Let's talk about the most nail-biting moments for the NFL fans: fourth-quarter drives. Picture this: the game clock's dwindling, fans are holding their breath, and the whole season could hinge on this one march down the field. That's the magic of a fourth-quarter drive. It's not just a bunch of guys tossing a football; it's a high-stakes drama unfolding in real time.
In this article, we'll be discussing the best fourth-quarter drives in NFL History.
5 Best Fourth-Quarter Drives in the NFL
And here's where we see leaders shine. They're like the calm captains of ships in stormy seas, keeping everyone focused and fired up. It's not a solo gig—nope, it's all about teamwork. Like a band playing their encore, everyone's got to be in sync for that one last hit song. That's the secret sauce of those unforgettable comeback drives. Cool?
Drive #1: The Drive - 1987 AFC Championship: Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns
Alright, let's rewind to January 11, 1987—AFC Championship on the line. The Denver Broncos are staring down a 20-13 deficit against the Cleveland Browns with just over 5 minutes left on the clock. They're pinned on their own 2-yard line. It's do or die, and 98 yards of green stand between them and a shot at glory.
Now, this isn't just any drive. It's "The Drive," a masterclass in pressure play. Elway and his squad are threading needles, play after play. There's the crucial 3rd-and-18 conversion at their own 48 and the 20-yard completion on 3rd-and-12—each one a mini-drama of its own. The Broncos are mixing it up: short passes, power runs, keeping the Browns' D guessing.
And Elway? He's the eye of the hurricane—utterly calm. He's not just throwing passes; he's crafting a narrative, one that says, "Not today, defeat." His leadership is the glue holding this patchwork of plays together.
When Elway finally sneaks into the end zone to cap the 15-play saga, it's more than a game-tying touchdown; it's a statement. "The Drive" doesn't just send the Broncos to the Super Bowl; it cements Elway's rep as a clutch performer and becomes a story we're still telling over 35 years later. That's some legacy, huh?
Drive #2: The Ice Bowl - 1967 NFL Championship: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Let's set the scene: December 31, 1967, Lambeau Field, the stage for the NFL Championship dubbed the "Ice Bowl." Why? Because it's mind-numbingly, bone-chillingly cold—temperatures are hanging out at a frosty -13°F with a wind chill around -48°F. The field's not a field; it's more like a skating rink.
So, here are the Packers and the Cowboys, battling not just each other but the kind of cold that makes you forget what warmth feels like. The stakes? Only a ticket to Super Bowl II.
Now, fast forward to the final minutes—Green Bay's trailing 17-14. Enter Bart Starr, the Packers' QB, who's about to lead a drive that's less about finesse and more about willpower. They're pushing through the ice, the Cowboys' defense, and their frozen breaths. Starr calls plays like he's flipping through a survival manual, each one crucial to keeping the drive—and the team—alive.
And then, with seconds left, Starr takes the ultimate gamble: a quarterback sneak. No timeouts, no do-overs. He lunges, the line surges, and he's in. Touchdown. The Packers won 21-17.
That drive? It's not just a piece of NFL history; it's a legend. It's about playing through the cold that turns Gatorade into slushies. It's a story of grit, frostbite, and a sneak that sealed a victory when the air was freezing. It's the "Ice Bowl" drive, and it's as epic today as it was back then. Cool? Literally.
Drive #3: Super Bowl XXIII - 1989: San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Super Bowl XXIII, 1989, the ultimate showdown: San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals. Picture this: Miami's Orange Bowl is buzzing, hearts are racing, and the Super Bowl pressure cooker is set to high. The 49ers are down 16-13 with just over three minutes to play. It's the kind of moment where legends are born or broken.
Enter Joe Montana, the 49ers' quarterback, with ice in his veins. While others might crumble, Joe's as chill as a fridge in an igloo. He's in the huddle, cracking a joke about spotting actor John Candy in the stands, of all things. Tension? Shattered.
Then, the magic happens. Montana leads a meticulous 92-yard march down the field. It's a symphony of precision passes, sideline tiptoes, and hushed anticipation. The Bengals' defense is tough, but Montana's resolve is tougher.
Culminating this nail-biter, with just 34 seconds left, Montana finds John Taylor in the end zone. Touchdown. The crowd goes wild. 20-16, 49ers.
This isn't just a drive; it's the drive that cements the 49ers' dynasty and Montana's legacy as "Joe Cool." It's a masterclass in composure and the art of the comeback, etching itself into NFL lore as one of the most clutch moments ever. And for the 49ers? It's the sweet taste of victory, the kind that lingers for decades.
Drive #4: Super Bowl XXXVI - 2002: New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams
Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002, a David vs. Goliath setup if there ever was one. The New England Patriots, the scrappy underdogs, are squaring off against the St. Louis Rams, a.k .a. the "Greatest Show on Turf." The Rams are all razzle-dazzle, but the Patriots? They've got heart and a secret weapon up their sleeve—a young quarterback named Tom Brady.
The game's tied 17-17. Time's almost up, and the Patriots have the ball. Enter Brady, cool as a cucumber, with no timeouts and a mere 1:21 on the clock. The crowd mixes nerves and excitement, a cocktail of anticipation. Brady, in what's about to become his trademark style, methodically moves the team downfield. It's short, sharp passes—no heroics, just efficiency.
The seconds are dripping away, and then, with a kicker named Vinatieri, the Patriots have a shot. The field goal's up, the clock's out, and it's good. Patriots win 20-17. The stadium erupts.
This isn't just a win; it starts a dynasty. Brady steps out from the shadows and into the spotlight, and the NFL ushers in the era of the Patriots. It's a drive replayed in highlight reels and whispered about in locker rooms—a moment when the underdog bites back, and a dynasty barks its first.
Drive #5: Super Bowl XLII - 2008: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Super Bowl XLII, 2008, and here's the scene: The New England Patriots are chasing history, dreaming of that perfect, untarnished season. But hey, the New York Giants? They're not just there to watch the Patriots' victory parade. They've got other plans.
So, it's crunch time, right? The Patriots are clinging to a 14-10 lead, and the Giants have the ball with just a little over two minutes to play. The mood? Tense enough to make a diamond out of a lump of coal.
Enter Eli Manning, the Giants' QB, who's about to pull off an escape act Houdini would be proud of. Patriots swarm him, but he's wriggling, dodging, and—would you believe it—breaks free. He chucks the ball downfield, and David Tyree... well, he goes full-on superhero. The guy makes a catch with his helmet. His helmet! It's the kind of play that, if you tried it in a video game, you'd get an error message.
This moment of madness sets the stage for Manning to toss the game-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress. And just like that, the Giants snatch the game 17-14, and the Patriots' perfect season? Poof, gone.
The upset is more than just a game-changer; it's a reminder that in football, like life, the script can flip instantly. And that, folks, is why we watch the game for moments that are so wild, so unexpected, that they stick in our memories like... well, like a football to a helmet.
In the world of epic fourth-quarter NFL drives, some just miss the marquee but still dazzle us. Like the Patriots' comeback in Super Bowl LI or the Steelers' final push in Super Bowl XLIII. And who could forget the Falcons' drive to secure their Super Bowl XXXIII spot? Each one is a heart-stopper.
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These drives aren't just footnotes in the NFL annals; they're full-blown sagas. From Elway's defiance to Montana's cool, Brady's emergence to Manning's miracle, each one is a testament to the sheer will to win. They've left an indelible mark on the league, turning players into legends and moments into folklore. For fans and players, these memories echo in stadiums long after the lights go out—the kind that gets passed down like precious heirlooms. They remind us that in the NFL, glory isn't just about the final score; it's about the journey to get there.