Captain Comeback: Super Bowl History

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 04, 2012



In the recap of every fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive in NFL playoff history, we have reached the final destination: the Super Bowl.
 
Does the ultimate game produce more late-game excitement than the rest of the playoffs? Long-time NFL fans that suffered through many excruciating Super Sunday snoozers have a good notion. But, here are the numbers, updated for this season.
 
Playoff games decided by score in the fourth quarter/overtime:
Wild Card – 37 of 118 (31.4%)
Divisional (Pt. 2) – 54 of 187 (28.9%)
Conference Championship – 18 of 84 (21.4%)
Pre-Merger Championship – 13 of 47 (27.7%)
Super Bowl – 14 of 45 (31.1%)
Total – 136 of 481 (28.3%)
 
The Wild Card just edges out the Super Bowl, though we can change that Sunday night. Only ten of the 14 game-winning drives in Super Bowl history featured a fourth quarter comeback.
 
Exciting finishes in the biggest of games have been more of a recent phenomenon, with eight of our 14 featured Super Bowls occurring since the 1997 season. That’s eight in the last 14 seasons. Need one more crazy eight? We’re on an eight-game Super Bowl streak where at least one team had a fourth quarter comeback opportunity. Not since Jon Gruden could call out the plays from Oakland’s offense have we had a Super Bowl that wasn’t within one score in the fourth quarter.
 
Overall, 21 of the 45 Super Bowls (46.7%) have featured a fourth quarter comeback opportunity for at least one team. That means only 13 of the first 37 (35.1%) featured one. Fortunately, we’ve been able to enjoy several of the best Super Bowls ever in the last decade.
 
Will Sunday rank up there? We’ll preview the game at the end as the Captain makes his fearless score and MVP predictions.
 
First we have to revisit moments like the most well-known field goal miss in NFL history, “The Tackle”, New England’s trio of three-point wins, and “The Greatest Drive in NFL History.”

1970s

The first four Super Bowls produced games that were one-sided, with Green Bay claiming the first two titles, followed by a pair of uplifting wins for the AFL. By 1970 the leagues had officially merged into a 26-team league, and our first close Super Bowl featured two teams that suffered a lot of championship game heartbreak in the 1960’s.
 
Note: the season the game was played is listed after the Super Bowl number.
 

Super Bowl V (1970): Bizzaro Blunder Bowl

Baltimore vs. Dallas (box) – After falling one game short (both to Green Bay) from making the first two Super Bowls, the Cowboys were quickly ousted by the Cleveland Browns in 1968 and 1969. But in 1970, Tom Landry’s bunch finally pulled through to reach the Super Bowl. They had won an unimpressive 5-0 showing over Detroit, followed by a 17-10 upset in San Francisco in the NFC Championship.
 
Then there was the Baltimore Colts. After starting 11-0-2 in 1967, a loss in the final game of the regular season to the Rams eliminated them from making the postseason. A year later they cruised to a dominant 15-1 record and Super Bowl III appearance with Earl Morrall, starting and winning league MVP in place of the injured Johnny Unitas. But a stunning loss to the New York Jets produced another disastrous ending. Unitas returned the following year, but the Colts finished 8-5-1 and short of the playoffs. Head coach Don Shula left for Miami; replaced by Don McCafferty.
 
A 37-year old Unitas was less effective, but the Colts finished 11-2-1 and reached the Super Bowl after impressive defensive performances against the Bengals and Raiders. What would take place in Super Bowl V, no one would have seen coming. Forty Super Bowls later and there are still certain things we haven’t seen since.
 
The teams combined for a Super Bowl record 11 turnovers. The Colts had 7 (3 INT, 4 lost fumbles), and still won the game, which is another record. Dallas helped with 10 penalties for 133 yards.
 
Signature plays often define a Super Bowl. Fittingly, the signature play in this game is Unitas’ pass that was deflected off two players, and finally caught by TE John Mackey for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the game. Of course the extra point was then missed.
 
The game was so bizarre, that it remains the only Super Bowl where the game’s MVP award was given to someone from the losing team. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley (2 INT) won the award, but didn’t even want to accept it in defeat.
 
It’s also the only Super Bowl where a team won after losing the starting quarterback to injury. Unitas made the start, but was injured in the second quarter after taking a hit on a pass that was intercepted. He was replaced by Morrall, the Super Bowl III starter. Unitas finished the game 3/9 for 88 yards, TD, 2 INT and a lost fumble.
 
Dallas had built a 13-6 lead, and Morrall’s 4th-and-goal pass at the DAL 2 fell incomplete with 16 seconds left in the half. The Colts would have to pull out the win with their experienced backup quarterback.
 
The blunders continued immediately in the second half, as the Colts fumbled the kickoff. But Dallas’ Duane Thomas would fumble with the ball one yard away from the end zone. Rookie kicker Jim O’Brien missed a 52-yard field goal for the Colts.
 
As the fourth quarter began, the Colts had the ball at the DAL 11. But on third down, Morrall’s pass was intercepted by Howley in the end zone. The next drive wouldn’t be much more successful, as a trick play led to yet another fumble by the Colts in the red zone, and the ball went through the end zone for a Dallas touchback.
 
But with just over eight minutes left, the Cowboys were in the giving mood themselves. Craig Morton, who was having an okay game for his playoff standards, had his pass tipped and intercepted by Rick Volk, who returned it down to the DAL 3. Morrall just had to hand the ball off a few times now. This led to a Tom Nowatzke 2-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13 with 7:35 left.
 
After a Dallas punt, the Colts went three and out. Then with 1:52 left and great field position at the BAL 48, the Cowboys quickly self-destructed. Thomas lost a yard on first down, followed by a sack and holding penalty on second down. Now it was 2nd and 35, and Morton’s pass was tipped by teammate Dan Reeves and intercepted by Mike Curtis, who returned it to the DAL 28 with 0:59 left.
 
 Two handoffs for three yards, and O’Brien was out there for the game-winning kick. From 32 yards away, he made it, and the Colts led 16-13 with five seconds left. Morton tossed one more pick on the final play of the game.
 
Your first fourth quarter comeback in Super Bowl history, and it’s a 3-yard drive after a tipped pass was intercepted. Your first game-winning drive in Super Bowl history, and it’s also a 3-yard drive after a tipped pass was intercepted.
 
No, Earl Morrall was not clutch that day, and Johnny Unitas picks up the win as a starter in a game he had three turnovers on 10 drop backs, and the luckiest 75-yard touchdown in Super Bowl history.
 
But someone had to win the “Blunder Bowl”, and Dallas made more costly mistakes in the end.
 

Super Bowl X (1975): Race to Two Rings

Pittsburgh vs. Dallas (box) – A year after Super Bowl V the Cowboys would win their first Super Bowl. The Steelers won their first in the 1974 season, and were back for their second straight appearance. The game featured two of the decade’s best quarterbacks in Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. Little did we know at the time how crucial these Super Bowl meetings would be in determining the team of the decade.
 
As Pittsburgh attempted to punt on their first possession, a fumbled snap led to Dallas taking over at the PIT 29. One play later Staubach threw a touchdown to Drew Pearson for the 7-0 lead.
 
The Steelers answered, as Bradshaw connected with game MVP Lynn Swann on a 32-yard pass down the right sideline on his first pass attempt of the day. Three plays later Bradshaw threw a 7-yard touchdown to Randy Grossman to tie the game.
 
Dallas kicked a field goal to take a 10-7 lead. Pittsburgh missed on scoring opportunities in the second quarter, as Bradshaw’s 4th-and-2 pass to Franco Harris was broken up at the DAL 36. Kicker Roy Gerela would later miss a 36-yard field goal with 0:22 left in the half.
 
Following a Staubach interception in the third quarter, Gerela would miss another kick from 33 yards out. This prompted Dallas’ Cliff Harris to pat him on the head as an offering of thanks, which led to Jack Lambert dumping Harris on his ass. Don’t you long for the return of those days?
 
The teams continued to exchange punts, even into the fourth quarter with Dallas still leading 10-7. But when Dallas attempted to punt, Reggie Harrison blocked the kick and it went through the end zone for a safety, and the Steelers now trailed just 10-9.
 
Pittsburgh was set up at the DAL 45 after the kick return. They kept it on the ground for four straight plays with Harris and Rocky Bleier. Bradshaw then got in on the action with a keeper for 8 yards of his own, fumbling out of bounds. Harris was stopped on 3rd and 1, and Gerela was good from 36 yards away for a 12-10 lead. The Steelers wouldn’t relinquish the lead.
 
On the first play of the drive, Staubach threw a near-fatal interception that was returned to the DAL 7 with 8:22 left. But the defense would hold at the 1-yard line, and Gerela booted an 18-yard field goal.
 
After being sacked by L.C. Greenwood on second down, Staubach passed for 10 yards on 3rd and 15. The Cowboys went three and out. That’s when Bradshaw went for one of his trademark daggers, and fired a 64-yard touchdown to Swann on 3rd and 4. The extra point hit the upright, but the Steelers led 21-10 with 3:02 left.
 
The Cowboys would go 80 yards in just five plays, with Staubach connecting on all four passes for 82 yards and a 34-yard touchdown to Percy Howard with 1:48 left.
 
The Steelers recovered the onside kick, but Dallas used all three timeouts to force a 4th-and-9 situation at the DAL 41. Amazingly, Chuck Noll decided to go for it and stay with the ground game. Bleier was stopped after a 2-yard gain, and the Steelers had to sweat things out.
 
Staubach was out of timeouts, but he had 1:22 left and needed to go 61 yards. After running for an 11-yard gain, Staubach passed for 12 yards to Preston Pearson. He fumbled the snap on the next play, but threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.
 
With the ball at the PIT 38, Staubach went for the end zone, and the pass barely fell incomplete to Howard. The next pass would go to the end zone as well, but Mike Wagner tipped the ball and Glen Edwards came up with the game-ending interception to secure the 21-17 victory for Pittsburgh.
 
The Steelers became the third team to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The teams would meet again in an epic Super Bowl XIII, and the Steelers again came out victorious after another Staubach rally came up short.
 
Dallas would finally get their revenge in Super Bowl XXX after Neil O’Donnell ensured payment for college tuition for MVP Larry Brown’s children.
 

Super Bowl XIV (1979): Steelers Finish Decade Right

Pittsburgh vs. LA Rams (box) – After putting together their best team and season in 1978, the Steelers were back once again to defend another championship. They would face a surprising Rams team that featured little-known quarterback Vince Ferragamo, and was the first 9-7 team to reach the Super Bowl.
 
Despite 52 turnovers, the Steelers had the highest scoring offense in the league (top in yardage too) to go along with the Steel Curtain defense. The game didn’t look like much on paper, but the Rams came to play. Their defensive leader, Jack Youngblood, even came to play on a broken leg.
 
After a game-opening three and out by the Rams, four straight scoring drives produced a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. But after a Bradshaw interception, the Rams had great field position at PIT 39, and would take a 13-10 lead on a field goal.
 
The Steelers quickly regained the lead in the third quarter when Bradshaw went to Lynn Swann for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Expecting the Steelers to take over the game, the Rams came right back with a 50-yard completion from Ferragamo to Billy Waddy.
 
The Rams followed that play up with a little trick: Lawrence McCutcheon had the option to throw and he threw a 24-yard touchdown to Ron Smith. The Rams led 19-17 after the missed extra point.
 
Bradshaw would end the next two Pittsburgh drives with interceptions, including one in the red zone with the ball at the 16. The game went to the fourth quarter, and the Rams had to feel confident with the lead and three interceptions of Bradshaw. In 1979 the Steelers actually had two games where they turned the ball over 8 and 9 times (both losses of course). Even in the playoffs they did not protect the ball with five turnovers in two games.
 
But the Rams were forced to punt four plays into the final quarter. With 12:59 left, Bradshaw took over at his own 25. After a 2-yard run by Franco Harris and a dropped pass by Sidney Thornton, Bradshaw did what he did best: threw it deep.
 
One of the few times you’ll see a Steelers’ highlight that doesn’t involve some absurdly acrobatic catch, the pass dropped perfectly at the 32 into the hands of John Stallworth, over Rod Perry, and he completed the 73-yard touchdown with 12:04 left. Pittsburgh led 24-19.
 
The Rams still had their chances, but a three and out was followed with Jack Lambert’s interception of Ferragamo with 5:24 left after the Rams had reached the Steelers’ 32. On another third down, Bradshaw went deep again to Stallworth for a 45-yard gain. Four plays later it was Harris scoring the 1-yard insurance touchdown with 1:49 left.
 
Los Angeles turned it over on downs, and Bradshaw took one knee to claim the fourth Super Bowl title in six years for the Steelers. He was named MVP for the second time, and had one of the more interesting stat lines in NFL history: 14/21 for 309 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT, 101.9 rating. It’s one of only four games since 1960 where a quarterback had a rating over 100.0 despite having fewer touchdowns than a minimum of three interceptions. The 14.71 yards per attempt remains a Super Bowl record.
 
Bradshaw threw a key fourth quarter touchdown pass in all four of his Super Bowl wins, and he’s the only quarterback that can claim to leading two fourth quarter comeback wins in the Super Bowl.
 

1980s

This decade began the streak of NFC dominance in the Super Bowl that would last from 1984 through 1996. A lot of these games were over by halftime, but we did get two comebacks in the 80’s.
 

Super Bowl XVII (1982): Riggins’ Run

Washington vs. Miami (box) – Not the most thrilling of Super Bowls on paper, the 9-game strike season of 1982 was destined to produce an interesting postseason. The Redskins (8-1), boasting the league’s best defense in offensive wizard Joe Gibbs’ second season clashed with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins (7-2), who allowed the fewest yards on defense and second fewest points as a team.
 
One year before the drafting of Dan Marino, this was when Miami had a running game. However, they had no passing game as they threw just 8 TD passes in the regular season, and had a 60.2 passer rating. Washington also favored the running game with John Riggins, but Joe Theismann had an effective season (13 TD, 91.3 passer rating).
 
Miami would strike first, with David Woodley finding Jimmy Cefalo for a 76-yard touchdown pass. With a chance to add to the lead, Woodley’s next drop back was a sack and fumble with the ball at the WAS 37.
 
This got the Redskins moving on offense, but they settled for a field goal by league MVP Mark Moseley, and a 7-3 deficit. After a Miami field goal, Theismann put together an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with his 4-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Garrett.
 
Fulton Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a go-ahead touchdown and 17-10 lead. It was the first kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history, but teams that have them are just 2-6. That includes Super Bowl XXXV when both Baltimore and New York returned back-to-back kicks for touchdowns. Someone had to win.
 
Washington made a mistake on their two-minute offense, as Theismann’s pass was caught at the MIA 7, but time expired to end the half. At halftime, Theismann was 9/11 for 103 yards, TD. Woodley was 4/6 for 97 yards, TD. The second half would be a different kind of game.
 
After the teams exchanged punts, the Redskins gained 44 yards on a big reverse run from Garrett. The Redskins would settle for a 20-yard field goal.
 
Several three and outs ensued, followed by an exchange of interceptions from each quarterback. The game moved to the fourth quarter, and on the fourth play, Theismann took a lateral from Riggins and threw another interception. 
 
Miami went three and out. After Riggins carried for 7 yards, two straight 1-yard runs brought up a 4th and 1 at the MIA 43. The Redskins went for it, and Riggins made a classic run by breaking a tackle and going 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 10:01 left.
 
Woodley still couldn’t complete a pass, and the Dolphins went three and out. Taking over at the MIA 41, Washington ran the ball on eight straight plays. Theismann converted a 3rd and 9 to Charlie Brown, and went back to Brown for a 6-yard touchdown to end the drive.
 
Don Strock replaced Woodley at quarterback, and threw three straight incompletions as Miami turned it over on downs. Washington simply ran out the clock, and by the end of the game they amassed 276 yards rushing. Theismann finished just 15/23 for 143 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT. Riggins rushed for 166 yards on 38 carries, and was named MVP.
 
Woodley was 4/14 for 97 yards and the touchdown, misfiring on his last 11 passes. Include Strock and Miami threw 14 straight incompletions to end the game. Good thing Dan Marino was still available in the draft a few months later.
 
Washington won Super Bowls in both seasons with strikes (1982, 1987). The latter came in a game against Denver where they trailed 10-0 before dropping 35 points in the second quarter on their way to a 42-10 victory. It remains one of only two comeback wins from a 10-point deficit in Super Bowl history.
 

Super Bowl XXIII (1988): The First Great Drive

San Francisco vs. Cincinnati (box) – After five routs, it was about time for a close game. What we got was one of the closest Super Bowls ever played, and the first truly great game-winning drive at the end engineered by none other than Joe Montana. It was also probably the best Super Bowl performance ever by a wide receiver, as game MVP Jerry Rice had 11 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown.
 
But it was the Bengals that came into the game with league MVP Boomer Esiason and the top-ranked scoring offense in the league. Not only did the Bengals (12-4) score more points, but they had the better record over the 49ers (10-6).
 
A year after a season that looked capable of producing a Super Bowl, the 49ers were a bit under the radar, with Steve Young putting heat on Montana for the starting position after three straight playoff defeats. It’s possible Young would have remained the starter had the 49ers not blown a 23-0 lead in Arizona. Montana regained his starting job the next game, and the 49ers would start their playoff run with dominant wins over Minnesota and at Chicago in the NFC Championship.
 
Expecting points to frequently light up the scoreboard, things took an inauspicious start with injuries. The 49ers lost tackle Steve Wallace to a broken ankle, and the Bengals lost Tim Krumrie, their best defenseman, to a brutally broken leg.
 
San Francisco got on the board first with a 73-yard drive for a field goal. Mike Cofer would miss a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter. As the teams continued to punt, the Bengals started with great field position at the SF 44, and moved 28 yards to set up the game-tying field goal.
 
The assumed offensive shootout was a 3-3 game at halftime. Esiason was just 4/12 for 48 yards, while Montana was 9/16 for 114 yards.
 
Cincinnati took their first lead with a 43-yard field goal by Jim Breech after a 61-yard drive. Montana moved the 49ers into Cincinnati territory, but a sack and incompletion on third down forced a punt. On the first play of the next drive, Esiason was intercepted by Bill Romanowski. The 49ers only moved the ball 8 yards on three plays, but kicked the game-tying field goal.
 
Stanford Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a go-ahead touchdown and 13-6 lead. On the last play of the third quarter, Montana passed to Rice for a 31-yard gain to set the stage for a great fourth quarter.
 
A pass to Roger Craig for 40 yards to start the fourth quarter put the ball at the CIN 14. That’s when the Bengals made a huge mistake to not capitalize. Montana threw a bad pass in the end zone, intended for John Taylor, and Lewis Billups simply dropped the interception.
 
When you hear that “Joe Montana never threw an interception in the Super Bowl”, just remember this play.
 
To make it worse, on the very next play Montana went to Rice for the tying touchdown with 14:03 remaining. After the Bengals punted, Rice caught a 44-yard pass. It would help set up Cofer for a 49-yard field goal, but he was wide right with 8:47 left.
 
Finally the Bengals tried to resemble their elite offense by putting together a drive when they had to. Esiason converted a 3rd and 13 with a 17-yard pass to Ira Hillary. Ickey Woods ripped off runs of 10 and 7 yards, and Boomer picked up 12 more through the air.
 
The drive would finally stall at the SF 22, and Breech (underrated clutch kicker) came on for the 40-yard attempt. He made it, and the Bengals led 16-13. One stop and they would likely be Super Bowl champions.
 
But Montana had 3:10 left. Even after a holding penalty on the kick moved the ball back to the SF 8, Montana was at ease, pointing out Uncle Buck in the crowd. No, not any relation either. We're talking about John Candy. Montana was about to do something very difficult, and he made it look too easy.
 
The drive started with two completions over the middle to Craig (7 yards) and TE John Frank (8 yards). Then it was Rice in the flat for 7 yards. Craig ran the ball twice to pick up the first down, and the 49ers took their first timeout with 1:54 left.
 
Rice then went left side of the field for a 17-yard gain, getting out of bounds. Another quick pass over the middle to Craig picked up 13 yards. The lone incompletion of the drive came after Montana overthrew everyone. The 49ers were then penalized for holding, setting up a 2nd and 20 at the CIN 45.
 
It was then Rice making his signature play of the drive, catching the pass over the middle at the 34 and racing down to the CIN 18 for a 27-yard gain. For the fourth time on the drive, Montana simply dumped the ball over the middle to Craig for 8 yards. The 49ers took their second timeout.
 
With everyone expecting the ball to go to Rice, Montana simply gunned the pass to the back of the end zone to find John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown with 0:34 left. It was Taylor’s only catch in the game.
 
Esiason’s Hail Mary failed on the final play, and the 49ers won 20-16. Esiason finished the game just 11/25 for 144 yards and an interception.
 
Montana was 8/9 for 97 yards and the touchdown on the drive. In the last 15:34 of the game he was 12/15 for 226 yards and 2 TD. Bengals’ fans will always remember the Billups’ drop, among other missed opportunities.
 
After seeing Super Bowls end in so many blowouts, and with some of the game-winning drives coming on short fields, or with too much time left, this was something unique, and remains as the first true great game-winning drive in Super Bowl history.
 

1990s

The 1990’s began with Buffalo’s AFC dominance, reaching four straight Super Bowls. Unfortunately for them, they’d walk away the loser each time, and never had a better chance than the first crack at it. Dallas would use key interceptions of Jim Kelly and Neil O’Donnell to put away two more championships, and the Packers used special teams to sink New England in 1996. After that season, we entered into the golden age of Super Bowls that are actually expected to be close and exciting. We start with one of the best.
 

Super Bowl XXV (1990): Most Famous Missed Field Goal Ever

NY Giants vs. Buffalo (box) – In a classic battle of Buffalo’s offense against the Giants’ defense, it was the New Yorkoffense that really won the battle. They held the ball for 40:33 by dominating third down (9/16 compared to 1/8 for Buffalo). But of course, it all came down to Scott Norwood and the most famous missed field goal in NFL history.
 
Right from the start the Giants showed their ball-control ways, putting together a field goal drive that consumed 6:15 off the clock. The Bills got a 61-yard pass from Jim Kelly to James Lofton after it was tipped to Lofton. But the Giants held in the red zone and Buffalo kicked a tying field goal.
 
The Bills would go 80 yards on their next drive to take a 10-3 lead. Three drives later, Jeff Hostetler was sacked in the end zone for a safety by Bruce Smith to make it 12-3. Any two-score lead in the Super Bowl has been very significant.
 
But Kelly would throw three straight incompletions on the drive, and Buffalo punted. Their next drive would stall in Giants’ territory. Before halftime, the Giants put together a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that ended with Hostetler’s 14-yard touchdown to Stephen Baker on 3rd and 10.
 
New York came out of halftime with another epic drive: 14 plays, 75 yards, and 9:29 off the clock. It set a Super Bowl record for longest drive (in terms of time) before the Giants would break it in Super Bowl XLII. They converted four third downs, including a 3rd and 13 that saw Mark Ingram catch a pass well short of the marker and break around five tackles to fight for the first down. It’s one of the best efforts you’ll ever see in a game.
 
Andre Reed caught five passes in the first quarter, but went cold the rest of the way. He short-circuited Buffalo’s next drive with an offensive pass interference penalty. The Giants would drive to the BUF 35, but Ottis Anderson was stopped for a 2-yard loss by Bruce Smith on 4th and 2.
 
Kelly completed three straight passes for 32 yards to end the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Thurman Thomas broke two tackles and went 31 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Buffalo led 19-17 with nearly a whole quarter left.
 
The Giants again put together a long drive, going 74 yards on 14 plays to settle for Matt Bahr’s 21-yard field goal with 7:20 left. Hostetler was 4/6 for 50 yards on the drive.
 
Buffalo had to punt, but the Bills were able to stop the Giants on defense. They would get the ball back with 2:16 left, one timeout left, and 90 yards away from the end zone as they trailed 20-19.
 
Credit to announcer Al Michaels for mentioning before the drive got going that kicker Scott Norwood does not have long range, especially on grass. We would learn all about that shortly.
 
Kelly started the drive with an 8-yard scramble as the two-minute warning struck. He only led one game-winning drive in 1990, so the Bills weren’t used to facing this situation that season.
 
On a 3rd and 1, Thomas took a shotgun carry for 22 yards. After a 4-yard pass to Reed, Kelly ran for 9 more yards and called the final timeout. He threw for 6 yards to McKeller, before Thomas had another shotgun run for 11 yards down to the NYG 29. Kelly spiked the ball with eight seconds left.
 
Buffalo sent out the field goal unit, and Thomas (15 carries for 135 yards, TD, 5 catches for 55 yards) learned he would be named Super Bowl MVP if Buffalo won. Well, that was going to be decided by one stroke of the leg.
 
The ball was snapped, the hold was perfect, but the kick was just wide right from 47 yards away with four seconds left. That was the ballgame. Hostetler could hardly watch or believe what he had seen on the sideline. Kelly was dejected; impossible to know he’d never have a better chance at a ring for the Bills than this drive.
 
Bill Belichick’s defense gets a lot of credit for slowing down the Buffalo offense. In fact it gets so much credit the defensive gameplan resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
 
But the facts are clear. Against the best defense in the league, Buffalo averaged 36.1 yards/drive, which is sure to be a number that would have led the league in 1990. They may have only scored 17 points on offense (1.70 per drive), but we know why that number is missing a field goal. They had this output on just 19:27 of possession, as the defense struggled to get off the field against the Giants’ ball-control offense.
 
It’s one of only two Super Bowls to feature zero turnovers by both teams. Kelly was rarely ever pressured the entire night, and sacked just once. Thomas, arguably the best player on the offense, had a MVP-worthy performance. When Buffalo trailed in the fourth quarter, Thomas scored a 31-yard touchdown to take the lead. When they needed a last-second field goal to win the game, they drove 61 yards from their own 10 to give themselves a chance.
 
And if you needed any reassurance the Giants were capable of doing this to Buffalo’s hot offense, look no further than when the teams met in Week 15. Granted, both starting quarterbacks left with injury, but it was another low-scoring game (17-13), and Buffalo won because their defense played better.
 
The Super Bowl came down to a kicker. Would the defensive gameplan still be in Canton if the kick was good? Imagine the legacies that would be changed here with a successful kick, from Kelly to Levy to Parcells to Belichick.
 
It took a do-or-die field goal that was missed in a championship game, which is something we hadn’t seen before, and hadn’t seen since until Cundiff this year.
 
One other thing that’s for certain: it’s a lot easier to make the kicker that misses the goat than it is the whole defense that allowed the drive to happen in the first place. But shouldn’t it be judged the same way in the end?
 
Interesting Tangent: the Norwood miss inspired the plot for the movie “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, which featured Dan Marino as himself. In the movie they spliced in film from Marino’s Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers, showing a missed field goal to have cost the Dolphins the game. They actually lost 38-16 in a game that wasn’t close in the second half. Ace Ventura was released on 2/4/1994. During that return season for Marino, when Miami made the playoffs they lost in San Diego in the AFC Divisional after Pete Stoyanovich missed a 48-yard game-winning field goal in the final seconds. Ray Finkle’s last laugh at Marino’s expense. 
 

Super Bowl XXXII (1997): This One’s Not For Brett

Denver vs. Green Bay (box) – It’s hard to imagine Denver was such a big underdog (11.5 points), but after 13 straight Super Bowl wins by the NFC, including the previous year’s being won by Green Bay, maybe it’s not that hard to believe.
 
John Elway was clobbered in three Super Bowls for the Broncos in the 80’s, but he had a complete team around him this time. The young Brett Favre was trying to match his three straight MVP awards with a second straight Lombardi trophy.
 
Early on, it was looking like another “NFC destroys Denver” type of day. Green Bay marched with ease 76 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive, as Favre went to Antonio Freeman for a 22-yard touchdown.
 
But Denver responded with a 58-yard touchdown drive of their own. Two plays later, Favre threw an interception, and the Broncos only had to drive 45 yards for a go-ahead touchdown; Elway ran it in for a yard.
 
Favre turned it over again on a sack and fumble in the second quarter. Denver had the ball at the GB 33, but was unable to gain a yard. Jason Elam came on for the 51-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead.
 
After the teams exchanged three and outs, the Packers started at their own 5. They embarked on a 17-play, 95-yard drive for a touchdown. Favre converted on third down to Mark Chmura for the 6-yard touchdown with 0:12 left in the half.
 
Favre had 127 yards passing in the first half compared to just 27 for Elway.
 
Green Bay quickly tied the game with a field goal in the third quarter after Terrell Davis fumbled. Davis was battling migraines during the game, and would still put forth a MVP effort with 30 carries for 157 yards and 3 TD. He carried eight times on a 92-yard touchdown drive, finishing it with a 1-yard score.
 
The Packers narrowly averted disaster. Freeman fumbled the ensuing kickoff, putting Denver at the GB 22. But on the first play of the drive, Elway threw an interception and the Packers had the ball back with a 24-17 deficit. Freeman made up for the mistake with a 27-yard gain on the last play of the third quarter.
 
Into the fourth quarter, Denver was penalized 25 yards for pass interference. Favre then completed passes of 3, 17 and 13 yards to Freeman for the tying touchdown with 13:32 left.
 
Left in the unusual state of actually being in a close Super Bowl this late, this was Elway’s best opportunity for a win. But a holding penalty set back Denver’s drive, and they went three and out. Green Bay would also punt, giving Denver another chance. After facing a 3rd and 7 at the GB 39, Elway’s incompletion brought up another punt.
 
As the offenses continued to struggle, Green Bay went three and out. They had to punt from their own 10, which gave Denver good field position at the GB 49 with 3:27 left. A 15-yard facemask penalty on the first play of the drive already moved the ball to the GB 32. Two plays later Elway completed a 23-yard screen pass to Howard Griffith.
 
A holding penalty on Shannon Sharpe forced a 1st and 18, but Davis ran 17 yards down to the one. With 1:47 left, Green Bay seemingly just let the Broncos score as Davis scored his third 1-yard touchdown run of the game for a 31-24 lead.
 
Green Bay was not used to coming back in the fourth quarter. During Favre’s MVP reign (1995-97), the Packers were just 1-9 at fourth quarter comeback opportunities with Favre at quarterback.
 
Favre had 1:39, two timeouts, and 70 yards to go. A legacy-shaping drive would have likely forced our first overtime in Super Bowl history. He started the drive with a 22-yard pass to RB Dorsey Levens. His next three passes would also go to Levens, but for a combined 17 yards.
 
That set up a 2nd and 6 at the DEN 31, and time was ticking away. Favre threw incomplete to Freeman and Brooks, and it came down to one more play. Green Bay used their final timeout to talk it over.
 
Needing 6 yards, Favre’s last gasp to Chmura was broken up, and Denver started celebrating. After 15 long years, John Elway could finally say he won a Super Bowl. After playing 13 more years, Brett Favre never played in another Super Bowl.
 
The NFC’s streak was over, the balance of power was shifting away from teams like Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay, and we entered the golden age of Super Bowls.
 

Super Bowl XXXIV (1999): The Tackle

St. Louis vs. Tennessee (box) – The unexpected success and historic season of the St. Louis Rams was highlighted with a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Titans staged one of the best comeback attempts in Super Bowl history, but came up one yard short in the end. Neither team was expected to be there.
 
The Rams were the dome team with no track record of success. They had the quarterback whose previous job’s decision making involved “paper or plastic.” They had the overemotional head coach who left the game for 15 years from burnout. They played one team with a winning record all season (Tennessee, interestingly enough), and lost. They couldn’t run the ball in the playoffs (45 handoffs for 108 yards; 2.40 YPC). But here they are.
 
The Titans were in Jeff Fisher’s 5th full season as head coach (3rd playing in Tennessee), and they never had a winning record under him before 1999. They were 13-3, a record for a Wild Card team, despite only ranking 7th in points scored and 15th in points allowed. They got past the Wild Card round thanks to the “Music City Miracle”, which is one of the more fortunate playoff wins in NFL history. After road wins over the Colts and the completion of a three-game sweep over Jacksonville, the Titans were in a rematch with a team they had already beaten in the regular season.
 
When the teams met in the regular season, Tennessee jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and held on for a 24-21 win after St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins missed a 38-yard game-tying field goal.
 
Super Bowl XXXIV would play out much differently, though it did start with the Rams botching another field goal attempt. After driving 52 yards, the drive came up empty when a mishandled snap on the field goal aborted the play.
 
Tennessee’s Al Del Greco then missed his 47-yard field goal attempt. Despite being just the second Super Bowl ever to have no turnovers combined from both teams, there were plenty of errors in the kicking game.
 
The Rams then got on the board first with a 27-yard field goal by Wilkins. On their next drive, Marshall Faulk took a short pass 52 yards down into the red zone, but the drive would end with Wilkins missing a 34-yard field goal.
 
The pass-heavy Rams moved the ball back into the red zone again, but Kurt Warner threw three straight incompletions at the TEN 11. Wilkins made the 29-yard field goal this time. The Titans went three and out, and the Rams went 67 more yards, kicking yet another field goal after a red zone stop.
 
St. Louis led 9-0 at halftime. Warner was already blowing away Super Bowl records, with 19 completions on 35 attempts for 277 yards in the half. Steve McNair was just 5/14 for 65 yards. But Tennessee hung in it thanks to their red zone defense and kicking failures.
 
The Titans went for another 47-yard field goal attempt to start the third quarter, but Del Greco’s kick was blocked. The Rams finally broke through in the red zone, as Warner threw a 9-yard touchdown to rookie Torry Holt for a 16-0 lead with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
 
Needing the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Titans finally woke up on offense. Between McNair and Eddie George, the Titans went 66 yards for their first score and touchdown of the game. McNair’s two-point conversion attempt failed, and they still trailed 16-6.
 
St. Louis, only able to rush for 29 yards in the game, went three and out. Tennessee went right back to a groove offensively, putting together a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that ended with George’s 2-yard touchdown run. Now we had a game with 7:21 left.
 
The Rams went three and out again, and the Titans tied the game on Del Greco’s 43-yard field goal with 2:12 left. Three straight scoring drives wiped out the 16-0 deficit.
 
But it only took one play for the Rams to strike big. Warner went up top and found Isaac Bruce, who made some moves after the catch to complete a 73-yard touchdown with 1:54 left. Warner had led his first game-winning drive the previous week in the NFC Championship, and now he had another game-winning touchdown pass. He would finish with a Super Bowl record 414 yards passing.
 
After holding on the kickoff, the Titans had 88 yards to go in 1:48 and one timeout left. McNair started the drive with completions of 9 and 7 yards to Derrick Mason and Frank Wycheck. Two plays later he scrambled for 12 yards, and picked up an additional 15 after a facemask penalty.
 
Twice on the drive the Rams would be penalized for jumping offsides and into the neutral zone. With 3rd and 5 at the 26, McNair scrambled around and found Kevin Dyson for a 16-yard pass down to the 10. The Titans used their final timeout with six seconds remaining.
 
With likely one play left, the Titans needed to go for the end zone. But McNair’s pass was thrown short to Dyson, and as he raced for the end zone and the tying touchdown, he was tackled one yard short by Mike Jones. Time expired, and the Rams held on.
 
The exciting finish was about as close to overtime as we’ve ever been in a Super Bowl. Had Dyson scored, Fisher would have also been in an interesting situation to try a game-winning two-point conversion and forego overtime altogether. But none of that came up because of a sure tackle on a play that needed to be better executed by Tennessee.
 

2000s

The 2000’s brought a lot of Super Bowls with the Patriots, which made for four different three-point outcomes. It’s also the decade of the “pick six”, which was crucial to the win for the 2000 Ravens, 2001 Patriots, 2002 Raiders (3x), 2006 Colts, 2008 Steelers, 2009 Saints and 2010 Packers.
 

Super Bowl XXXVI (2001): The Upset

New England vs. St. Louis (box) – Two years later, another dominant Rams team was looking to forge a dynasty for the “Greatest Show on Turf” with their second Super Bowl. Their opponent, New England, was looking like a team trying to fulfill their destiny after a nail-biting season and playoff run.
 
It was another David vs. Goliath Super Bowl, and one of the few mismatches that didn’t have a predictable outcome.
 
The Patriots had already played the Rams tough on a Sunday Night Football matchup in Week 10. The Rams won 24-17, but Kurt Warner threw a pick six in that game, and each team had three turnovers. St. Louis won after running out the final half of the fourth quarter with the one score lead. Some familiar themes would return in this game.
 
St. Louis would have 11 drives total (excludes one kneel down), and they gained at least 20 yards on all 11 drives. The pattern was the Rams usually starting with bad field position, moving the ball, then they’d commit a mistake (turnover) that would kill the drive.
 
That’s basically what Super Bowl XXXVI came down to. New England continuously capitalized on St. Louis’ mistakes, as the Rams did have a league-high 44 turnovers in the regular season. They only had one in the two previous playoff games, but the floodgates of bad habits were about to reopen.
 
An offensive pass interference penalty hampered the game-opening drive for the Rams. They would take a 3-0 lead after Jeff Wilkins’ 50-yard field goal was successful.
 
On their third drive, Wilkins missed a 52-yard field goal. New England punted, and after 20 rushing yards by Marshall Faulk, arguably the biggest play of the game happened.
 
Warner dropped back and under pressure from Mike Vrabel, threw a pass that was intercepted by Ty Law and returned 47 yards for a touchdown. New England had their first lead at 7-3.
 
Warner would throw incomplete at 3rd and 1 at the 50 on the next drive, forcing a punt. On their next possession, Ricky Proehl caught a pass out to the 40, but fumbled the ball. The Patriots were set up at the 40 with 1:20 left. The offense finally came to life, and Tom Brady would throw his first Super Bowl touchdown to David Patten, 8 yards, in the back of the end zone.
 
The underdog Patriots led 14-3 at halftime.
 
Another promising St. Louis drive was blown up after Warner was sacked by Vrabel and Richard Seymour in New England territory. Later, facing a 3rd and 5 at the NE 45, Warner threw his second interception of the day. The ball was returned to the 33, giving the Patriots’ offense more great field position.
 
But the Patriots could only gain 14 yards before settling for Adam Vinatieri’s 37-yard field goal to increase their lead to 17-3.
 
The game moved into the fourth quarter, and it was rally time for the Rams. The long drive almost ended in disaster, as Warner fumbled on a fourth down run near the goal line, and it was recovered and returned 97 yards for a touchdown. But the turnover was nullified by a holding penalty on Willie McGinest. Warner ran for a 2-yard touchdown to end the drive.
 
New England went three and out. The Rams started at their own 7, but the drive stalled at the NE 49 after Warner passed incomplete on 3rd and 20. The Rams had to punt with 3:44 left.
 
The Patriots again went three and out. A short punt gave Warner the ball at his own 45 with 1:51 left. That’s plenty of time for the best offense in the league. After completions of 18 and 11 yards, the Rams were already in the end zone with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Proehl with 1:30 left.
 
The 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter makes for the largest blown fourth quarter lead in Super Bowl history.
 
New England got the ball back with 1:21 left at their own 17. Game analyst John Madden thought they should play for overtime, but that’s nonsense against the Rams. Brady completed three short passes to RB J.R. Redmond for 24 yards.
 
One big pass to Troy Brown for 23 yards later and the Patriots were in field goal range. Brady completed a 6-yard pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins, and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 0:07 left.
 
Vinatieri came on to do what he does best: hit game-winning field goals right down the middle. The kick was 48 yards, and he nailed it. Thanks to the referees allowing all the time to expire, it becomes the first walk-off field goal in Super Bowl history.
 
The Rams were never the same again, while the Patriots were just getting started.
 

Super Bowl XXXVIII (2003): The Half-Shootout

New England vs. Carolina (box) – It was one of the more disrespected Super Bowl pairings in the history of the game. The Patriots were 14-2, but a lot of people thought they were more lucky than great. The Panthers were a surprising 11-5, having to pick up a record 8 game-winning drives on the season to reach the Super Bowl.
 
On paper, it had all the makings of a close game, which it was. What no one would have expected is the type of scoring distribution these teams provided: 0 points in the first and third quarters, 61 points in the second and fourth quarters.
 
After Carolina went three and out, Adam Vinatieri proved he is human by missing a 31-yard field goal on New England’s opening drive.
 
Seven straight punts took place, including five three and out drives. Finally, the Patriots put together a long drive, but Vinatieri’s 36-yard field goal was blocked.
 
On 3rd and 12, Jake Delhomme was sacked and fumbled, giving the Patriots the ball at the CAR 20. Four plays later they were in the end zone on Tom Brady’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch.
 
Carolina started at their own 5, and Delhomme finally started completing passes, hitting on 4 of them for 90 yards. On 3rd and 10, he threw a 39-yard touchdown to Steve Smith.
 
With 0:59 left, the Patriots went on a 78-yard drive in a hurry, with Branch catching a 52-yard pass on the drive. Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown to David Givens with 0:18 left. That would have seemed to conclude the scoring, but this was an unusual game.
 
After a short kick was returned to the CAR 47, Stephen Davis ripped off a 21-yard run to the NE 32. The Panthers were able to call timeout, and John Kasay came on to make the 50-yard field goal for a 14-10 score at halftime.
 
With just over three minutes left in the half, the game was scoreless. 24 points were scored in the final 3:10.
 
The third quarter was more of the same as the first. New England went three and out first, both teams punted, and then Carolina went three and out. The Patriots were then driving as the scoreless third quarter came to a close.
 
On the second snap of the fourth quarter, Antowain Smith ran for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 21-10 lead. Delhomme would respond with three completions for 53 yards. DeShaun Foster scored on a 33-yard touchdown run, but the two-point conversion pass failed. Carolina trailed 21-16.
 
The Patriots could have extended their lead to two scores or at least 8 points, but on 3rd and goal at the 9, Brady forced an interception in the end zone.
 
Facing a 3rd and 10 at his own 15, Delhomme went deep for Muhsin Muhammad, who caught the Super Bowl record 85-yard touchdown catch to give Carolina their only lead at 22-21. Another two-point conversion pass failed by Delhomme.
 
With 6:47 left, the Patriots continued the shootout. Moving 68 yards, Brady went to Mike Vrabel, the linebacker, for a 1-yard touchdown catch to regain the lead. Kevin Faulk took the direct snap on the two-point conversion and the Patriots led 29-22 with 2:51 left.
 
Delhomme was in just as much of a groove as Brady, and he would complete 5/6 passes against the league’s No. 1 defense for 73 yards. Just like two years earlier, it was Ricky Proehl with the game-tying touchdown; this time a 12-yard pass on 3rd and 8 with 1:08 left.
 
Delhomme’s three touchdown passes went for 39, 85 and 12 yards, and they all came in third and long situations (needing 10, 10, and 8 yards).
 
Again thinking we might have an overtime game, Kasay made a huge mistake by kicking the ball out of bounds, thus giving the Patriots the ball at their own 40 with 1:08 left.
 
After an incompletion, Brady gained 13 yards with a pass to Troy Brown. He went back to Brown for 20 yards, but it was a penalty for offensive pass interference. The Patriots faced a 1st and 20 at their own 43. Brady completed 13 yards to Brown, 4 yards to Daniel Graham, and then 17 yards to Deion Branch on 3rd and 3.
 
New England called timeout with 0:09 left, and the ball at the CAR 23. Vinatieri may have missed two earlier, but there was little doubt this kick would be perfect. It was, and the Patriots led 32-29 with four seconds left. The Panthers only had time to return the kick to their own 22, and the game was over.
 
The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years, and it was another game-winning field goal in the final seconds to provide the 3-point margin of victory. This Super Bowl will always be remembered for the flurry of scoring each team had in the last quarter of each half.
 

Super Bowl XXXIX (2004): The Puke

New England vs. Philadelphia (box) – The Eagles finally broke their losing streak in the NFC Championship Game to make it to the Super Bowl. All the attention was on Terrell Owens trying to return from his broken leg. Meanwhile the Patriots were looking to claim their third Super Bowl in four seasons.
 
Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb enjoyed career seasons on teams that were better known for defense. But this would be no shootout.
 
Defense was alive and well early, with each team punting twice to start the game. The Eagles had the first long drive, but it ended after Rodney Harrison intercepted McNabb in the red zone. This was the play directly after McNabb’s interception was wiped out on penalty.
 
New England would only go three and out, but soon get the ball back after L.J. Smith fumbled after a catch. But Brady was sacked on the first play of the second quarter, and New England again was three and out.
 
The Eagles would get on the board first with a touchdown drive that covered 81 yards. Often criticized receiver Todd Pinkston stepped up with catches of 17 and 40 yards on the drive. McNabb threw a 6-yard pass to Smith for the touchdown.
 
Brady started the next drive with passes of 13 and 16 yards to Corey Dillon; the prized possession the Patriots acquired in the off-season. After driving down to the PHI 4, Brady had the ball knocked out by his own teammate and the Eagles recovered the fumble.
 
But they were unable to capitalize, going three and out. A bad punt gave the Patriots the ball at the PHI 37. Brady would throw a 4-yard touchdown to David Givens in the corner of the end zone for the tying touchdown.
 
Brian Westbrook had a meaningless 22-yard run on the final play of the half. His other 14 carries in the game produced just 22 yards total.
 
The Patriots started the second half with a 69-yard touchdown drive. Game MVP Deion Branch had catches of 8, 27, 15 and 21 yards on the drive. But it was Mike Vrabel catching another Super Bowl touchdown from two yards away.
 
Three drives later McNabb put together one of his best drives, finishing with a bullet pass to Westbrook for a 10-yard touchdown. McNabb passed for 63 yards on the drive.
 
With the game tied 14-14, New England took over with 3:35 left in the third quarter. Brady passed for 5 yards to Troy Brown and 13 yards to Kevin Faulk. After a 5-yard pass to Branch, Dillon converted the 3rd and 2 with a 9-yard run, followed by Faulk’s 8-yard run to finish the third quarter.
 
Faulk ran for 12 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter. The screen game worked very well for the Patriots, and Faulk caught a 14-yard pass down to the PHI 2. That’s when Dillon surged over for what would be the game-winning touchdown with 13:44 left in the game.
 
The Eagles went three and out, with Westbrook losing 6 yards on a second down run. Brady completed a 19-yard pass to Branch, plus got 15 more for roughing the passer on Philadelphia. They settled for Adam Vinatieri’s 22-yard field goal to give themselves some distance at 24-14.
 
McNabb and the Eagles had 8:40 left. After getting Owens involved with a 36-yard gain, McNabb threw maybe his worst pass of the night to Tedy Bruschi for the interception at the NE 36. The Patriots only went three and out with the ball.
 
Now down to 5:40, the Eagles needed to hurry, but the drive never had a great pace. The Eagles marched it down the field in 13 plays, going 79 yards. Greg Lewis made the 30-yard touchdown, but it came after the two-minute warning with 1:48 left. The Eagles trailed 24-21.
 
With two timeouts left, the Eagles went for the onside kick, but were unable to recover. Three runs by Faulk produced a three and out, but the Eagles would get the ball back with only 0:46 left and no timeouts.
 
Worse, they were stuck at their own 4-yard line thanks to the change in field position from the punt. Had they kicked it deep instead of the onside attempt, then they probably gain at least 30 yards in field position by forcing the same three and out.
 
Anyways, Westbrook caught a 1-yard pass that he would have been better off dropping. Then on third down, McNabb threw up a desperate pass that was intercepted by Harrison; his second of the night in a performance that was probably MVP-worthy. Branch won the award with 11 catches for 133 yards.
 
The best looking receiver on the field was playing on one leg, and that was Owens, who finished with 9 catches for 122 yards. But McNabb’s three interceptions and the four overall turnovers were too much for the Eagles to overcome.
 
It was another game decided by three points, but the Patriots won all three of them.

 
Super Bowl XLII (2007): Greatest Drive Ends Perfect Season

NY Giants vs. New England (box) – Just six years earlier it was New England playing the role of David, and now they would play the role of Goliath, as they tried to complete the perfect 19-0 season. But the Giants played them very well in Week 17, and the confidence and knowledge gained that evening may have very propelled them towards this game, which is one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
 
After playing a 38-35 game in Week 17, Plaxico Burress predicted a 23-17 victory for his Giants, to which Tom Brady laughed, “we’re only going to score 17 points?”
 
The game would be even lower scoring than expected.
 
New York started the game breaking their own Super Bowl record from Super Bowl XXV against Buffalo. They had the longest drive in terms of time consumed (9:59). It may have only led to a field goal, but it set a tone for the rest of the game. They converted four third downs on the drive.
 
The Patriots started at their own 44 after a big kick return, and marched it down the field as the first quarter already ended. On the first play of the second quarter, Laurence Maroney scored a 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead.
 
The Giants moved the ball back into the red zone, but Eli Manning’s pass was tipped by Steve Smith and intercepted by Ellis Hobbs.
 
After two three and out drives, we began to see the pass rush of the Giants get to the previously untouchable Brady. Sacks by Kawika Mitchell and Justin Tuck led to another New England three and out.
 
Late in the first half, the Patriots were driving to the NYG 44, before Brady was sacked again and fumbled the ball. The Giants recovered, but Eli’s desperation passes were incomplete to end the half.
 
In the third quarter, New England’s initial drive was extended after the Giants’ Chase Blackburn could not get off the field in time on the fourth down punt. Still, the Giants held, and the Patriots attempted a 4th and 13 instead of a 48-yard field goal. Brady’s pass went harmlessly out of bounds. The Giants drove into NE territory again, but were forced to punt.
 
The fourth quarter began with a punt by the Patriots. Manning went down the middle to the big tight end Kevin Boss for a 45-yard gain. He would then convert a 17-yard pass to Steve Smith on 3rd and 4. Two plays later Manning threw a 5-yard touchdown to David Tyree to cap off the 80-yard drive.
 
Now trailing, the Patriots would be forced to punt after two incompletions by Brady. But the Giants went three and out, and the Patriots had the ball back with 7:54 left at their own 20. Utilizing more quick, short passes, the Patriots dinked and dunked their way down into the red zone. With the ball at the NYG 6, Corey Webster fell down in coverage, leaving Randy Moss wide open for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left.
 
The Giants would get the ball back with 2:39 left at their own 17, and all three timeouts. They had a chance at history. They had the chance to knock off an undefeated team with a game-winning touchdown drive when they absolutely needed one.
 
It began with an 11-yard pass to Amani Toomer. After two incompletions, Manning found Toomer for 9 yards, setting up a 4th and 1. As Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft fixed his belt to prepare for the celebration, Brandon Jacobs gained two yards for the first down.
 
Facing several pressures on the drive, Eli scrambled for five yards and used the first timeout. On second down, miscommunication led to his pass nearly being intercepted by Asante Samuel. People point to this play a lot, but the fact is Samuel was off the ground with full arm extension, only got his fingertips on the ball, and would have had a hard time landing in bounds anyway.
 
The opportunity to make a great defensive play came on the next snap, but instead it was the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
 
For about the first time in his career, Manning escaped a sack that would have set up a fourth and long. He moved to his right and launched a rope to Tyree, who was dropping everything in sight in the final practice before the game. The rarely used receiver was one-on-one with Rodney Harrison, and he secured the catch with his helmet, holding on all the way to the ground even with Harrison all over him.
 
The play gained 32 yards and put the ball at the NE 24. A timeout was necessary to calm down.
 
Manning tried to scramble again on first down, but was sacked for a loss of one yard. There goes the final timeout. After a dangerous incompletion deflected around, a big 3rd and 11 faced the Giants. It’s one of the more underrated plays of the game, as Manning found rookie Smith with a sideline pass, and Smith almost nonchalantly tiptoed the sideline for 12 yards and the first down. They couldn’t afford any fourth down attempts that could end the game.
 
So with first down at the NE 13, Manning picked on Ellis Hobbs, who was no match for the tall Burress. They made the touchdown in the end zone look easy with 0:35 left. The Giants had pulled it off, leading 17-14 just like Michael Strahan, playing his final game, predicted on the sideline before the drive started.
 
Was it a drive with execution that was perfect? No, but it did its job to prevent the Patriots from being perfect. It is the greatest drive in NFL history.
 
The Patriots still had all three timeouts and 0:29 left at their own 26. Brady’s first down pass was nearly intercepted, then he was planted for the fifth time on a sack by Jay Alford. Two long bombs to Moss fell barely incomplete, and that was it. The upset was in the books.
 
What will these teams have for an encore four years later?
 

Super Bowl XLIII (2008): The Pick and The Catch

Pittsburgh vs. Arizona (box) – The Cardinals became the second 9-7 team to reach the Super Bowl, and just like the last one (1979 Rams), they would face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
 
Ben Roethlisberger was going against his former offensive coordinator turned head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Looking to atone for his Super Bowl XL performance, Roethlisberger started the game 8/9 for 122 yards to build a 10-0 lead. He threw for 123 yards total in Super Bowl XL.
 
But on their second possession, the Cardinals drove 83 yards for a touchdown. Kurt Warner threw for 92 yards on the drive, including the 1-yard touchdown pass to Ben Patrick.
 
Penalties for holding and a chop block would end each team’s next drive. Then with 2:09 left, Roethlisberger’s pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Karlos Dansby. Arizona had the ball at the PIT 34 with a chance to tie or take the lead.
 
With 0:18 left the ball was at the PIT 1 on first down. Warner went to pass, and James Harrison dropped into coverage and intercepted the ball at the goal line. What ensued is the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history. Harrison returned the ball 100 yards for the touchdown with no time left. Larry Fitzgerald tried his best to chase him down, but Harrison rolled over a body into the end zone for the incredible score.
 
Pittsburgh led 17-7 at halftime after the huge momentum-swing.
 
Arizona punted to start the third quarter after the Tuck Rule made another unwelcomed appearance. The Steelers went on a long (8:39) drive, but they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal and 20-7 lead.
 
The teams exchanged punts, and with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals took over at their own 13. Warner went 8/8 for all 87 yards of the drive, throwing a 1-yard touchdown to Fitzgerald with Ike Taylor in coverage.
 
Pittsburgh went three and out, but Arizona was unable to take advantage. Instead they punted, and backed the Steelers up at their own one. After not gaining a yard on either play, the Steelers faced a 3rd and 10 from their own one. Roethlisberger stood tall deep in his own end zone and delivered a strike to Santonio Holmes for 19 yards.
 
However, center Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the end zone, giving Arizona a safety. The Cardinals got the ball back at their own 36 with 2:53 left, and a 20-16 deficit. After one incompletion, Warner went over the middle to Fitzgerald, and he outraced the secondary for a 64-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:37 left. Arizona led 23-20.
 
The Steelers started their drive at their own 22 with 2:30 left. They had two timeouts left. After a holding penalty on first down, the ball sat at the PIT 12. Roethlisberger escaped another sack and fired to Holmes for a 14-yard gain, and here we go again with another classic fourth quarter drive in the Super Bowl.
 
After an incompletion and the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger found Holmes on 3rd and 6 for a big 13-yard catch. He then went to Nate Washington for an 11-yard gain, before scrambling for 4 yards to put the ball at the 50 with 1:02 left. The Steelers called their second timeout.
 
That’s when Roethlisberger did his usual act of extending the play and found Holmes, whose man in coverage (safety Aaron Francisco) fell down, and Holmes went 40 yards down to the ARZ 6. The Steelers called their final timeout with 0:49 left.
 
Going for the win, the Steelers threw to the end zone, but the ball went right through Holmes’ hands on the left side of the end zone. On second down, Roethlisberger went through his options before coming back to Holmes in the right corner of the end zone. The throw went over three Arizona defenders, and Holmes made the tip-toe catch before falling out of bounds for the touchdown with 0:35 left.
 
The Montanan-to-Taylor, Manning-to-Burress and Roethlisberger-to-Holmes game-winning touchdowns in Super Bowls all came with 0:34-0:35 left in the game. Of the three, the best throw and catch belong to the Steelers.
 
Now with 0:29 left, Warner wasn’t done just yet. He passed into coverage to Fitzgerald for 20 yards, followed by 13 more to Arrington. But a sack by LaMarr Woodley caused a fumble, which the Steelers recovered with 0:05 left to end the game.
 
In the fourth quarter alone, Warner threw for 224 yards (377 in the game). Warner actually led the two largest fourth quarter comebacks in Super Bowl history (14 and 13 points against defenses coached by Bill Belichick and Dick LeBeau), but lost both games after the opponent scored late.
 
The Steelers became the first franchise to win six Super Bowls, and needed a fourth quarter comeback in three of them.
 

Super Bowl XLIV (2009): Payton Outsmarts Peyton

New Orleans vs. Indianapolis (box) – With each team starting 13-0 in the regular season, it was only fitting they would represent their conference in the Super Bowl. The Colts even got to 14-0 before resting starters the final two games. The Saints lost their last three games of the regular season, but still reached the Super Bowl.
 
It was considered a big legacy game for Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The Colts were essentially favored because of the fact they never lost that season with Manning finishing the game. The Saints had a deeper group of skill players and a tougher pass defense that was predicated on takeaways. The big injury heading in was Dwight Freeney’s ankle. He would be effective early, but not in the second half.
 
The Saints started the game with a three and out drive. The Colts moved it 53 yards, but settled for a 38-yard field goal by Matt Stover. New Orleans still wasn’t sharp on offense, and punted again.
 
The Colts started at their own 4, but drove 96 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Manning’s 19-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon on 3rd and 6 made it 10-0 as the first quarter was nearly over.
 
Finally the Saints got things going offensively with a 60-yard drive that ended with Garrett Hartley’s 46-yard field goal to make it 10-3.
 
A big turning point came when Garcon dropped Manning’s pass on 3rd and 4. It would have been a big gain past midfield, but it ended up being the last pass Manning would throw in the half.
 
Driving to the IND 1, Sean Payton decided to go for it. Pierre Thomas was stuffed for no gain, and the Saints turned it over on downs. However, it wasn’t the worst thing to happen. The Colts ran the ball twice, bringing up their own 3rd and 1. But Mike Hart was unable to gain a yard, and the Colts had to punt it back.
 
The Saints started at their own 48 with 0:35 left and a timeout. Brees completed 3 passes for 27 yards, and Hartley made the 44-yard field goal. The Saints trailed 10-6 at the half.
 
After a long halftime, the Colts expected to receive the opening kick. However, Payton rolled the dice again and went for a surprise onside kick. Hank Baskett had a chance to recover but failed to do so for the Colts. The Saints recovered at the NO 42.
 
Brees would throw a 16-yard touchdown to Thomas on a screen, and the Saints had their first lead of the game at 13-10. The big gamble paid off.
 
The Colts came right back, with Manning throwing his first pass in over a hour of real time. On a 3rd and 4 at the NO 47, he moved to his right and threw a pass over a crowd of Saints to Dallas Clark for a 27-yard gain. Four plays later Joseph Addai scored a 4-yard touchdown run to regain a 17-13 lead.
 
New Orleans settled for a 47-yard field goal (Hartley’s third kick over 44+ in the game). They trailed 17-16.
 
In the fourth quarter, the Colts faced a 3rd and 12, and Manning threw a 10-yard pass to Reggie Wayne. Now with a 4th and 2, the decision was to go for it, and Manning went back to Wayne on the slant for a 14-yard gain. But the drive would stall and Stover missed on a 51-yard field goal, giving the Saints good field position.
 
Reggie Bush started the drive with a 12-yard run. Brees then completed 7 straight passes, all less than 10 yards, finishing the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 5:42 left.
 
Arguably the most overlooked play of the game came next, as the Saints lined up for a two-point conversion with a 22-17 lead. Brees threw to Lance Moore, who appeared to catch it, but the ball came out. It was ruled incomplete on the field, but Payton challenged and the call was overturned to a completion. The Saints now led 24-17, which means the Colts could only tie the game.
 
Manning had 5:35 left at his own 30. The drive started with a false start by Ryan Diem. Manning found Garcon for gains of 17 and 10 yards. He then threw to Wayne for 12 and 5 yards. His second down pass was incomplete, setting up a 3rd and 5 at the NO 31 with 3:24 left.
 
Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a different game plan for Manning each quarter, even starting the game with a 3-4 look. They saved their best for last, as Tracy Porter, the hero from the NFC Championship game, diagnosed a bread and butter play in the Colts’ offense and undercut Wayne’s route to intercept the pass. He was gone for a 74-yard touchdown, and the Saints led 31-17 with 3:12 left.
 
Manning tried to score quickly, completing 4 passes for 73 yards to move the ball to the NO 13. A penalty made it 1st-and-goal at the 3, but then Garcon was called for offensive pass interference. Manning threw a 10-yard pass to Addai, incomplete on second down, then Addai lost two yards on a third down run.
 
That set up a 4th-and-goal at the NO 5, and Manning’s pass was dropped by Wayne in the end zone with 0:44 left. Brees took a knee and the Saints won their first Super Bowl.
 
The Colts averaged an absurd 52.0 yards/drive on offense, but it was too many mistakes in the end. When you only get eight possessions, you can’t have dropped passes on third and fourth down, any turnover for a touchdown, and no missed field goals.
 
In the second half the Saints had the ball on offense three times and scored 18 points. Brees, the game’s MVP, finished 32/39, but was a ridiculous 29/32 to finish the game. That’s even including a spike.
 

Super Bowl XLVI Preview

Is the game here yet? This talk of whether or not The Big Gronkowski will be ready, the constant Jim Irsay/Peyton Manning soap-opera, and this insane idea that Sunday night’s singular game that will be played by Tom Brady and Eli Manning (among dozens others) will decide if they are suddenly better quarterbacks than Joe Montana and Peyton Manning is all too much to handle for two weeks.
 
It can’t kick off any sooner. Here are some notes for this week:
 
As mentioned way back in that intro eons ago, we have had 8 straight Super Bowls with a fourth quarter comeback opportunity.
 
All three games between the Giants and Patriots since 2007 have featured a fourth quarter comeback. The last two have been especially dramatic with both teams going up and down the field for touchdowns. Given these team’s histories, this should be
 
As mentioned back in Week 9 of Captain Comeback, the Patriots must hate the Manning brothers:
  • New England has only allowed a game-losing touchdown in the last minute four times since 2001; all four have come at the hands of Peyton and Eli Manning (2 each).
  • Of the 9 fourth quarter comebacks the Patriots have allowed since 2001, 4 of them have been by Peyton and Eli Manning (2 each).
  • Of the 11 game-winning drives the Patriots have allowed since 2001, 5 of them have been by Peyton (3) and Eli Manning (2).
  • The only New England comeback allowed at home since 2001 was to Eli Manning this season.
  • Tom Brady has two “lost comebacks” (games where the QB did everything to quality for a 4QC win except win the game) in his career, and they both have been against Eli Manning (Super Bowl XLII, Week 9 2011).
Eli Manning, who has a strong history of this, can tie single-season NFL records with 7 fourth quarter comebacks (Peyton Manning, 2009) and 8 game-winning drives (Jake Delhomme, 2003) should he win the game in that fashion.
 
Tom Brady has a postseason record 7 game-winning drives in his career, including three in the Super Bowl.
 
Minmax stat of the year: New England is the only defense in the league to never allow more than 27 points (defensive points only). That’s through all 18 games this year. So much for the “terrible New England defense” myth. And these teams know each other well. Bet the under.
 
Four years ago the Patriots were about a “sure thing” to win. Now it’s amazing how many people are flocking to the Giants. New England was the stronger team over the course of the season. The Giants have been stronger in the last five weeks or so.
 
New England lives off that “us against the world” vibe, while the Giants are the same way. Yet it’s obvious which team is being pressured into feeling that more.
Will Rob Gronkowski play? You can bet your sweet ass he’ll play, and probably be involved early. The only question is how long he’ll last. Guess this is what you get from the Football Gods when you go breaking a record in shady fashion.
 
And will the crowd in the house that Peyton built be pro-Giants? The last time New England played at Lucas Oil, they were on the losing end of the “4th and 2” game, even with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth calling the game as they will on Sunday night.
 
It’s not the preferred matchup for the Patriots, but the Captain’s learned his lesson too often about picking against them.
 
Last thought: in the year of the double-digit comeback, why not set a new Super Bowl record for biggest comeback? 10 is that record. For now.
 
The pick: New England 24, New York 21*
MVP: Wes Welker
 
*Really wanted to make it 20, but you know a New England Super Bowl is decided by three points.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. *He’s looking for a degree in reverse psychology. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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