by Scott Kacsmar
It was the week of the big comeback. Six teams won after trailing by double-digits and four teams won after going down 14 points -- the trendy thing to do after Auburn came back from a 21-7 deficit on Saturday. No one had a finish quite like Alabama-Auburn, but the Bears-Vikings gave it a shot. They also nearly gave us another NFC North tie, which would have been almost as appalling as New Orleans' no-show effort in Seattle on Monday night.
Game of the Week
New England Patriots 34 at Houston Texans 31
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (31-28)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.57
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (40-67 at 4QC and 55-68 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (30-26 at 4QC and 42-28 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The Texans led 17-7 at halftime, but the Patriots outscored them 27-14 the rest of the way. In other words, just your typical game for these teams in 2013. It was a comeback the Patriots may not have made earlier this season without Rob Gronkowski (127 yards) and Shane Vereen (75 yards from scrimmage) available. Both scored a touchdown and played a big role in the second-half dominance.
Houston did not go away quietly behind Case Keenum. Even after New England took the lead, the game featured three consecutive touchdown drives of 80-plus drives (two by Houston). DeAndre Hopkins had a 66-yard reception leading to Ben Tate's third rushing touchdown of the game. Houston led 31-28, but New England had plenty of time and Tom Brady was finally in rhythm. The Texans did force a stop, but Stephen Gostkowski was able to make the 53-yard field goal to tie the game with 7:16 left.
Keenum delivered two good passes, but both were dropped, including an unforgivable one by Andre Johnson, who caught all other eight targets thrown his way. Pressure forced a third incompletion and the Texans went three-and-out. Brady converted a third down to Gronkowski for 17 yards, but Houston played good defense on the tight end on the next third down. Gostkowski delivered another 53-yard field goal with 3:12 left.
Gostkowski's 53-yard kick is the longest game-winning field goal in team history. The previous record was 51 yards by Greg Davis against the 1989 Colts.
Bill Belichick's tenure in New England has been blessed with the NFL's greatest stretch of clutch kicking thanks to Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski. Since 2000, those kickers have made 37-of-40 field goals (92.5 percent) in the fourth quarter and overtime when the game was tied or New England trailed by 1-3 points. The only miss contributing to a loss came from Gostkowski against Arizona last year. Helping the percentages is the fact that every kick was 48 yards or shorter, so Gostkowski's pair of 53-yard kicks are very impressive.
Randy Bullock, eat your heart out. Keenum first had to get Bullock in position to even think about a tying field goal. He started well with two completions for 25 yards to Johnson, but Tate lost two yards on a first-down run and Logan Ryan got away with a jersey-grab on Hopkins. Keenum was nearly intercepted on third down. Like against the Colts earlier this season, the Texans mismanaged the clock and cost themselves the two-minute warning. Just 2:07 remained with Houston facing fourth-and-12 at its own 43. When Gary Kubiak called the team's second timeout, the only option was to go for it.
New England got great pressure despite only rushing four and Keenum's pass failed to even get past the 35-yard line. Down to one clock stoppage, Houston did get the ball back, but only had seven seconds left and 95 yards to go. Needless to say, Houston succumbed to its 10th straight loss.
Brady joins an elite club of eight quarterbacks to have 30 fourth-quarter comeback wins.
|Fewest Games to 30 Fourth-Quarter Comeback Wins|
|Rk||Quarterback||Games to 30th 4QC||Age||Date||Total 4QC|
Brady did it in the same number of games (213) as John Elway and only with a difference of nine days in age.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Chicago Bears 20 at Minnesota Vikings 23
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (20-10)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.62
Head Coach: Leslie Frazier (2-15-1 at 4QC and 5-17-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Cassel (7-16 at 4QC and 10-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
You can take Lovie Smith out of Chicago, but conservative coaching is rooted deep in the Bears. Marc Trestman wasted a brilliant performance from Alshon Jeffery -- he caught 12-of-15 targets for 249 yards and two touchdowns -- with some baffling late-game decisions.
None of it happens without first blowing a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead with Minnesota backup Matt Cassel in the game for the injured Christian Ponder. The downfall began when Trestman punted on fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 38 with 14:16 left. Cassel led an 89-yard touchdown drive. After Chicago turned it over on an embarrassing play better suited for volleyball, the tip drills continued with Cassel's interception deep in the red zone.
Matt Forte was stuffed twice on runs when one yard would have gained a first down, so Chicago punted. Cassel started at his own nine with 2:40 to play. Jerome Simpson saved the drive with a 20-yard grab on fourth-and-11. Cassel later hit three passes in a row for 62 yards -- the receiver was wide open each time -- and the Vikings were 12 yards away from the winning touchdown. Simpson dropped the game-winner on second down in the end zone and Cassel had to just get rid of it on third down. Blair Walsh kicked the 30-yard tying field goal.
Devin Hester returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards and the Bears were at the 50 with three timeouts and 14 seconds left. One good gain would put them in field-goal range. Josh McCown took a sack and then could only complete a 2-yard pass. The right strategy would be to throw the Hail Mary to one of your big receivers. After what happened in the Alabama-Auburn game on Saturday, Trestman would have to be crazy to let Robbie Gould attempt a 66-yard field goal (NFL record is 63) with Cordarrelle Patterson, who has a 109-yard kick return, waiting in the end zone.
It happened anyway. The kick was straight, but short and Patterson caught it in the end zone. Fortunately for Chicago he was tackled at the Minnesota 22 and the game went to overtime. A few weeks ago I said I wanted Trestman to win an overtime coin toss to see if he would kick off based on his citing of the probability of driving a long field for a touchdown. But in this game, the field was fine, the defense was leaky, the offense was solid, Hester is a dangerous returner and Jeffery was unstoppable. So it made sense to receive.
Naturally, the drive still stalled short of the end zone like 30 of the last 36 opening drives in overtime. Jared Allen made a big sack on third down to force a punt. A 21-yard run by Adrian Peterson (plus 15 yards for a horse collar tackle) put him over 10,000 yards in his career and it looked to wrap this one up. Walsh kicked the 39-yard field goal on third down and the fireworks went off, but there was a flag for a facemask on Rhett Ellison. That almost never happens on a field goal. After the penalty moved the ball back 15 yards, Peterson lost three more on the ground. Walsh's 57-yard kick was wide left and, with 7:17 left, we drifted into tie territory again.
No team has had multiple ties in a season since 1973 -- one year before the NFL put in an overtime system. Minnesota having two in consecutive weeks in divisional games would be dreadful for number-crunchers and anyone who enjoys a real outcome.
Forte was given five consecutive carries before Gould came out for a 47-yard field goal. Oh, and it was only second down. I hate the third-down kicking decisions coaches make as worrying about a very improbable botched snap or hold is the definition of coaching scared. Line up and kick, but only when it's close enough and you have to. Out of the active coaches I have studied, Sean Payton seems to be one of the few willing to let his quarterback continue to throw to make the field goal as short and easy as possible. It helps to have Drew Brees at quarterback, but when Jeffery is having a historic day, not trying to get him the ball again is another coaching failure.
Gould's a good kicker, but he was wide right this time. Greg Jennings caught a 17-yard pass and Peterson helped to put the Vikings back into field-goal range. This time Walsh was good from 34 yards away with 1:43 left and after nearly 10 quarters in the last two weeks, the Vikings finally had a decision.
But it was the poor decisions by Trestman that may prove to keep the Bears out of the playoffs once again. For someone who studies the numbers, he should know the "Tony Romo in Seattle" plays are very rare screw-ups and that a 47-yard field goal is not high-percentage enough to bank on.
Oakland Raiders 24 at Dallas Cowboys 31
Win Probability (GWD): 0.55
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (12-15 at 4QC and 15-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (19-28 at 4QC and 22-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Each team recovered a fumble to get an easy touchdown early, but there was a point where Oakland looked superior with rookie Matt McGloin dealing on third down and Tony Romo struggling. But after Oakland's 21-7 lead late in the first half, it was all Dallas. The Cowboys marched on back-to-back touchdown drives to tie the game and were at it again as the clock moved into the fourth quarter. DeMarco Murray scored what became the game-winning touchdown run with 14:20 to play.
After each team went three-and-out, McGloin hit the unknown Andre Holmes with a 35-yard pass. Three plays later from the Dallas 20, McGloin forced a pass into the end zone and Brandon Carr came down with the interception. With 8:39 left, Dallas had one of the best drives of the year in this situation. It lasted 14 plays, 79 yards and consumed 6:43 off the clock. Murray converted a pair of third-and-1 runs and Romo had four productive targets to Dez Bryant. Romo was 12-of-12 passing in the second half.
The drive ended with a 19-yard field goal, but that made it 31-21 and Oakland only was able to get a 45-yard field goal before a miserable onside kick attempt failed and ended the game.
In his first career start in 2006, Romo led the Cowboys to a win after trailing by 14 points. Thanksgiving was the third time he's done that. While his 12 game-winning drives lead the league since 2011, this also reflects well on maligned coach Jason Garrett. With a minimum of 20 opportunities, Garrett (15-17) has the third-best active record among head coaches at game-winning drive opportunities.
Atlanta Falcons 34 at Buffalo Bills 31
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (31-24)
Win Probability (4QC): 0.17
Win Probability (GWD): 0.72
Head Coach: Mike Smith (18-21 at 4QC and 25-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (17-20 at 4QC and 24-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It took a trip to Toronto, with crazy Mayor Rob Ford in attendance, for the Falcons to erase their streak of seven failed game-winning drives. Atlanta trailed 14-0 early, but Buffalo has been loose with holding leads this season. Tied at 24 to start the fourth quarter, EJ Manuel found Robert Woods with a 33-yard pass and C.J. Spiller ripped off a 36-yard touchdown run. Buffalo followed it up with two three-and-out drives as Matt Ryan needed three chances to get the tying score.
This latest attempt nearly failed like those before it for Atlanta. Sure, the Falcons drove into the red zone late, but after getting a first-and-goal at the Buffalo 5 with two minutes to play, things began to stall. Ryan overthrew a pair of passes and Harry Douglas was penalized for unnecessary roughness. Facing third-and-goal from the Buffalo 16, Ryan missed Douglas, but Nickell Robey was penalized for pass interference. It was a gift call and Steven Jackson ran in the tying touchdown with 1:28 left.
That left enough time for Buffalo to win in regulation, but Steve Johnson fumbled on a reception at the Atlanta 30. We went to overtime and Buffalo won the toss and received. This one was not a bad decision in a high-scoring game, but again the Bills fumbled away a win. On the second play of the drive Scott Chandler fumbled a catch near midfield. Starting at the Buffalo 47, Ryan only had to throw a 20-yard screen pass to Douglas to put the Falcons in field-goal range. Matt Bryant was good on the 36-yard game-winning field goal.
The win puts Ryan into more historic company:
|Most 4QC and GWD in First Six Seasons, NFL History|
|1T||Matt Ryan||2008-13||17||1||Matt Ryan||2008-13||24|
|1T||Ben Roethlisberger||2004-09||17||2T||Tom Brady||2000-05||21|
|3||Peyton Manning||1998-03||16||2T||Ben Roethlisberger||2004-09||21|
|4T||Johnny Unitas||1956-61||15||4T||Jake Plummer||1997-02||20|
|4T||Jake Plummer||1997-02||15||4T||Peyton Manning||1998-03||20|
Had the Falcons not finished in the red zone again, Mike Smith might have just turned into Rob Ford.
New York Giants 24 at Washington Redskins 17
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.46
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (40-77 at 4QC and 49-80 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (25-31 at 4QC and 29-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Big media markets or not, this game needed to go flex itself. It was hard to get fired up for this prime-time skirmish between teams with 4-7 and 3-8 records. The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was a better alternative and that started just as the zombified Giants fell behind 14-0 to a Washington team who never opens up big leads this season.
Apparently the Redskins also don't hold the leads either as the Giants crawled back to make it a 17-14 game heading into the fourth quarter. Eli Manning found Victor Cruz for a 19-yard pass and Andre Brown finished the drive with the 1-yard touchdown run with 14:26 left. New York led 21-17.
Justin Tuck had three of his four sacks on the night in the fourth quarter and the Giants added a field goal to make it 24-17. Robert Griffin was 16-of-17 passing at halftime, but he started running too much in the second half and the receivers dropped many passes.
With 2:32 left, Griffin had no timeouts and needed to drive 80 yards for the game-tying touchdown. The drive started with a drop by Logan Paulsen. Not to sound like the Count from Sesame Street, but that's one. Two plays later Pierre Garcon failed to hang onto one, setting up a fourth-and-3. This time Paulsen did catch it for nine yards to convert. Garcon caught one for five and we hit the two-minute warning.
Now the game would find itself a memorable moment. Garcon caught a pass right around the first-down marker. Referee Jeff "Gomer Pyle" Triplette signaled third-and-1, but the chains moved for first-and-10. Washington called a play thinking it was first-and-10. Griffin had all day to throw and found Fred Davis wide open, but the tight end dropped it after taking some contact at the New York 30. That's a 25-yard drop.
Then the Redskins found out it was actually fourth-and-1 now, which just set NBC's Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth off. Calling a play for fourth-and-1, Griffin found Garcon wide open for the catch and first down, but safety Will Hill made a grand theft of the ball for the game-ending fumble. Manning took two knees for the win and the announcers continued to blast the officials. They didn't necessarily blame the error for the game's outcome, but not once was there any accountability for Garcon's fumble or any discussion of an uncalled facemask penalty on the play.
As far as officiating procedures, it was a royal screw-up that hopefully never happens again. As far as having an impact on the outcome of the game, it was completely insignificant.
Yes, the officials should have stopped play before third down and got it right for everyone. The spot did look correct, so the Redskins should have been facing third-and-1. But when a team's out of timeouts and needs 55 yards to get in the end zone, this is not the time for a shotgun draw that's going to gain a few yards at best and burn clock in the process. A team needs chunk plays and on third-and-1, they can literally call anything in the playbook. What the Redskins got, which came out of a no-huddle attack, was a perfect chunk play, but Davis dropped it. Then when they even knew it was fourth down, it was another perfect play, but the Giants stole the ball from Garcon. That's all on Washington, not the officials.
In last-drive situations, teams are playing the clock more than the traditional down-and-distance strategy. This is four-down football and big plays are needed. It's ludicrous for Collinsworth to assert that a quarterback shouldn't throw a 20-yard pass on third-and-1.
This outcome was purely decided by the ineptitude of the Redskins' receivers. Hang onto either ball and Michaels makes one last mention of how "it's a moot point now" and the game ends differently with his blood pressure better stabilized. Sure, there's probably a story buried on the internet later in the week about discipline for Triplette's crew not following proper procedures, but most would have forgot what happened by Monday morning.
It's a good thing these are bad teams this season, because the overreaction would be even more absurd if the game mattered.
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 at Cleveland Browns 28
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (28-25)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.25
Head Coach: Gus Bradley (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Chad Henne (4-15 at 4QC and 5-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It took 12 games, but the Jaguars had their first 4QC/GWD opportunity of 2013. By coming through for the win, it leaves them as the only undefeated team (1-0) -- the ultimate example of gaming the system by losing big.
Entering Week 13, Brandon Weeden (2-9) and Chad Henne (4-16) had the worst records at game-winning drive opportunities among active starters. Sure, it's hard to get excited about this one, but it actually had a great ending.
The Browns led 21-20 in the fourth quarter only to blow the lead after a bad snap went over Brandon Weeden's head and he kicked it out of bounds for a safety. Jacksonville added a field goal to take a 25-21 lead. After a penalty on Cleveland's kick return, the Browns were backed up at their own five. Josh Gordon continued his monster season with a 95-yard touchdown reception. He caught the ball at his own 22, dodged a tackle and outran the defense the rest of the way.
Gordon became the first receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. He did it as a garbage-time hero last week against Pittsburgh, but this 261-yard performance put the Browns in position for the win.
Henne had 3:54 left to answer from his own 20, down 28-25. Two big completions moved the ball into field-goal range where the Jaguars took their time. Cleveland had three timeouts, but did not use one after a 1-yard pass by Jacksonville on first down. Henne missed badly on second down, but his pump-fake on third-and-9 combined with Cecil Shorts' double-move on Joe Haden made for an easy 20-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left.
Somehow Cleveland ran seven plays in 40 seconds (no spikes and used two timeouts), but Weeden's Hail Mary was knocked away in the end zone to end it. No Quincy Morgan catch or bottles thrown this time.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Titans at Colts: GO FOR TWO
This segment is brought to you by a dropped pass from Darrius Heyward-Bey in the third quarter. Without it, we probably never would have reached this late-game situation, which is the only thing interesting about this otherwise dreadful contest between the top two teams in the AFC's little sisters of the poor division.
Leading 15-14 in the fourth quarter, the Colts finally strung together good plays for a 92-yard touchdown drive. The touchdown was scored by Donald Brown on second down with 1:56 remaining and the Titans still had three timeouts.
As is always the case, there was no hesitation to even consider the two-point conversion at 21-14. The Colts kicked the extra point, like all 93 NFL teams have done in this situation since 1994, to take a 22-14 lead, which kept it a one-score game. A lot of those 93 situations made perfect sense to kick the extra point, but the Colts wasted a unique opportunity on Sunday.
Inside of two minutes, teams should try the two-point conversion to take a nine-point lead and practically seal the win right there.
Even if you think the opponent has a better chance of converting the two than you do, the reward makes it worth trying this late in the game. A team would have to be extremely unbalanced on offense and defense (think 1986 Bears) to not give it a try.
The Colts just ran 11 plays and all but one -- go figure, the one play that involved Trent "3.0" Richardson -- gained at least two yards. Yes, different spacing and windows in goal-to-go offense, but Andrew Luck's a mobile quarterback that gives the Colts many options.
Should the conversion fail, we cannot overlook just how valuable a seven-point lead is in the final two minutes. No matter if the Colts led by seven, eight or nine, the odds of winning were greatly in their favor and this can be proven in many ways.
Let's start with some simple win probability from Advanced NFL Stats. With the current kickoff rules, it's likely a team starts at the 20 in this situation, but we'll go with Tennessee's specific drive: starting at the 21 with 1:50 left.
- Down 21-14 (two-point fails): win probability is 0.11.
- Down 22-14 (made extra point): win probability is 0.11.
- Down 23-14 (two-point succeeds): win probability is 0.03.
According to this, there's no difference between being up by seven or eight, but the nine-point lead is clearly superior. Fundamentally, this does not feel right as you would expect a slight difference between seven and eight. When I ran the numbers for Chicago's similar situation against Detroit in Week 10 (starting at the 26 with 2:17 left), it was 0.14 for being down seven and 0.16 for being down eight.
That's not a typo. Being down eight had a slightly higher win probability than being down seven. Getting the two-point conversion has been more successful than one would imagine.
Since 1994, 139 touchdowns have been scored in the fourth quarter by a team down by eight points. Seventy-two of them made the two-point conversion while 66 failed. That's a conversion rate of 52.2 percent, so while that falls in line with the "coin flip" projection, it's better than 40-45 percent. One team kicked an extra point, but oddly enough later converted a two in the same game.
Having the opportunity to attempt a two-point conversion usually comes from solid offensive execution on a touchdown drive. So if a team was good enough to go down the field for six, then they should have a decent shot to finish with two more yards for more points. If a defense cannot stop a team from going 70-plus yards for a touchdown, why should they believe they will stop the two-point conversion?
Let's further run through some of the dynamics of each situation for a trailing team inside of two minutes.
|General Dynamics of Trailing Team in Final 2:00|
|Deficit:||7 Points||8 Points||9 Points|
|Will need onside kick recovery||No||Possibly||Yes|
|Will need to score as fast as possible||No||Yes||Yes|
|Will need two-point conversion attempt||No||Yes||No|
|Will play four-down offense||Always||Almost Always||Not Always|
|Will play for overtime||Almost Always||Primarily||Never|
|Will need to score a touchdown||YES||YES||YES|
First and foremost, the defense's primary goal is always the same: do not allow a touchdown.
Unless you expect a missed extra point, the nine-point lead really takes overtime out of the equation, but the key is it makes an onside kick a must-have. Expected onside kicks are roughly four times harder to recover than converting a two-point conversion.
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The other important comparison is that the team down eight and the team down nine should both be trying to score as fast as possible, which is similar to the Pittsburgh drive in Baltimore. Some will argue a team down nine can get the one score, recover an onside kick and beat you with another score, but that probability should be no different than a team down by eight who fails on the two-point conversion, recovers an onside kick and wins on a field goal (hello, 2007 Cowboys in Buffalo). That's always a risk whether it is eight or nine.
Speaking of that classic Dallas finish, applying real-life examples to the numbers further shows why the Colts (and all other teams in the future) should go for two.
There's no reason to fear a team going for two to beat you at the end by one point. Despite Michigan trying that against Ohio State on Saturday, that's not the norm in the NFL.
Since 1994, only seven NFL teams have attempted a do-or-die two-point conversion in the final two minutes, trailing by one point:
|Do-or-Die Two-Point Conversions Since 1994|
|JAC||11/19/1995||at TB||0:37||Fail, L 17-16|
|CHI||10/12/1997||GB||1:54||Fail, L 24-23|
|MIN||12/15/2002||at NO||0:05||Success, W 32-31|
|TB||11/13/2005||WAS||0:58||Success, W 36-35|
|DEN||9/14/2008||SD||0:24||Success, W 39-38|
|KC||11/9/2008||at SD||0:23||Fail, L 20-19|
|HOU||1/1/2012||TEN||0:14||Fail, L 23-22|
In 2005, Jon Gruden's Buccaneers only did it after a penalty on the extra point moved the ball one yard closer for Mike Alstott to convert on the ground. In 2008, Jay Cutler should have had a game-ending fumble, but Ed Hochuli blew the call, perhaps causing Mike Shanahan to take a risk and go for the win. A few of the other examples were by underdogs or teams just trying to end the season and not go into overtime.
Had the Colts gone for two, failed and the Titans scored a touchdown, it's a safe bet Mike Munchak would have kicked the extra point and went to overtime, which is fairer than ever for both teams to have a possession to win.
Now using my own drive research (not database-friendly yet) and the Pro-Football-Reference Drive Finder (not free of errors), let's focus on these late drives.
|Drives in Final 2:00 (1999-2013)|
|Deficit||7 Points||8 Points|
|Game Record||6-163-1 (.038)||3-60 (.048)|
|Game Result With Touchdown Scored|
|Drives with 60-120 Seconds Left (1999-2013)|
|Game Record||5-98-1 (.053)||3-38 (.073)|
|Game Result With Touchdown Scored|
The top half of the table looks at all drives in games where a team trailed by seven or eight points and started possession in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. You can start to see why the win probabilities are so similar as this is a dire situation either way.
Since 1999, teams are 9-223-1 (.028) when trailing by 7-8 points and getting the ball with less than two minutes left. Only 26 touchdowns were scored (11.0 percent of drives) and included is the breakdown of what happened to those teams. The bottom of the table is the same sample, but it's split up to only include drives that started with at least 60 seconds left, making it a more realistic situation for the team to score. Even then, they only score on 15.2 percent of drives.
Some of the regulation losses for the teams scoring a touchdown down seven are classic. Who can forget the River City Relay when New Orleans missed the extra point after one of the greatest plays ever? Here's a table of the 10 teams able to pull out a win or tie in these situations since 1999:
|NFL: Winning After Being Down 7-8 Points in Final 2:00 (Since 1999)|
|CHI||11/4/2001||CLE||W 27-21 OT||21-7||1:52||0:28||80||Recovered onside kick w/0:24 left|
|21-14||0:24||0:00||47||OT win (Mike Brown pick-six)|
|SF||11/18/2001||at CAR||W 25-22 OT||22-14||1:46||0:01||66||OT win (Jose Cortez FG)|
|ATL||11/10/2002||at PIT||T 34-34 OT||34-27||1:55||0:42||50||OT tie|
|IND||10/6/2003||at TB||W 38-35 OT||35-28||1:41||0:35||85||OT win (Mike Vanderjagt FG)|
|TB||11/13/2005||WAS||W 36-35||35-28||1:52||0:58||54||Regulation win w/2pt conv. (Mike Alstott)|
|TB||9/21/2008||at CHI||W 27-24 OT||24-17||1:49||0:07||79||OT win (Matt Bryant FG)|
|TB||11/2/2008||at KC||W 30-27 OT||27-19||1:50||0:19||50||OT win (Matt Bryant FG)|
|NO||12/6/2009||at WAS||W 33-30 OT||30-23||1:52||1:19||80||OT win (Garrett Hartley FG)|
|TB||11/18/2012||at CAR||W 27-21 OT||21-13||1:02||0:12||80||OT win (Dallas Clark TD catch)|
|BAL||1/12/2013||at DEN||W 38-35 2OT||35-28||1:09||0:31||77||OT win (Justin Tucker FG)|
No, I am not sure why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are so heavily involved here.
We are dealing with small sample sizes, especially for down eight. Two of the six failed two-point conversions in regulation were thrown by Detroit's Mike McMahon. Another was Matt Cassel in 2005 on a play that certainly looked like Bill Belichick intentionally avoided overtime to clinch the No. 4 seed for his Patriots so they would take on the fraudulent Jaguars. The sample size would increase if we went back to 2:30 or so, but the debate here is the final two minutes, so it only makes sense to look at such games.
So whether a team like the Colts were up 21-14 or 22-14, chances are this win was in good shape with 1:56 to play. Now, what about 23-14 or the nine-point lead in general? That’s where the raw numbers make the best argument yet.
When searching for winning teams who trailed by 9-plus points (two scores) in the final two minutes, eight results came back. However, all but one of these teams had well over two minutes to manufacture two scoring drives from scratch:
|NFL: Winning After Being Down 9+ Points in Final 2:00 (Since 1999)|
|CHI||10/3/1999||NO||W 14-10||10-0||4:35||1:48||79||Curtis Conway TD catch; forced punt w/1:08 left|
|10-7||1:08||0:07||67||Curtis Conway GW TD catch|
|NYJ||9/24/2000||at TB||W 21-17||17-6||5:01||1:54||64||TD + 2pt pass; Mike Alstott fumbles|
|17-14||1:39||0:52||24||Curtis Martin TD pass to Wayne Chrebet|
|CHI||11/4/2001||CLE||W 27-21 OT||21-7||1:52||0:28||80||Recovered onside kick w/0:24 left|
|21-14||0:24||0:00||47||OT win (Mike Brown pick-six)|
|BAL||11/23/2003||SEA||W 44-41 OT||41-31||4:16||1:12||71||Seattle turnover on downs (four-and-out)|
|41-38||0:39||0:00||46||Matt Stover game-tying FG; GW FG in OT|
|ARI||12/28/2003||MIN||W 18-17||17-6||6:42||1:54||60||TD pass + 2pt pass fails; recover onside kick|
|17-12||1:54||0:00||61||Nate Poole 28-yard TD catch on fourth-and-25|
|DAL||12/6/2004||at SEA||W 43-39||39-29||2:41||1:45||64||Keyshawn Johnson TD catch; recover onside kick|
|39-36||1:44||0:32||57||Julius Jones 17-yd TD run|
|STL||11/27/2005||at HOU||W 33-27 OT||27-17||2:41||0:26||76||Isaac Bruce TD catch; recover onside kick|
|27-24||0:23||0:04||19||Game-tying FG; win on TD pass in OT|
|SD||12/14/2008||at KC||W 22-21||21-10||4:55||1:13||89||TD pass + 2pt pass fails; recover onside kick|
|21-16||1:11||0:36||61||Vincent Jackson TD; KC misses 50-yd FG|
Starting the first scoring drive with five or six minutes left and scoring right around the two-minute mark is not even in the same ballpark as forcing a team to score twice the way Tennessee would have had the Colts converted a two-point conversion.
Since 1999, teams trailing by 9-11 points -- a two-score game, but not necessarily two touchdowns -- who gain possession in the final two minutes are 1-204. They only score, via a touchdown (14) or field goal (19), on 15.9 percent of the drives (source: Pro-Football-Reference).
One win, 204 losses. The lone win belongs to the 2001 Bears in what might be the most improbable comeback in NFL history. In 112 seconds, Chicago produced an 80-yard touchdown drive, recovered an onside kick and went 47 yards for a touchdown in 24 seconds, all with Shane Matthews at quarterback. Matthews somehow makes the previous table twice.
This data only goes back to 1999, but it's not like we have to go beyond 1994 (start of two-point conversion in NFL). It's hard to find anything even close to what Chicago did. Any of these successful comebacks needed highly improbable events to happen.
If the two-point conversion is good, the game's all but over right there. If not, then a team has to pull a Rahim Moore or something similarly awful to not win the game.
Since the Colts did keep it a one-score game, we may as well finish talking about what happened. Ryan Fitzpatrick hit a beautiful 35-yard pass to Kendall Wright to get things started, but three short gains burned a lot of clock and Tennessee needed 33 yards in 33 seconds. Fitzpatrick threw a terrible interception (third of the day) to Jerrell Freeman and the Colts clinched the win and essentially the AFC South.
But if the Colts (or any team in the future) wanted to clinch that win a little bit sooner, the two-point conversion after the two-minute warning is the right call. Even Chicago's miracle rally would have been for naught without Mike Brown's pick-six, which could be said of the comeback the Bears had a week earlier against San Francisco.
Like I said, completely improbable stuff.
Steelers at Ravens: No Second Helping for Le'Veon Bell
Known for defensive slugfests, the Steelers and Ravens brought out the best offense in each other in both meetings this season:
|Offense: Steelers vs. Ravens in 2013|
Thanksgiving was the first game in the rivalry with no turnovers, but the Steelers wasted two early drives, which is a major sin when each team only gets eight possessions.
Speaking of major sins, it's hard to overlook Mike Tomlin's shady move on the sideline when Jacoby Jones was returning a kickoff 73 yards. It may have been a touchdown without Tomlin in the way, and in my opinion he looked to know exactly what he was doing. A big fine should be coming at the very least. Baltimore settled for a field goal and led 16-7 to start the fourth quarter. Another field goal made it 19-7 with 13:59 to play. The Steelers have not come back to win after trailing by 12 points in the fourth quarter since the 2002 AFC Wild Card against Cleveland.
Ben Roethlisberger led a 60-yard drive capped off by Le'veon Bell's 1-yard touchdown run. Pittsburgh could have gone for two to make it 19-15, but it was not a necessity. The Steelers would just go for two on the next touchdown to make it 22-19, but that only became a guarantee when the Ravens added yet another field goal for a 22-14 lead. If Pittsburgh had failed on the early two and Baltimore still added a field goal, it would be 22-13 with 5:37 to play.
Roethlisberger worked the ball down the field with short passes, but a 15-yard personal foul on Mike Adams threatened the drive with a second-and-24. Bell immediately converted it with a 29-yard catch-and-run. After the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for a 20-yard touchdown, but on review it was clear Miller was down at the Baltimore 1.
That was where the Steelers severely hurt themselves. The call should have been a quarterback sneak (he is called "Big Ben" after all) if you wanted the quick score. Despite NBC's Cris Collinsworth's analysis treating the two-point conversion like a given and suggesting the loss of time was a benefit as Baltimore would struggle to answer in regulation, the Steelers needed to save as much time as possible in case it failed and they needed to create another possession.
How can a quarterback and his interior linemen not capitalize on this look just before the snap?
Instead, Bell got the handoff and was hit in the backfield. On his second attempt, he reached the end zone for the score, but suffered a brutal hit that knocked his helmet off. On review, the touchdown was taken away because of the latest stupid rule where the play is ruled dead when the helmet comes off. This is all because of the Jason Witten play a few years ago when he lost his helmet and went running many yards without it. But they need to rewrite the rule so that forward progress is rewarded as Bell was just going to the ground (the end zone in this case) with the ball in his possession.
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If the league does not want someone doing what Witten did, then that's fine, but why have a rule that robs a player of his effort while doing nothing to prevent him from suffering the hit in the first place? Obviously, Bell left the game with a concussion.
On third down, Will Johnson dropped the ball at the goal line and center Fernando Velasco was injured, costing the Steelers a timeout. So much for the quarterback sneak with a back-up center coming into the game. On fourth-and-goal, it did not feel like Pittsburgh would even get the touchdown with Bell and multiple linemen out, but a well-designed play left Jerricho Cotchery wide open on the slant (both defenders went with Antonio Brown to the corner) with 1:03 left.
Pittsburgh went back to the same play on the two-point conversion, but this time Emmanuel Sanders did not run a slant on the other side and Roethlisberger threw a back-shoulder fade to him. It could have been a better pass, the defender was not even looking for it, but Sanders failed to bring it in.
Due to all the time spent getting the touchdown and only having one timeout left, recovering the onside kick was Pittsburgh's last hope. Onside kicks have been getting more creative, but they seemingly are less successful than ever. For the second time on Thanksgiving, a pathetic attempt -- this one travelled six yards -- ended the game.
It may prove to end Pittsburgh's season with Baltimore jumping into the sixth seed, but that's what happens when your offense cannot trust a 6-foot-5 quarterback to get a yard.
Broncos at Chiefs: "FG QB" vs. "TD Pass QB"
The second meeting in 14 days, this series really supported the narratives. Peyton Manning was expected to score a lot of points on Kansas City's defense and Alex Smith is the guy who won't keep up in a high-scoring game because he cannot push the ball down the field and finish red-zone drives for touchdowns instead of field goals.
Smith had a bad red-zone interception to start this one, but he did throw some good passes down the field. His receivers failed to come through on several of them. Manning was pinpoint-accurate on Sunday with four touchdown passes to Eric Decker and 403 yards passing. Despite Kansas City's 21-7 lead in the first half, Manning engineered three consecutive touchdown drives that covered 80, 92 and 95 yards to take a 35-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs plodded away on a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make it 35-28 with 6:32 left. Denver picked up three first downs, but punted after two Manning incompletions. Smith was at his own 8 and had 3:32 left to lead a memorable drive. It almost ended with a fumble by Donnie Avery, but Denver's challenge failed to overturn the ruling of an incompletion (bang-bang play). Smith quickly faced a third-and-14, but A.J. Jenkins stepped up with a 26-yard catch over rookie Kayvon Webster, who looked a little like Rahim Moore on the play:
Smith threw a 28-yard pass over the middle to Dexter McCluster and a 23-yard back-shoulder pass to Dwayne Bowe to the Denver 19. It was the best Smith looked all day, but now in the red zone, windows get smaller. Smith overthrew Bowe, hit McCluster for two yards, then a poorly placed screen to Jenkins only gained four yards. On fourth-and-4, no receiver really got open and Smith forced a pass to Bowe. Veteran safety Mike Adams defended it well. Montee Ball immediately put an end to things with a 28-yard run as the Broncos piled up 535 yards of offense.
A potential third meeting in the playoffs would still be tough for Denver to win, but it's clear this is a matchup that predictably favors the Broncos.
Cardinals at Eagles: Nick Foles? Hold On…
Arizona just cannot cover tight ends, allowing 14 touchdown passes to the position this season. After three in this game, Nick Foles continued his Milt Plum-esque assault on the record book, bringing his season total to 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. This time it was against the league's No. 3-ranked pass defense in an important game, so the bandwagon is filling up quickly.
However, the fact that this game enters this column comes as a surprise given Philadelphia's commanding 24-7 lead in the third quarter. Carson Palmer had two early turnovers while Foles avoided such mistakes, but the Eagles did not put Arizona away. Foles was successful on two of his last 12 drop backs and the Eagles punted on five consecutive drives. Palmer led two touchdown drives and his 3-yard touchdown pass to Jim Dray capped off an 86-yard drive and made it 24-21 with 4:45 left.
Foles appeared to throw his first interception of the season to Patrick Peterson, but rookie Tyrann Mathieu was penalized for defensive holding. It was a very favorable call as Mathieu made just a little bit of inconsequential contact after the five-yard zone away from the target. Still, the Eagles punted four plays later.
Palmer was at his own 10 with 2:08 left and two timeouts, so that's not the toughest situation (win probability: 0.13) we have seen converted this season. Palmer found Andre Roberts for five yards, overthrew his second-down pass, then threw wide of Roberts on third down. Just like that the Cardinals were down to one play on fourth-and-5. The Eagles rushed five and Palmer could not get the ball to Michael Floyd with Bradley Fletcher in tight coverage.
LeSean McCoy was stopped on the ground twice. On third down, Foles moved out of the pocket, Matt Shaughnessy was engaged in a block with a tight end, eventually got free and chased Foles before taking him down for a small gain inbounds.
Shaughnessy was penalized for defensive holding despite the fact both players grabbed each other while blocking. The automatic first down essentially ended the game as Foles took three knees. Arizona's bad at covering tight ends, but this was a gift, a ticky-tack call and it robbed the Cardinals of a low-percentage shot at a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute.
Bengals at Chargers: Best Defense in the AFC
After a thrilling 41-38 victory in Kansas City last week, this was a golden opportunity at home for the Chargers to get to .500. It never materialized. The Bengals, following their bye week, reminded us they are still an elite defense even without Leon Hall and Geno Atkins. Two big takeaways with the Chargers in scoring territory kept the score low as the Bengals led 14-7 to start the fourth quarter on what was a mediocre day for Andy Dalton (190 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception).
Philip Rivers (252 yards, one touchdown and one interception) also failed to impress. After driving to the Cincinnati 39, he overthrew three consecutive passes and San Diego punted with 12:43 left. While Dalton was held under 100 yards for most of the day, he did find Andrew Hawkins over the middle for a 50-yard catch-and-run to flip field position on third-and-2. The Bengals added a 46-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead. Keenan Allen and BenJarvus Green-Ellis exchanged fumbles. Rivers drove into Cincinnati territory again, but it was another trio of incompletions at the 30. Down 10 with 4:48 left, San Diego rightfully attempted the 48-yard field goal and Nick Novak converted.
Cincinnati had 4:35 to burn and San Diego had all three timeouts. Immediately, A.J. Green fooled Shareece Wright on a quick double move and was open down the sideline for a 28-yard gain. The running game took care of the rest. Green-Ellis rushed for three first downs (two on third down), including the final dagger: a 5-yard run on third-and-4 after the two-minute warning and with the Chargers out of timeouts.
While a defense like Kansas City just imploded after some injuries, Mike Zimmer's Bengals continue to stifle teams. Cincinnati's defense has not allowed more than 24 points in 23 consecutive games (including playoffs and excluding non-offensive scores).
There's only a quarter of the regular season left, but if Dalton could just evolve from average to above average, then the Bengals have the right ingredients for a deep playoff run.
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 52
Game-winning drives: 63
Games with 4QC opportunity: 122/192 (63.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 31