A Few of the Biggest Collapses in Football History

February 1, 2021

As the NFL playoffs end and the Super Bowl is just around the corner, a few teams and players are bound to make sports history and achieve gridiron glory. That’s the opposite of what happened with these teams, who lost the magic at the worst possible time.

Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills, 1993 Playoffs

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills

There’s another side to stories of a team’s collapse, and that side is the other team staging a remarkable comeback. It’s no accident that fans of the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) called a 1993 playoff game “The Choke” while supporters of the Buffalo Bills call the same contest “The Comeback.” During the third quarter, Houston linebacker Bubba McDowell intercepted a Buffalo pass and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Oilers a seemingly insurmountable lead of 35 to 3. The Bills were playing without star Jim Kelly, out to due to ligament injuries, and used backup Frank Reich, who used the McDowell play as an inspiration to the biggest late-game reversal in NFL history. He threw an astounding four touchdowns, helping to tie the score at 38 at the end of regulation play. Buffalo’s Steve Christie then kicked a field goal in overtime to win the game, 41 to 38.

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers, 2003 playoffs

San Francisco 49ers logo

San Francisco 49ers logo

In a first round wild card game, the Giants only needed to hold on to a big lead to advance in the playoffs. Early in the second half, the New York team led 38 to 14 over the home team San Francisco 49ers…until the 49ers went on a 25-0 run over the next 16 minutes of play. That put San Francisco up by one point, 39 to 38. The Giants blew their lead, but at least they had a chance to go up again with a 41-yard field goal. The snap on the kick was botched, however, and the Giants scrambled to turn the kick attempt into moving the ball downfield, with the ball holder tossing it to lineman Rich Seubert. 49ers defender Chike Okeafor apparently illegally pulled on Seubert, but refs didn’t call pass interference on him. At any rate, the Giants never scored again and the 49ers eked out that one-point win.

Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks, 2015 NFC Championship

Seattle Seahawks wordmark 2012

Seattle Seahawks wordmark 2012

With just over two minutes of play left, Green Bay led 19 to 7, and time was literally running out for Seattle, who had been outgunned all day, turning over the ball five times and getting its only points on a faked field goal-turned-run tricky play. The Seahawks then managed to score a touchdown, bringing the score to 19 to 14. When Seattle kicked off after to Green Bay, they pulled the old onside kick play in an attempt to maintain control, and got it when the Packers’ Brandon Bostick bumbled the ball. Moments later, Seattle scored a touchdown with 1:25 left, and then successfully made the two-point conversion in lieu of the extra point. The score 22 to 19…which Green Bay evened up with a field goal. In overtime, the revitalized Seahawks scored a touchdown to win a trip to the Super Bowl.


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