Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in.
After eight long games without a win, an underwhelming transfer window and a spark from their nearest rivals, hope was in short supply on Wearside.
Surely this would be the year?
It may well be, but this utterly remarkable afternoon at Selhurst Park will have talks and dreams of great escapes all over again.
A stunning first half settled the contest, one in which Sunderland took the lead, wobbled, had their fair share of luck, then surged clear in a staggering fifteen minutes.
By the end of that period Palace fans were on the pitch, trying to confront tormented centre-half Damien Delaney. Making the lonely trek back to his dug-out before the second half began, Big Sam even faced a rogue call or two to 'resign'.
It was Lamine Kone who got the ball rolling, volleying home on the fall after Wayne Hennessey dropped the ball. Was he fouled by Billy Jones? It looked that way. A Sunderland set-piece leading to a goal, against a Big Sam side? Perhaps we should have known something strange was in the air.
Palace were the better team after that, James Tomkins missing a sitter at the back post after Damien Delaney stood up a superb cross on the slide.. Seb Larsson was perhaps lucky still to be on the field, booked early on then fouling Wilfried Zaha twice in one move.
The Black Cats were struggling to get out, penned in by the diagonal balls and giving the ball away too often. They were being held together by the brilliant Kone, heading everything away, a titan at the back. Despite their territorial dominance the Selhurst faithful were getting restless, and a flash of inspiration of Didier Ndong opened the floodgates.
Palace, not used to being pressed on the ball, switched off. Joe Ledley hesitated just for a moment and Ndong was all over him, nicking the ball. Advancing towards goal, Palace backed off, expecting the ball to be played into Defoe on the overlap. The Gabon star had other ideas, letting fly on his left foot from 25 yards. Off the post and in; Sunderland never looked back.
Just before the break, the hosts over-committed. Sunderland intercepted and moved the ball to Januzaj in oceans of space on the left. He advanced under no pressure, waiting for Defoe to make his move. The 34-year-old ran onto the through ball and on his weaker foot, drilled into the bottom corner.
Unfathomably, inexplicably, it was soon to be four. Again Januzaj was not picked up, this time on the right. Another through ball for Defoe, who spun away from his marker and got his second. Patrick van Aanholt? Nowhere to be seen.
Normality was restored somewhat in the second, Palace, as they for much of the first half, seeing all the ball.
Chances were few and far between, James McArthur curling an effort wide, Benteke firing well over with a bicycle kick from inside the edge of the area.
Concern, too, for the Black Cats, came in the form of injuries to Jack Rodwell and John O'Shea.
Darron Gibson and Joleon Lescott made their debuts, the latter in particular doing well to hold his own in what was a predictable barrage of crosses and high balls.
Sunderland, unsurprisingly, offered little in attack during a second half, happy to keep the play in front of their defence and absorb the pressure. They did almost make it five, Januzaj firing wide from 25 yards, the tenacious, impressive Bryan Oviedo racing on the overlap to his left.
Loic Remy, a second half Eagles sub, looked lively and forged two good chances, while Benteke stabbed wide from the edge of the six-yard box with just moments to go. Big Sam's side finished the game with ten men, their woes compounded
There was almost even a debut goal for Darron Gibson, putting his foot through one on the edge of the box. Minutes later an astonishing goal line clearance from Jason Denayer, and a near miss from a Larsson thunderbolt.
Vito Mannone made a stunning double save, Benteke somehow then firing over. Then in a blur it was all over. One of the most unexpected and cathartic wins in Sunderland's recent history.
From almost nowhere, hope springs again.