- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
Sunday was the day of the comeback in NFL. Four teams overcame fourth-quarter deficits to win, including three that clawed back from being down double digits. That happened only six times across the entire 2021 season. We saw onside kick recoveries, spectacular long touchdowns and what might be the longest 2-point conversion in the history of the league.
Let’s break down those four comebacks and see how the trailing teams managed to pull out their last-second victories. I’ll also try to get a sense of what it means for those teams moving forward. Naturally, I have to start in Baltimore, where we might have seen the league’s next great offense announce itself to the world in one spectacular quarter of football:
Miami Dolphins 42, Baltimore Ravens 38
Four hundred and sixty-nine passing yards and six touchdowns. We’ll get to the comeback and the receivers and the blown coverages and the controversial calls and everything else that came into play during Miami’s massive comeback win over the Ravens, but the single most dramatic performance of Sunday came from Tua Tagovailoa. If I’d told you before the season that a quarterback would throw for 469 yards and six touchdowns in September, how many passers would you have guessed before you got to Tagovailoa? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?
Let’s start here, because this is the first question that came to mind for me after the game ended: Is this enough to say that Tagovailoa is going to be a superstar? Are there quarterbacks with mediocre careers who are even capable of producing ceiling performances like this one? Or is something like this strictly the territory of great signal-callers?
I’ll let you decide. Loosening the baseline, here are the other quarterbacks who have 400 passing yards and five touchdowns in a game over the past decade: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Jared Goff, Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Deshaun Watson. If we look back an 11th season, we can add former Packers backup Matt Flynn, who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a Week 17 win over the Lions in 2012. There are a few Hall of Famers in there, a few surefire superstars and a couple of guys who were in great schemes and had great afternoons.
For most of Sunday’s game, it felt like the quarterback having the breakout performance was the guy on the other side of the field. When Lamar Jackson kept the ball on a QB power read and took it 79 yards to the house, he appeared to have the Ravens on track for a comfortable victory. Having thrown for three touchdowns before running in this fourth, he was having one of his best games as a pro. The Ravens were up 35-14 with seconds to go in the third quarter. Teams with a 21-point lead at the end of three had won their past 107 contests, with the last such loss coming in 2006.
You know what happened next. Tagovailoa, who had been inconsistent to this point and had thrown two interceptions, had one of the most dazzling fourth quarters we’ve ever seen. Including a 33-yard completion to Jaylen Waddle on the final snap of the third quarter, he went 14-of-18 for 232 yards and four touchdowns. No quarterback has thrown for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter in 15 years. The last guy to do it was Sage Rosenfels.
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