Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Clutch Encounters: Week 12
Clutch Encounters: Week 12
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

On the eve of Donovan McNabb's birthday, we had another database-killing overtime tie, which apparently some players on the Green Bay Packers didn't know was possible. Sunday also happened to be the 11-year anniversary of Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind in overtime in Detroit's 2002 loss to the Bears.

Bill Belichick became the 11th coach to take the wind in overtime (including playoffs), so I no longer to have to write about wanting to see a coach do it. Now we wait to see if others will follow suit, because it did not backfire in an epic game everyone had to be watching.

Game of the Week

Denver Broncos 31 at New England Patriots 34

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (24-21)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.92
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (39-67 at 4QC and 54-68 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (29-26 at 4QC and 41-28 overall 4QC/GWD record)

We can call this one "Manning-Brady XIV: Inherit the Wind." In the classic film, two lawyers argue the case of teaching evolution. Peyton Manning would definitely be Spencer Tracy while Tom Brady is naturally Fredric March, who plays a character named Matthew Harrison Brady. While the intellect of Tracy's character is overwhelming, Brady ultimately wins the case, which can summarize a lot of Manning-Brady meetings too.

God speaks to Brady, and Brady tells the world! Brady, Brady, Brady, Almighty!

Yes, it's hard to hide that I am burned out talking about this game, but it is the biggest comeback of 2013 and just the 19th comeback from at least a 24-point deficit in NFL history. It was not as good as the San Francisco-New England game last year, but there were certainly similarities given the pathetic first half by the Patriots followed by a period of pure domination.

What this game did not have was a classic game-winning drive. In fact, out of the 111 recaps I have written this season, this was probably the worst ending to any of the games. with the night's 11th fumble -- one of the unforced error variety -- gifting the Patriots the winning points.

New England offered some early gifts as Denver's three forced fumbles in the first quarter built a 17-0 lead, but the Broncos had minus-2 passing yards at that point. In a way, it prevented Manning and his receivers from ever getting into a rhythm on the very cold night; Manning took nearly four quarters to hit 100 yards passing. Content with the big lead and holes in the running game -- Denver rushed for 280 yards -- the passing game produced just 132 net yards.

When it was 24-0, Manning's only real contribution was a 10-yard touchdown strike to Jacob Tamme, who filled in for the inactive Julius Thomas. Everything else was a short pass, a screen or a drop. Beyond the fumbles, New England's offense was stopped on all eight drives in the first half.

However, the turning point of the game was just before halftime. Denver can only wish it would have let the Patriots head into the half instead of calling timeouts. Trindon Holliday muffed a punt, part of a mistake-ridden day that had him off the field late in the game. Brady threw a Hail Mary that never had a chance, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dove for it anyway and injured himself. That changed the way Denver played defense in the second half as Von Miller was no longer rushing Brady and Champ Bailey was already out, leaving few healthy bodies in the secondary.

New England responded after halftime with 31 points on five drives. That's the type of blistering pace Brady has enjoyed in the past against a Jack Del Rio defense. This was with going into the wind as well. A fumble by Montee Ball near midfield really helped the comeback get off the ground when it was 24-7.

New England only trailed 24-21 to start the fourth quarter. Now going into the wind, Manning forced a pass to Eric Decker, who could not handle the physical play from the secondary. Logan Ryan made the interception and returned it to the Denver 30. Three plays later, Julian Edelman broke free for a 14-yard touchdown catch.

Denver went three-and-out as Manning threw two incompletions, but the defense made a big stop to keep the Patriots to a field goal and a 31-24 lead. With 7:37 left, the Broncos had to drive 80 yards into the wind at a point where Manning had just 73 yards in the game. A comeback did not feel likely. Aqib Talib intercepted Manning immediately, but only after he grabbed Demaryius Thomas on his way to the ball. That was a penalty for defensive holding. Four plays later, Thomas finally made his first catch of the night.

After Wes Welker dropped a pass, a holding penalty put the Broncos in a second-and-20 situation. Manning delivered his best pass of the night with a 15-yard strike to Thomas near the sideline. On third-and-5, he threw one equally as good to Tamme for 11 yards despite the tight coverage. Rob Ninkovich was penalized for pass interference on a third-and-7. On the next play, Manning went to the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to Thomas.

Surprisingly, the game was tied at 31-31 with 3:06 to play. Expecting one of these quarterbacks to engineer a game-winning drive, we were treated to seven straight drives without a score.

New England came up a yard short on third down, culminating in a three-and-out. Manning had a chance on a third-and-10, but his floater to Thomas had to be knocked down to avoid getting picked off. The Patriots ran two more plays, but let the clock expire for overtime.

Then Bill Belichick shocked everyone by taking the wind in overtime. It took 34 modified overtime games, but we finally had a coach win the coin toss and not want the ball first. Here's the game-ending summary for the 34 games:

NFL's Modified Overtime Game-Ending Summary
Game-winning (GW) event Games Pct.
1st drive GW TD 6 17.6%
2nd drive GW defensive stop 3 8.8%
2nd drive GW score 10 (10 FG) 29.4%
3rd drive GW score 6 (6 FG) 17.6%
4th drive GW score 3 (2 FG, 1 safety) 8.8%
5th drive GW score 3 (2 FG, 1 TD) 8.8%
5th drive clock expires (tie) 1 4.5%
6th drive GW score 1 (1 FG) 4.5%
6th drive: clock expires (tie) 1 2.9%

If Belichick can deny giving Brady the ball and take the wind, which was significant and the only reason he did it, against Manning, then anyone can do it now. It no longer has that Marty Mornhinweg stench to it. If Thomas would have taken a bubble screen 80 yards for a touchdown, then that probably would have been the end of any coach ever doing this again, but the odds were against that happening.

Naturally, Denver did need to drive 80 yards for a touchdown into the wind. Manning had problems throwing into the wind and the Patriots were playing very physical with the receivers. Decker had only one catch for five yards while Thomas and Welker both had several drops. There was no separation to be found as every throw was contested.

But who needs to throw when you have Knowshon Moreno rushing for 224 yards? He started overtime with two runs for 26 yards, but the drive stalled when Decker was penalized for offensive pass interference on a night filled with inconsistent officiating. Denver may have gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the New England 45 without the penalty. Manning again could not get it to Thomas with Talib there.

Denver punted and no one could dare criticize Belichick's decision. One should criticize the New England offense for calling a timeout and throwing deep to Edelman on third-and-4. That brought out the punting unit.

The Broncos again were driving. A game-winning drive for Manning would give him sole possession of the record at 52, so history was on the line. On third-and-4 from his own 49, Manning found Tamme for 12 yards. One more play like that and Denver could try the field goal. However, Manning handed off to a battered Moreno twice for three yards. On third-and-8, Manning hit Welker, but he dropped the ball. It would have been short, but Denver could have gone for it on fourth-and-3. Del Rio took a delay of game penalty and punted.

Despite the two quarterbacks, we were 4:50 away from Sunday's second tie. Brady missed another deep throw and could only pick up six yards on third-and-10 to Kenbrell Thompkins.

New England punted with the wind and Welker did not call off the return unit fast enough to get away from the ball. It bounced off of Tony Carter, who was just trying to block, and the Patriots recovered the 11th fumble of the night at the Denver 13.

What a rip-off. That helped New England win the turnover battle (4-to-3) and it moved the record to 69-2 at home since 2001 when winning that battle. It also won the game as Brady just came out for some knees before the 31-yard kick by Stephen Gostkowski.

I haven't seen an epic end in such disappointing randomness since No Country for Old Men.

For those wondering, yes, that goes down as a game-winning drive, and yes, I should consider putting an asterisk next to such field goal drives in overtime that do not pick up a first down. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer had drives like that last season, but I cannot recall a team muffing a punt like this in overtime to set up a loss. At least San Francisco's Kyle Williams fielded the ball and fumbled on contact in the 2011 NFC Championship.

While it's the biggest joke of a game-winning drive on Brady's resume, the comeback was legit and it's the largest he's had.

It would be nice to get a rematch of the greatest quarterback rivalry where one of the quarterbacks actually does something to win the game at the end.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

San Diego Chargers 41 at Kansas City Chiefs 38

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (38-34)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.16
Head Coach: Mike McCoy (3-4 at 4QC and 3-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (16-38 at 4QC and 19-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When the Chiefs were 9-0, it was valid to point out the team's good fortune of not suffering significant injuries that other AFC contenders have been dealing with this season. It was also hard to overlook the group of backup quarterbacks the defense faced. What would happen against a better quarterback who can put points on the board? Could this Alex Smith-led offense respond?

This game answered a lot of those questions about Kansas City. The disappearing pass rush suffered a big blow with both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston leaving the game with injuries in the second quarter. Kansas City led 14-3 at the time, but Philip Rivers began to move his offense during what will go down as one of the best games of his career.

The scoring raged on in the second half. San Diego trailed 28-24 to start the fourth quarter, but had to settle for a field goal, which was answered by the Chiefs thanks to Jamaal Charles' 46-yard run. Ladarius Green took a short pass from Rivers and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. San Diego led 34-31 with 7:50 to play.

Both offenses punted. Smith dropped back to pass on six consecutive plays and completed five of them for 55 yards. Smith had his fullback wide open for a touchdown, but he made the tougher play with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs led 38-34 with 1:22 left, but in today's NFL, that's too much time.

San Diego still had two timeouts, but needed 78 yards in 77 seconds. We looked at how rare such drives have been earlier this season when Matthew Stafford led one against Dallas.

This one almost ended after one play when a high pass to Antonio Gates was tipped and nearly intercepted. Gates made a 12-yard catch on third-and-10 and San Diego used one of its two timeouts. Danny Woodhead took over from that point. He could have cut out of bounds for a short gain, but he cut it back for a 19-yard gain while still going out to stop the clock. He gained 14 more yards to Kansas City's 33 on another dump-off pass.

Eric Berry was penalized 12 yards for pass interference after grabbing Gates. Berry made up for it by sacking Rivers on a blindside hit. Rivers was fortunate not to fumble. That used up San Diego's last timeout and registered as Kansas City's only sack of the day. On second-and-15 from the 26, Rivers dropped a perfect dime to Seyi Ajirotutu with Sean Smith in coverage for the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left.

Rivers hasn't had this much reason to celebrate since a game-winning touchdown to Vincent Jackson in New York in a similar situation in 2009. He finished with 392 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.

Kansas City's offense was not the issue in this one. It was a pure defensive letdown. Smith had 20 seconds and two timeouts left at his own 20. He completed an 11-yard pass, but took a sack. On the final play, the lateral was fumbled and recovered by San Diego.

It's been easy to pick on Rivers for his streak of failure in these moments in the previous three seasons, but he came through with his best game-winning drive yet to keep San Diego's playoff hopes alive.

Dallas Cowboys 24 at New York Giants 21

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.55
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (15-31 at 4QC and 23-35 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (19-28 at 4QC and 21-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

It was the final minutes of a 21-21 game. The Giants, winners of four straight, were trying to keep their season alive while the Cowboys could move into first place in the NFC East. With only three live games in progress, many were tuned in for a moment tailor made for Tony Romo to throw a critical interception.

Anyone expecting it was sorely disappointed. Romo engineered his 21st game-winning drive -- that's as many as Troy Aikman had in his career and on four fewer opportunities -- and all but eliminated the Giants from contention before December.

Sure, the setup for a Dallas collapse was present. The Giants trailed 21-6, but scored one touchdown after the Cowboys failed to touch Brandon Myers down. New York shredded Dallas on the ground with 30 carries for 202 yards. Eli Manning was not sharp, but he found Victor Cruz down the middle for a 22-yard pass on third-and-8. Two plays later, Manning threw a 4-yard touchdown to Louis Murphy with 4:45 left. Andre Brown ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game.

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Now it was Romo's turn at his own 20. On third-and-7, he found Dez Bryant working on Antrel Rolle for 19 yards. That was advantageous enough to work on another third down three plays later as the game hit the two-minute warning. Miles Austin reminded us he's still alive with a drop, but did come up with a 17-yard catch on the next play -- his lone catch on three targets.

Romo threw an absolute dagger to Bryant that would have put the ball inside the five, but Bryant failed to complete the process of the catch going to the ground. (The subjective and impossible-to-interpret consistently Calvin Johnson rule strikes again.) On third-and-10, Cole Beasley abused Rolle from the slot, making the defender lose his feet on an easy 13-yard catch. That was the game as the Giants burned their last timeout and Romo was able to take two knees to set up the field goal. Dan Bailey delivered the 35-yard kick with no time left and Dallas won 24-21.

Including the playoffs, Romo's 11 game-winning drives since 2011 tie Eli Manning for the most in that time. For Manning, it's the fifth time in his career he led a game-tying touchdown drive and never touched the ball again. This was the second time he lost on a field goal to Romo at home after such a drive.

Some continue to write a Romo narrative that's more suitable for the tabloids, but the non-fictional account still reflects favorably on him in these situations.

Carolina Panthers 20 at Miami Dolphins 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (16-13)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.27
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (5-17 at 4QC and 5-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (5-17 at 4QC and 5-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

November 10, 2013 (morning): The Carolina Panthers are 2-18 at game-winning drive opportunities in the Ron Rivera/Cam Newton era. They have not won a game after trailing by more than two points in the fourth quarter since October 24, 2010. They have not won a game after trailing by 12-plus points since October 11, 2009. "Riverboat Ron" is as real as the Easter bunny.

November 24, 2013 (late afternoon): The Carolina Panthers have won after trailing in the fourth quarter in three consecutive weeks, and each game was against a team in playoff contention. Twice they trailed by three points late. They erased a 16-3 deficit in Miami for a 20-16 win. Ron Rivera is Riverboat Ron.

Clearly, things have changed in a hurry for the Panthers, but the defense has been a constant this season. After a poor first half where Mike Wallace actually got deep twice for 110 yards, the defense pitched a second-half shutout, stopping Miami on its last five drives (there was one missed field goal).

That allowed the offense to shake off a putrid start and grind away at the deficit. In the third quarter, Carolina had a touchdown drive which included Cam Newton picking up a fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 41 with an 8-yard run. The Panthers trailed 16-13 to start the fourth quarter.

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With 5:36 left, Miami stayed aggressive in killing the clock like last week against San Diego. But a false start penalty set the drive back and Ryan Tannehill completed a 9-yard pass on third-and-11.

Newton had 4:13 left at his own 20. The drive started the wrong way with a penalty for an illegal formation and a 3-yard loss on a pass to Ted Ginn. On fourth-and-10, Newton delivered to Steve Smith, who bounced off two defenders and picked up 19 yards. Newton had a run for eight yards and got out of bounds, but safety Reshad Jones hit him late for a 15-yard flag. On replay, it was really just a slip and flop from Newton.

Mike Tolbert took two carries and gained 20 yards down to the Miami 1 with 46 seconds left. Sensing the inevitable, Newton had Greg Olsen all alone in the end zone for an easy touchdown pass off a play-action fake.

Miami was out of timeouts and had just 38 seconds left to drive 86 yards. As improbable (win probability: 3.0 percent) as that sounds, Miami had a great shot. Tannehill completed a 26-yard pass over the middle to Brian Hartline and then spiked the ball. Tannehill pump-faked and went deep for Wallace, who was open, but he could not haul the pass in.

Even if Wallace caught it, he would have been down short of the end zone and the clock would have expired. But that was dangerously close to another blown lead for Carolina. Tannehill was hit as he threw it, so he couldn't get everything he wanted on the ball. Looking for the Hail Mary, Tannehill took a game-ending sack, but what an opportunity on that next to last play.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Detroit Lions 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.31
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (3-9 at 4QC and 3-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Mike Glennon (2-2 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Detroit won most of the statistical battles in this one, but minus-5 in turnovers (five giveaways and no takeaways) is almost always a losing formula. Since the merger teams are 14-273-1 (.050) when they are minus-5 in turnovers. The fact it was this close for 60 minutes comes as a surprise.

Matthew Stafford alternated between terrible interceptions (he had four on the day) and great touchdown passes, so Detroit actually led 21-17 to start the fourth quarter. But on the second play of the quarter, rookie Mike Glennon went deep for Tiquan Underwood for an 85-yard touchdown pass over cornerback Chris Houston. He had a rough debut against Arizona's stingy pass defense, but Glennon is surprisingly turning in one of the better seasons we have seen by a rookie quarterback.

Tampa Bay blocked a punt and started at Detroit's 11, but the Buccaneers lost six yards and Rian Lindell missed a 35-yard field goal to keep it a 24-21 game.

Jim Schwartz continued the inconsistent pattern of aggressive coaching he's shown in 2013 by letting Stafford run a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Detroit 34 with 6:58 left. That's extremely aggressive, but at least it was the smartest play call. According to Pro-Football-Reference, since 1999 teams are 12-of-13 when going for it on fourth-and-1 inside their own 40 in the fourth quarter when trailing by 1-8 points with more than five minutes left.

Three plays later, Kris Durham had a big 19-yard grab, but he fumbled the ball after twisting to land out of bounds. Once again, Lindell was wide left on a 50-yard field goal with 3:49 left. A 21-yard pass to Calvin Johnson put the Lions in field-goal range. Penetrating as deep as the Tampa Bay 26, Detroit started to move backwards after Reggie Bush lost two yards on the ground.

Johnson could not come down with a pass in solid coverage, so Stafford resorted to his favorite third-down tactic: forcing the ball to Johnson. Keep in mind it was third-and-12 at the 28, so a tie was likely without a loss of yardage. Stafford faded back under some pressure and threw a pass to Johnson that actually was perfect:

That should be a first down inside the five, but on the hit by Kelcie McCray, Johnson lost control of the ball and rookie Johnthan Banks made the interception. Tampa Bay was able to run out the clock with kneel downs for its third straight win.

Tennessee Titans 23 at Oakland Raiders 19

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (19-16)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.30
Head Coach: Mike Munchak (6-10 at 4QC and 9-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick (6-27 at 4QC and 8-28-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Ryan Fitzpatrick finally ended his streak of 14 failed fourth-quarter comebacks and the Titans are currently the sixth seed in the AFC. Take a picture -- it will last longer. This was one of the closest games of the season with neither team ever leading by more than four points.

Tennessee increased its lead to 16-12 in the fourth quarter. Matt McGloin, solid in just his second start, hit four passes in a row, including a 27-yard touchdown to Marcel Reece to put Oakland ahead 19-16 with 6:10 left. McGloin threw the pass under pressure, but linebacker Zach Brown never had a chance to play the ball.

The Titans are tied with Houston and San Diego for a league-high eight game-winning drive opportunities, so they are used to these situations this season. This week Fitzpatrick avoided the risky throws and played it safe with seven completions in a row.

The Raiders had two timeouts, but shockingly never used them as the Titans continued to drive down the field. Oakland could have called timeout before a third-and-6 play with about 1:04 left to conserve time for a game-winning drive. Instead, the clock ticked down to 36 seconds before the Titans used a timeout.

Fitzpatrick hit Justin Hunter with a 9-yard pass to convert and the Titans used their second timeout at the Oakland 10. This is a situation where many teams get content with the game-tying field goal, but the Titans played to win in regulation. Fitzpatrick threw the ball away on first down and flicked an incompletion to Chris Johnson in the end zone on second down. On a crucial third-and-10 with Oakland (4-7) needing to win this game to stay alive in the AFC, Kendall Wright was open for the touchdown with 10 seconds left. It was zone, but I think Tracy Porter needs to play tighter coverage in this situation:

Even pass interference would be better than watching Wright catch the ball. The Raiders only had time to fumble a lateral to end the game.

Clutch Encounters of the Tying Kind

I wanted to taste that victory, but my mouth was dry. My mouth was dry. - Mineral

Minnesota Vikings 26 at Green Bay Packers 26

Type: 4QC and OTC
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 16 (23-7)
Largest Overtime Deficit: 3 (26-23)
Head Coach 1: Mike McCarthy (9-34-1 at 4QC and 15-36-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback 1: Matt Flynn (1-3-1 at 4QC and 1-3-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Head Coach 2: Leslie Frazier (1-15-1 at 4QC and 4-17-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback 2: Christian Ponder (1-8-1 at 4QC and 3-10-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Since it's really not a win or a loss, I needed a new category for the tie. It should have never come to that. Minnesota led 23-7 two plays into the fourth quarter. Matt Flynn became Green Bay's latest quarterback after starter Scott Tolzien, who only provided an incredible rushing touchdown, was benched.

The last time Green Bay won a game after trailing by at least 16 points was in 1989 against New Orleans. Technically, that drought will continue, but Flynn gave it a good effort off the bench. Eddie Lacy capped off an 80-yard touchdown drive aided by a 35-yard pass interference penalty on Marcus Sherels. With 11:42 left, the Packers went for two, but Flynn's pass was intercepted.

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There is an argument to kick the extra point given the time remaining. If a team only has a 25-percent chance of making a pair of two-point conversions, then the odds are they will need to score three times. So by kicking the nearly automatic extra point, a team can realistically score two touchdowns and a field goal to win by one point. Once you move past the halfway point of the quarter, the two-point conversion is a no-brainer, but I can see the argument to just kick with 11:42 left.

Minnesota punted after gaining one first down. Flynn and Lacy worked the no-huddle offense down the field. Lacy converted a fourth-and-1 run with a 4-yard gain. Four plays later, Flynn threw a 6-yard touchdown to Jarrett Boykin with 3:30 left. The Vikings had a rough three-and-out drive. Christian Ponder lost three yards on a broken play before taking a third-down sack.

The Packers had a great shot to drive for the win now, starting at their own 31 with 2:27 left. Lacy caught a 16-yard pass at the Minnesota 44 and ran the ball for four more yards. However, pressure on Flynn quickly brought up a fourth-and-6 with the Packers out of field-goal range. With the Vikings offsides, Flynn threw up a prayer under more pressure, but James Jones subtly pushed off to make the 28-yard catch. Lacy carried for no gain and Flynn's pass was batted down, setting up a third-and-10. A slant to Boykin only picked up three yards and Mason Crosby came on for the 27-yard field goal to tie the game.

Interestingly enough, the combined deficit in Aaron Rodgers' five fourth-quarter comeback wins is 16 points. Flynn, a quarterback who has done literally nothing in the NFL since Week 17 of the 2011 season, came this close to doing that in one game.

Ponder had 41 seconds left at his own 30, but could only move it 14 yards before punting. Flynn took a knee for overtime. The Packers won the coin toss and the home crowd went nuts, but it's only a great thing if you make it count. A defensive holding penalty was all that kept the Packers from going three-and-out. Flynn hit three big passes in a row to three different wide receivers, setting up a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 7.

Now it's easy to say Lacy (110 rushing yards) was having a great game, but to run him on first and second down is pretty conservative if Mike McCarthy really wanted to win the game. Flynn gave Jordy Nelson no shot at a catch on third-and-goal. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 2, McCarthy should have gone for the win. He had Crosby kick the 20-yard field goal instead.

That was only the fifth time a team kicked a field goal on the first drive, so we rarely get to see this unique situation where a team gets to use four downs to move down the field in a one-score game with no concern over the clock. It was easy to see the advantages of four-down football when Ponder handed off to Adrian Peterson on a third-and-9 draw. It worked for a 15-yard gain. Toby Gerhart had some good runs too as the Vikings rolled up 232 yards on the ground.

Minnesota had a first down at the Green Bay 13. Gerhart carried for one yard before Peterson lost five. Again, we have two teams with the chance to win the game with a touchdown and both called a run on first and second down. Where's the play-action pass? Where's the willingness to earn this win? Green Bay needed it more than Minnesota, yet it was I-formation football going nowhere.

On third-and-14, Ponder had Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone, but the ball was tipped just enough to end as an incompletion. Blair Walsh kicked the 35-yard field goal and for just the second time ever, both teams scored in overtime.

The long drives meant only 3:49 remained. Both teams went three-and-out, but Greg Jennings dropped a very catchable pass on third down for Minnesota. I guess Sunday was "Help Your Old Team In Overtime Day." Flynn had 1:59 left at his own 10, but it was an ugly 17-yard drive with three penalties on Green Bay's offensive line. McCarthy punted, giving the Vikings one last play from their own 34. Patterson made the catch for 21 yards, but did not even try a lateral and the game was over. A 26-26 tie.

This game made some dubious history. Flynn becomes the first NFL quarterback to lead a go-ahead drive in overtime and not win the game. Ponder becomes the first NFL quarterback to lead an overtime comeback for a tie (and without any presence of a fourth-quarter comeback). That "OTC" did not mean "over the counter." It's a first and I hate it.

The NFL should let them play until we get a winner, or add some type of sudden death where each team gets the ball at the opponent 20. The team who scores the most points on the drive wins.

This is just unfulfilling, and when working with statistics, it's downright annoying.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Saints at Falcons: "Matty Ice" Is a Puddle of Water

This rivalry often produces a close game and last Thursday was no exception despite Atlanta's four-game losing streak. Only three points were scored in the second half, but they gave New Orleans a 17-13 lead. Matt Ryan had Atlanta near the red zone, but Darius Johnson fumbled on a screen pass with 13:05 to play.

New Orleans kept moving the ball with Drew Brees' arm. Facing a third-and-13 at the Atlanta 47, Pierre Thomas had an excellent blitz pickup to save his quarterback and the field position. After a punt Ryan had to start at his own nine, so the long field helped take more time off the clock.

The drive started to stall at the New Orleans 29 when Ryan was sacked for the fifth time in the game. On third-and-15, his pass under pressure never had a chance. With 2:24 left, the Falcons faced the unenviable situation of fourth-and-15 at the New Orleans 34. It's at least a 50/50 proposition, but the 52-yard field goal is an option and Matt Bryant is a very good kicker. Atlanta had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning.

They could have gone for it too, but fourth-and-15 statistically boils down to a 20-percent conversion rate. It also is no guarantee of points, as converting could gain anywhere from 15 to 34 yards (or five yards on certain penalties).

According to Advanced NFL Stats, the break-even conversion rate is 31 percent to make it worthwhile to go for it. That was not very realistic for Atlanta's offense. Punting is even an option, though the real problem was the third-and-15 play where Atlanta failed to get any yards to make this decision easier. I do not mind the field goal call here as Bryant is solid. They had to get a stop regardless of field position and the Falcons had four clock stoppages to get the ball back.

Bryant made the kick, but the Saints called timeout. Bryant then missed wide left, which lowered Atlanta's win probability by 20.5 percent, according to ESPN. Brees hit a big 18-yard pass to Robert Meachem on a second down. Later, a holding penalty gave Atlanta a glimmer of hope, but it was fourth down with 12 seconds left. For some strange reason Sean Payton had Brees lose 11 yards on a run, giving up field position and allowing Ryan a chance at his own 38 with five seconds to play. The lateral-filled ending never had a chance as Harry Douglas threw an illegal forward lateral.

After seven game-winning drives last season, the Falcons have failed on their last seven attempts (0-6 this year).

Jaguars at Texans: No Letterman Jackets This December

Speaking of epic regression, the Houston Texans are currently on the clock after losing their ninth game in a row. A wire-to-wire loss at home to the Jaguars is as low as it gets in 2013.

Case Keenum struggled against the league's worst pass defense, but Houston's defense kept it a 10-6 game in the fourth quarter. Dennis Johnson failed on a fourth-and-1 run at the Jacksonville 40. After the Jaguars added a 53-yard field goal, Keenum got away with a terrible throw for a dropped interception that would have put Jacksonville in scoring territory, then was nowhere close on a third-down pass. Jacksonville picked up one first down before punting the ball back.

Keenum had 110 seconds and no timeouts to drive 80 yards. A promising start to the drive faded fast when Keenum's pass down the sideline to DeAndre Hopkins was not caught. Hopkins appeared to slow down and misjudged the ball. Keenum had Keshawn Martin for an easy catch, but Martin juggled the ball right to Ryan Davis for the game-ending interception.

One could say that made up for the missed interception earlier, but it was a bad day all around for Houston's offense.

How fast can things change in the NFL? We just did the Falcons and Texans as the failed comebacks of the week. Both teams are dead last in their conference at 2-9. Last season, the Falcons (13-3) were the regular-season champions while Houston (12-4) held the AFC's No. 1 seed until Week 17.

Neither team was as good as their record last year, but no one could have predicted such a dramatic fall from grace. Fittingly, the Falcons and Texans lead the league with six failed game-winning drives.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 47
Game-winning drives: 57
Games with 4QC opportunity: 111/176 (63.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 25

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.


42 comments, Last at 29 Nov 2013, 5:02pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

One should criticize the New England offense for calling a timeout and throwing deep to Edelman on third-and-4.

And, at least in my house, there was much criticism for that play. (And the timeout, which was necessary because Brady spent the play clock time screaming at the officials [who should have been screamed at, as the holding on Thompkins was blatant and prevented him from reaching a good pass that would have picked up the first down anyway].) They only needed four yards to continue a drive, all they needed was a field goal to win, and they went to what is likely the lowest-probability play in their playbook. Ridiculous.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Nah the play clock should have stopped when the officials threw a flag on Brady for unsportsmanlike conduct for running down the field to scream at them (and for anyone who does the same).

Granted, bad call, but if it's not Tom Brady (or someone on his level, say any that don't fit into the Brady/Manning/Brees area) it's likely a flag, or even a "oh they had to burn a time out because the "insert young player's name here" couldn't keep his cool and wasted a time out arguing" story.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Hi Scott,
I was waiting for your column this week, plenty of material.

I've seen Belichik take some bad decisions but he totally outcoached Del Rio. By deferring after winning the coin toss he controlled the wind thru the whole game.
Denver's punt in 3rd and 8 in OT against Brady is just sad.

About the Packer's game I fail to understand the logic of McCarthy when he kicked the field goal. The logic is "we score the FG and then we win if we stop them" but if you go for the TD then you also have the chance of winning if you stop them plus the chance to win inmediately with the TD, plus the chance of a safety.

I know it will never happen but after scoring a FG in OT I would really like to see a coach try a surprise onside kick if you recover game over.

Who changed Ron Rivera's koolaid?

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

You mean a chance to win immediately with a FG. Yeah, I hated Green Bay's goal-to-go series on that first OT drive. The Green Bay receivers are very skillful and can make acrobatic catches in the end zone. On fourth-and-2, there's so many options available to GB with Nelson and even a QB draw from Flynn. There's no reason to fear the Vikings starting inside their two if you fail to convert.

The tie helps GB in the division, but that's probably going to be their only way into the playoffs.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Can anyone figure out what's the deal with Dobson vs Thompkins? Thompkins looks great in preseason, has a slow start to regular season. Dobson drops so many passes we all start calling him Dropson. Thompkins starts to put it together around the Atlanta game beating people bad off the LOS like in preseason and catches a game winning pass, then suddenly dissapears from the offense completely for several weeks and Dobson emerges (while still dropping a lot of passes). Now suddenly it's Dobson who isn't seeing the field and Thompkins shows up again. Something to do with Vereen coming back?

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

I cannot recall a team muffing a punt like this in overtime to set up a loss.

Tampa Bay-Minnesota, week 13 in 1994. Tampa punted on the first drive of overtime, but Eric Guliford muffed it and Tampa recovered on the Vikings' 4. The Bucs kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play.

8 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Great find. I completely forgot I had a list of eight non-offensive game-winning field goals. That's the only muffed punt. Others include games where a player fumbled (John Elway, Corey Dillon and Steve Bartkowski to name a few) or a long kick/punt return set up the field position.

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

What a joke of an article. The only thing I came away with after reading it was all the excuse making for Manning.

P.S.....One of the reasons the Broncos ran for so many yards is because Bill B. new Manning would audible into runs all night if the Pats played a cover two shell. Even when Talib missed a few plays in the forth quarter. Manning failed to attack Arrington (their worst outside corner)who was covering D. Thomas.

Manning is like that superstar basket ball player that wants no part of that last shot.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

I'm glad we have you here to climb into Manning's mind and let us know exactly what he was thinking. Because, clearly, he couldn't have been thinking that running the ball 45+ times and getting almost 6 yards per rush was a sound offensive design against the cover two shell. Because, you know, it would have been much smarter of him to throw into that defense over and over, even if that defense is specifically intended to stop the pass.

Oh, yeah, and Manning is just awful at the end not wanting to take the last shot. What a wimp. That's why he drove into the wind for the game-tying TD with under 4 minutes to go, and why the great, immaculate, courageous opposing QB, Tom Brady, couldn't even get into field goal range with the wind and with three drive attempts going with the wind (the last one in regulation, and the two in overtime).

Yup, you have it all right. Your logic is impeccable.

Some people are just amazing, and I include you in that group.

Just wow.

13 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

"Because, clearly, he couldn't have been thinking that running the ball 45+ times and getting almost 6 yards per rush was a sound offensive design against the cover two shell."

They had 3 drives over 25 yards. Clearly it wasn't a sound offensive design.

14 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

And one of the drives under 25 yards ended in a touchdown, so clearly your logic that a drive needs to be longer than a randomly chosen 25 yards makes sense. And thus, they should have thrown more and Manning was just too much of a wimp. Got it.

15 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

The point is that other than the 3 fumbles, the Broncos offense was basically unable to sustain drives or produce points all day, despite putting up a ton of rushing yards.

I don't think anyone said Manning was a wimp, I think they said that Manning continued to audible into runs against the nickle despite the fact that they weren't actually moving the ball very much.

It took a herculean offensive effort in the 3rd quarter for the Patriots to get back into it, but it wouldn't have been possible if the Broncos hadn't been so run heavy.

16 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

You really should read the comment that began this thread: "Manning is like that superstar basket ball player that wants no part of that last shot." I read that to mean Manning is a wimp. Your interpretation may differ.

And, you need to get facts right. Denver had 4 drives of 25 yards or more (not the 3 that you suggest), and Denver had the only drive by either team in OT of more than 20 yards. And, I can cherry pick a number as well. Brady's throw-happy offense produced only 4 drives over 35 yards, the same as the run-happy Denver offense. To suggest that getting 15 first downs via the run for Denver was a bad strategy is just nonsense.

17 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

"To suggest that getting 15 first downs via the run for Denver was a bad strategy is just nonsense."

First downs only matter if they eventually lead to points.

Seriously, look at some of the comments made by Talib. The Patriots entire defensive gameplan was to leave the run open, prevent the long passing strikes, and goad the Broncos into situations where they ran themselves into 3rd and long, and ended up having to punt.

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

If that was the plan, it failed. Third and long (> 5 yards) came almost exclusively from failed passing plays, such as a sack, a negative completion, many incomplete passes, an OPI. Only once in the game did a third and long come from two running plays.

I suspect the plan was really to frustrate Manning's ego. It worked. Moreno was getting to be the hero. Eventually Peyton would want to throw despite the defense effectively conceding the run. And unless Manning could cope with the wind and a defense stacked against the pass, the drive would stall.

Edit: By "failed" I mean it worked in an unexpected way. The plan may have been to stack against the pass, and hope for unlikely failed runs to kill drives. But failed pass plays into a pass-heavy defense are nice, too.

22 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

"Third and long (> 5 yards) came almost exclusively from failed passing plays,"

You couldn't be more full of shit.

To end the game:

1-10-NE 39
(6:16) (Shotgun) 27-K.Moreno right tackle to NE 40 for -1 yards (94-Chr. Jones).
2-11-NE 40
(5:41) (Shotgun) 27-K.Moreno right guard to NE 37 for 3 yards (95-Cha.Jones).
3-8-NE 37
(5:01) (Shotgun) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short right to 83-W.Welker.

3rd Quarter:
1st drive:
1-10-DEN 44
(9:16) (Shotgun) 28-M.Ball left tackle to DEN 48 for 4 yards (72-J.Vellano; 95-Cha.Jones).
2-6-DEN 48
(8:40) (Shotgun) 18-P.Manning pass short right to 28-M.Ball to DEN 42 for -6 yards (52-D.Fletcher). FUMBLES (52-D.Fletcher), touched at DEN 39, RECOVERED by NE-55-B.Spikes at DEN 32.

2nd Drive:
(3:56) (Shotgun) 27-K.Moreno left guard to DEN 42 for 5 yards (52-D.Fletcher).
2-5-DEN 42
(3:28) (Shotgun) 27-K.Moreno left guard to DEN 42 for no gain (94-Chr. Jones; 72-J.Vellano).
3-5-DEN 42
(2:45) (Shotgun) 18-P.Manning sacked at DEN 34 for -8 yards. FUMBLES, and recovers at DEN 34. 18-P.Manning to DEN 34 for no gain (91-J.Collins).

There are more. Most of the failed 3rd down conversions had a stuff on 1st or 2nd down.

23 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

The second drive you copied is a pass on 2nd down, and the 3 drive you listed does not fall into the >5 yards category. So while that's an arbitrary distance to cutoff at, so far you've found one counter example.

25 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

It kind of has to be an arbitrary cutoff, doesn't it? But in case I accidentally introduced a bias, I checked the 3rd-and-5 plays.

Two were caused by failed pass plays. One was a 5 yard run (good) followed by a 0 yard run (bad).

Anything less than 5 yards would be silly to call "third-and-long". Even five yards is a stretch.

So I stand by the point I made: In this game, it was almost completely the passing game that put the Broncos into third and long situations, not the running game.

29 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Unless you are going to do a regression analysis showing success rates at converting 3rd downs by distance and find the point where it should be considered 3rd and long. Or what kind of plays are called. The point 3rd and short is that you can still call a running play. I feel like it is super rare that you see a run called on 3rd and 5.

To you answer your question, yes a certain amount of arbitrariness is expected and fine from an internet commentator. The other poster could have argued that you should include 3rd and 5, but didn't just included one anyways.

32 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

It really doesn't matter to the point at hand. No matter where (within reason) you put the cutoff for "bad third down situation", it was the passing game that put the Broncos into bad third down situations.

If it helps, my particular thinking was to include any series starting with two "stuffed" run plays as a "third-and-[whatever you want to call it]" situation. I've heard two yard runs called "stuffs" but never three yard ones. Admittedly, that just kicks the definition down the road a bit. But the goal was to be as harsh as I reasonably could be on the running game.

As for play calls, my personal feeling is that teams give up on the (non-draw) run on third downs too easily. This weekend, the Broncos had 20 runs that gained at least five yards or scored a TD. They had 16 pass plays that gained at least five yards. The per-play percentages are very, very close. So a third-and-five should have been an occasion for a run play, or at least the threat of one.

Another way of looking at it is to ask how much of your playbook is "open" for a given distance. At third and five yards, most plays except sneaks and a few special passes or runs are viable options. They are designed via routes or blocking assignments to get that many yards, even if they often don't. Choices drop off the farther you have to go. By ten yards, there are a lot fewer options.

24 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Here are all the third-and-more-than-five situations the Broncos faced, and what led to them.

First Quarter:
Caused by two failed passes.
1-10-DEN 31 (14:30) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short left to 88-D.Thomas.
2-10-DEN 31 (14:25) 18-P.Manning pass short right to 85-V.Green to DEN 34 for 3 yards.
3-7-DEN 34

Stuffed run, topped by a much worse sack.
1-5-NE 5 (4:51) 28-M.Ball up the middle to NE 6 for -1 yards.
2-6-NE 6 (4:18) 18-P.Manning sacked at NE 16 for -10 yards.
3-16-NE 16

Second Quarter:
Decent run, negative pass.
1-10-DEN 48 (14:28) 27-K.Moreno right tackle to NE 48 for 4 yards.
2-6-NE 48 (13:59) 18-P.Manning pass short right to 28-M.Ball to DEN 47 for -5 yards.
3-11-DEN 47

Intentional grounding, failed pass.
1-10-DEN 43 (9:03) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short left. PENALTY on DEN-18-P.Manning, Intentional Grounding, 10 yards.
2-20-DEN 33 (8:58) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short middle to 88-D.Thomas.
3-20-DEN 33

Fourth Quarter:
Weak but positive run, worse pass.
1-10-DEN 20 (13:13) 27-K.Moreno left guard to DEN 22 for 2 yards.
2-8-DEN 22 (12:45) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete deep right to 83-W.Welker.
3-8-DEN 22

OK run, failed pass.
1-10-NE 20 (3:58) 27-K.Moreno left tackle to NE 17 for 3 yards.
2-7-NE 17 (3:21) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete deep middle to 81-J.Dreessen.
3-7-NE 17

Failed pass, failed pass.
1-10-DEN 44 (:53) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short right.
2-10-DEN 44 (:48) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short right to 83-W.Welker.
3-10-DEN 44

Failed pass. Good run. Failed pass (OPI).
1-10-DEN 46 (13:47) 18-P.Manning pass incomplete short middle to 22-C.Anderson.
2-10-DEN 46 (13:43) 22-C.Anderson up the middle to NE 48 for 6 yards.
3-4-NE 48 (13:04) 18-P.Manning pass short middle to 84-J.Tamme to NE 45 for 3 yards. PENALTY on DEN-87-E.Decker, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards.
3-14-DEN 42

Stuff. OK run (but too little given the yards to go).
1-10-NE 39 (6:16) 27-K.Moreno right tackle to NE 40 for -1 yards (94-Chr. Jones).
2-11-NE 40 (5:41) 27-K.Moreno right guard to NE 37 for 3 yards (95-Cha.Jones).
3-8-NE 37

While a couple featured weak or stuffed runs too, all but one were primarily due to a worse pass play. That is, "almost exclusively" the main cause of the third-and-more-than-five situation was a failure in the passing game.

So please, quit with the "full of shit" stuff. This is what actually happened in the game.

(Sorry for the longish post, guys. Facts were needed.)

31 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

What's your point? That was the one case that was chalked up to a running game failure anyway. I just worded it differently than you would have.

You know, sometimes the classy move is to just admit you were wrong and move along. Ice up, son. Ice up.

19 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

The amazing thing is that this whole line of argument is predicated on the premise that Manning's play was an epic failure. If not for a fluke fumble, this would have been a tie where Manning's passing led to the game-tying TD. Trying to wedge this into some failure because his team lost on an OT muffed punt in a game with three factors against a passing offense (1. On the road with crowd noise to hamper audibles, 2. A heavy wind that made throwing more difficult than normal, 3. A ref mindset that allowed DBs to be very physical) is just a lazy way to glom onto a stereotyped narrative. No one even mentions that Denver was without its top TE, but you can be sure if Gronk went out, that would be the lazy narrative.

33 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

You're right. My mistake. That fumble at the end was predictable and part of Bellichick's strategy all along. Not a fluke to win on a punt that hits one of the return blockers. All brilliant strategy. Got it.

36 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Also IT WAS TOO WINDY!?! How unjust! Being bad at handling the elements should NOT count against a QB? When we have an example at hand of a QB handling the same elements just fine? And when handling the elements is one of the things a playoff QB needs to be able to do?

I could go on. Just about every sentence was a new low in excuse-making. I just didn't want to pile on too much.

37 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Nat, you'd be a perfect TV announcer. You come in with a preconceived notion and stick to it because it's easy (and the TV production crew has created some nifty graphics ahead of time). Fine. I won't waste time trying to change your stereotype. I won't point out that both QBs failed to drive for a win in OT, each with two chances (and Brady with one at the end of the game with the wind), but that this truth means only one was scared of throwing and the other obviously was not. I won't point out that if the defense sets up to stop the pass and gives you 6 yards a carry, you should probably take those runs. I won't point out the fact that when this horrible Manning guy had to score, finally down on the scoreboard, he drove his team into the wind for the TD. I won't point out this is an article about "clutch" or at least game winning drives, and that this game had none unless you count one QB sneak to put the ball in the middle of the field.

Stick with the easy narrative. Damn everything else. Of course a QB who usually passes the ball a ton should keep throwing it with heavy winds, against a defense designed to stop the pass, with refs allowing DBs from both teams to be as physical as they want, and with a running game getting 6 yards a pop. You're a brilliant strategist. Of course Manning should have passed the ball all game long in that set up. He's and idiot, a chicken, or inept, for not doing so.

I bow to your logical greatness.

39 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Actually, I've been arguing that Peyton threw too much. He was playing below replacement level. Almost all the drives that stalled, stalled because of failed passing plays - not always his fault, but often so or partly so. Scoring on just one drive after halftime is never clutch. It's surrendering a huge lead, but not getting completely shut out. More of a choke, hidden by defensive plays early in the game. To use your word, his play was an epic failure.

Neither QB was productive in OT. Sure, the game itself was close. But, over all, Manning was horrible, while Brady had one of the best games of the week.

Wind can't excuse it. Nor can the ref's emphasis in the game. Nor can injured offensive players. Nor can fumbles. Those were about equally applied to both QBs, and they are similar enough in playing styles, if not coping skills. Crowd noise has an effect, but is a lame excuse, since one team is always on the road, and QBs are expected to just deal with it.

You may bow if you wish. Just quit with the whining and excuses. Peyton played one of the worst games of the week. Deal with it.

42 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Laughable. You're the one who made the completely unsupportable claim way back in comment 18 that Manning couldn't stand that Moreno was getting all the glory, instead of the more logical argument that maybe he saw that he had to change the strategy because the Broncos D was losing the game against Brady. Beyond that, he had no control over the wind direction. What if Belichick had lost the coin toss in OT?

28 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Again, this was a strange game where Manning had very little impact for three quarters. He had three mistakes on plays he could have did something better on through three quarters. Then the 4th quarter started, they were going into the wind and he threw that pick and lost the lead. Then he had a bad drive, but now that he really needed to do something in this one, he did deliver the game-tying drive. From that point on, hard to say we saw quality QB play.

I don't see anyone mentioning Brady finished the game completing 6-of-12 for 42 yards and that's with 5 failed completions. So that's 1-of-12 in terms of success rate.

26 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Both offenses were largely ineffective. The teams finished with comparable yard counts and comparable first down counts, albeit operating in different ways. The Bronco offense scored 3 TDs, but the long TD drives also involved most of Manning's successful pass attempts (3.7 y/a on the night). Brady's offense (including his own fumble) contributed to Denver's first 17 points. Manning's offense (including the game's lone interception) contributed to two of New England's TDs. This game did not define the better QB.

Belichek set his defense up to make Denver a running team. Denver's too long TD drives featured 34 rushing yards and 26 rushing yards. Belichek gambled Denver was not going to run for 50 yards/drive and, while accepting their running backs would routinely get to the second level, he gambled they would not break off any long TD runs. Take away the 10 yard TD drive and the defensive TD (which were on the Patriot offense far more than the defense) and the record-pace setting Bronco offense managed 17 points in five quarters. As damaging as the 5.8yd/carry line looks, the strategy achieved the desired result.

38 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

Well, we'll never know, given how the first five minutes of the game went, now will we.

The plan apparently succeeded in holding DEN to 17 points, after all. (Unless you're going to claim the NE defensive plan called for DEN to get a 60yd TD fumble return and to recover another fumble at the NE 10 -- and I think not even the morganja of Manning apologists would claim that. At least I hope not.)

40 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

And if Talib hadn't stupidly held the receiver (who had no chance of getting anywhere near that pass or preventing Talib from getting to it, even if left alone) before that easy interception, and the game ended with a 7 or 10 or 14 point NE victory in regulation, that means the plan didn't work well?

See -- two can play your silly game.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 12

One note on the 4th-and-6 pass to Jones in the 4th quarter. The Vikings jumped offside, so it was a free play for Flynn. Doubt he makes that throw otherwise.


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