Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Oct 2017

Clutch Encounters: Week 8

by Scott Kacsmar

The week started with Miami's embarrassing 40-0 defeat in Baltimore on Thursday and ended on Monday night with Denver's ugly third loss in a row against Kansas City, but in between we had some great action.

Fine, maybe the London game (Vikings-Browns) wasn't good either, but we were one snap away from having to cover that one here. Cleveland's first play of the fourth quarter was a fourth-down punt while trailing 23-16. That doesn't go down as a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity since the offense technically was not on the field with a one-score deficit in the fourth quarter. The Vikings added a touchdown to put things away, dropping Cleveland to 0-8.

Week 8 featured eight games with a comeback opportunity, including the first non-offensive game-winning score of 2017. We also had another instant contender for Game of the Year in Seattle. It's a shame the Texans and Seahawks won't meet again in the regular season until 2021. Maybe we can get a Super Bowl between Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson before then.

Game of the Week

Houston Texans 38 at Seattle Seahawks 41

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (38-34)
Game Winning Chance Before: 12.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After:92.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 80.2 percent
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (26-46-1 at 4QC and 34-51-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (18-21-1 at 4QC and 23-23-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When these teams last met in 2013, I gave birth to the "all Russell Wilson games end up close eventually" mantra. That has fallen off a bit recently, but Seattle did have a record 98-game streak of leading or being within one score in the fourth quarter that was snapped in 2016. Against Houston in 2013, Wilson was four games into his second NFL season, but that was the first time I noted how his games were always wins or very competitive to the end going back to college for two different programs. Wilson helped Seattle to a 17-point comeback win over Houston that day.

That was also the day when Houston starting quarterback Matt Schaub's career died. His inexplicably bad pick-six thrown to Richard Sherman tied the game for Seattle late in the fourth quarter. Houston had been eying a 3-1 start before that play, but never won another game that season and finished 2-14. Schaub's confidence was destroyed and he became a pick-six machine. He was traded to Oakland after the season, and the Texans have been searching ever since for a franchise quarterback.

The search appears to be over thanks to sensational rookie Deshaun Watson, who now has the most touchdown passes (19) in a player's first seven games in NFL history. The previous record holder was Kurt Warner (18), who turned out to be a Hall of Famer. It was understandable if there was skepticism over Watson's prolific start. After all, he still threw a pick-six to the lowly Browns; the Patriots were playing terrible defense in the first month of the season; and despite Trevor Siemian's best efforts to prove otherwise, the Chiefs haven't been that great defensively. Watson also needed a Hail Mary against the Chiefs before a final garbage-time touchdown to pad the numbers a little that night.

But that skepticism should subside after what Watson was able to do in Seattle against one of the premiere defenses of this era. He went score-for-score with Wilson in one of the greatest quarterback shootouts in NFL history, and that is not hyperbole. This wasn't 2009 Brady Quinn-Matthew Stafford. Wilson and Watson consistently hit big passes down the field and drove the defenses nuts with their ability to scramble out of trouble and find open receivers. Both quarterbacks also led their team in rushing on the day.

Watson threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 67 yards. Wilson threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 30 yards. Before Sunday, there were only four instances in NFL history where a quarterback passed for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for at least 30 yards. Watson and Wilson both did it in this game. Wilson also set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback who threw for at least 450 yards. Incredibly, Wilson achieved all of this despite his running game producing 3 yards on 17 carries.

This game wasn't blown coverage after blown coverage either. The defenses still pressured both quarterbacks often, sacked them multiple times, and collected four interceptions. But the playmaking ability by these quarterbacks and their receivers was unreal. Wilson had four completions of at least 48 yards, something that hasn't been done in the NFL this century. Randy Moss helped Randall Cunningham do so on touchdowns in 1998, the last time that happened. Oddly enough, none of Wilson's four big completions were touchdowns, and they all went to different receivers. They still set up four scores for Seattle in this back-and-forth affair where neither team ever led by more than 7 points.

There were four touchdown drives in the fourth quarter alone, including a 72-yard score to DeAndre Hopkins that put Houston ahead 38-34 with 4:49 left. I wrote about Hopkins' catch radius in 2015, and how he has usually been one of the lowest YAC receivers each season. So I couldn't help but laugh when he took a bubble screen and ran 74 yards after the catch for that touchdown. Including the playoffs, Sunday was the 74th game of Hopkins' career, and he only once had a game with 70 YAC (90 YAC against the Titans in 2014). He had more YAC on this one play than he had in 72 of his first 73 games. Hopkins finished with 111 YAC in arguably the best game of his career.

While Watson had a pick-six early and another pick in the third quarter, he still did more than enough to put his team in position for a win. The Houston defense made a crucial stop too when Wilson threw an interception to Marcus Williams from a clean pocket while at the Houston 20 with 2:49 left.

Watson scrambled on a zone-read keeper for a first down to get to the two-minute warning. Seattle had all three timeouts left, so two more runs and a punt to give Wilson about 100 seconds to win the game with a touchdown was not optimal for Houston. However, that's exactly what O'Brien did, with Lamar Miller only getting 2 yards on a third-and-4 run. That needed to be a run-pass option in Watson's hands. I had a similar complaint this year when O'Brien ran Miller three times and kicked a field goal on fourth-and-1 in New England. Tom Brady went on to throw a game-winning touchdown pass with 23 seconds left.

Call it déjà vu.

Like Brady, Wilson has been one of the best quarterbacks in history at pulling off these late drives. This was his 18th fourth-quarter comeback win, the most in NFL history for a player's first six seasons. Wilson immediately went deep to Paul Richardson for a 48-yard gain. A false start drained some clock, which actually played out to Seattle's advantage, as the next play wasn't snapped until 46 seconds remained. Houston looked confused after another completion and really should have used a timeout to get sorted. Jadeveon Clowney barely had time to line up in his stance before Wilson, under zero pressure, found Jimmy Graham wide open in the middle of the field for an 18-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left. Seattle made that 80-yard drive look easy. On Houston's final drive, Watson took a sack and could only throw up a Hail Mary, but Sherman came down with the interception to end the game.

Watson led six go-ahead scoring drives in the game, but his team still lost. Watson is the ninth quarterback to ever throw two go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a loss. That hasn't happened since Matt Cassel for the 2013 Vikings in Baltimore in one of the wildest finishes ever.

Go figure, Houston finally finds a franchise quarterback, but the defense suffers major injuries and falters badly. Houston (3-4) has already lost three games this season despite scoring at least 33 points. The only other teams in NFL history to do that were the 1985 Chargers and 2002 Chiefs, the latter of which had a very similar 3-4 start to these Texans.

This is very early, but perhaps we need a new mantra: "It takes a lot of points to beat a Deshaun Watson team." At Clemson, Watson was 32-3 as a starter. The first loss was a game he left injured after six throws, so he only had two legit losses in college. In the 2015 National Championship Game against Alabama, Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and had a fourth-quarter lead, but lost 45-40. Against Pittsburgh in 2016, Watson threw for 580 yards and had a 42-34 fourth-quarter lead, but the Panthers won 43-42 on a last-second field goal.

So far in the NFL, Watson's three losses as a starter have been 36-33 in New England, 42-34 against Kansas City, and 41-38 in Seattle. Watson has two lost comebacks, which is something that took Tom Brady 172 games to accumulate in his career. This makes Watson 2-3 as a starter when he leads his team to at least 33 points. That is most unusual, and I compiled a table of 26 active quarterbacks, 12 Hall of Famers, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo (because why not?) to show just how unusual that is. I also included the average points for and against in these starts, including playoff games. These quarterbacks won 92.5 percent of their starts when their team scored at least 33 points.

Active QB: Record when Team Scores 33+ Points
Player Record Pct. Avg PF Avg PA
Russell Wilson 20-0 1.000 40.1 14.2
Sam Bradford 8-0 1.000 36.0 22.3
Tyrod Taylor 6-0 1.000 36.5 15.3
Josh McCown 4-0 1.000 36.5 22.0
Ben Roethlisberger 37-1 0.974 38.0 18.7
Andy Dalton 18-0-1 0.974 36.6 19.2
Matt Ryan 32-1 0.970 39.4 22.5
Tom Brady 90-3 0.968 39.7 18.6
Aaron Rodgers 41-3 0.932 40.1 21.1
Philip Rivers 40-3 0.930 38.6 21.0
Joe Flacco 25-2 0.926 37.6 17.3
Alex Smith 23-2 0.920 38.7 18.6
Derek Carr 10-1 0.909 36.0 27.5
Player Record Pct. Avg PF Avg PA
Drew Brees 59-6 0.908 40.2 23.4
Jay Cutler 24-3 0.889 38.1 23.2
Ryan Tannehill 8-1 0.889 36.9 20.6
Andrew Luck 14-2 0.875 38.1 26.2
Kirk Cousins 7-1 0.875 38.6 23.6
Carson Palmer 26-4 0.867 39.8 24.8
Cam Newton 21-3-1 0.860 38.3 22.6
Eli Manning 32-6 0.842 38.6 23.1
Matthew Stafford 19-4 0.826 38.4 26.1
Marcus Mariota 8-2 0.800 37.5 27.1
Blake Bortles 4-1 0.800 41.2 22.6
Jameis Winston 4-1 0.800 37.2 22.6
Ryan Fitzpatrick 11-3 0.786 37.6 25.3
Retired QB: Record when Team Scores 33+ Points
Player Record Pct. Avg PF Avg PA
Ken Stabler 29-0 1.000 38.4 19.3
Joe Montana 40-1 0.976 38.9 18.5
Jim Kelly 37-1 0.974 39.2 19.5
Brett Favre 71-2 0.973 37.4 17.8
Troy Aikman 31-1 0.969 37.4 15.2
John Elway 47-2 0.959 36.7 17.2
Steve Young 44-2 0.957 39.5 16.5
Terry Bradshaw 36-2 0.947 36.6 15.3
Peyton Manning 76-5 0.938 39.3 21.9
Kurt Warner 38-3 0.927 39.0 21.5
Warren Moon 31-4 0.886 38.9 21.5
Tony Romo 28-4 0.875 37.6 22.1
Dan Fouts 34-5 0.872 40.2 24.5
Dan Marino 34-9 0.791 37.5 24.6

Watson's three losses are already more than 16 of his active peers, and just as many as the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Brady. Again, the explanation is quite simple. O'Brien didn't allow him the chance to win two games on third down; the Texans gave up game-winning touchdowns in the final 30 seconds to two all-time greats; and a Hail Mary in garbage time padded the Kansas City score. We have no doubt that Watson will go on to win a lot more of these games than he'll lose, but it has been a fascinating start in so many ways in Houston.

Just think how much of a dud this game would have been with Tom Savage as the starter. Instead we witnessed an all-time great shootout, and it's a shame one team had to lose. At least this time the Texans can walk away from a Seattle loss with optimism surrounding their quarterback.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Atlanta Falcons 25 at New York Jets 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Game Winning Chance Before: 52.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After:73.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 21.7 percent
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (6-10 at 4QC and 9-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (26-37 at 4QC and 36-40 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When the schedule came out, it was odd to see that the Falcons were set to play the entire AFC East in a four-game stretch starting with the Bills in Week 4. That type of scheduling rarely happens. Expectations were for Atlanta to go 3-1 with a loss in New England, but the Falcons nearly became the first team to get swept by an interconference division in succession in the 32-team era.

In the end, the Falcons beat the team once pegged to go 0-16, but Todd Bowles had the Jets (3-5) playing competitively for the sixth week in a row. While Josh McCown handled the pouring rain quite well, kicker Chandler Catanzaro did not. He missed from 48 yards away, his second miss of the day, which gave the Falcons decent field position with only a 17-16 deficit with 14:17 left. Tevin Coleman ripped off a 52-yard run to get Atlanta into the red zone, where Matt Ryan almost lost a third fumble on an aborted snap. The rain didn't bother his passing much, but Ryan had three official fumbles on the day. On a third-and-8, Ryan expertly navigated the field to stay behind the line of scrimmage before throwing a touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu, who made a great catch.

On the two-point conversion, Ryan dropped the ball again, and was fortunate the Jets didn't return that fumble for two points. Ryan has already thrown the first "pick-two" in NFL history to Kansas City's Eric Berry on a two-point conversion last year. The Falcons led 22-17, but as I often bring up, McCown has one of the worst records in NFL history (now 5-32) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. This one wouldn't be entirely his fault, but he did get away with a fumble on a strip-sack that was recovered by the Jets. That saved a 46-yard field goal attempt, which Catanzaro made this time. Jeremy Kerley muffed a punt for the Jets, which gave the Falcons an easy field goal on a drive that only gained 2 yards.

Down 25-20, McCown was running out of time and chances for a go-ahead touchdown. He was hit as he threw on a third-and-7, almost getting intercepted with four minutes left to play. The Falcons converted one third down and made the Jets use all of their timeouts, but McCown did get the ball back with 1:07 left. The catch was he had to drive 96 yards, and a bunch of short gains were not going to get that accomplished. After McCown hit a pass to the New York 38, his attempt at a spike failed after the Jets were penalized for a false start, which caused a 10-second runoff that ended the game.

The Falcons (4-3) survived more than they impressed, but perhaps a return to familiar NFC opponents will help Atlanta get back on track this season.

Indianapolis Colts 23 at Cincinnati Bengals 24

Type: 4QC (non-offensive game-winning score)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (23-17)
Game Winning Chance Before: 30.9 percent
Game Winning Chance After:72.9 percent
Win Probability Added: 42.0 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (31-70-2 at 4QC and 42-71-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (13-26-2 at 4QC and 18-27-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Indianapolis joined the Giants as the only teams to blow three fourth-quarter leads this season, but this one was not on the defense. The Colts continued to turn the Bengals away by forcing a Joe Mixon fumble and sacking Andy Dalton three times in the fourth quarter. Indianapolis seemed to have found their way offensively with five scores in a six-drive span, but things fell apart again down the stretch. With the Colts leading 23-17 with 7:05 left, Jacoby Brissett's pass was tipped at the line and caught by Carlos Dunlap, who returned the ball 16 yards for a touchdown. The extra point gave the Bengals a 24-23 lead. According to EdjFootball, the pick-six caused a 42.0 percent difference in Game Winning Chance.

What the Colts had here was a self-imposed comeback opportunity, or SICO for short. This is when an offense triggers a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity by allowing a defensive score that turns a lead into a deficit. The last four SICO games caused by a pick-six still saw the quarterback redeem himself with a game-winning drive, with wins by Matthew Stafford (2016 Lions vs. Bears), Blake Bortles (2015 Jaguars vs. Bills), Peyton Manning (2015 Broncos at Browns), and Drew Brees (2013 Saints at Buccaneers). There hasn't been a pick-six that was a game-deciding score in a SICO since Trent Green threw a pick-six to the Bills while playing for the Rams in 2008.

Against a tough Cincinnati secondary, Brissett only completed six passes for 57 yards to his wide receivers on the day. Tight end Jack Doyle did the majority of the damage with 12 catches for 121 yards. To his credit, Brissett drilled a pass in a super small window to Kamar Aiken on a big third-and-7, but Aiken lost the ball after going to the ground. In getting a second chance to set up Adam Vinatieri for a game-winning field goal, Brissett had things moving well, but ran into trouble at the two-minute warning. The Bengals only rushed four, but Brissett was buried for a sack to bring up third-and-13. After a checkdown set up fourth-and-4, Cincinnati's four-man rush delivered again, hitting Brissett in motion and causing the pass to sail well over the head of T.Y. Hilton.

In a season that makes little sense, Indianapolis' 2-6 record without Andrew Luck is actually one of the most reasonable things we have. The Colts have been blown out three times, lost three fourth-quarter leads, and scraped by the two 0-8 teams (Browns and 49ers) at home.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Steelers at Lions: Seven Field Goals or Seven Points?

Thanks almost exclusively to problems in the red zone, Sunday night's game in Detroit was a rare one. The two offenses combined to go 1-for-8 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Detroit gained the third-most yards (482) in NFL history for a team that did not score a touchdown.

The tipping point came with 4:31 left in the third quarter with the Lions trailing 13-12. After getting stopped twice at the 1-yard line, the Lions had a fourth-down decision to make. According to EdjFootball, the Game Winning Chance with a Detroit pass on fourth down was 55.4 percent, compared to 54.8 percent with a run. This accounts for the fact that Matthew Stafford is a better option than Detroit's running game. Those odds fell to 50.0 percent if Detroit tried a field goal, which sounds reasonable for a 15-13 lead with almost 20 minutes left to play. I think Jim Caldwell was right to go for it, but he needed to pick a strategy and stick with it. Either always go for the touchdown, or keep kicking those field goals. The play design wasn't good and Stafford took a sack.

Still, you don't expect to give up a touchdown with that great field position, but that's when the Steelers broke the game open to set the path for the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger wasn't at his sharpest on the night, but on third down he delivered down the field to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard touchdown. There have only been 28 touchdown passes of at least 97 yards in the regular season in NFL history. Roethlisberger is the first quarterback to ever have three touchdown passes of at least 94 yards in his career.

For the fourth quarter, Detroit continued to engage in a battle of red zone futility while the Steelers were just trying to escape with a win. Caldwell decided on a 19-yard field goal on the next drive instead of trying another fourth-and-1, likely due to the first failure. As a matter of fact, his explanation was that he kicked here because "it was later in the game." Again, that's where a consistent approach works best. If you were willing to bypass a 15-13 lead, why not try to tie the game? A 20-15 deficit still leaves you needing a touchdown, or two field goals. With the way the game was going, two more field goals may have actually worked out.

That shot at a first field goal was lost after Golden Tate had an unforced fumble on a wild play at the Pittsburgh 26 with 9:31 left. He just lost control of the ball and the Steelers recovered. After a Pittsburgh punt, Stafford had a reasonable situation: 4:55 left with 85 yards to go for the go-ahead touchdown. Time was never an issue, but the red zone was again after Eric Ebron made a big 44-yard catch to get to the 11. With a third-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 6, Detroit made a shocking call to run Theo Riddick on a shotgun draw, and he lost 2 yards to bring up the two-minute warning. When Stafford has the richest contract in NFL history, how does he not have the ball in his hands on that play? I almost thought Caldwell would kick another field goal to get to 20-18 with three timeouts left, but he went for it. Pittsburgh got great pressure with only a three-man rush, and Ryan Shazier dropped a potential pick-six. That may have been big if Detroit was able to get the ball back, but the Steelers finally iced the game after a nifty conversion to Smith-Schuster on a third-and-1 shovel pass.

After starting 2017 with another fourth-quarter comeback win over Arizona, the Lions have lost their last three comeback opportunities. We talked ad nauseam this offseason about that expected regression, but it's not like any mystical force kept batting Stafford's passes down in New Orleans or prevented Tate from scoring against Atlanta on the last play, or caused him to fumble on Sunday night. Last season the Lions kept making these plays, and so far this year they aren't. It really is that simple.

Cowboys at Redskins: A Fitting Ending

This game did not look destined for this column after the Cowboys led 26-13 in the fourth quarter. Washington couldn't get out of its own way with a blocked field goal before halftime and lost fumbles by Kirk Cousins (strip-sack) and Chris Thompson (on a kickoff return). When Cousins checked down short of the sticks to Thompson on a fourth-and-5 with 6:03 left, that should have nipped any comeback bid, but Thompson squirmed free for a first down. In the pouring rain on that drive, Cousins had to overcome an aborted snap and two passes that looked to be intercepted, but both hit the ground. Finally, an incompletion in the end zone on fourth-and-10 from the Dallas 23 seemed to end this doomed drive, but a horrible pass interference penalty was issued against cornerback Anthony Brown.

At worst, that was pass interference by both Brown and wide receiver Josh Doctson, which would have been offsetting penalties. Logically, the referees should have just acknowledged that both players were contacting each other and played the ball competitively, so no flag necessary. A call that bad really makes you wonder sometimes about a referee's intentions. One play later, Doctson caught a touchdown, but Washington missed the extra point, so it was still 26-19.

Dallas did well to gain two first downs, but Dak Prescott was stopped short on a zone-read keeper on third-and-3. That call was pretty safe, but unlike what Houston did in Seattle, I still like that Dallas at least put the ball in Prescott's hands in that situation. By the time Dallas punted, Cousins was down to 54 seconds left from his own 12. Washington started the drive with a 4-yard screen that never should have been called. With time wasting away, Cousins' next pass was tipped at the line right to Byron Jones for a pick-six to make the final a more appropriate 33-19.

This was the fourth time in the last eight Washington games where the offense gave up a return touchdown in the final 90 seconds to turn a one-score deficit into a two-score loss. No other NFL team has had this happen even once in that time span.

Chargers at Patriots: The Old Familiar Sting

While there wasn't a fumbled interception or missed clutch field goal this time, the Philip Rivers-led Chargers still did what they always do against the Tom Brady-led Patriots: lose. The seventh and possibly final meeting between the two quarterbacks ended in familiar fashion with Rivers tossing a game-ending interception on the final play in a 21-13 final.

The truth is the game was decided well before that final desperation drive. The Patriots don't always so much beat San Diego Los Angeles as they watch the Chargers beat themselves. This was apparent from the opening possession when the Chargers settled for a 51-yard field goal with weak-legged Nick Novak instead of going for a fourth-and-1. Despite an 87-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles largely ignored their back, who may be the best skill player on the team these days. The Chargers also brought out the Wildcat with Branden Oliver on a third-and-2 and threw a pick play short of the sticks on another third-and-2, and Travis Benjamin turned in one of themost embarrassing punt returns ever when he retreated to his end zone for a safety. Never mind the other hilarity such as an offside penalty on a kickoff that led to a 71-yard kick return by Dion Lewis on a re-kick; a touchdown wiped out by offensive pass interference when two Patriots collided into each other after Tyrell Williams did a good job to set a natural pick; or Rivers lobbing a Hail Mary on third-and-31 to one of his receivers against four Patriots. Oh, that Hail Mary was only attempted after Rivers just dropped the ball on the previous play.

The only things that really kept the Chargers close enough for a late comeback attempt were two missed field goals by the usually reliable Stephen Gostkowski. The Chargers were the first defense to pressure Brady more than 30 percent of the time this season. Still, Brady had a key 26-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski late that converted a second-and-20, and he added to his list of successful quarterback sneaks on another third-and-1. That drive led to another field goal and 21-13 lead, but more importantly, the drive left Rivers with just 62 seconds to drive 79 yards for a touchdown.

Benjamin was the target on six of Rivers' passes on the drive, but should have ducked out of bounds early on the first play instead of wasting precious seconds for insignificant yards. With the big plays not coming, the Chargers completed a risky pass over the middle of the field, but were able to line up properly for a spike with one second left at the New England 23. This was very similar to the Week 5 ending in Tampa Bay when the Patriots had to stop Jameis Winston 19 yards away from the end zone, but that was for the game. The Chargers still would have needed a two-point conversion just to force overtime here. But much like how Winston's pass wasn't even to the end zone, Rivers was short on his throw and picked off by Jonathan Jones at the 1-yard line.

The Patriots (6-2) enter the bye week already with a tale of two seasons. In the first four games, they scored at least 27 points and allowed at least 20 points. In the last four games, all wins, the Patriots have not scored more than 24 points and have not allowed more than 17 points. The last time the Patriots had a streak like this, it was from the 2007 AFC Championship Game (against San Diego) to Week 2 of 2008, or Matt Cassel's first start after Brady tore his ACL the previous week.

So you can say that this is the first time in Brady's long career that the Patriots have gone four games without scoring or allowing more than 24 points. Given the way the season started, that's really a big surprise.

Bears at Saints: It May Be 2006 Again for One Team

In the annals of incredible but obscure comebacks, the 1999 Bears once shocked the Saints by scoring two touchdowns after the two-minute warning in a 14-10 win. Shane Matthews was the Bears' quarterback that day, and he later led some crazy comebacks for the 2001 Chicago team that also saw safety Mike Brown score in overtime with a pick-six in back-to-back weeks.

Whether it was 2001 or 2006 (or even 2010), we tend to think of successful Chicago teams this century as the ones with unheralded quarterback play who kept producing improbable takeaways and return scores. When we think of successful Saints teams, we think of Drew Brees being great and the defense being something better than terrible.

On Sunday, Brees was very sharp (23-of-28 for 299 yards), but had zero touchdown passes in a home game for just the third time since 2008. However, the defense was holding up its end of the bargain again, holding the Bears to six points halfway through the fourth quarter. With the Saints leading 17-6 and Brees driving in the red zone, this one sure looked like a comfortable win, but that was when the Bears went to work on another improbable comeback.

Mark Ingram was hit in the backfield and fumbled after trying to do too much on a busted run. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had another quiet (by 2017 standards) passing day with 164 yards, but a 46-yard scramble on a third-and-10 helped show why he was such a high draft pick. His lone touchdown drive of the day was not without controversy. On a third-and-7, Marcus Williams was penalized for a facemask, but he never grabbed anyone's facemask. Kenny Vaccaro may have nudged a facemask before the pass was caught by Dion Sims, but that was a shaky call, and the Bears got a really favorable spot (7 yards in the gamebook) as well as the automatic first down. Tarik Cohen ran in the 1-yard touchdown, but Trubisky's two-point conversion pass was tipped and caught out of bounds.

After Brees hit a 53-yard bomb to Ted Ginn Jr., the Saints seemed to be in great position to add to the 17-12 lead or run out the clock. Instead, Ingram again fumbled after Adrian Amos stripped him of the ball with 2:12 left. At the two-minute warning, the run-heavy Bears decided to pass on both third and fourth down with a yard to go for a conversion. Trubisky missed both throws in a situation where no one should have been critical of a running play (or two).

On the ensuing drive, I didn't mind the Saints going conservative with three runs and a long field goal, just because it gave them a 20-12 lead which protected them from losing in regulation. Make the rookie in a limited passing offense drive a long field for the touchdown.

What the Saints didn't expect was to give up a long kick return and a horse-collar tackle on top of things, which put the ball at the New Orleans 43 with 1:28 left. Fortunately, the Bears' last drive was a mess. A false start, a checkdown for no gain, and then Trubisky air-mailed a pass right to rookie corner Marshon Lattimore, who had better learn to slide in those game-ending situations instead of trying to get meaningless return yards. You wouldn't want the Bears to get yet another improbable takeaway, but it's not quite 2006 again for Chicago (3-5).

It could be 2006 again for the Saints (5-2), who have a five-game winning streak for the first time since the 2013 season, the last time they made the playoffs.

Panthers at Buccaneers: Hard Knocks, Harder Fall

Call me crazy, but I thought Tampa Bay (2-5) could salvage its season at home with a win over the Panthers. Tampa Bay actually ranked sixth in offensive DVOA entering Week 8, but was an embarrassing 32nd on defense. However, Carolina's offense has been so inconsistent behind Cam Newton this year that this seemed like a favorable matchup. In the end, the 39th start of the Jameis Winston era produced a career-low 3 points on the scoreboard as the Buccaneers fell 17-3, and likely fell out of relevance for the rest of 2017.

The defense did more than enough to keep Winston and company in this one, trailing 10-3 to start the fourth quarter. Third down mystified the Buccaneers on Sunday, including a 0-for-7 mark in manageable situations where only 4 to 8 yards were needed. On a third-and-7 from his own 33, Winston's arm was hit just as he threw and the ball floated to a diving Mike Adams for a big interception.

When it looked like Carolina may have been playing for a field goal and 10-point lead, Newton delivered a deep throw on third-and-16 to Kelvin Benjamin for an easy 25-yard touchdown in the end zone. The coverage was just horrific, with Benjamin getting passed off from cornerback Ryan Smith to safety Justin Evans, who had no shot at disrupting the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. No defense can justify this type of coverage on the best receiver on the field in this situation. Smith looks like he's playing a game of tag (and failing at that too).

The struggle only continued from there. Winston threw an interception right to Luke Kuechly. Later, after running their first red zone play of the game with 2:54 left, Winston took a 9-yard sack that pushed the Buccaneers back to the Carolina 28. Winston threw two more incompletions, and Carolina ran out the clock, as well as any hope of the Buccaneers doing something this year.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 23
Game-winning drives: 37 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 66/119 (55.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 12

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjFootball.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 31 Oct 2017

9 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2017, 2:13pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by RickD :: Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:16pm

So, when scoring 33+ points, DeShaun Watson is 2-3 while Tom Brady is 90-3.

Wow.

2
by mshray63 :: Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:34pm

...and Wilson is 20-0!? What an amazing game that was.

3
by Raiderfan :: Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:52pm

The Moss game against the Cowboys was one of the greatest "f--- you for not drafting me" of all time.

4
by Perfundle :: Tue, 10/31/2017 - 6:31pm

Look on the bright side: when scoring fewer than 33 points Watson is 1-0.

But Watson sure has some challenges up ahead. Seattle was 5th in pass defense DVOA (probably going to drop today), but Watson will face all four teams with even better pass defenses in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, LA and Jacksonville.

5
by serutan :: Tue, 10/31/2017 - 11:56pm

Scott : " The Houston defense made a crucial stop too when Wilson threw an interception to Marcus Williams from a clean pocket while at the Houston 20 with 2:49 left."

Obviously the base cause of this interception was the clean pocket; Wilson no
longer knows what to do with one.
______
Was wr

6
by scraps :: Wed, 11/01/2017 - 1:04am

I know you're joking -- mostly -- but Brady Henderson on ESPN addressed Wilson's terrible interception:

‘Every interception has a story, and based on the one that Carroll told about Wilson’s interception on Seattle’s second-to-last drive — when he was trying to hit Paul Richardson near the goal line — the quarterback wasn’t at fault. "I know that they did talk about what happened on the route," Carroll said. "We could have — we were supposed to come underneath right there and he was anticipating that Paul would get underneath the cornerback and he didn’t. So it all happens on time and the guy steals the ball away. Russ wasn’t going to throw an interception in that game. He just wasn’t. That just happened because we made a little error there." ’

7
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 11/01/2017 - 4:52am

Side question ... have there been fewer OT games this season than usual?

8
by Travis :: Wed, 11/01/2017 - 8:56am

7 of the 8 overtime games this year have included at least one of the expected-to-be-terrible teams (Browns, Bears, 49ers, Jets, Colts), which might explain why you haven't noticed that the NFL is on pace for a couple more OT games than normal.

Overtime games by year, last 10 years:
2017: 8 (through 119 of 256 games)
2016: 13
2015: 21
2014: 11
2013: 16
2012: 22
2011: 13
2010: 19
2009: 13
2008: 15

Data for 1974-2016 can be seen here.

9
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 11/01/2017 - 2:13pm

Yeah, OT is up a little, but 4QC are down.