During the 2011 regular season, NFL teams ran 32,569 plays from scrimmage. Referees called 3,288 penalties. That means that a penalty was called on roughly one out of every ten plays.
The plays that caused a yellow flag to hit the turf, for the most part, didn’t count. Sure, a few types of penalties get applied after the result of a play. Most penalties, however, nullify the previous play. These penalties create “phantom” plays that, according to the statistics, never actually happened.
But, they did happen. Everyone in the stadium saw them. Everyone watching at home saw them. Just because they don’t get entered into the official statistics doesn’t mean that they didn’t involve outstanding athletic feats or ingenious play design.
Below is a list of 2011′s best plays that didn’t actually count.
In one of the dumbest plays of the 2011 season, Texans safety Danieal Manning blocked a field goal attempt by the Steelers’ Shaun Suisham and then unnecessarily shoved holder Daniel Sepulveda in the back, despite the fact that Sepulveda had no chance of catching Johnathan Joseph as he carried the blocked ball down the field for a would-be touchdown.
Yahoo!’s Shutdown Corner blog called it “one of the worst penalties you’ll ever see.” They aren’t wrong, but Manning’s great block deserves at least some of the attention that was given to his boneheaded penalty.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes weren’t on the same page for much of 2011–both on and off the field–but they connected on this beauty of a touchdown in Week 7. Holmes went airborne and stretched his body as far as humanly possible to haul in the pass by his fingertips, but the play was nullified by a Nick Mangold holding penalty.
The Raiders coaching staff called the perfect trick play during their team’s late December game against the Chiefs–their players just didn’t get it off in time. Raiders punter Shane Lechler took the snap on a long field goal attempt and then flipped the ball to tight end Brandon Myers, who sprinted down the field and into the end zone. The pretty play was called back due to a delay of game penalty.
Rookie wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin of the Chiefs made a ridiculous catch in his team’s Week 10 game against the Broncos. With Brian Dawkins all up in his face, Baldwin wrapped his arms around his opponent and caught the ball as he fell backwards to the ground. Dawkins was, of course, called for pass interference. The Chiefs were also penalized on the play, however–they were called for illegal formation. The offsetting penalties meant that the result of the play didn’t count and a catch of the year candidate was wiped off the board.
This play is so beautiful that it’s almost impossible to describe. Aaron Rodgers, the opposing quarterback that evening, called it “the most incredible play I’ve ever seen.” It’s also so puzzling that it will make you furious. Late in a game that the Bears were losing–a game that they had no realistic chance of winning–coach Lovie Smith called in what was probably the best decoy punt return play ever conceived.
Dangerous returner Devin Hester was back on the play and he acted as though he was going to field the ball at the near sideline. All of the Packers defenders converged on Hester. There was just one problem: the ball was actually kicked to the far sideline, where Johnny Knox was standing. Knox caught the punt and ran straight up the sideline for an uncontested touchdown.
The play was called back due to a ridiculously ticky-tack holding penalty and one was left to wonder why the Bears used up the best trick they had up their sleeve–perhaps the greatest trick play in NFL history–in a game that was already lost instead of saving it fot a more opportune time.