You’re down by 4 with just over a minute left on the board. Who do you want playing quarterback for your team? It’s an old debate and with so many great quarterbacks to have played the game there are many great resumes to choose from. In order to survive in the league, quarterbacks have to be good decision makers and they have to be clutch. The pressures of leading your team down the field in front of thousands of cheering (or jeering) fans, while carrying the team on your arm. It’s an unimaginable task for most people, yet there are a select group of players who’ve made a name from being able to do just that.
So many classic NFL games involve great comebacks. Some fans enjoy defensive games and others prefer a more offensive showcase. Either option can lead to a come-from-behind win. It’s exhilarating to watch one team slip from the jaws of defeat and pull out a seemingly impossible victory. It all rides on the arm of the quarterback, the field general. Though a strong supporting cast is important, the great ones can move the ball regardless of who’s playing alongside them.
10. Warren Moon – 26 4th Quarter Comebacks – 37 Game-Winning Drives
Warren Moon‘s path to the NFL was not an easy one. After going undrafted in 1978, Moon was signed by the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. He played there for five seasons, leading the team to five straight Grey Cup victories. In 1984 he was signed by the Houston Oilers, beginning his 16-year career in the NFL. 67 of Moon’s 291 career passing touchdowns came from game-winning drives. Moon’s career lasted well into his 30s. Despite some quarterbacks slowing down at that age, Moon continued to show that he could come up big in the clutch, leading 18 game-winning drives after he’d hit the ripe old age of 35.
9. Brett Favre – 30 4th Quarter Comebacks – 45 Game-Winning Drives
Probably one of the most controversial players of the last few years, the one thing that springs to people’s minds when they think of Brett Favre is retirement. Too bad, because his achievements in the NFL are great enough to one day put him in the Hall of Fame. He owns several records including most passing touchdowns (508), most pass yards (71,838) and most pass completions (6,300). Favre would be higher on this list if it wasn’t for one thing, his knack for throwing interceptions at the worst possible time. A Super Bowl champion, Favre failed to lead his Packers to a second straight Super Bowl victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Also, in both the 2007 Championship Game against the Giants and the 2009 Championship Game against the Saints, he cost his team the game by throwing an untimely interception. Although his decision making was questionable, Favre was still one of the best in the league during his time in the NFL and he has the stats to back it up.
8. Johnny Unitas – 36 4th Quarter Comebacks – 40 Game-Winning Drives
Johnny Unitas was the face of the Baltimore Colts franchise for more than 15 years. Unitas’ only Super Bowl win came in the famous “Blunder Bowl” where both his Colts and the opposing Dallas Cowboys played one of the most sloppy games of football, with both teams committing a total of 11 turnovers. In his first year as the Colts’ starter, Unitas lead the team to three 4th quarter comebacks and by the time he won his first MVP Award in 1959, he’d already established himself as one of the league’s premier passers.
7. Eli Manning – 25 4th Quarter Comebacks – 30 Game-Winning Drives
Some might think that putting Eli Manning this high is a little premature, but the Giants QB has earned his stripes in the 4th quarter. He lead his team down the field during the final minutes of Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI, both in signature style as he completed the impossible helmet catch to David Tyree in his first Super Bowl win, then the over the shoulder sideline pass to Mario Manningham in his second. That same season Manning set an NFL record for 4th quarter passing touchdowns, accumulating 15 on the season.
6. Drew Brees – 23 4th Quarter Comebacks – 34 Game-Winning Drives
After leaving the San Diego Chargers and signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Drew Brees established himself as one of the top passers in the league. Brees’ resume includes a plethora of NFL records. He became the fastest player to reach 40,000 yards passing, as well as 50,000 yards. Apart from that, he hast the most 5,000 yard passing seasons (4) and highest ever single season completion percentage (71.2%). Now, great stats don’t necessarily make a quarterback effective in the 4th quarter. Some players just falter under the pressure, but Brees has made a career in New Orleans out of leading the Saints to victory, including a Super Bowl win against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
5. John Elway – 35 4th Quarter Comebacks – 46 Game-Winning Drives
Long before he was a big shot GM in the NFL, John Elway’s career started off on the field. Elway was drafted 1st overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, but after demanding a trade Elway was dealt to the Broncos before even playing a snap in the league. One of the most iconic plays of Elway’s career also showed off his ability to make plays in the clutch. Simply named “The Drive,” Elway put together a magnificent 98-yard scoring drive against the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship, tying the game. The Broncos would eventually win by a field goal. After losing in his first three Super Bowl appearances, Elway finally won not one but two championships towards the end of his career, with the latter being the last time he’d ever suit up for the Broncos.
4. Tom Brady – 31 4th Quarter Comebacks – 42 Game-Winning Drives
Whatever would’ve happened if Mo Lewis hadn’t knocked Drew Bledsoe out of the Patriots’ lineup all those years ago? After earning the Patriots’ starting job in 2001, Tom Brady never looked back and has become one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history. In just his second season he lead his team down the field in Super Bowl XXXVI, spiking the ball with 7 seconds left to make way for an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Brady once again set up a Vinatieri field goal in Super Bowl XXXVII. During his record setting 2007 campaign, Brady lead his team to close come-from-behind wins against the Colts, Eagles, Ravens and Giants, and in doing so helped the team maintain their perfect record.
3. Peyton Manning – 40 4th Quarter Comebacks – 51 Game-Winning Drives
For many years Peyton Manning drew comparisons to his childhood idol Dan Marino, for all the wrong reasons. There was a time when Peyton too was known as one of those guys who couldn’t win the big one. That all changed starting with the 2007 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, where the Colts, who were originally down 21-3, overcame the deficit to win the game 38-34. It was the largest deficit ever overcome in a conference championship game and it sent Manning towards his first and only Super Bowl win. A five-time MVP, Manning had a season for the ages in 2013 passing for a league record 55 passing touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards.
2. Dan Marino – 36 4th Quarter Comebacks – 51 Game-Winning Drives
Dan Marino is widely viewed as one of the best quarterbacks to never win the big one. Although a lack of Super Bowl success can sometimes hurt a player’s legacy, Marino’s career stands for itself. With an NFL best 51 career game winning drives, Marino has orchestrated many memorable last minute wins including the infamous “Clock Play” against the Jets. The Jets had amassed a 17-0 lead and the Dolphins didn’t score until the 3rd quarter. With only 30 seconds left in the game and one timeout, the Dolphins trailed the Jets 24-21 from the Jets’ 8-yard line. Motioning that he was going to spike the ball, Marino fooled the Jets’ defense and threw an easy score to a wide open Mark Ingram, clinching the win for Miami.
1. Joe Montana – 31 4th Quarter Comebacks – 33 Game-Winning Drives
When a guy earns the nickname Joe Cool and The Comeback Kid, it’s fair to say that he’s good under pressure. Joe Montana wasn’t just good, he was the best. His most famous game winning drive, aptly nicknamed “The Catch,” was the first step to the 49ers dynasty of the 80s. With 4:54 left against the Cowboys and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Dallas lead 27-21. San Francisco got the ball on their 11-yard line and drove the ball down the length of the field. Throwing an off balance pass to Dwight Clark, Montana tied the game with 51 seconds left and an extra point clinched the win. That was the first of many big time comeback wins orchestrated by Montana, which would eventually earn him a reputation as the NFL’s best clutch QB.