Sunday’s epic comeback by the Patriots is certainly the best in Super Bowl history, but where does it rank all time? In looking at comebacks, you have to factor in the deficit overcome, the time it took and most importantly, what was at stake. With those factors in mind, it is no surprise the five greatest comebacks in NFL history were all postseason games. Here they are.
5 Greatest Comebacks in NFL History
5. San Francisco 39, New York 38 – San Francisco, Calif., January 5, 2003 (Down 24 points)
In this wild card matchup, the Giants led the 49ers 38-14 in the third quarter. Then Jeremy Shockey dropped a touchdown pass that would have extended the lead to 31 points and New York’s lead crumbled from there. San Francisco kicked a field goal and Jeff Garcia completed two touchdown passes and ran for another to take a 39-38 lead with one minute left in the game. Giants quarterback Kerry Collins led his team to the 49ers 23-yard line, where they lined up to attempt a field goal with six seconds left. The snap went low and holder Matt Allen attempted a pass to guard Rich Seubert, who was pulled down by San Francisco linebacker Chike Okeafor. Instead of being called for pass interference, the Giants were flagged for having an ineligible receiver downfield. The next day, the officials admitted they blew the call, which is one of the reasons this game is not higher.
4. Indianapolis 45, Kansas City 44 – Indianapolis, Ind., January 4, 2014 (Down 28 points)
Kansas City led 38-10 early in the third quarter and it looked like the Chiefs would easily advance to the divisional round. However, Andrew Luck and the Colts quickly scored 21 points to close the lead to 41-31 going into the fourth quarter. Indianapolis then put together a 90-yard drive that culminated with a bizarre but fortuitous play. Running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball but it bounced into Luck’s hand and he took it into the end zone, making the score 41-38. The Colts ultimately went ahead 45-44 with 4:21 left in the game thanks to a 64-yard pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. They stopped the Chiefs on the next drive and were able to run out the clock.
3. Detroit 31, San Francisco 27 – San Francisco, Calif., December 22, 1957 (Down 20 points)
Both the 49ers and Lions finished 8-4 in the NFL’s old Western Conference and had to meet in a one-game playoff to determine who would play in the NFL Championship game. When the 49ers went in leading 24-7 at the half, they were so confident that the Lions players could hear them laughing at halftime in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium. Early in the third period, the 49ers kicked a field goal to extend its led to 27-7, but would not score again. Lions backup quarterback Tobin Rote led an angered and reenergized Detroit team as they scored 24 unanswered points to shock the 49ers and pull off an amazing comeback. In the NFL Championship game, the Lions beat the Brown 59-14 to win the last title in the franchise’s history.
2. Buffalo 41, Houston 38 – Buffalo, N.Y., January 3, 1993 (Down 32 points)
From a pure points perspective, this is the biggest comeback in NFL history. Houston jumped out to a 35-3 third quarter lead and it looked like the Bills run of consecutive Super Bowl appearances would end at two. Then backup quarterback Frank Reich and the Buffalo defense gelled as the Bills scored 35 unanswered points to take 38-35 lead with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter. Houston was able to tie the game with a field goal and send it into overtime. The Oilers got the ball first but their drive was cut short when Nate Odomes intercepted Warren Moon’s pass. Odomes’ return and a facemask penalty put the Bills on the Houston 20-yard line and Steve Christie booted a 32-yard game-winning field goal two plays later. The win propelled Buffalo through the playoffs as it went to the Super Bowl for the third straight year in a row.
1. New England 34, Atlanta 28 – Houston, Texas, February 5, 2017 (Down 25 points)
In the previous 50 Super Bowls, the largest deficit any team had ever overcome was 10 points. The fact that the Patriots were down 25 points in the middle of the third quarter and came back to send the first Super Bowl into overtime puts this one at the top of the list.