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Ranking the Top 10 Comebacks in NFL History

The top 10 comebacks in NFL history, ranked. Relive the most thrilling resurgent victories in the league's record books.

“Never say never.” “Anything is possible.” That’s usually what NFL fans tell themselves when their favorite team is staring at a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

In most of those cases, it’s probably reasonable to turn off the television and accept the result. But occasionally, an NFL club orchestrates a thrilling comeback that sticks in our collective minds for years to come.

What are the best comebacks in NFL history? Let’s rank the top 10, beginning with a memorable Monday night comeback by one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.

What Are the Best Comebacks in NFL History?

10) Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Week 5, 2003

Peyton Manning has one of the NFL’s lengthiest résumés, and comebacks litter his ledger. His 43 fourth-quarter comebacks rank second in league history, behind only Tom Brady.

Who can forget when Manning and the Indianapolis Colts fought back from a 21-3 deficit to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship Game? Or when Indy beat New England again in 2009, coming back from 13 down with three minutes remaining after Bill Belichick’s infamous failed 4th-and-2 decision?

But our favorite Manning comeback came in 2003 when the Colts went up against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. The Bucs took a commanding 35-14 lead after Ronde Barber intercepted a Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown with 5:09 left.

However, the Colts were far from done. Brad Pyatt’s 90-yard kick return let Indy score quickly to make it 35-21. After recovering an onside kick, Manning and the Colts went 58 yards in six plays and just over a minute of the game clock, getting within a touchdown with 2:29 remaining.

A Bucs offensive penalty on the ensuing drive allowed Indy to get the ball back with 1:41 left. Manning needed just five plays — including a 52-yard connection with WR Marvin Harrison — to go 75 yards and tie the game.

Tampa Bay received the ball first in overtime but didn’t score. While Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt subsequently missed a 40-yard, game-winning field goal, Bucs DE Simeon Rice’s unsportsmanlike penalty gave Vanderjagt another, shorter chance — which he hit for the 38-35 win.

9) San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints | Week 14, 1980

Manning isn’t the only Hall of Fame quarterback with indelible comebacks as part of his track record. Joe Montana also got in on the action with a 28-point comeback against the New Orleans Saints in 1980.

There wasn’t much on the line in this Week 14 matchup; the 49ers entered with a 6-7 record, while the Saints were 0-13, hoping to avoid a winless season. New Orleans was up 35-7 at halftime, but Montana wasn’t ready to give in.

The 49ers scored four unanswered touchdowns in the second half: a Montana run, a 71-yard Dwight Clark catch, a 14-yard pass from Montana to Freddie Solomon, and a seven-yard run by Lenvil Elliott. San Francisco never gave New Orleans a chance in overtime, winning the game on a 36-yard field goal from Ray Wersching.

8) San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins | 1981-82 AFC Divisional Round

Also known as the “Epic in Miami,” the 1981-82 Divisional Round game between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins featured a comeback — but it mostly happened in the second quarter, not the fourth.

The Chargers went up early, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal to take a 24-0 lead before the end of the first quarter. But the Dolphins roared back, scoring 24 unanswered points to tie the game early in the third.

From there, San Diego and Miami traded TDs. Kellen Winslow and James Brooks scored for the Chargers, while Bruce Hardy and Tony Nathan managed touchdowns for the Dolphins, tying the game at 38 with 1:06 left in regulation.

Miami tried a 26-yard field goal for the win as time expired, but Winslow blocked the attempt. A bad snap ruined a game-winning overtime FG attempt for the Chargers, while the Bolts blocked another Dolphins field goal on Miami’s OT drive.

At long last, San Diego’s Rolf Benirschke connected on a 29-yarder to give the Chargers the win.

7) San Francisco 49ers vs. New York Giants | 2002-03 NFC Wild Card

Amani Toomer scored three first-half touchdowns to help the New York 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 San Francisco 49ers in the 2002-03 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 before hitting Owens for another two-pointer.

After a Jeff Chandler field goal brought San Francisco within five points with 7:49 remaining in regulation, Garcia led a two-minute scoring drive, 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.

6) Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans | 2019-20 AFC Divisional Round

The defining moment of the Houston Texans’ devastating loss to the Kansas City 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.

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 never lost its lead, scoring three more touchdowns in the second half and earning a 51-31 victory.

Mahomes finished with five touchdown passes, then defeated the Tennessee Titans and 49ers en route to winning his first Lombardi Trophy.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers | 2022-23 AFC Wild Card

Trevor Lawrence threw four picks in the first half of this Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Chargers, stunning the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home crowd as he fell behind 27-0. Lawrence found Evan Engram for a touchdown near the end of the second quarter to close the deficit to 20 points, but it still felt like Los Angeles would coast 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, head coach Doug Pederson, and the rest of the Jaguars deserved credit for one of the biggest comebacks in NFL playoff history.

Still, the Chargers’ history of collapsing was just as prominent of a storyline. “Chargering” has become a verb, and Los Angeles mastered the technique against Jacksonville.

4) Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs | 2013-14 AFC Wild Card

Andrew Luck tried to hand this game to the Chiefs by tossing three interceptions in the first three quarters, and Kansas City held a 28-point lead with 11:48 remaining in the third. But the Colts 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 quarter, 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 to give Indy a 45-44 lead with 4:21 left.

K.C. couldn’t advance past the Colts’ 43-yard line on their ensuing drive, and Indianapolis escaped with an incredible comeback victory.

3) Minnesota Vikings vs. Indianapolis Colts | Week 15, 2022

The Minnesota Vikings’ 33-point comeback against the Indianapolis Colts is the largest in NFL history, but we’re ranking it a bit lower here because it didn’t occur in the postseason.

However, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings still had a lot on the line in this Saturday afternoon game. Minnesota wanted Week 15 of the 2022 campaign at 10-3; while the club had the NFC North wrapped up, it was still fighting for seeding in the NFL playoff picture.

Matt Ryan — who will, unfortunately, be on the wrong end of a comeback yet to appear on our list — completed nine of 15 first-half attempts for the Colts, but Indy’s defense and special teams did the dirty work. JoJo Domann returned a blocked punt for a first-quarter Colts touchdown before Indy safety Julian Blackmon returned a Cousins interception for a pick-six in the second quarter.

Down 33-0 at the half, Cousins and the Vikings went to work. With its eye on the clock, Minnesota was quick and efficient. Its first four second-half scoring drives (three TDs and a FG) took fewer than four minutes each.

After a fourth-quarter Cousins pick, the Vikings scored twice more and hit a two-point conversion to complete the largest comeback in the NFL records. Minnesota won on its second overtime drive when kicker Greg Joseph connected on a 40-yard field goal.

Cousins and the Vikings’ offense get most of the credit for this comeback, but it’s worth highlighting Minnesota’s second-half performance on defense. Here’s how the Colts’ second-half and OT drives went: punt, FG, punt, punt, punt, fumble, downs, punt, end of regulation, punt.

2) Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers | 1993-94 AFC Wild Card

The biggest comeback in NFL playoff history belongs to the Buffalo Bills, whose resurgence against the Houston 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, the Bills were forced to start backup quarterback Frank Reich under center.

Things didn’t go well in the first half, as Oilers quarterback Warren Moon threw 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.

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, culminating in the biggest comeback in NFL postseason history.

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

1) New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons | Super Bowl LI

The greatest comeback in NFL history occurred in the most crucial 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 Atlanta Falcons, searching for their first Super Bowl trophy, held a 25-point lead with just over 17 minutes remaining in regulation. While it felt like an insurmountable lead, Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots had other ideas.

Brady hit running back James White for the Pats’ first TD with 2:12 left in the third quarter, but a failed extra point attempt kept the score at 28-9. After an early fourth-quarter field goal brought New England to within 16, LB Dont’a Hightower strip-sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan, leading to another Patriots touchdown (plus a two-point conversion).

Atlanta made it to the New England 23 on its next drive before improbably allowing a sack and committing offensive holding, driving themselves out of field goal range. Brady got the ball back with 3:30 remaining in the fourth and led a 10-play, 91-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 28.

The Patriots received the ball first in overtime, giving Brady the chance to earn his fifth Super Bowl with a touchdown drive. New England methodically marched down the field in nine plays and less than four minutes, with a White TD run capping the most remarkable comeback in the NFL record books.