The NFL is leaning toward allowing coaches to challenge pass interference calls and non-calls in the final two minutes of each half. And that means the league may soon be turning a little extra attention to the most exciting play in football — the Hail Mary.
Hail Marys, the low-percentage heaves deep downfield to a throng of outstretched arms and defenders being screamed at to “just bat it down,” would present a major hiccup for any interference challenges due to the jostling and jockeying that goes into the final stages of the potentially game-changing play. But while the league tackles — probably poorly — what may or may not constitute a Hail Mary, we’ve been stuck here thinking of our favorite ones.
The league’s been littered with outcomes turned 180 degrees thanks to a big arm, some unshakeable receivers, and a lot of luck. Aaron Rodgers turned the last-ditch deep ball into an art. Joe Flacco played Slim Pickens in 2012 when he rode a bomb — this one to Jacoby Jones — to a road AFC title game win and an NFL championship. And Tom Brady’s most memorable Hail Marys came in Super Bowl defeats.
Which of these longshot passes were the best? We have some ideas.
Aaron Rodgers throws a football to the damned moon to roast the Lions
So what if it was set up by a 15-yard facemask flag on a penalty that didn’t actually happen? After seeing Rodgers turn himself into a human trebuchet, I’m approximately 50 percent sure he would have found a way to bend time and replay the would-be game-ending sack that nearly sunk the Packers in Detroit.
The former MVP has regularly impressed with amazing feats of arm strength, but none may have been better than this pass that seemed to scrape the rafters at Ford Field before falling to Earth like a whistling mortar and into the hands of backup tight end Richard Rodgers.
There weren’t any stakes attached to this game other than an NFC North rivalry — Green Bay was going to the postseason even with a defeat in Detroit — but it did extend Rodgers’ dominance over the poor, poor Lions. With the win, the Packer QB improved to 10-3 all time against his division rival (he’s 13-5 now).
It also turned Calvin Johnson into a puddle and sapped his will to play football — he retired after the season ended weeks later.
— Christian D’Andrea
Michael Bishop throws a Hail Mary on his first career pass attempt
There have been plenty of famous Hail Marys in NFL history, but my favorite is also one of the more random — simply because of how random it was. In 2000, Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots starting quarterback. The team spent a sixth-round pick on Tom Brady earlier that year, but the previous year it had invested a seventh-round pick in Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop.
The Patriots carried both on their roster that season behind Bledsoe. Brady made his debut in Week 13, completing 1 of 3 passes for six yards. Meanwhile, Bishop made his debut in Week 2. After three rushing attempts in his second and third games, the Patriots brought Bishop in at the end of the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts. He took the snap and completed his first career pass, a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown to wide receiver Tony Simmons to close out the half.
Over the rest of the season, Bishop completed 2 of 8 more pass attempts. At the time of the Hail Mary, many fans viewed him as the better prospect than Brady. Bledsoe struggled much of that season and there was grumbling to give Bishop a chance. However, he never got a significant shot after the Hail Mary. Outside of a brief offseason with the Packers, he didn’t set foot in the NFL again. And the rest is Brady history. — David Fucillo
The Patriots were gifted a phantom pass interference call
Maybe this is cheating because it wasn’t really (at least, at first) a successful Hail Mary. But this is one of those moments from watching football as a kid that has been seared in my mind forever.
In an important 1998 game between two playoff contenders, the Bills had a 21-17 lead over the Patriots late in the fourth quarter. Drew Bledsoe got New England to Buffalo’s 26-yard line, but with only six seconds left he dropped back and hurled a Hail Mary into a swarm of players in the end zone. For some reason, a flag for pass interference was thrown that really didn’t look justified.
The Bills were dumbfounded and then-Patriots coach Pete Carroll was pleasantly surprised to have another chance. New England got a free play near the end zone and Bledsoe took advantage with a game-winning lob to tight end Ben Coates in the back of the end zone.
Buffalo was so pissed by the turn of events that they marched off the field instead of sticking around for the extra point. Carroll — being the eccentric goofball he is — excitedly told Adam Vinatieri to go for a pointless two-point conversion. So the Patriots kicker jogged into the end zone with no defender in sight.
I was 8 years old at the time and found the whole situation hilarious. Two decades later, it’s still hilarious. — Adam Stites
The Jaguars completed a Hail Mary in the most Jaguars way possible
The Jaguars are a magical franchise. Even when things go right for them, it still looks hilarious. David Garrard’s Hail Mary attempt that was intended for Mike Sims-Walker, but ended up in the hands of Mike Thomas is a perfect example of that.
In 2010, Jacksonville and Houston were tied at 24 when Garrard launched a 55-yard Hail Mary as time expired. Houston’s defensive back played the Hail Mary exactly how it’s coached in practice — don’t try to catch it, bat the ball straight into the ground. He spiked the ball towards the ground, but Jacksonville’s smallest receiver — 5’8 Mike Thomas — just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I still remember watching this clip over and over and over again right after it happened because I couldn’t believe two things: the sheer amount of luck involved in this play and something that lucky happening to the Jaguars.
Everyone is set up for some good fortune even once in a while, even the Jaguars. — Charles McDonald
Jay Cutler going full Jay Cutler on the Chargers
Both of my favorites (Rodgers annihilating the Lions and Bishop’s, surprisingly) were already mentioned, but since my brand is “everything is bad” to begin with how about my favorite ... worst Hail Mary?
Once upon a time, there was a quarterback named Jay Cutler. He was pretty good at football sometimes and laughably bad at others. He was mostly famous for the expressionless look on his face at all times, which helped cultivate the “does Cutler even care what’s happening?” question that was asked so, so many times.
I’m not here to weigh in on that for his entire career, but if I know any Cutler well, it’s the one that definitely did not give a damn with the Dolphins in his final season. That year — in 2017 against the Chargers — Cutler gave us one of the worst Hail Marys ever.
This other angle is even better if you really want a look at just how poorly that ball was thrown. I’m sure there are many who would argue that Cutler intentionally threw it out of bounds to be safe, but look at that wobble! That, my friends, is one ridiculously bad pass! — James Brady
The Fail Mary
This was, to paraphrase Mike Tirico’s call, one of the most bizarre endings to a game that we’ll ever see. It was ridiculous. It was controversial. It was infuriating but also kinda funny. It involved the Seahawks getting weird on Monday Night Football.
In September 2012, rookie Russell Wilson gave Aaron Rodgers a taste of his own medicine when he threw up a desperation heave in the final seconds against the Packers. Golden Tate didn’t get flagged for pushing off and M.D. Jennings wasn’t credited with an interception. Instead, the poor, overwhelmed replacement refs decided to call it a touchdown for a Seahawks win:
(Conspiracy theory time: Slip on your tin foil hat and consider the idea that it was all a Roger Goodell plot to end the referee lockout.)
(OK, it probably wasn’t — but you still thought about it for a second!)
Nothing else that season quite captured our collective “YOLO” consciousness at the time like that play. But it doesn’t just belong to 2012, or Seahawks and Packers fans. It belongs to all of us — then, now, and in the future. As this decade winds down and the years start blending together, this is one NFL moment that won’t fade from our memories. — Sarah Hardy