The most ridiculous trick plays in NFL history

As the old saying goes, football is a game of inches. However, that's not all it is. It's also a game of violence, swearing, bellyaching to referees about penalties that were completely justified, and so, so much trickery and deceit. Much of the latter takes place out of the view of spectators; for example, while it's pretty easy for a professional NFL quarterback and his equally professional wide receiver to tell the difference between a regulation ball and one that has been slightly deflated, it's not like Joe Hotdog can tell the difference from up in the stands.

As the other old saying goes, if you're not cheating, you're not trying. But the finest examples of what the sportscasters like to call "chicanery" take place in plain sight, right in front of the fans, the opposing players, Santa Claus, and Stan Lee (who is certainly a Watcher now if he wasn't before). Sometimes, when things aren't going your way — or, for that matter, when they are — it comes time to dial up one of those weird plays from way, way in the back of the playbook, plays so ridiculous that nobody would ever think to call them. Because, on the flip side of that, nobody would ever expect them, which is precisely why they sometimes work. Here are the most jaw-dropping trick plays the NFL has ever seen.

Flutie's drop kick

At 5'10", Doug Flutie was an undersized quarterback who played like he was 7 feet tall. He shot to fame as the quarterback for Boston College, in a 1984 game in which he pulled off one of the most famous Hail Mary plays in all of football at any level. The "Hail Flutie" game clinched his Heisman Trophy win, put him over 10,000 yards for the season (a first for a college quarterback), and sent the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes packing on their home field. As a professional, Flutie played in the USFL, CFL (winning three championships for the Toronto Argonauts), and the NFL, where — after stints with Buffalo and San Diego — he found himself backing up Tom Brady in New England at the ripe old age of 43.

In the Pats' regular season closer on January 1, 2006, head coach Bill Belichick decided to do a little something special for the old guy. Brady was on the bench, as New England was content with their playoff seeding, and Matt Cassel had played most of the game. After a Cassel TD pass, the kicking unit came on the field for a PAT — but there was no kicker. In his place, there was Flutie, who took a long snap and drop-kicked the ball right through the uprights. It was one of the final plays of his career (he retired after the season), and the first successful drop kick executed in an NFL game since 1941.

Mohamed Sanu, the perfect QB

Atlanta Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu is a guy with a trick up his sleeve, a trick he has pulled exactly seven times in his career (so far). Like all good magicians, he employs expert misdirection to bamboozle his audience (the opposing team), and never did he execute it more awesomely than on November 26, 2017, when his lovely assistant was fellow receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons were tangling with a scrappy Bucs team in a game they needed to win, and the contest was tied early in the second quarter. Facing third and 1 from their own 49, the Dirty Birds lined up in the shotgun — with Sanu in place of the quarterback. He took the snap, faked a handoff (nearly fumbling in the process), set his feet, and launched a perfect spiral 57 yards, directly into the arms of Jones. Touchdown Falcons, somehow.

The Bucs (who would go on to lose 34-20) never saw it coming, but they should have. This became the sixth time Sanu had attempted a pass in a game — completions all, with three of them going for touchdowns. In fact, statistically speaking, Sanu could be a better QB than he is a receiver. By rating, he's the best QB to ever play in the NFL. His line: 6/7 for 228 yards, a 32.6 yard average, and those 3 TDs, for a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

The magician

Speaking of magic men, let's talk about Tom Brady, who throughout his career has routinely executed plays that wouldn't even seem possible in a video game. Once these plays start piling up, he's prone to pulling off comebacks that would make the probability gods shake their heads in utter disbelief, and none were more impressive than the Pats' comeback victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Down 28-3, Brady rallied his team to the most ridiculous comeback in the history of the big game — and one play, while it wasn't the go-ahead score, seemed to seal the Falcons' doom.

Down by 16 with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Brady threw a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola, and the Pats lined up for a two-point conversion. On the ensuing attempt, the ball was snapped directly to running back James White, and Brady basically fooled everyone on the field by pretending quite convincingly to take the snap high. While the entire defensive line moved in for the Sack That Couldn't Have Been, White waltzed into the end zone for the conversion. Just like that, it was a one-score game; the Pats would send it to overtime on a TD run by White with under a minute left, and the shifty running back scored again in overtime to seal New England's victory.

He's got it! No, wait...

In Week 3 of the 2015 season, the Seahawks were 0-2 and in need of a spark against the Bears. With the game scoreless in the first quarter, the Legion of Boom forced a Chicago punt; so far, so pedestrian. But then, something weird happened: Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette fielded the punt, only he didn't. He simply did a masterful job of acting like he had, even "losing his balance" and falling over while Bears converged on him like actual bears on an actual downed seahawk. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman — with nary an opposing player within 20 yards of him — fielded the ball on the complete other side of the field.

Sherman then sprinted down the sideline with the ball while nearly every Bear defender was still trying to figure out what the hell happened. Meanwhile, Punter Pat O'Donell, who knew exactly where he had kicked that ball, and linebacker Lamin Barrow, who really had some speed, finally caught up with Sherman after a 64-yard return. It was an incredibly sneaky, well-executed play which the Bears really should have anticipated better. After all, they themselves had pulled a similar trick back in 2011, and in 2014, the Rams had run the same play for a touchdown against the Seahawks, who had obviously filed the incident away for future reference.

Brady's fake Statue of Liberty

The 2007 Patriots finished the regular season undefeated, and while they would be denied by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, their playoff run was as dominant as you'd expect from a team evidently convinced they simply couldn't lose. In the divisional playoff game vs. Jacksonville, Tom Brady went 26 of 28 for 262 yards and three TDs, and the Pats were only forced to punt once — when the game was almost over. Despite all that, it was fairly close throughout, so on one key play, Bill Belichick dialed up a little something that many have tried, but few have actually pulled off.

This would be the "Statue of Liberty" play, so named because when executed properly, the QB briefly strikes a Lady Liberty-esque pose while pump-faking with an empty throwing hand, having craftily transferred the ball to his other arm directly after the snap. With the ball hidden from defenders' view by his body and the defenders (ideally) fooled into thinking the ball is currently sailing down the field, the QB hands off to the running back, who sprints away. This is almost what Brady did — only he then faked the handoff to RB Kevin Faulk, who sold it completely. With the entire defense supremely confused, Brady waited patiently for Wes Welker to make his way to the end zone, then hit the receiver with a perfect pass. Over a decade later, the Jags are probably still trying to figure it out.

The Clock Play

In a November 1994 game, the 6-5 Jets met the 7-4 Dolphins in a game New York really wanted to win. The perennial laughingstocks were putting it together at just the right time and were determined to make a playoff run — but standing in the way was legendary Miami quarterback Dan Marino, who was having exactly none of that. New York led by 18 at one point, but Marino brought the Dolphins flipper-ing back — and along the way, he pulled one of the most famous trick plays in the history of the league out of his pocket, which will forever be known as the "Clock Play," or alternatively, the "Fake Spike."

Down by 3 with the clock running and no timeouts, Miami moved the ball to the Jets' 8 yard line. Marino came up to the line of scrimmage, frantically gesturing and shouting, "Clock! Clock!" Everyone in the stadium, including the announcers, expected him to spike the ball, but he kept the ball in his hand. Assuming the play to be over, nearly everyone on the field relaxed except receiver Mark Ingram and rookie cornerback Aaron Glenn, who put it together a split second too late. Marino calmly hit Ingram for the game-winning touchdown, and even half the Dolphins were trying to figure out why the other half were cheering. Miami would go on to nab a division title, and the Jets would lose 32 of their next 36 games.

The invisible lineman

And now for something completely stupid, a play so unlikely to be successful that it's a wonder it was ever drawn up, let alone attempted in a game. There wasn't much complicated about it; there was no excessive trickery on the part of the team that executed it, only a gamble that the opposition would have their heads up their keisters, which they did. In a 2008 game against Seattle, the Buffalo Bills were already up 20-10 and were lining up for a field goal when the coaches decided to just keep going for more points. As the kicking unit came onto the field, one player lagged slightly behind — linebacker Ryan Denney, dragging his feet as if he'd just had a nice big meal.

Instead of joining his teammates, Denney lined up near the sideline — pretty much where a wide receiver would go. Despite the fact that Denney is as big as a house, none of the Seahawks seemed to notice. The ball was snapped and fielded by holder Brian Moorman, and while the kicker took the rest of the play off, Moorman simply stood up and lobbed a pass to Denney in the end zone. The Bills went up 27-10 and would go on to win the game, while the Hawks spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out if Denney was actually a Predator.

The nail in the coffin

Perhaps there's something in the water in Seattle that makes people super-trusting, but for whatever reason the Seahawks' most egregious slip-up came when it mattered the most, in Super Bowl 40 against the Steelers. Antwaan Randle El, a very good receiver who happened to play QB in college, had scored on the Browns earlier in the season on a play designed to exploit that particular skill — the "Fake-39 Toss X-Reverse Pass," which is as tricky as it sounds — and Pittsburgh decided that the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl was as good a time as any to give it another shot.

Up by four with about nine minutes left, the Steelers lined up at the Seattle 43. Randle El got the ball on a reverse, but he didn't appear very interested in getting down the field. Instead, he zeroed in on receiver Hines Ward — another former college QB, weirdly enough — and hit him with a perfect pass, which Ward hauled in near the 5 before skipping merrily into the end zone. Pittsburgh went up 21-10, which would be the game's final score, and Seattle was left wondering if "seahawk" actually means "sucker" in some other language.

The ol' hook and ladder

In 2003, the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos were a couple of middling teams locked in a middling contest near the (you guessed it) middle of the season. Although they were 5-0, the Vikings had opened the season with a schedule softer than Queen Elizabeth's toilet paper, and the 5-1 Broncos were hurting with starting QB Jake Plummer sidelined. Tied at 7 as the first half was coming to a close, the Vikings' star receiver Randy Moss decided that a bit of razzle-dazzle was in order, with a little help from his friends.

Taking the snap from his own 41 yard line, Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper was given all the time in the world by his offensive line. After taking ten minutes to eat lunch, Culpepper rolled right and looked ready to scramble before he up and launched a rainbow pass down the field to Moss, who grabbed it in the vicinity of the Broncos' 10. Two Denver defenders wrapped him up, but Moss was ready. He nonchalantly flipped the ball over his right shoulder to sprinting running back Moe Williams, who fielded it cleanly and waltzed in untouched for the go-ahead score. This is what's known as a "hook and ladder" play, and it had been done before — notably by Marino's Dolphins in a 1982 playoff game. But as he was wont to do, Moss made it look smooth.

The Music City Miracle

The trick play that broke the hearts of Bills fans forever happened with 16 seconds left in a 2000 AFC Wild Card game between Buffalo and Tennessee. Up 12-0 at the half, the Titans had endured a furious comeback attempt by the Bills, with a pair of Antowain Smith rushing touchdowns putting Buffalo up 13-12 early in the fourth quarter. (A two-point conversion attempt on the second TD failed; this will become important.) A Tennessee field goal made it 15-13 just after the two-minute warning, but Buffalo drove down the field and kicked one of their own to go up by 1 with seconds left on the clock.

Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the line drive kickoff near the Tennessee 25, and that's when it all went pear-shaped for the Bills. Neal lateraled to tight end Frank Wychek, who stopped in his tracks, took aim, and "lateraled" the ball halfway across the field, into the waiting arms of receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson, with no defenders anywhere near him, sprinted 75 yards to paydirt as time expired. After taking all afternoon to make sure the lateral had not in fact been a forward pass (it wasn't, by a hair), the referees declared the play legal, the touchdown good, and the game over. The Bills wouldn't return to the playoffs for 18 years, and the "Music City Miracle" instantly became part of Titans lore; never mention it to a Bills fan, unless you want "FORWARD PASS!" screamed at you for an hour.