Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2016

Clutch Encounters: Week 12

by Scott Kacsmar

Week 12 kicked off with a record-setting seventh comeback win in 11 games by the Detroit Lions, which we covered on Friday. As for the week's leftovers, we had nine games with a comeback opportunity, and four successes.

Shockingly, one of the week's teams with a comeback failure was not Seattle, which lost 14-5 in Tampa Bay. The Seahawks trailed by that 14-5 margin for the entire second half, snapping their historic 98-game streak of having a lead or being within one score in the fourth quarter. I was planning on writing an article this week that would have led into Seattle's attempt for a 100-game streak, but the Buccaneers squashed that. So here is a table that shows each team's active streak of games where they have led or been within one score in the fourth quarter (including playoffs).

Active Streaks of Leading or Within One Score in 4th Quarter
Team Streak (Games) Last non-competitive loss
CAR 36 2014: Week 13 at MIN (L 31-13)
DEN 21 2015: Week 10 vs. KC (L 29-13)
DET 19 2015: Week 8 at KC (L 45-10)
WAS 18 2015: Week 11 at CAR (L 44-16)
SD 15 2015: Week 13 vs. DEN (L 17-3)
ATL 14 2015: Week 14 at CAR (L 38-0)
BAL 13 2015: Week 15 vs. KC (L 34-14)
TEN 13 2015: Week 16 vs. HOU (L 34-6)
NYG 12 2015: Week 16 at MIN (L 49-17)
DAL 11 2015: Week 17 vs. WAS (L 34-23)
NO 8 2016: Week 3 vs. ATL (L 45-32)
PIT 8 2016: Week 3 at PHI (L 34-3)
KC 7 2016: Week 4 at PIT (L 43-14)
MIA 7 2016: Week 4 at CIN (L 22-7)
NE 7 2016: Week 4 vs. BUF (L 16-0)
CIN 6 2016: Week 5 at DAL (L 28-14)
Team Streak (Games) Last non-competitive loss
NYJ 5 2016: Week 6 at ARI (L 28-3)
OAK 5 2016: Week 6 vs. KC (L 26-10)
HOU 4 2016: Week 7 at DEN (L 27-9)
JAC 4 2016: Week 8 at TEN (L 36-22)
MIN 4 2016: Week 8 at CHI (L 20-10)
SF 4 2016: Week 7 vs. TB (L 34-17)
BUF 3 2016: Week 8 vs. NE (L 41-25)
TB 3 2016: Week 9 vs. ATL (L 43-28)
CHI 2 2016: Week 10 at TB (L 36-10)
CLE 2 2016: Week 10 at BAL (L 28-7)
GB 2 2016: Week 10 at TEN (L 47-25)
PHI 1 2016: Week 11 at SEA (L 26-15)
ARI 0 2016: Week 12 at ATL (L 38-19)
IND 0 2016: Week 12 vs. PIT (L 28-7)
LARM 0 2016: Week 12 at NO (L 49-21)
SEA 0 2016: Week 12 at TB (L 14-5)

A quarter of the league has suffered at least one bad loss in the last three weeks. With the average streak at just a hair under eight games, you can see how impressive that 98-game streak was for Seattle. Carolina and Denver, the two teams from Super Bowl 50, have the two longest streaks still going. Two of the top three streaks were started after big losses to the Chiefs, and Kansas City actually has a league-high four such wins on this list.

Game of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs 30 at Denver Broncos 27

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (24-16)
Head Coach: Andy Reid (36-62-1 at 4QC and 48-70-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (18-26 at 4QC and 20-27 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When you see a 9-3 game at halftime, with Kansas City's offense contributing none of that scoring, you probably don't expect a 30-27 overtime thriller that nearly results in a tie, but that's the finish the Broncos and Chiefs put on Sunday night. Obviously, there were a few coaching decisions to question in this one, most prominently including why there weren't more two-point conversions attempted.

Denver's special teams had a miserable night, and an illegal formation on a Kansas City field goal led to a Chiefs first down, and eventually allowed them to score a go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. Rather than go for two to make it a 17-10 game, Andy Reid opted for the extra point and 16-10 lead. In a low-scoring game, I could see the rationale for protecting the tie by two Denver field goals, but that still would have been a reasonable situation to go for it.

Trevor Siemian came back with two deep passes for Emmanuel Sanders, who had 99 receiving yards on the drive, and his 35-yard touchdown gave Denver a 17-16 lead. So that extra point was going to come into play in a big way. When Denver got the ball back with 5:37 left at its own 4, running out the clock did not seem like a realistic outcome, but the Broncos gave it a good shot. After the Chiefs used their final timeout with 3:12 left, Siemian found Bennie Fowler wide open with Phillip Gaines completely lost in coverage, and Fowler raced 76 yards for a touchdown with 3:00 left. The main question is should Fowler have scored, or gone down in bounds inside the 5-yard line? This might be a hard concept for players to grasp in live action, but coaches can always teach this type of situational football. When an opponent is out of timeouts, this has to be considered. The clock would have been running, and Denver only needed to run one play to get to the two-minute warning. Two more runs followed by a short field goal would have left the Chiefs with about 30 seconds left in a 20-16 game. Is that the most ideal outcome for Denver? Probably so in this case, but there was another option here once Fowler scored.

Why the heck did Gary Kubiak not borrow a strategy from Pete Carroll two weeks ago and go for two to make it a 25-16 game? Carroll was the first and only coach to try this in the fourth quarter in NFL history, and while his offense did not score, his defense still did its job to get the win. I'm not going to go over this excessively again, but with 3:00 left, this felt like the perfect opportunity to do so, even better than the Seahawks in New England.

The first thing to remember is that, barring an improbable return by the Chiefs on the point-after try, Denver was in a great position no matter what it chose to do. As long as the Broncos did not allow a touchdown, they were going to win this game. Given its track record, wouldn't you feel confident in the Denver defense to hold a 23-16 lead? You should. Do you like the Denver defense to hold a 24-16 lead? Of course, but don't take too much comfort in preventing a two-point conversion. Should you allow the Chiefs to drive 75 yards, what's going to make you believe you'll suddenly stop them from the 2-yard line? Finally, if you gave the Denver defense a 25-16 lead with 3:00 left, then you should feel like the game is already won. Alex Smith takes a lot of time to get down the field, so how is he going to do so twice against this defense? Forget about it. And it's that early-win clinching feeling you get from the 9-point lead that makes it so worthwhile to try. Alas, the Broncos settled for the safe 24-16 lead.

Had the Chiefs been down 23-16 instead with 3:00 left, I highly doubt anything would have changed on the final drive of regulation. They would have made all the same decisions, and the only difference would have been the lack of a two-point conversion, because let's face it, Reid was going to play for overtime in that case. It was surprising to see Smith step up to drive on this defense for 75 yards, with the play of the drive going to Tyreek Hill on fourth-and-10 down to the 3-yard line with 15 seconds left. Hill's number was called again on a pass that he fortunately bobbled at the goal line before gaining possession with the ball across the plane for a good touchdown. The clock would have run out at the 1-yard line had Hill caught it cleanly. On the two-point conversion, Smith stuck a throw in to Demetrius Harris on a sprint-right option. This one was getting overtime.

On the first drive of overtime, Denver wanted to end the game with its suddenly hot offense, but Tamba Hali sacked Siemian on third down to force a 44-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. This was the 16th time a team started modified overtime with a field goal, but only the sixth time the opponent was able to answer with a tying field goal to extend the game.

Denver drove to the Kansas City 44 at the two-minute warning as the tie started to become a real possibility. Denver's final down series looked more like a team playing for a tie rather than a win. With both teams at 7-3 in a tough AFC West led by Oakland (9-2), a tie would not have been so bad of an outcome, but Denver had to at least make the appearance of trying to win to keep a division title alive. Siemian's deep shot for Fowler on third-and-10 was an odd call if Kubiak's intentions were to kick a really long field goal. While kicks tend to carry more in Denver, there was some wind on the night. McManus cited his range to be about 60 yards, for what it's worth. While punting would seem like a wimpy move, going for it with the offense might have been the right call instead with 1:08 left. But Kubiak used his timeout to set up the kick, and McManus was really not even close on the 62-yard attempt.

That gave the Chiefs incredible field position at the Denver 48. It was refreshing to see Kansas City still throwing with the ball at the 32 instead of settling for a long field goal as the final play of the game. A 16-yard gain for Travis Kelce set up Cairo Santos for a 34-yard field goal to win the game. He nailed the left upright, but got the favorable bounce to avoid this season having a third damn tie.

Denver is the second team in NFL history to lose a game after leading in overtime. The Colts did it in Carolina last year. This one should sting, because now the playoffs are hardly a guarantee for Denver (7-4).

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Carolina Panthers 32 at Oakland Raiders 35

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (32-24)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (28-51 at 4QC and 38-51 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (10-14 at 4QC and 10-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

While Giants-Browns was a slightly bigger mismatch on paper when it comes to late-game success this season, this game also featured two teams with completely different levels of success in crunch time. The Raiders have been successfully living on the edge all season, going 7-1 in close games. Meanwhile, the Panthers are 0-6 at game-winning drive opportunities a year after going 10-2 in close games.

You saw in the introduction that Carolina's streak of 36 games of leading or being within one score in the fourth quarter is the longest active streak in the NFL, but it sure looked to be in jeopardy here when Khalil Mack scored on a pick-six to put the Raiders up 24-7 at halftime. However, the game took a big turn when Derek Carr dislocated his pinky, leading to a fumble and short field for Carolina for one touchdown. Cam Newton shook off a horrific first half with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn. Carr returned to throw an interception that set up yet another short field for Carolina, which started to make this look like a 2015 Panthers game again. Not part of Carolina's 2015 success was Kelvin Benjamin (who missed the year with a torn ACL), but here he came down with a 44-yard bomb for a touchdown to put the Panthers ahead 32-24 with 13:26 left in the game.

That 25-0 scoring run combined with an injury to the starting quarterback may have sunk some teams, but Oakland has been fairly resilient this season. While some of the praise for Carr's comebacks this season has been excessive, this fifth one was definitely his best yet. Carr's two passes into small windows to tight end Clive Walford turned a field goal attempt into a touchdown, and a two-point conversion pass to Seth Roberts tied the game at 32 with 8:37 left. A holding penalty short-circuited Carolina's response drive, and Carr had the ball back with 5:05 left. Carr took advantage of linebacker A.J. Klein, who was filling in for All-Pro Luke Kuechly (concussion), on the Walford touchdown, and he caught Klein again deep down the field, oddly on Michael Crabtree for some reason, for a 49-yard gain on third-and-9.

After setting up a first-and-goal from the Carolina 6 at the two-minute warning, it was important for the Raiders to get a touchdown. The field goal was quite favorable, but settling for short runs and a kick likely would have left Newton more than a minute to answer. So when Carr threw incomplete on second and third down, it was hard to criticize the strategy too much. Passes were more likely to score there than runs for this Oakland offense, and Carr has been one of the best red zone passers over the last three seasons. But those incompletions did stop the clock twice, so Newton was able to have 1:45 and a timeout left, only needing a field goal to tie after Sebastian Janikowski made the 23-yard field goal to put Oakland on top 35-32.

A year ago, Newton was making such drives look easy, but that has not been the case on his last six opportunities. This one started well with two completions out to the Oakland 44, but that was where things stalled. Pressure forced two throwaways before Newton threw a pass that was just a hair too high for Greg Olsen to comfortably pull down. If he had caught the ball, the Panthers would have been inside the 20-yard line in the final minute. On fourth-and-10, the play looked like a repeat of Super Bowl 50, but with Mack playing the role Von Miller and Trai Turner starring as right tackle Mike Remmers. Mack beat Turner on his way to Newton for a game-ending strip-sack fumble. Carr lost 9 yards on two kneeldowns in the shotgun just to show how much of a concern the pinky was, but he came through with some big throws in this one to get Oakland to 9-2. That also means the Raiders have ended one of the longest streaks in the Super Bowl era (13 seasons) of going .500 or worse and missing the playoffs.

New England Patriots 22 at New York Jets 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (17-13)
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (49-77 at 4QC and 64-78 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (38-35 at 4QC and 50-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Patriots have been favored to beat the Jets in all nine meetings since the 2012 season. New England is 7-2 straight up in those contests, with both losses coming in overtime, but only covered the spread once: The Butt-Fumble Game, a 49-19 victory on Thanksgiving in 2012. New England was an 8.5-point road favorite again on Sunday, but whether you want to chalk it up to another Rob Gronkowski injury and Tom Brady's bum knee, the Patriots were anything but impressive. Fortunately, the Jets have been lousy all season, and went back to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback in a surprising move by coach Todd Bowles. Fitzpatrick actually played well -- until the end of the game, as anyone following the NFL for the last decade has come to expect.

To help Fitzpatrick, Quincy Enunwa had one of his best career games yet, and his 22-yard touchdown grab over Malcolm Butler in the end zone gave the Jets a 17-13 lead with 10:17 left. New England's other Malcolm, the rookie wideout Mitchell, nearly got the score right back, but Brady's third-down pass just went through his outstretched hands in the end zone. Stephen Gostkowski was good on the 41-yard field goal, which had to be a sigh of relief for the struggling kicker.

Not to be outdone, Malcom (With One "L") Brown forced an intentional grounding penalty on Fitzpatrick, and the Jets punted the ball back to Brady with 5:04 left in a 17-16 game. While the Jets were able to force the Patriots into a fourth-and-4 situation, Brady converted with a pass in the flat to James White for a 4-yard gain. Once Chris Hogan ran free down the seam for a 25-yard gain to the 8-yard line, the Jets were battling the clock as well as the Patriots. It was almost a luxury for the Jets when the Patriots scored on the next play with a Brady touchdown pass to Mitchell, who was too fast for an aged Darrelle Revis. Replay even had the Jets' back after a two-point conversion by White was correctly overturned since White's foot stepped out before the ball broke the plane.

Down 22-17 with 1:56 and two timeouts left, Fitzpatrick had 75 yards to drive for the likely game-winning touchdown. Fitzpatrick is now 9-39 (.188) in these comeback situations, so an interception seemed more likely than anything, but the quarterback switched it up with a Chris Long strip-sack that was recovered on the second play of the drive. Long beat Ben Ijalana, a failed second-round pick from Bill Polian's last rodeo in Indianapolis (2011), who had never started a game prior to this season. LeGarrette Blount put the game away on third-and-2 with a 23-yard run down to the 3-yard line that was so aggressive you would think he was playing for the cover.

But the Patriots will just take the win, which you may have heard is the 200th of Brady's NFL career. For the sake of round numbers, I found it more interesting that it was the 50th of those wins in which he led the Patriots to the game-winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Jacksonville Jaguars 21 at Buffalo Bills 28

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (16-36 at 4QC and 23-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor (2-9 at 4QC and 3-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Including the playoffs, these AFC teams have met 15 times, and 11 of the games were decided by seven points or less. The Bills took an 8-7 series lead after another close one where neither team ever led by more than seven points. Both have been forgotten causes in the conference for quite some time, but the Bills really needed this one at home to stay relevant with a 6-5 record.

The second half contained plenty of fireworks, with five touchdown drives. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Allen Hurns took a bubble screen from Blake Bortles and followed his blockers before diving into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown and 21-20 lead. Hurns unfortunately was injured on the play and did not return.

LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins have been banged up for the Bills this year, but both were healthy and played a big role here for Tyrod Taylor, who was just 1-9 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities coming into Sunday. First, McCoy took a dumpoff for 25 yards. Three plays later, Taylor threw deep for Watkins, but the pass was overthrown and intercepted by Tashaun Gipson. However, Prince Amukamara was penalized for pass interference for his coverage on Watkins. The CBS replay either missed the penalty, or it was a total phantom call. The All-22 angle shows a little bit of a tug, but the ball was also still way overthrown. Regardless, Buffalo took advantage of the break with Taylor finding Justin Hunter on a high catch for a 16-yard touchdown. The play design was interesting, with two wide-open receivers faking screens, and while the Jaguars had double-coverage for the outside receivers, Hunter still made the above-the-head catch with 10:46 left. McCoy's two-point conversion run extended the lead to 28-21.

Bortles actually led the Jaguars in rushing (81 yards) on the day, due to a lot of scrambling. The running backs were not as effective, but a hamstring injury for Chris Ivory was costly. That left Denard Robinson in the game, and he was stuffed on a third-and-1. On a second drive opportunity, Bortles threw a good pass for Allen Robinson on a third-and-4, but there was a ton of contact between Robinson and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Robinson was unable to complete the catch, but I thought this was a good no-call by the officials with the two players battling. With 3:33 left at the Buffalo 40, this was four-down territory, but the offense failed to get the play off in time, setting up a fourth-and-9. That would have been a situation where calling one of your last two timeouts was justified, but the penalty was just inexcusable. Almost as inexcusable was Bortles settling for a short throw that Marqise Lee turned into a 4-yard gain, or a brutal failed completion.

Buffalo's Charles Clay then caught a pass a yard short of the sticks on third-and-7, but muscled his way to the marker for a big first down as the clock dipped under three minutes. McCoy put things away for good with a 9-yard run on third-and-7. The Bills are currently in ninth place for the AFC playoffs, but any hope had to be met with a win here, and they came through. Only a brutal Cleveland team (0-12) is keeping Jacksonville (2-9) out of the AFC basement after expectations were higher coming into 2016.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Bengals at Ravens: This Is the End

If Cincinnati (3-6-1) had any hope of keeping up with Baltimore (5-5) and Pittsburgh (6-5) in an AFC North that is likely to get only one playoff team, it had to win this game in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the timing of A.J. Green's hamstring injury could not have been any worse. The star wideout missed the game, and his big-play history against the Ravens was sorely missed in the offense's slow start and difficult finish. The Bengals defense made sure to keep the game close, but that says just as much about a struggling Baltimore offense that relied on three field goals of at least 52 yards from the great Justin Tucker.

The Bengals added a field goal with 6:00 left to play to cut the deficit to 19-12, but Andy Dalton had a tough day in the red zone. He was going to have to fix that if the Bengals were to complete the comeback, which would have been one of the best of his career given the circumstances. Dalton has had four game-winning drives against the Ravens in his career, but Green has often been a big part of that success.

With 4:17 left, the Bengals actually turned the offense over to Rex Burkhead for three good runs for 28 yards against the No. 1 run defense coming into Week 12. Cincinnati was unlikely to run all over Baltimore anyway, but the absence of Giovanni Bernard (ACL) was mitigated thanks to Jeremy Hill chipping in a career-high six catches for 61 yards. Hill only had one other game in his career with more than 37 receiving yards before Sunday, so that role of receiving back is easier to replace than the all-around skills that Green provides this offense.

What Dalton really needed on this drive was better blocking that prevented the Baltimore players from knocking down his passes. The Ravens had an incredible four passes batted at the line on this drive alone. The last one set up a third-and-10 at the Baltimore 16 with 1:12 left. Elvis Dumervil was only making his first appearance since Week 5, and his first sack of 2016 likely ended Cincinnati's postseason hopes. Dumervil got by right tackle Eric Winston, who did not start the game (Cedric Ogbuehi did) to strip Dalton, and the Ravens recovered.

Baltimore was still going to have to punt with 11 seconds left, which opened up the low-probability odds for a block or a Dalton Hail Mary. So coach John Harbaugh called in a unique play where the Ravens just blatantly held every player they could while punter Sam Koch drifted into the end zone for an intentional safety with no time remaining. The game can end on such an offensive penalty, so the final score was 19-14.

Was it clever? Sure. Was it cheap? Sure. Will there be a rule change in the offseason? Well, Bill Belichick didn't try it first, so we'll see. I just wonder why the Bengals didn't go all out for the block with 11 players. At least in that case, someone should have been able to get a free run at Koch, but with 11 seconds left, there definitely was a time issue -- if Koch had gotten the punt off, there would have been a bouncing ball with no one to down it, potentially wiping out the whole clock. Baltimore may have been unwise to try this with 16 seconds left, but 11 seconds was about the right time for parlor tricks.

Either way, we are likely looking at the end of Cincinnati's five-year postseason streak. It was an odd run, since the Bengals were almost never great on either side of the ball, played in a pretty competitive division, didn't have stellar quarterback play outside of last year, and of course never actually won a playoff game in five tries. Now we just wonder if this will be the end for head coach Marvin Lewis after 14 seasons in Cincinnati.

Giants at Browns: That Was Predictable…

Cleveland came into Week 12 with a league-worst 0-6 record at game-winning drive opportunities this season, while the Giants had a league-high seven fourth-quarter holds. So it was probably not much of a surprise to see the Giants hold off another rally attempt by the Browns, who dropped to 0-12. The odd part was the case of déjà vu from last week's Cleveland loss to Pittsburgh. For the second week in a row, Josh McCown, facing an eight-point deficit, was strip-sacked of the ball, which was recovered for a touchdown. Johnathan Hankins blew through the interior of the Cleveland line to get to McCown, and the ball popped right to Jason Pierre-Paul for a 43-yard touchdown return with 10:58 left.

New York still needed an insurance touchdown after Cleveland cut the lead down to 20-13, but Odell Beckham Jr. got a drive moving with a 41-yard catch, and finished the march with a 4-yard touchdown with 5:10 left. Pierre-Paul closed the door on a dominant performance with a strip-sack in the final minute, giving him two sacks, a forced fumble, and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone. Cleveland has allowed 15 sacks in the last two weeks, and all six of the quarterbacks to play for the Browns this year have a sack rate of 7.1 percent or worse. The Browns are one of the last teams to go on a bye week, along with Tennessee, but if there's not a home win against Cincinnati in Week 14, then the reality of 0-16 may start to sink in.

Titans at Bears: …But That Was Unexpected

Tennessee's offense has really turned things around this season, as it should have with a lot of nice pieces in its personnel. On the other side, Chicago basically fielded a preseason offense in this one, with Jay Cutler, Josh Sitton, Kyle Long, and Zach Miller all out with injuries, and Alshon Jeffery suspended. So it was of little surprise when the Titans took a 27-7 lead with 13:45 left in the game. But that was when Matt Barkley, the fourth-string quarterback, started to put plays together against a Dick LeBeau-led defense that has always had its struggles with up-tempo, pass-happy attacks. Barkley's 6-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson on a fourth-and-2 kept the game alive, cutting Tennessee's lead to 27-21 with 3:06 left.

The Titans were unable to put the game away on offense after Marcus Mariota's shovel pass on third-and-2 came up a yard short of the conversion. John Fox and the Bears immediately called their final timeout with 2:06 left to save six seconds, which is one of the more embarrassing timeouts you'll see called all season. Seriously, would you rather get the ball with 1:50 and one timeout left, or 1:56 and no timeouts left? That's all Fox should need to see to understand his error.

At least a timeout was not really needed for the Bears, who were now in position to complete a 20-point comeback in the quarter that really seemed to come out of nowhere. Barkley found Marquess Wilson three times for 58 yards, and the Bears had a first-and-goal at the Tennessee 7 with 47 seconds left. Wilson only made his season debut a week ago, and had one catch coming into the game. While Wilson was hot, he unfortunately did not get another target the rest of the way. Barkley delivered a fine pass on first down, but Josh Bellamy dropped the ball like it contained a fungus while he was wide open in the end zone. The Titans defensed the next two throws, but on fourth-and-ballgame, Barkley again was on the mark in the end zone, only to see Thompson fail to make the catch.

If you can believe it, the Bears dropped seven passes in the fourth quarter alone. The Titans (6-6) were that close to losing to a much depleted Chicago team.

49ers at Dolphins: …But That Was Unexpected II

Miami's six-game winning streak and San Francisco's 10-game losing streak both continued, but the ending sure was interesting. The Dolphins seemed to wrap things up with a 31-14 lead with 11:31 left, but Colin Kaepernick found Chris Harper on two long-yardage situations to extend drives for points, cutting the deficit to 31-24 with 2:15 left. Miami helped the 49ers out a little with an overthrown pass on second-and-9 by Ryan Tannehill, which stopped the clock and saved the 49ers a timeout. If you throw on second down to try to win the game, I almost feel like you have to do it on third down too, but the Dolphins just ran Jay Ajayi on a draw that came up a yard short. From the Miami 23, this was a fourth-and-1 that I would have supported going for more than Bill Belichick's infamous fourth-and-2 decision in 2009, because of the 7-point lead, but punting was probably the right call here. Make the 49ers drive 62 yards in 1:44.

They almost did too, but things sure got off to a poor start with a face mask penalty that set up second-and-25. Kaepernick just kept checking down to Carlos Hyde for short gains that consumed a lot of clock, but he delivered a strike for 17 yards to Torrey Smith on fourth-and-11. The drive was not going to end without Kaepernick's legs being a factor, and his 20-yard scramble highlighted his 113-yard rushing performance on the day. Jeremy Kerley made a crazy toe-tapping catch at the 6-yard line with five seconds left to give the 49ers a shot for two plays if necessary. Kaepernick's quick pass failed, and it was hardly a surprise to see him try to run for the touchdown on the final play of the game. But when Kaepernick tried to cut back, he was sandwiched at the 2-yard line by Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso to end the game.

Had Kaepernick lofted a pass to his running back after doing his pump fake, he likely would have had an easy touchdown pass.

The only question then would have been whether Chip Kelly had opted for a two-point conversion to win the game, or an extra point to force overtime. Staring down a 1-10 record, let's hope he had two in mind.

Chargers at Texans: Almost BINGO

Houston's best shot of coming back actually happened on the first play of the fourth quarter. Down 14-7, Brock Osweiler threw two yards short of the sticks on third-and-goal, and the Texans settled for a 19-yard field goal in what was a low-scoring game. We talked at length last week about head coach Bill O'Brien's inane decision-making in the Oakland loss, but this call was defensible since the Texans were going to need two scores to win the game anyway. Unfortunately, Philip Rivers came through with a perfect lob pass to his tight end (Hunter Henry) for another touchdown, while Osweiler badly missed his tight end (C.J. Fiedorowicz) for another interception. Later, Osweiler was unable to make things happen under pressure, and the Texans turned the ball over on downs with 4:25 left, still down 21-10.

Osweiler got the ball back with 2:17 left, but a time-consuming drive for a 45-yard field goal left just 14 seconds on the clock. The ball then got loose on the onside kick attempt, and Houston was able to recover at the San Diego 41 with 12 seconds left, making a Hail Mary very doable. Teams are now 5-of-43 (11.6 percent) on onside kicks this season.

Were we going to have to add another crazy loss to the San Diego BINGO card? No team has ever won a game after starting a drive in the final minute, down by eight points. Only one such team even forced overtime, when the Broncos lost in Seattle in 2014. Osweiler took two Hail Mary shots into the end zone. The first was deflected away, and the last was intercepted to end the game, as well as any more potential heartbreak for the Chargers.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 52
Game-winning drives: 58
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 110/177 (62.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 27 (and one tie)

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 29 Nov 2016

11 comments, Last at 01 Dec 2016, 3:31pm by runaway robot

Comments

1
by RickD :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 4:34pm

Clearly the Pats need still more Malco(l)ms.

2
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 4:54pm

idd not read this articl yet but want to note that Denver Brobcos made mistake when tried 62 yard field goal. risk/reward bad . should ahev embraced tie like 76-yera old grandafther getting tie for Christmas and just happy to be alive instyead of acting like some 19-year old dork mad that his aunt got him sweatshirt for Christmas.

4
by RickD :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 5:23pm

Certainly a tie would have been an optimal result for the Raiders. :)

I think a tie would arguably have been as bad as a loss for the Broncos. They would have still been in 3rd place, and the half-win would have meant very little in terms of catching the Raiders. With a tie, actually catching the Raiders to tie in the standings would have been nearly impossible. And with two divisional losses already, the Broncos were probably going to lose any tiebreaker to Oakland.

I think for that given game, the best expected result comes from punting. But that probably means a tie. For the season as a whole, I can see wanting to take the risk to get an win, right then and there.

Of course with a loss, they're basically screwed. Two games back, only five games left, and three are against Oakland, KC, and New England. They're going to lose at least one more game.

But hey, they're doing better than the Panthers! It's really hard to stay at the top in the NFL.

11
by runaway robot :: Thu, 12/01/2016 - 3:31pm

I think you're right on both counts here. Trying to figure the probabilities with what I thought were reasonable numbers, I came up with: (1) Punt if a tie was equal to 0.5 of a win; (2) FG try if a tie was equal to 0.25 of a win.

3
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 5:00pm

Why did Harbaugh do that on a punt with 11 seconds left?

He learned from his brother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBlgN85wB6U

5
by BroncFan07 :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 6:14pm

I've read several points of view as to whether Denver should have gone for two to go up 25-16. While I see Scott's point in going for it, what nobody seems to ask is whether the team has a good 2 point play. With the amount of trouble Denver's offense has in going forward at times and with an almost non-existent running game, they may not have had a reliable play to run. Other than throw it up in the air and hope Demaryius can get his hands on it.

6
by LyleNM :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 6:29pm

I find this difficult to believe. Every team should have multiple plays they are willing to call on 4th and 2. They're just not always going to work because, you know, the other team is trying to play defense.

7
by RickD :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 7:14pm

Yes, you have to have a 2-point play likely to work against that defense.

Given that KC's defense was strong most of the game, I can see the wisdom of "settling for the PAT". Also consider that the decision relies on Denver's estimate of their own defense's ability to prevent KC from getting a 2-point conversion. Denver had two paths to victory in regulation: getting a 2-point conversion or preventing KC's 2-point conversion. They (reasonably IMO) thought the latter option had better odds. For a team with a great defense and a weak offense, this is hard to dispute.

8
by nat :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 8:08pm

...after a two-point conversion by White was correctly overturned since White's foot stepped out before the ball broke the plane.
Nice story, but not what the ref actually ruled. The ref's announcement was a curiously specific "did not establish himself in the end zone". That would have been an odd ruling if the ball had also not broken the plane before the play ended.

This was one of those wonderful examples of how the end zone is special. If a carried ball breaks the goal line between the pylons, the play ends there as a touchdown. Not so if the ball is outside the pylons. In that case, it's more like catching a pass. You have to touch the ground in the end zone to get credit for the TD, aka establish yourself in the end zone. In the replay, it was not at all clear that he stepped out before the ball crossed the goal line. But it was obvious that the ball passed outside the pylon, and that he never stepped wholly inbounds in the end zone despite clearly passing through it.

To put it another way, he did not get the ball itself into the end zone proper. Nor did he himself get established in the end zone while advancing the ball across the goal line.

Fun stuff, right? The real story is much more interesting than the almost right one you told.

9
by PatsFan :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 3:08pm

You're not quite right. I looked it up in the "Scoring" section of the real NFL rulebook (not the "digest of rules").

Obviously, the ball always has to cross the plane in player possession to be a TD.

However, if the player is not airborne the ball only has to cross the plane of the goalline, extended. In other words, the ball can cross the plane outside the pylon.

But, if the player is airborne the ball must cross the plane over or inside the pylon.

I also disagree that White ever managed to get the ball across the plane. On the most telling replay (the one with him coming straight toward the camera) the camera is almost perfectly lined up with the goalline (you can see that the pylon almost perfectly is in line with the goalline). And you'll see White's left foot touching the paint about a foot-and-a-half to the left of the pylon. And you'll see that all of White's body except his right foot and right leg is to the right of that left foot. Given (a) the width of White's body and shoulders and (b) he was holding his ball arm out from his body, that ball did not cross the plane.

10
by nat :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 4:33pm

Here's the relevant section of the current rule book:

ARTICLE 1. TOUCHDOWN PLAYS. A touchdown is scored when:
(a) the ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the opponents’ goal line (extended) and is in possession of a runner who has advanced from the field of play into the end zone
(b) a ball in possession of an airborne runner is on, above, or behind the plane of the goal line, and some part of the ball passed over or inside the pylon

If a player is NOT airborne, then he must get himself into the end zone and the ball across the extended goal line.

If a player is airborne, then he must get the ball across the (not extended) goal line, between the pylons.

There is no TD if a player (airborne or not) simply reaches the ball forward outside the pylon. So you're wrong about that part, or meant something other than what you said.

I think in practice the refs ignore the "airborne" requirement for breaking the plane, since the forward progress rules could force them to spot the ball in the end zone without awarding a TD, which would be absurd. The effective rule then simplifies to a choice of either YOU in the end zone and THE BALL across the extended goal line, or THE BALL in the end zone.

Feel free to disagree about whether White was out of bounds before the ball broke the plane of the goal line. But that's not what the ref ruled. He felt that the relevant part of the rule was the need to establish oneself in the end zone. Why did he go to that more obscure clause? Who really knows? Process? Perversity? Clarity? Or simply because the play could not be decided on the other requirements for a score?

We can't really know for certain. But the end zone is an interesting piece of real estate, don't you think?