Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Nov 2015

Clutch Encounters: Week 10 BUF-NYJ

by Scott Kacsmar

"When I was a kid I was into the Jets, and then I got older and I got into girls. And then, I got back into the Jets, because I realized there's times when a girl won't f*ck you, but the Jets will always f*ck you."

-- Comedian Artie Lange on a story his uncle told him about the Jets when he was younger.

Thursday night was one of the more important Bills-Jets games in years, yet neither team really looked like it wanted the win in the fourth quarter. New York's rally attempt from a 22-3 deficit got as close as 5 yards away from the lead, but the Jets' preference for moving backwards in those situations was something to behold. Rex Ryan got the win in his first game against his former team, but this was more of a Jets loss than a Bills win. Such an epic display of bad game management and poor ball security is worthy of its own Friday recap. We will look at the rest of Week 10's close finishes in Clutch Encounters on Tuesday as usual, but first a special edition of The Almost 19-Point Comeback.

Building the Lead

With the blitzes firing off early and the quarterbacks misfiring, this had the look of a punt-fest. The first score came on a drive where Eric Decker was ruled to have a first down on a third-and-7 even though he was clearly short and it should have been a three-and-out. Ryan challenged the call but somehow lost, and the Jets went on to kick a field goal.

Halfway through the second quarter, the game began to swing to the Bills. On third-and-18, Ryan Fitzpatrick threaded a pass to Brandon Marshall despite good coverage by Stephon Gilmore, but it went through Marshall's hands and he bobbled it to Corey Graham for an interception. Fitzpatrick has been getting away with dangerous throws this year, but this was in the only spot it could have been thrown. Marshall needed to make the play.

The Bills kicked a field goal after only gaining 5 yards. Rookie Devin Smith returned the ensuing kickoff from 5 yards deep in his end zone and spun out of one tackle, but was losing control as he went to the ground and Bacarri Rambo caused a fumble. Duke Williams had the scoop-and-score and the Bills led 9-3 after a missed extra point.

On their next drive, the Jets appeared to complete a pass to Decker to set up a third-and-4, but Ryan used his final challenge claiming that the ball had hit the turf. The replay official agreed and the call was changed to an incomplete pass, but Ryan had used his final challenge of the game to save 6 yards. The referees should have gotten the call right, but that was a poor use of a final challenge. Tyrod Taylor started getting better protection and made a few plays as the Bills pulled off a double-score on the Jets, scoring a field goal on the last drive of the first half and a touchdown on the first drive of the second, taking a 19-3 lead with 11:15 left in the third quarter.

According to CBS' Jim Nantz, more than 45 minutes of real time passed in between plays ran by the Jets offense. Chris Ivory entered the short week with two games this year with at least 15 carries and less than 1.2 yards per carry. No one else since 1960 has done that twice in a season, let alone in back-to-back games. He played much better here, but his next carry was a fumble forced by Rambo, who had a huge night. New York's defense held again for another field goal, but the Bills led 22-3 with just under 24 minutes to play. The fist-pumping Jets fan from the first half had nothing else to celebrate.

Fitzmagic, the Wrath of the Football Gods

(Yes, this section's title was a very obscure reference to Werner Herzog.)

To this point, Fitzpatrick was just 5-of-17 for 90 yards, but he had been playing better than that, especially for a guy about to undergo thumb surgery the day after the game. He needed another big rally, which has strangely been something tied to his career narrative. Everyone knows Fitzpatrick went to Harvard, but did you know that as a freshman he led a 21-ponit comeback win against Dartmouth in his first college start? Does anyone remember that his NFL debut off the bench for the 2005 Rams was a thrilling 21-point comeback to beat the Texans in overtime?

In his NFL career, Fitzpatrick has led his team to a win four times after trailing by at least 18 points. Only Drew Bledsoe and Matthew Stafford can also make that claim, so a fifth comeback here (down 19) would have been a new NFL record.

He gave this one a pretty good shot, but offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's play calling left a lot to be desired. The start of the comeback was good with a well-designed play leading to a 14-yard touchdown by an untouched Marshall. Down 19, despite its improbability, you have to think a field goal and a pair of touchdowns with two two-point conversions to tie. It is hard to understand why the Jets did not go for a two-point try here. The difference between trailing by 12 and trailing by 13 is insignificant, but only trailing by 11 has its advantages.

The Fourth Quarter: Negative ALEX

Two Fitzpatrick scrambles had the Bills moving again as the third quarter ended. On third-and-2 at the Buffalo 20, Fitzpatrick made another perfect throw just beyond the sticks, but Decker dropped the ball. In a 22-10 game with practically a quarter left, you can bet some NFL coaches would have kicked the field goal. Ryan had the Bills kick a field goal on fourth-and-8 while trailing by 14 points in London just a few weeks ago. But fourth-and-2 is rather enticing for an offense, and I find it hard to fault Todd Bowles for this decision to go for it.

The fault is with the horrible play. The Bills played man coverage on all of the receivers and left the middle of the field open while rushing six at Fitzpatrick. Marshall was in single coverage with rookie Ronald Darby, but as soon as Marshall took a step back for the quick smoke pass, Darby was ready for the tackle. The play actually lost 2 yards and Marshall was shaken up. Everything about this was bad for the Jets.

If you are going to throw short of the sticks like that, then throw a real screen pass to the left with blockers waiting instead of expecting Marshall to break a tackle or two to get at least 3 YAC. This is a minus-3 ALEX play. Here is what we have on fourth-and-2 passes from 2006-2014:

  • Thrown behind line of scrimmage (negative ALEX): 17-of-45 conversions (37.8 percent)
  • Thrown at the sticks (0 ALEX): 31-of-49 conversions (63.3 percent)
  • Thrown beyond the sticks (positive ALEX): 118-of-200 conversions (59.0 percent)

We only have five plays in our database that were exactly minus-3 ALEX on fourth-and-2, and just one of those passes went to a wide receiver. A Robert Griffin pass intended for Santana Moss was defensed in 2012. The other four passes went to running backs with three conversions. You really cannot justify a smoke pass there unless the cornerback had been giving the receiver a massive cushion.

New York answered Buffalo's three-and-out with one of its own after another short pass on third-and-4. Kenbrell Thompkins ran parallel with the line of scrimmage and was only able to gain 2 yards on the play. That was less egregious than the Jets' fourth-down play, but it was still disappointing.

Buffalo's offense had trouble beating the play clock, which was a common complaint about Greg Roman in San Francisco, and they went three-and-out again. Ivory may have gotten a favorable spot on a third-and-1, on the ensuing Jets drive, but there was nothing the Bills could do about that after they had mismanaged their resources. The Bills were out of timeouts with 10:46 left, and already out of challenges anyway.

Ivory got that carry on third-and-1, but Fitzpatrick is not a stranger to the quarterback sneak. However, when have you ever seen a quarterback audible to a sneak on third-and-10? Fitzpatrick did that from an empty backfield with a gaping hole in front of him. It would have been a brilliant call at half the distance, but Fitzpatrick only got a 6-yard gain to set up fourth-and-4. Very strange. (Fitzpatrick actually did a sneak on first-and-10 from the same formation last year against Tennessee when he was with Houston. The difference was that the ball was at his own 2-yard line, so you like to get that breathing room.) At least Fitzpatrick backed up that bizarre call with a brilliant fourth-down throw to Decker for a first down, then another great toss to Decker for a 31-yard touchdown.

The Jets now trailed 22-17 with 7:23 left. The Bills then went three-and-out for the fourth drive in a row with a good run stop on third-and-1 by the Jets. Not only were the Jets getting the ball back, but they got to start at the Buffalo 13 after a poor snap got past the punter for a 15-yard loss. Apologies again for the absence of win probability data this season, but the Jets looked to be in great shape.

Ivory was stuffed on a run to set up third-and-3 at the Buffalo 6. For the third time in the quarter, the Jets went with a negative ALEX pass in a crucial situation. This one may have been the worst yet since Decker ran into his teammate a bit, but it's not like he was trying to run into the flat on a pass that probably would have worked. No, Fitzpatrick threw it quickly and Decker was just standing there with two Bills all over him. That is unbelievably bad offense on a must-have type of play.

The weird part is Fitzpatrick entered Week 10 ranking fourth in ALEX (3.9), including top-10 rankings in both short and medium distances on third down. These are not the calls the Jets have been using this season, yet there were three such calls in huge situations in this game.

Another play the Jets almost never call this year: throwing the ball to tight end Kellen Davis, but he saw his fifth target of the season on fourth-and-4. Well, he actually failed to see the ball fast enough, which is why the pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

Four-Minute Offense

The Jets still had all three timeouts with 2:58 left, so this was not over. Taylor only completed six passes to his wide receivers for 33 yards on the night, but he picked the perfect time to find Sammy Watkins on third-and-2 after the wideout got away from Revis Island.

LeSean McCoy broke a 16-yard run for another first down, and the Bills were able to kill nearly all the clock before punting. The Jets' last hope was a miracle. Fitzpatrick got the ball back with 24 seconds left, needing to drive 64 yards. He was immediately intercepted by none other than Rambo.

Buffalo (5-4) technically moves into second place in the AFC East, and we very well could be watching these teams in the Week 17 Sunday night finale with a playoff spot on the line. If this game was any indication, they both have a lot of work to do.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 38
Game-winning drives: 43 (plus five non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 81/133 (60.9 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 19

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 13 Nov 2015

14 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2015, 7:13pm by Led

Comments

1
by Anon Ymous :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 11:09am

"Well, he actually failed to see the ball fast enough, which is why the pass fell incomplete in the end zone."

It seems more likely that he ran the wrong route and that was why he didn't make the catch. I don't have the play call, but can speculate based on two factors:

1) He picked Decker, who then slowed down thinking Davis was going to go to the corner.
2) Where and how he turned for the ball gave the defender all the leverage. No route concept would ever be designed this way.

Had he gone to the corner (or not stopped Decker from doing so) it would have been an easy TD.

12
by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 11/14/2015 - 12:41pm

He ran like he wasn't expecting to be thrown the ball.

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Who, me?

2
by D2K :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 11:11am

"Bacarri Rambo had the scoop-and-score and the Bills led 9-3 after a missed extra point."

While Rambo did have an excellent night, it was Duke Williams with the scoop and score, which Rambo caused the fumble.

It seemed like a typical Thursday Night game to me. Two teams off of the short week, solid running games with below average passing games. A road win against a division rival in prime time is always a good thing. Especially considering that these are the types of games that I have watched the Bills lose consistently over the last 14 seasons.

The bye week really helped the Bills as far as getting healthy but the most important change was tactical. The defense has resembled more of the 4-3 base with the wide 9 looks that Jim Schwartz incorporated last season when the Bills defense was excellent. Schematic changes like this prove to me that Rex is now willing to adapt to his talent as opposed to force feeding his scheme on the players.

A date with the Pats on Monday night next week should be fun. I like that the Bills are the beneficiary of the extra rest going into that game. Two wins in a row against division rivals (MIA/NYJ) is a nice stepping stone, but the Pats are still the class of the division/conference/league and if the Bills are going to take that next step they need to prove that they are at least capable of playing with them.

When healthy, I think they can.

3
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 11:51am

I like Taylor, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes (bad throws), but he takes way too many sacks. That may end up hurting them against New England. Anyway, they have a leg up on one of their primary rivals for the wild card.

4
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 11:55am

Good call. Had Rambo on the brain.

5
by Mugsy :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 1:03pm

As bad as the Kellen Davis throw was - I think it was the Devin Smith fumble that did them in. I think the Jets could have survived the incomplete pass -
but the fumble return for the TD was the nail in the coffin.

6
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 2:44pm

It was the worst play of the game, and the defining one, but the 4th down throw was the nail in the coffin. They failed to convert on two fourth downs in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and lost by 5. Either of those get converted, the Bills probably lose.

I don't think the throw to Kellen Davis was bad, the execution by Decker and Davis was horrible. The Marshall fourth and 2 play was Fitzpatrick's fault; Decker came open in the middle of the field on one of those y splits where the receiver goes where the defender is not, so Fitz should have known he'd probably be open past the first down.

I'm not as upset now as I was last night, because thinking about it, Bowles' process was not bad. The team made plenty of mistakes, but Bowles seems to have learned from his tactical mistakes in the Raiders game. This is only the first year of a rebuilding process; I realize the media believes this is a win now team, but it really isn't. Over the cap lists them at 122% committment index, just above the Pats. The only long term money doled out this offseason was to Revis and Skrine; Cromartie and Coples are as good as gone next year, and that's 15 million off the cap. They don't have a huge young nucleus like the Raiders, but they do have young veterans on the d-line and some in the secondary. As I posted in another thread last week, if they miss the playoffs they may get lucky and have Jared Goff staring them in the face on draft day.

13
by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 11/14/2015 - 12:44pm

I wouldn't blame Bowles and I can't even think why you would. I'd blame terrible play-calling (at least it seemed that to me and not decision-making), awful drops and turnovers.

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Who, me?

7
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 3:07pm

Heh, maybe this "skipping 3 nights of sleep" thing this week wasn't the smartest decision.

I completely forgot to even debate if the Jets should have kicked the FG on fourth down with 3:02 left. Short answer: absolutely have to think about it with the way they were stopping the Bills' offense. This was not the kind of idiocy the Falcons showed in SF on Sunday. The Jets had four clock stoppages left, so plenty of time to get the ball back for the GW FG. Granted, the Bills made plays to move that clock from 2:58 to 0:24, but maybe they would have played it differently (maybe tighter) if it was 22-20. Even if you had 24 seconds left at your own 36, that's still doable for FG range. So it was definitely worth thinking about. It was definitely better than throwing to Kellen Davis. It may not have been better than throwing to Decker or Marshall, however.

8
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 3:19pm

responded on tiwiuter but that fist ptumping guy in tebow jersey does not exist because guy was wearing Brandon marhsall jersey. CLEARLY was marshal;l jersey beucuause jets only wore this kelly green thingy last night. Tebow never wore it. Tebow is no longer playing football except maybe on his local high school field in preparation for nxet tranign camp fodder job

9
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 3:21pm

Raiders better rthan Jets and Bills so wioll seize wild crad spot with ease

10
by Mugsy :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 4:01pm

I cant argue with that RJ!

But I still think if the Bills didn't run that kick-return fumble in for a TD- well, take those 7 points away & what do you get? That return fumble was costly - giving the Bills 7 points. Take those 7 away from them & we have a different outcome.

Going for it on 4th down didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time. But today -- I sure wish they would have kicked the field goal -even with the scrub kicker that already missed 2 extra points this year!

11
by Octavian :: Fri, 11/13/2015 - 10:17pm

6. They missed the XP on that TD.

14
by Led :: Sat, 11/14/2015 - 7:13pm

Every KR the Jets put out there makes bad decisions. And the decisions are not that hard! If the ball comes down more than a yard or two in the endzone, take a knee. It's not like any of these guys are Gale Sayers anyway. I'm convinced that ST play is 80% coaching. With Bobby April, the Jets are bringing a knife to a gun fight. Every game.