Greatest SB drives: where does Ben rank?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 04, 2009



For three decades, the Super Bowl was as bloated and as disappointing as an Oliver Stone movie. A lot of hype, but so little substance, and most of us knew the outcome long before the final credits.
 
But a flurry of last-second heroics in recent years has reshaped the image of the Super Bowl for the better, as if it bought a Bowflex and went on a crash diet.
 
The thrilling last-minute touchdown drive orchestrated by Ben Roethlisbeger in Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over  Arizona this year is just the latest in what's suddenly become a lengthy list of heroic Super Bowl drives. Here's the official Cold, Hard Football Facts list of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history. There haven been so many last-minute scores in recent years that several drives from losing efforts even make the cut.
 
10. Jake Delhomme, Carolina, Super Bowl XXXVIII
Final score: New England 32, Carolina 29
The Panthers trailed 29-22 and took over at their own 20 with 2:51 to play. Delhomme & Co. then stared into the face of the best defense the legend Bill Belichick has put on the field during his time in New England, and scored in just seven plays on a 12-yard pass to Ricky Proehl. The drive was too good: Carolina left too much time on the clock (1:13), allowing Tom Brady's Patriots to march a short distance after a botched kickoff for a game-winning field goal.
 
9. Tom Brady, New England, Super Bowl XLII
Final score: N.Y. Giants 17, New England 14
Beaten like a piñata all night and trailing 10-7, Brady pieced together yet another legacy-making drive, leading the Patriots on an 80-yard march late in the fourth quarter that ended with a 6-yard toss to Randy Moss. Steve Sabol of NFL Films said that the drive secured Brady's reputation as perhaps the greatest quarterback ever ... or at least it would have. But Brady and the Patriots left 2:42 on the clock – plenty of time for an even greater feat of football derring-do to follow.
 
8. Jim Kelly, Super Bowl XXV
Final score: N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19
The Bills took over at their own 10 with 2:16 to play and, on a day in which they spent most of the game on the sideline, proceeded to rip off 61 yards in 2:13 ... then Scott Norwood trotted onto the field and, well, you know how it ended from there. Super Bowls were not kind to the Bills, or to Kelly in particular, who played dreadfully in many of those games. But if Buffalo's first appearance ended differently, if Norwood's kick was true, we'd remember this drive and Bills Super Bowl history quite a bit differently, too.
 
7. Roger Staubach, Dallas, Super Bowl X
Final score: Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17
Captain America drove the Cowboys 80 yards for a score against one of the best defenses in history, capping the drive with a 34-yard pass to Percy Howard – the only catch in the receiver's short NFL career – to bring Dallas within four points with just 1:48 left on the clock. The Cowboys actually got the ball back and got one last shot for victory, but Staubach's very last desperation pass was picked off in the end zone by Pittsburgh's Glen Edwards
 
6. Steve McNair, Tennessee, Super Bowl XXXIV
Final score: St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16
McNair did everything right on this drive but put the ball in the end zone. He and the Titans took over on their own 10 with just 1:54 to play and threatened to pull off an epic 90-yard walk-off scoring drive that probably would have gone down as the best ever. With just 6 seconds to play and the ball at the St. Louis 10, McNair hit Kevin Dyson who appeared destined for the end zone, only to be taken down by linebacker Mike Jones with his arms outstretched and the ball inches short of the end zone.
 
5. John Elway, Denver, Super Bowl XXXII
Final score: Denver 31, Green Bay 24
The only third-quarter drive to make the cut, but it was career epic for Elway and the Broncos, who until this point had been embarrassed in three previous Super Bowls. The Broncos drove 92 yards on 13 plays, highlighted by Elway's iconic 8-yard scramble in which he was helicoptered by a pair of defenders, yet landed for a first down. It's the signature moment of Elway's tremendous Hall of Fame career, and seemed to mobilize Denver emotionally. Terrell Davis scored two plays later, to give the Broncos a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter. Davis added the game-winner with 1:45 to play in the fourth, but that final 51-yard drive did not match the heroics of the 92-yard epic earlier in the half.
 
4. Tom Brady, Super Bowl XXXVI
Final score: New England 20, St. Louis 17
This is the drive that never should have happened: the unknown Brady, in just his 17th NFL game, took over at his own 17 with no timeouts, just 81 seconds to play and his team on the ropes after surrendering a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to blow a 17-3 lead. Announcer John Madden famously announced to the world that the Patriots should take a knee and play for overtime. Instead, Brady calmly connected on 5 of 7 passes to lead New England into field goal range, then casually spiked the ball with six seconds on the clock to set up kicker Adam Vinatieri for the only walk-off score in Super Bowl history.
 
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, Super Bowl XLIII
Final score: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
Big Ben's legend-making drive began with a holding penalty that moved the ball back from the 22 to the 12. Roethlisberger then accounted for all 88 yards, passing for 84 and running for 4, ending the drive with a gorgeous pass over the heads of three defenders and into the hands of Santonio Holmes, who tip-tapped his feet in the end zone before falling out of bounds. It was a picture-perfect toss that capped a drive that will forever be remembered as Roethlisberger's signature moment, and a pass that silenced once and for all the Big Ben doubters.  
 
2. Joe Montana, San Francisco, Super Bowl XXIII
Final score: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16
Cincy's Jim Breech kicked a field goal with 3:20 to play to lift the Bengals to a 16-13 lead, and then pinned the 49ers at their own 8 with the ensuing kickoff. The King of Super Bowl quarterbacks then calmly drove his team 92-yards in less than three minutes. Legend has it that Joe Cool broke the tension in the huddle when he pointed out John Candy in the stands to his teammates. Montana capped the series with a defense-splitting pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds to play. There have been a flurry of game-winning drives in recent years, as we noted elsewhere this week. But when considering Montana's greatness, it pays to remember that, in the first three decades of Super Bowl play, Montana was the only quarterback to lead a game-winning scoring drive in the final minutes.
 
1. Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants, Super Bowl XLII
Final score: N.Y. Giants 17, New England 14
This is a no-brainer for one reason and one reason only: Manning is the only quarterback on the list who faced the pressure of knowing that anything less than a touchdown would have meant defeat – and then went out and delivered. 

The Giants took over on their own 17 with 2:39 to play and made short work of a Belichick defense – an all-too-common occurrence for a coach regarded as a defensive genius. Manning completed 5 of 9 passes for 77 yards, while scrambling for another 5 yards. The drive was highlighted, of course, by the most improbable and perhaps greatest play in Super Bowl history: Manning's Houdini-like escape from the clutches of the New England defense and his 32-yard heave that back-up receiver David Tyree magically clutched against the side of his helmet with one hand.

New York's frenetic last-minute drive is the one thing standing between the first and only 19-0 season in history and status for the 2007 Patriots as the single greatest team in history. It was also the greatest statistical upset in Super Bowl history, and perhaps in NFL championship history: the shocking win by the 8-5-1 Giants over the 13-0 Bears way back in the 1934 NFL title game the other member of the very short list of total mismatches on paper (even bigger than Colts-Jets in Super Bowl III). 

All these factors make Eli's effort a drive that will likely never be matched or surpassed for as long as they play football.

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