Football is a strategic sport that requires teamwork, faultless physical performance, military-level training and the ability to adapt. Since the first official college football game was carried out in 1869, the sport has been a source of exhilaration for both players and fans alike. Whether it’s an out-of-nowhere interception, an extended pass that lands perfectly in the hands of a streaking wide receive or a last-minute field goal, there is rarely a dull moment when NFL players face off on the gridiron.
But if you ask any devoted football fan, they’ll likely tell you that no thrill compares to the adrenaline rush that surges through your veins when the underdog team you’re rooting for defies the odds and emerges as a champion. So, to celebrate some of these crowning moments, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite NFL comebacks— all of which are praiseworthy and never-to-be-forgotten – because naming just one “Biggest Comeback in NFL History” would be an injustice.
Buffalo Bills vs Houston Oilers – January 3, 1993
This NFL playoff game was such a success story that it has become immortalized in the minds of football fanatics, who often refer to it as “The Comeback”. Held in Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, it was a face-off between two wild card teams, with Houston having defeated Buffalo in the last game of the regular season, 27-3.
The Oilers were on fire in the beginning with quarterback Warren Moon completing 19 of 22 passes, totaling 218 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half. But the Bills were the recipients of some good luck during the kick-off of the second half, when a sudden breeze caused Oilers placekicker Al Del Greco to deliver a squib kick. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was the beginning of a downward trajectory.
By the third quarter, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176 yards and were just a few points behind the Oilers with a score of 35-31. The Bills took the lead with 3:08 left to go in the game on a 17 yard touchdown reception by Andre Reed. A field goal by Al Del Greco of the Oilers tied the game at 38-38 and sent it into overtime.
The Oilers were held back in overtime by an interception by Nate Odomes and a 15-yard penalty on Haywood Jeffires for tackling by the facemask. Steve Christie then delivered the 32-yard field goal that secured the Bills the win, along with the title of “Biggest Comeback in NFL History”.
FINAL SCORE: 41–38 in favor of the Oilers
New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons – February 15, 2017
There is no better redemption story than seeing an underdog bounce back to win the Super Bowl, which makes this game an obvious contender for best NFL comeback of all time. The first half of Super Bowl LI was unquestionably dominated by the Falcons, who had a lead of 7-0 with 12:15 remaining in the second quarter. By the time the clock reached zero at halftime, the Falcons led 21-3. For onlookers, it was an ominous sign— but the Patriots weren’t ready to take a loss.
The Falcons scored another touchdown midway through the third quarter to make it 28-3 and it was during the fourth quarter that the Patriots truly came to life. Danny Amendola implemented a 6-yard touchdown reception from Brady with 5:56 on the clock, and the team was able to execute enough passes and runs to tie up the game with less than a minute left. Both teams were sitting at 28 points heading into overtime.
The Patriots were on the right side of the coin toss, and Brady emerged ready to battle. He completed passes to White, Amendola and Hogan for gains of 6, 14, and 18 yards. In the end, however, it was James White who scored the final touchdown that earned the Patriots the 34–28 victory. The fact that the Falcons had been leading by 25 points in the third quarter along with it being the Super Bowl, immediately solidified this game as possibly the biggest comeback in football history.
FINAL SCORE: 34-28 in favor of the Patriots
San Francisco 49ers vs New Orleans Saints – December 7, 1980
It was a tough crowd at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on December 7, 1980. The fans who did show up made their disappointment known when the winless Saints amassed 324 yards and 20 first downs in the first half, maintaining the ball for the majority of the first two quarters and scoring five touchdowns.
Nearly 10,000 stadium seats were empty and even though the game was looking bleak for the 49ers, who were down 35-7 at the halftime mark, their fate was far from sealed. Quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Dwight Clark worked together to secure a 48-yard gain at the beginning of the second half.
From there, they executed a touchdown and a 71-yard TD pass that reduced the deficit down to 35-21. This was when the makings of the greatest comeback in NFL history started to come together. The 49ers scored twice in the fourth quarter, tying up the score at 35-35 and sending the game into overtime. Placekicker Ray Wersching set his sights on the victory and landed a 36-yard field goal, earning his team the biggest football comeback at the time in NFL history.
FINAL SCORE: 38-35 in favor of the 49ers
Choosing just one game to label as the greatest NFL comeback is nearly impossible. Every football fan has their own perspective, favorite teams and personal preferences when it comes to the sport. But no matter what game resulted in your biggest playoff comeback NFL moment, there’s one thing every American football fan can agree on— the moments of glory more than make up for the losses.
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