In what seemed like yet another boring Thursday night game to start Week 13 of the 2015 NFL season, the resurgent Lions led the reeling Packers 20-0 in the middle of the third quarter. At that point, it seemed as if Detroit was ready to cruise to an improbable season sweep of Green Bay, leaving the Packers in a tough spot amid the NFC playoff race. After the Packers made it a game and were down by only 2 points, Detroit looked all but certain to win as Aaron Rodgers had only a few seconds left with more than 70 yards to go. And then, it happened:
The untimed down that came after a questionable face-mask call was all that Rodgers needed to complete one of the most improbable wins in recent memory. After all, it was a textbook Hail Mary, with the reigning MVP airing the ball for more than 60 yards before Richard Rodgers caught it in the end zone.
In football lore, a successful Hail Mary may be the single most exciting play, probably rivaled only by the ending full of laterals precluding a touchdown. The difficulty of the play, along with how rare it is, make it a special sight when it is executed properly. In the NFL, we may be lucky if we see one per year.
With this in mind, how does Rodgers' walk-off bomb rank among the coolest and most important Hail Marys of all time? Today we rank the top 5 according to our calculations. While the rankings are certainly unscientific, these images are bound to resonate with NFL fans all around.
#5 – November 14, 2010 – Texans at Jaguars
In terms of actual value, this Hail Mary was probably meaningless as a whole. After all, it came in the middle of a season finished 8-8 by Jacksonville and 6-10 by Houston, caught by Mike Thomas on a desperation heave from David Garrard. However, it barely makes the top 5 for its level of improbability and the bounces the ball took before giving the Jaguars a walk-off win. As it is usuallt taught, Houston's defender tried to bat the ball down, but he mistimed it and it fell right on Thomas' hands. This is probably the biggest highlight of the Jaguars franchise in the past 10 seasons.
#4 – November 10, 2013 – Bengals at Ravens
In a season in which the Bengals won 11 games and made the playoffs, their most memorable game actually came in a loss. In Week 10, Cincinnati played a traditionally hard-fought game against an NFC North rival, with the Ravens taking a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter. The Bengals battled back and made it a 7-point game, but it all seemed lost as they faced a fourth-and-15 with 2 seconds on the clock on their own 49-yard line. Before the snap, the Ravens held a win probability in excess of 99.5%. Andy Dalton actually underthrew the pass, but it took a funny bounce off Baltimore's defense and into the waiting hands of AJ Green. In typical Marvin Lewis fashion, the Bengals took the tie and forced overtime, where they eventually lost on a Justin Tucker field goal.
#3 – December 14, 1980 – Browns at Vikings
In a season in which they barely squeaked to the playoffs with a 9-7 record, the Vikings needed all the wins they could get. In the penultimate week of the season, Minnesota fell behind 23-9 early in the fourth quarter, only to rally back with two scores. However, a missed extra point prevented the Vikings from tying the game (the two-point conversion wasn’t adopted until 1994), but they held the ball with 5 seconds to play and 46 yards to go. QB Tommy Kramer, who already had 410 yards and 3 touchdowns, threw high and to the right, running a designed play called “Squadron Right” that seemed to be well covered. However, the ball bounced around before reaching the hand of Ahmad Rashad, who hauled the ball with great technique and gave Minnesota a walk-off win.
#2 – November 20, 1983 – 49ers at Falcons
It may have looked like a big mismatch on paper, as Joe Montana faced Steve Bartkowski in an old NFC West battle. Their first meeting of the season had already given a thrilling 24-20 win to the 49ers, and they held a similar 24-21 lead to the final play of the game with the Falcons needing 47 yards to score a touchdown. Bartkowski stepped back and actually threw short to around the 5-yard line, but the defense failed to bat the ball down and it fell to Billy Johnson's hands. Johnson needed to elude a couple of defenders and make a desperate plunge into the end zone. While instant replay probably would have ruled him short, an official raised his hands and awarded him the touchdown, which gave the Falcons a 28-24 win.
#1 – December 28, 1975 – Cowboys at Vikings
This Roger Staubach pass may just be the best Hail Mary in NFL history for two reasons: it came in the playoffs, while Staubach coined the term “Hail Mary” on a postgame interview. With the Cowboys down 14-10 and with 24 seconds to play, Drew Pearson ran a deep route on the right side of the formation, with Staubach benefitting from a soft coverage that allowed the score to happen. Even as the play is different from a traditional Hail Mary in terms of the time left on the clock and the number of people in the end zone, the finish still resonates as Dallas rode the emotional win all the way to the Super Bowl. It's not hard to see why Staubach was called “Captain Comeback”.