. Lined up for a punt against the New England Patriots in Week 5, Houston Texans punter Cameron Johnston ran about 10 yards forward and then brought a gunner in motion, giving the illusion that a trick play could be coming. Johnston then moved back about five yards, took the snap and fired off the worst punt of the season.
The fourth-year pro drilled the ball into the helmet of teammate Terrence Brooks and it bounced out of bounds at the line of scrimmage for a zero-yard punt.
Head coach David Culley said the blooper had nothing to do with Johnston’s proximity to the line, just that he struck the ball incorrectly. Maybe if Johnston punted from a normal distance the ball would have missed Brooks’ helmet and traveled at least one yard though?
7. Lions gift Bears a turnover with snap fail
While the Detroit Lions finished with the NFL’s second-worst record, Dan Campbell’s group didn’t totally embarrass themselves along the way -- minus a few exceptions.
During a Week 4 game against the Chicago Bears, Lions center Frank Ragnow snapped the ball as quarterback Jared Goff was walking toward the offensive line to make a pre-snap call. The ball ricocheted off of Goff’s leg, then off of guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s helmet and right into the arms of Bears defensive lineman Bilal Nichols.
If someone described this play without revealing the team who did it, you would guess the Lions or Jets, right?
6. DeSean Jackson’s forgettable first catch with Raiders
DeSean Jackson signed with Las Vegas midseason, but his first catch as a Raider was not one worth remembering for the wideout.
Facing the rival Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10, Derek Carr connected with DeSean Jackson for the first time on a deep ball. When Jackson caught it inside the Chiefs’ 25-yard line, there was no one in front of him.
Though for some reason, Jackson didn’t turn upfield, instead stopping and turning toward the opposite sideline after seeing Chiefs cornerback Rashad Fenton chasing him down. It went downhill even more from there as Jackson was stripped from behind by Fenton and the Chiefs recovered the loose ball.
This might be worse than dropping the ball before reaching the end zone.
5. Tyrod Taylor throws ball away … to the other team
Tyrod Taylor has logged nearly 80 NFL appearances over his 11-year career, but he made a baffling rookie mistake against the Miami Dolphins in Week 9.
With Taylor scrambling toward the sideline, it appeared like he was either going to run out of bounds for a loss or throw the ball away. He chose the latter, but waited until the last second to get rid of the ball and simply flicked it down the sideline. Taylor didn’t do a good enough job of keeping the ball out of harm's way, as linebacker Jerome Baker hauled it in for a pick.
It was an impressive play by Baker to both reestablish himself inbounds and make the clean interception. Getting intercepted on a throwaway though? Not so impressive.
4. Carson Wentz’s ugly interceptions
The good news about Carson Wentz’s first season in Indianapolis: he cut down his interceptions from 15 in 12 games last year to seven in 17 games.
The bad news about Carson Wentz’s first season in Indianapolis: he still threw some truly atrocious picks.
It’s impossible to single out just one, so we’re going to quickly run through the three worst. First there was the Week 2 shovel-pass interception near the goal line against the Los Angeles Rams.
Then, there was another red-zone shovel pass gone wrong against the 49ers in Week 7. This time, as he was being pulled to the ground, Wentz tried to flick a pass to a wide-open Zach Pascal in the end zone and came up about eight yards short.
And finally, maybe the most Carson Wentz interception of them all from Week 8: a left-handed prayer while he’s being tackled in the end zone by multiple Titans defenders that resulted in a pick-six.
The phrase “live to fight another down” doesn’t seem to be part of Wentz’s vocabulary.
3. Giants run a QB sneak on third-and-9
Backed up near their own goal line in the second quarter against the Washington Football Team, the Giants ran a quarterback sneak with third-stringer Jake Fromm on second-and-11 from the 2-yard line. That made some sense in order to gain extra breathing room for third down and a potential upcoming punt. But on third-and-9, the Giants sneaked it up the middle with Fromm again.
A QB sneak on third-and-long in a meaningless game at the end of a disappointing season. Really? Joe Judge didn't go on an 11-minute rant defending the play-call postgame, saying he wanted to give the Giants more room to punt. Yes, Fromm has struggled mightily, but how about running a play that would at least give you a chance of converting?
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported in late December that the Giants were planning to bring back Judge next season. The last couple weeks have made that plan look much worse.
2. Dolphins throw a screen pass in their own end zone
Backed up on your own 1-yard line? How about a screen pass in the end zone?
That idea sounded good to the Dolphins in Week 3, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw a pass to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in Miami’s own end zone. After catching the ball, Waddle was immediately tackled by Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward for one of the easiest safeties you’ll ever see.
The play was actually historically bad. According to Pro Football Reference’s play-by-play database, it marked the first time in NFL history that a safety occurred on a completed pass with no fumbles or penalties. Nicely done, Dolphins.
1. Kirk Cousins’ punt-like interception
This list started with Kirk Cousins, and it will end with Kirk Cousins.
If you only saw Bears safety Deon Bush catching this ball on Monday Night Football in Week 15, you would have thought he was fielding a punt. But it was actually a pass Cousins made from a pretty clean pocket that didn’t end up in the same area code of another Vikings player.
A different angle shows the intended target, star wideout Justin Jefferson, fell on the play following some contact by a Bears defender, and Cousins said he didn’t see that Jefferson went down before releasing the ball.
That explanation doesn’t take away from the play’s greatness (terribleness?). So congrats to Cousins for making the best worst play of the season (and to the Jets for somehow not making an appearance on this list).