The last thing anyone wants is for a football game to drag on.
When it’s the fourth quarter and NFL teams like the Rams, Raiders, Cardinals, Cowboys Saints and Panthers are playing, all fans want to see is a good game that doesn’t interfere with the next slot of games. Keep it short and sweet, NFL players, because that window in between the early games and afternoon kickoff is the only chance we have to go grab some more snacks and beer.
The longest game in NFL history lasted over seven hours. But what was the shortest NFL game ever played, and when did it happen?
The Shortest Game in NFL History
San Diego Chargers 26, at Indianapolis Colts 19: 2 hours 29 minutes (1996)
On November 3rd, 1996, the Indianapolis Colts, led by Jim Harbaugh and Marshall Faulk, faced off against the San Diego Chargers in Indianapolis.
Despite both offenses possessing the ball for over 25 minutes, neither team managed to score more than one touchdown in a quarter. The Colts had five turnovers on the day with four interceptions coming from young Harbaugh. Colts receiver Marvin Harrison caught the only Indianapolis touchdown on the afternoon, a 9-yard toss from Harbaugh in the fourth quarter. The Harbaugh-Harrison connection was too little, too late, and the Colts fell to the Chargers, 19-26. The game began at 1 p.m. and was over by a tight 3:30 p.m.
In a game played in four 15-minute quarters (plus a 12-minute halftime), the average NFL game lasts three hours and seven minutes, according to research conducted in 2019. The 1996 Colts-Chargers came finished over half an hour quicker than the average, and it’s not the only one.
Other Notable Short NFL Games
The Colts-Chargers game ended 26-19, but the game was not as close as the score indicates. The Chargers led the entire game, which is a common theme in short professional football matches. Every shortest game since 1996 has either been a blowout, shutout or both.
Tennessee Titans 0, at Indianapolis Colts 23: 2 hours 33 minutes (2008)
On December 28, 2008, the Titans rolled into Indianapolis at 1 p.m. and left in shame by 3:45. Both teams lost early in the playoffs that season despite winning at least 12 games each.
Though neither team turned the ball over, the Colts had nearly 20 minutes more possession time than Tennessee. The Titans rebounded, finishing the season 13-3, before being bounced from the playoffs by the Ravens.
Atlanta Falcons 3, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37: 2 hours 34 minutes (2007)
Somehow, this isn’t Atlanta’s most embarrassing loss involving the number “3.”
The Atlanta Falcons traveled south to Tampa Bay on December 16th, 2007, and marched back on Atlanta before dinner. A Morten Andersen first-quarter field goal was all the Dirty Birds could muster while Jon Gruden’s Jeff Garcia-led Bucs pillaged and plundered. Tampa Bay lost in the postseason that year to the New York Giants while Atlanta drafted Matt Ryan.
Tennessee Titans 7, at Pittsburgh Steelers 34: 2 hours 35 minutes (2005)
On September 11, 2005, the Tennessee Titans football players traveled to play the AFC rivals Pittsburgh Steelers. By 4 p.m., they were glad it was over.
The Steelers had possession for 10 more minutes than the Titans and enjoyed zero turnovers to the Titans’ four. Both teams will make another appearance on this list. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl that year, defeating the Bengals, Colts, Broncos and Seahawks in the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins 0, at Pittsburgh Steelers 3: 2 hours 35 minutes (2007)
On November 26, 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Miami Dolphins to one stinker of a game.
Despite having nearly 10 minutes more possession time, the Steelers only managed to squeak out one field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed scored the game’s only points. The Steelers lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card that season while the Dolphins went 1-15.
Jacksonville Jaguars 7, at New England Patriots 35: 2 hours 36 minutes (2009)
At 1 p.m. on December 27, 2009, the Jacksonville Jaguars strutted into Boston. By 3:45 the same afternoon, they slinked away with their tails between their legs.
On a day marked by four Tom Brady touchdowns and zero interceptions, it’s no wonder that Jacksonville’s quarterback David Garrard and running back Maurice-Jones Drew couldn’t keep up.
San Francisco 49ers 9, at Washington Redskins 0: 2 hours 36 minutes (2019)
The most recent quickie in the NFL’s long history came in 2019 when the Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers traveled to play the Washington Football Team, then named the Redskins. The afternoon was October 20th, 2019, and the game was scary bad, perhaps in honor of Halloween. The 49ers defeated the Vikings and Green Bay Packers on their way to a Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs while the Redskins finished the season 3-13.
There you have it, the shortest NFL games in the pro football regular season over the last 25 years. No, they don’t involve the Detroit Lions or the Cleveland Browns, but they are all the factually shortest games to take place since 1996. Take it or leave it.