We’ve all done it. Sitting there, watching a football game when our team is trailing drastically heading into the fourth quarter. We groan a bit. We complain about the officiating or bad play calling. And deep down, we just hope and pray our team can be the next to pull off a stunning comeback.
As a sports bettor, you might find yourself watching a game and wondering if it’s the right time to make a long-shot bet on a fourth quarter resurgence. How far is just too far to come back from?
This page examines the biggest fourth quarter comebacks in NFL history. Which teams. When. Where. All the key information about how the game played out.
With that knowledge, we hope to give you some insight into whether live betting on NFL games is worth the risk. Placing a wager on a large fourth quarter comeback is hardly going to be the bet that pays out the most often for you. But if it’s a game that is possibly within reach? Well, that sounds like a lot of fun.
First, before we get into the actual history of the NFL’s biggest fourth quarter comebacks, we need to explain why you should be interested in live betting.
Live betting, also known as in-game betting, has become extremely popular in recent years thanks to the growing availability of online and mobile betting. As more states add and regulate online sports betting sites, the more popular these bets are going to get.
The basic explanation is live betting happens as the game is unfolding. Odds can change with the action on the screen, and you can bet on anything from which player will score the next touchdown to what team will lead at the end of a particular quarter to if a team can come back to win the game in the final minutes.
Those odds shift constantly throughout the game, and in some cases the potential return on a bet on a comeback is staggering. There’s a reason for that, of course, and it’s because the vast majority of teams with a significant lead heading into the final quarter of play are still going to win. You’re taking a huge risk putting your money down on what would no doubt be deemed a miracle of sorts.
But what if? That’s the draw to it all, isn’t it? Can you catch lightning in that bottle and have it pay off big time?
That’s what makes these bets so intriguing and, frankly, quite fun. If you want to learn more about live betting, follow our link to a guide on how live bets work, how to download betting apps, and how you can use them to your advantage as part of your overall betting strategy.
Could you imagine watching a game where a team, counted out by the play-by-play team and seemingly by its opponents, mounted an incredible comeback to shock fans and pundits across the country? The excitement alone is worth watching it unfold, not to mention to see history unfolding.
So what are the greatest fourth quarter comebacks in NFL history? Here are some of our favorites:
Coach Ray Perkins must have felt pretty confident heading into the fourth quarter as his Bucs led the struggling Cardinals 28-3. Fans were getting up and exiting Busch Stadium in St. Louis, upset that their hometown Cardinals were looking so heinous. But the Cardinals? Well, they weren’t quite convinced that they should call it a day.
Neil Lomax stepped back in the pocket and found Robert Awalt on a four-yard pass to cut into the Buccaneers’ lead, and following an extra point conversion by kicker Jim Gallery, the score was 28-10.
But 18 points, especially with time creeping off the clock, still was so much to overcome.
Thankfully the defense stepped up, too. Niko Noga grabbed a fumble off the turf and raced 24 yards for a defensive touchdown. Gallery hit the extra point again, and suddenly the Cardinals looked alive, trailing 28-17.
But the comeback effort still needed a boost. Lomax took it upon himself to lead his team down the field, scoring on the next two drives with touchdown passes to J.T. Smith. The first was from 11 yards out and the second came from 17. With Gallery perfect on the day with his extra points, the Cardinals put 28 unanswered points on the board in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 victory.
The ’80s must have just been wild for NFL fans. The game was evolving. New teams were emerging. Stars were popping up on just about every roster in the league.
For the Minnesota Vikings and Coach Bud Grant, the first day of December wasn’t looking so fun, however. They found themselves in the precarious position of trailing the Eagles 23-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Wade Wilson probably felt a sense of relief when his pass to Allen Rice went seven yards and into the end zone for the team’s first score of the afternoon. Jan Stenerud nailed the point-after kick to make it a 23-7 game.
The defense must have thought the scoring looked like a lot of fun, because Willie Teal scooped up a loose ball and outran the Eagles on a 65-yard jaunt across the goal line. The extra point made it 23-14, with the Eagles still in control of the game.
Wilson found his stride, and receiver Anthony Carter tore apart the defensive secondary as the duo combined for two scores in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to secure the unlikely comeback victory for the Vikings. Carter snagged touchdown passes of 36 and 42 yards, and Stenerud came through with the extra points to make it a 28-23 final in favor of Minnesota.
It’s hard to believe it with the way these two teams have performed lately, but there was a time in the 2000s that they were pretty decent. Sure, they weren’t winning Super Bowls, but they were keeping the fans happy with a few wins.
On this particular Monday night, Miami fans were pretty smug heading into the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had a 30-7 lead behind some impressive play across their entire roster, with three field goals coming from Olindo Mare, two rushing touchdowns from Lamar Smith and a touchdown pass from Jay Fiedler to Leslie Shepherd.
The Jets had managed to put up a touchdown of their own in the second quarter, with Vinny Testaverde finding Wayne Chrebet on a 10-yard pass. John Hall’s kick gave the New York squad seven points.
But the fourth quarter would prove to be something grand for Jets fans, while Miami fans could only hold their heads in their hands and wonder what was transpiring on the field.
The Jets took the ball down the field to start the fourth quarter, and Testaverde found Laveranues Coles with a 30-yard pass to make it a 30-13 game. Four minutes later, their deficit shrank to 30-20 thanks to a 1-yard pass from Testaverde and an extra point from Hall.
Hall, who missed the extra point on the first touchdown of the fourth quarter, made up for it with a 34-yard field goal about four minutes later to cut the Miami lead to 30-23. Less than two minutes later, the Jets struck again, this time on a 24-yard pass from Testaverde to Jermaine Wiggins. Hall’s kick made it a 30-30 game.
Miami would prove it wasn’t quite done, though. The Dolphins scored just 22 seconds later as Fiedler hit Shepherd for a 46-yard touchdown. Mare hit the kick to put Miami back in the lead, 37-30.
Time continued to tick off the clock as the Jets pushed their way down the field again. The clock had just 42 seconds remaining in regulation when Testaverde found Jumbo Elliot (yes, the offensive tackle) on a three-yard pass into the end zone for a score. Hall’s extra point tied the game once again, 37-37.
In overtime, the Jets managed to get Hall within range, and he hit a 40-yard field goal to seal the comeback victory for New York.
You know it’s one heck of a comeback when the game gets its own nickname. This one goes down in history as the “Miracle at the Meadowlands.”
The Eagles, coached by current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, were visiting the Giants, coached by Tom Coughlin, on a Sunday afternoon with over 81,000 fans in attendance.
There was no love lost between these two teams as the game wore on, and the Giants looked to be in absolute control after starting the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Kevin Boss following an Eagles’ fumble. Lawrence Tynes’ kick gave the Big Blue Wrecking Crew a 31-10 lead with just 8:17 left in the game.
But rivalries are a funny thing, and the Eagles weren’t counting themselves out of anything. With Michael Vick behind center, he led the team on a quick drive that resulted in a 65-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek down the middle of the field at the 7:28 mark. David Akres connected on the point-after attempt to cut into the Giants’ lead, 31-17.
Exactly two minutes later and thanks to an onside kick recovery, Vick took the ball into the end zone himself, scoring on a 4-yard rush to make it 31-24 following the successful extra point.
The stands were abuzz — excitement and disbelief, depending on if you were wearing blue or green at the time — as Vick found Jeremy Maclin on a 13-yard pass with just 1:16 left in the game. Akers once again split the uprights to tie the game, 31-31.
The Giants didn’t have much time to work with, and after failing to move the ball down the field to run out the clock, they punted it deep with 14 seconds remaining with the expectation of heading into overtime. But it wasn’t how the football gods decided this one was supposed to go down, as DeSean Jackson bobbled the punt and dropped it, managed to recover it and broke through the Giants’ punt coverage for a 65-yard touchdown return — with quite a bit of showboating at the end — to seal the victory for Philly.
To be honest, it’s hard to really nail down an exact number. But if we approach it this way, we will get an idea: In 2020, we know that of the 56 quarterbacks who took the field at some point, there were 32 who had at least one fourth quarter comeback. Of those 32, there were a combined 59 such comebacks.
All 56 quarterbacks combined for 574 games. That comes out to 10.27% of those games ending in fourth quarter comeback victories.
If we want to dive in even deeper, we can look at it this way: The most career fourth quarter comebacks (also known as 4QC statistically) by a quarterback currently stands at 43, a mark held by Peyton Manning. Tom Brady is second with 39, followed by Drew Brees at 36, Ben Roethlisberger at 39 and Johnny Unitas at 34. Rounding out the top 10 are Dan Marino (33), John Elway (31), Matthew Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (30) and Phillip Rivers (29).
If you combine those top 10 fourth quarter comebacks, you get 355. Those 10 quarterbacks, of which three are Hall of Fame members and the other seven will eventually be, combined for 2,388 games played, meaning those QBs combined to win 14.86% of their games via a fourth quarter comeback.
That’s an extremely high number for a sample, of course, as it only identified the absolute best of the best in that department. But what about the players who ranked Nos. 50 through 60? Or 100 through 110? Or the 40 quarterbacks who all rank at No. 244 with three comebacks each? Let’s take a look.
For QBs who rank 50 through 60 in fourth quarter comebacks, we are kind of going to have to cheat a little. There are seven players tied for 48th with 17 4QCs each, while we have nine others who are tied at No. 55 with 16 each. So we’ll use those 16 QBs.
With 17 fourth quarter comebacks:
Of those players, there have been 263 fourth quarter comebacks. They’ve played a combined 2,670 games. That’s 9.85% of games that ended in fourth quarter comeback victories. That’s still pretty impressive.
At 100 through 110, we’ll be going with the 13 players who all tied at No. 99 with 11 comebacks each.
Those players are: Kirk Cousins, Daunte Culpepper, Jim Everett, Jeff Garcia, Bobby Hebert, Jack Kemp, Erik Kramer, Neil Lomax, Archie Manning, Jim McMahon, Matt Schaub, Phil Simms and Danny White.
That’s a combined 143 4QCs in 1,683 games. The final tally is 8.49% of games ending with fourth quarter comebacks.
Finally, let’s look at the bottom players. Forty players each have three career fourth quarter comebacks. Of all of those, there is just one Hall of Fame member in Charley Trippi, who played from 1947-1955 for the Chicago Cardinals.
That’s a combined 120 fourth quarter comeback victories, and between them, those 40 quarterbacks played 2,235 games. That comes out to 5.36% ending with a 4QC.
As your momma might have told you, it’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality. If she was speaking in reference to NFL fourth quarter comebacks, you can see she was definitely right. The best quarterbacks, who tend to be on some of the best teams, manage to make fourth quarter comebacks a part of their yearly output. Most, however, don’t get even close.
Still, even those at the bottom of Pro Football Reference’s list still have managed to give their team and their fans some incredible memories.
If you’ve got that feeling the team you’re about to wager on is going to earn that coveted fourth quarter comeback victory, then there are a few in game bets you can make to complement that wager.
For moneyline bets, you can bet on the home or away team to win outright, or choose which of the teams will score the most points in the fourth quarter. For spread bets, you can bet on if a team will cover the specified point spread for the fourth quarter. If you like to eager on totals, aka over/unders, then you’ll likely be able to place a wager on if the total fourth quarter points will be more or less than a specified number.
For prop bets, you can expect that a quarterback’s numbers are going to skyrocket (as will receiving yards) while rushing numbers will tend to drop for the team that is trailing. The number of passes and completions thrown, as well as the number of receptions, will also climb. And don’t forget about special teams because you can expect there will be more scoring from the field goal and extra point units, as well as an increased possibility of less-common plays like a fake field goal or an onside kick.
And, finally, you’ll most likely also have the opportunity to wager on if the fourth quarter will be the highest scoring quarter of the entire game, which, if it has been a fairly low-scoring affair already, is quite likely if a team mounts a comeback.
Combine some of those bets with your instincts that a team might be in line for a fourth quarter comeback, and you could walk away with a nice return on your bet slip.
You can always guarantee that the odds presented in a sportsbook will be tilted in favor of the house. It is a business, after all, and the sportsbook is in the industry so it can make money.
If the odds are really lopsided, it’s because the oddsmakers don’t expect the team to be able to put enough of a game together to earn the win. If they are less so, then that comeback victory is a bit more likely.
There are no real-world odds that will match up with those presented by a sportsbook for the simple reason that such lines wouldn’t be very attractive to most sports bettors. If a quarterback only has a chance to win about 5% of all the games they’ll ever play in the NFL, then that’s not really going to get bettors putting money down.
Kick those odds up, make the potential return an impressive one, and suddenly interest is piqued, however.
But keep in mind that while the likelihood of you winning a bet on a fourth quarter comeback victory is very, very slim, the possibility always exists out there, especially when the ball is in the hands of a top-rated quarterback on a top-rated team. That’s the beauty of the NFL after all — any team can win on any given day.