New England Patriots

Ranking the 10 Greatest 4th-Quarter Comebacks of Tom Brady's Career

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest 4th-Quarter Comebacks of Tom Brady's Career

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    Tom Brady's latest heroics improved him to 10-4 career against Peyton Manning.
    Tom Brady's latest heroics improved him to 10-4 career against Peyton Manning.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The words Tom Brady and fourth-quarter comeback are synonymous with each other. You'd be hard-pressed to find many quarterbacks in NFL history who have been more clutch with the game on the line and more apt at putting their teams in position to win when the odds looked bleak than "Tom Terrific."

    He re-emphasized that flair for the dramatic in a big way this past Sunday night/Monday morning, when Brady led his New England Patriots to an improbable and stunning come-from-behind victory over archrival Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos

    It was one of the greatest comebacks in a career full of them—in fact, it was his largest deficit overcome as a professional. While the hole may have been deeper, Brady has made a career out of pulling his team from the fire.

    From his very first season to this past Sunday, here are the 10 greatest fourth-quarter comebacks of Tom Brady's career.

Honorable Mention: Denver Broncos: November 23, 2013

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    Don't worry, Pats fans...Tom Brady's got this.
    Don't worry, Pats fans...Tom Brady's got this.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    This game falls into something of a gray area, largely because most of the New England Patriots; epic comeback against the Denver Broncos this past Sunday night/Monday morning came in the third, rather than the fourth, quarter.

    But that said, make no mistake: This was one of those comebacks for the ages.

    Coming out of the first quarter, the Patriots trailed 17-0, had committed three costly turnovers, had benched the starting running back and seemed on the verge of an embarrassing blowout by Peyton Manning.

    At 24-0 by halftime, you could almost hear the collective sounds of millions of televisions going off.

    When the Patriots came out of the half and went 80 yards in eight plays to cut the deficit to 24-7, they still had a lot of work to be done. On Denver's next drive, the fumble-bug bit the Broncos for the second time when Montee Ball coughed up the ball deep inside his own territory at the 32-yard line.

    Six plays later, the game was significantly tighter at 24-14.

    Another quick Broncos drive put the ball back into Brady's hands with more than two minutes to play in the third. Five plays later, the Patriots scored their 21st straight point to rise from the grave and pull within three entering the fourth quarter. It wasn't just stunning that the Pats had erased the deficit, but that they had done so in such rapid succession.

    Another crucial Denver turnover—this time a Manning interception deep in his own territory—put the Pats in position to snag the lead, and they did just three plays later.

    Manning would ultimately rally his team late in the fourth to force overtime, but the Broncos would come up on the short end of a 34-31 score.

    Brady would finish the game 34-of-50 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, and most of that was accumulated after spotting Denver a 24-0 lead. 

    Deficit: Broncos 24, Patriots 0 (Halftime)

    Final Score: Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)

10. Denver Broncos: November 3, 2003

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    Tom Brady's business with the Denver Broncos predates Peyton Manning's arrival.
    Tom Brady's business with the Denver Broncos predates Peyton Manning's arrival.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Patriots' rivalry with the Denver Broncos has certainly received a larger share of attention since Peyton Manning's move to the Mile High City, but Brady's issues with the blue and orange predate Manning's arrival. 

    The 2003 version of the "Brady Bunch" arrived at Invesco Field at Mile High for Monday Night Football on a four-game winning streak, and they faced a Broncos team—led by Clinton Portis—that had lost two straight. But records hardly ever seem to matter with these two teams, as all their games seem to be decided late.

    Already behind 24-23 with just under three minutes to play and backed up at their own 1-yard line, Patriots punter Ken Walter seemed to seal the deal with a crucial fumble, which resulted in a Broncos safety. Denver now led 26-23 and would be getting the ball back with a chance to run out the clock.

    Except, the Broncos didn't.

    Denver only managed to net four yards on its ensuing possession and was forced to give the ball back to the Patriots with a chance to win or tie.

    Starting at his own 42-yard line, Brady completed passes of five, 19 and 16 yards to halfback Kevin Faulk and capped it off with an 18-yard strike to David Givens to give the Patriots a 30-26 victory at Denver. 

    Deficit: Broncos 26, Patriots 23 (2:26 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 30, Broncos 26

9. Indianapolis Colts: November 4, 2007

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    Brady continued his mastery over Manning with a come-from-behind victory in Indy.
    Brady continued his mastery over Manning with a come-from-behind victory in Indy.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Oh Peyton, Tom Brady has been doing this to you for a long time.

    With under 10 minutes to play at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Brady trailed Manning by 10 points. For most quarterbacks in this league, that would be game over for sure. But Brady—already 6-3 against Manning by that point—was destined to steal win No. 7 on that day in Indy.

    He led his team down the field, throwing for 80 yards and finishing off his aerial show with a three-yard strike to Wes Welker to narrow the Colts' lead to 20-17 with about eight minutes remaining.

    When a team is down by 10 in the final frame, quick strikes are the order of the day, and that was what Brady gave the Pats. He used up less than two minutes of clock.

    After the Colts failed to get the ball past their own 21-yard line on their next possession, Hunter Smith was forced to put the ball back into Brady's hands and give him another chance to needle his foe. And he wouldn't hesitate.

    Starting from his own 49-yard line, Brady completed three passes—to Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Kevin Faulk—the last of whom caught a 13-yard touchdown for the lead.

    New England would not trail again and went on to a 24-20 road victory that prolonged its undefeated regular season.

    Deficit: Colts 20, Patriots 10 (9:50 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 24, Colts 20

8. Buffalo Bills: September 14, 2009

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    Tom Brady has pretty much owned the Bills in his career.
    Tom Brady has pretty much owned the Bills in his career.Elsa/Getty Images

    You have to feel for the Buffalo Bills.

    Since taking over the reins of the New England Patriots from Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Tom Brady has owned the Bills to the tune of a 21-2 career record (with one more meeting this season at Gillette Stadium). That is by far his highest win percentage against any opponent.

    But not all those victories came easy. 

    Opening the 2009 campaign—with both teams in those snazzy AFL throwback unis—the Patriots trailed the Bills by a 24-13 score with under five-and-a-half minutes left to play.

    Brady and the offense got the ball back with 5:25 on the clock and burned up a bunch of it. But the outcome was nine completions and 81 yards, culminating with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson. 

    With their lead now at 24-19, the Bills made a crucial mistake, fumbling the kickoff. Of all people, it was recovered by of kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which set up the Patriots at the Buffalo 31-yard line.

    Just more than a minute after his last touchdown pass, Brady put the Patriots up for good with another touchdown pass to Watson. This one was for 16 yards, and it extended the Bills' growing misery.

    Deficit: Bills 24, Patriots 13 (5:38 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 25, Bills 24 

7. San Diego Chargers: January 14, 2007

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    Brady crushed the hopes of a 14-2 San Diego Chargers team.
    Brady crushed the hopes of a 14-2 San Diego Chargers team.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    If a San Diego Chargers team ever seemed destined to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, it was the 2006 version that went 14-2 in the regular season and entered the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak. The Bolts secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and hosted a 12-4 New England squad in the divisional round. 

    In a nip-and-tuck affair throughout, San Diego built a 21-13 lead in the fourth quarter when LaDainian Tomlinson took it in from three yards out with a little less than nine minutes to play. 

    On the ensuing possession, Brady and company struck a bit of luck when a pass intended for Troy Brown was intercepted by Chargers safety Marlon McCree, who then fumbled when Brown made the tackle. The fumble was recovered by then Patriot—and former Charger—Reche Caldwell to put New England back in business. 

    The mistake would not be repeated, and Caldwell would get his just rewards, catching a four-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion tied the game up at 21.

    With a three-and-out on their next drive, the Chargers were forced to give the ball to the Patriots at their own 15-yard line. Brady took his team 72 yards, with 68 of them coming through the air. Caldwell again made his imprint with a key 49-yard reception to set up a game-winning field goal. But it wasn't Adam Vinatieri this time, but Stephen Gostkowski who put the dagger in the Chargers' once promising season.

    Deficit: Chargers 21, Patriots 13 (8:40 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 24, Chargers 21

6. New Orleans Saints: October 13, 2013

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    Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins from 17 yards out to stun the previously undefeated Saints in Foxborough.
    Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins from 17 yards out to stun the previously undefeated Saints in Foxborough.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Without virtually all of his premier weapons from the previous season—Rob Gronkowski due to injury, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd no longer being with the team and of course the Aaron Hernandez saga—Brady had spent much of the first five games of the 2013 season looking downright average.

    So when the undefeated New Orleans Saints marched into town with their vaunted offensive attack—against a Patriots defense badly depleted by injuries—it was fair to assume that Brady and his crew would be overmatched.

    The game got off to a surprising start, with New England jumping to a 17-7 lead at halftime on the strength of their best first-half effort all season. 

    But the Saints roared back and took the lead at 24-23 with just 3:35 to go in the game. Things looked especially bleak when, on their next possession, the Patriots failed to convert on 4th-and-6 from their own 24-yard line. 

    A strong defensive effort forced the Saints to settle for a field goal and a 27-23 advantage. It seemed that "Tom Terrific" would get one more chance to lead the team down the field for another spectacular comeback...until an interception on the first play of what appeared to be the Pats' last drive gave New Orleans the ball with just over two minutes left in the game and the Patriots with one timeout.

    After another defensive stand, Brady's offense once again got the ball back with 1:13 to play. Absolutely nothing to that point indicated a comeback in the offing. 

    Six throws later, New England sat on the Saints 17-yard line with just 10 seconds to play, and you know the rest. 

    A beautifully thrown ball right over the defender landed in the outstretched hands of undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins for a game-winning score.  

    How far the 2013 Patriots will go remains to be seen, but this victory revived some of the old magic and gave the fans reason to believe again.

    Deficit: Saints 27, Patriots 23 (2:29 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 30, Saints 27

5. San Diego Chargers: October 14, 2001

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    Brady's first great comeback came before we knew him as "Tom Terrific."
    Brady's first great comeback came before we knew him as "Tom Terrific."Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    All the way back in October of 2001—it seems like an eternity ago—Tom Brady's New England Patriots faced a great deal of uncertainty. 

    After dropping their season opener 23-17 to the Bengals in Cincinnati and then losing starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe the following week to a devastating injury against the rival New York Jets, the Patriots turned over the reins to a 24-year-old quarterback who had been drafted after 198 other men in the 2000 NFL draft. 

    You couldn't fault New England fans for their lack of optimism heading into a Week 5 matchup with the then 3-1 San Diego Chargers in Foxborough. 

    With just under nine minutes remaining in the contest, the Chargers jumped to a 10-point lead after Patriots punter Lee Johnson fumbled near the end zone and San Diego's Derrick Harris returned the ball six yards for a touchdown.

    Staring down the barrel of a 1-4 start, Brady remained undaunted and led the team on the first of what would become his signature fourth-quarter comebacks.

    On the next drive, Brady guided the Patriots down to the San Diego 5-yard line, but he couldn't connect with Troy Brown on a pass in the end zone and had to settle for an Adam Vinatieri field goal to cut the deficit to 26-19. 

    After a Chargers punt, Brady went back to work from his own 40-yard line with just more than two minutes remaining and one timeout. On the ensuing drive, he completes five of eight passes for 60 yards and capped it off with a game-tying touchdown to Jermaine Wiggins with 40 seconds left, forcing overtime.

    With the Chargers going three-and-out on their first drive of the extra frame, Brady—aided by a critical pass interference call—brought his team into field-goal range. Vinatieri did it again, connecting from 44 yards to win the game 29-26.

    It didn't seem like much at the time. After all, the Pats only got to 2-3 with the win, but in retrospect, it was the start of something special.

    Deficit: Chargers 26, Patriots 16 (8:57 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 29, Chargers 26 (OT)

4. Chicago Bears: November 10, 2002

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    Brady scrambling is never a good thing. But all's well that ends well.
    Brady scrambling is never a good thing. But all's well that ends well.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Let's be clear: The 2002 version of the Chicago Bears were not a good team. They would ultimately finish the season 4-12, and one of those losses came in dramatic fashion against the New England Patriots. 

    The big bad Bears led the Patriots 27-6 in the closing minutes of the third quarter, but a late Tom Brady touchdown pass to Kevin Faulk and a 42-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri trimmed the deficit to 11 at the start of the fourth.

    In the opening drive of the final quarter, Brady led the Patriots down to the Chicago 7-yard line but had to settle for a field goal to trim the Chicago lead to 27-19. 

    The Bears quickly matched with a field goal of their own to go back up by 11 points with 6:27 left to play. 

    Down 11, on the road and with less than seven minutes to play? No problem.

    The Patriots would get the ball back twice, and Brady would combine to complete nine of 14 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns to seal a 33-30 come-from-behind victory. All that after trailing by 11 points twice in the final frame.

    Deficit: Bears 30, Patriots 19 (6:27 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 33, Bears 30

3. Oakland Raiders: January 19, 2002

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    The famous "tuck" game.
    The famous "tuck" game.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    You can pin the start of all the hatred of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to a specific moment in time, and it wasn't even their fault. It was caused by a crucial fourth-quarter play, an admittedly stupid rule and the correct interpretation of said stupid rule.

    The Patriots—after a stunning 10-2 finish to a season that started out 1-3—hosted the Oakland Raiders on January 19, 2002 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

    Oakland held the lead 13-3, entering the fourth quarter in a driving snowstorm. The conditions were awful, and the chances for a heroic comeback from a first-year starter seemed minimal at best.

    Trailing by 10 and with time quickly becoming a factor, Brady took the ball with 12:29 remaining and marched the team down the field in one of those clutch drives that can only be described as epic.

    He completed all nine of his passes for 61 yards and capped it off by running it in from six yards out to cut the lead to 13-10.

    The teams would then trade possessions, and with 2:06 remaining, Brady and the Pats would get it back and embark on a drive that—to this day—generates vitriol and hatred amongst many NFL fans. (But hey, Oakland did get to the Super Bowl the following season). 

    With less than two minutes to play, Charles Woodson sacked Brady as he was bringing the ball back toward his chest, forcing what appeared to be a fumble. The fumble was recovered by Oakland, and the game appeared to be over. But the referees ruled that due to the "tuck rule," Bradysince his hand had moved forwardwas in the process of passing. Thus, the play was an incomplete pass, not a fumble.

    Taking advantage of the call, Adam Vinatieri kicked a clutch 45-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, where Brady would get the ball first and complete all eight of his passes to set up another game-winning field goal. 

    Oakland would only run one offensive play after the disputed call, and while you can hate on the rule all you wish, it's hard to deny Brady's clutch performance.

    Deficit: Raiders 13, Patriots 3 (Start of fourth quarter)

    Final Score: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)

2. St. Louis Rams: February 3, 2002

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    Tom Brady and the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory was one of the biggest upsets in football history.
    Tom Brady and the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory was one of the biggest upsets in football history.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Moving on from the "tuck" game, the Patriots would go on the road and defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC Championship and set up a Super Bowl XXXVI date with the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.

    The Rams, known as "The Greatest Show on Turf," had finished the regular season with a 14-2 mark and had a bevy of offensive weapons led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Ricky Proehl and Torry Holt.

    You would have been hard-pressed to find manyoutside of hardcore Patriots homers—who were willing to pick Brady and crew to score what would be one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

    But that's why they play the games, right?

    Shockingly, the Patriots entered the fourth with a 17-3 lead. The Rams—who had 12 times scored 30 or more points that season—were unable to find any holes in a stout New England defense up to that point.

    But you can only hold down that type of team for so long. St. Louis found its way back into the game on the back of Warner, who took it himself for a two-yard touchdown run and then connected with Ricky Proehl from 26 yards out to tie the game with 90 seconds left to play.

    In many eyes, the smart call for the Patriots—with no timeouts and the ball at their own 17—was to run out the clock and go to overtime. But that wouldn't have been a very good ending to a storybook season, now would it? Especially given the ease with which the Rams had seized the momentum.

    With the chance to secure his team's first ever championship in his hands, Brady didn't balk. He started out the drive by completing three passes to halfback J.R. Redmond to bring the ball to his own 41-yard line. After an incompletion, Brady connected on back-to-back strikes, for 23 yards to Troy Brown and eight to Jermaine Wiggins, to set up the game-winning field-goal try.

    The rest, as they say, is history. Adam Vinatieri drilled the kick, and the New England Patriots were Super Bowl champions for the first time in their long history.

    Situation: Patriots 17, Rams 17 (1:21 remaining in regulation)

    Final Score: Patriots 20, Rams 17

1. Carolina Panthers: February 1, 2004

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    The hair wasn't clutch, but Brady once again was with the game on the line.
    The hair wasn't clutch, but Brady once again was with the game on the line.Elsa/Getty Images

    By 2004, comebacks were seeming par for the course for "Tom Terrific." 

    Meeting the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Patriots were looking to secure their second championship in three seasons.

    New England would get there, but it wasn't easy.

    Antowain Smith's two-yard touchdown score in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter seemed to put the Patriots well on the road to another title at 21-10, but the Panthers would prove resilient.

    They stormed back with a 33-yard touchdown run from DeShaun Foster and a stunning 85-yard strike from Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad to take a 22-21 lead with just a little more than seven minutes to play.

    Turning the ball over to Tom Brady—who by this point was probably thinking "no problem"—the Patriots marched right down the field to regain the lead on a one-yard touchdown pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel. The onus was now, once again, on Carolina not to fold under the pressure.

    And it didn't. 

    Delhomme hit—Patriots' nemesis from Super Bowl XXXVI—Ricky Proehl for a game-tying touchdown with 1:13 left to play. It would be Proehl's second career game-tying touchdown against New England inside the final two minutes of the Super Bowl.

    With the game tied at 29 and the momentum in the Panthers favor, Brady led the Patriots down the field, completing four of five passes for 47 yardsincluding a key 17-yard completion to Deion Branch—to put the team in position to kick a title-winning field goal.

    In a career full of amazing performances, this one takes the top billing, largely because it required not one but two crucial drives in order to win the game. And it wasn't just a game.

    It was a second Super Bowl title in three seasons.

    Deficit: Panthers 22, Patriots 21 (7:06 remaining); Patriots 29, Panthers 29 (1:13 remaining)

    Final Score: Patriots 32, Panthers 29

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