Top 5 greatest Super Bowl comebacks of all time
Tom Brady’s name comes to mind when it comes to Super Bowl comebacks, but where does his unbelievable performance rank all time?
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Some of the greatest Super Bowls of all time earned their place amongst the greatest because of the comeback stories within the game.
Trailing in the biggest game in American football can be a daunting experience, but witnessing athletes display unwavering determination and resilience by putting on their helmets and persevering, play by play, is truly inspiring. The teams and players on this list never gave up hope and, against all odds, mounted a comeback that resulted in their franchise's ultimate victory: a Super Bowl championship.
History of Super Bowl Scores
In the 56 Super Bowl games we’ve had so far, there have been some high scoring affairs. The record stands at 75 points in Super Bowl XXIX between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. The Niners won the game 49-26, with Steve Young throwing six touchdowns, three of which were caught by legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice.
The Philadelphia Eagles victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII came a close second, when 74 points were scored in the game, including the Philly Special play that resulted in a Nick Foles touchdown catch.
The San Francisco 49ers hold the record for the highest point total in a Super Bowl, scoring 55 points in a dominant performance led by quarterback Joe Montana against the Denver Broncos in the 1980s during the team's dynasty era. Jerry Rice had three touchdowns in that game too, making a heavy contribution to the highest single team total in Super Bowl score history.
What Quarterback led the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history?
Tom Brady has the record for the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, overcoming a 25-point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Up until that point, no team had ever overcome a 17+ point deficit in the fourth quarter of a playoff game; every team that tried had failed, for a total of 0-133.
Brady and the Patriots became the first team to do so, and not just in a playoff game, in the Super Bowl. The Patriots comeback against Atlanta is undoubtedly one of the greatest Super Bowl comebacks in the history of the league, but where does it feature on this list, and what are the best comebacks ever?
Ranking the Top 5 Biggest Comebacks in Super Bowl history
- Super Bowl XXII - Washington Redskins 42 - Denver Broncos 10 | 1988
John Elway and the Denver Broncos got out to an early lead against the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. The Broncos were playing in their second consecutive Super Bowl, and largely considered the favorite.
Doug Williams was the starting quarterback for Washington, despite beginning the season as a backup. He faced off against one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in the biggest game of the season.
After going 10-0 behind at the close of the first quarter, Washington came back and scored 42 unanswered points, putting the game completely out of reach for the Broncos in just the second quarter.
The Redskins scored 35 points in the second quarter of the game, including an 80-yard touchdown from Doug Williams to Ricky Sanders on the team’s first play after the quarter break. They blew the Denver Broncos away in that quarter, and after taking such a hefty lead there was no coming back for Elway and his team.
Doug Williams threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns on just 19 completions in the game, while the defense picked off Elway three times. Running back Timmy Smith rushed for 202 yards on the night, with two rushing touchdowns, while receiver Ricky Sanders caught nine balls for 193 yards and two receiving TDs.
While the deficit might have come early in the game, the 10-point comeback that resulted in a blowout is tied for the second biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
- Super Bowl XLIV - New Orleans Saints 31 - Indianapolis Colts 17 | 2010
The New Orleans Saints completed quite the fairytale story with their win in Super Bowl XLIV. It was the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance after earning the number one seed in the NFC with a 14-2 regular season performance.
The Saints faced the Indianapolis Colts, who were also 14-2 during the regular season and first place in the AFC under the leadership of Peyton Manning. The Colts entered the game as the favorite by five points and took the lead early in the game.
A field goal plus Manning’s touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon gave the Colts a 10-0 lead at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. The Saints would find themselves down 10-6 at half time.
The New Orleans Saints took a bold step by attempting an onside kick to begin the second half instead of allowing Manning and the Colts to start with the ball. The tactic paid off as they recovered the kick and marched 58 yards for a touchdown, securing their first lead of the game.
Drew Brees put on a remarkable performance in the game, completing 32 of his 39 pass attempts in an impressive display reminiscent of his prime years with the Saints. That night, he tied the record for the most completions in a Super Bowl and brought a long-awaited championship to New Orleans, uplifting the spirits of a city still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.
The Super Bowl win is one of the most important in league history, with Drew Brees paying a heartfelt tribute to the people of New Orleans after the win.
- Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots 28 - Seattle Seahawks 24 | 2015
The Patriots stealing this game from the Seattle Seahawks with Malcolm Butler's goal line interception rightly became the headline for Super Bowl XLIX, but many forget the Patriots were behind by ten in the fourth quarter.
The defending champion Seahawks led 24-14, picking off Tom Brady twice with interceptions from cornerback Jeremy Lane and linebacker Bobby Wagner. However, on the latter of the two interceptions, Seattle lost edge rusher Cliff Avril to a concussion. Avril had been a pivotal part of the game up until that point, providing significant pressure alongside Michael Bennett.
In the fourth quarter, Brady led the Patriots on two touchdown scoring drives, giving them the lead against one of the NFLs all-time best secondaries.
Brady threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns on the night, with the defense coming up clutch in the final moments of the game to seal the victory for the Patriots on the goal line.
- Super Bowl LIV - Kansas City Chiefs 31 - San Francisco 49ers 20 | 2020
Patrick Mahomes made his return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season after falling short against the New England Patriots in 2019. He’ll make his third appearance in Super Bowl 57 on February 12th, 2023 but has already proven he can overcome obstacles on the biggest stage.
The Chiefs found themselves down 20-10 in the fourth quarter, playing against strong 49ers team that had been 13-3 in the regular season and stout defensively. Mahomes led the Chiefs to 21 straight points with no answer from the 49ers, all in the final seven minutes of the games. He threw touchdowns to tight end Travis Kelce and running back Damien Williams, giving the Chiefs a 24-20 lead, before the Chiefs added a third fourth quarter touchdown on the ground.
The Chiefs takeover in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter was phenomenal to watch, with Kansas City putting on a masterclass both offensively and defensively. They shut out the Niners and created three scoring drives to secure the first Super Bowl for the Chiefs in 50 years, and the first for a young Patrick Mahomes in his career.
While the game is tied second amongst the largest comebacks in Super Bowl history, its remarkable nature sets it apart from the rest, surpassed only by one other game and its outstanding performer.
- Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots 34 - Atlanta Falcons 28 (OT) | 2017
All four of the games on this list detail comebacks of 10 points. Some of those were early in the game, while the Patrick Mahomes performance with the Chiefs stands as the most impressive of the four with 21 points scored in the fourth quarter.
Brady and the Patriots comeback, however, stands on its very own pedestal as the biggest Super Bowl comeback by quite some margin and one of the best Super Bowls of all time. The Patriots started poorly, finding themselves with a mountain to climb. Brady threw a pick six to Robert Alford that gave the Falcons a 21-0 lead late in the first half. That lead would eventually stretch to 28-3, which is now one of the most historic Super Bowl scores because of what happened next.
At 39 years old, Tom Brady stepped up and led his team to not only the largest Super Bowl comeback in the history of the game, but one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history period.
Brady led the Patriots to 25 second half points, while the defense pitched a complete shutout to help tie the game at 28 points apiece. He would then drive them down the field one last time to secure the win on the opening drive of overtime.
The game quickly gained a legendary status, showcasing one of the most remarkable moments in Tom Brady's career. He achieved the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, adding another championship title and notch to his already impressive resume.
The 25-point comeback stands alone as the biggest deficit recovered in a Super Bowl, 15 points more than the four other games on this list, all tied for second place. The game is also tied for the seventh biggest comeback in any NFL game in the history of the league.
The comeback by Tom Brady in the Super Bowl was a jaw-dropping spectacle that left Patriots fans in disbelief and Falcons fans unable to bear witness. It is unlikely that we will ever see a similar comeback in the future.
Parameters for Rankings
The five largest Super Bowl comebacks have been ranked based on the size of the deficit that the winning team overcame in their respective Super Bowl game. The four games that tied for second place were then further ranked based on the level of achievement and competitiveness of each game, with Patrick Mahomes' fourth quarter comeback against the 49ers taking the top spot among that group.