Stefon Diggs’ Minneapolis Miracle is unique in NFL history.
It was a game-winning touchdown on the final play of regulation, with the Vikings trailing, and Diggs had to cover a lot of ground to get in the end zone. Think of how infrequently one play fits all three of those criteria. We’ve seen plays in which a team scores with a few seconds left. We’ve seen others that broke a tie game. And there have been Hail Marys that are caught in the end zone. But what Diggs did Sunday night is incredibly rare. If you pare it down to playoff games, it’s one of a kind. According to NFL Research, it’s the first playoff game to ever end on a game-winning touchdown on the final play of the fourth quarter.
Diggs’ catch and run was one of the most exciting plays we’ll ever see. But was it the most exciting game-winning score in NFL playoff history? It’s a great debate.
Here’s the ranking of the most exciting, thrilling, most improbable final-minute (or overtime) game-winning scores in NFL history. Extra credit is given to the improbability of the play itself, and how big of a hole the scoring team was in when the ball was snapped. Given that the Vikings were 61 yards away with 10 seconds left, had no timeouts and trailed the Saints 24-23 yet somehow won the game, Diggs’ catch is going to rank pretty high on the list:
18. James White walks it off in a Super Bowl
There’s one walk-off game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl history. So even though New England Patriots running back James White’s touchdown run in Super Bowl LI was only 2 yards, it makes the list. White’s run capped one of the great comebacks in sports history.
17. Alex Smith wins a thriller
Sunday wasn’t the first time the Saints have been heartbroken in the final seconds. At the end of a great 2011 NFC divisional playoff game, Smith threw a great pass for a 14-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis in the final 10 seconds, lifting the San Francisco 49ers to a dramatic win.
16. Favre to Sharpe
The Green Bay Packers’ 1993 wild-card win over the Detroit Lions is a forgotten classic. Barry Sanders was great, but Brett Favre had his first clutch moment. He hit Sterling Sharpe for 40 yards in the final minute to win the game. The throw itself is one of the best you’ll see: Favre rolled left, and saw Sharpe open on the right sideline. Favre barely set his feet but threw it all the way across the field into the end zone, a pass some estimate traveled about 75 yards in the air.
15. Montana to Taylor
Without context, Joe Montana’s 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor won’t blow you away. It was a nice route by Taylor and a strong throw between defenders by Montana, but the play itself wasn’t outrageous. However, given the context, that it finished of one of the most famous drives in NFL history to beat the Cincinnati Bengals with 34 seconds left of Super Bowl XXIII, it was a great one.
14. Jermaine Kearse finishes a crazy comeback
With two-and-a-half minutes left in the 2014 NFC title game, the Seahawks trailed 19-7. They somehow won. An insane comeback was capped off in overtime, when a tightly covered Jermaine Kearse hauled in a 35-yard pass in the end zone from Russell Wilson to send the Seahawks’ fans into delirium.
13. The Cardinals finish a thriller on defense
The highest-scoring playoff game in history was finished by a defensive play. An unbelievable 2009 wild-card game ended in overtime when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by Arizona Cardinals defensive back Michael Adams on a blitz. Rodgers accidentally kicked the ball in the air and into the arms of linebacker Karlos Dansby, who returned it to give Arizona a 51-45 win.
12. Bart Starr’s Ice Bowl quarterback sneak
The play itself might not be nearly as exciting as others on this list. But the stakes were high at the end of the 1967 NFL championship: The Packers were going for their third straight NFL championship, and if Starr didn’t make it in the end zone on his quarterback sneak, there’s no guarantee the Packers could have gotten a field goal attempt. Starr didn’t tell anyone in the huddle he planned to sneak it; he thought he had the best shot to score because footing was terrible on the frozen field. Jerry Kramer delivered a famous block, Starr got in and the Packers won one of the greatest games in NFL history.
11. Al Harris takes the ball, and scores
Harris has a rare spot in NFL history. The Green Bay Packers cornerback’s interception return off of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was the first defensive touchdown in overtime of an NFL playoff game. The Seahawks faced a third down near midfield when Hasselbeck (who famously said after the coin toss that Seattle was going to take the ball and score) telegraphed a pass that Harris took the other way to win this 2003 wild-card game.
10. Steve Smith ends the Rams’ season
On the first play of double overtime in a tense divisional-round playoff game at the end of the 2003 season, Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith caught a pass from Jake Delhomme on third-and-14, then just outran the St. Louis Rams’ defense for the final 48 yards or so of a 69-yard touchdown to end the game. From third-and-long 69 yards from the end zone to a walk-off score in an instant — that’s a heck of a play.
9. Tebow’s triumph
Say what you will about Tim Tebow as a quarterback, but he threw one of the most exciting game-winning passes in NFL playoff history. At the start of overtime in a 2011 wild-card playoff game, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas over the middle in full stride. Thomas stiff-armed cornerback Ike Taylor and was gone for an 80-yard touchdown. The 2011 Broncos had one of the wildest, most thrilling and peculiar seasons in NFL history, and Tebow to Thomas was the peak.
8. Santonio stays in bounds
It was a second-down play, and 42 seconds still remained when Santonio Holmes caught the game-winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. And had Holmes not caught it and the Steelers didn’t score on third down, they would have had a short field goal for the tie. All that said, it’s hard to find a better combination of great pass and amazing catch for a game-winner, especially on that big of a stage.
7. Sea of Hands
One of the best games, and one of the best nicknames for a play, in NFL history. In a 1974 divisional playoff, Oakland Raiders quarterback threw up a pass to the end zone as he was being sacked. Surrounded by Miami Dolphins defenders, Raiders running back Clarence Davis managed to haul in the pass for the game-winning 8-yard score with 24 seconds left. The hold-your-breath nature of Stabler’s wild throw into a crowd made it a thrilling moment.
6. Drew Pearson hauls in a Hail Mary
The Vikings have been on the bad end of plenty of famous playoff highlights, including what many believe is the origin of the term “Hail Mary.” Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach reared back and threw deep to Drew Pearson, who probably should have been called for interference but instead caught a 50-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to win a 1975 divisional-round playoff game. Staubach said after the game he said a Hail Mary before the throw, and even though the term was used before Staubach said it, that’s the moment it entered our vernacular.
5. “Owens! Owens! Owens!”
Terrell Owens, who somehow can’t make the Hall of Fame, had one of the most famous game-winning scores in playoff history in a 1998 wild-card playoff game. Against the two-time defending NFC champion Green Bay Packers, Owens ran a post route and the Packers defensive backs froze, allowing him to make a 25-yard catch into the end zone with four seconds left.
4. The Catch
Dwight Clark’s catch in the 1981 NFC championship game started a 49ers dynasty. It was a great catch, and the throw by Joe Montana turned out to be in a perfect spot. The 49ers faced a third-and-3 and needed a touchdown to take the lead over the Cowboys.
But if we’re giving extra credit to the improbability of the play, and of the team winning the game at the moment of the snap, it’s not quite what Diggs did. Clark’s catch is more famous, probably will remain more historically significant (let’s see if the Vikings go on to win their first Super Bowl, though, before we determine that), but we’ll still rank it just below …
3. Minneapolis Miracle
A few factors push Diggs’ big play this high on the list. Unlike some others we’ve listed, it wasn’t in a tie game. Diggs’ play saved a loss. It also was a walk-off winner with no time left. The degree of difficulty was also way up there — we’ll focus on Marcus Williams’ missed tackle, but Diggs made a very nice leaping catch to get it all started. It’s simply one of the most improbable moments in 98 seasons of NFL football.
2. Music City Miracle
We have seen offensive plays break loose after a missed tackle or another mistake. How many times have you seen a lateral on a kickoff return go for a touchdown? The Tennessee Titans pulled off the most famous one, for sure. In the final seconds of a 1999 wild-card game, Frank Wycheck threw it across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran behind a line of blockers for a score (“and there are no flags!”), in one of the craziest game-winning scores you’ll see.
1. Immaculate Reception
It’s hard to imagine what kind of play could knock this off the top spot. With the Steelers trailing and facing fourth down with 22 seconds left of a 1972 AFC divisional-round game against the Oakland Raiders, Terry Bradshaw’s desperation heave was deflected and caught by Franco Harris, who ran in for a touchdown. About the only difference with Diggs’ play is that Harris left five seconds on the clock when he scored. Details. The absolute flukiness of Harris’ score, combined with the never-ending controversies that live on to this day, make it the most famous play in NFL history.
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