Clutch Encounters: Week 10

Clutch Encounters: Week 10
Clutch Encounters: Week 10
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Everyone's in the win column now. For the first time since the Bengals and Cardinals did it in Week 9 of the 1978 season, two 0-8 teams won their first game in the same week. It doesn't surprise me, as nothing should be a surprise in the NFL anymore.

Then again, the Colts lost by 30 at home to the Rams. Greg Schiano (2-10) and Ron Rivera (3-18), the two worst active coaches at game-winning drive opportunities, generated the only successful fourth-quarter comebacks of Week 10. Those are a few outcomes you could call surprising.

We had nine games with a comeback opportunity this week, but only one featured a successful Hail Mary. Or a huge failure, depending on which way you look at it.

Game of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals 17 at Baltimore Ravens 20

Type: GWD (OT)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.67
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (10-21 at 4QC and 17-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (10-20 at 4QC and 17-23 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Normally for "Game of the Week" we have something with a high caliber of play from one or both teams. This was not a pretty game, but it had the wildest play of Week 10. It had 30 possessions. Six ended with giveaways, along with multiple fourth-down stops. Baltimore led 17-0, but Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton engaged in a battle to see which quarterback could drop his stock furthest the fastest.

Baltimore's inept running game continued, producing 30 carries for 85 yards. Flacco averaged 2.57 yards per drop back, so the Bengals, not showing much dropoff without Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, were able to hang around until the end.

Down 17-3 in the fourth quarter, the Bengals intercepted Flacco for a second time and Dalton finally engineered a good drive. He kept it on a read-option for seven yards to convert a fourth-and-2. On the next play, Giovani Bernard took a screen pass for an 18-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game.

Baltimore used over four minutes of clock time to move into Cincinnati territory as even a field goal would likely ice the game. Flacco overthrew Torrey Smith on a potential touchdown bomb. On third-and-10 at the Cincinnati 42, James Harrison, an old nemesis from Pittsburgh, recovered a fumble after Carlos Dunlap strip-sacked Flacco.

Dalton kept his team's drive alive with a nifty 12-yard scramble on third-and-10, putting a spin move on safety James Ihedigbo. Two plays later, Dalton threw a terrible pass that was tipped by Baltimore and Ihedigbo came away with the interception with 1:55 left.

The Bengals had all three timeouts, and the Ravens are really bad at running the ball this year, so it was not surprising that a three-and-out was forced by the defense. Dalton had 88 seconds to drive 60 yards, which is within reason.

Short gains were burning a lot of clock as Dalton had a two-yard scramble and took a bad sack from Elvis Dumervil. He was forced to spike the ball with two seconds left, setting up a fourth-and-15 from his own 49.

At that point you can only throw the Hail Mary, which Dalton got off facing a three-man rush. While most of these fall harmlessly incomplete, we have seen some interesting catches over the years. This one may have been unlike any other. The ball was short of the end zone, but it reached the customary large mass of players, got tipped into the air, and then Ihedigbo made the cardinal sin of tipping the ball again, putting enough air on it for A.J. Green to make the easy touchdown catch. This is the real "Fail Mary."

Too bad Dan Dierdorf already used the one good line of his career, as this would have been the perfect moment for him to say "Lord, you can take me now. I've seen it all."

How bad was that decision by Ihedigbo? The fact that he decided to stab at the ball with one hand says it all. Amazingly, we'd get overtime in this one. The Bengals won the toss and chose to receive, even though both offenses were playing terrible football. Like last week, I am continuously preaching for a coach to defer and this would have been another good situation to do it. If this was Denver-San Diego going to overtime in a 28-28 tie, then I would say take the ball. But these offenses, at their current rate, were more likely to turn it over than drive a long field for a touchdown.

The Bengals started at the 20 and soon drove into Baltimore territory. Marvin Lewis faced a decision on fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 33. A field goal does not end the game anymore and a miss would put Baltimore at the 43, so that should probably be out. A pooch punt is a solid option. I'm in favor of going for it here, but the Bengals picked a poor play.

Dalton hit Bernard on a little swing pass in the flat, but he caught it eight yards shy of the first-down marker. That's asking for a lot of yards after the catch in a crucial situation. Ihedigbo, having a very active game, was first in on him, but Bernard shook that tackle. He tried to reverse field, as he did for his brilliant touchdown in Miami on Halloween, but there was no repeat performance. Instead he lost 11 yards, so Baltimore actually got better field position than they would have if the Bengals missed a field goal.

Flacco moved to his right and flipped a short pass to uncovered Ray Rice for 13 yards. Two plays later Ed Dickson caught an 8-yard pass and the Ravens were in field-goal range. After three runs for a total of two yards, Justin Tucker came out and nailed the 46-yard game-winning field goal.

After 31 modified overtime games, it's the coin-toss loser winning the game with a field goal on the second drive nine times now -- the most frequent ending to these games. The Bengals are the first coin-toss winner to receive and turn the ball over on downs.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Carolina Panthers 10 at San Francisco 49ers 9

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 2 (9-7)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.51
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (3-17 at 4QC and 3-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (3-17 at 4QC and 3-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

What do you get when you match two similar teams who have been slaying poor competition for the last month? Apparently, a 10-9 game, with the fewest points scored by any winning team in 2013.

While the defenses looked strong as expected, this game exposed both offenses for having a limited passer and a small supply of receiving weapons. If you contain the running game, then it's not that difficult to frustrate these quarterbacks with blitzing as there's not enough receiving talent to worry about. Vernon Davis leaving early with a concussion did not help Colin Kaepernick, who averaged a miniscule 1.94 yards per drop back.

The 19 combined points were fortunate given each team made a long field (52-plus yards) goal, a muffed punt and Cam Newton interception set up two short field goals for San Francisco and Davis appeared to get away with a fumble in the red zone.

San Francisco led 9-0 early and 9-7 to start the fourth quarter, but failed to score on any of its last seven drives. One promising drive went backwards with Anquan Boldin responsible for 15 penalty yards. The ensuing punt was returned 25 yards by ex-49er Ted Ginn.

Facing a two-point deficit and starting with the ball at the opponent 44, that's in the wheelhouse for the comeback-starved Panthers, who were just 2-18 at game-winning drives in the Newton/Ron Rivera era.

A sack by Ahmad Brooks (three on the day) threatened to spoil the drive, but Newton threw a six-yard pass to Steve Smith to make the field goal reasonable. Graham Gano blasted the 53-yard kick for a 10-9 lead with 10:05 left.

Both teams would punt, but Carolina pinned the 49ers at their own 1. Kaepernick did find Mario Manningham for 14 yards on third-and-10, but a sack by Luke Kuechly on the next play stalled the drive. The 49ers punted with 2:27 left.

After the 49ers used two of their timeouts, Newton did a good job of finding Smith for nine yards on third-and-8. The only problem was that he slid out of bounds to stop the clock. On the very next play, Jonathan Stewart nearly brought back the close-game demons with a fumble. Somehow, Donte Whitner did not recover the ball and it stayed with Carolina.

On third-and-two with the 49ers out of timeouts, the Panthers botched the quarterback-center exchange, but Newton was able to fall on the ball. With a chance to ice the game, where have we seen Carolina do something like this before?

Kaepernick had 62 seconds left at his own 20 to be a hero, only needing a field goal. He passed for 91 gross yards on the day and that total would not increase. Greg Hardy started the stand with a sack. That burned a lot of clock, prompting a terrible pass from Kaepernick for a game-ending interception by Drayton Florence.

Miami Dolphins 19 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (19-15)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.32
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (2-9 at 4QC and 2-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Mike Glennon (1-2 at 4QC and 1-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The best 0-8 team ever finally closed a game, but it did not come easy. The Buccaneers dominated early to a 15-0 lead as the Dolphins offensive line still looked incognito following the off-field controversy. On a good night for Rutgers, Brian Leonard managed 20 carries after rookie Mike James was injured in the first quarter. When you're getting beat badly by an offense featuring that type of backfield (gargantuan Mike Glennon included), then it just might not be your night.

That meant the anticipation in Detroit for the 2008 Lions (0-16) was growing.

However, the Dolphins mounted their comeback with Rishard Matthews (11 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns) emerging as the top receiver on a night where Mike Wallace caught four balls for 15 yards on Revis Island.

Miami jumped ahead 19-15, but could not turn a Glennon interception into a touchdown despite starting seven yards away from the end zone. That drive actually lost five yards. The Buccaneers took over at their own 20 and Leonard carried on five consecutive plays for 30 yards as the game moved into the fourth quarter. Glennon found Tiquan Underwood for a 17-yard completion, which was his only dropback on the drive.

Bobby Rainey took over from there with a beautiful 31-yard run to Miami's 1-yard line. He finished the drive with a go-ahead touchdown run with 10:19 left. Keep in mind Tampa Bay's already blown four leads in the fourth quarter this season.

Readers of Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 are familiar with Tampa Bay's ability to stuff running plays in 2012. They had the highest stuff rate (32.8 percent) since 1995. On this night, the Dolphins ran the ball 14 times for two yards (0.14 yards per carry). Even Trent Richardson would blush at that line.

Including the playoffs, Miami's the eighth team since the 1970 merger to run for as few as two yards:

Fewest Rushing Yards Since 1970 Merger (Including Playoffs)
Rk Team Date Oppt. Result Runs Yards YPC TD Notes
1 DET 11/11/2007 at ARI L 31-21 8 -18 -2.25 1 Shaun McDonald had a minus-15-yard carry
2 DET 12/31/1994 at GB L 16-12 15 -4 -0.27 0 NFC Wild Card; Barry Sanders: 13 runs, minus-1 yard
3 DET 12/10/2006 MIN L 30-20 10 -3 -0.30 0 Kevin Jones: 9 runs, minus-3 yards
4 BUF 10/2/1988 at CHI L 34-23 10 0 0.00 0 Ronnie Harmon had a minus-24-yard carry
5 TB 10/22/1989 at WAS L 32-28 10 1 0.10 0 James Wilder: 3 runs, minus-9 yards
6 DAL 12/30/2007 at WAS L 27-6 16 1 0.06 0 Marion Barber: 6 runs, minus-6 yards
7 NE 11/30/1986 at NO W 21-20 18 2 0.11 0 Tony Eason had 4 kneel downs for minus-7 yards
8 MIA 11/11/2013 at TB L 22-19 14 2 0.14 0 Daniel Thomas tackled for safety

Miami was stuffed seven times, including a safety. One of the best runs of the night was Ryan Tannehill gaining two yards on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter. However, the drive stalled from there and Miami punted.

Tampa Bay's gave 15 yards away as rookie returner Eric Page took a cheap shot at a Miami gunner with the ball well out of bounds. With 7:17 left, Tampa Bay worked on the clock. A roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive. On third-and-1 at midfield, Glennon tried to roll the pocket to his left, but decided running out of bounds for a five-yard sack that stopped the clock was the smart move. No wonder this team has been winless.

Miami got the ball back with three minutes left, but Marcus Thigpen thought it was a good idea to call for a fair catch at his own five. Tannehill completed three passes in a row, putting the ball at the Miami 33 at the two-minute warning. That's when the pass rush finally woke up as Tannehill suffered back-to-back sacks (his only two of the game) to set up a third-and-28. He threw incomplete, leaving Miami in full-desperation mode. Wallace casually watched an inaccurate deep ball get intercepted by Darrelle Revis.

Down to one timeout, the Dolphins did not get the ball back as Tampa Bay timed it right to kill the clock. Victory at last, as Miami is Florida's NFL laughingstock.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Jaguars at Titans: Another Eyesore on Mike Munchak's Resume

When I wrote that the Jaguars were the least competitive team since 1970, that was based on the first eight games. They always trailed after the 11:34 mark of the second quarter and never were within one score with possession in the fourth quarter. I also said to not be surprised to see a win this week given Mike Munchak's enigmatic Titans have lost to the 2011 Colts (0-13 team) and the Jaguars' lone win in their 1-20 stretch came over Tennessee last season.

Make that 2-20 as the Jaguars did it again to the Titans. After leading for 22 minutes and 26 seconds all season, the Jaguars went wire-to-wire, leading for the final 58:29.

[ad placeholder 4]

They weren't dominant or efficient, but the 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to build a 20-7 lead was the highlight of the day. The Titans lost Jake Locker (Lisfranc) in the first half and had to come back with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

A Chad Henne interception set up a field goal for the Titans to make it 20-13 in the fourth quarter. After getting the ball back at their own 1-yard line, rookie guard Chance Warmack was penalized for holding in the end zone, which is a safety.

Jacksonville went three-and-out. Down 22-13, Fitzpatrick capped off a 72-yard drive with a touchdown run on a quarterback draw. Jacksonville again went three-and-out, putting the Titans in a favorable situation (win probability: 0.54) in a 22-20 game.

But rarely has a fourth-quarter comeback attempt with Fitzpatrick at quarterback (5-26 record) been a fruitful endeavor. On the third play of the drive, cornerback Will Blackmon stripped the ball away from Fitzpatrick, returning it 21 yards for a touchdown with 2:32 left.

The Titans answered with an 82-yard touchdown drive to make it 29-27, but it was over after the Jaguars recovered the onside kick.

Lions at Bears: Short Grace Period for Marc Trestman

Rookie coach Marc Trestman was all the rage after Monday's win in Green Bay, but now he's facing criticism for the team's season sweep at the hands of the Lions. Trestman had to make an important decision before the game: Was Jay Cutler recovered enough from a recent ankle injury to make a better starting quarterback than (surprisingly hot in recent weeks) career backup Josh McCown. Trestman went with Cutler, who looked good on the opening drive with a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, but he struggled the rest of the day in a surprisingly low-scoring game.

Detroit led 14-10 to start the fourth quarter. Matthew Stafford's overthrown pass was intercepted by Chris Conte and returned to the Detroit 9. Matt Forte had an easy go-ahead touchdown, but it was negated by a holding penalty. On third-and-goal, Cutler appeared to have Alshon Jeffery for a 14-yard touchdown, but the "Calvin Johnson Rule" worked against Chicago this time as replay overturned the call to an incompletion. The Bears settled for a field goal and 14-13 deficit.

[ad placeholder 3]

David Akers missed a 45-yard field goal for the Lions, but the Bears went three-and-out in return. Cutler, now nursing a high ankle sprain with his groin injury, had Jeffery wide open on third down, but the pass was well underthrown. On the ensuing drive, Calvin Johnson came through with two big catches on third down, including a 14-yard touchdown on third-and-10.

Now up 20-13 with 2:22 to play, why not go for a two-point conversion to basically ice the game at 22-13? You have the best wide receiver on the planet and his jump-ball skills are second to none. Chicago had one timeout left. You're lucky to see a nine-point comeback engineered in the final two minutes once or twice in a decade. The extra point keeps it a one-score game and eight-point comebacks are far more common. Let's not forget a seven-point lead is still advantageous too.

We looked at this in Week 2 with Titans-Texans, noting how every single coach has kicked the extra point. If there was ever a situation to go for two in, this would be it. Up by seven or eight, the defense's goal remains the same: do not allow a touchdown. It's beyond me how anyone can believe "well if we give up the touchdown we'll just stop the two-point conversion, because it's obviously easier to stop a team from getting two yards instead of 75!" makes sense.

With 2:17 left and 74 yards to go, McCown entered the game as Trestman did not believe Cutler could move around in the two-minute drill. Cold off the bench, McCown went to work, converting a crucial fourth-and-1 with a 14-yard pass to Marshall. Making it look easy, McCown drove into the red zone, stepped up in the pocket on a third down and fired an 11-yard touchdown to Marshall. Now it was time for that two-point conversion.

The Bears moved the pocket, which seemingly never works anymore for NFL offenses in the red zone, and McCown threw a pass out of the end zone. However, he was saved with a roughing the passer penalty on Willie Young for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Without a frame-by-frame video analysis, it's hard to tell if that actually happened, but he did lead with his helmet.

Getting a second chance and the ball at the one-yard line, the Bears could call anything in the playbook -- even the Stafford-style lunging quarterback sneak. What they came up with was suboptimal to say the least. Nick Fairley blew through Roberto Garza on the shotgun handoff and engulfed Forte in the backfield.

Keep in mind the Bears' backs had 18 carries for 33 yards prior to that play. Jeffery (18) and Marshall (12) had 30 combined targets. It should have been 31.

With 40 seconds left, Robbie Gould's onside kick never gave the Bears a chance as Detroit recovered. The Lions (6-3) are all alone in first place in the NFC North.

Broncos at Chargers: Different Script for Denver with a Scary Ending

Known for slow starts, including a 24-0 deficit in San Diego last year, the Broncos flipped the script with a dominant first half. Peyton Manning faced some pressure, but it came at the expense of open receivers, which he exploited for four touchdown passes to build a 28-6 lead in the third quarter.

Having dominated the second half of games, Denver surprisingly struggled the rest of the way. Manning tied his career high with a seventh fumble this season, helping to ignite a San Diego comeback. Down 28-13 in the fourth quarter, Philip Rivers hit a pair of big plays on third-and-long to set up Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:42 left.

Now a one-score game, Manning failed to get back on track as his third-and-8 pass fell incomplete to Eric Decker. Rivers converted a third-and-12 with a 12-yard gain to Vincent Brown. The drive self-destructed: Rivers bobbled the snap on first down, took a sack from Von Miller on second down and threw incomplete on third-and-16. San Diego wisely punted.

Manning had 3:26 to burn, but the Chargers were down to two timeouts. He threw a screen to Demaryius Thomas on second down for 12 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Manning used play-action -- he was 9-of-9 for 187 yards and three touchdowns on play-action passes in this game -- to complete a nine-yard pass to Thomas for another first down.

That normally would have ended the game, but Manning took a shot to his lower legs after the throw. After slowly getting up, he limped around briefly before going down again. Manning pushed the training staff away and yelled at the referee about who called timeout. Indeed, the Broncos were charged with a timeout, which allowed Manning to stay in the game, but he could no longer simply take three knees to run out the clock.

It became a moot point when he drew the Chargers offsides for five yards and Knowshon Moreno put it away with another first down. But there was some interesting gamesmanship at hand with Manning not wanting to leave the game leading into this important three-game stretch against the Chiefs (twice) and Patriots.

The first game with Jack Del Rio as interim coach was a success, but it was the first time in 26 games with Manning that Denver failed to score double-digit points after halftime -- one game short of the regular-season record. Including playoffs, that 25-game streak is a NFL record.

Most Consecutive Games with 10+ Points, 2nd Half
Team Years Cons. Games Including Playoffs
Rams 1966-68 25 19
Broncos 2012-13 24 25
Rams 1949-51 20 12
Chargers 2010-11 19 19
Rams 1952-53 17 18
Redskins 1990-91 17 15
Bears 1942-43 16 8
Cardinals 2007-08 15 15

Redskins at Vikings: Fade Out

It was a Thursday night game, but it feels even longer ago when Washington led 27-14 before the Vikings finished with 20 unanswered points. The Redskins did whatever they wanted on third down in the first half (7-of-8 conversions), except for an early goal-to-go situation -- the type that won the game for Washington against San Diego in Week 9.

Settling for field goals twice would certainly hurt as Minnesota quietly put together a strong game on offense. While dislocating his shoulder on a scramble, Christian Ponder led a drive to the one-yard line. Adrian Peterson finished it off for the go-ahead touchdown to take a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Robert Griffin could not avoid the sacks, taking three of them (two on third down). Matt Cassel subbed in nicely to hit some key plays, adding to Minnesota's lead, which grew to 34-27.

Mike Shanahan started using his timeouts around the four-minute mark. It would become clear he did that so his offense could still use the running game to counter the pass rush in their comeback attempt. Griffin got the ball back with 3:36 left at his own 20. Six of the drive's first seven plays were designed runs and the biggest came from Griffin himself.

On a fourth-and-1 after the two-minute warning, Griffin kept it on the zone-read option and gained 12 yards. After two completions to Roy Helu for 14 yards, Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier called his first timeout with 1:20 left. Apparently he was worried most about the fatigue of his players. Minnesota failed to field a full 46-man roster on the short week.

But if saving time for an answer to a score was the secondary part of the strategy, then why did Frazier not call timeout after Griffin's 17-yard pass to Jordan Reed to the Minnesota 8? Surely the Redskins are more likely to score from there compared to the 25.

After Helu carried for four yards, Frazier again quickly called for his second timeout with 38 seconds left. On second down, Reed took a lot of contact and could not hang onto a pass in the end zone. Pierre Garcon dropped a slant that may not have produced a score. On fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 4, Griffin went with a fade pass to the left corner for Santana Moss, but he failed to come down in bounds with the ball. Game over.

It was a poor play design with the game on the line. For starters, Helu was split out wide and ran a hopeless route. It was either the fade or give your tight end Reed a shot in the middle of the end zone.

I would have gone with the big guy in space over the small guy in a tiny window, but I only write. Washington went scoreless on its final four drives and has started 3-6 in consecutive seasons.

Raiders at Giants: One QB Doesn't Help His Sack EPA Again

Turnovers, including a blocked punt for a touchdown going against Oakland, dominated the game's early flow. These errors set up 31 of the game's first 41 points. The Giants took a 21-20 lead into the fourth quarter. Under some pressure, Eli Manning failed to connect with Victor Cruz on what would have been an easy touchdown. The Giants settled for a 23-yard field goal to take a 24-20 lead with 8:04 left.

Terrelle Pryor's comeback attempt nearly ended in one play after he threw a pass right at Jacquian Williams. On third down, Pryor fielded a low snap, but Antrel Rolle's blitz resulted in a sack for a three-and-out. Manning again faced pressure on third down, throwing the ball in the dirt to avoid the sack and end a three-and-out for the Giants.

Getting a second chance with 4:55 left, Pryor started this drive with a bootleg, but unwilling to throw, he was taken down for a two-yard sack as this started to look like the Kansas City fourth quarter all over again. A wide-receiver screen to Denarius Moore did pick up 15 yards, but three plays later Mathias Kiwanuka got Pryor from behind on the strip-sack and Cullen Jenkins recovered the ball.

The Giants had 3:21 to burn, but the Raiders had all three timeouts. Andre Brown, in his return from a broken leg, carried the ball on five consecutive plays, producing two first downs to ice the game. The clincher was a five-yard power run on third-and-5. Brown finished with 30 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Pryor was sacked four times, but the three in the fourth quarter were too much to overcome.

Texans at Cardinals: Bruce Arians Is 11-1 in Games Decided by One Score

Case Keenum's had a great two-game start to his career, but this was supposed to be more challenging given the Cardinals were at home and entered Week 10 with the league's top defense according to DVOA. Keenum still managed to throw three touchdowns without an interception, but he did give up a touchdown on the game's opening play on a sack-fumble.

Every point would be precious as the Cardinals led 20-17 to start the fourth quarter. Keenum showed his inexperience by taking a 23-yard sack on third down. That's way too much field position to give up. Carson Palmer drove the Cardinals 67 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals got the switch they wanted and Andre Roberts was open for a 19-yard grab with 6:42 left.

It looked bleak when the Texans punted the ball with 4:53 left, but on the first play of the ensuing drive Rashard Mendenhall fumbled at his own 5-yard line. J.J. Watt received credit for the strip and the recovery.

Three plays later, Houston's other best player (Andre Johnson) made an impact with a ridiculous touchdown after Patrick Peterson had perfect coverage in the end zone, but his one-handed attempt at an interception just helped the ball get to Johnson on the deflection.

Arizona converted one third down with a good pass to Andre Ellington, but the rookie's second effort gained six yards when it was third-and-7. Even worse, he went out of bounds to stop the clock. Arizona challenged and might have had a decent argument that Ellington got the first down by extending the ball before stepping out of bounds, but nothing conclusive was shown to win the challenge.

For the second week in a row, Keenum had the ball in a 27-24 game, but this time he had 2:06 left to win it. After an 11-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins, Keenum went back to him deep, but it was out of bounds. Johnson caught a 7-yard pass, but again Keenum's deep ball was thrown inaccurately out of bounds. With a fourth-and-3 at his own 35, Keenum forced one more to Hopkins, but the pressure was too much and the pass was nowhere close.

Arizona held, leading Houston to tie a franchise record with its seventh consecutive loss.

If you combine Bruce Arians' tenure as interim coach in Indianapolis last year and this season's job in Arizona, he is 11-1 in games decided by one score. Not even Vince Tobin (circa 1998) can match that. It will start going the other way eventually, but the Cardinals must be considered a surprise at 5-4 with one of the best defenses in the league.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 37
Game-winning drives: 47
Games with 4QC opportunity: 93/147 (63.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 20

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced NFL Stats. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.


32 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2013, 5:12pm

#1 by Richie1 (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:18pm

I'm sorry, but it is so childish to say you should go for 2 when up 7 late. As if there's no difference between leading by 7 and leading by 8, because 'both are 1-score leads'. Really, it's as if you're channeling Phil Simms.

Points: 0

#5 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:35pm

Calculate the difference between 7 and 8 compared to the difference between 7 and 9. We don't have the hard numbers (yet) on that, but I don't need more than two hands to count the number of times a team came back from a two-score deficit and did it all in 2:22 (with one timeout) since the merger.

And you don't think Calvin Johnson tips the 2pt scale in Detroit's favor?

Points: 0

#16 by RickD // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:08pm

I think the point here is the relative difference in the difficulty of getting a 1-point conversion vs. a 2-point conversion. If the probability of the latter is very, very small, then obviously you should go for 1, since it'll be very hard for the other team to tie you with a 2-point conversion. If the probability of the latter is very high, then obviously you go for it, since it'll be easy to make.

It's not an argument that can be made without knowing what the exact odds are.

Points: 0

#20 by commissionerleaf // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:23pm

I'm pretty sure this is pretty much a wash. Essentially, the question is which offense you think is more likely to score a 2 point conversion successfully. Assuming 50%:

If you go for it and make it, and your opponent must score twice (but need not convert a two point conversion).
You go for it and fail. If your opponent scores and goes for it, he can go up by one.
You go for it and fail. If your opponent scores he can tie with an extra point.
If you kick, the other team has to go for it. If they score, they have a 50% chance to tie.

Assuming overtime is a toss up and your opponent has time for only one more drive, on which he will score but will fail to recover onside (in other words, the situation where this decision actually matters):

If you go for it, you have a 50% chance of winning outright on the 2 pointer, and retain a 50% chance of winning if you fail.
If you kick, the other team has a 50% chance of reaching overtime and a 50% chance of winning in overtime.

In other words, unless one or the other offense is markedly superior, it is a wash.

Points: 0

#2 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:19pm

Hi Scott,
Fantastic article.Thank you very much.

I wonder abuot the end of the Ravens-Bengals game, after the holy-molly-mary worked I think the Bengals should go for 2. What are the odds for a surprise 2 point conversion from a kick formation? I'm 100% sure the Ravens wouldn't see that coming.

And the same holds for the Lions, as you said a 2 point conversion likely ices the game, why not go for a surprise conversion from a kick formation? Then there might even an option to just kick the EP if the holder sees the Ravens formation is not good for the 2 point conversion option.

Points: 0

#6 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:42pm

Last season the Ravens did a fake field goal from the 7-yard line against Oakland and it scored a touchdown. It was a beautiful play with the holder taking the snap and running through a hole with one subtle cut. They did that when it was 41-17 too. That's probably a play you can do once in a season. With all the weird rules on kicks these days, you'd think there might be some relaxed defenses in that situation that the kicking team can take advantage of.

As for Cincinnati going for it, it definitely would have been ballsy, but I think OT's been fixed enough to the point where you no longer fear not touching the ball.

The situation where I always have said I'd go for two would be Super Bowl 34 had the Titans scored on that last play. The Rams went up and down the field in that game and you only needed a FG in OT back then. As an underdog making an incredible comeback, I'd try to win the game on that one play there.

Points: 0

#10 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:46pm

I'm really intrigued by the odds of a 2 point conversion from a kick formation. It should be around 100% as the opponents are just bunching together waiting for the extra point to sail above their heads. I strongly doubt there's one team coached to watch for a fake extra-point conversion.

Points: 0

#14 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:50pm

There have been a few fake field goals that have gone for game-winning touchdowns. Browns had one in Kosar era. I think the Vikings had one in the 70s, or was it a Detroit game with Greg Landry. I'd have to check.

The one I loved was Michigan State a few years ago. Was it against Notre Dame? What a call.

Points: 0

#11 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:46pm

With the comedy stylings the Lions' special teams have exhibited so far this year, I wouldn't trust them to execute any kind of trick play/fake PAT.

Points: 0

#13 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:49pm

I think that's the trick play paradox. Trick plays work very well because they are unexpected. But if they work so well why don't we see more trick plays?

Points: 0

#17 by CBPodge // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:08pm

Because if we saw more trick plays they wouldn't work as well, so coaches are incentivised to not go for trick plays, because then they can use trick plays and those trick plays are more likely to succeed, but then by using them it becomes less likely to succeed and ow my brain.

Points: 0

#3 by hscer // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:22pm

I guess Tennessee recently decided it was about time to make up for what they did to Jacksonville in 1999.

Regarding the two-point-conversion-up-seven situation, it basically comes down to whether you think you're more likely to convert for two or the other team is. If you kick, it's OT when they make it and you win when they miss; if you go for it, you win when you make it and it's OT when you miss. (They could still go for two in the latter case, but never do unless they suck and it's late in the season.) If you think you have a better chance than them on a two-point conversion, go for it; otherwise, kick. Making it into a non-trivial decision assumes they're going to score a touchdown anyway.

Regarding my team, Griffin needs to stop losing so many yards when he does take a sack. He lost 10 per this week and is averaging a 9-yard loss on the season. He's now 19th in sacks but 11th in yards lost on sacks. I do wonder what the underlying cause of this is, because it could be the line doesn't allow him to step up, or something along those lines.

Points: 0

#4 by Richie1 (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:24pm

If you do want to be serious about this, they're 2 perspectives, each of which is so simple:

1. If you figure you have > 50% of making it, go for 2. Which you should then do regularly, rather than taking the extra point.

2. If you think you're more likely to convert for 2 than they are in this late situation, then go for 2.

Points: 0

#7 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:42pm

It doesn't work in that way but we already know you don't know how it works after your first comment.

Points: 0

#8 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:43pm

"I am continuously preaching for a coach to defer and this would have been another good situation to do it."

Marty Morninwheg was simply ahead of his time when he deferred in 2002. If he had only waited 10 years for the OT rules to change.

Points: 0

#9 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:45pm

Last time it happened too. He ruined it for everyone.

Points: 0

#12 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:48pm

"He ruined it for everyone."

That can be said of any number of individuals who have been employed by the Lions franchise over the last few decades.

Points: 0

#15 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 4:56pm

I'm sure that eventually a coach will choose to kick in OT and then the other team will receive and promptly score a TD to win the game.
Then it will be ruined for eternity.

Question: If you receive at OT and score a FG what happens if you then do a surprise onside kick? It must have a high percentage and you win the game if you recover. If you lose you can still allow a FG and the game is not over...

Points: 0

#18 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:16pm

If you fail to recover the onsides, the ensuing good field position makes a touchdown more likely. It would be interesting to see the odds for all of those scenarios. Probably won't matter because I would fall out of my chair if an NFL coach opts to do that.

Points: 0

#23 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 6:05pm

Yup I would fall of my chair too.

But I like the odds.

You win if
You recover the surprise onside kick OR you don't recover but you stop them

You start over again if
You don't recover AND they score a FG

You lose if
You don't recover AND they score a TD

Points: 0

#26 by Perfundle // Nov 12, 2013 - 9:07pm

Regarding stuff like fake punts, fake field goals, fake extra points and surprise onside kicks, how much can it really cost a team to act like the opponent will do one every time? I seriously doubt a spy or two looking into the backfield for longer than usual really interferes with the return game that much, and field goals and extra points are usually blocked up the middle, so the edge rushers are free to look out for fakes.

Points: 0

#19 by weaponx (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:19pm

Cam Newton " a limited passer". That's rich guys.

Points: 0

#21 by yshah21 // Nov 12, 2013 - 5:57pm

Scott's a pretty transparent Cam hater, so not really surprised with that comment.

Points: 0

#22 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 12, 2013 - 6:02pm

I don't think he is the next Joe Montana...

Points: 0

#24 by yshah21 // Nov 12, 2013 - 6:21pm

There's a vast gulf between "limited passer" and "the next Joe Montana"...

Points: 0

#29 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 13, 2013 - 9:57am

Eh, I think people tend to judge him based on body language/personality more than what actually happens on the field.

When I think of "limited passer", I think of Alex Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick types who can't/won't make certain throws, requiring you to trim down your playbook. Newton clearly doesn't fit that category.

I personally think he's done a remarkable job making the Panthers passing game functional despite having a crap receiving corps (Steve Smith is now merely good instead of phenomenal). He's certainly done more with less than Colin Kaepernick, for instance.

Points: 0

#31 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 15, 2013 - 5:10pm

I think inconsistent is a better descriptor than limited. I don't think there is a throw Newton can't make, but it seems like his accuracy isn't always there.

Points: 0

#27 by jebmak // Nov 13, 2013 - 12:14am

So, what I have learned from this week's column is that on three occasions since the merger, a team has rushed for negative yards. On all three occasions, it was the Lions.

Points: 0

#28 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Nov 13, 2013 - 9:50am

Two of those occasions was the Matt Millen Lions, so nothing surprises me as far as futility records. The fact that the third occasion was with Barry Sanders is surprising. That playoff game, Dave Krieg had a bum shoulder, so the Packers knew there was no credible passing threat.

Points: 0

#30 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 15, 2013 - 4:42pm

Meant to follow up on this days ago. I know, we've moved on from Week 10, but thought this was interesting.

Punched in some situations into the WP Calculator at ANS for 1st-and-10 at your own 26 with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter (Chicago's situation vs. Detroit).

Down 7: WP = 0.14
Down 8: WP = 0.16
Down 9: WP = 0.04

Now this supports my feeling that the difference between 9 & 7 is much bigger than 7 & 8, yet how is it the teams down 8 have a slightly higher WP? That floored me a bit.

If you're down 7 and score a TD, you know that team's going to kick an XP and we likely will have OT. If you're down 8 and score a TD, you know that the two-point conversion is coming. If successful, we again have OT, which should have the same odds regardless. Though if the two-point conversion fails, then you're talking about an onside kick.

Now I can't recall many situations of a team failing and recovering an onside kick and winning on a FG. The Cowboys did it to Buffalo in 2007 in that infamous MNF game where Romo had all the turnovers. But that's one example.

So that's an odd case without many real-life examples to my knowledge.

Points: 0

#32 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 15, 2013 - 5:12pm

It could be selection bias. If the other team has a good offense, the team that's up would probably value being up 8 more than against a team with a bad offense. So they're trying to accomplish it more. Then they still end up losing because the other team has a good offense.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Scott
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Scott Kacsmar. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Scott.