By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
The NFL has a new comeback king, and for the first time ever, it is someone who plays for the Denver Broncos.
Basking in the glory of his historic win, Peyton Manning was asked this brilliantly-fitting question in his post-game press conference:
“Did you know you passed, or tied Marino for the most fourth quarter comebacks?”
Peyton did not know, but which one is it? Did he pass him, or did he tie him?
That’s right. Even in the record-setting moment, people are still tripping over their words when it comes to the fourth-quarter comeback record.
It is exciting to watch a player break a record and the reaction that follows, but it is even better when the record is broken in epic, memorable fashion.
That happened Monday night when Peyton Manning led the 37th fourth quarter comeback win of his career, moving him past Dan Marino (36) for the most in NFL history.
It was the largest single-game comeback of Manning’s career, erasing a 24-0 halftime deficit for a rousing 35-24 victory. It happened in front of a national audience on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and it was a very important game in Denver’s season.
These types of comebacks are rare, as Denver is the 18th team in NFL history to erase a deficit of at least 24 points to win a game.
Most 4th Quarter Comeback Wins
The moment therefore satisfied almost every requirement to become part of NFL legend: a great player setting a record, a national stage for a big game, and a rare accomplishment.
Every requirement except one was met, and that was the acknowledgement of the record itself.
There was no mention of the 37th comeback by ESPN’s Mike Tirico or Manning fan Jon Gruden. No one rushed Peyton for the game ball after the final kneel down. There was no graphic to highlight what just happened.
Instead, there was a quick Tirico line and (accurate) graphic for Manning tying Dan Marino with his 47th game-winning drive (regular season only). Many did see that, which probably sets off its own firestorm with people confusing game-winning drives for comebacks, and some puzzled fans wondering where John Elway’s name was in all of this “47” talk.
Elway’s “NFL record” of 47 fourth quarter comebacks? It’s about as real as the Easter Bunny riding a unicorn on his way to an orgy with mermaids, the Tooth Fairy, and Rainn Wilson.
If you are just finding out today, then sorry, Elway fans. The Captain figured out on his own that Santa Claus was a phony, so he never learned how to let you down easy.
Hmm, on second thought, maybe this ESPN graphic was partial vindication as the Myth of 47 should definitely cease to exist outside of outdated material. The NFL Network went with 37 comebacks, because we made sure they were aware of this a long time ago.
The people who have paid attention the last few years know the historical significance of what went down Monday night. Those who have not have time to catch up. Those who still want to tout Elway for holding a record he never had, then that’s your problem for not caring about credibility.
Tough record to beat
This is what happens when you have a record with a checkered past: an unofficial leader created without standardized methods, and no real acknowledgement for the people who have held the record legitimately.
This record changes hands about as often as the Pittsburgh Steelers change head coaches. With 34 comeback wins in the fourth quarter, Johnny Unitas held the record by himself starting in the 1963 season.
There would not be a new sole owner until Dan Marino earned his 35th comeback win on December 19, 1999. Over 36 years went by between Unitas and Marino. Now the torch is passed on to Manning, nearly 13 years after Marino.
Sorry, Marino. I did what I could to give you attention for the comeback record in the last 38 months. I know for a fact your name would have never been mentioned last night on ESPN and elsewhere had I kept it only to a hobby.
Marino still holds the record for game-winning drives (51 including playoffs). Manning sits at 48 now. That will be the next record to break.
Last time we talked about an old quote on the Internet that has been widely attributed to Manning (without a source) for years now about what he thinks of fourth quarter comebacks. Well, that quote has a source, as Manning reiterated the exact same thoughts to the media last Thursday.
“Fourth-quarter comebacks are great, but it usually means you screwed up in the first three quarters.” – Peyton Manning
In his post-game press conference on Monday night, Manning again shared similar thoughts, though notice the difference:
“Like I said last week, these comeback victories are great, but it means all you did was screw up in the first half.”
Is it just the first half now? On Monday night, Manning came out in the second half and completed his first 13 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Even in the first half he was solid after Eric Decker robbed him of a long touchdown by tripping and Matt Willis cost him a pick six by failing to read the hot route Manning communicated to him.
Even though the Captain was predicting this would happen all week, we are not yet ready to prove whether or not Manning’s comebacks are really a reflection of him screwing up the first three quarters or not. Expect something soon though.
For now, we have updated the list and supporting data of Manning’s 37 record-setting fourth quarter comeback (4QC) wins. The “DEF” represents the largest deficit overcome in the fourth quarter for that win.
Peyton Manning - Career 4QC Wins
W 23-20 OT
W 38-35 OT
W 34-31 OT
The San Diego victory is the 7th time in Manning’s career he came back from a deficit of 17+ points (at any time in the game), which extends his NFL record.
Here is a summary of some performance data from these 37 games. The stats on strength of schedule (“SOS”), and the wins over teams with a winning record (“>.500 wins”) and bad record (“<=.250 wins”) exclude the 2012 games, because we do not know what their final record will be.
Total 4QC Wins
4QC w/2+ INTs
10+ pt 4QC’s
Manning tied a record on Monday with his 22nd fourth quarter comeback on the road. Joe Montana was the first to reach that mark.
Remember, we still have an open challenge to find the one stat that does the best job of representing the top five quarterbacks in NFL history. Your feedback matters (see contact info at the bottom or in the article).
The reason that was posted last Friday was in anticipation of Manning breaking the record on Monday night, which should raise interest.
Of the ten quarterbacks since 1950 to hold at least a share of the record for fourth quarter comeback wins, nine of them are in the Hall of Fame, and of course Manning will join them one day.
For however long Manning holds the record, let’s just hope it gets better treatment than it has in the past.
I like to thank everyone who has cared enough to read and utilize these stats, because without you, today is just another day after a crazy Monday night game. Only a minority of people understood at the time, but we all witnessed NFL history last night.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.