Skip to main content

5 Greatest Comebacks in NFL History

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime in Super Bowl LI.
Tom Brady, Super Bowl LI celebration

In Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins came back from 21 points down to beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals rallied from being down by 20 to top the Las Vegas Raiders. This marked the first week in NFL history that two teams staged 20-point comebacks.

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 Giants 38 (down 24 points)
Jan. 5, 2003 in San Francisco

In this NFC Wild Card Game, 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. AFC Divisional Playoff: Indianapolis 45, Kansas City 44 (down 28 points)
Jan. 4, 2014 in Indianapolis

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 (down 20 points)
Dec. 22, 1957 in San Francisco

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 lead 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 Browns 59-14 to win the last title in the franchise’s history.

2. AFC Wild Card: Buffalo 41, Houston 38 (down 32 points)
Jan. 3, 1993 in Buffalo 

From a pure points perspective, this is the biggest comeback (or choke job depending on which team you root for) 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 a 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. Super Bowl LI: New England 34, Atlanta 28 (OT) (down 25 points)
Feb. 5, 2017 in Houston (NRG Stadium) 

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.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.