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31 Dec 2013

Clutch Encounters: Week 17

by Scott Kacsmar

The NFL's 2013 regular season ended on a high note with two road teams winning de facto playoff games in the NFC and some significant drama over the AFC's final playoff spot. At the bottom of today's article, we'll have a full 2013 summary for how every team did in terms of comebacks, game-winning drives, and blown leads.

Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers 33 at Chicago Bears 28

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (28-20)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.41
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy (12-35-1 at 4QC and 18-37-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (6-24 at 4QC and 10-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Write a screenplay where a star quarterback breaks his collarbone, the team immediately falters, everyone writes them off, but an unexpected backup emerges to lead some crazy comebacks. Just in time for the final act, the star returns for the division title rematch against the team's most hated rival and the same defense that injured him.

That script would get rejected by every studio in Hollywood, and they make a ton of crap these days. But that was the story of the 2013 Packers and it's a story that continues into the playoffs after Green Bay beat the Bears in Chicago for the NFC North title. Aaron Rodgers not only came back, but he really had to come back in this one unlike we have seen before in his career.

Jay Cutler was also missing from the first game between these teams, and with two bad defenses on the field, the expectations were for a lot of points.

The game delivered on that front, but it went against the grain of everything we have come to learn about these two quarterbacks in the last decade. Cutler is usually the one prone to mistakes and in need of a late comeback, but he played efficiently and played from ahead more often.

This time it was Rodgers throwing two early interceptions, including a bad one in the red zone. Rodgers nearly had a third turnover in Chicago territory, but one of the strangest fumble plays you will ever see resulted in a Green Bay touchdown when Jarrett Boykin alertly picked up the loose ball and returned it for the score. It's hard to say Rodgers was rusty when he threw some perfect lasers throughout the day, but his performance was understandably uneven in his first game back since November 4.

When Cutler threw a 5-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall with 14:55 to play, Chicago went up 28-20. Green Bay has gotten used to trailing by such margins without Rodgers, but had not enjoyed success with him in past situations. In his career, Rodgers was 0-20 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities against teams with at least a .500 record. He was also 0-18 when trailing by more than six points in the fourth quarter. If there was ever a time to break those streaks, this had to be the moment.

Jordy Nelson (10 catches for 161 yards) was game. He took a short pass 34 yards after breaking several tackles. Rodgers somehow fit in a 22-yard pass to a diving Andrew Quarless, and Eddie Lacy finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.

With 11:38 left, Mike McCarthy made a rare decision. Instead of attempting the two-point conversion to tie the game, he had Mason Crosby kick the extra point to keep it a 28-27 deficit. We looked at this a few weeks ago. Since 1994, there have been 142 touchdowns scored in the fourth quarter by a team trailing by eight points. Only two teams (the 2010 Bengals and now the Packers) kicked the extra point; the other 140 went for the two-point conversion. Now that's based on the whole fourth quarter, but kicking an extra point down by two points is still obviously a rare decision and certainly a questionable one.

Chicago had a good drive to answer, but an illegal formation penalty and five-yard loss by Forte killed it. Alshon Jeffery failed to come down with a pass that hit him in the hands on third-and-17 and Chicago punted.

Green Bay had 6:24 left at its own 13 in a one-point game. The drive nearly ended in a three-and-out, but after a measurement and some thought, McCarthy rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 22 with 4:41 left. A lot of coaches would have punted there, but McCarthy has clout. He also has John Kuhn, who got the surprise handoff on the fullback dive to convert.

Later in the drive, Lacy failed to convert in short yardage again on a toss and the game reached the two-minute warning with another fourth-and-1. This one was an obvious decision to go for it. Nelson had single coverage and a six-yard throw was low to where only he could get it for the first down.

After three unsuccessful plays, the Bears had Green Bay in a fourth-and-8 at the Chicago 48. One more stop and Green Bay's season was over. Chicago blitzed, leaving four receivers in what should have been man coverage, but I do not think there's any way the Bears should be criticized for that blitz call. Kuhn made a great effort to block Julius Peppers, who otherwise should have had Rodgers.

The big problem was safety Chris Conte peeking into the backfield and letting Randall Cobb run right past him. Cobb was wide open for a 48-yard touchdown bomb with 38 seconds left. Zachary Bowman couldn't even grab him, as interference would have likely meant a game-winning field goal with no time left for Green Bay.

Might want to stick with the stud receiver here.

The play was purely a blown coverage and it's one of my biggest pet peeves with defensive backs. In fourth-down situations like this, plaster your assignment and stop watching the quarterback. Conte's too far away to make a play on a scrambling Rodgers and he should trust the pass rush to do that job for him. Just stick with Cobb, who is the second best receiver on the field. But when defenders are playing zone instead of man, chaos is likely.

For Green Bay, the play obviously becomes a signature one for Rodgers' career. He's never had a play with a higher win probability boost (+58.8 percent) and of all the times he had led a go-ahead drive with the Packers trailing, none happened this late in the game.

The game was not over yet. McCarthy's extra point decision may have been influenced by the fact that Green Bay has failed on its last five two-point conversions. Last season the Packers failed to convert late against the Seahawks and Colts, which bit them in close losses. This season with Matt Flynn at quarterback, the two-point attempt failed against the Vikings and against Atlanta and Dallas, but those last two teams did not make Green Bay pay in one-point outcomes.

The failed two-point streak extended to six when Rodgers' pass was batted back to him and he awkwardly lost control of it after the deflection. Chicago still had a slight chance with the score at 33-28. A kick return by Devin Hester allowed the offense to start at its own 40 with 31 seconds left.

Cutler hit Martellus Bennett for 15 yards, his only reception of the game. The Bears used their second timeout, still needing 45 yards for the win. Now with one timeout and 24 seconds left, the Bears had a good shot to run four more plays. They only ended up with three as Cutler took a bit too long on a bad Hail Mary and Marshall dropped a big one (thrown low) over the middle. If Marshall caught that pass, the Bears would have had about nine seconds left at the 27. That could be two heaves into the end zone.

With 10 seconds left, Cutler did not manage the situation well and went for broke with a Hail Mary to the end zone. He almost fully crossed the line of scrimmage when throwing it, but it was a legal pass. The problem was there were two Packers defenders and one Bears receiver in the vicinity, and Sam Shields made the game-ending pick. Had Cutler made a quick decision to run to his left (no defenders around) he likely could have gotten out of bounds with a second left and had a second, better attempt at the Hail Mary.

But this game already had its miracle play. The Packers have been living on the edge for over a month now, but you have to wonder how far this run can go with the right pieces (Rodgers and Cobb, for starters) coming back at the right time.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Kansas City Chiefs 24 at San Diego Chargers 27

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (24-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.53
Head Coach: Mike McCoy (4-5 at 4QC and 4-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (17-39 at 4QC and 20-42 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Here I thought the "San Diego's so good in December!" narrative was dead and buried after the last three seasons. From 2006 to 2010, it was really just the result of playing a soft schedule late (and a tough one early), but this season the Chargers won in Denver and won their last four games to make the playoffs after a 5-7 start.

They received plenty of help on Sunday, both from other teams and, unfortunately, some controversial officiating. San Diego knew a win meant the postseason and a loss meant the Steelers would get in. The Chargers also knew the Chiefs would be resting starters with their playoff seed locked in, but that did not matter much to the porous San Diego defense. Led by Chase Daniel and Knile Davis, the Chiefs opened the game with two early touchdown drives.

The Chargers had to rally back from a 24-14 deficit to start the fourth quarter. Philip Rivers threw a 6-yard touchdown to Eddie Royal, then the defense made a stop, and the Chargers tied the game with a 22-yard field goal with 3:21 left.

Daniel really did play a solid game, and on the next Chiefs drive he hit three consecutive passes for 49 yards to put the Chiefs in field-goal range. A Wildcat run even converted on third down, and the Chiefs were able to drain most of the clock to set up the game-winning field goal.

With eight seconds left, that's when things went sour. Had Ryan Succop just made the 41-yard field goal, then we are talking about San Diego's failure to put away several games this season, but alas, the kick was wide right. However, the Chargers were in an illegal formation with seven players lined up to the right side of the defensive formation:

Imagine the priceless jokes if Te'o was one of the Illegal Seven.

This is a new rule, but it was not applied in a critical moment. The Chargers were screwed over by a botched field goal penalty in Week 1 against Houston, but no rule book says there has to be a make-up call. Succop should have had a 36-yard attempt to win the game again, but was denied. Beyond what it meant for the Steelers' season, this one could have a big impact in the AFC playoffs should the Chargers continue a run.

First, however, the Chargers still had to finish off a team of backups in overtime. San Diego won the toss, received the kickoff, and started at its own 20. A holding penalty seemed to lead to a three-and-out, but Mike McCoy rolled the dice with a fake punt on fourth-and-2. Eric Weddle took the direct snap and he had the first down, but when his teammates continued to push the pile forward, the Chiefs stripped out the ball and returned it for a game-winning touchdown.

Or not. The ruling on the field was Weddle's forward progress was stopped, which cannot be reviewed. San Diego kept possession of the ball. Former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira believes the play should have been a touchdown for Kansas City. So that's two huge breaks for the Chargers.

San Diego has made a lot of long drives all season. They made another in overtime on Sunday, running 16 plays for 62 yards and taking 9:30 off the clock. However, the drive only ended with a field goal, and the Chiefs had the rare opportunity to play four-down football with no time constraint. Kansas City moved the ball to the San Diego 36, but Davis lost five yards on a bad pitch play. Daniel failed to connect under pressure on two throws, setting up a fourth-and-15.

NFL history is filled with really awful plays made with the game on the line. What Daniel did here should rank fairly high on that list (credit FanSided for GIF). Three yards over the line of scrimmage, and Daniel threw the ball like he would at a carnival game. That was pathetic.

The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 9-0 and finish 11-5. Are the starters ready for the playoffs? I'm not sure, but I think the backups deserved this road win.

San Francisco 49ers 23 at Arizona Cardinals 20

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.58
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (9-6-1 at 4QC and 11-9-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick (3-3-1 at 4QC and 5-5-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A dramatic finish did not seem likely in this one after San Francisco jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. With the Saints trouncing Tampa Bay, Arizona's hopes of making the playoffs were all but shot.

However, the Cardinals are a competitive team and did mount a comeback. Jay Feely had his struggles with two missed field goals, but he made a 49-yard kick to make it a 17-10 game with 14:47 left. Feely later missed a 43-yard field goal, but after getting the ball back, Carson Palmer drove the offense for a touchdown, hooking up with Andre Roberts for a 34-yard score on third-and-13 to tie the game. This was similar, but even better than the touchdown to Michael Floyd in Seattle last week.

Colin Kaepernick had a strong game and plenty of time to answer. With the ball at the Arizona 38, his third-and-2 pass was too low and incomplete. The 49ers faced a big decision and chose to let Phil Dawson try the 56-yard field goal with 1:50 left. Dawson actually missed a 24-yard field goal earlier in the game.

These days, it's getting harder to fault any team trying a long field goal. In 2013, kickers league-wide converted 86.5 percent of their field goals, the highest rate in NFL history. Even better, kickers set another record with 96 successful field goals of 50-plus yards -- the record was just 66 before the 2011 season -- so the long ball is not as difficult as it used to be.

Dawson made the 56-yard field goal and San Francisco led 20-17. Needing an answer, Palmer went over 400 yards for the day after hitting two big completions: a 24-yard pass to Rob Housler and a 23-yard gain to Larry Fitzgerald. I'm not sure the spike was necessary with 44 seconds left, and that loss of down did hurt. Palmer went deep for Roberts down the left sideline again, but could not connect. The 49ers made a five-yard penalty when Arizona lined up for a field goal, which made things a bit easier for Feely; he converted a 43-yard kick.

San Francisco was set up well for the final drive when LaMichael James took the kickoff from five yards deep in the end zone and had a great return out to his own 36. Kaepernick had 25 seconds and two timeouts left to work with for a team certainly not trying to go to overtime with a playoff game to come in six days.

Anquan Boldin hung onto a pass despite tight coverage for an 18-yard gain and the 49ers used a timeout. After an inexcusable delay of game penalty, Kaepernick hit rookie Quinton Patton for a huge 29-yard reception to the Arizona 22. Antoine Cason had solid coverage, but Patton just made an incredible catch. Patton entered the game with one career catch for zero yards. He even led the team in rushing in this one with 26 yards on an end around.

The 49ers, now winners of six straight, ran the clock down to two seconds and Dawson nailed the 40-yard game-winning field goal. For just the second time in 15 seasons, Dawson will be kicking after Week 17.

Last week we looked at one-minute drills to win games since 1981. This drive is the 27th in that time to start with no more than 25 seconds left on the clock. At 42 net yards, it is the fifth longest of those drives and the only one not aided by a Hail Mary or a penalty on the opponent.

Baltimore Ravens 17 at Cincinnati Bengals 34

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.50
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (22-56 at 4QC and 33-56-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (5-14 at 4QC and 10-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Excluding a game decided by backups, Andy Dalton was 0-4 in his career against the Ravens, who desperately needed a win to extend their season. Dalton had the type of uneven game that defines his career to this point, giving the Ravens a chance to come back thanks to four interceptions on the day.

With the game tied at 17 to start the fourth quarter, Dalton finished a drive off properly with a 1-yard touchdown run on a zone-read keeper. (Pass interference on Jimmy Smith is what put the ball at the 1-yard line.)

Like Dalton, Joe Flacco had plenty of mistakes, but few moments of brilliance as he completed 30-of-50 passes for just 192 yards and three interceptions.

The first interception was a killer as it came right after the Bengals' go-ahead score. Flacco's pass was tipped at the line and picked by Chris Crocker. The Bengals failed to gain a yard, but Mike Nugent's 38-yard field goal made it a two-score game.

Cincinnati could have easily put the game away after a Baltimore three-and-out. With a first-and-goal at the Baltimore 1, Dalton threw a fade to A.J. Green, which was intercepted by Smith. Even if the Bengals had vintage 1981 Ken Anderson on the field, they need to call a run on first down (and second, and maybe even third and fourth).

Penalties helped the Ravens out to the 50, but Flacco threw four straight incompletions, including an interception bomb on fourth down that should not have been caught by Dre Kirkpatrick as it cost the Bengals 34 yards in field position. If there was any hope left for Baltimore, it came with possession at the 4:15 mark. Flacco's first pass was behind Torrey Smith and this time Kirkpatrick made the right decision to pick it off and return it for a crucial touchdown. Cincinnati led 34-17 and a new champion was all but guaranteed.

Months ago, people wondered if Flacco could carry a team with a bad defense, but ultimately this was another Baltimore team with a solid defense and poor offense. Flacco really missed having Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta on the field, and the running game was a joke all season long.

Still, the Ravens paid a premium price for a quarterback who was supposed to mask such deficiencies and keep the team competitive into the postseason. There are a lot of quarterbacks who can throw 22 interceptions and miss the playoffs all while making far less cash than Flacco.

Detroit Lions 13 at Minnesota Vikings 14

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (13-7)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.45
Head Coach: Leslie Frazier (3-16-1 at 4QC and 6-18-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Cassel (8-17 at 4QC and 11-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The title screen for a DVD copy of this one should read "Dead Coaches Walking" as both Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier were fired on Monday. Neither of these teams are strangers to blowing leads in the fourth quarter this season, so the ending was not much of a surprise. The Lions blew their seventh fourth-quarter lead of 2013. Amazingly, six of them have come in the last seven games following the team's 6-3 start.

This game did not have a great start as it was just 7-7 headed into the fourth quarter. Detroit capped off a long drive with a field goal and added another after Matt Asiata fumbled. Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson were not on the field Sunday, but there was Cordarrelle Patterson, who scored both offensive touchdowns for the Vikings.

After a 50-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels to the Detroit 8, Patterson caught an 8-yard touchdown from Matt Cassel with 9:19 left to take a 14-13 lead. Detroit punted after two passes from Matthew Stafford failed to connect at the Minnesota 41. The Vikings had 4:53 to burn and did a great job of doing so. Patterson hauled in a pass for 23 yards and Asiata immediately followed it up with a 39-yard run. That moved the clock down to two minutes, and with Detroit out of timeouts, that meant game over.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

If it looks like Keanu Reeves, it flops like Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin).

Eagles at Cowboys: Groundhog Day Again

Much like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, every season we watch the Cowboys lose the NFC East in Week 17 on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Think of Cris Collinsworth as Punxsutawney Phil, if only because Jim Nantz keeps making Phil Simms see his shadow at CBS.

This time it was slightly different. The Cowboys were at home, it was a very winnable game in the final two minutes, but there was no Tony Romo after his season-ending back surgery. Still, some will believe the ending would have been the same regardless. The quarterback, backup Kyle Orton, threw a crushing interception to all but guarantee a third straight 8-8 finish for Dallas.

Otherwise, not much in the game played to expectations. If there was an offense (outside of Washington) that this Dallas defense had a good feel for in 2013, it was Philadelphia. Nick Foles was sacked five times and flirted with intentional grounding on several more pressures. He set the single-season record with a 13.5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he did lose a fumble and the Eagles were held to 24 points on 11 drives before the big mistake late by Orton. The Dallas defense even held on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal to close the third quarter.

The Eagles only led 17-16 to start the final quarter, so the game was within reach for Orton, who was not sacked on 47 drop backs. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 40, Jason Garrett kept the offense on the field. I liked the decision to go for it, but the call for a pass in the flat was not ideal. Even if Connor Barwin did not bat it down, there was a chance DeMarco Murray would have been tackled short anyway.

Philadelphia embarked on a great drive that used 5:37 on the clock. Chip Kelly's offense is known for scoring quickly, but it also has the ability to slow things down and grind away with rushing champion LeSean McCoy, who converted a pair of third-and-1 runs. Bryce Brown finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run, but the extra point kept it a one-score game at 24-16.

There was nearly a huge clock controversy following a 34-yard completion to Jason Witten. The play clock went directly from 40 down to 25 and the Cowboys were charged with a delay of game penalty. That's an awful blunder, but fortunately the Cowboys overcame it with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant on fourth-and-9. Bryant caught the slant, broke Patrick Chung's tackle, and kept his balance for the score.

With 3:50 left, the two-point conversion was obviously huge. In live action, the pass looked terribly low, but on replay it did get to Bryant -- but Cary Williams punched it away. Still, it was not good execution or a high-percentage play.

The Eagles had 3:45 to burn and Dallas had one timeout, setting up a classic four-minute offense situation. After two runs by McCoy led to third-and-4, the only logical decision was to allow Foles a chance to practically win the game with a conversion. Foles dropped back, avoided the pressure, but took a dive without throwing the ball. The Dallas defense held once again.

Incredibly, the Cowboys got it back at their own 32 with 1:49 left, only needing a field goal. Even with Orton, who is 7-21 at game-winning drive opportunities, this was very doable. Of course, any drama ended immediately when Orton threw a bad interception to Brandon Boykin on the first play of the drive. Orton wanted Miles Austin, but the pass was behind him. McCoy ran for one more first down to truly seal the division, but everyone knew the pick was a killer.

Orton had an interception in the second quarter that was really Witten's fault. He did not have a bad game by any means, throwing for 358 yards, but he picked the worst time to make his worst play of the night. For Dallas, that's all too familiar.

Someday Dallas will get the winner's post-game interview with Michelle Tafoya in Week 17, which is about the equivalent of spending the rest of your life with Andie MacDowell. Until then, we will keep watching the same thing over and over.

Texans at Titans: "You got another one right there!"

Last season the Chiefs finished with the worst record (2-14) in the league, only to start 9-0 this year. Houston will have a good opportunity to rebound quickly next season, but no team in NFL history has taken a steeper fall this fast. Going from 2-0 to 2-14 is unheard of and it's scary how close the Texans came to 0-16. Remember, they started the season with a 21-point comeback in San Diego and a late eight-point comeback against Tennessee capped off in overtime.

The Titans were the opponent again on Sunday, but the result was a common one for Houston -- a close loss. Down 13-7 to start the fourth quarter, Matt Schaub fumbled a snap after his guard pulled out quickly and contacted him. The Titans added a field goal for a two-score lead, which was later answered by Houston on an 89-yard drive that disappointingly ended with a 19-yard field goal by Randy Bullock with 2:53 to play. Jason McCourty played great coverage on Andre Johnson in the end zone late on that drive.

In a 16-10 game, the Texans kicked deep with one timeout. Chris Johnson picked up one first down, but his next three carries netted zero yards and the Titans punted. Schaub needed a miracle in the form of 91 yards in 66 seconds. At that point CBS said Schaub has 12 game-winning drives in his career, but the number is actually 14. CBS even remembered how the Texans started 2-0 this season, so I'm not sure why the number was off.

That snafu was the closest thing to any late-game drama here. The drive ended after one play when Schaub overthrew his receiver and Michael Griffin made a diving interception.

Houston is the seventh team in NFL history to lose at least 14 consecutive games in one season. The Texans tied the NFL record with nine losses by 1-7 points in a season and finished 2-10 at game-winning drive opportunities. It's hard to recall a team with such a talent core ever "earning" the No. 1 pick like this, but that's another reason the Texans will likely be a trendy rebound choice for 2014.

Panthers at Falcons: Last Drive for Tony Gonzalez?

Speaking of disappointing teams who lost almost every close game in 2013 and should have no business picking near the top of the draft, the Atlanta Falcons wrapped up a 4-12 campaign with some of the same problems that plagued them all year.

Sure, it started well with a 10-0 lead, but Matt Ryan's mix-up with Harry Douglas resulted in a big pick-six to get Carolina back in it after the offense had another poor start. Cam Newton struggled through the air again without Steve Smith, but he was deadly with his legs, rushing for a season-high 72 yards, including seven first downs.

Atlanta trailed 21-17 to start the fourth quarter, but the long drive reached the red zone after Steven Jackson gained five yards on a fourth-and-1 run. Of course the red zone is usually where the Falcons bog down offensively and this drive was no different. Greg Hardy sacked Ryan on the next play and Roddy White dropped a third-down pass where maybe "heard footsteps" should get credit for the stop. Matt Bryant connected on the 37-yard field goal to make it 21-20.

On Atlanta's next drive, Ryan was under siege and took consecutive sacks (a whopping nine on the day), resulting in a three-and-out. On fourth-and-18, the Falcons had no choice but to punt at the two-minute warning, thankfully having all three timeouts still to use. Carolina ran it twice, but only gained a yard. A third-and-9 conversion would have won the game, but Ron Rivera kept it conservative and ran Newton for just two yards. The Falcons used their final timeout and got the ball back at their own 12 with 80 seconds left.

Ryan's burned Carolina in this exact situation before, hitting a 59-yard bomb to White from the 1-yard line to start a game-winning field goal drive last year. Ryan again went to White, but this was just an 8-yard gain. Three more short passes got the Falcons to their own 43 with 31 seconds to play, only needing a field goal. One or two more completions should have done the trick. Maybe Tony Gonzalez, likely playing his final NFL game, could have come down with one last big play down the seam to set up a game-winning kick.

No, the 2013 Falcons have mastered the art of how to not execute at the end of the game. Ryan moved up to point out something in the defense to his linemen, but the ball was snapped prematurely and the Falcons were fortunate to even recover, all as the clock continued to run. Throw in an illegal shift, which becomes a false start and 10-second runoff in the final minute, and this one fittingly ended with Ryan's hopeless pass on third-and-22 sailing out of bounds as time expired.

Atlanta finishes a Houston-like 1-9 at game-winning drive opportunities. Ryan was 23-14 entering this season. Unlike Houston, the Falcons know what they have at coach and quarterback moving forward and the last five years say this is the outlier.

But it was still a tough fall for the 2012 NFC South champions.

Jets at Dolphins: So…Miami Heat Three-peat?

After big wins against Pittsburgh and New England, the Dolphins had it made for a playoff spot at 8-6 with games left against the Bills and Jets. However, those division games can be tricky and the Dolphins fell flat on their faces in both.

It's hard to get lower than last week's performance in Buffalo, but this 20-7 home loss against the Jets comes pretty close with a win-and-you're-in scenario in Miami's grasp. Again it was an offensive struggle, scoring just seven points on 10 possessions.

Geno Smith had another solid game without any turnovers and made some impressive designed runs. His 7-yard scoring run before halftime put the Jets ahead 14-7 and they never looked back. The score remained 14-7 into the fourth quarter, but Nick Folk looked to add to that with a 35-yard field goal. The kick was officially wide right, but it almost looks like he made it. Certainly one of the closer plays you will ever see on a missed field goal, but such a play is not reviewable.

That gave Miami some life with 12:46 left, but the drive soon ended with a ghastly play on third-and-3. Ryan Tannehill hesitated on what looked like a simple bubble screen, finally threw it to Mike Wallace, but the pass was very low and Wallace was easily tackled for a 4-yard loss. The ball actually hit the ground, so it should have been fourth-and-3 and possibly decision time for Joe Philbin at the 50, but Miami punted.

Smith hit Jeff Cumberland with a big 30-yard pass and this time Folk was good on the 35-yard field goal with 4:18 left. The ending just helped the Jets' pass defense statistics as Ed Reed and rookie Dee Milliner each intercepted Tannehill.

Once upon a time the Jets were in the driver's seat for the AFC's final playoff spot, but soon Miami took over. In the end, both finished 8-8 and will watch the playoffs from home.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comebacks: 70 (68 wins)
Game-winning drives: 87
Games with 4QC opportunity: 157/256 (61.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 41

This column will continue to run through the Super Bowl, but here's a summary of how all 32 teams fared in close games in 2013. Next season will place more emphasis on defensive stops instead of rewarding a defense with a "hold" when the offense actually had to bail them out with a game-winning drive.

The first section includes the records for the offense at fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) opportunities, which is of course defined as the offense having possession of the ball in the fourth quarter with a one-score deficit. The 4QC/GWD record also includes games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The "BLOWN 4Q LEADS" are the number of games the team lost after having a lead in the fourth quarter.

The final section includes all close games for the team where at least one side of the ball faced a comeback or game-winning drive opportunity. Playoff teams are colored.

NFL 2013 Regular Season Close Game Summary (4Q/OT)
OVERALL OFFENSE BLOWN ALL CLOSE GAMES
Team Record 4QC Pct. 4QC/GWD Pct. 4Q LEADS Games W-L Pct. CG%
IND 11-5 3-2 0.600 3-2 0.600 0 9 7-2 0.778 56.3%
NYJ 8-8 2-2 0.500 5-2 0.714 0 9 7-2 0.778 56.3%
PHI 10-6 1-2 0.333 1-2 0.333 1 8 6-2 0.750 50.0%
CAR 12-4 4-3 0.571 4-3 0.571 2 10 7-3 0.700 62.5%
ARI 10-6 3-3 0.500 4-3 0.571 1 9 6-3 0.667 56.3%
DEN 13-3 2-3 0.400 2-3 0.400 1 9 6-3 0.667 56.3%
JAC 4-12 1-2 0.333 1-2 0.333 1 6 4-2 0.667 37.5%
KC 11-5 1-3 0.250 1-3 0.250 2 9 6-3 0.667 56.3%
NE 12-4 5-4 0.556 5-4 0.556 2 12 8-4 0.667 75.0%
CIN 11-5 1-4 0.200 4-4 0.500 2 11 7-4 0.636 68.8%
NO 11-5 2-3 0.400 2-3 0.400 2 8 5-3 0.625 50.0%
SEA 13-3 3-3 0.500 4-3 0.571 3 8 5-3 0.625 50.0%
CHI 8-8 4-4 0.500 4-5 0.444 3 12 7-5 0.583 75.0%
SF 12-4 2-2 0.500 3-3 0.500 2 7 4-3 0.571 43.8%
BAL 8-8 2-5 0.286 4-5 0.444 1 11 6-5 0.545 68.8%
MIA 8-8 4-6 0.400 4-6 0.400 3 13 7-6 0.538 81.3%
DAL 8-8 2-5 0.286 4-6 0.400 4 12 6-6 0.500 75.0%
NYG 7-9 2-5 0.286 2-5 0.286 0 10 5-5 0.500 62.5%
SD 9-7 4-5 0.444 4-6 0.400 2 12 6-6 0.500 75.0%
STL 7-9 1-2 0.333 1-2 0.333 0 4 2-2 0.500 25.0%
TEN 7-9 3-7 0.300 4-7 0.364 2 13 6-7 0.462 81.3%
MIN 5-10-1 2-4-1 0.357 2-5-1 0.313 4 10 4-5-1 0.450 62.5%
BUF 6-10 2-5 0.286 3-6 0.333 2 10 4-6 0.400 62.5%
GB 8-7-1 3-5-1 0.389 3-5-1 0.389 2 9 3-5-1 0.389 56.3%
DET 7-9 2-8 0.200 3-8 0.273 7 13 5-8 0.385 81.3%
CLE 4-12 1-8 0.111 2-8 0.200 4 12 4-8 0.333 75.0%
PIT 8-8 1-7 0.125 3-7 0.300 1 10 3-7 0.300 62.5%
WAS 3-13 1-8 0.111 2-8 0.200 3 11 3-8 0.273 68.8%
OAK 4-12 0-6 0.000 0-6 0.000 2 8 2-6 0.250 50.0%
TB 4-12 2-4 0.333 2-5 0.286 4 8 2-6 0.250 50.0%
ATL 4-12 1-9 0.100 1-9 0.100 3 11 2-9 0.182 68.8%
HOU 2-14 2-9 0.182 2-10 0.167 3 12 2-10 0.167 75.0%

Only three teams (St. Louis, Jacksonville and San Francisco) played fewer than eight close games this season while Detroit, Tennessee and Miami all played a league-high 13 close games.

The Lions were a huge disappointment, leading the league with seven blown fourth-quarter leads and repeating 2012's 3-8 record at GWD opportunities.

San Diego, Carolina and Miami showed considerable improvement in winning close games from past years. Seattle and Indianapolis maintained much of last year's success while Atlanta and Houston infamously declined significantly. Teams like Oakland and Cleveland continued to struggle in 2013.

The Jets managed to pull off the "win close games, lose blowouts" in incredible fashion this season. While Rex Ryan led his team to .500, the minus-97 scoring differential is the worst in NFL history for an 8-8 team, overtaking the 2011 Broncos (minus-81 points).

Offenses were 69-148-2 (.320) at 4QC opportunities and 89-156-2 (.364) at overall GWD opportunities in 2013.

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced NFL Stats. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 31 Dec 2013

26 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2014, 6:39pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by Damon (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 4:37pm

Would I be out of line to say Chris Conte is the worst starting safety in the NFL?

5
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:16pm

No. I admit I haven't watched every single Bears game, but the few I saw this year made me wonder if Sabby Piscatelli changed his name to Chris Conte and tried to make a comeback in the NFL.

9
by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:53pm

I would have liked to see them bring in Kerry Rhodes this year.

22
by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 7:06pm

I don't know if it is out of line but it is wrong. He has been left in some difficult situations and been exposed a bit, there are plenty of worse safeties in the NFL. I am not even sure he is the worst safety on the Bears, just that as last man you always see him trying to tackle the RB that the other ten guys have already failed to tackle.

25
by greybeard :: Thu, 01/02/2014 - 4:36pm

Worse than Kendrick Lewis?

(How the hell the spam filter thinks that four words are spam? FO, please just make CAPTCHA mandatory and remove this spam filter. It makes you look unprofessional).

2
by acend :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 4:45pm

Mccarthy is getting rightfully ripped for not going for two after the early 4Q touchdown..however that decision might have won them the game. If they go for the two points and make it, the game is tied. When the Packers got the ball back I doubt they go for it twice on fourth down in a tie game. They probably punt and give the Bears a prime scoring opportunity and chance to win the game. Obviously not why he made the decision but an interesting consequense of it.

I know this will be viewed as sour grapes but....in the two Bears/Packers games this year the Packers got called for a grand total of one penalty (on the opening kickoff of the second game). In all non Bears games they committed penalties at a rate of 1 every ten game minutes. In the two Bears games, one every 120 minutes. And there were some obvious ones...blatant holding on both Cobb TD's, delay of game on forth and 1 during final drive, forward lateral on INT return just before halftime. I know penalties will be missed from time to time and obviously the ultimate responsibility lies with the Bears performance. However, 1 penalty in 120 minutes is more than just a missed call here or there. It's pretty easy to pass protect when you have no fear of a flag being called no matter how much you hold someone. I'm far more likely to blame incompetent officiating than a conspiracy but 1 penalty per 120 minutes is an extremely large outlier.

13
by Perfundle :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 6:15pm

18 penalties per 60 minutes in 2010 is an extremely large outlier too. It happens.

"It's pretty easy to pass protect when you have no fear of a flag being called no matter how much you hold someone."

It does seem suspicious that Green Bay got called for 0 holding calls when Chicago got called for, uh, 0 holding calls.

3
by Eddo :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:00pm

"Rodgers nearly had a third turnover in Chicago territory, but one of the strangest fumble plays you will ever see resulted in a Green Bay touchdown when Jarrett Boykin alertly picked up the loose ball and returned it for the score. "

I'd dispute the "alertly" part. Boykin did pick up the loose ball, but then just stood there. Of the twenty-two players on the field, only Aaron Rodgers showed any awareness that the ball was live, rushing over to Cobb (and even then, Rodgers didn't really start gesturing wildly until he heard the calls from the Packers sideline).

4
by Luigi (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:01pm

Don't credit Mike McCarthy with the decision to go for it from his own 20. He called the punt unit and the offense asked him to let them try to get the first down.

Both Trestman and MM made a lot of silly things on that game, not going for two down 26-28 in the 4th quarter is really hard to explain from McCarthy.

Trestman could have tried a two point conversion when he went up 27-20, a 2 point conversion makes the game a 2 posession difference. He never even considered it.
He also punted on 4th and short from the Packers own territory at the start of the game.

Trestman deserves a column about his handling of timeouts, in every game he seems to be clueless about the use of timeouts. In the GB game he called a timeout to decide about challenging a play or not! Isn't that amazing?

11
by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:56pm

Calling a timeout to consider a challenge was a Lovie staple, and maybe Trestman was doing the same, but it was also a long play and I'm not sure he didn't just call it because the offense wasn't ready with a playcall (which, if true, might well have been because he was more focused on watching the replay).

16
by Damon (not verified) :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 11:09am

The McCarthy 4th down gamble on their own 20 was pure luck and reminded me of that 4th down non-call/call in the Steelers-Colts 2005 playoff game when Peyton infamously waves off the punt team. Afterwards Dungy said he was going for it the whole time, well Tony how about telling the long-snapper and punter that before they run out there!

As for McCarthy and the non-2 point attempt at 28-26, that's just armchair overcoaching IMO.

Even if they go for 2 and tie the game at 28, they still have to stop the Bears from scoring on their next drive anyway to give themselves a chance to win with a FG or TD in regulation. Ditto if they went for 2 and failed, making it a 28-26 game.

The bigger issue from this game for me aside from Chris Conte's not doing his job was Chicago putting together a good drive after the Lacy TD and Brandon Marshall committing the penalty that cost them 5 years and all the momentuem to at least get a FG, if not a TD to push the lead to 7, possibly 9 with a 2 point conversion of their own. Can't have that in those situations, but that was the 2nd time in December they failed on offense in the 4th quarter trying to protect a lead (the Dec.2 at Minnesota was the other).

17
by Luigi (not verified) :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 11:36am

Total nonsense. If you tie the game then if Chi gets a FG you can tie the game with a FG.
Tell me ONE realistic scenario where kicking the extra point makes sense.

18
by Damon (not verified) :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 1:03pm

There was 11:43 left, that's why. No need to chase points with that much time left IMO.

20
by Silasrude (not verified) :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 4:53pm

Here here. Everybody acts as if they knew what was going to happen in the last 11+ minutes of the game. Please. There could have been four turnovers, a blocked punt, four field goals, three touchdowns and a safety. You never know what is going to happen in an NFL game. That is why we watch them. You take the free point and don't go for two until you have to.

21
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 5:05pm

Chicago scores a FG on the next possession. The Packers score a TD, and the Bears tie the game with yet another FG. If the Packers had gone for two and missed, the FG wins instead of a tie with the game going into OT.

If the Bears score a TD on the next possession, the Packers can still go for the two point conversion after a TD to tie.

I wouldn't have been surprised with the Bears getting two FGs in the last 11 minutes. Robbie Gould is arguably the best FG kicker in the NFL. Even on a cold December day, I could see him making two FGs.

6
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:19pm

"Trestman could have tried a two point conversion when he went up 27-20, a 2 point conversion makes the game a 2 posession difference."

I'm not sure you can get on him for this one, given how much time was left, and the fact that it wouldn't have made a difference anyway. I'm guessing that Scott Kaczmar would have agreed with you if Packers only had time for one more possession.

10
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:55pm

Eagles-Cowboys would be the game to bring that up for this week. Way too much time left in GB-CHI to consider it.

And I didn't write about the Trestman timeout since it was in the third quarter, but yeah, I thought he botched that situation. First of all, it probably should have been ruled a touchdown on the field, so again that's some bad officiating. But to just call a timeout there...that has to be a challenge instead. He probably would have won it, so he'd keep the timeout, which obviously might have helped the Bears on their last drive.

I know the counter-argument is Trestman would have been out of challenges, but I'd be willing to risk it instead of wasting a timeout. The challenge aspect has changed since all scores and turnovers are automatically reviewed now.

12
by Luigi (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 6:11pm

If you don't challenge because you are afraid of running out of challenges then you never challenge.

... or you are Mike Tomlin

7
by Dennis Doubleday (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:34pm

I think Weddle did fumble on the fake punt; no whistle blew. However, it could not have been a KC TD, because Weddle's helmet came off and the new rule says the play is dead at that point (Steelers fans know this rule all to well after the Baltimore game.)

14
by DontWorryAboutIt (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 7:02pm

It could have been a KC touchdown. My understanding is that the new rule only applies to the ball carrier. If he fumbled before losing his helmet, then the location of his helmet becomes moot.

19
by shawnthesheep (not verified) :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 2:25pm

No whistle had to blow. His helmet came off before the ball came out. It's a new rule that came into effect last year: as soon as the ball carrier's helmet comes off, the play is dead and the ball is marked at that spot. They created the rule for player safety--to try and prevent helmet-less ball carriers from getting hit while they struggle for extra yards.

8
by LinksterAC (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 5:34pm

It wasn't conclusive, but Weddle's helmet appeared to come off after he gained first down yardage, but before the ball was stripped. That means the play is dead at that spot.

"This is a new rule, but it was not applied in a critical moment. The Chargers were screwed over by a botched field goal penalty in Week 1 against Houston, but no rule book says there has to be a make-up call."

This is simply the law of averages at work. The "make-up call" was statistically probable over a large enough sample size. This officiating gaffe had as much impact to the playoff race as the one in Week 1. Simply put, this situation is as fair as unfair can be.

I'm a Chargers fan, but if the situations were reversed, and the Chargers were on the outside looking in, I'd be talking about how my team could have made this a moot point by winning another game.

15
by Anonymousssssssse (not verified) :: Tue, 12/31/2013 - 11:41pm

There was a big article on chargers dot com about how Mike McMcoy had called a punt but Weddle audibled into the run on 4th and 2.

23
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 7:24pm

I wanted to mention this (thought someone else would have already), but there was one game in his career where Rodgers deserved to have killed the 0-20 and 0-18 birds with one stone if his defense held: 2009 Steelers. GB was down 10, he eventually led them back to a late lead, then it was Roethlisberger to Wallace with no time left. Steelers finished 9-7.

I guess you could argue if Steelers lost to fall to 6-8 (would have been eliminated from playoffs from what I recall), then there's no guarantee they win their final two games, but in all likelihood that would have ended these streaks for Rodgers that grew to 20 and 18 games to start his career.

24
by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Thu, 01/02/2014 - 1:40pm

I was going to ask about the comebacks that Rodgers effectively lost because his team's defense could not hold onto the lead he just got them. I dont have access to all the stats, but as a avid watcher of their games I would say that is at least 30% of what we see as 'failed' 4th quarter comebacks.

26
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 01/03/2014 - 6:39pm

6-24 4QC record. In seven of the 24 losses (29.2%, you were close) Rodgers did lead the team from behind to a lead. That's the number you were looking for.