Everyone loves a fumble return touchdown, unless your team is conceding one. Here is a list of the longest fumble return touchdowns in NFL history.
Defensive touchdowns are the most exciting plays in NFL games. With the offense and defense separated, it feels like only one side should be scoring. When that is flipped on its head, it’s a thrilling moment.
And if an interception return touchdown is the platonic ideal of a defensive touchdown, the fumble recovery is its chaotic cousin. Often, it’s hard to realize instantly that a fumble even happened, and harder still to see who recovered the ball. And while defensive players are often better served just diving on top of the ball to ensure possession, some take a chance at glory and take off with it running. And when it works out, most people are left wondering what just happened.
To honor football’s ode to anarchy, here are the 10 longest fumble return touchdowns in NFL history.
Longest Fumble Return Touchdowns, NFL History
T1. 104 yards – Jack Tatum (Oakland Raiders), Sept. 24, 1972
There have been three times that a player has returned a fumble more than 100 yards, and the first of these occurrences was Jack Tatum in 1972.
In a game between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders, Packers’ quarterback Scott Hunter tossed a pitch to his running back MacArthur Lane from the five-yard line. Lane couldn’t handle the pitch and booted the ball into the end zone.
Enter Tatum, who scooped up the ball and, with no other Packer on the right side of the field, was able to easily take it 104 yards for the score. The score turned the tide of the game, giving the Raiders a 10-7 lead in a game they’d eventually win 20-14. Tatum would go on to make three Pro Bowl teams in his 10-year career, while retaining an NFL record that’s only been tied since.
T1. 104 yards – Aeneas Williams (Arizona Cardinals), Nov. 5, 2000
Aeneas Williams tied Tatum for the longest fumble return TD in 2000, and the record still hasn’t been broken. Williams’ return came on a more traditional fumble for Arizona Cardinals’ running back Stephen Davis, who lost the ball just before getting to the end zone for a touchdown. Williams picked it up and had to force a couple of Arizona players to miss him before taking it all the way for a touchdown.
Like Tatum’s return, the play proved a key moment in the game as Arizona defeated Washington 16-15. A Hall of Fame inductee in 2014, Williams made the Pro Bowl in seven out of eight years from 1994-2001, with 2000 being the lone year he didn’t make it. Tying the record for longest fumble return TD was probably a nice consolation prize.
3. 102 yards – Travis Davis (Pittsburgh Steelers), Dec. 26, 1999
You don’t have to be a Pro Bowler like Tatum or Williams to return a fumble more than 100 yards. You just have to be in the right spot.
A year before Williams tied Tatum, Travis Davis of the Pittsburgh Steelers became the second player with a fumble return of greater than 100 yards. Fred Lane of the Carolina Panthers took a handoff on second-and-goal from the one-yard line but had the ball knocked out of his arms and into the air. It landed right in the lap of Davis, who started his run the other way before most of the Panthers even knew what was happening. His 102-yard score put the Steelers up 10-0 in a game Pittsburgh would go on to win 30-20.
It was the final year of Davis’ five-year career, and his only touchdown in the NFL. Coming just a day after Christmas, it was quite the parting present to be etched in NFL history.
T4. 100 yards – Chris Martin (Kansas City Chiefs), Oct. 13, 1991
The Kansas City Chiefs certainly had Oct. 13 circled on their schedule in 1991.
The Miami Dolphins were in town that day for an AFC West vs AFC East clash, months after beating the Chiefs 17-16 in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
In the first quarter of the rematch, the Dolphins were looking to tie the game at seven with a handoff to Sammie Smith at the two-yard line. But Smith fumbled one yard later, and Chris Martin picked up the ball right at the goal line and took it the other way for a score. The 14-point swing ignited a Chiefs blowout, as Kansas City would go on to win 42-7 and avenge their loss from the previous postseason.
T4. 100 yards – Bashaud Breeland (Kansas City Chiefs), Sept. 29, 2019
If you want confusion in your return touchdowns, then Bashaud Breeland’s return against the Detroit Lions is the play for you.
Kerryon Johnson took a handoff on first-and-goal from the one-yard line and was stopped by Xavier Williams short of the goal line. It looked like Johnson was tackled, but the ball came out before he was down. Breeland was one of the few open players who realized it and he dove into the pile, grabbed the ball, and took it the other way for a touchdown while most of the Lions and those on the sideline assumed the play was over.
The play gave the Chiefs a 20-13 lead in the third quarter, and they would end up winning 34-30, before going on to win Super Bowl LIV the following February. Breeland’s return in September 2019 had made the Chiefs the only team in the NFL with two fumble return touchdowns of 100+ yards in NFL history.
T6. 99 yards – Don Griffin (San Francisco 49ers), Dec. 23, 1991
Chicago Bears running back Mark Green flew too close to the sun, and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Don Griffin was the beneficiary.
Green tried to jump over a defender and lost the ball, which went right to Griffin. Griffin had several teammates alongside him as he coasted into the end zone for a score. The return was emblematic of the game, a 52-14 thrashing for San Francisco over Chicago. Unfortunately for the 49ers, the win in the last week of the season didn’t get them where they wanted to go, as they finished third in the NFC West at 10-6 and missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker.
T6. 99 yards – Adrian Wilson (Arizona Cardinals), Nov. 26, 2006
Adrian Wilson has the distinction of the longest fumble return TD in a loss, as his Cardinals lost 31-26 to the Minnesota Vikings despite Wilson’s heroics.
It was also an amusing return in that Wilson was behind the play. Chester Taylor had run past where Wilson was, but lost the ball on his way toward the end zone. The ball trickled back a yard, allowing the opportunistic Wilson to pick it up for a scoop and score.
T8. 98 yards – George Halas (Chicago Bears), Nov. 4, 1923
In a matchup of iconic player-coaches, George Halas and the Chicago Bears bested Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians.
The 98-yard return for Halas was the exclamation point on the Bears’ 26-0 win and the last touchdown scored in the game even though it was still the first half. It was the first of two fumble return touchdowns of Halas’s career.
T8. 98 yards – Toby Wright (Los Angeles Rams), Oct. 23, 1994
Even elite players can be on the wrong side of history, as Lorenzo Neal found out in 1994.
Neal, in his first full season with the New Orleans Saints, fumbled a handoff on second-and-goal from the one-yard line, and Toby Wright took it the other way for a touchdown to bring the Los Angeles Rams closer, as they trailed only 17-14 after the score. New Orleans would have the last laugh, though, as the Saints won the game 37-34.
The fumble wouldn’t define Neal’s career, as he would go on to make four Pro Bowls. Wright was a rookie, and the touchdown was the first of his career. He’d go on to have a defensive touchdown in each of the next two seasons as well.
T8. 98 yards – Greg Ellis (Dallas Cowboys), Oct. 3, 1999
Long before he won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007, Greg Ellis took advantage of some confusion on the Cardinals offensive side and took a fumble 98 yards for a score.
Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer looked like he didn’t know if he should hand the ball off or not and pulled it to try to run toward the end zone himself. He fumbled the ball and Ellis pounced on top of it. When no Cardinal touched him down, he got up and ran it the other way for one of his two career defensive touchdowns.
T8. 98 yards – Mike Patterson (Philadelphia Eagles), Sept. 24, 2006
Mike Patterson is perhaps the most unlikely player to have a long return touchdown on this list. The former Philadelphia Eagle was a 300-pound offensive lineman in 2006 when Frank Gore fumbled a ball near the end zone.
Patterson emerged from the wreckage with the football, and took advantage of a blocker out in front to take it 98 yards the other way. It was the only touchdown of Patterson’s career. He’s still catching his breath.
T8. 98 yards – Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati Bengals), Jan. 15, 2023
The longest fumble return TD in playoff history belongs to Sam Hubbard, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were playing the Baltimore Ravens, who were without star quarterback Lamar Jackson, in the wild-card round. But backup Tyler Huntley was playing well enough to have the game tied at 17 entering the fourth quarter.
The Ravens had third-and-goal at the one-yard line, and Huntley tried to jump over the pile and get the ball in the end zone. He didn’t reach far enough, though, and Logan Wilson knocked the ball loose. Hubbard took it the other way for the last score of the game for either team. Hubbard’s heroics helped the Bengals avoid a big upset loss, and it remains the longest fumble return TD in postseason history.