A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
19 Nov 2013
by Scott Kacsmar
There were three big games this week with the best quarterbacks in the world -- we have to exclude Aaron Rodgers until he returns -- taking on three of the top defenses. The mega-hyped Chiefs-Broncos failed to make it here as Kansas City could not score enough points to keep close to Peyton Manning, which frankly surprised no one.
The other two went down to the final snap, but questionable officiating stole the headlines. We'll tackle it all with nine games featuring a comeback attempt this week.
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.28
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (4-18 at 4QC and 4-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (4-18 at 4QC and 4-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
This was the biggest game for the Carolina Panthers since the night Jake Delhomme self-destructed in the playoffs nearly five years ago. This one delivered as both teams played efficiently with just seven possessions each. New England had two turnovers while the defense failed to get one for the first time in 36 regular-season games. You could say that decided the game, but few will forget this ending any time soon.
Games with few possessions are usually great because that should mean few balls are hitting the ground and the offenses are producing. As expected, Tom Brady picked apart Carolina's suspect secondary with the short-passing game -- he completed 25 of his first 28 passes. Cam Newton made some big throws and was a nightmare on the ground with a game-high 62 rushing yards.
Down 17-10 to start the fourth quarter, Brady hit his longest pass of the night with a play-action setup to find Kenbrell Thompkins open for 37 yards. Stevan Ridley finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
With 12:33 left, we had a tied game between the quarterback/coach duo with the best record (40-27) at game-winning drive opportunities and the duo with perhaps the worst record (3-18) in NFL history.
That experience started to look like it would pay off as the Panthers had an ugly three-and-out drive. Starting at the Carolina 39 after a punt, Brady drove his offense into the red zone again. However, with a third-and-1 at the Carolina 8, there was no quarterback sneak or handoff to convert for the first down. Instead, Brady threw an incomplete pass that was definitely uncatchable and the Patriots kicked the field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 6:32 left.
Carolina had not won a game after trailing by more than two points in the fourth quarter since October 24, 2010, but all that was about to change.
Newton threw several inaccurate passes, but he had a big 15-yard scramble to convert a third-and-6 and picked up three yards on a quarterback draw on third-and-2. Facing third-and-7 at the New England 36 on a windy night, it would have been a very difficult field-goal attempt. Newton threw incomplete to Greg Olsen, but he embellished contact with Devin McCourty and that drew a flag for defensive holding. It wasn't a good play by McCourty, but Olsen really sold it to earn a huge call.
Four plays later, Newton found Ted Ginn, who beat Kyle Arrington badly near the sideline and ran into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left. That was an 83-yard drive and the Panthers led 24-20.
Still having all three timeouts, the Patriots weren't done yet with 80 yards to go. We know from earlier this season against New Orleans and also the Lions against Dallas that such drives are very rare, but not impossible.
This one looked dead on arrival with three quick incompletions, but Brady found Rob Gronkowski for 23 yards down the middle. There goes one timeout. Danny Amendola caught an 11-yard pass to use the Patriots' second timeout. Brady threw a few more incompletions, including a near-interception, but the Panthers were penalized for pass interference.
Down to 10 seconds at the Carolina 36, Brady dumped a short pass to Shane Vereen for 11 yards, using the final timeout. Six seconds is just enough time for the modern strategy of throwing a quick out to make the attempt shorter. Aaron Dobson caught a 7-yard pass and went out of bounds with three seconds left to set up a final play at the Carolina 18.
Having to go for the end zone, Brady stepped up in the pocket, but underthrew a pass to Gronkowski that was easily intercepted by Robert Lester to end the game. However, we had a flag in the end zone as linebacker Luke Kuechly clearly did grab the tight end. The referees talked it over and said there was no penalty and the game was over. The stunning ending drove up the controversy, but the ruling was that the pass was uncatchable, so there cannot be any pass interference.
Now the contact did not happen until the ball was in the air, so there's no illegal contact and there's no defensive holding (Rule 8, Section 4, Article 7). When McCourty was penalized for defensive holding earlier, that contact happened before the ball was even in the air. So it has to be pass interference or nothing, and the referees determined it was uncatchable.
Gronkowski's momentum carried him to the back of the end zone. He made zero effort to come back to the ball. He simply watched the interception unfold. Even if Kuechly did not hug him, the underthrown ball would have forced him to make a cut back to the front of the end zone to have any chance of catching the ball.
Just based on the laws of physics, there's no way Gronkowski could have made this catch, so I agree with the uncatchable ruling, which is a judgment call. Every week there are passes likely impossible to be caught that are deemed catchable, so it's not a ruling referees are consistent on. However, something still feels shady about the play and what Kuechly did, which was not even necessary as Gronkowski would never get in a position to make the catch.
This ending serves as a reminder that NFL referees are afraid of making critical calls on a late fourth down or on a game-ending play like this. We saw it with the Golden Tate play against Green Bay. Anyone asking for offensive pass interference there is dreaming. In recent history, only the Browns in 2009 against Detroit were penalized for defensive pass interference on a Hail Mary. Referees let guys get away with murder down there.
We saw it in the Super Bowl when there was no call on the Ravens on fourth down for how they defended Michael Crabtree. This is just how the NFL works.
When it comes to referees and critical calls, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. The Patriots should know that as well as any team. Here's Gronkowski pushing off on a fourth-down touchdown against the Giants in 2011:
There's another crucial fourth down with no penalty. Oddly enough, that's the last time Brady suffered a lost comeback (he only has three in his career).
Speaking of swords, it's about time the Panthers stop trying to commit hari-kari and start stacking clutch wins over quality teams. No matter if the call was legit, the ending to this one will linger, but let's not forget the Panthers were the better team in this game.
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (27-23)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.30
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (15-31 at 4QC and 23-35 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (23-32 at 4QC and 32-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
For as long as I have watched the Pittsburgh Steelers, I've learned any lead of 11 points or more is usually going to hold up thanks to a great defense and the ability to close teams out with the running game. The Steelers have neither of those things now, but have not lost at home after leading by 11-plus points since November 29, 1987 against the Saints. They also blew a 21-7 lead in Miami that year.
On Sunday, Detroit greatly tested that streak with one of the weirdest game flows you'll ever see. Pittsburgh dominated early (14-0) with a no-huddle offense while Matthew Stafford missed on a couple of potential touchdown passes. In the second quarter, Detroit shredded the defense and piled up 27 points. Calvin Johnson abused Ike Taylor and had 179 yards at halftime while the Lions had 379 yards of total offense. Detroit led 27-20.
When asked about helping out Taylor, Mike Tomlin told FOX at the half that "We'll keep doing exactly what we're doing, but we'll do it better." That type of stubbornness to adjust the plan is the core problem with this Pittsburgh team, but on this day, it seemingly worked out in their favor. I have not watched the All-22 yet, but it did appear Taylor continued to receive little-to-no help in covering Johnson. Instead, the flow of the game and some pass rush dictated throws to other receivers while Detroit also worked on the run.
Detroit was effectively using the run on a drive that extended into the fourth quarter. On a third-and-5, Stafford threw to Johnson in the end zone, but Ryan Clark provided safety help on an incompletion. Detroit sent out the field-goal unit in a 27-23 game with 12:56 left, but it was a fake as the Lions apparently saw something they liked on film. Rookie punter Sam Martin was the holder and took the direct snap, but he fumbled on contact after gaining three yards.
I do not love or hate the play design, but following what Jim Schwartz didn't do last week in Chicago, I hate that he thought this was the advantageous situation to get a little greedy. In Chicago, Schwartz had a 20-13 lead with 2:22 left and kicked the extra point instead of trying the two-point conversion to all but seal things at 22-13. That's a mistake with little risk involved. Leading by seven is still a good position.
Here, we're talking about a lead of four versus seven versus 11 points. Obviously 11 would be nice, but there was nearly a whole quarter left and Ben Roethlisberger was having a strong game. Leading by seven on an easy field goal isn't a bad situation, but a failure to execute and keeping it at four points leaves you vulnerable to giving up the lead. That's a bigger risk than the opportunity Schwartz passed on last week. He says he wants to be aggressive, but I think he's picked the wrong spots in the last two games.
You never expect your defense to give up a 97-yard touchdown drive, but that's what Roethlisberger engineered. He converted a fourth-and-2 with a 3-yard pass to Le'veon Bell. He had Antonio Brown open in the end zone, but Brown bobbled the ball on a rainy day where both teams (both sides of the ball too) had a terrible time with drops. Eventually Pittsburgh got it right with Will Johnson catching the touchdown off a play-action fake.
Instead of a tie, Detroit trailed 30-27 with 4:40 left. Jeremy Ross had a brutal drop on second down. On third-and-10, Stafford carelessly threw one up to Johnson. We've seen this work in triple coverage this season, but this ball was underthrown and easily intercepted by Will Allen, who returned it to the Detroit 34.
Facing a third-and-6, the Steelers had a beautiful play design with Roethlisberger faking the wide-receiver screen -- a play they beat to death on third down throughout the game -- to find Jerricho Cotchery wide open for the 20-yard dagger touchdown with 2:29 left. Pittsburgh led 37-27 and Roethlisberger finished with 367 yards and four touchdowns.
Stafford took a sack on fourth down to end his incredibly miserable half. After throwing for 327 yards in the first half, Stafford had just 35 yards on 3-of-16 passing in the second half.
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (20-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.70
Head Coach: Sean Payton (16-24 at 4QC and 22-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (22-39 at 4QC and 33-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)
In terms of the standings this was a big game, but if we're going to be honest, this one was lackluster to watch and the ending was downright sloppy. San Francisco's offense continued to struggle. The 49ers led 17-13 to start the fourth quarter, but those points were all set up by a muffed punt, a pick-six the Saints should have had (but botched) and an interception by Drew Brees.
Last season Colin Kaepernick was sharper in New Orleans, leading a long drive into the fourth quarter that put the 49ers ahead by 10 points. This time he had to settle for a field goal and a 20-14 lead after Vernon Davis, who was grabbed by the arm, could not haul in a third-down pass.
Brees hit two big plays to his wide receivers, but the drive stalled when Pierre Thomas went nowhere on a third-and-goal run at the San Francisco 3. Maybe Sean Payton expected he would get more and would choose to go for it on fourth down, but surprisingly the Saints kicked the 21-yard field goal with 7:50 left.
Frank Gore had a terrible drop with space in front of him, but it was a scrambling throw from Kaepernick, so it's not terribly surprising. The 49ers had to burn a timeout following the play. Jonathan Baldwin was not even looking for the third-down pass and San Francisco went three-and-out.
The Saints soon faced a third-and-2 at the San Francisco 35 with 3:18 left. Ahmad Brooks delivered a huge hit on Brees, forced a fumble and the 49ers recovered. The officials called roughing the passer for "contact to the neck of the quarterback" -- not something we've heard before, but there is language in the rule book about such hits. However, at what point are we severely limiting the defense's ability to do their job and spitting in the face of simple physics that show it's just about impossible to not have violent collisions in football?
Look at the target just before impact. I refuse to accept this being a penalty.
Gee, I guess if Brees was a few inches taller this wouldn't have been a penalty as Brooks would have hit him around the chest. If this was Chris Doleman against one of Mike Ditka's Billy Joe's in 1998, then that goes down as a lost fumble in crunch time. Then again, if Steve Young was the quarterback getting hit, maybe one would think of a penalty since some star treatment (especially for pocket passers) seems to be at work here. The NFL added the rule about a defenseless player getting hit in the head or neck in 2010. That season Haloti Ngata broke Ben Roethlisberger's nose on a sack and was not penalized. The NFL had to change it to "forcible blows" in 2011, but there's no consistency here.
It wouldn't have ended the game, but it would have made overtime more likely. Two plays after the gift Brees was rightfully penalized for intentional grounding, which blew up the drive. Garrett Hartley made the 42-yard field goal to tie.
The pressure was amped up on Kaepernick and he went down on a sack to start the drive. On the next play, he just barely got out of the tackle box near his goal line to avoid a grounding penalty. The referee said he was "well outside the pocket" even though it was more like inches or a foot at best. It would not have been a safety either way. Kaepernick scrambled for 16 yards, but that's not good enough on third-and-19. The drive was a disaster.
Brees got the ball at his own 40 with 1:41 left, which is stealing in a tied game. A 20-yard pass to Marques Colston put the ball in field-goal range and a 12-yard pass to Jimmy Graham made it a chip-shot. Hartley connected from 31 yards out as time expired for the 23-20 win.
Rarely does a team win by erasing a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter with three field goals, but not much else made sense in this one either.
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (17-13)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.47
Head Coach: Marc Trestman (3-3 at 4QC and 3-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh McCown (4-13 at 4QC and 4-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Most people would acknowledge JFK's assassination provides the most interesting conspiracy theories. Ray Lewis probably would side with the one where the NFL (and Mother Nature) has conspired to delay games involving his Baltimore Ravens. It's happened three times now in 2013 and the Ravens have been outscored 97-43 following the lengthy delays.
On Sunday in Chicago, the Ravens actually looked like a competent offense again and Ray Rice looked like his old self as Baltimore built a 10-0 lead. Then the 113-minute weather delay hit with the rain and wind, the field turned into a mess and the Bears regrouped. The delay should not be blamed for Joe Flacco throwing a terrible pass to defensive end David Bass for a game-tying pick-six.
The Ravens went three-and-out as Tandon Doss dropped a pass on third-and-1. Chicago faced a fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 44 with 4:55 left. It would be easy to argue going for it here, but Marc Trestman decided to punt. Flacco was at his own 16 with 4:48 left in a 20-17 game. A horse collar tackle by Zackary Bowman extended the drive.
It stalled again, but the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Chicago 44 with 3:07 left. Dallas Clark made an incredible one-handed catch for 14 yards. Two plays later the Ravens were in the red zone and Rice ripped off an 11-yard run to the Chicago 5. The clock ran down to 36 seconds before Rice got another carry.
Chicago was not using their timeouts in this situation, but Trestman had a very good explanation for why it was not really beneficial to use them. After that 11-yard run by Rice, using all three of your timeouts still means you have likely 18 seconds or so left to respond to a score, assuming the Ravens keep the clock running too. That's not enough time.
Rice lost a yard on second down, which made me question why Flacco wasn't attempting to throw a game-winning touchdown here. Isn't this the way to get that return on investment for your quarterback? Flacco handled a bad snap on third down and overthrew his target in the end zone. The Ravens had to settle for Justin Tucker's 21-yard tying field goal, which sent us to overtime in a game that lasted five hours and 16 minutes.
Now if there was ever a modified overtime game where the coach would defer after winning the coin toss, this would have to be it, right? The field was a mess and neither offense was particularly effective. John Harbaugh has clout with a Super Bowl win and Trestman studies the numbers. Trestman's timeout explanation heavily referenced the 13-percent odds of getting the ball at your own 16 and scoring a touchdown.
Harbaugh won the toss and foolishly received. The Bears being offsides on the kickoff was the one saving grace as a retry put the ball at the Baltimore 36 -- the best starting field position for any coin-toss winner in 32 modified overtime games.
However, the drive soon stalled and Baltimore punted. It was the perfect example of the difference between playing conventional three-down football versus the advantage of four downs:
By going first in overtime, you practically confine yourself to traditional three-down football. The Ravens were scared to give up that field position with Chicago only needing a field goal. If you can't be really aggressive and your only advantage is ending the game with a low-probability touchdown drive, then why does every coach continue to want the ball first? I look forward to the time where Trestman wins a coin toss on a day his offense has struggled and see if he sticks to his numbers and kicks off first.
On this day, his offense started at its own 20. McCown stepped up with a 14-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery on third-and-9. The next play was the dagger as Martellus Bennett hauled in the pass and gained 43 yards. After a couple of runs by Forte, Robbie Gould came out with the kicking unit. The 38-yard field goal was good and McCown amazingly picked up his first comeback/game-winning drive since the Week 17 finale in 2004. The span of 3,241 days in between wins is the third longest in NFL history:
|Longest Gaps Between a 4QC or GWD in NFL History|
The best part here? The quarterbacks with the three longest gaps all played for Chicago.
It has yet to happen in NFL history, but some day we will see a team erase a 24-point deficit by scoring three touchdowns and three two-point conversions.
Only three teams have converted at least three two-point conversions in a game. The 2000 Rams made four due to an injured kicker and historic offense. The 1996 Ravens were the only team to do it when trailing by 24 points in the fourth quarter, but during the comeback attempt they allowed New England's Tedy Bruschi to score on a blocked punt return in a 46-38 loss.
Baltimore was the closest to "8 + 8 + 8" so far, but Washington gave it one of the best attempts ever in Philadelphia. When these teams met in Week 1 the Redskins turned a 33-7 deficit into a 33-27 final. Once again they fell flat out of the gates, trailing 24-0 to start the fourth quarter. To that point Robert Griffin had just 63 yards passing. The Eagles failed on a fourth-and-1 when Bryce Brown was stopped for no gain at the Washington 38. With 13:08 left, Griffin went to work on the improbable comeback.
Griffin found Darrel Young open near the sideline and the fullback made two defenders miss for a one-play, 62-yard touchdown drive. Nick Williams was wide open (pick play) on the two-point conversion.
Though not in a hurry to snap the ball, the Eagles stayed with the no-huddle offense, but Nick Foles' third-down pass was tipped incomplete. Washington's 85-yard march was capped off by Griffin's 41-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, who did a good job of adjusting to the ball with Roc Carmichael in coverage. Griffin executed the quarterback draw for the second two-point conversion and we had a 24-16 game with 5:57 left.
A scramble by Foles converted on third down, but Washington's challenge was successful as Foles was down short of the marker. The Eagles went three-and-out.
The Redskins had 96 yards to go and 3:26 (two timeouts) to do it. In his career Griffin's really struggled when it comes to obvious passing situations like third-and-long, but he delivered on this drive with Santana Moss. First it was a 13-yard pass on third-and-10, then later following a penalty, Griffin found Moss for 28 yards on third-and-25. A defensive holding penalty converted another third-and-10 for Washington.
Fitting the ball into a tight window to avoid an interception, Griffin hit Pierre Garcon for 17 yards on third-and-5. He went out of bounds at the Eagles' 27 to stop the clock with 54 seconds left. Griffin had a chance to scramble, but saw Robinson breaking free in the end zone and overthrew him. Garcon gained nine yards and the Redskins used their final timeout with 40 seconds left.
It was third-and-1, so they could technically run it to get the first and spike it, leaving three shots at the end zone. Instead, Griffin made a terrible play to end the game. Pressure was coming, so he faded back 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage and launched a pass off his back foot into the end zone. It may have been an attempt to throw it away, but Brandon Boykin made the easy interception to prevent the historic comeback that will have to wait for another day.
With the Raiders hanging on to a five-point lead in the final moments in Houston, Matt Schaub had his team inside the 5-yard line with a chance to win the game. If this sounds familiar, it's because this exact situation happened in 2011. That day, Schaub threw an interception to Michael Huff in the end zone that was so bad you have to laugh at the sight of it.
This time, the fact that Schaub was even in the game came as a real surprise. Promising young starter Case Keenum was pulled in the third quarter by coach Gary Kubiak, who returned from his mini-stroke. It was a bad decision as the season's already lost and the franchise needs to see Keenum learn through mistakes. The deficit was hardly all on Keenum.
Oakland started undrafted rookie Matt McGloin and he threw three touchdowns without a turnover. Houston's defense entered Week 11 allowing the fewest yards in the league, but ranked 22nd in points per drive and that's even with an average ranking of 14th in starting field position. It's one of the oddest disconnects you'll see as the pick-six plays can only explain so much of it. This game offered two more good examples as early Houston giveaways led to the Raiders scoring a pair of touchdowns on 16-yard drives.
Houston trailed 28-17 when Schaub entered the game and naturally he looked rusty. He did engineer two field-goal drives, but could not finish in the red zone. Oakland did little to burn the clock with the lead.
Down 28-23, Schaub had 3:43 to lead a touchdown drive that could have regained him his starting role. He found Andre Johnson for a 22-yard gain and Ben Tate followed it up with some quality touches. Tate fumbled a catch, but recovered to set up a third-and-1 at the 2-yard line with 1:28 left. It's hard to ever fault a team for running on third-and-1, but the big I-formation failed to work as Oakland snuffed it out for a loss of a yard. Brandon Brooks exacerbated the situation with a false start to set up fourth-and-7 at Oakland's 8.
Johnson's an obvious target here, but Schaub threw a more catchable ball to Usama Young, an Oakland safety, to continue this eight-game losing streak. Johnson had some choice words for Schaub and walked off the field before the game ended.
It's the most overused pun in the NFL, but at least it's plural now. Houston, you have many problems and half the number of wins as the Raiders.
Two fourth-quarter comebacks were required for the Colts to sweep last year's Titans. Lately they have been falling behind by large deficits and that script repeated itself Thursday night when Tennessee opened up a 14-0 lead. The difference this time is Andrew Luck's only early mistake was handing the ball off to Trent "3.0" Richardson.
Down 17-3, the Colts got a field goal to close the first half and went 74 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter. That was the turning point as Tennessee's Devon Wylie fumbled on the ensuing kick return. Luck improvised for a beautiful 11-yard touchdown run and the Colts never relinquished the lead, which grew to 23-17 to start the fourth quarter.
Ryan Fitzpatrick played a solid game (22-of-28 for 222 yards), but it was a lot of dink-and-dunk as Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright caught 19 of his 22 completions. He put together a 40-yard drive that ended with a third-down drop by Wright, but it would not have been a first down anyway. The Titans kicked a field goal.
Luck hit Coby Fleener for 39 yards in what was a career night for the tight end, but two incompletions at the Tennessee 38 led to a disappointing punt. Fitzpatrick finally went deep, but Justin Hunter could not haul in the pass. Wright's 11-yard gain on third-and-12 led to another punt.
With 7:41 left in a 23-20 game, this is where a power-running offense is supposed to put it away, right? Six straight runs with Donald Brown getting most of the touches moved the ball well, allowing for Luck to use play-action to find Fleener wide open for 14 yards. The only mistake was Fleener going out of bounds to stop the clock. Four plays later and after the Titans used their final timeout, Brown capped off the 80-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run with 3:01 left.
It's preferable to run the clock instead of keeping the smallest of windows open for Tennessee, but 30-20 felt daunting. However, poor defense from the Colts watched the Titans drive 80 yards in four plays for a touchdown with 1:54 left. To end the drama, Pat Angerer recovered the onside kick, allowing the Colts to kneel down three times for the 30-27 win.
This marks the sixth time in 27 games that Luck has led the Colts to a win after trailing by at least 12 points. That's as many as Ben Roethlisberger (two) and Drew Brees (four) have combined in their full careers. Even Tom Brady only has seven such wins in his distinguished career. It's not relatively common to pull off -- unless you're talking about the Colts as Peyton Manning has 17 comeback wins after trailing by two touchdowns.
It was a battle of 4-5 teams competing for that final AFC Wild Card spot, but it was far from a heavyweight bout as both teams have their share of flaws. Miami led 17-13 to start the fourth quarter. Failing to capitalize on Ryan Mathews' 51-yard run, San Diego settled for a 29-yard field goal after Philip Rivers nearly threw an interception to Nolan Carroll.
Both teams went three-and-out as the Dolphins made huge tackles for losses on consecutive plays against San Diego. Miami was able to add a field goal to regain the four-point lead at 20-16.
Rivers drove the Chargers to scoring territory, but rookie tackle D.J. Fluker was eaten alive by Olivier Vernon. That sack brought up fourth-and-12 at the Miami 36 with 4:07 left. San Diego showed no hesitation to punt the ball. Nick Novak's a solid kicker and it did not appear to be particularly windy, so the field goal was certainly an option. You could go for it too. Punting seemed like the worst option if you wanted to win the game, yet it was the chosen one.
Miami started at its own 6 with 3:58 left and immediately threw a pass for 15 yards on first down. How rare is a first-down pass in the four-minute offense? We only seen nine of them in the 2011-12 seasons combined. Miami was as aggressive in this situation as any team I recall charting.
Tannehill dropped back to throw on the next two plays, scrambling once and throwing another completion for 13 yards. After San Diego used its second timeout, Tannehill threw incomplete on second-and-8. On the next play, he made the same mistake rookie Mike Glennon made against Miami on Monday night when he scrambled and ran out of bounds to take a sack. Not only did that give up six yards, but it saved San Diego's last timeout.
The stage was set for Rivers to engineer a classic game-winning drive. He had 1:54 to drive 83 yards, but was down a weapon as rookie Keenan Allen left the game with an injury. Cameron Wake looked to sabotage the drive with a sack that forced Rivers to use his last timeout, but he had a 2010 flashback and converted with a 20-yard pass to Seyi Ajirotutu. After a spike he went back to Ajirotutu for 18 more yards to the Miami 25. He probably should have spiked it again as time (27 seconds when receiver went down on the catch) was the issue, but Rivers called a play at the line.
To make it worse, Rivers threw a very short pass to Antonio Gates that served no purpose when 25 yards were needed. It initially looked like a catch and fumble with the ball going out of bounds, but officials ruled it incomplete.
Down to seven seconds, Rivers had to go for the end zone. Miami stacked six at the line and rushed them all, which is admirable given the tendency to rush three here. Rivers adjusted and made the throw, but Brent Grimes had better position than Vincent Brown and did the right thing by knocking the ball down to end the game.
San Diego's lost six games by a combined 34 points and the only real difference from the last two years is not every failed game-winning drive ends with a turnover from Rivers. However, that's a three-game losing streak after the bye as the red zone continues to hurt this offense.
After starting three quarterbacks during a span of more than 21 years, the Packers were on their third starter in three weeks with Scott Tolzien getting his first opportunity. It was a tough spot on the road, but the Packers hung around and trailed the Giants 20-6 to start the fourth quarter.
The last time the Packers came back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win was on September 20, 1992 against Cincinnati. Brett Favre came off the bench for an injured Don Majkowski and started writing his legend in true mythical style.
Tolzien hoped to have his own special moment and got things started with a 52-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin, who beat Trumaine McBride deep. Eddie Lacy scored a touchdown on a day the Packers were held to 55 yards rushing and we had a one-score game. Green Bay's defense responded by sacking Eli Manning twice, including a third-down sack by Clay Matthews to force a three-and-out.
If you believe in momentum, this was the reminder that momentum cannot stop Jason Pierre-Paul from being an athletic freak. On the first play of the drive, Pierre-Paul jumped Tolzien's short pass and returned the interception 24 yards for a crushing touchdown with 10:49 left. New York led 27-13, which held up as the Packers went three-and-out and Tolzien threw his third interception on the game's final drive of relevance.
Excluding two spikes, Tolzien completed 24-of-32 passes for 339 yards, but three interceptions is something Aaron Rodgers has only done three times in 94 starts. The Packers have many issues, but not having their quarterback cannot be overstated. Green Bay has quickly fallen to 10th in the NFC and it is unbelievable which team is one game behind them.
Yes, freefalling at 0-6, the Giants have reeled off four straight wins thanks to a defense allowing just 26 total points during the streak. It sure helps when you get to play Josh Freeman (struggling veteran in his first game with Minnesota), Matt Barkley (clueless rookie off the bench), Terrelle Pryor (inexperienced starter) and Tolzien.
If Week 11 taught us anything, it's that catching teams at the right time and playing a lot of backup quarterbacks doesn't mean a team has a great defense. It can help produce great statistics, but as always, proper respect should only come following sustained success.
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 41
Game-winning drives: 51
Games with 4QC opportunity: 102/162 (63.0 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 22
73 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2013, 4:21pm by Ryan D.