Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Sep 2016

Clutch Encounters: Week 1

by Scott Kacsmar

Week 1 really delivered on close finishes, with 13 of the first 14 games featuring a game-winning drive opportunity. Who knew Denver's 21-20 escape on Thursday night would lead into such a similar Sunday? The nine fourth-quarter comebacks are the most ever in an opening week, and one off the all-time single-week record of 10 achieved in Week 3 of the 2011 season. Unless your team was Cleveland or one of Monday night's losers, they had a chance to win.

After one of the most competitive weeks in NFL history, the greatest thing I saw still happened in the college game with Central Michigan's "Hail Mary Lateral" to beat Oklahoma State on Saturday. This is something we should see teams experiment with in desperate situations. The closest play in recent NFL seasons (which really was not close at all) was David Garrard's Hail Mary getting deflected to Mike Thomas in a 2010 win over the Texans. But CMU's miracle (and I understand it should not have counted due to a misapplied rule) serves as a reminder of what is possible in this game as long as there is time on the clock.

Of course it helps to save timeouts for late in the game, and it is hard to recall another week in the NFL with such poor timeout usage. The Saints, Jets, Chargers, Jaguars, and Bills all had one or zero timeouts left heading into the final five minutes of their games. All of these teams lost, and there were also questionable strategies from usual contenders in Carolina, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Arizona. We'll always hold coaches accountable here for mismanaging the clock, but things were especially bad to start the season.

Game of the Week

Oakland Raiders 35 at New Orleans Saints 34

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 11 (24-13)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (24-50 at 4QC and 33-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (6-13 at 4QC and 6-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Rarely does a game go as expected, but this was an offensive shootout that went down to the final snap. The final nine drives featured five touchdowns, two field goals, and two big missed field goals by rookie Saints kicker Will Lutz. For as brilliant as Drew Brees (423 yards and four touchdown passes) was again, the Saints let him down with another poor defensive showing. Oakland trailed by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but an unexpected 75-yard touchdown explosion from Jalen Richard helped tie the game. The Saints went back up 34-27 following a fortunate fumble recovery by Michael Thomas after Willie Snead (who was fantastic with 172 yards) lost the ball.

Oakland had 6:03 to answer and decided to take its time, or one could argue that New Orleans finally showed some resistance. On fourth-and-5 at the Saints' 18, Derek Carr's late floater to Richard sailed out of bounds, but Craig Robertson was penalized for pass interference. Let's look at the play.

I think the Saints were hosed here. An exact definition of an "uncatchable" pass is conspicuously missing from the NFL's rule book, but that judgment call should have been applied here, negating any contact by the defender that would have normally been illegal if the pass had been catchable. It would have taken an act of God for Richard to catch that pass. Oakland was rewarded for a bad throw, and while this was not a definite game-ender given the Raiders' three timeouts, it is troublesome that the official's judgment was so poor on such an important play.

Two plays later, Carr threw a 10-yard touchdown to Seth Roberts, and coach Jack Del Rio, known for some gambles in Jacksonville, was adamant on going for the 2-point conversion with 47 seconds left. Michael Crabtree came down with the ball for the 35-34 lead, but was it the right call? By now, you are probably aware of ESPN's analysis (written by Brian Burke) that the Raiders had a higher win probability (51 percent) by kicking the extra point than they did going for two (44 percent). Del Rio is obviously proud of his decision because it worked, but would he be tweeting if the play had failed? This was the ninth do-or-die conversion attempt since 1994, and the fourth success.

Do-or-Die 2-Point Conversions Since 1994
Team Date Opp. Week Time Left Result
JAC 11/19/1995 at TB 12 0:37 Fail, L 17-16
CHI 10/12/1997 GB 7 1:54 Fail, L 24-23
MIN 12/15/2002 at NO 15 0:05 Success, W 32-31
TB 11/13/2005 WAS 10 0:58 Success, W 36-35
DEN 9/14/2008 SD 2 0:24 Success, W 39-38
KC 11/9/2008 at SD 10 0:23 Fail, L 20-19
HOU 1/1/2012 TEN 17 0:14 Fail, L 23-22
WAS 12/15/2013 at ATL 15 0:18 Fail, L 27-26
OAK 9/11/2016 at NO 1 0:47 Success, W 35-34

If Oakland had played for the tie, the Saints would have likely been conservative with zero timeouts left. The game would likely have gone to overtime, where the home team has gone 44-29-3 (.599) under the current system. But by going for the lead, Del Rio would give Brees 47 seconds to aggressively drive for the win. Given that the conversion was still a 50-50 shot at best, Del Rio took a risk to lose the game earlier than he needed to. Lord knows the Raiders would not be recovering the onside kick had the two-pointer failed -- Sebastian Janikowski is 0-for-23 on his onside kicks since 2009.

I think what makes Del Rio's decision attractive is threefold: the Saints have a poor defense, they were out of timeouts, and their kicker was in his NFL debut. The timeouts are really important, because with even just one, I think Brees had enough time to lead his team into better field-goal range. Del Rio's gamble would have been too big to get a marginal gain of a 1-point lead given Brees was likely to erase it in the next 40-some seconds. But without a timeout, you can buy this ballsy call.

After the kickoff, Brees had 40 seconds to work with, and while he made two nice throws to give the team a shot, he needed one more sideline completion to get closer. See, those timeouts are precious. The Saints gave Lutz a shot at the 61-yard field goal, and while he had the leg, it just leaked left to give Oakland the win.

Maybe Del Rio's decision is the confidence booster the Raiders need to get out of 7-9 territory. For Brees, his Saints have never finished worse than 7-9 in his decade with the team, but they continue to waste some of his finest efforts. Brees has now thrown 13 go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown passes in games his teams have gone on to lose. The next closest quarterbacks in NFL history had seven (John Hadl and Ben Roethlisberger), so Brees has nearly doubled that.

This is the 33rd time Brees has lost a game after his team led in the fourth quarter, the most in NFL history. Here is how the top six quarterbacks in all-time pass attempts stack up.

QBs: Career Losses with a Fourth-Quarter Lead
Player Losses 4QC Against %Losses
Drew Brees 98 33 33.7%
Peyton Manning 92 27 29.3%
Dan Marino 103 27 26.2%
Tom Brady 60 15 25.0%
Brett Favre 123 28 22.8%
John Elway 89 20 22.5%

Notes: Losses include playoffs and are starts only. Games left early for injury or rest are not currently excluded. While older research is less reliable, the only other quarterback in NFL history believed to have 30 comebacks against him is Fran Tarkenton, but the number is confirmed to be less than 33.

Brees is likely a few years away from breaking the all-time records for passing yards and touchdowns, but he may never be viewed as highly as the other names on that list, which is a real shame. When he's on, Brees is clearly one of the best to ever play the game.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Detroit Lions 39 at Indianapolis Colts 35

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (35-34)
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (16-23 at 4QC and 19-23 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (18-31 at 4QC and 21-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

These 39-35 games turn out to be pretty fun, don't they? It is a damn shame that Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford only meet up every four years. The two No. 1 overall picks put on a show in 2012 when Luck got a last-second touchdown in Detroit for a thrilling 35-33 win. On Sunday, Luck was in top form in leading another big comeback, but he left too much time on the clock for Stafford, who has his own affinity for these last-second drives.

Even though Calvin Johnson retired, Stafford just had one of the most efficient games of his career. However, it is not every week that he will see a defense with two of its top corners out (Vontae Davis and Darius Butler) and three more defensive backs going down with injury during the game. The Colts struggled to rush the quarterback and contain the running backs, so there were many ways for Stafford to attack this defense beyond getting the ball to his new wideouts. The lead grew as high as 21-3 as the Colts trailed by multiple touchdowns for the 26th time since 2012, the fifth-most games in the NFL in that span. Luck needed to be great in his return game, and after another trademark slow start, he was, leading the Colts to six scores on his last seven drives. Luck was accurate, decisive, and got his tight ends involved in running Rob Chudzinski's offense.

Unfortunately, the Colts' window to take the lead required Matt Prater to miss an extra point with 4:04 left and Detroit leading 34-28. The last thing either team wanted to do was put its defense on the field in this one. This is why the Colts needed to take more time than they did to score the go-ahead touchdown. The main culprit was Chuck Pagano's timeout with 1:15 left at the 12-yard line. There was plenty of time to get situated for the next play, and he could have tempted Jim Caldwell to use one of his three timeouts. Pagano's explanation after the game of wanting to change personnel still does not pass the sniff test for calling the timeout so quickly. He should have let the game clock go down before calling timeout, then changed personnel. Either way, the Colts got the touchdown and Adam Vinatieri made the extra point with 37 seconds left, but Detroit had all three timeouts remaining.

Those timeouts leave the playbook wide open in this situation. Almost effortlessly, Stafford needed just 25 seconds to hit three quick passes for 50 yards, taking a timeout after each. Stafford was livid with Eric Ebron for not going down right away and trying to fight for extra yardage. At the time, this looked like an overreaction given Detroit's two timeouts. But when Marvin Jones allowed himself to be tackled instead of easily stepping out of bounds, Stafford was understandably fit to be tied. Detroit used its final timeout and really could not try much with 12 seconds left. Stafford threw a pass away, then Prater came out to redeem himself with a 43-yard field goal. It was stunning that on a weekend where people thought icing the kicker was a thing again, that Pagano kept his last timeout to himself. Prater was good on the kick and Detroit even added a cheap safety on a laughably sad kick return filled with laterals by the Colts.

The Lions appear to be on the right path. Luck looks healthy again, but the Colts have to figure out how to start faster or else there will be more comeback attempts than usual from this team this season.

San Diego Chargers 27 at Kansas City Chiefs 33

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 17 (27-10)
Head Coach: Andy Reid (34-61-1 at 4QC and 46-69-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (16-25 at 4QC and 18-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Philip Rivers picked apart the defense, Melvin Gordon finally scored some touchdowns, and Danny Woodhead was emitting grit as only he can. San Diego had the shocker of the afternoon going with a 24-3 lead in Kansas City, but haven't we seen this movie end terribly before? The largest comeback in Chiefs history added insult to injury as San Diego fans are left wondering how the team will recover from this one. The Keenan Allen torn ACL suffered late in the second quarter had to be deflating, but the Chargers were still in control of this game into the fourth quarter. While the Chiefs are not built for three-score comebacks, San Diego sure seems to have a thing for blowing them.

This is the third time since 2012 that San Diego has blown a lead of at least 21 points. There was that 24-0 blown lead against Peyton Manning's Broncos in 2012, and Mike McCoy's first game as coach in 2013 was another 21-point blown lead to Houston on a Monday night. In fact, this is the third time in McCoy's four seasons that he has lost a fourth-quarter lead in Week 1. He may not get a fifth season at this rate.

Was conservative coaching really to blame for this latest collapse? San Diego did fall into a run-run-pass sequence three times in the fourth quarter, but the runs mostly worked and Rivers should be expected to convert at least one of those third-and-short situations. (He went 0-for-3). The game sure looked to be in hand once Alex Smith threw an interception, down 27-10, with 12:53 left, but Josh Lambo missed a 54-yard field goal after the offense stalled. That was big for field position, and Smith got hot in the no-huddle attack to set this comeback in motion.

Up 27-20, McCoy needed to let Rivers win the game in the four-minute offense, but consecutive screen passes to Travis Benjamin for a net loss of 2 yards was not going to work. That is where the criticism needs to go. To make matters worse, an unlucky bounce resulted in a 17-yard punt for Drew Kaser's. Smith only needed four plays to drive the 42 necessary yards for the game-tying touchdown with 1:03 left.

A sack by Dee Ford on San Diego's next drive knocked the Chargers back to a second-and-20, but the offense still could have been a little more aggressive with 48 seconds left. This could have been the last time Rivers touched the ball, but two Woodhead runs and a punt took the game to overtime.

The incentive to kick off first in overtime may have all but disappeared thanks to the change in the touchback rule, though we are still waiting to see if coaches kick deep or short more often. But starting at the 25 versus the 20 raises the touchdown percentage a couple of points. In a league where coaches are absolutely terrified of their quarterbacks throwing interceptions even though turnovers happen on roughly 2.5 percent of passes, this is a big boost to the offense. In this particular game, of course, the Chiefs should have gone first on offense after scores on four of their last five drives. Spencer Ware, filling in wonderfully for Jamaal Charles, made the big plays in overtime, gaining 35 of the drive's 70 yards. Smith finished the Chargers off with a designed quarterback run from the 2-yard line for the game-winning touchdown.

In modified overtime, the team winning the coin toss is now 42-31-3 (.572), which is actually a little higher than the old system from 1974-2011 when 54.6 percent of coin-toss winners won the game.

New England Patriots 23 at Arizona Cardinals 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (48-76 at 4QC and 63-77 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo (1-1 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Since the 1970 merger, road teams that finish a game with exactly a minus-2 turnover margin win only 14.0 percent of the time. When the opponent is a playoff team, then that gets cut in half to 7.0 percent. What would the percentage be when the quarterback is making his first career start and his best weapon (Rob Gronkowski) and left tackle (Nate Solder) are inactive? For Bill Belichick and the Patriots, this is just another example of getting everyone to do their job, putting the team in a position to win, and reaping the benefits of an opponent's fatal mistake.

Arizona, a strong Super Bowl favorite, twice trailed by 10 points on the night, but inched closer in the fourth quarter. One position where the Patriots clearly had a big advantage was at kicker, and Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal increased the lead to 20-14. While it was a turnover-free night, the Carson Palmer-led offense had some struggles, but put a drive together to take a 21-20 lead with 9:46 left on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald.

The jig was up, right? Since 2012, Bruce Arians had gone 31-1 (.969) when holding a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. No one closes the game better, and sure enough, Chandler Jones started things off with a sack against his former team. But as if the Patriots needed any more hope for a bright future, a young Jimmy Garoppolo made his best play of the night by finding Danny Amendola for 32 yards on a crucial third-and-15. That led to Gostkowski's 32-yard field goal with 3:44 left, putting the Patriots back on top 23-21.

But the Cardinals thrive in these games. Arians had gone 19-8 (.704) when his offense needed a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. No other active head coach is above .500. New England's short kickoff was only returned to the 17, and after a penalty, Palmer had to start at his own 8 without a timeout due to some bizarre management by Arians where he used his timeouts before the 4:30 mark. But when Fitzgerald is playing at his peak level, he looks almost impossible to cover. The veteran made three big catches, including a third-down conversion at the two-minute warning.

Unfortunately, even the aggressive Arians fell victim to the common NFL trap of what constitutes "field-goal range." A 52-yard field goal from the opponent's 34 is not ideal. While teams usually get into this position by passing, they tend to start running the ball inside the 40 out of fear of throwing an interception and the desire to run clock. But with the Patriots having three timeouts and Arizona having a shaky kicker, it was necessary to keep moving the chains and get closer. After a first-down run, the Cardinals did pass, but it was a low-percentage sideline throw that was either going to be intercepted or carry the receiver out of bounds to stop the clock. That poor call combined with a holding penalty brought up second-and-19, which was a screen pass to Andre Ellington for a 4-yard loss. When Fitzgerald is dominating the middle of the field, how do you not keep going there instead?

Meanwhile, Belichick used his second timeout with eight seconds left on the play clock instead of taking it immediately. He did not have to take one here, but if you are going to call timeout to give your offense a chance to counter an Arizona field goal, why wait so long to do it? Now back at the 47, Palmer had to make a big throw on third-and-23 just to get back into field-goal range, and he found an 18-yard gain. Again, Belichick should have called his timeout immediately at 1:05 to conserve as much time as possible for an answer drive. By the one-minute mark, it was clear Palmer and the offense was running off to get the field-goal unit on the field. Yet the final New England timeout did not come until there were 41 seconds left. That was a total waste of at least 20 seconds. Ask the Panthers, Saints, and Cowboys how important an extra 20 seconds (or 10) would have been to their final drives this week. Since the outcomes tend to work in Belichick's favor, some try to find ways to give him credit for the strategy leading up to them, but this was just a case of poor clock management.

Chandler Catanzaro does not have many long kicks on his resume, and this would have been the most important make of his career from 47 yards away. The snap was not very good and that may have thrown off the timing as he shanked the kick wide left, clinching another win for Belichick and the Patriots. Rarely do the Cardinals walk away in defeat in such contests, but some mishandling of the clock and suboptimal play-calling hurt them here.

Miami Dolphins 10 at Seattle Seahawks 12

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (10-6)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (22-42 at 4QC and 30-47 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (14-17 at 4QC and 19-19 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Some players and coaches naturally change over time, but this is the kind of game you expect Seattle to win and Miami to lose. The path to getting to that predictable ending was a little different in Adam Gase's head coaching debut, and it would have been difficult to assess blame had Seattle lost. The offense was clearly struggling before Russell Wilson injured his ankle early in the third quarter. The defense was totally dominant for three quarters, allowing three points and 128 net yards on nine drives. But as soon as Wilson lost a fumble after tripping* to begin the fourth quarter, the defense started allowing third-down conversions, leaving receivers wide open and putting the outcome in jeopardy. This has been all too common for Seattle in the Wilson era, as we have explained several times in the past.

(* EDITOR'S NOTE: It's not really accurate to say Wilson tripped. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips launched left guard Mark Glowinski backwards into Wilson, knocking them both down, and then wiped out Thomas Rawls for good measure.)

While Seattle blocked a 27-yard field goal attempt, Miami came right back with a stunning 86-yard touchdown drive to take a 10-6 lead with 4:08 left. With Wilson's mobility compromised, a game-winning touchdown drive felt unlikely, and there was only going to be one shot at it with the way Seattle managed the clock. But after two fourth-down conversions, the Seahawks were in Miami territory and Wilson was on target. This time the call from the 2-yard line was a fade to Doug Baldwin, and the receiver made the catch with 31 seconds left to put Seattle back on top. The extra point was blocked, but Miami was in a tough spot either way with zero timeouts. The decision to return the kickoff out of the end zone cost the Dolphins five seconds and 7 yards. Ryan Tannehill was sacked and fumbled the ball out of bounds, which actually keeps the play clock running upon the ready for snap. Miami's final play was just another sack back to the 1-yard line by Cliff Avril.

Seattle's defense bailed the offense out for three quarters, but the offense still had to save the day after another blown lead. These are the Seahawks we have come to know, but now all the attention will be on Wilson's health, which was never a problem in the past four years.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 at New York Jets 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 2 (22-20)
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (29-62-1 at 4QC and 40-62-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (12-18-1 at 4QC and 17-18-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Among the many players returning from a 2015 injury, Andy Dalton was one of the most interesting to watch. Was his second-place finish in DVOA a mirage, or did he really turn the corner last year? We'll find out how good the Jets are, but given the circumstances, Sunday was one of Dalton's best games yet. The Bengals were without tight end Tyler Eifert, had to work in new wide receivers after losing two to free agency, and Dalton saw very little help from his running game (50 yards) or offensive line (seven sacks after being the least-pressured quarterback of 2015).

But Dalton did have Adriel Jeremiah Green, A.J. for short, who roasted Darrelle Revis and this defense to the tune of 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. Only two of those catches were thrown deeper than 8 yards, but Dalton and Green were in sync all day. Their only incompletion was thrown too low by Dalton, which was a problem since it set up a 52-yard field goal attempt for Mike Nugent, who missed. Only trailing 20-19, Ryan Fitzpatrick took advantage of the good field position and led the Jets to their own go-ahead field goal to take a 22-20 lead with 3:23 to play.

Dalton continued to go right back to Green on quick passes, but the Bengals ran into a familiar problem after the two-minute warning, much like Arizona would later do on Sunday night. The opponent's 37-yard line may technically be field goal range for most kickers, but you can't bet the entire game on a low-percentage kick from that distance. To make matters worse, the Bengals called two shotgun runs to Jeremy Hill instead of the better-suited Gio Bernard. Just like that it was third-and-13, and Marvin Lewis even wasted a quick timeout with 1:11 left when he should have let the clock run. Fortunately, Green beat Revis one last time for 11 yards to make the field goal more reasonable from 47 yards away, and Nugent was good on the kick.

Nugent's ensuing kickoff needed to be a few yards shorter as the Jets took the touchback at the 25 under the new rule. With 54 seconds left, New York's best play almost came immediately, but Brandon Marshall had a bad drop at midfield. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick threw his 26th interception in a GWD opportunity, the most in the NFL since 2005.

While Fitzpatrick has the worst active record (12-36-1) among quarterbacks at GWD opportunities, Dalton is quietly ranked fifth at 17-18-1 (.486). Pulling out a few close wins each year has helped the Bengals to five straight postseasons, while the abundance of losses help to explain why Fitzpatrick has never taken a team to the playoffs.

New York Giants 20 at Dallas Cowboys 19

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (19-13)
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (28-46 at 4QC and 34-48 overall 4QC/GWD record)

As was expected, Eli Manning had few problems against Dallas' outmatched defense, finding his talented receiving corps at a high rate and facing very little pressure. The wild card was how rookie quarterback Dak Prescott would perform in place of Tony Romo (out with a back injury) after a blistering preseason.

The results were mixed, but also definitively showed that in a typical back-and-forth game between these teams, Romo was sorely missed. While Prescott completed 25 passes, he did not get the ball down the field much, and 17 of his completions went to Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. Shockingly, Dez Bryant caught an 8-yard pass on the second play of the game and never made another grab (that he held onto) the rest of the day. Some red zone issues limited Dallas to one touchdown, but Prescott led Dallas to 16 points on his first four drives. The problem was that he produced just one field goal on the last five drives as the Giants came back to take a 20-19 lead with a touchdown from Manning to Victor Cruz, who finally made his return to action.

Dallas got the ball twice down 20-19, but was unable to take advantage of either drive opportunity. A year after losing five leads in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, the Giants desperately needed to close this one out in coach Ben McAdoo's debut. New York's seven straight runs by Rashad Jennings brought up an interesting decision on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 37 with 1:12 left. But with only a 1-point lead and the range of kicker Dan Bailey for Dallas, it was best to just punt this away as McAdoo did.

Prescott had 1:05 from his own 20 to make this a really memorable debut. The drive was far from perfect, but he moved the ball and was not at a loss for situational awareness with appropriate spikes. With 12 seconds left at the Dallas 46, the players need to understand the importance of getting out of bounds. Terrance Williams, a fourth-year veteran now, may have temporarily lost his mind. His catch gave him a great opportunity to get out of bounds near the New York 45 with roughly seven seconds left. If he had ducked out, he may have set Bailey up for a record-distance field goal (65 yards), which Bailey has the leg to hit after nailing field goals from 56 and 54 yards in this game. Alas, Williams decided to cut back into the field of play and Dallas never had a shot to run another play in time.

For all the unjust criticism Romo receives for his play in crunch time, he gives Dallas a real edge in games like this one. Since 2010, Jason Garrett is 20-17 (.541) in games with a game-winning drive opportunity with Romo as the quarterback, compared to 4-15 (.211) with all other quarterbacks.

Chicago Bears 14 at Houston Texans 23

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (14-13)
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (5-7 at 4QC and 5-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Brock Osweiler (3-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

One of the biggest mistakes Houston made during Andre Johnson's prime was to never find a better No. 2 receiver than Kevin Walter. By the time DeAndre Hopkins came along in 2013, Johnson was not the same player. The Bill O'Brien-era Texans do not look to be making that same mistake with Hopkins. They drafted the speedy Will Fuller in the first round this season, and his debut was an interesting one. While Fuller dropped a potential 83-yard touchdown in the first half, he came through in the fourth quarter, digging out a low-placed screen by Brock Osweiler and showing off that speed for an 18-yard touchdown to put Houston ahead for good with 12:44 left.

Fuller finished with a game-high 107 receiving yards. The Bears thought they found a great complement to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery by drafting Kevin White last year, but he only made his NFL debut on Sunday after an injury cost him his 2015 rookie season. White was not much of a factor with three catches for 34 yards, including 29 yards on the last drive when Chicago trailed by two scores. Another player of surprisingly little consequence in this one was J.J. Watt, though he has been nursing his own health problems. Fortunately, other Texans stepped up to register third-down sacks of Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter, including Whitney Mercilus and John Simon. Fuller's 35-yard catch on a deep ball set up a field goal to get the 23-14 final, making Chicago's last-ditch drive not very dramatic.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Packers at Jaguars: Almost Stole the Show

Even with the long-awaited return of Jordy Nelson, the Packers did not look like the offensive machine of old. For the fifth time in his last six games, Aaron Rodgers failed to crack 6.0 yards per pass attempt, which is something he only did 11 times in 114 games from 2008 to 2014. Maybe we should credit the Jaguars for this one, because it is not supposed to be like old times for Jacksonville any longer. The talent acquired on both sides of the ball makes this a crucial year for coach Gus Bradley, but he only was able to get an almost signature win in this one after some familiar mistakes.

The running game was a mess behind the offensive line, and Blake Bortles took two of his three sacks in the fourth quarter. With Green Bay leading 27-20, Jacksonville scrapped together a long drive (6:49) that needed two fourth-down conversions just to kick a field goal. The Jaguars even had to spend their last two timeouts and take a bad delay of game penalty on third down. Then again, several teams had really poor clock/timeout management in Week 1. Even the Packers took a delay of game on third down after a timeout during their four-minute offense attempt. Rodgers threw incomplete to Nelson, and the Jaguars were going to get one more shot, down 27-23.

Bortles led four game-winning drives in 2015, but they were not exactly the smoothest of finishes. (How about Baltimore, anyone?) This looked to fit right in, with Bortles surviving a game-ending interception on fourth down after a holding penalty on Morgan Burnett that Julius Thomas made sure to sell to the referee. Allen Robinson nearly gave the game away with a fumble, but somehow recovered on his own. But things fell apart after a third-and-1 at the 14-yard line. Between the rushing struggles and clock situation, the Jaguars were really limited in play-calling options.

After a failed slant in traffic, it was fourth-and-1 with 23 seconds left. Last season, Bortles was eighth in ALEX, but near the bottom of the league in short situations (1 to 3 yards to go). Still, with the lack of time, one expects something more than a bubble screen to Allen Hurns, who caught four screens in all of 2015. With the Jaguars having only one blocker for two defenders, it was almost a necessity for Hurns to break a tackle to make the play work. Even if he did, this would have burned considerable time and demanded a spike, leaving the Jaguars with just one or two chances at the end zone at best. The poor call resulted in a 1-yard loss, a turnover on downs, and the end of the game. With the talent and size of Robinson, Thomas, and Hurns, this had to be a more vertical throw and not minus-3 ALEX.

From 2006 to 2015, there were 404 passes on fourth-and-1, and only 14 of them (3.5 percent) were thrown to receivers behind the line of scrimmage. While nine of those plays converted, none of them were in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, and only one of the 14 throws went to a wide receiver. That was a bubble screen to Andre Johnson in 2010, but at least he had multiple blockers in front of him. While there are times to go against the grain in the NFL, this was not one of them.

(Ed. Note: For those who don't remember what ALEX means, it is Air Less EXpected, the amount of yards short of the sticks that a quarterback throws. Scott Kacsmar's ALEX articles with full tables will run quarterly instead of weekly this season, but we're working on adding average third-down ALEX to the QB stats page starting next week. -- Aaron Schatz)

Vikings at Titans: "Exotic Smashmouth" Is Another Bad FOX Pilot

Tennessee seemed to be handed a dream Week 1 matchup with the Vikings starting Shaun Hill at quarterback in lieu of the Teddy Bridgewater injury. So if I told you that Adrian Peterson (19 carries for 31 yards) was stonewalled by Dick LeBeau's defense and the Titans led 10-0 at halftime, you would expect a Tennessee win, right?

Not quite. Hill was more effective than expected, especially on some third downs, but it was really Marcus Mariota who cost the Titans dearly. Or was it head coach Mike Mularkey with this "Exotic Smashmouth" brand of offense he has promoted this year? As much as the Titans look to have two downfield runners (DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry) and a quarterback capable of being a precision, pocket passer, the Titans opted for some "exotic" looks with results that often just left them looking stupid on Sunday. There were designed runs, a botched option in the red zone, and many zone-read looks, but Mariota's panic on several of these plays killed the offense. Mariota threw a pick-six late in the third quarter to fall behind 12-10, then with 11:11 left in the game, he had a mix-up on the zone-read with Murray for a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

Mularkey also received some criticism for a two-point conversion try with the Titans trailing 25-16 with 28 seconds left. Yes, I think that was the wrong call since he should try to extend the game for as long as possible, and a failure to convert there ends the game immediately. At the same time, Tennessee's chances of recovering an onside kick and scoring a touchdown in 28 seconds were so poor that it really did not matter if the game was lost seconds earlier than it had to be.

But it is something to add to the list of questionable decisions made by Mularkey, who has the worst record (4-20) among active coaches at GWD opportunities.

Bills at Ravens: Rex, Tyrod Flat Against Former Team

Buffalo's worst yardage output (160 yards) in nearly 10 years paced a surprise 13-7 finish. Only seven games in the NFL last season produced fewer than 21 combined points. While the Bills have several key defenders either suspended or injured, the offensive pieces were all there, but Buffalo only netted more than 17 yards on two of its nine drives. Nearly half of Tyrod Taylor's 15 completions were failed plays, which was a problem last year as well, but was usually balanced out by deep balls. This time, Taylor only had one completion of more than 20 yards, and his average pass traveled 5.7 yards past the line of scrimmage -- 5 yards shorter than he averaged in 2015 (10.7).

Rex Ryan's defense kept the game close enough to be winnable at 13-7 with 5:35 left, but the offense continued to disappoint. There were two timeouts wasted earlier in the half with the Bills not getting to the line quickly enough to run a play. This was a problem offensive coordinator Greg Roman had in San Francisco, when the 49ers led or tied for the league in delay of game penalties each year from 2011 to 2014. On Buffalo's final drive, there was a delay of game penalty to bring up second-and-15. Baltimore's defensive playmakers stepped up as well. Sammy Watkins had a good throw ripped away from him by Jimmy Smith, and Terrell Suggs highlighted his return from last year's torn Achilles with a third-down sack. Buffalo had to punt with 4:29 left.

Since the Bills were down to one timeout, the Ravens could run out the clock with just a pair of first downs. While this was Joe Flacco's big return game as well, Baltimore kept things on the ground, including a key 11-yard end-around run by Mike Wallace. Wallace had scored on a 66-yard touchdown bomb earlier in his most impactful game in quite some time. When it came time to run the ball on third-and-1 to clinch the win, Baltimore gave the ball to Terrance West, who converted with his team-high 12th carry.

Buccaneers at Falcons: To the Cellar

Tampa Bay's third-straight win over Atlanta could be a sign of a team moving in the right direction, while the Falcons, playoff-less since 2012, continue to struggle. Jameis Winston was excellent with four touchdown passes to build a 31-13 lead, but Matt Ryan still had a rally attempt in him after good contributions from Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta debut) and Tevin Coleman.

Tampa Bay's lead was cut to 31-24, but Winston had a chance to ice the victory with a third-and-5 conversion with 2:23 left. The call was very safe with a designed run as Winston faked a pitch from the shotgun and only gained 3 yards. That was disappointing to not see Winston get the chance to pass for the win. Ryan had 1:52 left to drive 91 yards for the game-tying touchdown, but after one 19-yard completion, Ryan threw four straight incompletions. Tampa Bay's four-man rush got pressure on first and fourth down, but Ryan was just inaccurate on the two plays in between, throwing behind his open receivers. On fourth-and-10, Gerald McCoy made a money play to tip the pass at the line to clinch the win.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 9
Game-winning drives: 9
Games with 4QC opportunity: 13/16 (81.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 4

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 Sep 2016

65 comments, Last at 16 Sep 2016, 3:12am by Winterguard78

Comments

1
by sharky19 :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 3:35pm

While the pass interference on 4th and 5 in the OAK-NO game was bad, the Raiders also had two drops on the plays before that that would have prevented that situation in the first place. So blaming Carr for making a bad throw is kinda fair, but also misleading if you count the two good throws that would have voided the situation entirely. He did not deserve to "lose" because of it.

11
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:22pm

Well his team "deserved to lose". I don't see why the officials should help him out when his receivers fail him.

That was a terrible, terrible PI call. I saw it on Red Zone at the time. As you can see in the picture, the ball lands outside that dashed yellow line. It must have been 10 feet high when it sailed out of bounds.

22
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:55pm

Bad Seth Roberts drop, but I thought the Walford pass, at least from the TV angles, was leading him too far out of bounds. Tough to expect a big TE like that to make the play.

62
by Winterguard78 :: Fri, 09/16/2016 - 2:13am

This is my first time commenting, but have been a big fan of the site for years and couldn't be more appreciative of all the fantastic content that's not hidden behind a paywall.
I was really hoping that as critical as you have been towards the play of Alex Smith (going so far as to use his name as an acronym for a derogatory statistic) that you might at least acknowledge some of the very Un-Alex throws he made on Sunday. The sideline pass to Ware on the rollout,the sideline jumper to Kelce, and Maclin's backshoulder TD+ huge catch to set up the tying TD run were 4 of the better throws he's made as a Chief and they all happened in about 10 minutes of game time. Smith doesn't even rate an attaboy?

24
by LyleNM :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:00pm

Given the three (3) ridiculous DPIs called on Oakland earlier in the game, I would say that the referees were only being consistent in what they called DPI.

40
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:41am

It's almost as if FO didn't watch the same game. While Carr was late on several throws and still throws off his back foot too often, he had a great game. That throw on the 2 point conversion, while not perfect, gave Crabby the chance he needed. The throw to Seth was money for the TD. The throw earlier to Crabby to avoid a sack and get necessary yardage was crazy. To highlight the bad PI call, after the Refs had screwed the Raiders with similarly bad PI calls, including one which negated Irvin's 2nd sack, is weak. The bias against Carr is palpable by FO.

51
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 5:55pm

Or you're not just familiar with the column. Of course I would talk about a fourth-down penalty in the final two minutes of a 34-28 game.

53
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 7:45pm

Yes, right over my head (not the first time).

Discussion was not required. Proper emphasis, though. A simple reference, like, calling it a "consistently bad" or a "make-up" call would have been more accurate and balanced. The Raiders weren't gifted that victory, as you suggest. They earned it.

3
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 3:46pm

An exact definition of an "uncatchable" pass is conspicuously missing from the NFL's rule book

The NFL actually added a (partial) definition for "uncatchable" in the 2016 rulebook.

A.R. 8.73: "NOT PASS INTERFERENCE - PASS UNCATCHABLE ... [new part] When determining whether a pass is catchable or not the trajectory is taken into consideration. At the sideline a pass must land outside the white to be considered uncatchable."

Robertson getting his hand on the ball while still somewhat inbounds probably was enough for the ref to see it as catchable.

12
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:24pm

He didn't get his hand on the ball while "somewhat inbounds". He was in mid-air out of bounds by then. And the ball landed well outside the white. Several feet outside the white.

17
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:43pm

After hitting his hand.

29
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:21pm

After he was out of bounds...

42
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:09am

The Refs were consistently bad. You can't swallow the flag on that obvious foul and defend the worse PI calls against the Raiders. NE and Denver CB routinely mug WRs beyond 5 yards and make contact when the ball is in the air and draw far fewer PI calls. It's as if DJ's playing by a different set of rules. The call downfield that negated Irvin's 2nd sack was an utter joke. But consistently bad in the same game is far better than what FO is seemingly advocating for--an excuse not to give Carr/Raiders' credit.

46
by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 11:13am

"NE and Denver CB routinely mug WRs beyond 5 yards and make contact when the ball is in the air and draw far fewer PI calls."

They do? It's only the past few years that NE has had DBs close enough to even make contact, prior to that it was soft-zone-city. Even then, the Patriots are called for DPI and IC/DH plenty.

Do you have any data to support your claim?

54
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 7:56pm

I lumped NE's CB with Denver's CB (truthfully) b/c of my bitterness about the Tuck game, where Brown and Rice were mugged all day, and then NE's CB's mugged the Rams' CBs (can't say St.L. anymore). The point, though, is that DJ is being subject to a different standard.

2
by Badfinger :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 3:43pm

The thing I see in the Saints-Raiders gif is #89 for the Raiders being held and then breaking wide open towards the pylon. Perhaps they got bitten by unclear rulings about balls being catchable or not, but they definitely committed a foul on the play.

4
by BradyGaga :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:06pm

"Ask the Panthers, Saints, and Cowboys how important an extra 20 seconds (or 10) would have been to their final drives this week. Since the outcomes tend to work in Belichick's favor, some try to find ways to give him credit for the strategy leading up to them, but this was just a case of poor clock management."

Belichick spoke about this at length both after the game and in his weekly WEEI radio interview. The Cards rushed their FG unit out really fast, making Belichik think they'd kick it quickly, since, in his words, teams generally don't want their kickers out there waiting ("icing your own kicker"). If they only used 20 seconds total on the play, Belichick felt the timeout would be more valuable for his offense going the other way.

Then Catanzaro stayed on the sideline warming up and the holder went back to him, making Belichick realize they were going to bleed the clock and he called the timeout, thinking the next 20 seconds were too valuable to lose.

In hindsight, Belichick added yesterday, "Yeah, I should have probably just taken the timeout right away". But I found the explanation both honest and fascinating. He gambled on his intuition and lost, but I credit him for regarding those first 20 secs as sunk cost and calling the TO instead of letting time pass and make up some excuse to save face.

5
by BradyGaga :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:08pm

and then seconds after I write this, Trags posts this story on Belichicks end-of-game strategy in general.

http://itiswhatitis.weei.com/sports/newengland/football/patriots/2016/09...

18
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:47pm

Caldwell talked a bit about his decision not to spend TOs on defense against the Colts. He admitted he's reticent to spend TOs unless he has to (a shade of Andy Reid), but also said something to the effect that the Lions have run some analytics on end-game TO strategy and he has a system he defers to for how to use them (and a guy who manages it).
http://www.freep.com/story/sports/nfl/lions/2016/09/12/jim-caldwell-cloc...

The manager bit was in an ESPN blurb that seems to not be covered in that link.

I thought that was interesting. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. =)

7
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:11pm

Serious question: Had Catanzaro made the kick and the Patriots lost, would Belichick still have spoken at length about his timeout decision?

10
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:17pm

Well, we don't know. He might have. It certainly would have depended on how the question was put to him. Thinking back to the infamous "4th and 2" call - the pass to Kevin Faulk in a game vs. the Colts, I believe he was candid about his thinking then. As long as it's a serious question and not an insult couched as a question, "Wasn't it arrogant to...?"

Generally speaking he doesn't mind talking about football, except for questions along the lines of "What are you planning to do in the upcoming game?" but he cannot stand the "narrative/storyline" type of coverage that the networks insist on.

From his presser on Monday:

“Well I mean, I’m really really concerned about the storyline,” Belichick deadpanned. “There’s really nothing higher on my list than the storyline tomorrow.”

15
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:40pm

These are cherry-picked, and some of the questions put to Belichick are paraphrased in the transcript (the answers are verbatim and as far as I know complete), but some postgame answers to strategy questions after last year's losses:

2015 AFCCG:
Q: On attempting two fourth down conversions in Denver territory
A: "It was the score and situation in the game."

Dolphins, Week 17:
Q: "In the first half, the split between the 21 rush attempts and the 5 passes, how much of that was based on what they were showing you defensively with the heavy emphasis towards the running game?"
A "I don't know."

Jets, Week 16
Q: On why he chose to kick off to start overtime...
A: "I thought that was the best thing to do."
Q: On how much time he spent thinking about whether or not to kick off to start overtime...
A: "I don't know."
Q: On if he was thinking about the defense playing better than the offense when electing to kick off...
A: "Looking at field position."

Eagles, Week 13
Q: "What was the thinking on the onside kick when you were up 14-0?"
A: "I think everything we did, we’re trying to do what we think is best."
Q: "Why did you have Nate Ebner kick twice and Stephen Gostkowski only once on the three onside kicks?"
A: "Because we thought that was the best thing to do."
Q: "Specifically on the drop kick, was he supposed to put air on the ball so it’s a jump ball or was he supposed to hit it on the ground like a typical onside kick?"
A: "We don’t have time for all that."

Broncos, Week 12
Q: On confusion with the clock toward the end of regulation
A: "About what? Yeah."

31
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:31pm

You're cheating if you paraphrase the question.

Some of those questions are just silly.

"In the first half, the split between the 21 rush attempts and the 5 passes, how much of that was based on what they were showing you defensively with the heavy emphasis towards the running game?"

What kind of answer would be admissible there? 60-40? 80-20? It's not a question that relates to a simple explanation of what he was thinking. It's asking him to weigh how factors might affect his thinking, and relate their relative importance. That's fine for a college course, but this is only a press conference.

If he avoids a question about strategy, it's because he doesn't want to answer it, and there's no need for him to explain all his thinking about how he strategizes against a team that he's going to have to face again in the future.

I'm sensing a hostile attitude in your comments here.

Oversimplifying a bit, there are two ways to view being a football coach: you can view yourself as an entertainer, with a duty to keep the fans happy, or you can view your job as primarily focused on winning games. Belichick does the latter. And the media pretty much hate him for that, since he doesn't play the games with their "story lines" and their fake scandals and constant cheating accusations. He used to be very friendly to the media when he worked in Cleveland, and they all turned on him and he was driven out of town. So now he cannot be bothered to play nice with the media.

Parcells had the ability to insult the media while getting them to like the fact that he was abusing them. Belichick doesn't have that gift. If he had his druthers, he wouldn't do any press conferences, obviously.

34
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 6:11pm

You're cheating if you paraphrase the question.

Any paraphrased question is paraphrased by the Patriots website, not me.

Some of those questions are just silly.

Possibly. But all of them?

I'm sensing a hostile attitude in your comments here.

Well, my team lost.

19
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:48pm

Likely not in the post-game, but he probably would have in his weekly radio gig the following day. This is consistent with both the explanation, which occurred on WEEI, and the quotes your provide which are all from postgame pressers.

23
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:59pm

Take the length of his answers in the postgame presser after Sunday's win and compare them to any of the answers after the five losses from last year.

26
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:14pm

I'm unsure what argument you are making. Even if Bill was unsurprisingly more talkative following the win, his elaboration on the TO decision didn't occur until the next day. Shouldn't the relevant prior interviews be those on WEEI instead?

30
by PaddyPat :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:25pm

Belichick's pregame show, shown locally at least for many years is another time where he typically opens up and has a lot more to say, frequently very x's and o's focused. Honestly, the press questions after games are typically very foolish relative to what genuinely goes into a game. If they asked him questions about adjusting coverages, pulling guards on play-action plays, etc. they might get more legitimate answers instead of questions like: "How big was that play?" "How big was so and so's performance for you?" "How great was it to get that third down catch from so and so?" The correct answers to these questions might be big: Big, Medium-Sized, and average-great...

32
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:31pm

His argument is "I want to take a dump on Belichick".

35
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 6:18pm

My argument is that, generally speaking, it's not whether the media's questions are good (that is, are about football strategy and asked in a reasonable manner) or asinine (that is, are about "storylines") that determines the length and quality of Belichick's answers in the postgame press conference, but whether the Patriots won or lost that day.

65
by Anon Ymous :: Fri, 09/16/2016 - 4:36pm

As I've said all along, I don't necessarily disagree with that if we are limiting the conversation to the postgame presser. But the TO example occurred the following day so the emphasis on postgame answers is no longer justified.

8
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:11pm

That's an interesting discussion. It shows Belichick never believes in the "By the book" approach to any situation. In this case the book would have been a better solution - probably, but who's to say that the extra 10 seconds of thinking time didn't disturb the long snapper, and that led to the botched snap and the missed FG?

(OK, that's a bit of a reach.)

9
by Travis :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:14pm

The Jets waited an extra few seconds before calling a timeout before the Bengals' game-winning 47-yarder (outdoors, in somewhat significant wind). It didn't help.

25
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:08pm

With a minute left, weird to think Arizona would be rushing the kick. What would be the incentive for the kicking team to do that? I could see Belichick's argument working if there was like 30 seconds left.

Catanzaro is just one of the few weaknesses on an otherwise strong team. Their best players are Palmer and Fitzgerald on offense and Arians seemed to briefly forget that after the two-minute warning.

27
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:15pm

Bill said that kickers are creatures of habit and you rarely see them wait for an extended period after getting set up. I'll leave it up to others to confirm/refute that claim, but it was his reasoning for expecting a quick kick if Arizona had rushed out onto the field.

43
by deus01 :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:32am

Sometimes the the kicking team is unprepared and has to rush to get setup in time. Maybe that's what he meant?

I can understand waiting a few seconds to call a timeout if it looks like the other team is rushing to get the kick off. That's probably more likely to result in you winning due a missed kick than it is winning with an extra ~10 seconds and a non-Brady quarterback.

6
by RickD :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:09pm

"Unless your team was Cleveland or one of Monday night's losers, they had a chance to win."

I'm sorry, my circuits just burnt out thinking of the many possible follow-ups to this straight line.

13
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:37pm

Perhaps the reason that pass in OAK-NO looked so uncatchable was because the DB decked the WR just as he started to jump for the ball. From that angle, absent interference, it looked catchable.

14
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:37pm

Perhaps the reason that pass in OAK-NO looked so uncatchable was because the DB decked the WR just as he started to jump for the ball. From that angle, absent interference, it looked catchable.

16
by Bjorn Nittmo :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:40pm

"If Oakland had played for the tie, the Saints would have likely been conservative with zero timeouts left." I doubt that very much, with 47 seconds left and the way the NO offense moved the ball all game. End of regulation likely would have played out exactly the same.

21
by Perfundle :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:52pm

Agree with this. In 2011 New York had just tied Green Bay with a minute left, 35-35. McCarthy, not exactly known for taking risks, didn't hold back and Rodgers got them in field goal range in just 30 seconds; Green Bay got the game-winning field goal to win 38-35.

28
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:18pm

I think it comes down to how well the first play goes. If it's a nice gain, the team will push. If not, they may just run simple stuff. We saw a little of this with San Diego in KC. They were moving it, but one bad sack and the Chargers basically gave up on that drive with 48 seconds left. In that 2011 GB-NYG game, the Packers had one timeout, and Jermichael Finley broke a tackle on the first play to get a 24-yard gain. From that point it was obvious they'd push for the winning score at the 44-yard line.

37
by mrt1212 :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 6:49pm

Analytic investigation time - in situations like the one outlined above, how does the first play from scrimmage affect subsequent playcalling.

38
by Perfundle :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 7:29pm

Fair enough, but Seattle went against this line of thought in their two-minute drive before halftime. After they got their first first down they were at their own 23, with 53 seconds and all three timeouts, while Miami had two. The next play was a 0-yard sack, and I thought they would just give up after that. But they immediately called timeout and kept on passing, making it to the Miami 20 before they ran out of time and kicked a field goal.

41
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:04am

FO's insistence that JDR made the wrong call is what gives advanced metrics a bad name. FO completely ignores the reasons why JDR went for it: (a) play for tied at home, play to win at home; it's a thing; (b) Saints' D sucks in general, had rookie CBs on the field, and gave the Raiders a strong match-up with Crabby on a island and Cooper drawing double coverage; (c) on a coin flip, they likely lose the game (Brees already threw for, what, a 1000 yards, 4 TDs, no picks, 1 sack, PI flags falling everywhere), and as a coach I would regret losing a game with my best chance to win (Carr throwing to Cooper, Crabby, Roberts) on the bench; and (d) JDR knows, trusts and has confidence in his players, not stats. Good job coach!

44
by Eddo :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 10:16am

What are you talking about? ESPN's analytics gave the higher win probability (51% vs. 44%) for kicking vs. going for two. The FO writers - in both Audibles and here - praised Del Rio's choice. In this very article, Scott says, "I think what makes Del Rio's decision attractive is threefold..." (emphasis mine).

55
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:07pm

Another example of something going over my head (twice in one late night rambling). Must of stopped reading, as I don't remotely agree with ESPN's position (and FO often contributes to ESPN Insider). While it's important to know the percentages, you have to apply good judgment based on the information available. I guess I missed the factors I found more relevant/material.

58
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:07pm

Maybe should stop commenting after late-night binges. Look bad every time.

56
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:14pm

100% agree.

57
by Sleet :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:15pm

100% agree.

20
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 4:50pm

Random question here -- how much have you guys looked at the value of a timeout vis-a-vis field position lost to penalty?

I abhor fake 4th-and-inches plays where the QB calls TO instead of just taking the delay of game before the punt, but what if it's 3rd-12? Is going from 3rd-12 to 3rd-17 better or worse than losing a TO?

33
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 5:52pm

Pointing out a correction on Drew Brees' go-ahead touchdown passes in a loss record: my PFR search did not handle the "0" (tied) part well in the score differential. By using their checkbox for "Go Ahead" I get the new results of Brees (13), John Hadl (7) and Ben Roethlisberger (7). So he's still nearly double the next closest passer. And I was able to confirm all 13 plays in my files. The original search was including two games where Brees' team already had a lead and he added a touchdown pass, and still lost (sigh).

36
by Bobman :: Tue, 09/13/2016 - 6:27pm

I'd really like to lambaste the Colts coaching staff but I ma not sure they deserve it this weekend. Yes, the slow starts are a chronic problem, but they started the game missing two of top 3 CBs and two of top 3 S's, and during the game lost one more CB and S. Some of their D starters weren't even Colts a month ago.

Hard to coach NCAA caliber personnel to beat an NFL team.

And RBs and TEs have always killed them anyway even when healthy, so why should this be any different?

I'll blame Grigson for basically being Grigson. After all, they now no longer have any members of their 2013 draft class, right?

39
by andrew :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:36am

I don't see why people make a big deal of Malarkey going for 2 after the touchdown, for the sake of prolonging the game as long as possible.

The goal is to win, not prolong.

To do this you need a two point conversion, either after a first touchdown or one that would hopefully (if unlikely) follow. So yes if you kick the 1 then go for the OSK and recover that you still have hope longer... but that hope still fails if you fail the 2PC after a second touchdown. But I don't think it increases or decreases your chances of actually winning.

So, let us say your chances of winning depend on forcing overtime (for simplicity's sake), and let us assume the other team if they get the ball can safely kneel it out. The chance of forcing overtime, after being down by 15 and scoring a touchdown depend on the following all happening

A - making a 2PC
B - scoring another touchdown
C - recovering an onside kick
D - making an extra point

If any of these fail the game is over. However, I fail to see what difference the order of A or D make in the game.

In theory after the first touchdown the opponent in theory should be thinking of the possibility of a 2PC attempt. If you prolong things and get the second one, then they KNOW it is coming and are in theory more ready for it. Given the change of where kicks are attempted from one thing we lost is the surprise 2PC fake, but even so the team has to have the right personnel ready. If you were at the goal line right before the attempt, likely it is the same, but if the score was on a long TD then maybe not. In this case the Titans were in the red zone though not at the goal line. Either way I can make a case that the 2PC had a better chance here, where the opponent may have used conventional thinking to assume an extra point was coming.

Second, make the 2PC and the team starts believing it just may be possible a little more. So maybe the OSK team is a little more fired up. Not something for statistics, but who knows.

And third, given that all these things must happen, you open the door to the possibility of an injury to someone in a futile effort by extending the game. I know you can't play the game to avoid injuries, but in this case given already really long odds, I can't fault the coach for seeing if it was even worth the effort in the first place.

45
by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 11:10am

Agreed. There really isn't a good argument for not going for two the first time around. Any potential for fatigue/injury improving your chances is offset by those same things happening to you. Any emotional lift by remaining in the game is offset by a greater lift if you now only need an XP after the next TD.

Not exactly pursuant to this particular example, but in a less desperate situation going for two allows you to modify strategy to account for the failure. If you wait and then fail you are pretty much done.

47
by deus01 :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 11:57am

I think modifying strategy to account for failure is the biggest thing that is not considered by most people covering the NFL. You often hear that you should take the point to keep hope alive for as long as possible, but this doesn't actually help you win. If you're going to at some point also need a field goal it's better to know that as soon as possible so that you can adjust your game plan accordingly.

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by Steve in WI :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 5:58pm

I agree with all three of you, and upon reading the article I planned on writing something very similar to andrew's comment (even down to the part about the small but nonzero chance of a player being injured on a play that turns out to be meaningless). The only people who should favor keeping hope alive over going for 2 earlier are the advertisers who don't want viewers to turn the game off.

No matter the scenario, if you need a successful 2-point try at some point you're better off doing it earlier rather than later. If there is still time left in the game, then you know you need 2 possessions instead of 1, or a touchdown instead of a field goal.

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by andrew :: Thu, 09/15/2016 - 8:31am

Even if the injury chance in a meaningless play is equal... then that is a net negative as an injury for your guys can affect you well beyond this game, whereas injuries to their guys only affect you for the rest of the game (or rarely, if a division opponent possibly another game later this year, but in this case, out of conference, they wouldn't play again for another 4 years unless it were in the Superbowl, and I think it safe to say that ain't gonna happen).

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by ChrisS :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 3:42pm

"ESPN's analysis (written by Brian Burke) that the Raiders had a higher win probability (51 percent) by kicking the extra point than they did going for two (44 percent)." I don't believe the 44% is relevant to this game, since the NO defense is not average. OAK had good offensive success during the game, almost 500 yds and a rushing DVOA of 32% I would put the odds of converting at closer to 60%. I am unsure why they would be favored in OT, based on what happened in the game, I would expect which ever team got the football would score a TD on the first possession.

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by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 3:45pm

My main issue with the stat was, as you mentioned, how do the Raiders have a 51% chance of winning if they kick the field goal.

They still have a chance of losing in regulation, and then OT, which I don't udnerstand why the Raiders would have a greater than 50% chance of winning by the calculation. Am I missing something?

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by deus01 :: Wed, 09/14/2016 - 5:04pm

It has to do with the time remaining and the number of time outs the Saints still had. The WP model basically assumes that if the game is tied the Saints will play fairly conservative whereas if they trail by 1 they will have to be aggressive.

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by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 09/15/2016 - 8:29am

That answers why XP was greater than the 2-pt conversion odds. It doesn't answer why the XP odds were better than even.

Saints had the ball + time + were playing at home.

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by Eddo :: Thu, 09/15/2016 - 9:08am

I'm guessing that ESPN's overall team rating judged the Raiders to be significantly better than the Saints, so any tie-score situation would favor the Raiders. And *if* one team is significantly better than the other, it does make sense that reducing the game outcome to one play - the smallest sample size possible - would lower their win probability.

Now, I think the initial premise there is not correct, or at least way too optimistic about the chances of a better team winning an overtime game. So I'm certainly not endorsing ESPN's numbers, but that's how I figure they got to them.

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by Subrata Sircar :: Fri, 09/16/2016 - 2:49am

The 51% number makes no sense to me.

First, extra points aren't automatic. Assume it has a 99% chance of success. I think it safe to assume that if the extra point was missed, the Raiders' chances at recovering a forced (not surprise) onside kick, getting into field goal range and kicking the winning field goal with ~40 seconds can be approximated as zero.

Second, there is a non-zero chance that the Saints can move the ball into field goal range in 40 seconds even with no timeouts. It might not be high, but it's not zero - and especially not for this Saints team against this Raiders team on this day in New Orleans.

Finally, even if they hit the extra point and go to overtime, I don't see how the Raiders chances in OT on the road can be better than 50%. It's not like they stopped Brees to this point, why assume they'll do it in overtime?

In order to get to 51%, you essentially have to assume that extra points are automatic, that the Saints had zero chance of scoring in regulation, and that the Raiders had a better than even chance of winning in OT. None of those assumptions seem justified.

In fact, I'd estimate their chances at around 40% or so if they had tried the extra point. I think that on this day, with their offense against the Saints defense, their chances at converting were a little better than 50%, with the chances of the Saints scoring afterwards taking it down a little but not enough to get back to the extra point.

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by Winterguard78 :: Fri, 09/16/2016 - 3:12am

I enjoy perusing advanced statistics, but I make no claims as to my ability as a statistician. The way I understand the 51% thing is that if they don't get the 2, there win probability basically drops to zero where if they kick the extra point a million different outcomes are possible because it's tied with very little time left.The certainty of the XP is way below 99% since they moved it back- I think it was only like 93 or 94% in 2015. But what your not figuring in is the most important statistic, only like 40 something% of 2 point conversions are successful. So you weigh something the #s say you have only a 40 something% chance to do and if you get the conversion your win probability goes up, but not to the high 90's, I mean that kicker puts a little bit more juice on that kick and you got the 2 point and still lost. If you missed the 2, your win probability does drop way down, lower proportionately than it goes up when you convert. At least that's my understanding of the basic #s involved.

I don't think it was a bad call, but I'm not crazy about it if it's my team. Nothing would be worse than clawing back from 13 point fourth quarter deficit to beat it all on what's basically a 50-50 proposition. You gotta admit, you'd have been crushed if they lost like that, right? I also would probably just line up and run with Oakland's interior line- I like those odds better than that "sorry receiver Crabtree" catching a fade.