That yawner of a Super Bowl is fading into the past and destined to get lost in the shuffle of Super Bowl memories.
Now we can look at some games during the 2015 NFL season that were actually exciting.
Each of the season’s 10 most memorable games were decided in the last two minutes or overtime.What makes some more memorable than others are season-wide effects beyond that one game and in some cases historic implications. It will have also caused an upset for those who had placed a bet on the teams that threw away the match in those final moments.
Because an event is easier to remember the more recently it took place, there’s also a recency bias.
And a Hail Mary bias.
No. 10: Jets 26, Patriots 20, OT
Somehow coin tosses are finding their way into the NFL’s biggest controversies.
MetLife Stadium seemed to be the epicenter of 2015’s memorable moments. This Week 16 game played there didn’t have as many twists and turns as other games on this list, but it will be remembered for the mystifying story surrounding the overtime coin flip.
The Patriots overcame a 17-3 third-quarter deficit, tied the game with two minutes left and forced OT. New England won the toss, and referee Clete Blakeman for some reason asked the Patriots if they wanted to kick. Patriots captain Matthew Slater said yes, and the Jets got the ball to everyone’s confusion.
Bill Belichick later spun the company line that the Patriots wanted to kick to start overtime, but the look on Slater’s face suggested otherwise. It’s odd that Blakeman asked if the Patriots wanted to kick since the presumptive answer to that question would be “No.” It’s therefore understandable that in the heat of the moment Slater would just say “Yes” to whatever was being asked.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker to give the Jets a win over their hated rivals. The Jets would have made the playoffs if Rex Ryan and the Bills hadn’t played spoiler the following week. But the Jets can take comfort in the fact that they played a role in the Patriots’ inability to secure home-field advantage, which eventually cost them in the playoffs.
Or maybe it was just the Patriots’ failure to pay attention on the coin flip.
No. 9: Panthers 41, Saints 38
It’s debatable whether or not this was the most serious threat to the Panthers’ perfection before they actually lost in Week 16. The Panthers needed overtime to beat the Colts at home in Week 8, but that was more a case of the Panthers letting the Colts back into the game.
This Week 13 game at New Orleans, on the other hand, featured five lead changes, all in the second half. Both teams came back from double-digit deficits and the fact that the Panthers stood alone as the NFL’s only unbeaten team at this point made this game that much more memorable.
The Saints jumped out to a 14-0 lead but the Panthers answered with two touchdowns. Tie game, right? Nope. Kevin Williams blocked Graham Gano’s extra point and Stephone Anthony returned it for a safety and a 16-13 halftime lead.
Carolina took a 27-16 lead in the third quarter, but the Saints scored two touchdowns in a four-minute span to lead 31-27 with 14 minutes left. Cam Newton responded by throwing a 45-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn two minutes later.
Mark Ingram’s nine-yard touchdown run gave the Saints a 38-34 lead with 5:27 left, but this was the pre-Super Bowl Cam Newton the Saints were up against. This was the all-smiles Newton that could do nothing wrong, and he orchestrated a game-winning 11-play, 75-yard drive. Newton completed a 16-yard pass to Greg Olsen on fourth-and-4 along the way and later found Jerricho Cotchery, the pre-Super Bowl Cotchery who could hang onto passes, for a 15-yard score with 1:10 left.
The Saints didn’t get past midfield on their final drive and the Panthers improved to 12-0.
No. 8: Saints 52, Giants 49
The Giants and Saints tore up the record books in this Week 8 game played at New Orleans.
Drew Brees threw for 511 yards and seven touchdowns, both career highs, and Eli Manning added a career-high six TD passes. It added up to an NFL-record 13 touchdown passes in the game, which was the third-highest scoring in NFL history.
The Giants tied the game 42-42 in the fourth quarter after trailing 42-28. At that point all 12 touchdowns in the game came on touchdown passes. Trumaine McBride broke that string by intercepting Brees and returning it 63 yards for a touchdown and a 49-42 Giants lead with 7:11 left in the game.
Brees responded with a methodical 14-play drive that ended in a game-tying nine-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller with 41 seconds left.
The Giants had to punt with 20 seconds remaining. What ensued was a sequence that was fitting of the Giants’ 2015 season. Marcus Murphy returned the punt to midfield but fumbled. The Saints recovered the fumble at the Giants’ 47 and punter Brad Wing was called for a facemask to put the Saints in range for Kai Forbath’s game-winning 50-yard field goal. It was Forbath’s first field-goal attempt since the Saints signed him off the street two weeks earlier.
It seemed a silly way for such a high-flying game to end. The game would be ranked higher on the list if it happened later in the year, as somehow the list of 2015’s most memorable games parallels the Giants’ woes throughout the season.
No. 7: Patriots 27, Giants 26
Some of the most memorable games of the 2015 season are also among the most painful for the Giants.
Unlike Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, the Giants weren’t able to foil the Patriots in this Week 10 game at MetLife Stadium, and they suffered one of the many losses that could have changed the course of their season had they sealed the deal.
Add to that story line the longest career touchdown receptions for Odell Beckham Jr. and Rob Gronkowski and a controversial touchdown reversal.
Beckham caught an 87-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter. Gronkowski’s 76-yard TD gave the Patriots a 24-23 lead with 11:33 left in the game.
Eli Manning threw an apparent five-yard touchdown pass to Beckham that would have capped a 97-yard scoring drive with just over two minutes left, but the call was reversed on replay because Malcolm Butler knocked the ball out of Beckham’s hands before the receiver could get both of his stars-and-stripes-decorated shoes down.
The Giants settled for a field goal and a 26-24 lead and could have handed the Patriots their first loss had they stopped them on fourth-and-10, but Tom Brady found Danny Amendola to keep the sticks moving and eventually Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 54-yard field goal as time ran out and the Patriots improved to 9-0. The Giants fell to 5-5 and had even more soul-crushing losses in store for them.
No. 6: Redskins 31, Buccaneers 30
Never in the Redskins’ proud history had they overcome a deficit of 24 points.
In what will forever be remembered as the “You Like That!” Game, the Redskins trailed the Buccaneers 24-0 in the second quarter before Kirk Cousins led them to a comeback in this Week 7 game at Washington.
Cousins, who entered the game with six touchdown passes and eight interceptions, threw three TD passes in the second half. His three-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Grant made it 24-14 early in the third quarter. Then the Redskins recovered an onside kick and Cousins tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed to pull the Redskins to within 24-21 midway through the third quarter.
With 2:24 left, Cousins and the Redskins had the ball down six points. Cousins completed nine of 11 passes on the drive and only faced one third down. On that play he found Reed for a six-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left.
Cousins famously shouted “You Like That!” to a TV camera after the game. Cousins gave the Redskins a lot to like starting that day. He threw 23 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the final 10 games and the Redskins went on to win the NFC East.
No. 5: Broncos 30, Patriots 24, OT
It’s hard to believe there are four games more memorable than the Patriots’ first loss of the season, but with all that unfolded in December and in the playoffs, Week 12 seems like a long time ago.
The visiting Patriots seemed well on their way to an 11-0 record when they increased their lead to 21-7 on the first play of the fourth quarter and then forced the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos to punt. But Chris Harper muffed the punt and the Broncos had the spark they needed.
The Broncos narrowed their deficit to 21-17 but were out of timeouts and needed to drive 83 yards for a touchdown with 2:31 left. Demaryius Thomas picked a good time to catch the only one of 13 passes thrown his way, a 36-yard connection to open the drive. With 1:15 left, Osweiler threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell to make it 24-21.
Even without Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, who was knocked out of the game minutes earlier, Brady moved the Patriots 51 yards and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 47-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
Who else but Von Miller sacked Brady to help thwart the Patriots’ opening drive in OT. C.J. Anderson officially put a disappointing first half of the season behind him when he capped a 113-yard performance with the game-winning 48-yard touchdown run.
Were it not for this win, the Broncos probably don’t win the Super Bowl because they would have had to win the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.
No. 4: Cardinals 26, Packers 20, OT
Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary Games automatically make this list.
This NFC divisional playoff game at Arizona would be ranked higher on the list if it were a little more eventful before Rodgers’ second successful Hail Mary of the season and if the Hail Mary hadn’t been upstaged by another epic play.
With the Packers trailing 20-13 at Arizona, Rodgers drove from the Green Bay 14 to the Arizona 41 with no timeouts. Then with five seconds left, the Cardinals decided to rush Rodgers rather than populate the end zone, and Rodgers hit Jeff Janis for a game-tying, 41-yard touchdown.
A little coin-flip controversy was sprinkled in when Rodgers demanded a re-flip because the coin didn’t flip in the air. The Cardinals won the toss both times, so we were spared a bigger kerfuffle.
On the first play of OT, Carson Palmer spun his way out of a sack and threw a pass across the field to Larry Fitzgerald, who cut across the field the other way to avoid tacklers and complete a 75-yard play. Fitzgerald got the other five yards the Cardinals needed two plays later when he caught the game-winning pass.
It was a frustrating ending to the Packers’ season, but they might not have even made it that far were it not for a more fruitful Hail Mary a few weeks earlier.
No. 3: Panthers 38, Giants 35
Extracurricular activities move games up on this list. There was a whole lot of that between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman in this Week 15 game at MetLife Stadium.
Add in a 28-point comeback that threatened the Panthers’ unbeaten record in a game the Giants desperately needed to win, and you have one of the three most memorable games of 2015.
Beckham beat Norman on a play early in the game but dropped what would have been a touchdown pass. He had no catches in the first half and lost his cool because of it, committing three personal-foul penalties including one in which he launched himself at Norman’s head.
The Panthers led 35-7 late in the third quarter when Beckham finally caught a pass, and that coincided with the start of the Giants’ rally. Beckham eventually caught a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 1:51 left.
That left Cam Newton enough time, however, to put the Panthers in position for Graham Gano’s game-winning, 43-yard field goal and add another game to the collection of heartbreaking losses in the Giants’ roller-coaster history.
Carolina improved to 14-0. The Giants lost their two remaining games and missed the playoffs. Beckham was suspended for a game, and at the end of the season Tom Coughlin’s coaching tenure with the Giants came to an end.
No. 2: Steelers 18, Bengals 16
This game will be impossible to forget when the Bengals are without Vontaze Burfict for the first three games of the 2016 season.
It’s the second-most memorable game of 2015 because the Bengals found a new way to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
The franchise’s first playoff victory in 25 years seemed to be wrapped up when Burfict intercepted Landry Jones, who was replacing an injured Ben Roethlisberger, with 1:43 left and the Bengals leading 16-15. But Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball away, and Roethlisberger re-entered the game with a separated shoulder.
Somehow Roethlisberger moved the Steelers 34 yards to the Bengals 47. Then Burfict earned his suspension when he torpedoed Antonio Brown and knocked him out of the game with a concussion. Pacman Jones piggy-backed that 15-yard penalty with an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction in an exchange with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Those penalties pretty much handed the Steelers the winning points on a silver platter as Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.
It was the Bengals’ fifth wild-card loss in five years and more maddening for the franchise than the previous four rolled into one.
No. 1: Packers 27, Lions 23
There’s memorable and there’s unforgettable.
Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers with no time left in this Week 13 game at Detroit falls into the latter category.
And it’s not just the Hail Mary that makes this the top game of 2015. This game reverberated beyond its miracle ending. The Lions started the season 1-7 but had won three straight, including their first win at Green Bay since 1991, and could have entered the playoff discussion with another win. The Packers, meanwhile, had lost four of their last five.
Those trends looked like they would continue when the Lions stopped the Packers’ attempt to lateral their way to a touchdown as time ran out. But a facemask penalty gave the Packers an extra play. Aaron Rodgers heaved the ball into the air while Richard Rodgers backed into the end zone and jumped in front of the pile of bodies to catch the game-winning touchdown.
Not only did the Packers need a Hail Mary to win this game, they also needed to come back from a 20-0 deficit late in the third quarter. Randall Cobb recovered James Starks’ fumble in the end zone to put the Packers on the board. Then a turnover and Rodgers’ 17-yard TD pass to Davante Adams put the Packers back in the game less than two minutes later.
The Lions could only answer with a field goal, and just couldn’t seal the win. The Packers went on to make the playoffs and the Lions finished 7-9 and still in search of their first playoff victory since that year they previously beat the Packers in Green Bay.