Five Toughest NFL Losses I’ve Ever Experienced

As a die-hard fan of two NFL teams, the Ravens and Cowboys, I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. On Christmas Day this year, I watched one of the lowest of lows as the Ravens wasted two leads to the Steelers. Where does this rank? It was bad, but there’s been worse.

  1. 2016 Week 16- Brown’s Reach Seals Pittsburgh Win

I didn’t expect the Ravens to reach the Super Bowl this year and I knew that we lost too many games that we should have won, but come into Week 16, the stakes were still win-and-in. Thanks to the elite Baltimore defense, the Ravens held the Steelers to only an opening drive touchdown in the first half, while the Ravens racked up field goal after field goal. By the fourth quarter, the Ravens had built a solid 20-10 lead and looked in position for a stunning victory.

I knew the Steelers would come back. It felt like the script was already written and the Ravens were set up to collapse. And sure enough, Pittsburgh answered with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and took a 24-20 lead. Steeler running back Le’Veon Bell cut through the vaunted Baltimore defense like a knife through butter, while the Ravens’ offense stalled. I thought the Ravens had collapsed.

Then, Joe Flacco led the Ravens down the field in a slow but sure 14-play drive that was capped off by Kyle Juszczyk’s diving rushing touchdown to give the Ravens the lead with just over a minute left. All the Ravens needed was the league’s best defense to make one last defensive stop.

Instead, Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers kept driving down the field until they reached the Baltimore 4-yard line with 14 seconds left and no timeouts. All the Ravens needed was to stop Pittsburgh in bounds, and when Antonio Brown caught the ball on the one yard line and was met by the two best Raven defenders, Eric Weddle and CJ Mosley, it looked like the game was over. Until Brown gave one last push and reached over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.

Flacco was intercepted on the last-ditch attempt, finalizing an epic collapse by the Ravens. This loss really hurt, not only because the Ravens were so close but it felt like the game was lost in the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking way.

  1. Super Bowl XLIII– Santonio Holmes’ Corner Catch

No, neither the Cowboys nor Ravens were in Super Bowl XLIII in Florida, but after the Steelers topped Baltimore in the 2008 AFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl, coupled with Arizona’s unlikely and historic run to the Super Bowl, I was an all-out Arizona Cardinal fan for one day. They had the ultimate underdog story in quarterback Kurt Warner, my favorite player in the league in the amazing Larry Fitzgerald, and were pitted against the Ravens’ hated rivals.

Pittsburgh took a 17-7 halftime lead by virtue of linebacker James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six, but Arizona rallied with 16 unanswered points to open the fourth quarter and took a 23-20 lead. Fitzgerald scored two stellar touchdowns, including a 64-yard strike, and the Cardinals looked to put the heavily favored Steelers away.

Big Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers for one last championship drive and suddenly, with under a minute, Pittsburgh was on the Arizona six yard line. This sounds familiar…. Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket and fired a pass to Santonio Holmes, who was immediately pushed out of bounds. In real time, the catch looked incomplete. On replay, it was clear that Holmes somehow got both feet down in bounds and retained possession, giving the Steelers the lead for good and Pittsburgh its sixth Super Bowl ring.

As an 8-year old watching the game tape delay the next morning, I was devastated, so much so that I broke down in tears the next day at school.

  1. 2009 NFC Divisional- Vikings Obliterate Cowboys

The Ravens reached the playoffs the first six years I was a fan of them, but the Cowboys always had a bit more trouble reaching the postseason. Then, Dallas finally reached the playoffs, propelled by the league’s second best offense in terms of yardage and second-best defense in terms of points. The Cowboys won their first playoff game in the 21st century by beating the Eagles, setting up a divisional matchup against Brett Favre’s Vikings that could have put the Cowboys on the edge of the Super Bowl.

Instead, the Cowboys got whupped. Sidney Rice caught two touchdown passes in the first half and host Minnesota led 17-3 at halftime. The Vikings turned the game into a blowout with a 17-point fourth quarter and sent the Cowboys home with a 34-3 loss.

A blowout may not seem like the most gut-wrenching of losses, but this was a special Dallas team and they had multiple opportunities to climb back in. It wasn’t until five years later that I’d see them in the playoffs again.

  1. 2014 NFC Divisional- Dez’s No-Catch

Five years later, the Cowboys rode into the playoffs on the back of running back DeMarco Murray and one of the league’s best offensive lines. They edged out the Detroit Lions and moved onto Green Bay, where the Packers were undefeated at home that season and Super Bowl favorites.

The underdog Cowboys stayed stride for stride with the Packers and held a 14-10 halftime lead via two Tony Romo touchdown passes. Green Bay cut it to one in the third quarter, but Dallas added another touchdown to go up eight. NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers responded with two touchdown passes to give the Packers a five-point lead with just nine minutes remaining, the Cowboys had one last chance to salvage their season.

DeMarco Murray started the drive off with a 30-yard rush and Romo added two passes to get the Cowboys in Green Bay territory. With fourth and two at Green Bay’s 32-yard line, the Cowboys dialed up one of the gutsiest calls in playoff history- a deep pass to All Pro receiver Dez Bryant.

What happened next sparked one of the biggest controversies in NFL history. Romo launched a perfect throw to Bryant in single-coverage. Bryant leaped over defender Sam Shields, caught the ball, and landed on the ground. The ball popped out, but Bryant grabbed it again and the officials ruled Bryant down at the one-yard line.

The catch was overturned on review due to the controversial catch rule. Since Bryant didn’t maintain possession of the ball until the ground, the pass was ruled incomplete, even though Bryant appeared to have possession while he was going down. The result was a turnover on downs and the Cowboys never had another chance to score, losing 26-21. After seeing the Ravens lose two 14-point leads and then Dallas collapse, I went up to my room and didn’t come out for a while.

  1. 2011 AFC Championship– Cundiff kicks wide left

The worst of the worst. The Ravens made the playoffs every year and fielded a Super Bowl-caliber team annually. 2011 seemed like the year the Ravens would finally break through. Their road to the Super Bowl, as always, ran through New England and Tom Brady.

At first, the battle for the AFC was a defensive battle. The Patriots struck first with a field goal in the first half, but Baltimore responded with a field goal off a Brady interception. The teams traded touchdowns and Stephen Gostkowski made a 35-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 13-10 advantage heading into halftime.

The Ravens battled back in the second half, scoring on a Torrey Smith touchdown and field goal to go up 20-16 in the third quarter. Tom Brady’s fourth-down touchdown leap gave the Patriots a 23-20 lead and was followed by a Joe Flacco interception and a turnover on downs.

Baltimore had one last chance with under two minutes remaining. Four Flacco tosses to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens to the Patriots’ 10, and the Ravens were thinking touchdown. But on third down, Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone and Baltimore reverted to a Billy Cundiff 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left. It seemed automatic.

Instead, Cundiff’s kick was off the mark, veering wide left. I couldn’t believe it. The Ravens couldn’t believe it. One play later, the Ravens were out of the playoffs via the most heartbreaking loss I’d ever experienced. Ray Lewis promised that they’d be back and more motivated the next year. And the next year, they won Super Bowl XLVII.

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