For a long time, a Super Bowl comeback was just about as rare as a poor performance by Tom Brady.
Since the start of Super Sunday in 1967, there hadn’t been a comeback from more than 10 points down in any game for 50 years. Certainly nothing as epic as the Buffalo Bills’ 32-point rally against the Houston Oilers in the 1993 AFC wild-card game.
In fact, nine of the 12 matchups that took place between 1984-95 were decided by 17 points or more – including five of the six biggest one-sided affairs in NFL history.
So with blowouts the norm and no chance of storming back from more than a 10-point deficit (since it had never happened before), fans were free to simply turn the channel or just focus on the commercials and the chili.
But all that changed on Feb. 5, 2017 when Brady and the New England Patriots ensured that it would no longer be safe to turn off a one-sided Super Bowl ever again. It’s the headliner of our list of the largest comebacks in Super Bowl history.
1. 25 Points: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 OT in Super Bowl LI (Feb. 5, 2017)
It didn’t look good for Brady’s legacy when the Patriots trailed 28-3 to Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, but then the quarterback known as the greatest of all time began his quest to pull off the greatest comeback of the game’s 51-year history.
The 39-year-old QB set Super Bowl records with 446 passing yards, 62 passing attempts and 43 completions as the Pats, who had the NFL’s best record at 14-2 during the regular season, reeled off 31 unanswered points. Brady would win two more Super Bowls before retiring (for good), one with the Patriots and one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
James White had one of the best games of his career with two rushing touchdowns to go along with 14 catches for 110 yards and a score. His 1-yard run and Brady’s pass to Danny Amendola for the two-point conversion tied the game with 0:57 remaining in regulation.
“Tom has had a lot of great ones. Tonight was one of them,” New England head coach Bill Belichick told reporters.
T-2. 10 Points: Kansas City Chiefs 31, San Francisco 49ers 20 in Super Bowl LIV (Feb. 2, 2020)
Only three teams have rallied back from 10-point holes in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. The aforementioned 2016 Patriots, the 2014 Patriots (more on them later) and the 2019 Chiefs. Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and Co. trailed Kyle Shanahan (who was the offensive coordinator of that 2016 Falcons team), Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers 20-10 before the 24-year-old Mahomes led the Chiefs to 21 straight points in the final 6:13 for a 31-20 victory at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The win ended both a 50-year title drought for the franchise and a two-decade wait for Reid, who had lost his previous trip to the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
T-2. 10 Points: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24 in Super Bowl XLIX (Feb. 1, 2015)
This game in Arizona is remembered for the Seahawks’ decision to pass the ball from the 1-yard line instead of handing it to Marshawn Lynch with the game on the line. Of course, Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s ill-fated throw with 20 seconds left to cap the fourth championship of the Brady-Bill Belichick era.
But very few people remember that the Patriots actually trailed 24-14 until Brady started the comeback by finding Amendola on a 4-yard TD pass with 7:55 remaining. Brady threw two interceptions in a Super Bowl for the first and only time in his career, but he was sensational when it counted and ended up with 328 passing yards and a career Super Bowl-high four touchdowns.
T-2. 10 Points: New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 in Super Bowl XLIV (Feb. 7, 2010)
Though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the previous comebacks on this list, Drew Brees and the Saints did trail Peyton Manning and the Colts 10-0 in the first half after kicker Matt Stover’s 38-yard field goal and Manning’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon.
But playing with some extra motivation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that ravaged the New Orleans area, the Saints called for an onside kick to open the second half and recovered it before driving 58 yards to the end zone. They also stymied the Hall of Fame QB and the AFC champs the rest of the way en route to the first title in their 43-year history.
Brees completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns to tie the Super Bowl record for completions and earn the MVP honors at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
T-2. 10 Points: Washington 42, Denver Broncos 10 in Super Bowl XXII (Jan. 31, 1988)
During the era of Super Sunday blowouts, it’s hard to believe the Broncos actually led 10-0 after one quarter at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. That’s because the NFC champs led by 25 at halftime after scoring 35 in the second quarter to set the NFL’s playoff record for the most points in a quarter.
Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl, put on a show with a then-record 340 passing yards and a then-record-tying four touchdowns on the way to winning MVP honors. Wide receiver Ricky Sanders ended with a then-record 193 yards on nine catches, while rookie running back Timmy Smith set the Super Bowl and Washington postseason rushing record with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.