Top 10 Football Injury Comebacks

With a will to win, some of these NFL stars have come back from significant injuries to once again dominate their sport. Their tenacious outlook is one that any person, in any walk of life, can use when going through surgery or physical therapy.

For inspiring comeback tales, see how these 10 NFL stars returned from injury.

10. Carson Palmer

In 2014, when Palmer, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, tore his ACL, it was a feeling he knew well — Palmer had torn the same ligament just 8 years before.

This time, at 34 years old, Palmer had reason to doubt that he would regain his high level of play. But he interviewed several surgeons and physical therapists to find the right help for his return to top form. The result?

Back on the field to begin the 2015 season, Palmer passed for career highs in yards, touchdowns, and rating — enough to become the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

You can Palmer’s outlook on his comeback in this interview with NFL Network.

9. Tom Brady

In the first week of the 2008 season, a low tackle sent Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, crumbling to the ground. With his ACL and MCL torn, Brady’s season, just starting, had reached a stunning halt.

By the next season, though, Brady was back to himself. He wasted no time reasserting his dominance — in his first game back he passed for 378 yards and led the Patriots to a comeback win.

8. Tyler Eifert

During the first quarter of a 2014 game against the Baltimore Ravens, Eifert, the Cincinnati Bengals tight end, hauled in a pass and fought through two defenders to lunge for extra yardage, landing on his elbow.

But Eifert’s art hit the ground unnaturally, dislocating his elbow in a style so gruesome that the TV broadcast crew opted to not show fans the replay. But Eifert worked to return to play, and the very next season he caught 13 touchdowns, the most of his career, and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Sports Illustrated featured Eifert’s comeback. View the interview at

7. Jeremy Maclin

Maclin was preparing for the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2013 season when, during a non-contact drill in training camp, he tore his ACL. The injury forced Maclin to sit out the season, but he wasn’t truly sitting for much of that time.

Maclin trained to rehabilitate his knee and gain more leg strength than he had before the injury. Did it work?

Well, when Maclin came back in 2014, he posted career highs for receptions and receiving yards. His strengthened legs proved to be durable, too — Maclin played the third-most snaps of any wide receiver that season.

6. Rod Woodson

Plenty of players have whiffed when trying to wrap up Barry Sanders, the elusive Detroit Lions runner. But in 1995, Woodson, a Pittsburgh Steelers safety, missed tackle took that turn for the worse — Woodson tore his ACL.

He would not not be sidelined for long, though — he rejoined his team in time for that season’s Super Bowl, and the following year he played well enough to get a Pro Bowl nomination.

5. Willis McGahee

 Playing in college football’s national championship game, McGahee, the Miami Hurricanes running back, had his knee snap backward during a tackle, resulting in a torn ACL and MCL.

This was tragic news for a college athlete who was projected to be a top NFL draft pick. But McGahee was no stranger to a comeback story. In high school, he tore his ACL but then returned to be one of the nation’s best running backs.

After multiple surgeries, long rehabilitation and a missed rookie season, McGahee was able to play 10 seasons in the NFL.

4. Joe Montana

In the first game of his 1986 season, Montana, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, ruptured a disk in his back. The injury was severe enough that Montana was advised by some that he should retire.

But Montana made his return to the field, winning the Comeback Player of the Year award and, in future seasons, two MVP awards and a Super Bowl ring.

An article from ESPN featured Montana as a comeback king.

3. Peyton Manning

The Colts quarterback had started 227 straight games — the second most in NFL history — before spinal fusion surgery caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.

Many wondered if Manning would be forced to retire, but after multiple procedures and extensive rehabilitation, he returned to play with the Denver Broncos, throwing for 37 touchdowns in his first season back and a whopping 55 touchdowns in 2013.

He then went out in style in 2016, winning a Super Bowl ring in his final game.

An NFL Films video on player comebacks documents Manning’s comeback.

2. Drew Brees

In the last game of his 2005 season, Brees lunged to the ground to recover a fumbled ball, tearing the labrum and partially tearing the rotator cuff of his right shoulder.

As a free agent that offseason, Brees was met with skepticism from teams whose physicians doubted his full recovery. But New Orleans took a chance on Brees.

It paid off for the Saints when Brees won a Super Bowl and the game’s MVP award. He is now the NFL’s record holder for career passing yards.

1. Adrian Peterson

On Christmas Eve of 2011, Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back, tore both the ACL and MCL in his left knee. At that point, it was fair to wonder if his career would resume and fair to assume he would miss most or all of the following season.

Peterson had no such plans. By Week 1 of the 2012 season, just 10 months after his injury, Peterson was already back in the Vikings lineup.

He was not only back but also at his all-time best, running for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns — one of the best seasons for any running back in history.

Bleacher report published a feature about Peterson’s comeback in 2012.

Can you make a comeback?

While the injuries we’ve mentioned here were highly publicized, people suffer similar injuries every day without note. And the stakes are even higher. A torn rotator cuff might make you unable to earn a living.

We can help you make a comeback to work and to the activities that you love. The physical therapists and occupational therapists at Motus can help you overcome painful conditions to relieve pain and regain motion.

Contact Motus today to learn how our physical rehabilitation services can help you recover.

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