10 greatest comebacks in NFL history

Colts vs Chiefs 2014
The Colts and Chiefs played a thriller in 2014. Photo from New York Post.

It’s almost inevitable to view the greatest NFL comebacks as some of the greatest games ever played. After all, fans love an underdog story, and the best comeback wins are just underdog stories that develop in the middle of a game.

That makes the largest NFL comebacks some of the most memorable games of all time. 

Greatest NFL comebacks of all-time

Naturally, we had to put together a list of the biggest NFL comebacks of all time. That means the biggest deficits a team has overcome and the most exciting fourth-quarter comebacks we’ve ever seen engineered.

While fans of one team might prefer certain games over others, here is our objective list of the greatest NFL comebacks of all time.

10. Broncos vs Chargers (2012)

The Chargers assumed they were in good shape when they led 24-0 at halftime at home against their division rivals. But this was Peyton Manning’s first season with the Broncos and he was just settling in with his new team. Manning threw three touchdown passes in the second half with the Denver defense chipping in two touchdowns as well, including a pick-six from Chris Harris to put the game away.

Since the Chargers forgot to score in the second half, the Broncos were able to turn a 24-0 deficit into a convincing 35-24 road win against a division rival. That win ended up being the first of 11 in a row for the Broncos until they lost in the playoffs.

9. 49ers vs Giants (2003)

This is the first of several playoff games on our list of the best comebacks in NFL history. The Giants led at halftime and then scored the first 10 points of the second half to lead 38-14 with a quarter and a half to go.

But it turns out Jeff Garcia had a little Joe Montana in him.


Garcia threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third in the second half. The 49ers also converted two of their three two-point conversion tries and got a field goal. With just over a minute left, Garcia’s pass to Tai Streets put San Francisco up 39-38, capping off one of the great playoff comebacks ever.

8. Lions vs Cowboys (2011)

Tony Romo looked sharp for most of this game helping the Cowboys get out to a 27-3 lead. But soon after Romo’s touchdown pass to Jason Witten to give Dallas that lead, he threw two pick-sixes in the third quarter to give the Lions life.

The Cowboys were able to extend their lead to 30-17 going into the fourth quarter, but that was when the Detroit offense finally got going. The Lions got a field goal sandwiched between two Calvin Johnson touchdowns, putting Detroit ahead 34-30.

Romo and the Cowboys didn’t have an answer in the final 1:39 of the game, handing Dallas an embarrassing defeat in which the Cowboys self-destructed more than the Lions actually came back.

7. Browns vs Titans (2014)

Even with Jake Locker being replaced by Charlie Whitehurst in the second quarter, the Titans jumped out to a 28-3 lead. Locker had one running and one passing touchdown before Whitehurst threw a pair in the second quarter.

But Brian Hoyer wasn’t ready to give up.

The Browns got a touchdown late in the second quarter to give them some hope. Hoyer then threw two touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin in the fourth quarter to give the Browns a 29-28 win. However, it was actually a blocked punt that went for a safety early in the fourth quarter that ended up being the two points that decided the game and helped Cleveland’s comeback.

6. Cardinals vs Buccaneers (1987)

It’s important to remember that the Buccaneers weren’t good at all until the late 90s. Even though Tampa led 28-3 heading into the fourth quarter, that didn’t mean the game was secured.

The Cardinals and quarterback Neil Lomax found some life in the final 15 minutes, scoring four straight touchdowns with J.T. Smith catching the last two touchdown passes from Lomax. It was a somehow unsurprising collapse by the Buccaneers and yet an impressive comeback by the Cardinals.

5. Patriots vs Falcons (Super Bowl LI)

This game will likely go down as the biggest comeback/collapse in Super Bowl history.

Everything went right for the Falcons, who led 21-3 at halftime and then extended the lead to 28-3 early in the third quarter.

But Tom Brady proved why you can never count him out.

The surprising thing is the Patriots didn’t even begin their comeback until late in the third quarter, and when they finally got a touchdown, they missed the PAT. But that didn’t deter Brady or James White, who scored the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation and the game-winning touchdown in overtime, giving the Patriots a 34-28 win and giving the Falcons a lifetime of regret.

Read more: All of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl wins ranked

4. Bills vs Colts (1997)

As we’ll see later, this is only the second-best comeback the Bills have ever had. Buffalo trailed the Colts 26-0 in the second quarter, giving the Bills a long road back but plenty of time.

Todd Collins turned out to be up for the challenge with a little help from Antowain Smith, who found the end zone on three of his 12 carries. Ultimately, the Bills turned that 26-point deficit into a 37-35 win.

3. 49ers vs Saints (1980)

Why in the world would you ever count out Joe Montana?

Even with the 49ers in the midst of a season that ended with a 6-10 record, the Saints still weren’t safe when they led 35-7 at halftime.

Montana began the comeback with a rushing touchdown and a 71-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Clark. The 49ers ended up scoring 31 unanswered points to win 38-35 in overtime. It turned out to be a sign of things to come for Montana and the 49ers, who won the Super Bowl the following year, beginning a dynasty in San Francisco.

Read more: Worst NFL draft picks of all-time

2. Colts vs Chiefs (2014)

The Chiefs no doubt had their eyes on one of the biggest blowouts in playoff history when they were up 38-10 in the third quarter.

But Andrew Luck showed why he was such a special player, even early in his career. He led the Colts to five touchdowns in the second half, capped off by a 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton to give the Colts a 45-44 in a game that looked like it was over.

1. Bills vs Oilers (1993)

Naturally, we’ve saved the best comeback for last.

This would have been an incredible comeback during normal circumstances, but the fact that it happened in the playoffs makes it even more remarkable.

At the time, the Bills had lost the last two Super Bowls and then had to settle for second place in the AFC East in 1992, forcing them to play a Wild Card game.

They also lost their starting quarterback and trailed 35-3 in the third quarter. But Frank Reich threw four touchdown passes in the second half, three of which went to Andre Reed.

The Bills actually took the lead in the fourth quarter, only for the Oilers to tie it up. But Buffalo won the game in overtime 41-38 and went back to the Super Bowl.

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About Bryan Zarpentine 272 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

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