5 Biggest Comebacks in NFL Playoff History: Where Does 49ers Comeback Against Lions Rank?

    What are the biggest comebacks in NFL history? We take a look at the matchups and circumstances that led to improbable comebacks.

    Brock Purdy, Brandon Aiyuk, and the San Francisco 49ers did the almost unimaginable. Despite a major deficit to the Detroit Lions in the 2023 NFC Championship Game, they made a comeback and won the game, punching their ticket to Super Bowl 58.

    While it was one of the biggest comebacks in NFL playoff history, many other teams — believe it or not — have made even larger comebacks in the postseason.

    Biggest Comebacks in NFL Playoff History

    1) Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers (32-point deficit) | 1993-94 AFC Wild Card

    The biggest comeback in NFL playoff history belongs to the Bills, whose resurgence against the Oilers in the 1993-94 playoffs has come to be known simply as “The Comeback.” After future Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly suffered a knee injury in the final game of the regular season, backup QB and former Colts head coach Frank Reich was required to start Buffalo’s Wild Card matchup against Houston.

    Things didn’t go well in the first half, as Oilers quarterback Warren Moon tossed four touchdown passes and led Houston to a 28-3 halftime lead. A Bubba McDowell pick-six gave the Oilers a 35-3 advantage with 8:53 left in the third quarter.

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    Bills running back Kenneth Davis managed a touchdown to cut the lead to 25, and then Reich took over. He threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter — the first to Don Beebe and the final three to Andre Reed — to put Buffalo back up front. The Oilers sent the game to overtime with a late field goal, but the Bills kicked a field goal of their own to win in the extra period, marking the biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.

    Reich and the Bills beat the Steelers in the Divisional Round the following week. Jim Kelly returned for an AFC Championship win, but Buffalo collapsed in the Super Bowl, a 52-17 loss to the Cowboys.

    2) Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs (28 points) | 2013-14 AFC Wild Card

    Andrew Luck tried to hand this game to the Chiefs by tossing three interceptions, and Kansas City held a 28-point lead with 11:48 remaining in the third quarter. The Colts then managed to score three touchdowns in the third quarter to claw back into the game.

    Down 10 points with fewer than 11 minutes left in the fourth, Luck recovered a Donald Brown fumble near the goal line and took it in for a score. The Chiefs hit a field goal to go up with 5:36 remaining, but Luck subsequently connected with T.Y. Hilton — who ended up with 224 receiving yards — for a 64-yard touchdown.

    KC couldn’t advance past the Colts’ 43-yard line on their ensuing drive, and Indianapolis escaped with a 45-44 win and a spot on the list of the biggest comebacks in NFL playoff history.

    3) Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers (27 points) | 2022-23 AFC Wild Card

    Lawrence threw four picks in the first half of this Wild Card game against the Chargers, stunning the Jacksonville home crowd as the Jaguars fell behind 27-0. Lawrence found Evan Engram for a touchdown near the end of the second quarter to bring the deficit to only 20 points, but it still felt like Los Angeles coasted to a victory.

    Instead, the Jaguars outscored the Chargers 24-3 in the second half to walk away with a 31-30 win. Lawrence tossed three touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, then led Jacksonville on a 10-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a game-winning field goal.

    Lawrence, Pederson, and the rest of the Jaguars deserve credit for one of the biggest comebacks in NFL playoff history, but the Chargers’ history of collapsing was just as big of a storyline. “Chargering” has become a verb, and Los Angeles mastered the technique against Jacksonville.

    4) New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (25 points) | Super Bowl 51

    The fourth-largest comeback in NFL playoff history occurred in the most important game in the sport. 28-3 has become a legend, a meme, a nightmare, and an expletive — all depending on which team you were rooting for.

    The Falcons, searching for their first Super Bowl trophy, held a 25-point lead with just over 17 minutes remaining in regulation. Two James White touchdowns, a Danny Amendola score, and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal later, the Patriots had tied the score and sent the game to overtime.

    New England received the ball first, giving Tom Brady the chance to earn his fifth Super Bowl with a touchdown drive. The Patriots methodically marched down the field in nine plays and less than four minutes, with a White TD run capping the astounding win.

    T-5) Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans (24 points) | 2019-20 AFC Divisional Round

    The defining moment of Houston’s devastating loss to the Chiefs in the 2019-20 Divisional Round will always be Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s decision to opt for a field goal on 4th-and-1 from Kansas City’s 13-yard line with 10:54 remaining in the first quarter. That kick made the score 24-0, which ended up being mere child’s play for Patrick Mahomes.

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    Not only did Mahomes and the Chiefs reclaim the lead, but they did so before the second quarter had even concluded. Mahomes hit Damien Williams for a score to make it 24-7, then connected with Travis Kelce three times before halftime.

    Kansas City’s never lost their lead, scoring three more touchdowns in the second half and earning a 51-31 victory. Mahomes finished with five touchdown passes, then defeated the Titans and 49ers en route to winning the Lombardi Trophy.

    T-5) San Francisco 49ers vs. New York Giants (24 points) | 2002-03 NFC Wild Card

    Amani Toomer scored three first-half touchdowns to help the Giants to a 38-14 lead with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter, but that margin wasn’t enough to hold off Jeff Garcia and the 49ers in the NFC Wild Card Round.

    Garcia tossed a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion to Terrell Owens near the end of the third quarter, then ran for a touchdown of his own before hitting Owens for another two-pointer. After a Jeff Chandler field goal to bring San Francisco within five with 7:49 remaining in regulation, Garcia led a two-minute scoring, culminating in a 13-yard TD pass to Tai Streets with 1:05 left.

    Down 39-38, Kerry Collins quickly got the Giants into a game-winning field goal position. But a bad snap and an offensive penalty ruined any chance New York had to win the game and escape infamy, thus giving the 49ers a place in this list of the biggest comebacks in NFL playoff history.

    Conference Championship Comebacks

    T-1) 2021 Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs (18 points) | AFC Championship

    Mahomes and the Chiefs came out firing against the Cincinnati Bengals to open up the 2021 AFC Championship game. Three touchdown passes from Mahomes to Tyreek Hill, Kelce, and Mecole Hardman gave the Chiefs a 21-3 lead over the Bengals with five minutes left in the first half.

    However, the Bengals responded with 20 unanswered points. Joe Burrow threw two touchdowns to Samaje Perine and Ja’Marr Chase while Evan McPherson kicked two field goals, including a 52-yarder to take the lead.

    A 44-yard Harrison Butker field goal tied the game and sent it into overtime, but another Evan McPherson 31-yard field goal gave the Bengals a three-point lead and completed the comeback victory.

    T-1) 2006 Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots (18 points) | AFC Championship

    The first quarter of this game started slow, with the Patriots and Tom Brady scoring just one touchdown to the Colts’ field goal. However, the Patriots exploded in the second quarter, scoring two more touchdowns to, again, just one Colts field goal. The Patriots led the game 21-6 heading into halftime.

    Peyton Manning and the Colts did not bow their head at halftime, though. Immediately coming out of the half, the Colts scored two touchdowns. On the second touchdown, a one-yard passing touchdown from Manning to Dan Klecko, the Colts went for two successfully to tie the game.

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    The rest of the game was a back-and-forth battle, with the Patriots and Colts trading touchdowns and field goals. Ultimately, though, the Colts received the ball down three and drove the field, scoring a three-yard rushing touchdown from Joseph Addai that gave them a 38-34 lead.

    With under a minute remaining, the Colts’ defense held Brady and the Patriots out of field goal range, securing the historic comeback victory.

    T-3) 2012 San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons (17 points) | NFC Championship

    Under Jim Harbaugh’s lead, the 49ers fell behind quickly. The Falcons and Matt Ryan dominated the scoreboard early. Two touchdown passes from Ryan to Julio Jones and a Matt Bryant field goal gave the Falcons a 17-0 lead over the 49ers early into the second quarter.

    The 49ers didn’t waver, though, scoring two touchdowns to bring the lead down to three at 17-14. The Falcons, however, scored another touchdown from Ryan to Tony Gonzalez with 25 seconds left in the first half, giving the Falcons a 24-14 advantage at halftime.

    The second half was a different story, though. Frank Gore scored a touchdown in both the third and fourth quarter, giving the 49ers their first lead of the game — 28-24 — with just over eight minutes left in the game. The 49ers’ defense continued its second-half dominance, pitching a shutout to make NFC Championship Game history.

    T-3) 2023 San Francisco 49ers vs. Detroit Lions (17 points) | NFC Championship

    The NFC Championship Game comeback record is held by the 49ers twice. In 2023, the Lions started the game with dominance. They opened the game up scoring on both of their first two possessions, giving them a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

    A Christian McCaffery two-yard touchdown gave the 49ers their first and only points of the first half. A Purdy interception and 10 more Detroit points gave the Lions a strong 24-7 lead at halftime.

    However, similar to the 2012 49ers, San Francisco pitched a second-half shutout. A touchdown pass from Brock Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk, two rushing touchdowns from McCaffery and Elijah Mitchell, and two field goals from Jake Moody gave the 49ers 27 unanswered points and a 34-24 lead.

    The Lions did respond with a late-game touchdown to bring the lead to just three. The 49ers and George Kittle were, however, able to recover an onside kick attempt from the Lions and punch their ticket to Super Bowl 58.

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