Driving down the field to score in an NFL game is so difficult. There are so many different ways that a drive can be destroyed, from penalties to dropped passes to inspired play by an opposing defense. That is why turning the ball over in the red zone can be so devastating. All of the work a team puts into assembling a scoring drive can be wiped away in one moment. These are especially demoralizing to a team that fumbles the ball on the goal line, as mere inches separated the team from the end zone. These five goal-line fumbles were the most brutal in league history, as they changed the fortunes of the teams who suffered them or just humiliated those responsible.
5. Marcus Cooper - 2017
In the NFL, points are so valuable thanks to the quality of defenses that exist in the league. Failing to take advantage of a big opportunity can be gut-wrenching, as you never know when your offense will make it back down the field to score. But those missed opportunities hurt even more when a sure score is taken away in an embarrassing display at the goal line. That's what happened to the Chicago Bears in the 2017 regular season, when a blocked kick against the Pittsburgh Steelers yielded a field goal instead of a touchdown.
On what was supposed to be the final play of the half, the Bears blocked a kick into the hands of Marcus Cooper. Cooper had the Steelers special teams unit outrun with ease, until he slowed down about 10 yards short of the end zone. He never realized that there were players chasing him, and had the ball knocked out of his hands a yard away from a score. Due to an infraction by the Steelers after the fumble, the Bears were able to kick and field goal and ended up winning the game. But had they failed to close the deal, those four points left on the table from Cooper's humiliation at the goal line would have loomed large.
4. Derek Carr - 2017
The Oakland Raiders were a disappointment in 2017, failing to build on their playoff appearance from the year prior. But, late in the season, they looked poised to steal a win from the Dallas Cowboys while playing for pride at home. During a late-game drive, the Raiders had the ball in the red zone, and needed three yards on a third down play to keep a potential game-winning drive going. Then Derek Carr let the game slip through his fingers.
After gaining enough yardage to secure a first down, Carr decided that he wanted to go for it all, diving for the end zone and attempting to get his team a winning score. But he started his dive too far away from the goal line, and Dallas defender Jeff Heath was able to knock the ball out of his hands and into the end zone for a touchback. The play summed up the Raiders' frustrating season, but questions of why Carr would even consider diving for the goal line from that far away were what had fans chuckling when all was said and done.
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3. DeSean Jackson - 2008
One of the best receivers in Philadelphia Eagles history, DeSean Jackson was one of the best deep threats in the game in the late-2000s. And he showed how explosive he could be against the Dallas Cowboys in a rivalry game, when he beat the defense for what looked like a sure touchdown. The only problem was the fact that Jackson forgot something very important for scoring touchdowns. He forgot to bring the football into the end zone with him.
Instead of finishing the play, Jackson dropped the ball behind his back before he had reached the goal line. This resulted in the ball sitting harmlessly in the field of play, while officials mistakenly ruled the play a touchdown. After a Dallas challenge, the call was overturned, with the lack of a clear recovery of the ball giving possession to the Eagles from a yard away. And while the play didn't end up making the difference in the game, the act of just dropping the ball short of the goal line remains one of the most embarrassing moments a player could have.
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2. Leon Lett - 1993
Super Bowl XXVII was another notch on the belt of the Dallas Cowboys and one of four straight Super Bowl losses for the Buffalo Bills. But there was one moment that was so embarrassing for the Cowboys that it may have felt worse than a Super Bowl loss. The goal line fumble by Leon Lett is the worst example of a player showboating in league history, as it took place on the biggest stage in the sport with the world watching.
Lett scooped up a fumble and ran it back the length of the field, slowing down and holding the ball down low to show off on his way to the end zone. But Bills receiver Don Beebe ruined what Lett had surely thought would be a career highlight by tracking Lett down near the goal line and knocking the ball out of bounds for a touchback instead. The play didn't impact the Cowboys' title celebrations, but Lett surely had a sour taste in his mouth after letting that scoring opportunity get away.
1. Earnest Byner - 1987
The Cleveland Browns and success haven't always been synonyms, but the Browns found themselves in the AFC Championship Game in 1987 with a chance to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. They took on a tough Denver Broncos team that fought them to the very end. Unfortunately, the Browns couldn't win that fight to the end, after their star running back fumbled the ball at the very end of the field with the game on the line.
Workhorse back Earnest Byner fumbled the ball inside of the five-yard line in the final moments of their AFC title game loss, with the ball being stripped out of his hands despite his breaking several tackles on the run. Byner went on to continue a strong career after the play, but the Browns failed to reach those heights ever again, with The Fumble being remembered as a real turning point for the franchise. While this is likely the least embarrassing fumble on our list, it had the most severe impact on the team that lost it.