10 Greatest Game-Winning Touchdown Drives in NFL History
Faced with 80 yards and a deficit of under seven points with a championship on the line is a daunting task that only the coolest and bravest competitors in professional football are capable of handling.
And if the dramatic touchdown march does comes to fruition, it can vault those miracle workers into legendary status.
The ranking of the 10 greatest touchdown-scoring drives was based on how far a team had to go in order to reach the end zone, the significance of the game and if a TD was necessary for the win.
10. The Catch II
The 49ers had been beaten by Green Bay in each of the past three postseasons. It appeared that the streak would be extended to four when Brett Favre capped an impressive 89-yard drive when he hit receiver Antonio Freeman for a touchdown that put the Packers on top, 27-23.
In order to win, San Francisco needed to put up an equally impressive march. That should have been halted when Jerry Rice appeared to have fumbled, but was instead ruled down by contact (there was no instant replay then).
Niners quarterback Steve Young kept the drive alive, going 7-of-9 passing during the final segment that traveled 76 yards and lasted less than two minutes.
The final pass was undoubtedly the most thrilling. Perched at the Packer 25 with eight seconds left on the Candlestick Park clock, Young threaded a pass in-between defenders and was able to connect with Terrell Owens in the end zone. It was sweet redemption for T.O., who had dropped multiple passes throughout the the game.
San Francisco won 30-27, crushing the Packers' hopes of reaching a third consecutive Super Bowl.
9. Sea of Hands
The Dolphins were aiming for a third straight Super Bowl victory and a fourth straight trip to the league title game, but that dream dissipated in a "sea of hands" at the end of their AFC Divisional Playoff contest against the Oakland Raiders.
A back-and-forth affair was in visiting Miami's favor late in the fourth quarter after halfback Benny Malone broke several tackles on his 23-yard journey to the end zone, giving his club a 26-21 advantage.
That scoring play, however, left 2:08 on the clock, which proved to be too much time for the Raiders and their quarterback, Ken Stabler. "The Snake" drove his team down 60 yards before calling their last timeout with just seconds remaining.
On the next play, Stabler had trouble looking for an open receiver. Just as he was being dragged to the ground Dolphin defensive end Vern Den Herder, Stabler let go of the ball. It ended up in the grasp of Clarence Davis, who caught the game-winning pass between three Miami defenders. The score gave Oakland a 28-26 win and a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
8. 2006 AFC Championship
Not only was this one of the greatest game-winning drives in NFL history, but it was one of the best comebacks ever to occur in postseason contest.
The Colts had lost two previous playoff encounters with the Patriots. Both of those games were in chilly Foxborough. For the 2006 AFC Championship Game, Indy would have the luxury of playing in the RCA Dome on a dry and fast surface and getting to play before a deafening and supporting crowd.
Those Colt fans were silenced early when New England jumped out to a 21-3 lead.
The deficit shrunk from 18 and eventually became a tie score with an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski answered with a 43-yard boot to put Bill Belichick's club up 34-31.
After trading defensive stops, the Colts gained possession with slightly more than two minutes to go. Peyton Manning, overcoming an injury to the thumb on his throwing hand and trying to dispel the New England demons, moved his offense 70 yards in the span of 19 seconds.
At the Pats' 3, running back Joseph Addai's touchdown run with one minute left gave Indy its first lead. Tom Brady tried to counter for the Patriots, but a Marlin Jackson interception sealed the Colts' AFC title – a win that would propel them to the Super Bowl XLI crown.
Highlights of the game begin at the 6:41 mark of the video.
7. The Catch
It was America's Team facing off with a team on the rise. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers traded turns being in front, it was the visitors that held a 27-21 lead late in the 1981 NFC Championship.
San Francisco's offense, led by Joe Montana, then had 89 yards and 4:54 with which to work. The future legendary signal-caller performed the magic that he is now renowned for, leading the 49ers down the field with nothing less than a conference title at stake.
The Niners were at the Dallas 11-yard line with 58 seconds left. Head coach Bill Walsh instructed his young quarterback that if he were to attempt a pass to tight end Dwight Clark, he should throw it where only Clark can grab it.
Montana rolled out to the right and was faced with two Dallas defenders. Joe threw it high, but Clark was able to use his hands to haul in the greatest catch of all-time. San Francisco won 28-27.
Little did anyone who watched this game know that it was the birth of a dynasty. The Niners won two weeks later in Super Bowl XVI, which was the first of four Lombardi Trophies in nine seasons.
6. The Hail Mary
In a 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff, the Dallas Cowboys had 1:51 before their season came to a disappointing end. They were trailing the Minnesota Vikings 14-10 at Metropolitan Stadium in frigid Bloomington. Starting at their own 15, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, though, rallied his troops as only "Captain Comeback" could. He and wide receiver Drew Pearson staved off defeat with a long pass completion on fourth-and-17.
Later, at midfield with 24 seconds remaining, Staubach sent a prayer of a pass downfield. Pearson, being covered by Minnesota cornerback Nate Wright, came back to the under-thrown ball and trapped it between right hand and his right hip as Wright was falling down.
Pearson then coasted the remaining five yards and into the end zone with the stunning touchdown. Dallas prevailed with the three-point triumph–a win that helped them get to Super Bowl X.
5. 1958 NFL Championship
When Baltimore Colts kicker Steve Myhra tied the 1958 NFL Championship Game with the New York Giants at 17-17 with a late field goal, it led to the league's first usage of sudden death overtime.
The Giants failed to gain on their first possession in the extra session. Johnny Unitas and the Colts did not fail when they had their chance.
Unitas and the Baltimore offense embarked on this game-winning march starting from their own 20. Although only a field goal was needed for victory, the legendary quarterback went for six. Johnny U orchestrated a 13-play drive that was capped by a third down goal line run to pay dirt by running back Alan Ameche–concluding one of the most important games in the history of the NFL.
4. Super Bowl XLIII
The Pittsburgh Steelers altered that script.
They got the ball back on their own 22-yard line with 2:37 to go. A holding penalty on the first play didn't faze quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had two timeouts at his disposal.
Big Ben and Santonio Holmes played the biggest roles on this march to glory, synching up on two early passes for 27 yards combines. Soon after, Roethlisberger found Holmes again for a 40-yard pass completion–leaving the Cardinals defense winded and the Steelers in prime position at the Arizona 6-yard line.
Two plays later, it again was No. 7 to No. 10–this time for six points. Holmes used perfect footwork to remain in bounds in the end zone after hauling in the winning pass with 35 seconds left.
The Pittsburgh defense sealed the city's sixth Super Bowl title, 27-23, when they forced a Kurt Warner fumble on the ensuing Arizona drive.
3. Super Bowl XXIII
The Super Bowl had waited for this ideal situation: football's best team with football's best quarterback behind by a slim margin and more than 90 yards away from the end zone in the game's final moments.
The characters in this drama were the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana. It was 16-13 in favor of the underdog Cincinnati Bengals. The Niners were in the uncomfortable spot of being at their own 8 with just over three minutes to go.
Many quarterbacks would shiver at the thought. Montana, however, seized the moment.
The key play of the drive was a 27-yard pass completion to Jerry Rice (the game's MVP) on second-and-20. Later, at the Cincinnati 10 with the Joe Robbie Stadium clock showing 39 seconds, John Taylor was the recipient of a Montana pass and a Super Bowl-winning touchdown.
The 49ers had their third Super Bowl, 20-16.
2. The Ice Bowl
On a surface reminiscent of a polar ice cap, the Green Bay Packers were faced with a 17-14 deficit to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
With 4:30 to go, quarterback Bart Starr and his team were 68 yards from the end zone. He piloted a march that utilized less heralded players such as Chuck Mercein and Donnie Anderson, but temporarily died at the Dallas 1-yard line. Two unsuccessful hand-offs to Anderson forced Starr to call the Packers' last timeout with just 16 seconds to go.
He conferred with head coach Vince Lombardi and the two decided on a simple QB sneak. With great blocking, the play worked to perfection as Starr ended up in the end zone. The Packers captured their third straight NFL Championship and went on to win Super Bowl II.
1. Super Bowl XLII
A unprecedented record of 19-0 was in the grasp of the New England Patriots. They were 2:40 away when Tom Brady found Randy Moss on a 6-yard scoring pass, taking a 14-10 lead.
What could turn perfection into a blemished 18-1? Only a drive that would turn Eli Manning and others from ordinary pros into Super Bowl heroes.
The march started at the New York 17-yard line. Manning helped move the ball near midfield when he and the Giants were faced with a third-and-four. As Manning dropped back, he was met by Patriot defenders. Just when it appeared he was going down for a sack, Eli broke loose and let fly with a pass intended for David Tyree, who made the ultra-famous "helmet catch."
The miracle play then led to Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with just 32 ticks left on the clock, giving the Giants a 17-14 lead that they would hold on to for an historical upset.
Being down by four points, a field goal wouldn't suffice. That's what elevates this drive, combined with the pressure-packed circumstances, to be the greatest in NFL history.