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Ranking the biggest brain fart plays in NFL history

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Leon Lett, Dan Orlovsky, and Griff Whalen are a part of NFL history for the wrong reasons.

Leon Lett

Another NFL season is upon us and that’ll mean months of some of the best athletes in the world providing incredible highlights. But it’s never quite as fun as a lowlight. Especially when it’s a case of the best football players in the world forgetting how to play football.

Any list of the worst plays in NFL history will have Mark Sanchez’s Butt Fumble, but that was just a case of hilariously bad timing and ball control. Here we’re going to focus on the plays that made you ask “What in the world were they thinking?”

We asked Twitter to chime in with their favorite brain farts, but first here’s mine:

5. Dan Orlovsky forgot there’s a back of the end zone

It’s not really a question of what the Detroit Lions quarterback was thinking. It’s more what he wasn’t thinking, which should’ve been something like “I better not go too far back or I’ll step out of the back of end zone.”

But nope, he just kept on wandering until he was a full yard out of bounds and still completely oblivious.

The safety was part of loss No. 5 during a winless season for the Lions in 2008. It was the closest game of the year for Detroit, who lost to the Vikings, 12-10. Yeah, that’s right, by two points.

It was a really rough year for the Lions, and Orlovsky summed the whole thing up with his one extraordinarily bad play. A decade later, he has a good sense of humor about the play from his career that people remember most.

A couple years ago, the Browns’ Cody Kessler did the same thing in a preseason game. But no that’s definitely still “pulling an Orlovsky.”

4. “It’s Leon Lett nooooo”

Lett was a two-time Pro Bowler and a key cog on the Cowboys roster for three Super Bowl victories. Unfortunately for him, he’s better remembered for royally and famously screwing up not once, but twice during his NFL career.

One came when he scooped up a fumble in Super Bowl XXVII, but fumbled himself when he held out the ball near the goal line. It was a bad mistake, but one other players have made too — looking at you, Marcus Cooper — and it didn’t stop the Cowboys from smashing the Bills, 52-17.

His goof 10 months later in a Thanksgiving game against the Dolphins goes way higher on the bonehead scale:

Despite the fact that the game was won, and despite the fact that his Cowboys teammates ran away from the ball, and despite the fact that Dolphins players were standing and staring at the ball, and despite the fact that it’s really difficult to grab a football with your feet, Lett slid in feet first and created a fumble that won Miami the game.

Why, Leon?

3. Kirk Cousins took a knee instead of spiking

As far as derps go, this is pretty much the definition.

Kneeling is used to run out the clock, spiking is used to stop it. Apparently Kirk Cousins forgot the difference at the end of the first half of a 2015 game against the Eagles.

With six seconds to go before halftime, all Cousins had to do was spike the ball to set up a 23-yard field goal to give Washington a 19-10 lead over the Eagles. Instead he kneeled and Washington got nothing.

Cousins didn’t get too much heat because Washington still won, 38-24. After the game, he said he had “a lapse in my decision-making and instinctually took a knee.”

Translation: A brain fart.

2. Jim Marshall running the wrong way

Taking off in the wrong direction is about as embarrassing as it gets, but it’s Marshall’s commitment to the cause that really makes this a gem.

In the fourth quarter of a 1964 game against the 49ers, Marshall picked up a fumble and started running in the wrong direction. The Vikings defensive lineman didn’t stop until he had gone a full 66 yards to the end zone he was trying to defend. For the cherry on top, he celebrated what he thought was a touchdown by hurling the ball out of bounds for a safety.

Ah, it’s beautiful. A chef’s kiss for you, Mr. Marshall.

1. Whatever the hell you call what the Colts did

This really can’t even be described. Here, just watch it in all its horrific glory:

My goodness.

Presumably, there’s some sort of ending to that play call that isn’t a wide receiver snapping to a safety who gets mauled by three or more defenders. According to former Colts punter Pat McAfee, the idea was to force a personnel switch that catches the defense with 12 men on the field.

That’s ... uh ... optimistic.

It didn’t work so the Colts probably should’ve called timeout or lined back up for a punt. Problem was wide receiver Griff Whalen rotated to center and he HAD NEVER EVEN PRACTICED THE PLAY BEFORE, so he didn’t know what to do. So he just did the dumbest thing possible. Yikes.

Here are the honorable mentions, courtesy of you

The gaffes I ranked in the top five were common answers when we asked Twitter for their favorite NFL brain farts. You can read all the replies right here.

Here are a few honorable mentions that were mentioned more than once in the Twitter replies:

The Butt Fumble

I didn’t include what might be the most famous blunder ever, because I don’t quite think of it as a “brain fart” per se. Apparently, many disagree:

Nearly six years later, it still lives in infamy.

Just keep your helmet on, Dwayne

Would you look at that? The Browns finally make an appearance.

In the season opener of the 2002 season, Rudd thought the Browns’ defense sacked Trent Green to end a 39-37 win. But Green managed to lateral the ball to an offensive lineman who rumbled down the field until he was pushed out of bounds at the 26-yard line.

Rudd had no idea the play was still live when he took off his helmet and chucked it down field to celebrate. That earned the Browns a penalty that set up the Chiefs’ game-winning field goal for Morten Andersen.

Ronnie Brown’s goal-line fumble

Facing a third down on the one-yard line, it’s understandable that Brown really wanted to get into the end zone. But what in the world was he thinking when he threw the ball to nobody after getting bottled up?

His throw ended up going backward and getting recovered by the 49ers. A classic case of trying to do too much.

DeSean Jackson dropping the ball

Just two weeks into his rookie season, DeSean Jackson had a moment that is still a defining part of his career nearly a decade later.

But as another pointed out, Jackson’s not the only one.

The Broncos got away with it in 2012 when Trindon Holliday dropped the ball, but nobody noticed. Denver wasn’t so lucky in 2013 when Danny Trevathan made the same mistake.

For some reason, that keeps happening and probably won’t stop. Football is really conducive to goofs and, thankfully for all of us, that means brain farts in the NFL are forever here to stay.