If you’re a wide receiver in the NFL, you spend 90 percent of the game running up and down the sidelines, sometimes for no reason at all. Your quarterback might not even be looking for you half the time. But when he does, it’s your job to do something with it. These guys all capitalized on their one chance when it really mattered. Here are the greatest one-catch performances in NFL history.
No. 5 Brandon Stokley
Week 1, 2009. Cincinnati led by one with just under a minute left. Denver had the ball on its own 13-yard line. Second and 10. What happened next was equal parts ridiculous and completely preventable. Not only was it Stokley’s only catch of the day, it was the only touchdown pass in the game. And it should have never happened, as safety Roy Williams pointlessly tackled Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall instead of going for the ball. Not surprising that this happened to the Bengals, but they ended up winning the AFC North and went to the playoffs for just the third time in 19 seasons.
No. 4 Eddie Bell
Oct. 22, 1972. The Jets were down three in the fourth quarter when Joe Namath produced another startling defeat of the Baltimore Colts. This time, his weapon was a ninth-round draft pick named Eddie Bell, a 5-10 receiver from Idaho State. Namath completed just five passes all day but two were touchdowns, including the winner to Bell on an 83-yarder. Bell played six seasons in the NFL, hauling in 118 catches for 1,774 yards
and 12 touchdowns. His birthday is Sept. 13 -- the same date as the Stokley catch.
No. 3 Cedric Tillman
Dec. 6, 1992. Another Bronco cracks the list, only this time in a losing effort. Facing the 11-2 Cowboys, the Broncos were 7-6 and fighting to stay alive in the AFC playoff race. Down by four in the fourth quarter, Tillman -- an 11th-round pick from Alcorn State -- caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from fellow receiver Arthur Marshall to give the Broncos a 27-24 lead. But then Emmitt Smith punched in the winning touchdown from three yards out for a 31-27 Dallas win. The Broncos missed the playoffs. Tillman played three seasons with Denver and one with the expansion Jaguars in 1995. He finished his career with 87 receptions, 1,227 yards and seven touchdowns.
No. 2 Percy Howard
Super Bowl X. Howard's story is astonishing. He played basketball only at Austin Peay. He made the Cowboys roster in training camp in 1975 and his only statistical contributions during the regular season were two kickoff returns totaling 51 yards. But late in Super Bowl X, with the Steelers up 21-10, Howard found himself on the field when one of the Cowboys’ top receivers, Golden Richards, broke a rib. And on the first play after the two-minute warning, Roger Staubach threw a 34-yard strike to a wide-open Howard in the left corner of the end zone. The touchdown -- the only reception of Howard's career -- got the Cowboys within four and gave them a chance to win when Pittsburgh turned the ball over on downs with 1:22 left in the game. Staubach’s last two throws were incomplete passes in the end zone intended for Howard, who was cut from the Cowboys the following year and never caught on with another team.
No. 1 John Taylor
Super Bowl XXIII. The Bengals, a seven-point underdog, led 16-13 late in the fourth quarter against Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the 49ers. It only took Montana 2:35 to march 92 yards and find an unlikely hero. In a game where Jerry Rice put up a Super Bowl record 215 yards by catching 11 passes -- one for a touchdown -- Montana turned to a receiver who had set some marks of his own during the game. John Taylor had averaged 18.7 yards per punt return, returning one punt 45 yards and totaling 56 punt return yards for the game, all Super Bowl records at the time. And with the Bengals defense keying on Rice, Montana found Taylor on a quick slant in the back of the end zone to put the 49ers up, 20-16. The catch jumpstarted Taylor’s career, which was previously spent returning punts and kickoffs. In the following season he had 60 receptions for 1,077 yards, and his 10 touchdowns ranked fourth in the NFL. This catch also gave him the honor of being the last receiver to catch a touchdown pass in an NFL game coached by Walsh, who retired after the game.