Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 Sep 2015

Clutch Encounters: Week 2

by Scott Kacsmar

If we took half of Week 1 and expected the opposite result, then Week 2 would have been quite easy to predict. But it's not like we knew which half to believe in, and that's what made Week 2 such a difficult one for favorites and those in the predicting business. Some big Super Bowl favorites are 0-2, and the Colts are dead last in scoring with just 21 points. Travis Benjamin has to be exceeding expectations at a historic level while DeMarco Murray would need 28 more carries to match Eli Manning's rushing output at his current average. There is only an eighth of the regular-season puzzle completed, but you can already tell it is going to be a weird picture.

Week 2 already got off to a crazy start with Denver's comeback in Kansas City, which we detailed last Friday. There were nine more comeback opportunities on Sunday, including a game I guaranteed would show up in this column. That is where we start with a familiar ending for the Giants.

Game of the Week

Atlanta Falcons 24 at New York Giants 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (20-10)
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (2-0 at 4QC and 2-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (21-27 at 4QC and 28-27 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Tom Coughlin and the Giants are no strangers to making weird history, but no one wants to be the first 0-2 team in NFL history to blow a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of both games. It was just a year ago when the Falcons blew a 20-10 lead in MetLife Stadium in the Giants' 30-20 win, so payback has been made. Both of these teams have a similar makeup where they want to cut their teeth on defense, but the best thing they have going for them is their above-average quarterbacks throwing a lot of passes to their stud wide receivers. Julio Jones (135 yards) and Odell Beckham Jr. (146 yards) did not disappoint one bit. Both running games sure did, as Eli Manning would have been the Giants' leading rusher if not for a 35-yard run by Andre Williams. Otherwise the Giants had 20 handoffs for 39 yards, so maybe the Falcons are much improved defensively under rookie coach Dan Quinn.

Atlanta's defense may have saved the game in the third quarter while trailing 20-10. Manning was in the red zone on third down, and just as in Week 1 when he threw the ball away instead of taking a sack, he had no intention of sliding. He scrambled, but Kroy Biermann took him down from behind and stripped him of the ball. Matt Ryan then engineered a 91-yard drive with a great touchdown throw to Leonard Hankerson. Atlanta trailed 20-17 with 12:39 to play.

The Giants eventually had a fourth-and-3 at Atlanta's 39 with 8:12 left. When the identity of your team is your offense, this should be a spot where a team considers going for it. New York punted, and the results-oriented crowd will point to the great punt downed at the 2-yard line. There is a field position advantage to be had here, but we also often see a touchback and a net gain of 19 yards in this situation. It also took Ryan just one play to complete an 18-yard pass to Jones for breathing room. Atlanta eventually punted, and the Giants found themselves in a similar situation to last week's mess in Dallas with 4:24 left.

If the Giants spent any time this week going over the basics of clock management, it didn't really show on Sunday. With a big third-and-7, Manning took too long at the line to snap the ball, and the Giants were hit with a delay of game to bring up third-and-12. That's a lot tougher to convert, and the Giants didn't, prompting Atlanta to use its final timeout and get the ball back with 3:12 left -- plenty of time.

Ryan is often great in these situations, fully aware of the clock and what needs to be done. Landon Collins, the Giants' rookie safety, is still learning the basics of the pro game. He nearly made the all-time blunder reel by not tapping down Hankerson on a third-down conversion. You are not in college anymore. Hankerson got up and gained 8 more yards at the two-minute warning. I have actually seen people criticize Ryan for relying so much on kicker Matt Bryant in these situations. That was not the case here. Ryan threw a good deep ball and Jones beat Prince Amukamara for an apparent 38-yard touchdown. Why wouldn't a defense double-team the guy most likely to beat them in this situation? Beats me. On review, Jones was ruled down at the 1-yard line, which actually ended up costing the Giants 32 seconds and a precious timeout. They still had a chance to stop Devonta Freeman from scoring on the ground, but he got in with 1:14 to play.

On a drive that could have certainly redeemed him, Manning had two timeouts to drive 80 yards in 74 seconds. His brother Peyton was able to do this (with double the time) on Thursday night, and I looked at the 25 times he was in this situation: starting a drive down four to eight points and needing a touchdown in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. Over the weekend I looked at this for some other notable active quarterbacks to see how the rates of touchdowns stack up. Incredibly, Eli, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Joe Flacco all had a drive like this on Sunday. Ideally we would plug in the starting field position, time remaining, and score margin for each drive to find each quarterback's average win probability (WP), but we currently do not have a good WP source as Brian Burke is in the process of building new versions of his models at ESPN, and the old versions are no longer available at Advanced Football Analytics. Alas, here is the updated chart.

Oddly enough, the Manning brothers have had the most time on their drives, while Ryan has gotten the short end of the stick at just 40 seconds.

Eli had a tough one here, but he got a quick 30 yards from Robert Alford, who committed pass interference while trying to cover Beckham. That should have helped a lot, but Manning's accuracy failed him the rest of the way. He missed high and then wide out of bounds. On fourth-and-10, everyone probably expected Beckham to be the target. Where else could Manning have gone? Victor Cruz was still out with an injury. The Giants didn't think James Jones was worth a roster spot. Rueben Randle was very quiet with one catch on the day. That left Preston Parker, who has struggled to catch the ball this season. Manning's pass was low and Parker couldn't make the below-the-waist catch that you hardly ever see in the NFL. And there is one of the toughest 0-2 pills a team has ever had to swallow.

Ryan's 29th game-winning drive and 22nd fourth-quarter comeback win gives him the most in NFL history through a quarterback's first eight seasons. The 2015 Falcons are the 21st team since 1960 to have a fourth-quarter comeback win in each of their first two games. Thirteen of the 20 previous teams failed to make the playoffs, and only four won at least 10 games.

4QC Win in First Two Games (Since 1960)
Quarterback(s) Year Team Final Record Result
Charley Johnson 1966 STLC 8-5-1 No Playoffs
Kent Nix 1971 CHI 6-8 No Playoffs
Steve Bartkowski 1979 ATL 6-10 No Playoffs
Brian Sipe 1979 CLE 9-7 No Playoffs
Doug Williams 1980 TB 5-10-1 No Playoffs
Turk Schonert/Ken Anderson 1981 CIN 12-4 Lost Super Bowl
Lynn Dickey 1982 GB 5-3-1 Lost NFC-DIV
Steve DeBerg 1983 DEN 9-7 Lost AFC-WC
Boomer Esiason 1990 CIN 9-7 Lost AFC-DIV
Brad Johnson 1996 MIN 9-7 Lost NFC-WC
Drew Bledsoe 1999 NE 8-8 No Playoffs
Vinny Testaverde 2000 NYJ 9-7 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2007 DEN 7-9 No Playoffs
Alex Smith 2007 SF 5-11 No Playoffs
Jake Delhomme 2008 CAR 12-4 Lost NFC-DIV
Michael Vick 2012 PHI 4-12 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2013 CHI 8-8 No Playoffs
Matt Schaub 2013 HOU 2-14 No Playoffs
Nick Foles 2014 PHI 10-6 No Playoffs
Carson Palmer/Drew Stanton 2014 ARI 11-5 Lost NFC-WC
Matt Ryan 2015 ATL TBD TBD

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Seattle Seahawks 17 at Green Bay Packers 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy (15-35-1 at 4QC and 21-37-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (9-27 at 4QC and 13-29 overall 4QC/GWD record)

With these two teams being the favorites in the NFC, this was clearly the biggest game of the first two weeks. So what was missing? Kam Chancellor and Jordy Nelson for starters, but both teams did a good job of replacing them. Most teams who fall behind 10-0 in Green Bay end up getting hit with an avalanche of points, but Seattle hung in there and eventually took a 17-13 lead in the third quarter. Earlier in the broadcast, NBC's Al Michaels incorrectly said that the Packers have had a lead at some point in 50 consecutive games. He must have been peeking at the notes on Seattle, which tied the 2003-06 Colts for the NFL record at 50 regular-season games with a lead. This spans the entire Russell Wilson era, and when adding in the eight playoff games, Seattle's streak of 58 games with a lead is the NFL's all-time record. That goes to show just how consistently great this team has been.

However, taking a 17-16 lead into the fourth quarter is not going to cut it in Green Bay, especially when Aaron Rodgers has the ball. In his career, Rodgers has had 15 drives in the fourth quarter when trailing by one or two points. He has led the Packers to:

  • Eight touchdown drives (five game-winning touchdown drives)
  • Three field goals (one game-winning field goal)
  • One missed 52-yard field goal by Mason Crosby (at Minnesota in 2008)
  • One interception (at Tampa Bay in 2008)
  • One turnover on downs (at Kansas City in 2011)
  • One sack on third down leading to punt (at Indianapolis in 2012)
  • Total: 11 go-ahead scores on 15 opportunities

This latest drive actually looked a lot like Rodgers' game-winning drive in January against Dallas in what was also a 1-point game. Both were done exclusively out of the shotgun and no-huddle. Against Dallas, Rodgers was 7-of-7 for 78 yards and a touchdown to Richard Rodgers with 9:10 left. On Sunday night, Rodgers was 8-of-8 for 78 yards and a touchdown to Richard Rodgers with 9:28 left.

The big difference here was that Green Bay made the two-point conversion to take a 24-17 lead. Under Mike McCarthy the Packers have passed on all 19 of their two-point conversion attempts, and had only converted 2-of-10 since 2011 on those plays. This one worked with Rodgers going back to Rodgers, who caught it even though Bobby Wagner was draped over him.

Wilson drove the Seahawks close to midfield, but his attempt at a screen pass was pulled in with one hand by Jayrone Elliott for a big interception. Rodgers converted a third-and-6 pass that basically allowed Green Bay to run the clock down to the two-minute warning and kick a field goal for a 27-17 lead. Seattle has used both a Hail Mary and an onside kick to beat Green Bay in the past, but likely would have needed to pull off both here. There would be no such drama this time after Fred Jackson fumbled at the Green Bay 32 to end the game.

The mental hurdle of beating the Seahawks alone was important, but the win effectively gives Green Bay a three-game lead over Seattle for home-field advantage in the NFC. That is a pretty big reward for a Week 2 win.

Baltimore Ravens 33 at Oakland Raiders 37

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (33-30)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (20-42 at 4QC and 30-42 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (2-5 at 4QC and 2-5overall 4QC/GWD record)

Baltimore and Oakland left the offenses at home in Week 1. Oakland allowed 33 points for the second week in a row, but Baltimore's defense was nowhere to be found on Sunday, and it's not like Terrell Suggs (out with an Achilles injury) single-handedly makes that big of a difference. Sometimes you'll see an NBA team get the opponent to match their tempo in a game. I think this happens once in a while in the NFL too. Baltimore's loss in Denver in Week 1 was a very defensive game embraced by both sides. This one was more of a wild shootout with big passing plays and both quarterbacks going over 350 yards. Receivers young and old were making great catches, and neither quarterback was under a lot of pressure.

Still, it's about as odd to see Baltimore allow 37 points as it is to see Oakland score 37 points. Coming into this one the Raiders had lost 38 consecutive games when allowing at least 33 points. The last win was in 2004 when Kerry Collins and Billy Volek had a quarterback duel for the ages with Jerry Porter and Drew Bennett as their targets.

That game serves as a reminder that big passing numbers can happen on any given Sunday, but this felt like a big step forward in Derek Carr's development. The win was certainly no fluke, with the Raiders twice leading by 10 points and controlling play for much of the day. The Ravens had to claw back in the fourth quarter to force a 30-30 tie. That's when Carr made a mistake by not stepping into a throw. The ball floated, Michael Crabtree fell down, and Will Hill came away with the interception. Oakland's defense held with a little good fortune when Joe Flacco had Steve Smith wide open for a touchdown, but Smith was unable to get his second foot down in the end zone. Baltimore settled for a field goal in the red zone for the second time in the quarter to take a 33-30 lead.

Carr had 2:10 left from his 20, only needing a field goal to tie. He engineered a nice drive into the red zone, but appeared to throw the game away with another interception to Hill, who then nearly went from hero to goat by fumbling the pick, but it was all moot. Hill was rightfully penalized for defensive holding and the Raiders had another life. On the very next play Seth Roberts ran a pretty simple route and was wide-open for the 12-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. Kyle Arrington was just left watching on the play.

Flacco needed a miracle, but Neiko Thorpe killed that dream right away with his first career interception to clinch the win. The defense still needs a lot of work, but Oakland may actually have an offense capable of pulling these games out from time to time now. The Ravens have some question marks at 0-2, and we'll quickly get some answers with games against the Bengals and Steelers up next.

Miami Dolphins 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 23

Type: GWD
Head Coach: Gus Bradley (2-8 at 4QC and 3-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Blake Bortles (1-4 at 4QC and 2-4overall 4QC/GWD record)

The final 25 minutes of this game was largely a 20-20 stalemate and bland punt-fest. Miami has incorporated a lot of Chip Kelly's principles into its offense with Bill Lazor coordinating things the last two years, but Sunday they looked too much like the 2015 Eagles. Miami abandoned the run and the offensive line wasn't much help, drawing two holding penalties and allowing two sacks in the fourth quarter alone. Ryan Tannehill had a little too much trust in left tackle Jason Fox, who was subbing for the injured Branden Albert, deep in his own territory. Former Dolphin Jared Odrick picked a big spot to make his first sack with the Jaguars, stripping Tannehill of the ball on a blind-side hit. Fox was able to recover the ball at the 1-yard line, keeping possession for the fortunate Dolphins with fewer than three minutes to play.

The drive was still a three-and-out and Jacksonville took over at its own 24 with 1:48 left. Now, Blake Bortles had been sacked at least twice in 12 straight games, and at least four times in eight consecutive games. Despite all the money spent on Ndamukong Suh this offseason, though, Miami didn't sack Bortles once and only registered three quarterback hits on the day. With better protection and Allen Robinson having a breakout day, Bortles probably just put together the best day of his career, but he needed one more scoring drive to top it off.

Bortles made a few good throws to reach the Miami 40, but that's when Olivier Vernon lost his mind for Miami. Instead of letting Jacksonville deal with a third-and-5 in long field goal range with a shaky kicker, Vernon just had to shove a player down after he was pushed a little at the end of the play. They always seem to catch the second guy, and this was just a horrible spot to take a stupid 15-yard penalty. Miami still had all three timeouts, but Jacksonville did the smart thing and just ran three straight times. Only a stop on third-and-1 gave the Dolphins some hope of getting a shot to answer. Jason Myers was good on the 28-yard field goal with 40 seconds left.

After a touchback, Miami needed at least 45 yards to give itself any decent shot at the tying kick. The Dolphins didn't gain a first down. Tannehill had a hard time getting rid of the ball on third-and-1, then his fourth-down pass was knocked away to clinch the win for Jacksonville. The Joe Philbin era has been filled with games where the Dolphins just couldn't close, but this was a game they were expected to win. Maybe the Redskins (who played Miami tough in Week 1) and Jaguars are better teams than expected in 2015, or maybe the Dolphins still are not good enough to get over the hump in the AFC. This has not been an encouraging start.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Chargers at Bengals: Always Close (Except in January)

Relax, Cincinnati fans. The title is just as much a reference to the Freezer Bowl as it is the playoff loss to San Diego in the 2013 season, both decided by 17-plus points.

Sunday was the seventh time Marvin Lewis coached the Bengals against San Diego in the regular season, and all seven meetings were one-score games at some point in the fourth quarter. The Bengals are now 5-2 in these games. The 24-19 final somewhat conceals an offensively-driven game with both teams losing two fumbles and missing a field goal. Andy Dalton hit a big throw to Tyler Eifert on a third-and-9 for a touchdown to take a 24-13 lead with 8:49 left. Eifert has been a real difference maker so far this season. He was quiet as a rookie as he split duties with Jermaine Gresham, then he missed almost all of last year with an injury. That's pretty helpful to Dalton when you can line up out wide and beat Brandon Flowers in the end zone for a touchdown. This passing offense doesn't have to just be about A.J. Green now.

Philip Rivers has completed 81.2 percent of his passes in 2015, the highest mark through two games (minimum 25 attempts) since at least 1960. Sounds great, right? It's not as impressive when you consider the fact that Rivers is throwing his average pass a league-low 4.9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The league average is 8.0 yards, so this is taking the dink-and-dunk offense to another level. While Detroit's secondary allowed Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson to combine for 21 catches and 248 yards last week, Cincinnati was much stingier, limiting the duo to seven catches for 61 yards.

Cincinnati's defense really stepped up in the fourth quarter as Rivers' offensive line was failing him with a sack allowed on third down and three penalties. Dre Kirkpatrick knocked away a rare deep ball to Malcom Floyd, but San Diego went right back to that matchup three plays later for a 40-yard touchdown. Rivers has thrown just three passes deeper than 20 yards this season, all to Floyd, and two were on this drive. The two-point conversion pass was a bubble screen to Allen, but the Bengals' cornerbacks were all over him to stop him short of the end zone. San Diego trailed 24-19 with 4:20 left.

Cincinnati then went conservative, with five handoffs to Giovani Bernard. You would like to see a little more risk with just a 5-point lead, but the key to the drive was Corey Liuget blowing up a first-down run for a 5-yard loss, which really limits the offense's strategy. The Bengals punted and Rivers had 1:09 left to drive 80 yards. Danny Woodhead did an incredible job to turn a short pass into an 11-yard gain and get out of bounds to stop the clock. Rivers then forced a really bad throw into a sea of orange and Vincent Rey came up with the game-ending interception.

Buccaneers at Saints: A Bunch of Nine Inch Nails Album Titles

With things falling apart for Rob Ryan's fragile defense and the offensive line appearing broken, the Saints continue to slip into a downward spiral. See, you can use a bunch of Nine Inch Nails album titles to describe this team right now. Any more home losses and the New Orleans faithful may turn into their own pretty hate machine by wearing paper bags over their faces to games again. This has to hurt after a sustained period of success. Since beating up on Green Bay last October, the Saints have gone 0-6 in the Superdome, including a loss to each of their NFC South division rivals. That is the team's worst streak since the 1980 season, which was the brown bag year itself as the Saints finished 1-15.

Tampa Bay was destroyed in Week 1 by Tennessee, but went on a 20-0 scoring run here to take a stunning 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Drew Brees and his defense tried to rally the Saints, but Zach Hocker missed a 42-yard field goal and had an extra point blocked. That was counterproductive, as was Mark Ingram's fumble in a 23-19 game with just 2:58 left. The defense held the Buccaneers to a field goal and Brees had his shot: down 26-19, a timeout, 1:51 and 80 yards to go.

The drive was moving before a New Orleans penalty, then right tackle Zach Strief was beat by Jacquies Smith for a third sack on the day. The Saints overcame a second-and-24 situation, but were running out of time at midfield. Smith was in there for another strip-sack, but he was penalized for being offsides. Still, that burned off nine seconds. Brees completed a pass to Brandin Cooks to put the ball at Tampa Bay's 27 with eight seconds left, or two cracks at the end zone. Neither really had much of a shot. Brees almost took another sack before the final Hail Mary, but he threw it too far to the back of the end zone and no one on his offense was able to make a play. If Seattle is not going to use Jimmy Graham, then the Saints sure would have loved to have him on that drive.

Jameis Winston certainly made up for a rough debut with a much cleaner, efficient performance, but the Buccaneers are still a work in progress. It's just hard to believe the Saints might be an even bigger project. With reports that Drew Brees has a shoulder injury -- he has never missed a start due to injury in his career -- things may be getting worse for the Saints. Further down the spiral.

Texans at Panthers: Ugly Football Still Needs an Audience

The main attraction these teams have in 2015 may be watching J.J. Watt and Luke Kuechly hit people. Kuechly missed this game with a concussion, and Watt had a "quiet" game by his standards, which still meant a sack and two passes defensed. No one really wants to pay top dollar to come see Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton complete less than half of their passes while relying on the likes of Chris Polk and Ted Ginn.

Naturally, this one was fairly tight for all 60 minutes. Carolina led 17-10 to start the fourth quarter and Houston had several chances to answer. Mallett's accuracy was all over the place in his third career start, taking over for the benched Brian Hoyer. A bad interception by Mallett was immediately turned into a 36-yard touchdown from Newton to Philly Brown, who beat Johnathan Joseph on the play.

To Mallett's credit, he led the offense quickly down the field and scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth down to keep this one alive with 6:31 left. The special teams helped out too by blocking a 53-yard field goal from Graham Gano with 2:44 left. Mallett only needed to drive 57 yards now, but his longest gain on the final drive was 15 yards on a roughing the passer penalty. That is not a good sign of a successful drive. From the 14-yard line, you could live with a couple of jump balls to DeAndre Hopkins, who has a great catch radius. Mallett instead got into trouble and took an intentional grounding penalty to lose 12 yards and cost the Texans their final timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. The officials took forever to get this correct, but the right call was made. On fourth-and-16, Mallett moved away from Carolina's four-man rush and finally fired a pass to Hopkins in the back of the end zone, but it was off the mark (possibly even tipped) and Carolina quietly improved to 2-0.

Patriots at Bills: Buffalo Woke Up Late for Rex Ryan's Super Bowl

Rex Ryan tends to treat these games against the Patriots as his Super Bowls. So maybe it's fitting that his first one on the Buffalo side looked like some of Buffalo's lopsided Super Bowl losses from the 1990s. Down 37-13 to start the fourth quarter, the Bills were actually in worse shape than they were in Super Bowl XXVII when they trailed Dallas 31-17 with the ball and 11:46 left. Yes, it actually was that close. There is some great sideline audio out there from NFL Films from the Dallas sideline in saying how this isn't Houston and backup quarterback Frank Reich wasn't going to lead another miracle comeback. Dallas won 52-17.

On Sunday, after the Bills made it 37-25 with 5:27 left, this one still felt like a rout in the way Super Bowl XXVI was, when Washington beat Buffalo 37-24. Then Jerry Hughes stripped Tom Brady from behind and the Bills took over at the 50. Tyrod Taylor hit two big passes in 15 seconds, including a 26-yard touchdown to Sammy Watkins, and we had a 37-32 ballgame with 4:16 left.

New England has been in as many four-minute offense situations as anyone over the years, though the results have not been as favorable as expected. One definite finding is that they are as willing to throw on early downs as much as anyone, and Brady came out doing just that on a day when he threw 59 passes. For reference, Aaron Rodgers has seven career passes on first or second down in the final 4:00 of the fourth quarter when leading by one to eight points. Brady had three on this drive alone, including an incredible catch by Danny Amendola.

But that number doesn't include the first-down pass with 4:16 left to start the drive. That also technically doesn't count a huge play on the drive: Brady's 22-yard throw to Dion Lewis was negated by pass interference on Nigel Bradham. In the second quarter Lewis beat Bradham down the other sideline for a 40-yard gain. Last season against Ryan's Jets, Brady threw a pass 48 yards in the air for a touchdown to Shane Vereen, who lined up out wide. That one was blown coverage, but it is the second-longest pass by air yards in our database to a running back from 2006 to 2014. It's a wonder why more teams don't try to get their receiving back in single coverage against a linebacker.

The Patriots settled for a field goal and Buffalo had a tough situation: down 40-32 with 1:15 and no timeouts left with 80 yards to go. Taylor just has not been in this situation that often. He bypassed the open running back for a long pass, but overthrew Watkins and Logan Ryan came down with the tipped interception to clinch another New England win. Watkins has made tougher catches before, but that was a bad throw and the third pick of the day for Taylor, who also suffered eight sacks. As the story is often written, the Patriots were too good for the Bills on Sunday.

Rams at Redskins: That's Why You're Always 8-8

Newton's fourth law: Jeff Fisher teams must never stray too far from 8-8 so he can keep his tenure. Too many losses and he will no longer be able to provide the false hope that he actually knows what he's doing. Fifty games into his Rams career, Fisher has only one three-game winning streak. After last week's big win over Seattle, the Rams fell flat on their faces in Washington. Between the 17-0 halftime deficit and 24-10 final, I didn't even know this was a game I had to write about until well after it was over.

Yet there were the Rams in a 17-10 game with 12:15 left and the ball at their own 20. Tavon Austin took an end around for 11 yards and actually led the team in rushing with 40 yards on the day. This Washington defense may be better than expected, though it's hard to tell since the Dolphins and Rams are basically the same team in different conferences: hype to the moon when the ceiling doesn't go above 8-8. At this point it is good to remember just how inconsistent Nick Foles has been in his career. He stepped up on a third down against Washington's four-man rush, but he is not fast enough to scramble for 6 yards. A little spin attempt and he was taken down after a yard before the Rams punted.

This game was also a reminder that Kirk Cousins has legit throwing talent and can get rid of the ball well. He just has to avoid turnovers, and he did on the day with a 23-of-27 passing performance. Oh, even this "fourth-quarter guy" is aware Trumaine Johnson dropped an interception in the second quarter, but Cousins avoided the devastating plays. His 29-yard gain on a short throw over the middle to Jordan Reed on third-and-5 was a game-changing play with less than six minutes left. However, Cousins wasn't even the story of the day. Rookie running back Matt Jones, a third-round pick from Florida, stole the show with 123 rushing yards on 19 carries. His second touchdown gave the Redskins a 24-10 lead with 2:38 left. The Rams turned the ball over on downs after good pressure from Chris Baker.

While Fisher's Rams look destined for mediocrity again, the Redskins can approach Thursday night's game with the Giants as a big opportunity. The dynamics of the NFC East changed completely on Sunday with the Giants blowing another lead and the Tony Romo injury. As the differences between Week 1 and Week 2 reminded us, things are always changing quickly in the NFL.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 9
Game-winning drives: 8 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 19/32 (59.4 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 5

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 22 Sep 2015

10 comments, Last at 25 Sep 2015, 3:46pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by RickD :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 4:01pm

The Rams behave like a seagull in a flock...always trying to find the middle of the flock where they are safest from predators.

2
by Led :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 4:19pm

Jeff Fisher is a devoted follower of Aristotle, always seeking the Golden Mean. The DLine is golden, and Gregg Williams is just mean.

3
by johonny :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 6:24pm

You wonder what Ryan Tannehill would look like behind a good offensive line. With Albert the Dolphins line appears shaky despite a ton of high draft picks composing it. Without Albert they make opponents feel like they're the '85 Bears. You have to fear for Tannehill's life with the Bills and Jets coming to town the next two weeks.

4
by James-London :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:26am

Miami's inability to put together a competent O-line is going to be one of the primary reasons that Joe Philbin will lose his job. If the Bills don't kill him first, Tannehill might not make it out of London alive.

That said, Tannehill had Landry open on the sideline at the marker on those last 3rd & 4th downs and didn't see him or chose to ignore him. Either time a completion gets the first down and stops the clock; not making either throw is on the QB.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

6
by cjfarls :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 5:35pm

While true, I'm always hesitant to make those judgements.

We're can not be sure what his progression of reads was, and if Landry wasn't open when he was reading that route, it may just be bad luck. The coaches certainly know though, so they can judge where the failure was.

5
by Peregrine :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 1:20pm

Thanks for the table on needed TD drives with 3 minutes or less. Seems like even for the top QBs, they only get that TD a third of the time.

7
by nat :: Thu, 09/24/2015 - 10:30am

I like the concept of looking at do-or-die TD drives. But it turns out this is way too sensitive to time remaining to be useful.

Looking at http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/drive_finder.cgi for the last ten seasons (2005-2014) the league success rate for drives starting with 1:00 or less remaining is just 5%. For 1:01 to 2:00 remaining, the success rate is 16%. For 2:01 to 3:00 the success rate is 34%.

Looking closer, with 0:30 or less remaining, there was just one TD in 85 drives. From 0:31-1:00 the success rate is 10%.

So, other than noting that Flacco is awesome at this, with his jump-ball receivers and excellent long ball, it's really kinda useless.

At the very least, this would be better with a 0:31 to 3:00 range. Even then, it would be too sensitive to the time remaining to tell us much.

8
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 09/24/2015 - 11:35am

Really wish PFR would add a second row to the time constraint so you can search for something like > 0:30 and < 3:00.

Drives starting < 30 seconds included above
Peyton - 2 (others: 55+ seconds)
Brady - 2 (others: 57+ seconds)
Ben - 0 (a 0:36 and 0:46, others 62+ seconds)
Rodgers - 2 (others: 45+ seconds)
Brees - 5 (others: 48+ seconds) (!!!)
Rivers - 2 (others: 58+ seconds)
Romo - 2 (others: 44+ seconds)
Eli - 1 (others: 52+ seconds)
Ryan - 3 (here's all 7: 0:05, 0:06, 0:28, 0:37, 0:38, 0:59, 1:50)
Flacco - 4 (others: 43+ seconds)

So about 26 drives here under 40 seconds (17.4% of sample). The NFC guys getting the short end minus Eli.

9
by nat :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 11:53am

Of course, you'd also have to look at the longer drives: 2:00-3:00. These are the drives with enough time remaining that they are actually easier to score a TD on then normal drives.

Peyton: 11
Rivers: 8
Eli: 6
Roethlisberger: 5
Brady: 4
Flacco: 3
Romo: 2
Rodgers: 1
Brees: 1
Ryan: 0

Peyton's 4 of 11 success rate (36%) on drives starting with 2:00-3:00 left is as close to the league average of 33% as he could get. But it makes his 0:01 to 3:00 number look better to include them.

I won't say that you were cherry picking to use the 3:00 minute time range. (Were you? I suspect including the next half minute would change many of your rankings, as would dropping to 2:30.) Punts and field goals remain relatively rare starting drives with 4:00 or even 5:00 left.

But this does show how this kind of "Clutch Encounters" analysis has huge pitfalls. The sensitivity to the choice of time range is just too high.

10
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 09/25/2015 - 3:46pm

I've written in the past most of these great TD drives don't start in the last 2:00 like they're commonly thought of. SB 42's drive was 2:39 left for Eli and the Giants. A year later (albeit down 3 and not 4-8), Ben's drive vs. Arizona started at 2:30. Even the Montana-led drive vs. Bengals was 3:20 (and likely a few seconds less due to the kickoff's elapsed time not being recorded back then).

You want to limit it to a time where punting is pretty much out of the question. Only one drive in this table ended with a punt, and that was 2008 Chargers vs. Atlanta. A real no man's land situation: punted on 4th-and-19 from own 10 with 2:06 and two timeouts left, losing the two-minute warning on the kick. Didn't get the ball back either in 22-16 loss.

So it's always going to be presented as something round like 2:30 or 3:00. I feel like most offenses don't try to really hurry up until it gets around the two-minute warning too, so that 2:00-3:00 range isn't always used for a lot of plays.

Field position matters a lot too, but again, we don't have a WP substitute ready, or else I probably would have just crunched the WP on every drive and taken care of the time and LOS.

And Peyton is not 4/11 in 2:00-3:00 range. He's 6/13, including 0/3 when it's 2:40-3:00.