We live in strange times, evidenced by the fact that the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are two of the most exciting teams in the NFL. Their game on Sunday lived up to the (genuine, nonsarcastic) hype, with the franchises’ young quarterbacks trading highlight reel touchdowns in the final minute. First, Buffalo’s Josh Allen found Stefon Diggs in the end zone with 34 seconds left to give the Bills a 30–26 lead.
“That’s the best play I’m going to see all day,” you may have said at that moment. “Time to turn the television off and spend some time with my loved ones.”
You idiot! You fool! You absolute moron!
Arizona’s Kyler Murray still had half a minute to work his magic, and the second-year quarterback tossed up a 43-yard prayer that gave the Cardinals a 32–30 win at the death.
It should have been a problem for the Cardinals that they only had one player in the end zone. Given that the player was DeAndre Hopkins, it didn’t end up being an issue. Nor did it matter that Hopkins was surrounded by three Buffalo defenders. The man’s hands are industrial vacuums with vise grip hose attachments. (A worthless invention for your home but an invaluable trait for a wide receiver.)
All Hail Mary catches are special, but Hopkins’ grab stands out even among the standouts. Go ahead and try to be hyperbolic about it. You’ll just wind up sounding sensible.
That claim—that it’s the best or most impressive Hail Mary grab ever—is worth chewing on. It immediately reminded me of this 2013 catch by the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson.
Aesthetically it was very similar, what with Johnson shrugging off triple coverage, but the stakes were much, much lower. Johnson’s catch came at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Lions actually lost the game. It was, like so many of Megatron’s heroic moments, spoiled by the very existence of the Detroit Lions.
If you want high stakes, then we must include Aaron Rodgers’ last-second heave to Jeff Janis against the Cardinals in the 2016 playoffs. Like Murray, Rodgers had to roll out and escape pressure before finding his receiver.
But Janis had to out-jump only two defenders, not three. And the touchdown wasn’t a walk-off winner. It merely forced an overtime period, and the Packers lost, 26–20.
The Rodgers touchdown might not have even been the best Hail Mary of 2016. That honor goes to Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, whose 43-yard miracle heave to Jauan Jennings gave the Volunteers a stunning 34–31 victory over Georgia.
Like Murray’s effort on Sunday, Dobbs’ pass came after the other team took a late lead with an incredible touchdown of its own. It’s the rare kind of play that not only wins the game but also manages to erase your opponents’ highlights from the face of the earth. How satisfying.
Whether you think Tennessee’s Hail Mary was better than the Cardinals’ is a matter of personal preference. Or, you may refuse to compare them because you respect the sanctity of, er, amateurism. In that case, take a gander at the NFL’s 2015 list of the 10 best Hail Marys in league history.
Where does Hopkins’ rank? Certainly higher than No. 2 on the list, the Seahawks’ infamous replacement ref–assisted “Fail Mary,” which wasn’t even a catch. The top pick is Brett Favre’s pass to Greg Lewis back when Favre played for the Vikings. Lewis’ tiptoeing at the back of the end zone was neat, but was it more impressive than Hopkins’ towering grab over six outstretched hands?
Probably not. Six is a whole lotta hands.