As a sports journalist and enthusiast, I’ve witnessed countless games that have left me on the edge of my seat. But nothing compares to the thrill of a great comeback.
The raw emotion, the disbelief, and the sheer determination of teams to turn the tide against all odds are what make these moments unforgettable.
Drawing from my own experiences and the rich history of the NFL, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 greatest comebacks in NFL history. Let’s dive in, starting from number 10 and working our way to the most jaw-dropping comeback of all time.
Best Comebacks Ever
10. 24 Points: Kansas City Chiefs 51, Houston Texans 31 (Jan. 12, 2020)
The Chiefs, led by the dynamic Patrick Mahomes, showcased their resilience in this game. Trailing by 24 points, many had written them off. But Mahomes and his team had other plans. With a series of quick touchdowns and a defense that tightened up when it mattered most, the Chiefs not only erased the deficit but went on to win the game by a comfortable margin.
The Turning Point
- The Chiefs’ special teams played a pivotal role, with Mecole Hardman’s long kickoff return setting up their first touchdown.
- The Texans’ decision to go for a fake punt in their own territory, which was stopped by the Chiefs, shifted the momentum entirely.
9. 25 Points: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 OT (Feb. 5, 2017)
Super Bowl LI will forever be remembered for the Patriots’ incredible comeback. Trailing 28-3 in the third quarter, things looked bleak for Tom Brady and his team. But in a display of sheer will and determination, the Patriots mounted the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
- Tom Brady showcased why many consider him the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), setting Super Bowl records with 446 passing yards, 62 passing attempts, and 43 completions.
- The Patriots scored 31 unanswered points, with James White’s touchdown in overtime sealing the victory.
8. 26 Points: Buffalo Bills 37, Indianapolis Colts 35 (Sept. 21, 1997)
The Bills, known for their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early ’90s, showcased their never-say-die attitude in this game. Trailing 26-0 at halftime, the Bills, led by Todd Collins and Antowain Smith, orchestrated one of the most memorable comebacks in NFL history.
The Bills’ Resurgence
- Todd Collins, taking over for the legendary Jim Kelly, threw two crucial touchdown passes, igniting the comeback.
- Antowain Smith’s third touchdown of the second half gave the Bills a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, though they had to fend off a late rally by the Colts’ Jim Harbaugh.
7. 27 Points: Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Los Angeles Chargers 30 (Jan. 14, 2023)
In a recent wild-card game, the Jaguars, led by the young and talented Trevor Lawrence, faced a daunting 27-0 deficit late in the second quarter. Many had already counted them out, but Lawrence and his team had other plans.
- After throwing four interceptions in the first half, Lawrence showcased his resilience by throwing four consecutive touchdown passes, a feat never before seen in the NFL (regular season or postseason).
- The Jaguars’ defense also stepped up, holding the Chargers scoreless in the second half, setting the stage for Lawrence’s heroics.
6. 28 Points: Indianapolis Colts 45, Kansas City Chiefs 44 (Jan. 4, 2014)
In one of the most thrilling playoff games in recent memory, the Colts, led by Andrew Luck, faced a massive 38-10 deficit in the third quarter. However, Luck, living up to his name and reputation, orchestrated a comeback for the ages.
- Andrew Luck threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half, displaying his leadership and poise under pressure.
- One of the most memorable moments was when Luck picked up a fumble from his running back, Donald Brown, and lunged into the end zone, cutting the deficit and igniting the Colts’ rally.
5. 32 Points: Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38 OT (Jan. 3, 1993)
Known simply as “The Comeback” in Buffalo and “The Choke” in Houston, this game is the stuff of legends. The Bills, without their star quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas, found themselves trailing 35-3 in the third quarter.
- Backup quarterback Frank Reich, who had previously led a 31-point comeback in college, was undeterred by the massive deficit. He threw four second-half touchdown passes, three of them to wideout Andre Reed.
- The game culminated in Steve Christie’s game-winning field goal in overtime, completing the largest comeback in NFL playoff history.
4. 33 Points: Minnesota Vikings 39, Indianapolis Colts 36 OT (Dec. 17, 2022)
In a game that many dubbed as the “Christmas Miracle,” the Minnesota Vikings, who were cruising towards an NFC North title, found themselves down 33-0 at halftime against the struggling Indianapolis Colts. What transpired next was nothing short of miraculous.
Vikings’ Valiant Effort
- The Vikings’ offense, led by Kirk Cousins, sprang to life in the second half. Cousins, who had a lackluster first half, ended the game with a career-high 460 yards passing and four touchdowns.
- The game’s climax came when Dalvin Cook took a pass from Cousins 64 yards to the end zone, followed by a successful two-point conversion. The game was eventually sealed by a 40-yard field goal by Greg Joseph in overtime.
3. 28 Points: San Francisco 49ers 38, New Orleans Saints 35 OT (Dec. 7, 1980)
This game is often remembered as the one that kickstarted the legend of Joe Montana. The 49ers were down by 28 points in the third quarter, but Montana, in his signature style, orchestrated a comeback that left fans and critics in awe.
- Joe Montana showcased his brilliance, throwing for multiple touchdowns and even rushing for one. His connection with Dwight Clark, culminating in a 71-yard touchdown pass, was one of the game’s highlights.
- The game was eventually won in overtime with a field goal by Ray Wersching, but it was Montana’s heroics that stole the show.
2. 25 Points: St. Louis Cardinals 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28 (Nov. 8, 1997)
In a game with the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in league history, the Cardinals, playing in front of a sparse crowd, showcased their grit and determination against the Buccaneers.
Cardinals’ Stunning Surge
- Quarterback Neil Lomax was the star of the show, throwing three touchdown passes as the Cardinals rallied from a 28-3 deficit.
- The game had its share of drama, with the Buccaneers having a chance to send it to overtime. However, a 53-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar as time expired, sealing the win for the Cardinals.
1. 32 Points: Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38 OT (Jan. 3, 1993)
Topping our list is a game that has etched its place in the annals of NFL history. Dubbed “The Comeback,” this AFC wild-card game between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers is the stuff of legends.
The Bills, playing without their star quarterback Jim Kelly, were staring at a seemingly insurmountable 35-3 deficit early in the third quarter. What followed was a masterclass in resilience, determination, and sheer willpower.
The Miracle at Rich Stadium
- Backup quarterback Frank Reich, no stranger to comebacks, took the reins and led the Bills on an offensive onslaught. Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half, with three of them finding wide receiver Andre Reed.
- The Oilers, shell-shocked by the Bills’ resurgence, could only watch as the momentum shifted entirely. The game was eventually pushed into overtime, where Steve Christie’s 32-yard field goal completed the most significant comeback in NFL history.
Reflections on “The Comeback”
The atmosphere at Rich Stadium that day was electric. Fans, who had started leaving the stadium in despair, began trickling back in as word spread of the Bills’ resurgence. By the end of the game, the stadium was a cauldron of noise, with fans celebrating one of the most memorable moments in sports history.
This game serves as a reminder that in sports, as in life, it’s never over until it’s over. The Bills’ comeback against the Oilers is not just the greatest in NFL history but also a testament to the human spirit’s indomitable nature. It’s a story of belief, perseverance, and the incredible things that can be achieved when you refuse to give up.
Biggest Fourth-Quarter Playoff Comebacks
1. 19 Points: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28, OT (Feb. 5, 2017)
As we mentioned earlier, Brady and the Pats not only trailed by 19 points in the fourth quarter, but they fell behind 28-3 to Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. That’s when the GOAT went to work. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. 16 Points: San Francisco 49ers 39, New York Giants 38 (Jan. 5, 2003)
3. 15 Points: Dallas Cowboys 30, San Francisco 49ers 28 (Dec. 23, 1972)
Which quarterback has led the most comebacks in NFL history?
Peyton Manning holds the record for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL history, with 43 to his name.
How are comebacks officially defined in the NFL?
A comeback is officially defined when a team wins the game after trailing at any point during the fourth quarter.
Has any team made significant comebacks in consecutive games?
Yes, several teams have made significant comebacks in consecutive games, but one notable instance is the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs, who made consecutive comebacks in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.
Are home teams more likely to make a comeback compared to away teams?
While home-field advantage can play a role in a team’s performance, comebacks are more about team resilience and strategy than the venue. However, the crowd’s energy in home games can sometimes boost a team’s morale.
Which coaches are known for their teams making significant comebacks?
Coaches like Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, and Pete Carroll have had multiple instances where their teams have made significant comebacks.
The spirit of a comeback resonates beyond the football field. It’s a testament to perseverance, resilience, and the belief that no challenge is too great to overcome.
As fans, these moments captivate us, reminding us of the unpredictability of the sport and the sheer determination of its athletes. Here’s to celebrating the indomitable spirit of the NFL and its unforgettable comebacks.