It is officially Week 5 of the 2017 NFL season. This year has already seen its share of memorable moments and surprises. The Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills have greatly exceeded expectations, and have been quite impressive in doing so. The Los Angeles Chargers and the New York Giants have fallen dramatically short of them, thus far. The Kansas City Chiefs have shown everyone what their fans have known for a while; they are an elite team and deserve their spot atop the NFL’s best.
There are also teams like the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots (among others) that find themselves at a crossroads. Each of these teams sits at 2-2. While this is not a demoralizing record, it is far below their preseason expectations. The talent is certainly present to achieve much more than a .500 record. At the quarter pole of the season, it’s time for them to take a look in the mirror and fight for supremacy, once again. Simply put, these teams are in need of a turn-around…a comeback, if you will.
In an attempt to provide some much-needed motivation for such struggling squads, let’s take a look at the most memorable comebacks in NFL history. In fact, some of these are so impressive that they deserve to be considered among the greatest in sports history. One thing is certain, these great comebacks prove that nearly anything is possible on the football field.
Without further ado, here are the Top Ten most impactful, memorable and historic comeback victories in NFL history.
10.) Manning Harnesses the Denver Clutch; October 15, 2012
The Denver Broncos faced a seemingly impossible task as they headed into halftime on Monday Night Football. The team was down 24-0 to the San Diego Chargers, and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning seemed to be completely out of sync with his new offense. This was not the way in which Manning hoped to ingratiate himself to his new team and fan base. However, Number 18 was no stranger to come-from-behind victories. In a turn of events that resembled the script of an old Hollywood Western, the Sheriff (as Manning was called) laid down the law. Denver would outscore San Diego 35-0 in the second half. Manning threw three touchdowns and only one incompletion. The Denver defense also did its part by forcing a game-sealing interception by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, which was returned for a touchdown. Although there have been several 24-point comebacks in NFL history, this one proved that Manning would be a force in Denver. He became an instant legend in Denver, as he had been in Indianapolis for so many years. The Broncos would earn an 11-point victory, and Manning would go on to a record-setting season.
9.) Colts Stun the Chiefs; January 4, 2014
This wild-card playoff game truly lived up to its name. It was, indeed, a wild contest. Although they would lose running back Jamaal Charles to injury on their very first possession of the game, the Chiefs were able to build a 31-10 lead by halftime. They added a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half to increase their lead to 38-10. It appeared that the Chiefs could not lose. However, Indianapolis had other plans. Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck went on to throw three second-half touchdown passes, as well as scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery. The Chiefs did answer with two second-half field goals, but the Colts were determined to complete the comeback. Luck completed a 64-yard touchdown pass to receiver T.Y. Hilton. They would go on to erase the formerly 28-point deficit to win the game 45-44.
8.) The Cardinals Say Goodbye to St. Louis; November 8, 1987
From 1960-1987, St. Louis, Missouri was the home to two sets of pro-sports Cardinals; the baseball Cardinals and the football Cardinals. With the football team set to move to Phoenix, Arizona for the 1988 season, the Cardinals had one last memorable moment left to give. It also happened to be one of the NFL’s greatest comeback victories. St. Louis quarterback Neil Lomax rallied the Cardinals from a 25-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 1987 strike-shortened season. Lomax tossed three touchdowns and helped St. Louis scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to earn a 31-28 home victory. It would be one of the final home victories in St. Louis, and the last noteworthy game in the Gateway City until the Rams relocated there in 1995.
7.) Buffalo Tames the Colts ; September 21, 1997
One of the biggest comebacks in NFL regular-season history came in 1997. Quarterback Todd Collins and the Buffalo Bills found themselves down 26-0 in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Colts kicker Cary Blanchard played a major role as well, connecting on four straight field goals. Buffalo quarterback Todd Collins faced a tall order but proved to be up to the challenge. The Bills came storming back thanks to Collins, but mostly on the legs of running back Antowain Smith. He rushed for three touchdowns to take a 37-29 lead in the fourth quarter. However, the Colts were not finished. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison scored with 14 seconds left to play and cut the Buffalo lead to 37-35. Needing two points to tie, the Colts’ attempted the two-point conversion. The attempt failed and Buffalo held on to win in dramatic fashion.
6.) Fee-Fi-Fo-Fumble; January 5, 2003
The remarkable comeback by the San Francisco 49ers against the New York Giants in the 2003 NFC Wild Card Game was one for the ages. San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia improbably led San Francisco back from a 24-point third-quarter deficit to take a 39-38 lead. Niners wide receiver Terrell Owens showed why he was one of the most fearsome receivers of his generation. TO had a career-defining game with nine catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns. However, New York still had an opportunity to win with just six seconds left in the game. With time winding down, the Giants lined up to attempt a 41-yard field goal, which would have given them the win. However, a fumbled snap by the Giants Trey Junkin cost New York the playoff victory, and San Francisco capped the historic comeback.
5.) Manning Breaks on Through
January 21, 2007
For years, the knock on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is that he was unable to win in the clutch. He had yet to win a Super Bowl championship and seemed to regularly fall in defeat to rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. It appeared as if Patriots coach Bill Belichick would inevitably apply the annual dose of kryptonite to Manning’s postseason success. When the two teams met again for the 2007 AFC Championship, the game looked to be well in hand by halftime. The Patriots, who had knocked Manning’s Colts out of the playoffs the previous two years, had jumped out to an early 21-3 lead and led 21-6 at halftime. However, this year, things would be different. Manning engineered touchdown drives on the Colts’ first two possessions of the second half. The Colts found success on a two-point conversion and tied the game at 21. Tom Brady threw an uncharacteristic postseason interception on the Patriots final possession to seal the 38-34 victory for the Colts. Manning and company would march on to the Super Bowl to face the Chicago Bears, where he would earn his first Championship victory.
4.) The Drive; January 11, 1987
It was far from being the largest deficit. It was not a fairytale-like underdog story. However, the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns has become one of the most memorable contests in all of sports history. It was the game that made Broncos quarterback, John Elway, a legend. Down 20-13 with 5:32 remaining in the game, Elway engineered a 15-play, 98-yard touchdown drive to tie the game and send it into overtime. To this day, it is simply known as ‘the drive.’ In fact, Cleveland fans still shudder at its very mention. However, as amazing as the Broncos drive was, there was still a matter of scoring the winning points. Kicker Rich Karlis went on to seal the victory with an overtime field goal. Elway’s fourth-quarter drive may have been one of the best clutch performances of all time. While a greater point-deficit would have certainly increased its rank, the legendary nature of “The Drive” merits its spot among the greatest comebacks in sports history.
3.) A San Francisco Treat; December 7, 1980
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana made a career out of coming through in the clutch. His cool, calm demeanor and razor-sharp precision made him an NFL legend. However, his ability to work late-game magic was just beginning to show in 1980. In only his second NFL season, Montana found his team down 35-7 at halftime to Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints. In what would be a harbinger of things to come, Montana rose to the occasion. He led the 49ers on a 28-0 second-half run to send the game into overtime. Kicker Ray Wersching booted a 36-yard overtime field goal to win the game for San Francisco and its upstart quarterback. It was the first of many legendary performances for Montana and remains one of the most prominent regular-season comebacks in NFL history.
2.) Houston, We Have a Problem;
January 3, 1993
The 1993 Wild Card Game between the Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills remains one of the craziest playoff games in sports history. The Oilers, led by quarterback Warren Moon, had amassed a 32-point lead early in the third quarter. It appeared that Houston had the game very much under control. Buffalo was playing without starting quarterback Jim Kelly, whom they had lost to injury. Bills fans would probably have agreed that expecting backup signal-caller Frank Reich to pull off the impossible would be too tall a task. However, Reich would do just that and was able to rally the Bills in the playoff rematch. He threw three second-half touchdown passes as Buffalo stormed back to take to a three-point in the fourth quarter. Houston was able to answer with a field goal, thus sending the game into overtime. Unfortunately for the Oilers, and fortunate for the Bills, the specter of a blown 32-point lead would be too much to handle. Bills kicker Steve Christie would knock home an overtime field goal, to win the game and cap what many still consider the wildest comeback in NFL history.
1.) Super Bowl LI, 28-3; February 5, 2017
When facing a seemingly insurmountable comeback attempt, it always helps to have the best that’s ever played the game on your side. The New England Patriots know this fact very well; as do the Atlanta Falcons. A 25-point deficit with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter of any NFL game is a monster of a task. When the game in question is Super Bowl LI, the odds become nearly impossible. However, Tom Brady and the Patriots are no strangers to overcoming long odds. Down 28-3 late in the third quarter, Brady and the Patriots would begin their march towards history. While Atlanta reeled, the Patriots thrived as Brady surgically picked apart their defense, en route to an improbable comeback. The Patriots defense was just as impressive as their offense, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Trey Flowers inflicting costly sacks on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. In total, the Patriots scored 25 unanswered points to tie the game, 28–28, with 57 seconds left in regulation. Super Bowl LI would be the first to be decided in overtime. New England won the overtime coin toss, received the kickoff and drove 75 yards to win with a 2-yard touchdown run by running back James White. The Patriots’ 25-point comeback is the largest in Super Bowl history. In his MVP performance, Brady became the only quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowl championships and arguably staked his claim as the greatest quarterback of all time. Bill Belichick did likewise, in cementing his place among the greatest coaches in sports history. While some may debate the legacy of the New England Patriots as one of the premier dynasties in professional sports, what cannot be argued is their place atop the pantheon of greatest comebacks in the history of the NFL.
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers. He is also a National Content Writer for cover32.com and covers the NFL.
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