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The 7 Biggest Playoff Comebacks in NFL History

by: Esteban On  Monday, January 6, 2014

biggest nfl postseason comebacks (biggest nfl playoff comebacks)

On Saturday, as you’ve surely heard a couple dozen times by now, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts pulled off the second-biggest playoff comeback in the history of the NFL. However, what you might not have heard yet is anything about those other epic playoff comebacks, including the one that was even bigger than Colts’ comeback against the Chiefs.

So today that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to tell you all about the greatest playoff comebacks in NFL history. And, just for good measure, we’re going to throw in a close calls, too—you know, those games in which teams nearly completed historic playoff comebacks, but fell just short.

Ready to take a look? Then let’s get the ball rolling with…


Bonus Close Call #1: Falcons vs. Seahawks (January 13, 2013)

You didn’t forget about this one already, did you? Last year the Atlanta Falcons went 13-3 to clinch a first round bye and home field advantage through the NFC Championship Game. Then they took a huge 20-0 lead into halftime against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoff game, and a 27-7 lead into the fourth quarter. It looked like they were going to roll…until Russell Wilson led Seattle storming back with three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take the lead 28-27 with just 30 seconds left on the clock. Suddenly, it looked like Seattle was about pull off an all-time great comeback.

Then Matt Ryan moved the ball 41 yards down field on two plays, and Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning field goal to save the day for Atlanta.


Bonus Close Call #2: Chargers at Dolphins (January 2, 1982)

What’s better than a 20-0 halftime lead? How about a 24-0 first quarter lead. That’s what the Chargers had over the Dolphins in their 1982 Divisional playoff game, and everyone thought the game was over practically as soon as it began. However, the stormed back and outscored the Chargers 17-0 in the second quarter to bring the score to 24-17—a surge that was capped by this amazing hook and ladder play. Then the Fins took the lead 38-31 in the fourth quarter.

The comeback was not meant to be, however. San Diego tied the game up 38-38 and sent it to overtime, where they won it on 29-yard field goal by Rolf Benirschke.

Now let’s look at the comebacks that were meant to be, starting with the 2007 AFC Championship Game…


7. Colts vs. Patriots (January 21, 2007)

7 2007 afc championship colts patriots

Deficit Overcome: 18 points

For the first half of the 2007 AFC Championship Game it was looking like Tom Brady and the Patriots were once again going to get the best of Peyton Manning and the Colts, as they jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead in Indianapolis. However, in arguably the finest game of his historic career, Peyton Manning led the Colts to an 18-point comeback and a 38-34 victory to earn a berth in Super Bowl XLI…which they won.


6. Dolphins vs. Browns (January 4, 1986)

6 dolphins browns 1984 comeback

Deficit Overcome: 18 points

After the Dolphins opened the scoring with a field goal in the first quarter, the Browns surged to a 21-3 lead by the middle of the third quarter thanks to the stellar rushing game of Earnest Byner, who absolutely shredded Miami for 161 yards on the day. However, Byner didn’t play defense, and that’s what ended up letting the Browns down. Dan Marino led the Dolphins on a second half comeback that was capped by a one-yard rushing TD by Ron Davenport in the fourth quarter.


5. Cowboys at 49ers (December 23, 1972)

5 cowboys 49ers 1972

Deficit Overcome: 18 points

The third and final 18-point comeback on the list of epic NFL playoff comebacks belongs to the Cowboys. Dallas was looking to win their second Super Bowl in as many years in 1972; however, midway through the second quarter of their Divisional playoff game against the 49ers, America’s Team found themselves trailing by the score of 21-3. At that point they managed to pull themselves together a bit and went into halftime trailing just 21-13. But they fell further behind again in the third quarter and entered the fourth quarter behind 28-16.

However, in the fourth quarter, Roger Staubach took over. He threw two touchdown passes—one to Billy Parks and one to Ron Sellers—and the Boys came back to beat the Niners 30-28.


4. Lions at 49ers (December 22, 1957)

4 lions 49ers 1957 comeback

Deficit Overcome: 20 points

Playing on their home turf in San Francisco, the 49ers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead over the visiting Detroit Lions. Then the Niners extended their lead to 27-7 early in the third quarter, and it looked like they would be headed to their first ever NFL championship game in just their first ever NFL Playoffs appearance.

But no. Tom Tracy scored two rushing TDs (and ran for a game-high 86 total yards) and Gene Gedman added another to give the Lions a 28-27 lead. Then kicker Jim Martin iced the game with a 13-yard field goal.

Detroit would then go on to beat the Browns in the championship game—and yes, that is the last time the Lions have won a championship of any kind.


3. 49ers vs. Giants (January 5, 2003)

3 2003 nfc wild card 49ers giants comeback terrell owens

Deficit Overcome: 24 points

Alright, now we’re getting to the really good ones. In the 2003 NFC Wild Card game, the pre-Eli Manning Giants and pre-pre-pre-Colin Kaepernick 49ers traded touchdowns to start the game, and midway through the second quarter is was 14-14. However, from then until the end of the third quarter it was all Giants. QB Kerry Collins threw two TD passes to Amani Toomer, Tiki Barber ran for a TD, and Matt Bryant kicked a field goal to open up a massive 38-14 lead. The Niners looked like they were done.

However, at the end of the third quarter, San Francisco struck back with a 26-yard connection between Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. Then Garcia opened the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown, Jeff Chandler hit a 25-yard field goal, and Tai Streets caught a 13-yard pass from Garcia. Suddenly, San Francisco had the lead 39-38—and they did not relinquish it.


2. Colts vs. Chiefs (January 4, 2014)

2 colts chiefs comeback andrew luck 2014

Deficit Overcome: 28 points

So here we are at the Colts’ comeback. You already know the story, though, right? Down 31-10 at the half and 38-10 early in the third quarter, Andrew Luck went berserk and threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns—while also picking up a rushing TD on a fumble recovery—and the Colts came back to stun the Chiefs 45-44. It was ridiculous.


1. Bills vs. Oilers (January 3, 1993)

Deficit Overcome: 32 points

As impressive as the Colts’ comeback against the Chiefs was, there is only one playoff comeback so good that it’s called “The Comeback,” and that is the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the Saints in their AFC Wild Card game in 1993. Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers jumped out to a 28-3 lead at the half. Then they extended their lead to 35-3 on a pick six by Bubba McDowell early in the third quarter. Buffalo was done!

And then they weren’t. A rushing TD by Kenneth Davis and four unanswered TD passes by Frank Reich actually put the Bills ahead 38-35 with three minutes left in the game. The Oilers then pushed back with a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime. But by that point the Bills would not be denied. They won the game in OT on a 32-yard field goal by Steve Christie.

Sadly, the Bills used up all their luck in this game. They would go on to lose their third straight Super Bowl.