NFL

The 10 Greatest Field Goals in NFL History: Where Does Jake Elliott Rank?

By Scott Kacsmar

It would be easy to say the best game of the NFL’s 2023 regular season just happened between the Bills and Eagles, a 37-34 overtime classic won by Philadelphia.

But the play that sent the game to overtime and really allowed it to be a memorable finish was the 59-yard field goal by Philadelphia kicker Jake Elliott. He has been clutch in his career and this was not the first time he’s made from long distance to win a game.

While Elliott’s latest kick saved the game for the Eagles, it was not the game-winning kick. But the degree of difficulty in rainy conditions with the game on the line makes it one of the best field goals ever.

That got us thinking, what are the greatest field goals in NFL history? Criteria should include the difficulty of the kick, the distance, the weather conditions, the importance of the game, the score and time left when the kick happened, and the aesthetics of the play.

We came up with the 10 greatest field goals in NFL history, and yes, Elliott is making the list. There is not a recency bias to the list as much as there has been a clear improvement in how good kickers are today compared to past decades. A 50-yard field goal used to be worse than a coin flip, but kickers make them look routine now.

Elliott’s kick was the 15th in NFL history from 59-plus yards to tie or win a game in the fourth quarter or overtime. Fourteen of those 15 kicks have happened since 2006. That’s why our list is dominated by kickers from the 21st century.

10. Jake Elliott (2017 Eagles): 61 Yards vs. Giants in Week 3

We told you Elliott was making the list, but did you forget that he beat the 2017 Giants with a 61-yard field goal at the buzzer?

In what became a Super Bowl-winning season for Philadelphia, 5th-round rookie kicker Jake Elliott made his mark in Week 3 when he made a 61-yard field goal to sneak the Eagles past the Giants and avoid overtime in a 27-24 win.

Elliott had already made a 46-yard field goal to tie the game with 51 seconds left. After quickly getting the ball back, the Eagles gave Elliott a shot from distance to win the game and the rookie delivered.

At the time, the Eagles were 1-1 and who knows what could have happened against Eli Manning if the game went to overtime. Elliott helped put the Eagles on a path to a great season, and it wouldn’t be the last time he did that.

9. Graham Gano (2018 Panthers): 63 Yards vs. Giants in Week 5

It was only a Week 5 game between teams that would go on to finish with losing records, but Graham Gano tied what used to be the NFL record for the longest game-winning field goal in history when he made a 63-yard field goal to beat the Giants.

This is one of just four field goals in NFL history that won a game in a situation where the team was trailing and only seconds remained in the game. The Panthers may have squandered the kick by finishing 7-9, but it was still the best kick of Gano’s career.

We have it higher than Elliott’s 2017 kick because this came with a deficit and a miss would have meant a loss. Elliott would have just gone to overtime if he missed.

8. Adam Vinatieri (2001 Patriots): 48 Yards vs. Rams in Super Bowl 36

It seems funny to rank the only walk-off game-winning field goal in Super Bowl history at No. 8, but that’s just because Adam Vinatieri made it look so easy. Like Justin Tucker, Vinatieri tends to put the game winners right down the middle. No doubt about them.

To cap off the Patriots’ upset win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36, Vinatieri calmly drilled the 48-yard field goal to break a 17-17 tie and give the Patriots a 20-17 win to begin their path to winning six Super Bowls over the next 18 years.

It should be noted that calling this a walk-off kick is generous since for some reason the kick took 7 seconds off the clock to end the game. You can see it clearly go through with 2 seconds left, but the clock ran out on the Rams, and one hopeful dynasty died while another was born.

The ease of the kick by Vinatieri was in sharp contrast to what would have been the biggest field goal in Super Bowl history when Scott Norwood was wide right from 47 yards out as the Buffalo Bills lost 20-19 to the 1990 Giants in Super Bowl 25. That missed kick also benefitted Bill Belichick, who was the defensive coordinator of the Giants. This time he had the best clutch kicker on his side and Vinatieri delivered for him from 48 yards out, which wasn’t as automatic in 2001 as it is today.

Two years later, Vinatieri beat the Panthers in Super Bowl 38 with a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. But Super Bowl 36 remains the only Super Bowl to end on the final play with a game-winning field goal.

7. Greg Zuerlein (2018 Rams): 57 Yards at Saints in NFC Championship Game

The controversial finish to the 2018 NFC Championship Game in New Orleans was the defensive pass interference penalty that was not called on the Rams after the 2-minute warning. Had that been called, the Saints would have used most of the clock to kick a short field goal and win 23-20 to advance to the Super Bowl.

Instead, the Rams had time to answer, and Jared Goff led the offense down the field to set up kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein from 48 yards out. He made the kick to force overtime where the defense intercepted Drew Brees on a tipped ball.

But the Rams stalled after one first down and faced a tough decision on 4th-and-7. Head coach Sean McVay trusted his strong-legged kicker to deliver from 57 yards out, and Zuerlein rewarded him with a clean kick to win the game 26-23:

The controversy over the uncalled penalty and the fact that the Rams lost the Super Bowl that year covered up how impressive that field goal was. If Zuerlein missed from 57 yards, Brees was going to take over at midfield, only needing a field goal to win for the Saints. That was a fantastic kick.

But yes, it should have been pass interference on the Rams and this ending would have looked much different. We also would have gotten a way better Super Bowl as the 13-3 dud between New England and the Rams was one of the worst ever played.

6. Matt Prater (2013 Broncos): 64 Yards vs. Titans in Week 14

You could call this the Denver selection as former Broncos kicker Matt Prater had several impressive makes from long distance in his career. But playing in Denver at Mile High with the altitude does give the kickers a boost from long distance.

That helps explain why Denver kicker Jason Elam tied the old NFL record in 1998 after making a 63-yard field goal before halftime. It gave the Broncos a 27-10 lead, so the pressure wasn’t really there to end the half, but that was a great kick.

Matt Prater did him one better in 2013 for the record-setting Denver offense. In a Week 14 game against Tennessee, the Broncos were trailing 21-17 when Prater established a new record with a 64-yard field goal to make it 21-20 at the half. Denver stormed back to win 51-28, no doubt getting a boost from that record-setting kick, the only one on our list that was before the fourth quarter.

But you could argue Prater’s most clutch kick was in 2011 when Denver hosted Chicago. Fueling the crazy run of close wins with Tim Tebow at quarterback, Prater made a 59-yard field goal to force overtime (sound familiar?), then he hit a 51-yard field goal to win the game 13-10 in overtime.

Finally, to prove he wasn’t all about the Denver altitude, Prater made a 59-yard field goal to break a 27-27 tie with Washington while he played with Detroit in 2020. That game was played indoors, but it was still a great kick to win the game, and one of just 11 game-winning field goals in NFL history from 59-plus yards.

5. Jake Elliott (2023 Eagles): 59 Yards vs. Bills in Week 12

Here we go from Sunday’s game, putting Elliott on the list twice. While not the game-winning kick, it was a game-saving play that looks more impressive when you add the context before the kick happened.

First, we saw Buffalo kicker Tyler Bass really struggle with the rainy conditions in this game. He had a 34-yard field goal blocked and missed another from 48 yards. We had only seen Elliott make his extra points in the game, but this was going to be his first field goal attempt of the game.

The sequence before the kick sure cast some doubt on Philadelphia winning this game. All-Pro center Jason Kelce had a rare false start, Jalen Hurts narrowly avoided a fumble on an incomplete pass, Hurts only gained 3 yards on a designed run that closed up quickly, Kelce had a second false start, and Hurts’ pass to A.J. Brown on 3rd-and-17 was knocked down, meaning Elliott was going to have to make this from 59 yards out to continue the game.

The odds were not looking good, but Elliott has never blown an opportunity like this in his career, and he made sure this wasn’t going to be the first clutch miss on his resume. He snuck the kick through the upright and the game was tied with 20 seconds left. The Eagles eventually won in overtime after Hurts rushed for a walk-off touchdown.

It remains to be seen what the long-lasting effects are from this field goal and this win. But it could eventually lead to another No. 1 seed for the Eagles, which could set them up well for a return to the Super Bowl. Maybe they win it all like they did in 2017, the year Elliott made from 61 yards against the Eagles in our No. 10 greatest field goal.

It also could be the kick that led to the end of the Sean McDermott era in Buffalo. The Bills went from looking like they’d get a season-saving win to possibly missing the playoffs entirely now. The coach is not likely to survive that as the Bills now lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter and overtime.

This one was thanks to an incredible, top five field goal.

4. Matt Bryant (2006 Buccaneers): 62 Yards vs. Eagles in Week 7

The Eagles have not always been on the right side of history when it comes to clutch field goals. In 2006, the Eagles were a 6-point favorite against Tampa Bay but found themselves down 17-0. They thought they pulled off an improbable comeback after Brian Westbrook went 52 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, but the Bucs still had 33 seconds to work with.

Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski moved the offense 20 yards before only seconds remained in a 21-20 game. It was going to have to be a 62-yard field goal attempt by journeyman kicker Matt Bryant, who was already with his fifth NFL team.

But Bryant had just enough leg to get the ball over the crossbar for a game-winning field goal for the record books. You have to understand that at the time of this kick (October 2006) there had only been one other game-winning field goal from deeper than 58 yards in NFL history, and that happened back in 1970.

Bryant’s kick arguably gave the kickers of his era new hope in what they could do with the game on the line, and also on long-distance kicks in stadiums outside of Denver. Two months later in a December game between the Colts and Titans, kicker Rob Bironas hit a 60-yard field goal to win that game for Tennessee.

But Bryant’s kick was one of the greatest, and when he joined the Falcons in 2009, he was one of the game’s best clutch kickers.

3. Tom Dempsey (1970 Saints): 63 Yards vs. Lions in Week 8

You know we are going way back in time when the film is so grainy and you can barely make out the goal posts on the kick. But Saints kicker Tom Dempsey made history in 1970 when he kicked a 63-yard field goal to beat the Lions at Tulane Stadium.

Detroit was a 9-point favorite, but Dempsey’s fourth field goal of the day was the decisive one in a 19-17 final. It was the first time in NFL history anyone made a 60-yard field goal, and Dempsey made it from 63 yards at that to win the game. Prior to 1970, the longest made field goal in the NFL was 56 yards.

The NFL would not see another 60-yard field goal until Steve Cox made one for the 1984 Browns. But the record of 63 yards was not tied until Jason Elam did it for the 1998 Broncos, and Dempsey’s record was not broken until Matt Prater made from 64 yards for the 2013 Broncos. But out of those three kicks, only Dempsey’s was a walk-off game-winning field goal.

Adding to the lore of Dempsey’s kick was that he did it with a straight-toe style, which was eventually abandoned for soccer-style kicks. But in Dempsey’s case, he was born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand. He had to wear a special shoe for kicking, though analysis has shown it was not advantageous to him as a kicker to wear that.

Dempsey’s kick did modify rule changes to the kicking game. First, the goal posts were moved to the back of the end zone instead of standing in the end zone, adding 10 yards of distance to each kick. That is why Dempsey will likely go down as the only kicker in NFL history to make a field goal from behind his team’s 40-yard line. In 1977, the NFL also made a rule where any shoe worn by a kicker must have a normal kicking surface.

You could say Dempsey was a bit of a unicorn among kickers in his era. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie kicker in 1969, and in each of his first three seasons, he kicked the longest field goal in the NFL that season. But to give you a good sense of how far kicking has come since Dempsey, in 1971, he led the NFL with 70.6% of his field goals made (12-of-17).

In the 2022 NFL season, all 33 qualified kickers made at least 71.4% of their field goals, so Dempsey would have ranked dead last. But his record-setting kick is the all-time kicking highlight from the NFL’s old days.

2. Justin Tucker (2021 Ravens): 66 Yards at Lions in Week 3

Justin Tucker is so good that he could have made the top five twice with long, game-winning field goals in Detroit. He made a 61-yard game-winning field goal to beat the Lions in 2013. But we have tortured the Lions enough on this list already, so we’ll just keep it to Tucker’s best kick.

In Week 3 of the 2021 season, the Ravens were giving us a taste of the team they’d become with the way they blow leads too frequently. Detroit had just taken a 17-16 lead, but Lamar Jackson had a minute left to set up Tucker, the best to ever do it.

But after taking a pair of sacks, Jackson had to convert a 4th-and-19 with a wild play to Sammy Watkins for 36 yards. That only left time for a spike, and then Jackson threw incomplete with 3 seconds left at the Detroit 48. Going with Tucker was the only real option at that point. It was a record 66-yard field goal, which was going to beat Matt Prater’s record by a full 2 yards.

Tucker got the fortunate bounce over the crossbar, and history was made with that 66-yard field goal to win the game. It is the longest field goal period and the longest game-winning field goal in NFL history. Good luck to anyone topping that kick. If someone does, it could be Tucker himself.

1. Adam Vinatieri (2001 Patriots): 45 Yards vs. Raiders in AFC Divisional (Tuck Rule Game)

The greatest field goal in NFL history only tied a game. But without it, the NFL would not be the same in the 21st century.

In a game that became immediately infamous for The Tuck Rule, it was Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal in the snow that saved a championship season for the Patriots, and it was the foundation for the career legacies for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Where would the Patriots be had Vinatieri missed the kick with 27 seconds left? Instead of winning their first 10 playoff games together, Brady and Belichick would have had a one-and-done home playoff loss where the offense only scored 10 points, and Brady was fortunate to have his season-ending fumble overturned by a rule that no longer exists.

Belichick may have gone back to Drew Bledsoe for the 2002 season at that point. The dynasty in New England hinged on one incredible kick. Vinatieri also made a 23-yard field goal in overtime to win the game, but it was that 45-yard kick to extend the game that was the best of his career or any kicker’s career.

No other Super Bowl winner has ever relied on their kicker more to save the season than the 2001 Patriots did with Vinatieri, who made our list earlier for his 48-yard game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl that same postseason. Vinatieri’s kick here is the only one on our list that could have been the difference between a championship and no championship for that team. Had Jake Elliott missed against Buffalo the other day, the Eagles would still be 9-2 with a chance to do everything they want to this season. But Belichick and Brady put all their chips on Vinatieri to deliver, and he did with the greatest kick ever.

Belichick, also a historian of the game, has acknowledged it as the greatest kick ever. Vinatieri talked about the kick in 2018 and admitted the odds of making that one were extremely low. “It’s funny because after it happened people asked me if I had to [try] that kick 100 times how many times would I make it. I told them it was a 50-50 shot. I look back and go, ‘Who you kidding, that’s maybe a 10 percent shot if you’re lucky.”

No one combined luck with skill quite like those 2000s Patriots, and they all owe respect to the player who delivered the greatest field goal ever.

Conclusion: Expect More Long Kicks to Win Games

As we have shown above, long game-winning field goals have become roughly a yearly occurrence since 2006. Kickers are better than ever at kicking from 40, 50, and even 60-plus yards. But there is always that question of how they will perform when the kick means the difference between winning and losing the game. Those kicks when the pressure is at its highest.

Kicker is largely a mental position where they are held to the harshest of standards when things do not go right. If we made a list of the most devastating missed field goals in NFL history, the plays would be the opposite of what we observed here with the greatest. They would be shorter, easier kicks that we were shocked to see the kicker missed.

It is hard to impress physically at the kicker position. You basically have to nail a long, clutch kick in bad weather like Vinatieri and Elliott did. If they missed it, rational people should understand why. But this is why holding up mentally is one of the most important things for a kicker to do following a big miss.

As our list has shown, few have ever been able to rise above a dire situation and make a jaw-dropping kick that was anything but routine to help win a game. But Elliott did that on Sunday to help create one of the regular season’s fantastic finishes, and it was worth taking some time to put that field goal in proper context for history.

You just don’t see many like that.

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