Brian Fremeau is back for his 10th season of college football advanced stats at Football Outsiders, with a lesson on average teams (like Arkansas State) and updated FEI projections for 2016.
22 Oct 2013
by Scott Kacsmar
Much like last week, only two teams came back to win after trailing in the fourth quarter. On the season, teams are 29-62 (.319) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. We had seven attempts in Week 7. Jacksonville remains the only team yet to have one. Our latest "Game of the Century" barely made it here after the Colts opened up a 33-14 lead on Denver, but by now you should always expect a good rally attempt when Peyton Manning's involved. Machines are hard to terminate.
Win Probability (GWD): 0.68
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (22-54 at 4QC and 32-54-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (5-12 at 4QC and 9-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)
There has been plenty of opportunity to debate the strengths and weaknesses of Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford, but in this game both young quarterbacks passed for over 350 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Stafford having no interceptions on 51 attempts is a damn miracle given how many chances he gave Cincinnati on dangerous throws.
Both quarterbacks also love their No. 1 wideouts, and neither of those great receivers disappointed as A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson each had 155 receiving yards. Green caught an 82-yard touchdown -- the longest catch of his career. Johnson made two ridiculous touchdown catches in tight coverage.
For the fourth time this season, Cincinnati held at least an 11-point lead (21-10) only to relinquish it. Down 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Stafford threw perhaps his riskiest pass of the day: a 50-yard bomb to Johnson in the end zone with three Bengals around him on third-and-18. You don't risk that pass to anyone but Johnson or perhaps Randy Moss in his prime.
The game was tied, but the offensive fireworks fizzled out. Green was penalized for offensive pass interference (OPI), leading to a three-and-out. Detroit drove into Cincinnati territory, but Joique Bell's big catch on third-and-11 was negated due to OPI on Brandon Pettigrew. Lewis challenged the catch and it was reversed to an incompletion, so Detroit had to punt.
The Bengals had the ball at Detroit's 38 at the two-minute warning, but a false start on Jermaine Gresham forced a third-and-6 situation. Dalton was sacked by Ndamukong Suh. Detroit immediately used its first timeout to get the ball back. Stafford was pinned at his own six and limited to three-down football, so the drive was not a success. After getting to his own 23, Stafford threw the ball away on consecutive plays to avoid a mistake.
The problem is this stopped the clock twice, though it's not as if Stafford could have taken the sack on third down as the Bengals would have used their third timeout to get the ball back with Detroit punting from deep in their own end.
Cincinnati was going to get a chance regardless, but were helped by an ugly 28-yard punt by rookie Sam Martin. That put Cincinnati at its own 49 with 26 seconds to play and one timeout.
Dalton completed a seven-yard pass in the field of play. Some teams would immediately use the timeout then try to get another pass completed near the sideline. Dalton saved it and called another play, but time was ticking away fast. He dumped a short pass over the middle to Giovani Bernard for eight yards, and the Bengals used their final timeout with four ticks left.
A 54-yard attempt is far from a given, but Mike Nugent delivered the game-winning kick as time expired for a consecutive 27-24 road victory. It kept alive Cincinnati's defense's streak of 18 games without allowing more than 24 points.
Win Probability (GWD): 0.69
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (14-30 at 4QC and 22-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (22-31 at 4QC and 31-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)
This had the appearance of a typical Ravens/Steelers game. Both teams were held under 20 points and 300 yards of offense. It was decided by three points for the eighth time in the last 10 meetings. It came down to the final minutes like 13 of the last 14 meetings have.
Still, something was different this time: this game actually featured a ton of offense, though it was hidden by each team having just seven possessions. That means 2.71 points per drive for Pittsburgh and 2.29 points per drive for Baltimore. Removing a kneeldown before halftime, both teams finished with exactly 287 yards, or 41 yards per drive. These are elite offensive numbers, which means the team making fewer mistakes would likely win the game.
Pittsburgh looked as competent as it has all year, producing a 7-0 lead on a Heath Miller shovel pass touchdown and never trailing in the game. However, Miller's fumble before halftime led to Baltimore points and a 10-6 Pittsburgh lead.
In the third quarter Joe Flacco had Jacoby Jones open for a 43-yard touchdown, but he underthrew him, and cornerback William Gay, a lightning rod for criticism, actually did a good job to help break it up. That was big as the game would end with five consecutive scoring drives.
Thanks to a 19-yard scramble by Roethlisberger, the Steelers added a field goal to make it a 13-6 lead. Torrey Smith finally broke through with a 41-yard grab and Flacco converted a fourth-and-1 with the quarterback sneak. Flacco scrambled out of harm's way from LaMarr Woodley, but his third-down pass was incomplete. Baltimore kicked a field goal (13-9).
Like the Bears earlier on Sunday, a surprise onside kick was botched by the Ravens being offsides. Pittsburgh took over in great field position at the Baltimore 38. Roethlisberger had Derek Moye for a 20-yard touchdown on third down, but the young receiver could not hold on in the end zone. That produced another field goal.
Flacco had 9:53 left and went to work. He overcame a holding penalty and converted four third downs on the drive, including a one-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark with 1:58 left to tie the game. Dick LeBeau's defense had no answers (not a fluke) on the 16-play march. Flacco was 9-of-10 passing for 60 yards on the drive.
Emmanuel Sanders returned the next kickoff from seven yards deep in the end zone and nearly went the distance for a touchdown. He teetered on the sideline and just barely stepped out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 37, giving Roethlisberger great field position with 1:45 left.
Roethlisberger has not done well in these situations lately, but with a 0.69 win probability at the start of it, this tied the "easiest" game-winning drive of Roethlisberger's career.
He got things started with a seven-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery before gaining five more and a first down for illegal contact on Lardarius Webb, who was locked up with Sanders. After Miller dropped a low one, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown, who broke Corey Graham's tackle and picked up 13 yards.
Two plays later it was Brown again crossing over middle for 11 yards to the Baltimore 24. Now the Steelers knew they could set up the field goal as the final play and ran it once more before calling timeout. Shaun Suisham came on for the 42-yard attempt and it was perfect with no time remaining for a 19-16 win. Suisham is 14 of 14 on field goals this season and has turned into one of the NFL's better kickers.
For Roethlisberger, this is his 30th game-winning drive (15th quarterback to do so) and the latest (1:45) in the game he has ever started one. It is also his seventh against Baltimore.
Type: GWD (OT)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.47
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (13-18 at 4QC and 17-19 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Geno Smith (2-1 at 4QC and 4-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
In Rex Ryan's five years as coach, the Jets have played the Patriots tough in the first meeting with an average score of 20.2-19.0 in favor of the Jets (2-3 record). In the regular-season rematch, the Jets were 0-4 with a miserable average score of 40.5-13.0 in favor of New England.
This would change on Sunday.
Geno Smith led a great opening drive for a touchdown, but did screw up later with a pick six. New England weathered the early storm with situational defense (red zone and third down) while the offense looked improved with Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup. The Patriots led 21-10 in the third quarter, but that's when disaster struck. Tom Brady was fortunate the Patriots recovered his second fumble of the game, but on the very next play he threw his own pick-six deep in his own end to offset Smith's earlier mistake. With the Patriots going three and out on three consecutive drives, the Jets seized the opportunity to take the lead with a great scramble by Smith for a touchdown.
The Jets took a 27-21 lead into the fourth quarter. Gronkowski looked good (eight catches for 114 yards), though there was some rust. He was penalized for offensive pass interference (OPI) for setting a pick and later could not locate a third-down pass in the sun. The Patriots settled for a field goal. Smith had a 38-yard touchdown to Stephen Hill wiped out for OPI as the push-off helped create the separation. The Jets had to punt.
Brady continued to throw inaccurately as he was nearly intercepted by Calvin Pace. His third-down pass was overthrown and the Patriots punted. The Jets had 6:25 to burn, but two incompletions stopped the clock for New England. Jeff Cumberland could not come down with a third-down catch. It was not the magnitude of Lee Evans-Sterling Moore, but it was an important drop/defensed pass.
Apparently it's the new Ryan family tradition to give Brady three chances in the fourth quarter at the go-ahead drive. After sinking Rob last week, Brady had 2:10 left at his own eight (and all three timeouts) to stick it to Rex.
Brandon Bolden started the drive with two runs for 14 yards; then Brady went to the air. Pressure is key and the Jets had four sacks on the day, but they rushed three on a number of plays on this final drive. Sometimes it worked, as when the interior of the Patriots line broke down on first-and-10 from the Jets 45 and the Jets pressured Brady into an incomplete pass to Bolden. Sometimes it didn’t, as on the next play, when Brady had plenty of time and found Julian Edelman for a 19-yard gain to put the Patriots were in field-goal range.
On first down, Brady lofted a pass to Gronkowski that likely would have been the game-winning touchdown, but he could not make the spectacular one-handed catch. The Jets stuck with the three-man rush, but Brady's next two passes were nowhere close to his receivers. That left things up to Stephen Gostkowski, who hit from 44 yards out with 16 seconds remaining. We headed to overtime.
I mentioned on Twitter I expected the team losing the coin toss would win the game, because I believe the optimal strategy in modified overtime is to kick off, force a quick punt and get great field position to drive for the game-winning field goal. Teams seem to think they can go 80 yards for a touchdown, but not everyone can get that stubborn Dick LeBeau defensive look to hit Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown on one play.
The Patriots won the toss and received. Brady found Gronkowski for 16 yards, but followed with three straight incompletions. (Brady finished 22-of-46, so the Jets held him under 50 percent in both games this year.)
A 62-yard Ryan Allen punt into the end zone gave the Jets the ball at their own 20, only needing a field goal. Smith threw one pass on the drive, but it was a tough 12-yard completion in coverage to David Nelson. The Jets stuck with the ground game on eight straight plays (52 carries on the day), but that led to a 56-yard field goal attempt. I might have punted or gone for it on fourth-and-7 rather than try that kick, but Ryan went for the win.
Nick Folk was wide left, but we were introduced to a new, obscure rule that gave the Jets a second chance when Chris Jones was penalized 15 yards for pushing a teammate on the line into the offensive formation. After three essentially meaningless running plays into a stacked line, Folk was good on his 42-yard attempt to win the game.
An obscure rule helping a team win a game? It took nearly 12 years, but now the Patriots might understand what the Tuck Rule felt like, though this could never compare to a playoff game. Apparently the Patriots used the same technique late in their game against the Saints; if the penalty had been called then, that game may have been a loss. The Jets knew about this and may have tipped off the officials to look for the push. On the other hand, ESPN Boston reporter Mike Reiss went back to review the film and discovered that the Jets themselves used this technique on Gostkowski's game-tying field goal, with Quinton Coples pushing Muhammad Wilkerson. You know the Patriots will be watching for their opponents to use any pushing on any field goals for the entire rest of the season, and you can bet they themselves will never take that chance again.
Smith did little at the end of this game, but he does get credited with a fourth game-winning drive in just seven starts -- the fastest any rookie has made it to the mark. It's the 12th time a quarterback has led four game-winning drives through his team's first seven games:
|Four Game-Winning Drives in First Seven Games|
|Y.A. Tittle||1957||SF||8-4||Lost NFL-D|
|Charley Johnson||1966||SLC||8-5-1||No Playoffs|
|Jim Plunkett||1982||LARD||8-1||Lost AFC-D|
|Jeff George||1995||ATL||9-7||Lost NFC-WC|
|Daunte Culpepper||2000||MIN||11-5||Lost NFC-C|
|Vinny Testaverde||2000||NYJ||9-7||No Playoffs|
|Brad Johnson||2000||WAS||8-8||No Playoffs|
|Jake Delhomme||2003||CAR||11-5||Lost SB|
|Byron Leftwich||2004||JAC||9-7||No Playoffs|
|Josh Freeman||2010||TB||10-6||No Playoffs|
|Eli Manning||2011||NYG||9-7||Won SB|
Note: Charley Johnson (1966) reached his fourth game-winning drive in the fifth game of the season. Y.A. Tittle (1957) did it in game six, throwing four game-winning touchdown passes in a five-game span. The other 10 quarterbacks all reached their fourth game-winning drive in the seventh game of the season.
Those 11 teams all finished at least .500, so keep chugging away New York. Few would have predicted a 4-3 start.
The Patriots were just 1-of-12 on third down, which are the same exact numbers they had in Cincinnati. The Jets were 11-of-21. That's a losing formula for the Patriots. In fact, it's a losing formula for just about everyone, and the Patriots better improve it, because the Jets are now just one game back in the AFC East.
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (41-38)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.26
Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (32-83 at 4QC and 49-85 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III (4-7 at 4QC and 4-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
These teams combined for 86 points with neither leading by more than seven at any moment. It was mostly offense, though Brian Orakpo scored on a pick six thrown by Jay Cutler and Devin Hester went 81 yards on a punt for his 19th return touchdown. He now has the record at 20 if you include playoffs.
When Cutler left the game with a groin injury, this one could have calmed down, but backup Josh McCown did an adequate job. He completed 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. That's not bad for someone who hasn't done anything in the regular season since 2011.
Down 31-24 to start the fourth quarter, Matt Forte scored on a six-yard run to tie the game. Forte and Washington's Roy Helu each scored three rushing touchdowns on the day. The Redskins answered quickly with Robert Griffin III's 45-yard touchdown pass off play-action to Aldrick Robinson, who came down with the ball in between two defenders who played awful coverage. That includes Charles Tillman mistiming his jump.
The Bears answered with a 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould after pressure got to McCown on third down. Chicago recovered a surprise onside kick, but the Bears were offsides, negating the play. Washington went three-and-out. McCown went to his top receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and both answered with big runs after the catch. Brandon Meriweather did one of his classic illegal hits of a defenseless receiver, drawing a flag and surely some anger from Marshall.
On the next play Martellus Bennett was open for the touchdown with 3:57 left and Chicago led 41-38. Time to dust off those McCown comebacks. Nate Poole, anyone?
Washington had plenty of time. Tight end Jordan Reed was open over the middle for 26 yards. This Chicago defense is a bit soft and it goes well beyond Brian Urlacher's retirement. Griffin faced a huge third-and-5 at the Chicago 44 and tried to use play-action, but the Bears blew it up and forced him to scramble. He still found Pierre Garcon for seven yards and the conversion. Chicago had a third-and-1 chance, but Alfred Morris converted on the short run for nine yards.
The crucial play was third-and-4 at the Chicago 13. A stop would likely force a tie and overtime. Chicago rushed four, but Griffin had a perfect pocket and found Reed for 10 yards. Helu took it in from three yards out for the game-winning touchdown. Washington led 45-41.
On the kick return Hester threw a lateral all the way across the field and it actually picked up 25 yards. However, McCown needed to drive 62 yards in 33 seconds with one timeout. That's miracle territory. Two short passes to Forte did little, then a sack with the ball at the Washington 44 put an end to this one.
This would actually go down as the third lost comeback for McCown's career. For those curious, McCown is 3-12 (.200) at 4QC opportunities and 3-14 (.176) overall at 4QC/GWD. He had a fourth-quarter lead in 10 of those 14 losses, so even a journeyman quarterback can have his share of letdowns. That's also likely to happen when you play for the Cardinals and Raiders.
However, the biggest letdown from this one has to be Cutler suffering another serious injury that will keep him out at least a month when Chicago looked ready to make some noise in the NFC playoff race.
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.67
Head Coach: Doug Marrone (2-4 at 4QC and 2-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Thad Lewis (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It feels like eons ago when the Dolphins were 3-0, but that's what a bye week and three consecutive losses will do to a team. Speaking of three, Ryan Tannehill had his first game with three touchdown passes, but his three turnovers were the story in this one.
A pick-six on the opening drive and an uglier interception in the red zone by Tannehill saw the Bills jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on the road. Miami rallied in the second quarter before taking a 21-17 lead in the third.
Fred Jackson left the game earlier with an injury, but gutted it out to return. He carried the ball to the Miami four as the game went to the fourth quarter. Thad Lewis could not convert and the Bills settled for a 20-yard field goal. From here things got funky with the offenses. Lewis' next pass sailed 25 yards beyond his nearest teammate on the field. Perhaps a miscommunication, but a brutal-looking play regardless.
Speaking of brutality, once Miami did drive to Buffalo's 43, Mario Williams buried Tannehill on a sack to halt another scoring opportunity. Williams is up to 10 sacks now after 10.5 all of last season. Still, the Bills could only manage a three and out.
With 2:57 left and the ball at midfield, Williams made his biggest play yet for Buffalo, forcing a sack-fumble of Tannehill. The Bills took over at Miami's 34 in prime position for the winning drive. Jackson made it more likely when a great 10-yard run converted on third-and-4, draining Miami of its final timeout.
From there Tashard Choice got three straight handoffs as Lewis did not even drop back once. Dan Carpenter, the former Dolphin, kicked the 31-yard field goal with 33 seconds left for the 23-21 lead, but Marcus Thigpen returned the kickoff 44 yards to the Miami 46. Tannehill had 23 seconds left, but this was now doable.
Tannehill threw a dangerous near-interception on first down before coming up short on second down. Brian Hartline broke free down the left sideline, but Tannehill overthrew him. On fourth-and-ballgame, Tannehill escaped Williams in the backfield, but the Hail Mary to a crowd fell incomplete in the end zone. The game was over.
Tannehill was sacked twice only in the game this week (26 on the season), but both came at crucial times and that fumble is one that could haunt the Dolphins should this season continue spiraling downward.
I have often criticized Buffalo for being such a boring team to watch this century, but at least 2013 has provided a close finish every week. That will happen when you become just the sixth team ever to both score and allow at least 20 points in your first seven games.
The Colts ended Denver's perfect season because owner Jim Irsay got into Peyton Manning's head with his critical comments during the week. Maybe it was the video tribute before the game that got Manning too emotional and unfocused to play his former team. Maybe the crowd noise threw him off as he's used to silence when operating at Lucas Oil Stadium. Oh, maybe he just blew it because this was a playoff atmosphere and he's a lousy playoff quarterback. The Colts kept the window open because he's bad in cold weather too. Andrew Luck outclassed him with moxie and swagger.
Are there any more ridiculous narratives to throw at this one? Let's break down what really happened: two talented teams played a game and the Broncos made too many mistakes, thus they lost. In a 39-33 game filled with momentum swings and crucial plays, it would be foolish to focus on any one play or player as the reason the outcome is what it is.
For as good as the Broncos can be, they sure do make a lot of mistakes, which goes back to last season too. Manning was used to better ball security than this.
In Manning's last four seasons in Indianapolis (2007-10), the Colts lost 23 fumbles in 64 games. Since joining the Broncos, this team has lost 24 fumbles in 23 games.
We know fumble recoveries are luck-filled randomness, but not fumbling is a skill, and it's one apparently not possessed by Trindon Holliday, who fumbled another return that led to a short-field touchdown for the Colts.
Denver had three turnovers to just one for Indianapolis. That does not include a fourth drive where Robert Mathis recorded his record-tying 39th sack-strip, producing a safety when Manning lost the ball and it went in the end zone. The Colts took advantage by adding a touchdown to take a 19-14 lead in the second quarter.
The game was odd from the start with five of the first six plays being runs and both offenses going three and out. Denver actually went three and out six times, which was unexpected as the Colts are a mediocre defense at forcing quick punts.
Denver was missing both offensive tackles, but the loss of Ryan Clady had not been a problem until this week. The Colts abused left tackle Chris Clark and with right tackle Orlando Franklin out, guard Louis Vasquez moved to Franklin's spot and Chris Kuper had a lousy game at right guard. The Broncos could not run block as Knowshon Moreno was held to 40 yards in 15 carries. The line's musical chairs against an aggressive front produced more pressure than usual for Manning, which is a key to slowing this offense.
Manning was sacked four times for just the 14th time in his career (first time since 2007). According to ESPN, he was under duress on 17 of his 53 drop backs (32.1 percent) -- his highest total in nearly four years.
Irsay did not get to Manning -- the Colts defense did.
To me, it certainly looked after the safety like Manning did not trust his line, which helps explain the Denver offense faltering for a long stretch as Manning forced deep passes down the sidelines to well-covered receivers. He momentarily fell in love with checkdowns to the running backs. Nothing was working and that's when most of the three-and-outs occurred.
Luck faced his share of pressure too, though the return of Von Miller was not much of a factor in that. The difference between the quarterbacks is that Luck can run, which he did well again, especially on third down. In the third quarter he scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown, which gave the Colts a 33-14 lead with 20 minutes to play. At this point it was more than fair to say Luck was the best quarterback on the field as things were very one-sided.
But we know Denver can rally. Last year the Broncos came back from 24-0 in San Diego and also made a game of it against Atlanta, Houston and New England despite trailing by 17-plus points in the fourth quarter. The real narrative to put out there may be asking why this team gets behind by so many points almost every time it plays a top opponent.
With Denver driving, Eric Decker appeared to have a touchdown, but it was ruled incomplete apparently because of the Calvin Johnson rule. However, if you watch this play and watch Lance Moore's two-point conversion in Super Bowl XLIV (challenged by New Orleans and ruled a score), it's ludicrous that one play counts and the other does not. It was not a good night for the referees, who arguably botched as many as three touchdowns in the game. Denver ended up settling for the field goal, missing out on those four points.
The Colts negated that field goal with one of their own -- a 52-yard shot by Adam Vinatieri. Manning had 12:59 left and a 36-17 deficit. Decker bailed him out with a 49-yard catch on a wobbler, then after a near interception, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas with a slightly better duck for a 31-yard touchdown. That took 48 seconds. Thomas dropped the two-point conversion, so there's another mistake on a night filled with them.
Two plays later, the Colts made a mistake when Trent "3.0" Richardson fumbled and the Broncos were set up at the 23. This story started looking familiar. A big quarter for Wes Welker began with a clutch catch on fourth-and-1 for the conversion. Four plays later Moreno was in the end zone and we had a 36-30 game with 8:44 to play.
If there was ever a time when a power-running team needed to run the ball on third-and-1…, it was the Colts on their next drive. Instead, Luck threw short to Reggie Wayne, and Wayne tore his ACL trying to reach for the ball.
Manning had his chance now with 7:07 left and 85 yards away from the lead. After such a disastrous scene on the previous drive and the way Denver was moving it, the Broncos had all the momentum, right?
Well, momentum does not suddenly make Julius Thomas a good pass blocker. Erik Walden beat him to hit Manning as he threw and the pass floated to Pat Angerer for an interception. Comeback attempt thwarted after one play.
Luck helped the Broncos with two incompletions, including a very ill-advised throw on third down under pressure. Vinatieri made the field goal and it was 39-30 with 5:57 left. So it was still a game, even if things looked to be heading south after another sack of Manning. That's when Welker woke up and remembered who Darius Butler really was, starting with an incredible catch on third-and-16 for 24 yards. He later had catches of 13 and 25 yards, putting the ball at the two. There's someone out there named Gisele who was not amused.
Expecting a two-point game, the obligatory Denver fumble returned as Ronnie Hillman coughed it up. It looked like he put his hand on the ball on the ground, but the Colts took over. Two plays later Luck threw another bad incompletion, but a little flop at the end after a stupid push by Kevin Vickerson drew a roughing the passer flag to ruin any real chance for a great finish. The Colts punted three times thanks to penalties, which burned even more clock. Denver had 12 penalties for 103 yards on the night.
Manning had 88 seconds left and got the ball to the Colts' 29. They could have kicked the field goal with 58 seconds left, but he threw two dangerous incompletions before taking a third-down sack that burned a lot of time. Matt Prater nailed the 47-yard kick to make it 39-33, but only 12 seconds remained as another team wasted too much time trying to get the touchdown. The Colts were able to recover the onside kick to end a wild one.
After getting the "they beat up a weak schedule!" criticism for last year's 11-5 record, this year's Colts have knocked off the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos in impressive fashion. If you can beat those three teams, you can beat anyone in 2013. Of course this same team did just lose at San Diego in a 19-9 game and has now lost its most reliable receiver, so who knows what to expect anymore.
Denver had a great run of consistency, but the 17-game regular-season streak had to end eventually as no team could sustain that high level of play much longer. There are flaws with this team that will need correcting before January if they want to do something significant.
It does not seem possible in today's NFL that a team can start 7-0 despite the offense failing to score more than 24 points in any game. Even the 2008 Tennessee Titans got to 30 points by game four. Yet that's exactly what the Chiefs, one year removed from the worst season in franchise history, have done to this point. A big part of that is pedestrian quarterback play form Alex Smith.
Of course it helps to have the No. 1 scoring defense, but that unit has received a major boost by playing Jacksonville, Dallas, Philadelphia, the Giants, Tennessee (Ryan Fitzpatrick version), Oakland, and now a wounded Houston team, which lost Arian Foster (hamstring) early on Sunday after going into the game without starting quarterback Matt Schaub.
New Houston starter Case Keenum, a stat machine at the University of Houston, actually looked like the best quarterback on the field for much of the game. He did not throw an interception, let alone a pick-six like Schaub or T. J. Yates. Keenum finished 15-of-25 passing for 271 yards in his regular-season debut.
Tight end Garrett Graham may have cost Keenum two touchdowns with a drop in the first quarter (coming off Houston's beloved throw-back play) and an effort stopped at the one-yard line in the third quarter. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper knocked away a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins on third down, forcing a field goal.
Finishing one play short was the story of the day for the Texans. After forcing an incompletion from Smith on fourth-and-goal at the one, Keenum found Hopkins for 35 yards. The drive stalled with a third-down sack by Brandon Flowers as the corner blitz worked to perfection. J.J. Watt blew up Kansas City's drive for a quick three-and-out.
Keenum again took a third-down sack as guard Brandon Brooks watched Justin Houston blow past him. The Texans were fortunate to recover the fumble. Houston's defense needed another stop as linebacker Brian Cushing was lost with another devastating injury earlier in the game. On third down at the Houston 34, Smith threw an interception to Shiloh Keo with 5:47 to play.
But once again the Chiefs, Tamba Hali this time, ended the drive with a third-down sack. Smith threw a third-and-4 pass at the two-minute warning that would have iced it, but it was incomplete with Brice McCain outmuscling Dwayne Bowe, saving Keenum 40 seconds for one more shot. On a weekend where he mourned his father Bum's death, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can be more than satisfied with his unit's performance.
Keenum had 1:46 and no timeouts left at his own 10. He only needed a field goal, but the Chiefs' pass rush was nearly unstoppable in the fourth quarter. It only took two plays before Hali got around Derek Newton for a fifth sack and the forced fumble that ended the game after the Chiefs recovered.
After two shaky comeback wins to start 2-0, the Texans appear finished at 2-5 with plenty of question marks at the quarterback position. Keenum did more than enough to deserve another start following the bye week.
Kansas City's defense has thwarted four comeback attempts this season, including three weeks in a row, but this may have been the hardest yet given the one-point lead and Houston getting four drives, none of which made it past its own 43.
One season after 2-14 and not having a regulation lead until Week 10, the Kansas City Chiefs are the third team since 1935 to start 7-0 without allowing more than 17 points in any game, joining the 1953 Browns and 1978 Steelers.
How many simulations had to be run until one had the Chiefs as the last unbeaten team this year?
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 29
Game-winning drives: 37
Games with 4QC opportunity: 67/107 (62.6 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 14
11 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2013, 4:37am by agen 338a