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01 Oct 2013

Clutch Encounters: Week 4

by Scott Kacsmar

Nearly a full quarter through the 2013 NFL season, just three teams are yet to have a game-winning drive opportunity: Denver (4-0), Kansas City (4-0) and Jacksonville (0-4).

Denver is winning big with second-half domination. The Broncos have scored at least 10 points after halftime in 21 consecutive games (including playoffs). If that's not the longest streak in NFL history, it's damn close. The 1966-68 Rams went 25 straight games, but that's only for the regular season.

Kansas City has not been as dominant, but the Chiefs have been putting teams away with long drives in the fourth quarter to comfortably get to 4-0 in the Andy Reid era.

Jacksonville … well, they are completing the games on their schedule.

If Green Bay fans are feeling lonely after the bye week, I did write more about last week's article at my own blog, discussing why I don't care if Aaron Rodgers is clutch or not. I also shared some thoughts about how I use these stats and some plans for future use.

One of those plans for future use is to analyze the records of head coaches rather than just quarterbacks or teams in general. So let's look at some stats on active head coaches for comebacks and game-winning drives. These include playoffs and only games where the offense had the ball in the fourth quarter or overtime with the score tied or trailing by 1-8 points. Stats on defensive stands for these coaches are on the to-do list.

Active Head Coaches (10+ Games with 4QC/GWD Opportunity)
Coach 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. 4QC/GWD Wins 4QC/GWD Losses Pct.
Bruce Arians 6 2 0.750 8 2 0.800
Mike Smith 17 18 0.486 24 18 0.571
Jim Harbaugh 8.5 5.5 0.607 9.5 7.5 0.559
Mike Munchak 5 6 0.455 7 7 0.500
Sean Payton 15 22 0.405 21 24 0.467
John Fox 29 42 0.408 38 47 0.447
Bill Belichick 37 64 0.366 52 65 0.444
Jason Garrett 11 14 0.440 12 15 0.444
Rex Ryan 12 18 0.400 15 19 0.441
John Harbaugh 10 18 0.357 15 21 0.417
Andy Reid 28.5 51.5 0.356 40.5 59.5 0.405
Gary Kubiak 13 29 0.310 19 30 0.388
Tom Coughlin 39 74 0.345 48 77 0.384
Mike Tomlin 14 30 0.318 21 34 0.382
Jeff Fisher 34.5 78.5 0.305 49.5 85.5 0.367
Mike Shanahan 31 82 0.274 48 84 0.364
Marvin Lewis 22.5 54.5 0.292 30.5 54.5 0.359
Pete Carroll 14 30 0.318 18 34 0.346
Jim Schwartz 11 25 0.306 13 25 0.342
Mike McCarthy 9 32 0.220 15 34 0.306
Leslie Frazier 1 14 0.067 4 16 0.200
Ron Rivera 2 16 0.111 2 17 0.105
Active Head Coaches (Fewer than 10 Games with 4QC/GWD Opportunity)
Coach 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. 4QC/GWD Wins 4QC/GWD Losses Pct.
Marc Trestman 2 0 1.000 2 0 1.000
Mike McCoy 2 1 0.667 2 2 0.500
Chuck Pagano 1 3 0.250 2 3 0.400
Doug Marrone 1 2 0.333 1 2 0.333
Rob Chudzinski 1 2 0.333 1 2 0.333
Joe Philbin 2 5 0.286 2 5 0.286
Dennis Allen 2 6 0.250 2 6 0.250
Greg Schiano 1 8 0.111 1 8 0.111
Chip Kelly 0 1 0.000 0 1 0.000
Gus Bradley 0 0 0.000 0 0 0.000

These will be implemented as a line in the winning recaps starting this week. If there's enough interest in a standalone piece breaking down some of the splits (Bill Belichick in Cleveland versus having Tom Brady or Mike Shanahan without John Elway), we can do that too. There's plenty of interesting stuff to talk about from this table, but Week 4 was also full of tough coaching decisions and wild finishes, so let's get started.

Like last week, we had eight games with a comeback opportunity. However, only three teams were victorious, which is unusually low. The biggest game features the team that brought you "The Rosencopter."

Game of the Week

Seattle Seahawks 23 at Houston Texans 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 14 (20-6)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.57
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (14-30 at 4QC and 18-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (6-5 at 4QC and 7-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The reputation of the Houston Texans has changed quickly since the team hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator and drafted J.J. Watt in 2011. Suddenly, Matt Schaub is perceived as a quarterback who cannot keep up in a shootout and the team is known for running the ball (Arian Foster) and defense.

But it was only a few years ago when the Texans had a lousy defense and Schaub piled up hollow stats in high-scoring losses. On Sunday, it was a return to those old Texans teams -- the ones likely to blow a 17-point lead at home despite dominating the game through three quarters.

After a shaky start including the most volleyball of volleyball interceptions in the red zone, Schaub had the Texans cruising in this one against a Seattle team who once again looked groggy for an early start time on the road.

Only a fumble by Ben Tate in the third quarter spurred a comeback attempt from Seattle, who trailed 20-3 at the time. Still, Russell Wilson threw three incompletions and the Seahawks settled for a field goal. But after getting the ball back at his own 2-yard line, Wilson engineered a 98-yard touchdown drive that was about his mobility as much as anything. He had a miraculous scramble for four yards on a crucial fourth-and-3 at the Houston 7-yard line. One play later Marshawn Lynch found the end zone to make it a 20-13 game.

We have seen this story before.

Houston promptly went three-and-out , but Wilson did not deliver the tying drive this time. Instead he threw an interception to Johnathan Joseph. After four carries by Foster, the Texans faced a third-and-4 at the Seattle 40-yard line with the Seahawks down to two timeouts.

Schaub was pressured, and the easiest way to put it is that he choked under that pressure and lofted a desperation pass that was intercepted for a touchdown by a shoeless Richard Sherman. A 10-year veteran cannot do that. This was Schaub's third-straight game with a pick six, but none were worse than this one. We'll never hear the end of it from Sherman, but it was a huge play to tie the game.

If you are wondering, yes, we are experiencing an unusual number of return scores in tight fourth-quarter games this season. That wreaks havoc on my quarterback accreditation system, but that will be reviewed in the offseason. For now it does go down as a 4QC for Wilson, but that's subject to change.

Houston could have made things easier by rebounding to have a game-winning drive, but the offense went scoreless on all eight possessions in the second half. The drive at the end of regulation was promising until a Cliff Avril sack blew it up. Schaub could not convert a third down to Owen Daniels and we soon were in overtime. Houston won the toss and of course received, but it was another punt after Schaub could not connect with Andre Johnson on third down.

Seattle quickly moved the ball to midfield after a horse collar tackle, but Wilson was sacked to stall that drive. Sacks on first down were a big theme here as another happened to Schaub on his next possession. He could only scramble for five yards on third-and-19 before another punt.

Getting dangerously close to a tie, Seattle took over with 6:46 left. Wilson had a scramble and a completion, but the 15-yard penalty on Kareem Jackson for a body slam was the longest gain on the drive. Two runs by Lynch and an incompletion by Wilson brought out the kicker. Steven Hauschka was good on the 45-yard kick, giving Seattle the 23-20 win to start 4-0 for the first time in team history.

For Houston, it's just another puzzling performance. Despite winning most of the statistical battles, the untimely plays were too much to overcome.

Russell Wilson: You Can't Keep a Good Man Down Forever

While far from his best game, especially throwing the ball, what I love about Russell Wilson is how his games always end up competitive in the end. I talked about that earlier in the week, and sure enough, even after trailing 20-3, this game went down to the wire.

For Wilson, if he doesn't outright win the game, he's going to be one possession away late.

In his senior year (2011) at Wisconsin, Wilson was 11-3 as a starter. He had a fourth-quarter lead in two of the losses. He led Oregon before losing 45-38 in the Rose Bowl. He forced a late tie against Michigan State before Kirk Cousins' Hail Mary won it on the final play (37-31). A week later against Ohio State it was another long touchdown pass in the final seconds that beat Wisconsin (33-29).

As a junior (2010) at North Carolina State, Wilson was 9-4 as a starter. He had the ball, down 24-17 to Maryland in the fourth quarter before losing 38-31. He had a 13-7 lead over Clemson in a 14-13 loss. He had a go-ahead drive at East Carolina, but lost 33-27 after throwing a game-ending interception in overtime. He regained a 30-28 lead against Virginia Tech, but two late touchdowns made for a 41-30 loss.

You have to go back to the next-to-last game of Wilson's sophomore season (2009) to find a blowout loss for him. That too was against Virginia Tech and Wilson trailed 38-10 for the entire fourth quarter. That was also the final score.

Since that point, Wilson has started 50 consecutive games, going 37-13. In the 13 losses he had a fourth-quarter lead nine times, a fourth-quarter tie once and only three games where he could do no better than having the ball, down by 3-7 points.

Forty-six games out of 50 with a fourth-quarter lead. That's with two college programs and a NFL team. While Houston is not the kind of game to highlight his individual play, just know it's never over until Wilson says it is.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Dallas Cowboys 21 at San Diego Chargers 30

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.44
Head Coach: Mike McCoy (2-1 at 4QC and 2-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (15-35 at 4QC and 18-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)

These teams have been mirror images of each other with the "they have so much talent!" underachievement of the past and the recent "no playoff" mediocrity. It is too early to tell if either is back on the playoff track this year, but San Diego's big second half leaves both at 2-2.

Tony Romo has received criticism for years while Philip Rivers only recently has been hearing it. On Sunday, Rivers did have the advantage after a shaky start that included a pick-six to fall behind 21-10 in the second quarter.

But it was 20-0 San Diego the rest of the way. Already driving deep into the red zone as the third quarter closed, trailing 21-20, Rivers threw two incompletions to start the fourth quarter. Nick Novak made the 23-yard field goal to take a 23-21 lead with nearly a full quarter left.

Romo dinked and dunked the Cowboys into San Diego territory, but a holding penalty led to a third-and-8 situation. Romo floated one to Jason Witten with Eric Weddle in coverage, but he could not make the catch. Dallas punted.

These are the situations where Rivers has been hard to trust the past few years, but he delivered on this drive as he has often this season outside of the Houston loss. He threw a perfect pass down the seam to Antonio Gates for a 56-yard touchdown with 6:54 left. With 85 career touchdowns, this was the third longest yet for Gates.

Now in a real hole, Romo again kept it short, which was effective, but also burned a lot of clock. After a 15-yard scramble by Romo converted a third-and-8, the Cowboys had first-and-goal with less than three minutes left. Romo could have scrambled again but indecisively threw incomplete. On a pass to Terrance Williams, the rookie wideout tried to stretch the ball out, but fumbled. San Diego recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

That was pretty much the killer, but Dallas got the ball back with 1:02 left to drive 32 meaningless yards. Outside of the second quarter, Dallas' offense did nothing in this game.

Rivers finished 35-of-42 passing for 401 yards. His 83.3 completion percentage is the highest in NFL history for a 400-yard passing game. He has as many game-winning drives (two) this season as the last three combined. If not for what Peyton Manning's been doing in the same division and that pick-six to Brian Cushing in Week 1, we'd be talking more about Rivers as the MVP of the first quarter of the season.

At least the season's not going south for one member of the 2004 quarterback draft class.

Arizona Cardinals 13 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (10-0)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.78
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (6-2 at 4QC and 8-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (15-41 at 4QC and 22-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If you noticed the coaching table at the beginning, Bruce Arians is 11-5 as a head coach with an 8-2 record at game-winning drive opportunities. Does that make him the new Vince Tobin in town (see 1998 Cardinals), or just someone who leaned heavily on Andrew Luck last year?

Whatever the case, Arizona's defense came through to steal this victory. It was not a pretty sight as both offenses averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry and the quarterback play left much to be desired with multiple turnovers. This was probably to be expected with Carson Palmer and rookie Mike "Giant Gonzalez" Glennon, who made his first start in the post-Josh Freeman era.

Watching Glennon play, I cannot help but feel like I am watching Matt Ryan stretched out to a larger size like he was Gumby and suddenly not good at being a quarterback. First start, I know, but this was not encouraging. When he had time to stand and deliver, things looked fairly normal. But when he moved around in the pocket, at that height, it just looked very awkward.

This was a painful 10-0 experience for three quarters. After nine drives of failure, including a pair of interceptions in the third quarter, the Arizona offense finally showed up following a botched handoff by Glennon.

With a field goal and points finally on the board, Arizona got the ball back even after a fake punt by Dashon Goldson for 22 yards worked out for Greg Schiano. Under pressure, Palmer could not respond.

Backed up at their own 11-yard line with 3:23 left, the Buccaneers let Glennon throw on second down. They probably want that one back as Glennon, under no pressure, threw the ball right to Patrick Peterson, who returned it to the 13-yard line. It only took one play for Larry Fitzgerald to lay some Pitt-on-Pitt ultra-violence on Darrelle Revis for the tying touchdown.

Tampa Bay went three-and-out with Glennon getting sacked close to the end zone. Starting at Tampa Bay's 38-yard line, this was easy for Palmer, who opened the drive with a 19-yard pass. Tack on 10 yards for roughness from Goldson and the Cardinals were easily in field goal range. After two runs, Arians had Palmer do something that I detested: Palmer took a dive on third-and-goal with 1:37 left. To make matters worse, the Buccaneers had their final timeout to use.

The fact that FOX analyst Heath Evans loved the call is further proof this was a joke of a decision.

Arians basically surrendered to try the field goal and take a 13-10 lead, giving Tampa Bay 90 seconds to answer instead of going for the touchdown. While you could interpret this as trust in the defense and a lack of faith in Glennon more than Palmer, I hate to see a team play such sissified football. The call would make more sense if Tampa Bay couldn't stop the clock immediately.

As Tampa Bay fans know, a lot can happen in 90 seconds in today's NFL. Glennon started at his own 20-yard line and soon completed two passes for 21 yards. But Peterson came up with the big interception again on a bad throw to Vincent Jackson, and this one was over.

At 2-2, Arians keeps on winning the close ones, but Tampa Bay and their latest quarterback did a lot to hand this one over too. He was not listed in the table, but Greg Schiano falls to 1-8 in games when his team needs a game-winning drive.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

With three wins and five losses, this was more of a week of failure in crunch time, especially in the all-important red zone.

Patriots at Falcons: Fourth-and-Inches, Bill Belichick and Mike Smith

While you always hear about Matt Ryan's great home record (35-8 now), no one points out that it includes just a 5-5 record against playoff teams. That's a lot of home cooking for shady guests. That mark may be 5-6 now, given the Patriots are 4-0 after escaping the Georgia Dome with a 30-23 win.

Bill Belichick's 2006 Patriots were a 12-4 team with Tom Brady, new wide receivers, a top defense and a productive running game. This 2013 team looks to be following that model as this was the best performance of the season for Brady's offense -- against what was thought to be a quality opponent playing for their season at 1-2.

It did not appear that this game, which featured the two quarterbacks with the best records in NFL history at game-winning drive opportunities, would even have an exciting finish. Breaking Bad had the explosive ending for Sunday night, but there would be drama here.

When Ryan lobbed up a deep ball for Julio Jones that was easily intercepted by Aqib Talib, this one looked over. New England extended the lead to 30-13 with 6:18 to play and much of the crowd was headed home already.

We know about the comparisons Ryan and the Falcons have had with Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis teams. This ending started to recall some of those meetings as the Falcons quickly marched 80 yards for a touchdown. The expected onside kick was muffed by tight end Zach Sudfeld, giving Atlanta new hope. But after getting to the New England 7-yard line, Ryan threw two incomplete passes with one yard to go for a first -- most notably tight end Levine Toilolo had a bad drop in the end zone on third down -- and Atlanta had to settle for a field goal and 30-23 deficit.

With 2:55 left and all three timeouts, I would kick it deep here. Getting two expected onside kicks in a row is a pipe dream, but the Falcons tried it anyway. This time New England recovered and went to work on the clock. Brady sneaked for a yard on second-and-2, but handed off to LeGarrette Blount on third down. He was stopped inches short on a night where Walt Coleman was the referee and the replay system went kaput in the fourth quarter. That's rare bad news for the Patriots and video equipment.

Yet, with a fourth-and-1 to ice the game, this should be easy for Brady, the best short-yardage runner in history, right? Chalk up another one for the Sports Illustrated jinx. The stats may have gone to Brady's head, because for the second time this season, he botched the snap from center, which is what I specifically wrote has never happened before for him. The botched snap is one of the few ways a defense can stop these plays, and Brady did it again after doing it in Buffalo in Week 1. This comes after 56 straight conversions in the regular season heading into 2013.

Now Ryan had the ball and 62 yards to go in 1:50 to tie the game. Cris Collinsworth said "this guy is as good as it gets when it comes to fourth-quarter comebacks." More on that later.

Somewhat like he did against Carolina last year, Ryan went for the bomb right away. Jones beat Devin McCourty for the 49-yard gain, and just like that the Falcons were back in the red zone, which is code for "right where the Patriots want them." Ryan was too high on two passes, then dumped a short one for three yards to Jacquizz Rodgers. It came down to fourth-and-7 from the New England 10-yard line. With Tony Gonzalez double teamed, Ryan went to Roddy White in the end zone, but Talib, who had his share of contact on the play, batted the ball away incomplete. Talib allowed one catch for one yard on eight targets.

Now the Patriots could exhale.

Ryan has 23 game-winning drives, but only one (2009 Jets) saw him convert in the red zone when only a touchdown would do in the final half of the fourth quarter. Wouldn't you know on the play before the touchdown, Atlanta tried the sprint-right option and Darrelle Revis dropped a game-ending interception?

Now that's ignoring this success in a loss and getting very specific with the criteria, but Chris Redman has done that just as many times for Mike Smith as Ryan has. Ryan is very good at setting up field goals with little time remaining, but he's had some struggles when it's come down to scoring a touchdown in the red zone. We've seen the red-zone failure late in the game in New Orleans the last two years and in the 2012 NFC Championship.

This was another example, and given the 1-of-6 night in the red zone at scoring touchdowns, this was the worst yet.

Wild Coincidence: Tony Gonzalez has played in 265 games including playoffs. His 149 yards in this game are a new career high, besting his previous mark of 147 yards. Both games were losses to Belichick's Patriots and both games came down to a drive in the final minute in the red zone with Gonzalez's offense unable to score. Playing for the 2000 Chiefs, Gonzalez caught a five-yard pass from Elvis Grbac to the New England 7-yard line as time expired. He would have liked to have had one last chance on Sunday night, because he sure did not come back to start 1-3.

New England passed its first real test of 2013, but did lose Vince Wilfork (Achilles) in the process. At least the offense is coming together with key receivers returning soon.

For Atlanta, Smith falls two games under .500 for the first time in his career. While the upcoming schedule might get the Falcons back on track with a run, this team has holes, whether from injury or general flaws, that will be hard to overcome to return to the playoffs.

Steelers at Vikings: Panic on the Streets of Pittsburgh

The Steelers make this section of the column for the fourth consecutive week, which is bad news. They are the only team this year that's 0-4 at comeback opportunities. As the offense gets healthier and better, the defense only plays worse. This leaves the team in a 0-4 hole for the first time since 1968 after a 34-27 loss in London to the big-play Vikings.

Is this the price of having the Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs? The Steelers turn into the "worst team in the league," as Ben Roethlisberger put it.

Some will cite the travel differences -- Minnesota nearly spent the week while Pittsburgh arrived late -- for having an impact on the game, but that's hogwash. No amount of travel will make Mike Adams a good tackle as Jared Allen had 2.5 sacks on one drive. Dick LeBeau's defense had one of its poorest tackling days in years, allowing Greg Jennings to go 70 yards on a short pass and Adrian Peterson to elude a diving Ike Taylor, who also failed to make two interceptions, on a 60-yard touchdown run.

Despite trailing by two scores for much of the game, Roethlisberger, who escaped many sacks while still going down five times, kept the team in it again even after trailing 34-17 to start the fourth quarter. He found Jerricho Cotchery for a 15-yard touchdown, but not before banging his throwing hand off a teammate.

Roethlisberger didn't break anything, but the Steelers caught a break when Blair Walsh was wide left on a 44-yard field goal with 6:49 left. The ensuing drive stalled in the red zone, which was a common theme for losing teams on Sunday. Pittsburgh settled for the 28-yard field goal and 34-27 deficit.

Minnesota kept it fairly conservative and Peterson was stopped on third-and-3. Starting at his own 22-yard line with 1:43 left and no timeouts, this was yet another chance for Roethlisberger to lead a memorable drive. It started off great with a 36-yard gain to Cotchery after a good run after the catch. Roethlisberger eventually spiked the ball on the drive with 80 seconds left, then he did it again with over 60 seconds left, which is infuriating -- he wastes downs when there's enough time to call a play at the line. He's done this in the past so it's safe to say this is not coming from the coaching staff.

As expected, things came down to red-zone execution -- Antonio Brown, who caught 12-of-13 targets, made a wild catch after nearly dropping it. Now you should spike it, setting up second-and-goal from the Minnesota 6-yard line. Roethlisberger had to throw it away on the next play due to pressure. Running out of chances, he finally succumbed to the pass rush in the pocket and fumbled the ball. The sack would have ended the game anyway, but the fumble was just a fitting end to the day. On the play, it's hard to say where Roethlisberger could have gone with the ball.

Turnovers continue to kill Pittsburgh as the offense has 11 giveaways while that defense remains shutout on the takeaway sheet. The Steelers join the 2005 Texans as the only teams since 1940 to have zero takeaways through four games. When Matt Cassel can fumble on third-and-5 and the Vikings still recover it for a first down, you know it's not your year on defense.

It's not Pittsburgh's year, period.

Ravens at Bills: Only Tony Romo Throws Five Interceptions in Buffalo and Wins

This was Football Outsiders' ESPN Upset Watch pick of the week and it was looking really good at halftime with Buffalo up 20-7. However, the Bills seem to have some Carolina in them, as things would get close due to their inability to score more than a field goal in the second half.

Despite Joe Flacco's pick parade -- he threw four in the first three quarters alone -- it was still just a 23-14 game with 15 minutes to play. Buffalo finally put together a time-consuming drive, but EJ Manuel underthrew a deep ball and Corey Graham made the interception.

Flacco's deep ball was on point to Torrey Smith, but Aaron Williams made the shoestring tackle to keep it to a 74-yard gain. That was huge as the Ravens had to settle for the 35-yard field goal. Buffalo could only go three-and-out again, and Flacco went back to the vertical attack with a 33-yard pass to Deonte Thompson.

The drive even featured Baltimore's first running play of the half as Ray Rice finished with as many carries (five) as Flacco had interceptions. Flacco threw incomplete into double coverage for Rice on third down, making it decision time.

The Decision: Should John Harbaugh go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Buffalo 6-yard line, down 23-17 with 4:08 left (and three timeouts), or make the chip-shot 24-yard field goal?

It's a tough one. If you convert for a score, that's a 24-23 lead with over four minutes left, which means Buffalo will play aggressively, only needing a field goal. The game's a coin flip at that point. If you fail, Buffalo's backed up and you'll still need a touchdown. Get the field goal, and Buffalo will likely go conservative with the rookie quarterback in the four-minute offense and with four clock stoppages, it should be easy to get the ball back, only needing a field goal to tie.

The conversion rate on fourth-and-5 has been about 38 percent, but not all fourth-and-5 plays should be treated equally. This was in a high-leverage situation rather than a blowout where we do see some lackadaisical play at times. Most teams going for it on fourth-and-5 are in a desperate situation. This was also deep in the red zone where there is less room for the offense to operate.

Using Pro-Football-Reference, I excluded plays from a field goal formation and found offenses to be just 5-of-20 (25.0 percent) on fourth-and-5 attempts in the red zone when tied or down by 1-8 points. If we remove the scoring margin, the sample goes to over 100 plays, but the conversion rate remains around 25 percent.

It's not a high-probability conversion, and Flacco was not sharp in this game. I support the field goal decision here.

Manuel nearly coughed the ball up right to the Ravens when he inexplicably bobbled it on a run out of the zone-read. On third-and-11, the Bills took no chances and just handed it off to Fred Jackson for four yards. Another sissified three-and-out drive in the four-minute offense was complete.

Flacco was in great position to overcome the picks with a game-winning drive. He had the ball at his own 37-yard line with 2:20 left. It nearly went south right away with a sack on first down by Marcell Dareus, but Flacco threaded the needle to Smith for 21 yards on third-and-18.

On second-and-8, Flacco threw a bomb off his back foot for Smith, which of course was incomplete. This is why I have always said I would take Tom Brady in a situation where a field goal would do, as his patience to not get greedy pays off greatly. Flacco just wasted a play and it was now third-and-8.

Flacco threw for Dallas Clark over the middle, but it was defended well and the tipped ball was caught on a diving effort by rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, who now has four picks in four games. Outside of the Ravens picking up a flag that guaranteed they would not see the ball again, this one was over after Flacco's career-high fifth interception.

Tony Romo remains the only quarterback since 1960 to throw five interceptions on the road and still lead a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive. He did it on Monday Night Football against the 2007 Bills.

In four games this season the Ravens have already set franchise records for most points allowed in a game (49 to Denver) and most interceptions thrown by a quarterback in one game.

Bengals at Browns: Another Banner Day for the AFC North

At least the AFC North was guaranteed a win on Sunday with the battle of Ohio. With the struggles of Pittsburgh and Baltimore, this was a big opportunity for one of these teams. While most expected Cincinnati to be the class of the division, this game was controlled by Cleveland from start to finish as Cincinnati's offense was challenged by this intriguing defense. Andy Dalton was just 7-of-15 for 51 yards when targeting A.J. Green.

But Cleveland's emerging star tight end Jordan Cameron capped off a 95-yard touchdown drive with yet another scoring catch. That's five touchdowns in four games. Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome's career high is nine touchdowns (1979).

Points then became a premium with Cleveland leading 10-6 to start the fourth quarter. Geno Atkins opened the quarter with a sack of Brian Hoyer. Cincinnati overcame a holding penalty when Dalton found Jermaine Gresham for a highlight-worthy gain of 24 yards on third-and-13. On the very next play, disaster struck when a bad snap put the Bengals in a second-and-24 situation. They could not rebound this time and had to punt.

That's when Hoyer engineered the drive to put Cincinnati away. It's hard to believe I just typed that, but he played well (no turnovers this week) and made key throws to Cameron and Josh Gordon on this 91-yard touchdown drive. Even newly acquired running back Willis McGahee pitched in some solid runs before Hoyer's one-yard touchdown pass to Chris Ogbonnaya made it 17-6 with 4:54 left.

Gresham dropped a pass after taking a big shot, so Dalton went to rookie Tyler Eifert on the next play. That pass was tipped and intercepted by Buster Skrine. The Bengals could only move the ball 22 yards before turning it over on downs on their final possession.

So with a quarter of the season in the books, the Browns are right in the thick of things at 2-2 with the increasingly deadly Hoyer-to-Cameron connection. Just like everyone predicted, right?

Redskins at Raiders: This Is Why Matt Flynn Holds Clipboards

Had Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor (concussion) been able to play, this may have very well pushed the Raiders to 2-2 and kept the Redskins winless on the season. Matt Flynn, making his third career start, was sacked seven times by what has been arguably the worst defense in the league. Pryor's superior scrambling ability was sorely missed on a day that started well for the home team with a 14-0 lead after one quarter.

Washington, used to early deficits by now, did a good job to hold the Raiders scoreless on their final 12 drives. The Redskins also came up with a pick-six thrown by Flynn to get back into it after the offense's early struggles.

Trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter, Flynn's happy feet led to another sack on third down and a punt. Getting a second chance after Washington's three-and-out drive, the pressure did not ease up. Ryan Kerrigan got around Tony Pashos to knock the ball out of Flynn's hand in the pocket at midfield. Washington recovered and Roy Helu went 42 yards on two plays, including a 28-yard catch and run, for the insurance touchdown. Washington led 24-14 with 6:59 left.

Flynn drove the Raiders to Washington's 17-yard line, but an incomplete pass set up fourth-and-1. With 3:32 and two timeouts left, it was decision time. The Raiders could go for it to try to get the touchdown, or they could kick the 34-yard field goal and make it 24-17.

Now I am not one to fault a team for using the quarterback sneak here, but the offensive line got little push and Brian Orakpo jumped on top of Flynn, who actually fumbled on the play as he came up short.

That killed any excitement -- okay, who am I kidding? -- this one may have had as the Redskins burned off three minutes so the only thing left to do was for Flynn to add 17 yards to his stats.

Washington's offense may have gotten a little closer to where it was last year, but this win was more about the defense shutting Oakland down save for one early touchdown drive.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 21
Game-winning drives: 22
Games with 4QC opportunity: 41/63 (65.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 10

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 01 Oct 2013

19 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2013, 1:33pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by Waverly :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:37pm

I don't understand why there seem to be so many more 4QC losses than wins. Have most of the winning coaches retired, or are there a lot of them so that they don't qualify for this chart?

2
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:44pm

It's not a zero-sum stat. The average success rate has been around 35 percent.

Example: Minnesota led for the whole 4th quarter on Sunday. Mike Tomlin's Steelers were the team trying to make the 4QC on the final drive. It did not work, so Tomlin gets a loss. Leslie Frazier gets nothing as his offense did not need a 4QC/GWD.

I did mention creating records for games where the coach had to protect a one-score lead (thru defense) is on the to-do list, but that would be a little different from the table presented here.

3
by John Collburn (not verified) :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:48pm

Mostly because most comebacks fail. The team that already has the lead is more likely to win than the team trying to come back.

Does that sound right?

8
by Thok :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:18pm

It's very hard (but not quite impossible) to have a game with a a 4th quarter comeback winner, but not a 4th quarter comeback loser. If a game goes from 17-13 to 20-17 in the 4th quarter, then most likely both teams will count as a possible 4th quarter comeback. If half the games have a successful 4th quarter comeback (and contribute a 1-1 record) and the other half don't have a successful comeback (giving an 0-1 record), then the winning percentage would be around .333.

11
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:24pm

You're on the right path. This week was unusual in that Seattle had a 4QC opportunity, but Houston did not as they never trailed until Seattle kicked the winning FG in OT. Arizona and Tampa Bay both had one, as did San Diego/Dallas. But in the other five games, only one team had a 4QC opportunity this week.

4
by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:52pm

Ron Rivera, 2 4Q wins, 16 4Q losses.

Greg Schiano, 1 4Q win, 8 4Q losses.

Oh, awesome, he's half a Rivera.

Also, I think Mike "Giraffe" Glennon would be a more appropriate nickname.

5
by robbbbbb (not verified) :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:55pm

Re: Russell Wilson.

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

7
by AxetoGrind (not verified) :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:15pm

Sorry, but didn't the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour?

9
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:20pm

Let him go, he's on a roll.

12
by tballgame (not verified) :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 3:44pm

That's the same thing Eisenhower was told as General McArthur invaded Little Big Horn.

10
by apk3000 :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:22pm

Forget it, he's rolling.

6
by Richie1 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 1:59pm

QBs/coaches don't spike it enough in late game/half situations. If it takes you that 4th down to make the 1st, you've in the process run way too much time off the clock anyway. But then, they also hoard their timeouts in such situations. Any long gain, call timeout rather than waste 10 extra seconds just getting everyone up to the line and set up.

13
by RickD :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 4:39pm

This is an interesting point. Typically you only see a QB spike after a long first down completion, when the offense needs time to get to the new line of scrimmage and the QB feels relatively secure that he has enough downs to work with.

Having said that, I've seen a lot of situations where the QB spiked the ball on first down, threw an incompletion on 2nd down, and then is stuck with 3rd and 10. I wonder if it is that hard to have some kind of passing play that could be executed as quickly as a spike, where actual yardage might be gained.

14
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 10/01/2013 - 6:03pm

Manning hit that 52-yard pass to Decker on Sunday and it seemed like he had Denver ready rather fast for another play. Ben would have probably spiked it. There are good times for it, and there are bad. I think Ben makes a lot of bad spike decisions. You really should never spike it with over 90 seconds left. Then the one around the 1:00 mark, well if the goal is to score as late as possible, I think he had plenty of time.

I didn't write about it, but another bad clock management play by Roethlisberger on Sunday was the pass he dumped off on 3rd down on the previous drive. That had zero shot of gaining a first down, and down by 10 points, that's wasting precious seconds to get the FG unit out there.

So he may have had a little more time on his last drive if he didn't waste so many seconds on the previous drive.

15
by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Wed, 10/02/2013 - 7:25am

spiking it also gives the defense a chance to have a breather & regroup, which seeing as you've just deflated them by getting a first down, isn't a great plan.

16
by tuluse :: Wed, 10/02/2013 - 3:40pm

"While you always hear about Matt Ryan's great home record (35-8 now), no one points out that it includes just a 5-5 record against playoff teams."

Alternatively, playoff teams are only 5-5 against Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Since playoff teams almost always have winning records, isn't getting .500 beating the odds?

17
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 10/02/2013 - 4:24pm

Home-field advantage in the playoffs has been about 10 percentage points higher than the regular season, so about 67%. In that case, Ryan's 5-5 (probably 5-6) record would be below average.

The point is more about the lack of games against good competition. That's the best argument Ravens fans have in the irrational Ryan/Flacco debate. Flacco has played a ton of games against quality competition while Ryan frankly has not.

18
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 10/03/2013 - 3:17am

Is there actually anyone who thinks Flacco is as good a QB as Ryan?

In 2004 terms, I think of Ryan as a Donovan McNabb. He is a quality quarterback who is an asset to a good team, but without some support around home will not excel, and even with great support he will set no records. Flacco is more of a Jake DelHomme. He can win games as your quarterback, but most of the winning will be done by other players, while he runs in fits and starts between Favre-like gunslinging and David Carr-like futility.

19
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 10/03/2013 - 1:33pm

Trust me, there are dark corners of the internet where these Ryan/Flacco debates rage on endlessly.