The Most Gut-Wrenching Postseason Collapses in Recent Sports History
Losing is never easy. You first realize this as a kid when the competition heats up. In sports, the stakes only get higher and the losses tend to hit harder. Players and fans alike are impacted.
Piggybacking off the New England Patriots' monumental comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, we set out to examine nine devastating postseason collapses.
Scouring the NBA, NFL, MLB and beyond, we chose nine of the worst postseason collapses since 2012.
2015-16 NBA Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead. Did you know that? I think it’s safe to say the entire world does at this point in time.
For storytelling purposes, let’s rehash what went down. The Warriors were on their way to dismantling the Cleveland Cavaliers when fate stepped in. LeBron James and his band of outrageous scorers pushed Stephen Curry to the grindstone, reeling off three straight wins and claiming an NBA title.
James and the Cavs took full advantage of the collapse, even giving their annual Halloween party a "3-1 series lead" theme.
The loss was tremendous, and in a way, it may have led to the recruitment of Kevin Durant. With both teams looking like front-runners once again in their respective conferences, the stage has been set for a taste of redemption.
2015 U.S. Open: Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson just had to sink one of two putts to win or force a playoff in the 2015 U.S. Open. He instead missed both on the 18th green, handing the trophy over to Jordan Spieth.
Johnson approached the 18th hole at Chambers Bay with a comfortable lead. When he left, the veteran golfer was left watching another man parade around with a trophy that should have been his.
The collapse was stunning. Johnson had played magnificently throughout the tournament. It was his to lose. When he missed both putts from a combined distance of 16 feet, people in the golf world were left scratching their heads. How did this happen? How did Spieth walk away with the title?
Luckily for Johnson, he rebounded a year later and put those demons to rest by winning the 2016 edition of the U.S. Open.
Super Bowl LI: Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots
The fresher the wound is, the worse it feels, as the Atlanta Falcons now know.
It was nothing but heartache and despair for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. A hot start on both sides of the football made the Falcons appear unstoppable.
The first half was all Atlanta. As the Falcons jumped out to a 21-3 lead, the game looked like it was falling apart at the seams for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Nothing they did was good enough to put a cap on Matt Ryan and the Dirty Birds.
But a blistering second-half comeback by New England, combined with Brady’s own personal heroics, turned a 25-point lead into a tie game with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
When Super Bowl LI reached overtime—the first Super Bowl in history to do so—it was all New England. Brady marched his team down the field on the opening drive, allowing running back James White to punch in the game-winning score.
A final score of 34-28 is all we’re going to remember now. The Falcons had a chance to put Super Bowl LI away. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t go according to plan.
2014-15 NBA Playoffs: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets
How do you blow a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead in Game 6 of the NBA Playoffs at home? Ask the Los Angeles Clippers.
During the 2014-15 postseason, the Clippers encountered a challenging Houston Rockets team. The series teetered with wins for both sides, but the Clippers had an advantage. They were up big in Game 6 of the series, taking a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Chris Paul and the Clippers appeared up to the task until suddenly, they weren’t. The Rockets poured on the pressure, scoring a whopping 40 points in the fourth. The Clippers had no answer, dropping 15 points of their own to match.
Houston won the game and then proceeded to dismantle the Clippers 113-100 in Game 7 in front of their fans. The loss was devastating for the Clippers, as it took away any chance they had of reaching the NBA Finals.
2013 NFL Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts
If you thought the Atlanta Falcons' 2016 Super Bowl meltdown was bad, think about the 2013 Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts.
Kansas City blew a 28-point lead against Andrew Luck’s squad in the dome. The back-and-forth contest turned out to be one of the more memorable wild-card games in recent history, with both offenses going completely bananas.
Behind Luck’s 443 yards passing and four touchdowns—Alex Smith threw for 378 yards and four scores as well—the Colts iced the Chiefs by a final tally of 45-44. Luck helped put the finishing touches on an iconic postseason breakdown by Andy Reid's squad.
2016 World Series: Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians
You want to talk about 3-1 series leads being blown? I present to you the Chicago Cubs ending their historic 108-season World Series drought against the Cleveland Indians after falling behind 3-1 in the 2016 World Series.
No matter which team wound up capturing the 2016 World Series crown, there were bound to be tears. The Indians were enduring a championship drought of their own, lasting 68 seasons. So when Cleveland jumped out to a 3-1 advantage, it appeared the city was ready to welcome home another champion.
The Cubs didn't falter. Instead, they turned the place upside down, winning the final three games of the World Series, including a rain-delayed, extra-inning Game 7—which they won 8-7.
When the trophy was raised and the curse was finally put to rest, only then did you begin to realize how Cleveland melted down and lost its chance at achieving glory.
2012 NFL Divisional Game: Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
Before Peyton Manning nabbed a second Super Bowl ring, his high-octane Denver Broncos were grounded by the Baltimore Ravens during the 2012 postseason.
The Broncos had moved the ball religiously on the Ravens, and with less than a minute left to play, their 35-28 lead looked impenetrable. But then came Joe Flacco and the tragic ways of Broncos' safety Rahim Moore.
Moore’s blown coverage turned into a 70-yard touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones, tying the contest at 35. Baltimore would take that momentum into double overtime amidst a defensive onslaught, and it won the game thanks to a long field goal by then-rookie Justin Tucker.
Denver’s collapse was memorable because it directly laid the groundwork for the Ravens’ unprecedented Super Bowl-winning campaign.
2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
The Washington Capitals will remain a team full of talent that never can seem to win a Stanley Cup until somehow they flip the script and do the impossible.
Picking out an individual collapse for the Capitals isn’t easy, as Sean McIndoe of Grantland described. For argument's sake, the 2015 NHL playoffs stand on their own merits.
Up 3-1—a familiar theme during this article—the Capitals somehow lost control of the series. They blew the remaining three contests by a combined three goals and two overtime periods.
Another postseason collapse came to life, turning the Capitals’ postseason dreams into dust. Even with an outstanding roster of talent, the Capitals can’t ever seem to find the right formula to close out important games.
2013-14 Premier League: Liverpool
Liverpool had it in the bag. They had their first Premier League title in sight and were making sure it was going to last, thanks to the conquering foot of Luis Suarez—now stationed with Barcelona.
Suddenly, the tides turned, sweeping up Liverpool’s entire roster in the process. After enjoying a 3-0 lead against Crystal Palace, Liverpool gave up three goals in under 15 minutes of action. The heartbreaking battle cost Liverpool the title, as it resulted in a cataclysmic draw.
Dwight Gayle is the name Liverpool fans won’t forget. Lining up for Palace at the time, he netted two goals toward the end of the game, sinking the Reds’ hopes and dreams.
Look, nothing is worse than a tie in sports, except for a tie that ends your chance at hoisting a championship trophy.
All stats, box scores and information via Sports-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.