Worst Sports Chokes of the Last Decade


Photo Source: Timothy Clary, Bleacher Report

Ava DiBurro, Writer

Early exits in the playoff season are no fun, but it is even worse for teams who are favored to win it all. These almost miraculous seasons end without a celebration, unhappy players, fans, and bettors. It makes people wonder, how many games are decided by one play? What’s the difference between winning it all or it being the end of someone’s career? Are sports scripted or is it just bad luck? 

A choke is being favored to win it all and losing in the first round. A choke is giving up a 20 point lead in a football game. A choke is leading the series 3-1 and then losing the remaining games. A choke is making a mistake at the most crucial point in the game, and ultimately ends up being the play that changed the outcome of the game. 


Top 5 Biggest Chokes of the Last Decade 

5. 2022/2023 Boston Bruins Season

In the preseason rankings, the Bruins were not even in the top ten teams who were favored to win the Stanley Cup. However, they managed to bring back veteran players Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and made a trade for Tyler Bertuzzi. Although there were bumps along the road, the Bruins managed to make history with the most regular season wins with 65 and securing the number one seed heading into the playoffs. 

Playoffs is where the disaster began. In round one, leading the Florida Panthers 3-1 heading into game five, the Bruins had a chance to end the series. Yet, they failed to score first and were coming from behind all game, just to lose in overtime. The narrative continued, having to play catch up in game six resulted in another loss, and in game seven, the Panthers came from behind in overtime to end the Bruins season.

The worst part of the Bruins season is that it just may be Patrice Bergeron’s last.

Main reason for losing: The Bruins goalies lacked an identity in net.

Photo Source: John Tlumacki, Globe Staff


4. 2015 Michigan Football loses to Michigan State

Just over midfield, 4th and 2, ten seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. Michigan punter Blake O’Neil had one job to do: punt the ball away cleanly. One simple play goes wrong twice. O’Neil fumbled the snap and by the time he gained control of the ball, he fumbled again, this time right to Jalen Watts-Jackson of Michigan State. Watts returned the fumble 38 yards for a touchdown. Game over. Michigan was ten seconds away from beating undefeated Michigan State, yet they ended up losing to their rival. 

Watch the full play here

Main reason for loss: Lots of penalties, lack of offensive efficiency, and a turnover at a critical point in the game.  

Photo Source: ESPN

3. 2016 Golden State Warriors could not finish the job in NBA Finals 

The 2016 season started well for the Warriors; setting an NBA regular season record of seventy-three wins and nine losses was historic. Except nobody remembers the history they made, but rather the championship they gave up. 

Up 3-1 against Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, the Larry O’Brien Trophy was in sight for the Warriors. The downfall for the warriors came at the end of their game four win. Draymound Green was issued a flagrant foul for unnecessary contact towards James in the final quarter of play. This was Green’s 4th flagrant foul of the playoffs, making him suspended for a close out game five. 

With the Warriors missing a core defensive piece in Green, the Cavaliers dominated game five. James and Kyrie Irving became the first two teammates to each score 40 plus points in an NBA Finals game.  

In game six, even with Green back, the Cavaliers marched out to a 20 point first quarter lead. The Warriors closed the gap late in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough. Game seven was on its way. 

The Warriors came out strong and held a seven point lead at halftime. Yet again, Cleveland closed the gap entering the fourth quarter. Each possiens in the 4th quarter was pivotal as only 25 combined points were scored in the fourth quarter between the two teams. Iconic plays from James (his chase-down block on Iguodala) and Irving’s clutch shot over Steph Curry, gave the Cavaliers a lead with less than a minute to go. Down two, Curry had a chance to win the game, but missed. It was Kevin Love’s outstanding defense that pushed Curry into taking a bad shot, ultimately sealing the comeback for Cleveland.  It was the first time ever that a team in the NBA Finals has blown a 3-1 lead.  

Watch the final minutes of Game 7 here

Main reason for loss: Little mistakes, and lack of consistency of a strong offense in the last three games of the series.

Photo Source: Ken Blaze, USAT

2. 2008 New England Patriots Almost Perfect Season

The Giants barely made the playoffs, the patriots were 17-0. It seemed almost a given that the Patriots would be 2008 Super Bowl Champs, but not unless the 12-point underdogs had anything to say about it. 

The game was predicted to be a high scoring one, yet it was not. The score was 7-3 Patriots, until the 4th quarter. 

The Giants had the ball on their own 20 with about two minutes to go, down four, three timeouts. The Patriots had multiple chances to stop the drive. They forced a fumble, and dropped multiple game-ending interceptions, they even forced a 4th and one, but ultimately failed to stop the Giants. On third down, three Patriots had their hands on quarterback Eli Manning, and it looked like an easy sack. Yet, Manning escaped the pocket and heaved the ball downfield which became the infamous helmet catch by David Tyree. 

The Giants scored the game winning touchdown with little time left on the clock. The game was over; Giants won 17-14. The number one scoring offensive of the season was held to fourteen points and their first loss of the season was the Super Bowl.

Watch the final two minutes of the game here

Main reason for loss: Failure to score offensively, and failure to make a play defensively when needed the most.    

Photo Source: Bernd Buchmasser, Pats Pulpit

1. 2017 Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl Loss

Leading by 25 points, with eighteen minutes to play, the Falcons were ready for their first ever Super Bowl win. Even their team owner came down from their seats at halftime in anticipation of receiving the Lombardi trophy. Instead, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history happened. 

It all went downhill for the Falcons with 8:31 minutes left of play. With a 28-12 lead, possession, a 3rd and one on their own 36 yard line, a pass play was called. Running back, Devonte Freeman did not recognize that Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower was blitzing until it was too late. He got a clean hit on quarterback Matt Ryan, forcing a fumble, in which the Patriots recovered. The Patriots, now with possession, scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion; the Falcons lead was now only eight points. 

Photo Source: Kevin Cox, Bleacher Report

Leading 28-20, the Falcons had another opportunity to close out the game. They orchestrated a strong drive that put them on the Patriots 22-yard line. Via, bleacher report, the following then happened:

  • Patriots safety Devin McCourty stopped Freeman for a one-yard loss. 
  • Patriots defensive lineman Trey Flowers sacked Ryan for a 12-yard loss.
  • Ryan connected with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for a nine-yard gain, but the play was called back due to a Jake Matthews holding penalty. 
  • Now out of field-goal range, Ryan failed to connect with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on 3rd-and-33.
  • Matt Bosher punted the ball to Julian Edelman with 3:38 left to play. 

Instead of taking a commanding 11-point lead, the Falcons gave the Patriots new life, and the rest is history. With a game-tying drive and an overtime game winning drive, Tom Brady became the first quarterback to win five super bowls, (now has six) while breaking many other records that night. Just like that, the iconic 28-3 meme was born.

Photo Source: Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal

Watch the game highlights here

Main reason for loss: Mental mistakes, penalties, and poor defensive effort when they needed a stop.

It is not often when the underdog wins, but when they do it makes a story of a lifetime. These games leave fans on their feet, or in extreme disappointment. It’s the best part of sports: any team can win on any given day.