Big comebacks are an integral part of the NFL. If we’ve learned one thing over the years of watching this sport, it’s that no lead is ever truly safe. The teams on this list took that to the next level as they made the biggest comebacks the sport has ever seen.
Biggest NFL Comebacks of All Time
Keep reading to find out which ten games had the largest comebacks in NFL history.
#1: 33 points – Minnesota Vikings vs. Indianapolis Colts (12/17/2022)
The Vikings were the bane of many sports’ bettors existence last season as they rode a 11-0 record in one-score games to a 13-3 record overall. The odds of that 11-0 record happening since 1999 are about 0.0465%. There wasn’t a more jaw-dropping Vikings win last season than their victory over the Colts.
In the week before Christmas, the Vikings hosted the Colts as 3.5-point favorites. Indianapolis was struggling through a 4-8-1 season that saw them replace head coach Frank Reich with former offensive lineman Jeff Saturday. Meanwhile, the Vikings were 10-3 and cruising to an NFC North title.
However, the Colts built a massive 33-0 halftime lead by way of a non-existent Vikings offense and touchdowns from both their defense and special teams. It seemed as though all of the expected regression for Minnesota was finally coming to fruition all at once. At halftime, the Vikings’ estimated chance of beating the Colts was 0.4%.
However, the Vikings outscored the Colts 36-3 between 8:22 in the third quarter and 2:15 left in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In overtime, the Vikings completed the biggest comeback in NFL history with a 3-yard Greg Joseph field goal with three seconds remaining on the clock.
THE @VIKINGS CAP OFF THE LARGEST COMEBACK IN NFL HISTORY.
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2022
Kirk Cousins finished with a career best 460 passing yards despite one of the worst halves of his career to start the game. K.J. Osborn (10-157-1) and Justin Jefferson (12-123-1) both had double-digit catches and a score. Minnesota’s win that day saw them clinch a playoff spot and the NFC North title.
#2: 32 points – Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers (1/3/1993)
In a game simply known as “the Comeback,” the Bills made history with what stood as the largest come-from-behind win in league history until the Vikings topped it last year. It still stands as the biggest playoff comeback win of all time. The Oilers held a 28-3 halftime lead and were up 35-3 early in the third quarter before everything fell apart.
Frank Reich, now the Panthers head coach, was filling in for typical starting quarterback Jim Kelly and had the best performance of his career with 289 passing yards and four touchdowns. Reich also engineered what stood as the largest comeback in college football history for 22 years – his Maryland team trailed by 31-0 in the first half and won 42-40 over Miami.
Houston quarterback Warren Moon played an excellent game in his own right with 371 passing yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to keep his team from surrendering the massive lead. What makes this feat even crazier is that the Bills lost to the Oilers 27-3 in the final week of the regular season.
#3: 28 points – San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints (12/7/1980)
The 49ers started the 1980 season 3-0, but that quickly turned into a 5-8 record. The expectation was that a home game against an 0-13 Saints team would be a great get right spot for the team. However, the Saints built a 35-7 halftime lead behind quarterback Archie Manning leading five touchdown drives. The 49ers had just two first downs in the first half.
However, everything changed in the second half as Joe Montana, at that point making just the sixth start of his career, threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Dwight Clark was on the receiving end of the play of the game, a 71-yard catch-and-run play on a crossing pattern in the third quarter. Lenvill Elliott had his best NFL performance with 125 rushing yard, 91 of which came on the team’s final two touchdown drives.
The 49ers finished the season just 6-10, but that comeback win over the Saints was the highlight of Montana’s young career and helped him set the foundation for becoming one of the best passers in NFL history. Legendary head coach Bill Walsh said this was one of two wins throughout his career that produced “absolute euphoria.”
#4: 28 points – Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs (1/12/2013)
In his second year as a starter and second playoff appearance, Andrew Luck delivered the signature win of his electric but disappointingly short career. Luck, the former #1 overall pick, had a poor showing in his playoff debut as a rookie and was off to another slow start against the Chiefs, forcing throws and ending with three interceptions.
His second of three interceptions, on the first play of the second half, put Alex Smith in position to throw his fourth touchdown of the game and put his Chiefs up 38-10. However, a flip switched for the Colts after that score as Luck finished with 443 passing yards, the second-most in franchise playoff history, and four touchdown passes. T.Y. Hilton broke franchise playoff records with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Colts had just a 3.6% chance of winning when they were down 31-10 at halftime. That dropped to 0.9% when the Chiefs took a 38-10 lead. The Colts pulled off the largest comeback not requiring overtime in NFL history and pulled off “one for the ages,” as head coach Chuck Pagano put it.
#5: 27 points – Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers (1/14/2023)
Two of the five biggest comebacks in NFL history came during the most recent season, and this one was equally memorable to the Vikings’ 33-point comeback against the Colts. In a playoff game that promised offensive fireworks between two rising stars in Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence, that was not the case early on.
Lawrence, who was making his playoff debut, had an awful start with four first-half interceptions as the Chargers built a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter. However, Lawrence’s confidence somehow never wavered as he turned things around and threw four straight touchdown passes to four different players. The Jaguars were the first team to win a playoff game with a turnover differential of -5 or worse.
Trevor Lawrence vs Chargers 2023 Playoffs
28/47 288 yards | 4 TDS, 4 INTs
This TD sparked an all time comeback and also saved his legacy pic.twitter.com/oHHhl6XkV8
— ChillTakes (@chilltakes_) May 18, 2023
An awfully inefficient Chargers run game – they ran for just 67 yards on 23 carries (2.9 YPC) as a team – hurt their ability to put the Jaguars away in the second half while Lawrence delivered a magical effort in Jacksonville’s first playoff game in five years. “I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “These guys have sacrificed way too much for me to be the reason we lose an opportunity.”
#6: 26 points – Buffalo Bills vs. Indianapolis Colts (9/21/1997)
The Bills trailed the Colts 26-0 just before halftime as four Cary Blanchard field goals in the second quarter gave his team what felt like an insurmountable lead. The Bills entered that game 1-2 and in need of a win to jump start their season while the Colts, who ended the year 3-13, were 0-3 to begin the season.
Jim Harbaugh, whose coaching career has been much more successful than his playing career, didn’t have the firepower to match 275 passing yards and two touchdowns from Todd Collins. Rookie Antowain Smith finished with 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns and called it a “tremendous win for our team and for our egos.”
#7: 25 points – Super Bowl LI, New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (2/5/2017)
While the Patriots’ 25-point comeback in Super Bowl LI is only the seventh-largest comeback of all time, it’s the most famous and is an undeniable part of the lore of Tom Brady, the greatest of all time. After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons built a surprising 21-3 halftime lead that included an 82-yard pick six for Robert Alford that put things in dire straits.
The lead would balloon to 28-3 in the third quarter that set up a 28-3 third-quarter deficit for the Patriots to overcome. Tom Brady calmly led the Patriots on five straight scoring drives and 31 straight points. James White had 139 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns, and a two-point conversion.
After this game, it was seemingly impossible to argue for anyone over Tom Brady as the best of all time. No team had ever made up more than a 10-point deficit to win a Super Bowl, and the Patriots had just come back from down 25. The NFL distributed a list of 24 new Super Bowl records broken by the Patriots that afternoon in their fifth championship win.
Brady would win one more Super Bowl in New England and Bill Belichick is on the doorstep of the most career wins in NFL coaching history, but what owner Robert Kraft said that day likely remains true – “this one is unequivocally the sweetest.”
#8: 25 points – Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans (10/5/2014)
In Week 5 of the 2014 season, the Browns earned their first road win in over a year in epic fashion. They overcame a 28-3 deficit that was built on the back of two touchdowns by quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, nicknamed Clipboard Jesus as a career backup, who entered the game in relief of an injured Jake Locker.
However, Whitehurst couldn’t help his team hold onto the lead as the Titans failed to score after halftime. Brian Hoyer, meanwhile, led the team to a 23-0 scoring run as he threw three touchdowns. First year Browns head coach Mike Pettine told reporters after the game that he had “an EKG scheduled for tomorrow because my heart can’t take many more of these.”
#9: 25 points – St. Louis Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11/8/1987)
Before the Cardinals moved to the desert in Arizona, they shared the same name as the baseball team that plays in St. Louis. In their final season before packing up for Phoenix, the Cardinals pulled off a historic feat in front of a paltry attendance of just 22,449 fans, their lowest in four years.
The Buccaneers built a 28-3 lead that extended into the fourth quarter, but Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax threw three touchdowns in the final period and Niko Noga added a fumble return for a touchdown. Tampa kicker Donald Igwebuike had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but his 53-yard attempt bounced off the crossbar as the Cardinals won 31-28.
#10: 24 points – Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans (1/12/2020)
There have been several comebacks from a 24-point deficit throughout NFL history, but this is my personal favorite as it represented a significant betting win for me and many of my friends. Patrick Mahomes, then in his second season as a starter, was coming off a historic 50-touchdown debut season and MVP award, and he was looking for his first Super Bowl.
First, he would need to knock off Deshaun Watson’s Texans in the Divisional Round. The Chiefs were 10-point home favorites, but the Texans started the game with a shocking four-score lead after Ka’imi Fairbairn’s field goal put them up 24-0 with just under 11 minutes left in the second quarter. The Chiefs had never overcome a bigger deficit in team history.
To say Mahomes rallied the troops would be an understatement. He threw four touchdowns in the second quarter alone, tying a playoff record and erasing the Texans’ big lead before halftime. Houston would go on to get outscored 23-7 in the second half, and by the time the game was over it felt as though they never really had much of a chance.
The Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by at least 20 points after trailing by at least 20, covering the spread in the process. They also went over the total of 50.5 on their own, winning the game 51-31. This comeback win would galvanize the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl win in 50 years and the first of Mahomes’s career.
On This Day, 1 Year Ago…
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 12, 2021