Clutch Encounters: Week 2

Clutch Encounters: Week 2
Clutch Encounters: Week 2
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Games have never been closer than they have been to start the 2013 NFL season. We have already seen 14 fourth-quarter comebacks and 22 games decided by 1-7 points. The latter is a NFL record.

After 13 games featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity last week, we had 12 in Week 2. But in typical NFL fashion, that does not include Washington at Green Bay as the Packers opened up the season's biggest lead yet (31-0) in an easy win. It also does not include the hyped game in Seattle with the 49ers and Seahawks. That 29-3 final ties the largest margin of victory so far this season. If you were looking for drama on Sunday night, you had to watch Breaking Bad on AMC, which perfectly aligned with the absurd lightning delay.

This week did offer the first overtime game of the year, several touchdown-or-die situations in the final minutes and some questionable coaching decisions. It was also a bit of opposite day in the NFL as the Colts finally failed in a one-score game and two of the worst active quarterbacks at comebacks walked away victorious on Sunday.

Game of the Week

Minnesota Vikings 30 at Chicago Bears 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 6 (30-24)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.27
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (15-17 at 4QC and 19-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This is "Game of the Week" if only because we planned to feature Chargers at Eagles for Any Given Sunday. The caliber of play here was nowhere near the level of Packers at 49ers from Week 1. This was a sloppy game with the teams living off special teams returns as Cordarrelle Patterson opened the game with a 105-yard kick return score. Devin Hester had five kick returns for 249 yards. Jay Cutler lost a fumble returned 61 yards for a touchdown and Tim Jennings picked off Christian Ponder for a 44-yard return touchdown.

Cutler had three turnovers in the game, including an interception by Harrison Smith to start the fourth quarter with a 24-24 tie. Minnesota drove the ball to the Chicago 18 and actually went for it on fourth-and-1 instead of settling for the field goal. Adrian Peterson easily converted with a four-yard run, but lost 13 yards when trying to do too much on his next carry to stall the drive. Blair Walsh kicked a 28-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 27-24 lead.

That's when Matt Forte fumbled for Chicago's fourth turnover of the day. This time Minnesota did go conservative, running Peterson on third-and-goal at the four. He gained nothing and Walsh kicked another field goal.

Cutler had 3:08 to drive 66 yards with one timeout. That's not too bad, but another turnover would signal the end of the game. The drive was moving along rather slowly with Brandon Marshall bailing out Cutler with a high catch and Alshon Jeffery diving low for one. A holding penalty threatened to kill the drive, but on first-and-20 Cutler found tight end Martellus "Black Unicorn" Bennett all alone and he gained 23 yards. Cutler spiked it, though I felt he could have called a play as time was precious (22 seconds) and the ball was at the Minnesota 16.

A pass to Jeffery was overthrown in the back of the end zone. Sixteen seconds remained. Cutler delivered one of the best passes of his career to Bennett at the goal line for the touchdown with 10 seconds left. Bennett's height was a big advantage. He may not be a great tight end, though he seems like a funny guy, but there's no way Matt Spaeth or Kellen Davis ever makes that play.

Chicago did a squib kick, which I hate, but John Carlson fumbled the ball. Bears being the Bears on special teams again, and this one was over.

This was the fourth time Chicago has ever won a game after allowing at least 30 points, turning the ball over at least four times and not getting more than three takeaways. What makes that interesting? It's the third time the Bears have done it to the Vikings (1961 and 1962). The other time they did it was against Cutler's Broncos in 2007, which was another classic performance by Hester.

So how about Cutler? This start to the season gives him 13 game-winning touchdown passes in his career. That's one more than Drew Brees, as many as Eli Manning and two fewer than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Cutler and Matt Schaub mark the 15th and 16th time a quarterback has led a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive in each of the first two games of the season since 1960. You can see how the previous seasons played out for those teams with Michael Vick doing it last year. Cutler is the first to do it twice, doing it in 2007 with Denver.

4QC/GWD in First Two Games (Since 1960)
Quarterback Year Team Record Result
Charley Johnson 1966 CRD 8-5-1 No Playoffs
Kent Nix 1971 CHI 6-8 No Playoffs
Brian Sipe 1979 CLE 9-7 No Playoffs
Doug Williams 1980 TB 5-10-1 No Playoffs
Lynn Dickey 1982 GB 5-3-1 Lost NFC-D
Steve DeBerg 1983 DEN 9-7 Lost AFC-WC
Boomer Esiason 1990 CIN 9-7 Lost AFC-D
Brad Johnson 1996 MIN 9-7 Lost NFC-WC
Drew Bledsoe 1999 NE 8-8 No Playoffs
Vinny Testaverde 2000 NYJ 9-7 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2007 DEN 7-9 No Playoffs
Alex Smith 2007 SF 5-11 No Playoffs
Jake Delhomme 2008 CAR 12-4 Lost NFC-D
Michael Vick 2012 PHI 4-12 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2013 CHI TBD -
Matt Schaub 2013 HOU TBD -

Those teams usually did not finish the season well, but things are looking decent in Chicago right now. Cutler has also shown in his career if his teams can keep it close, he's reasonably reliable. In fact, he's in historic company with his 19-18 record at game-winning drive opportunities. These are the best records (minimum 30 opportunities) I have found in NFL history.

Top Documented Clutch Records (Min. 30 Games)
Rk Quarterback 4Q/OT Wins 4Q/OT Losses Pct.
1 Tom Brady 39 25 0.609
2 Matt Ryan 23 15 0.605
3 Joe Montana 34 31 0.523
4 Jay Cutler 19 18 0.514
5 Peyton Manning 50 49 0.505
6 Dan Marino 51 50 0.505
7 John Elway 49.5 51.5 0.490
8 Roger Staubach 23 24 0.489
9 Eli Manning 28 30 0.483
10 Jake Plummer 30 33 0.476

Note: I tentatively have Otto Graham at 10-12-1 (.457), would love to track down Daryle Lamonica and believe Johnny Unitas could crack the top 10 once definitive research is found.

There's no need to overrate this. Should Cutler lose his next opportunity, he'll fall behind Manning and Marino again, but you can see he's in good company. The only problem is this shows 18 losses while Cutler's played in 43 career losses. Even if we remove a few games he did not finish, that's still too many losses where his team failed to keep it close enough to have a one-score opportunity to win late.

However, it may be time to start recognizing the lovechild of Brett Favre and Jeff George as a guy you can trust with the game on the line. We have always known the physical talent to be there, but trusting him to harness it has been an issue. Perhaps Marc Trestman will be the missing piece for Cutler as the Bears have only allowed one sack through two games. If they can keep him healthy and upright, there's potential here for a long-term deal given a successful season.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

San Diego Chargers 33 at Philadelphia Eagles 30

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 4 (27-23)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.60
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (14-34 at 4QC and 17-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Hats off to the Chargers for quelling some of the hype over Chip Kelly's offense. Lost in the analysis of Monday night's game was that Washington's offense was horrible. If you cannot sustain offense, then of course the Eagles can rack up a big play count. San Diego was seemingly in a tough spot here. They lost a heart-breaker on Monday night, they traveled cross country for a 10:00 a.m. start for their body clocks and were playing this turbo offense. That sounded like a recipe for an early knockout.

None of it fazed them. San Diego led 13-3 in the first quarter and 20-10 in the third quarter with Philip Rivers dominating again early. However, we know very well about this team starting well and falling apart. It looked headed that way again when the Eagles quickly tied the game at 20.

The fourth quarter was a special one with five consecutive scoring drives. After San Diego's field goal, Michael Vick responded with a 76-yard drive, capped off by his two-yard touchdown run with 7:06 to play. San Diego recovered a fumble on the kickoff and Rivers went back to Eddie Royal for another touchdown. Somehow Royal has five touchdown catches in two games. He last had five in his rookie season (2008), which is coincidentally the last time anyone thought he was relevant as a wide receiver.

The Eagles answered fast, but maybe too fast. Vick was injured on the drive and replaced by Nick Foles for a crucial play in the red zone. Kelly should have known he could call timeout to keep Vick, who had a huge game with 428 yards passing -- could have been even more if he hit on some deep balls to DeSean Jackson -- in the game. Foles threw an incompletion, as did the returning Vick after the two-minute warning. That meant a 32-yard field goal by Alex Henery to tie the game.

Could Rivers really put the Chargers ahead for a third time in the fourth quarter, or would the evil Mr. Hyde show up again? Keep in mind Rivers and San Diego have been on a 2-20 stretch in their last 22 game-winning drive opportunities. He had led the Chargers to points of any kind in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied or down 1-8 points, on just five of his last 44 drives (11.4 percent).

Well, he was 3-of-3 on Sunday, which should worry Eagles fans. The defense was atrocious as Rivers finished 36-of-47 for 419 yards and three touchdowns to Royal. Even Antonio Gates (124 yards) turned back the clock with a vintage performance.

It was Gates who got the game-winning drive started with catches of 15 and 21 yards. Danny Woodhead did his usual fall-forward act to convert a third down and the Chargers set up a long field goal. Kelly used his timeouts now, which puzzled Dan Dierdorf more than usual. Nick Novak was good on the 46-yard field goal with seven seconds left. San Diego led 33-30. The Eagles only had time for a lateral play, but it ended without significance.

For all the legitimate bashing I have heaped on Rivers and San Diego in this column since 2011, this was quite the win on Sunday. Now if only these teams could fix their defenses, then maybe they would have a shot at the playoffs for the first time in years.

Carolina Panthers 23 at Buffalo Bills 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 6 (23-17)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.16
Quarterback: EJ Manuel (1-1 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Consistency is hard to establish in the NFL. How Carolina's been able to consistently tease us with fourth-quarter leads, only to blow the game at the end has been nothing short of amazing.

Ron Rivera has blown almost as many fourth-quarter leads (10) as he has wins (13) in Carolina. After this latest loss, he may not have many more opportunities.

It started similar to last week with Carolina only able to take a 7-3 lead into halftime. While this is another day where you cannot blame Cam Newton for the fourth-quarter failure, I certainly give him no credit for having the late lead.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was sacked and fumbled late in the third quarter, giving Newton the ball at the Buffalo 16. Newton lost five yards on a completion where he would have been better off throwing one into the dirt. He misfired on third-and-goal to Steve Smith, settling for a field goal and 17-14 lead. Manuel was then intercepted by Luke Kuechly, giving Newton the ball at the Buffalo 26. This time the drive ended with Mario Williams (franchise-record 4.5 sacks) sacking Newton on third-and-4 at the Buffalo 6-yard line. That meant another field goal and a 20-14 lead, practically all set up by the Carolina defense.

C.J. Spiller ripped off a 46-yard run to help the Bills get a 48-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. Carolina had 7:13 to burn in a 20-17 game. Newton had a four-yard scramble for a first down on third down, but the Panthers mostly kept it on the ground with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.

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Believe it or not, the game once again came down to a fourth-and-1 at the Buffalo 21 with 1:42 left. Buffalo was out of timeouts, so one yard wins the game. Leading by three, how do you not run Newton for the win here? Rivera seemed to give zero thought to going for it, sending the field goal unit out. It may not be the worst decision ever, but it's another gutless one from Rivera.

Manuel had 98 seconds left to drive 80 yards without a timeout. Tough situation for anyone, especially a rookie in his second start. However, Carolina's secondary was hurting after injuries to most of the starters. Manuel used the talent at his disposal to great success. Stevie Johnson, Spiller and Fred Jackson were the targets on eight of the drive's nine plays. The drive nearly ended with an interception, but Kuechly was penalized 20 yards for pass interference with 0:14 left.

Manuel scrambled for nine yards and got out of bounds on the next play. Down to six seconds at the two-yard line, confusion rocked the Carolina secondary as Johnson was wide open in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

The extra point was good and sure enough the Panthers blew another one. The Bills wrapped it up with another sack of Newton, not even allowing the Hail Mary attempt.

That's a classic drive by Manuel, who now has just one fewer game-winning drive than Newton (two) and an unforgettable clusterf*** from Carolina's defense on the last play.

The two worst records I have ever found for game-winning drive opportunities belong to Carolina quarterbacks: 2-17 (.105) for Newton and 1-10 (.091) for Chris Weinke. I will have more on this as the season progresses, but it is so historically rare to see a team struggle this much to win games when they must score the winning points late and often find a way to make those points stand up.

From the offense failing in the red zone to the one-yard decisions to problems with the prevent defense, this Carolina team is a joke in crunch time. The coach should and will be the first to go here.

New Orleans Saints 16 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 1 (14-13)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.25
Quarterback: Drew Brees (21-37 at 4QC and 32-43 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Perhaps this was destined to be a weird finish after a 69-mintue delay due to lightning. The offenses were clicking in the first quarter, but things quickly changed. Ultimately, Drew Brees created this comeback opportunity for himself with a dreadful pass in the fourth quarter.

Leading 13-7 and the ball at the Tampa Bay 22, Brees had a two-score lead in his back pocket. But on third-and-7, he forced the issue with an unconscionable pass over the middle to linebacker Mason Foster. It was like he never saw the linebacker, which was similar to an interception earlier in the game. The 85-yard return was shades of James Harrison in Super Bowl XLIII as Foster took it to the house for a 14-13 lead with 12:40 left.

If you thought he would atone for the mistake right away, think again. The Saints went three-and-out. Unfortunately the Tampa Bay offense could never get it going through the air, even though Doug Martin did impress with a 144-yard rushing day.

A sack of Brees after a late rush from safety Mark Barron short-circuited the next New Orleans drive. Tampa Bay had 6:56 to burn, which is an eternity. However, Josh Freeman did hook up with Vincent Jackson for big gains of 20 and 18 yards. Martin then received six straight carries as the Saints used their final timeouts.

Then it came down to decision time.

A pass by Freeman for a first down wins the game. Martin carried for three yards and that burned 46 more seconds. I can understand the rationale for burning more clock. An incompletion makes the field goal even longer and gives Brees more time.

But what do you do on fourth-and-3 at the Saints 29 with 1:10 left? Aaron posted some of the win probability numbers from Advanced NFL Stats in Audibles this week, but that does not mean those numbers are the gospel truth or fully reflect the new NFL. Tampa Bay's offense can be considered below average with Freeman having just a 9-of-22 passing day. New Orleans' offense is above average with Brees, even if it was not his best game. Veteran kicker Rian Lindell is no stranger to these moments.

It's a tough decision where even the punt comes out as a reasonable choice statistically, but I am not sure Greg Schiano could live down the move that keeps it a 14-13 game and gives Brees the chance to lead the game-winning field goal drive. At least with the field goal, it would be a 17-13 game with Brees likely having to drive 80 yards in a little over a minute with no timeouts. While he's fully capable, we know that such drives are still rare and Tampa Bay was playing solid defense in the second half.

I feel cautiously okay about the field goal decision, but Lindell was wide left. Brees was not panicked, using his time wisely to hit three passes for 54 yards down to the Tampa Bay 9 before spiking the ball with five seconds left. The last pass was a 31-yard dagger down the middle to the criminally overlooked Marques Colston. Garrett Hartley came through with the 27-yard field goal as time expired for the stunning 16-14 win.

Sean Payton's back, but the Saints have uncharacteristically scored just 23 and 16 points in these first two games. They are 2-0, but it's been a matter of inches between this finish and the chances Atlanta had at the goal line last week.

Tampa Bay could just as easily be 2-0 without the mental error in New York last week and losing at the end of that one. Instead they are 0-2 and filled with drama over a potential rift between the coach and quarterback.

These teams are far closer than their records suggest right now, but the Saints appear to be headed in the right direction while the Buccaneers may continue on a downward spiral.

Tennessee Titans 24 at Houston Texans 30 (OT)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 8 (24-16)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.49
Quarterback: Matt Schaub (11-22 at 4QC and 14-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

I will probably spend the rest of Mike Munchak's tenure in Tennessee talking about how his enigma of a team lacks an identity. For a while on Sunday this was looking like a team capable of leading the AFC South with a 2-0 record after surprising wins in Pittsburgh and now Houston, but things did not end well.

With a defense ranking 30th in points per drive last year, with no obvious All-Pro players, the Titans were holding their own in Houston. A rough game from Matt Schaub produced a 14-10 lead to start the fourth quarter. Chris Johnson failed to get out of his end zone, meaning a safety (another this season?) for the Texans and 16-10 lead. The Texans failed to take advantage of the great field position, so cast your stones at Gary Kubiak.

That's when Jake Locker became a man and led the 99-yard touchdown drive that was instantly forgotten given the game's outcome. Locker was 7-of-8 passing for 79 yards and the go-ahead touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. He looked good, too, as this was not driven by YAC or a blown coverage. That was a big-time drive for a quarterback with literally zero big-time drives in his career before Sunday.

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It looked like it would hold when Alterraun Verner picked Schaub and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. There may have been miscommunication with rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

This brings us to one of my coaching pet peeves. Now up 23-16 with 4:59 left, why not try the two-point conversion? It's never even given a thought. The extra point is nearly a given to make it 24-16, but that's still a one-score game. The conversion is about a coin flip, but 25-16 means a two-score game. What real advantage do you get from leading by seven versus eight besides forcing a team to make a two-point conversion? The defense's goal remains the same in both situations: do not allow a touchdown. Teams rarely make up two-score deficits in the last five minutes.

Leading by two scores can really change the dynamics of the game. It makes an onside kick more likely, and we know how hard those are to recover when expected. While aggression can benefit an offense, it can also be the downfall. One quick turnover and it's all but game over.

Since 1994, 89 teams have scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter with a one-point lead. They kicked the extra point all 89 times, which also includes Baltimore on Sunday. The teams scoring a touchdown with one-point lead to go up eight are 78-11 (.876). Teams scoring a touchdown with a two-point lead to go up nine are 65-8 (.890).

Of all the seven-point situations in NFL history to try the two, this had to be one of the best as it was late in the game and it was the underdog team. But Tennessee kicked the extra point, and each offense disappointed with a three-and-out drive.

Schaub had 3:07 left to make amends. Hopkins made two catches, and Johnson hauled in another one inside the five before Bernard Pollard leveled him. Arian Foster scored a one-yard touchdown run to cap off the 87-yard drive. Foster also had a good run to score the tying two-point conversion.

Tennessee arguably misplayed the clock again. On third-and-1, instead of the high-percentage run, Locker's pass was way too high for Kenny Britt and the Titans went three-and-out. Schaub drove the Texans into field goal range, but Randy Bullock's 51-yard kick was blocked. Alas, the Titans were offsides. A lot of icing the kicker shenanigans went on and Bullock, sure enough, missed the 46-yard field goal (hit left upright) with no time left.

Of course the first overtime game of 2013 would feature these teams. They only played in four overtime games last year between the two, so they are very familiar with the modified rules. Houston won the toss and received. The balanced offense moved it down the field, but the Texans faced a big third-and-10 at the Tennessee 26. With the way Bullock was kicking, this was not a situation where you want to settle for the kick. The Texans have been criticized for being a bad offense in these situations, but this is why you draft Hopkins. He came through with a great 25-yard grab to put the ball at the one.

It would only be fitting for Hopkins, three plays later on third-and-goal, to make the game-winning touchdown catch in the end zone. He did. Talk about a breakout game: seven catches for 117 yards. Kevin Walter might have been able to pull that game out of nowhere once or twice, but the good news is Hopkins can get better and play at this level with some consistency.

Andre Johnson finally has help, and the Texans are an unimpressive 2-0. But a few years ago, this team would probably be 0-2 right now. So this is progress as Houston has turned into an AFC contender.

Detroit Lions 21 at Arizona Cardinals 25

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 5 (21-16)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.53
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (14-41 at 4QC and 21-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)

While Calvin Johnson showed up with 116 yards and two scores, Larry Fitzgerald (two catches for 33 yards) was slowed by a hamstring injury. Ndamukong Suh did not get penalized and Patrick Peterson completed a 17-yard pass. Meanwhile DeAndre Levy and Andre Ellington scored touchdowns.

It was that kind of day in Arizona, where Detroit has not won since 1993. Things were looking good when Suh's pressure forced Carson Palmer to throw a bad interception that was returned 66 yards for a touchdown by Levy in the third quarter. Detroit led 21-13, but the Lions never scored again.

Arizona chipped away with a couple of field goals, pulling to 21-19 early in the fourth quarter. David Akers tried to answer for Detroit, but his 47-yard field goal was blocked by Justin Bethel. Arizona's 15 blocked kicks since 2008 lead the league.

Detroit's next drive lasted just 64 seconds as we saw the return of Matthew Stafford's side-arm delivery and also a drop on third down by Brandon Pettigrew. This gave Palmer 4:28 left at his own 39 to lead a go-ahead drive. The Lions could have forced a long field goal, but cornerback Bill Bentley mugged Andre Roberts, drawing a 31-yard flag for pass interference with 2:09 left.

For some reason -- oh yeah, Bruce Arians is the coach -- Palmer threw the ball on first-and-goal from the one-yard line, but it was incomplete. Rashard Mendenhall scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play and Palmer's two-point pass to Michael Floyd failed. Still, Arizona led 25-21 and the Lions needed a touchdown.

Stafford seemingly lives for these moments as he had 1:59 and two timeouts to go 80 yards. Pettigrew redeemed himself with a difficult 17-yard catch. Joique Bell dropped a short one over the middle, which was probably a good thing with the defender right there. Peterson had tight coverage on Johnson, who was unable to make the catch. Nate Burleson caught a six-yard pass, setting things up for a crucial fourth-and-4.

What did we learn from Steve McNair and Kevin Dyson in the Super Bowl? Do not throw the slant too short of the desired yard line. Stafford's pass to Burleson was too quick and too short, only gaining three yards and turning the ball over on downs. Palmer took two knees to clinch his 21st game-winning drive.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

This week offers another second-half surge by Denver, a putrid night in Foxboro, a first for Andrew Luck, a familiar ending for Dallas, a reoccurring ending for Pittsburgh, and Joe Flacco regenerates his mystical winning juice after telekinetically passing some to his newborn child.

Broncos at Giants: Eli Gets Another Bad Bounce in a National Game

This was supposed to be a game about the Manning brothers in the third, and likely final, Manning Bowl. Rather than an epic quarterback duel, the story of the game once again became the Broncos overcoming a slow start to dominate the second half on both sides of the ball.

Yes, down 24-16 to start the fourth quarter, Eli's pass to Rueben Randle was tightly contested by Tony Carter. The ball bounced off Carter's foot and went to cornerback Chris Harris. Peyton then finished off the Giants with a touchdown to Julius Thomas on third-and-8 for a 31-16 lead. So it's another bad bounce in crunch time for Eli, but that's also seven interceptions in two games and the Giants are in serious trouble at 0-2.

But make no mistake about it. This game said more about Denver.

The Broncos led by at least 15 points the rest of the game on their way to a 13th-consecutive win in the regular season, all of which have been by at least seven points. They have not trailed in the fourth quarter of any of their last 11 games. This team could be a bigger juggernaut should they clean up some ball protection issues as Wes Welker had some drops and Montee Ball fumbled near the goal line to start the game.

Denver has set a new NFL mark with 66 points after halftime through two games. The 1991 and 2011 Buffalo Bills both had 56 points.

It is not clear how much credit goes to the normally conservative John Fox rather than Manning for Denver's halftime adjustments. They have outscored the Giants and Ravens, the last two Super Bowl champions, 66-24 in the second half. This comes after last season's historically dominant performance when Denver scored an NFL-record 299 points after halftime.

Best Scoring Differential in Second Half (Since 1940)
Rk Team Year Games Record Result PF PA Diff. Per Game
1 Bears 1942 11 11-0 Lost NFL-C 195 35 160 14.5
2 Packers 1962 14 13-1 Won NFL-C 229 51 178 12.7
3 Bears 1941 11 10-1 Won NFL-C 199 72 127 11.5
4 Rams 1967 14 11-1-2 Lost NFL-DIV 240 82 158 11.3
5 Raiders 1967 14 13-1 Lost SB 261 106 155 11.1
6 Lions 1954 12 9-2-1 Lost NFL-C 201 69 132 11.0
7 Bears 1985 16 15-1 Won SB 245 71 174 10.9
8 Packers 1996 16 13-3 Won SB 252 82 170 10.6
9 Broncos 2012 16 13-3 Lost AFC-DIV 299 138 161 10.1
10 Rams 1951 12 8-4 Won NFL-C 216 98 118 9.8

Denver's plus-161 scoring differential in the second half last year is the fourth best in history, while only the 1985 Bears and 1996 Packers have been able to outscore opponents by at least 10.0 points per game in the second half since the merger.

That was last year, but plus-42 through two games is another historic start. Once the offense gets going the defense and special teams -- Trindon Holliday had an 81-yard punt return touchdown -- feed off those leads and the Broncos have another opportunity for a special season.

Dolphins at Colts: Luck's No-Sack Streak Ends at Worst Time

Are these teams part of the future of the AFC's best? It was an entertaining game last season with Andrew Luck's 433-yard masterpiece, but Ryan Tannehill played well too. Both were at it again on Sunday, combining to throw for 640 yards. But Tannehill, despite taking five sacks behind his own shaky offensive line, would get the best of this rematch. Mike Wallace got involved early and finished with 115 yards, or 100 more than last week after he pouted.

Both offenses really slowed down in the second half after a 17-17 halftime score. Miami led 24-20 to start the fourth quarter, setting the stage for another one-score win and comeback by Luck's Colts.

A funny thing happened this time: the Colts failed to capitalize. Even after a rare stop of the quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1, even after another great scramble for a first down by Luck on third-and-11, two uncharacteristic things happened.

The first was when Luck forced a deep ball to Reggie Wayne into tight coverage with Brent Grimes making the pick in the end zone. The ball was at the Miami 38, so points were likely missed here. That's Luck's second career interception in these tied/one-score moments.

Miami burned some clock, leaving Luck with 3:57 left to go 86 yards for the potential win. Again he got the drive started with an impressive first-down scramble under pressure, followed by finding Griff Whalen for a 22-yard gain.

Just before the two-minute warning, Miami rushed five and was able to bring Luck down on a sack. That's the first sack Luck has suffered in 104 drop backs in crunch time. There's your second unusual thing, and it was not the last time.

Still keeping the hope alive, Luck found Wayne for 18 yards down to the Miami 23, but the Colts would not gain another yard. Luck's pass was too far in the end zone on first down. His next pass may have been very inaccurate because the blitzing Philip Wheeler came right up the middle and the pass to Coby Fleener was nearly intercepted. If thrown properly the Colts have a walk-in touchdown. Coverage was too tight on a short third-down pass, leaving Luck with one more play.

On fourth-and-10, Miami rushed five, Donald Brown had one of his moments in pass protection, and Luck never got the ball away, taking his second sack on the drive. Miami ran out the clock with Lamar Miller putting a bow on it with an eight-yard run on third-and-8.

The Dolphins, who had zero penalties in a game with only three (fishy?), are now 2-0 while the 1-1 Colts will start looking at a tough schedule with San Francisco, Seattle and Denver looming before the bye week. The Colts won nearly all the close games last season with sound execution, but Sunday was the fourth-quarter flop many have been expecting.

Jets at Patriots: Have You Forgotten ... How to Catch ... the Ball?

Unfortunately, I am obligated to talk about the poorly played game from Thursday night, but at least it's not Jaguars/Raiders. Unless you wiped it from memory, I think we remember how this one went down. Both teams' receivers could not catch the ball. Someone is writing a song for rookie Aaron Dobson called "Reche Caldwell Eyes." Tom Brady threw his biggest temper tantrum yet.

It was a 13-10 game in the fourth quarter. Geno Smith had a chance for another comeback win, but he blew his team's best opportunity by forcing an interception with the line of scrimmage at the New England 27. Nick Folk may have made that game-tying kick. It never got any better for the Jets, who then went three and out before Smith threw two more interceptions in the quarter. The last came with 0:38 to play, allowing Brady to take a knee and get out with the ugly win.

Not certain if he was the last to do it, but Brady once threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter of a game when trailing by one score. Now Smith is in that company.

This was only the fourth time the Patriots won a game since 2000 without scoring in the second half. All of those games have been at home against the Dolphins (2001 and 2007) and Jets (2004). Rarely do you hold the Patriots to 13 points and none in the second half, so the Jets really missed a big opportunity to start 2-0.

Browns at Ravens: Not a Banner Day After All

While the Ravens were raising the championship banner for last season, this was a dogfight they may not have expected. Joe Flacco missed the birth of his second child for this? I think backup Tyrod Taylor could have gone out and scored zero points in the first half and 14 for the game. The story was more about Cleveland's competitiveness, but as usual, the Browns could not close the deal.

Billy Cundiff (of all people) made the kicks Justin Tucker could not, giving Cleveland a 6-0 lead at the half. The no-huddle got Baltimore on track and in the end zone. The Ravens led 7-6 to start the fourth quarter.

Brandon Weeden could only complete a three-yard pass to Jordan Cameron on fourth-and-4 to start the quarter. On the next drive, Greg Little dropped a pass that nearly was intercepted as Jimmy Smith had a better game this week. Cleveland went three and out. Baltimore added an insurance touchdown on Flacco's pass to Marlon Brown with 8:57 left.

Still a 14-6 game, the Browns again came up short on third down and punted. Baltimore burned some clock, but Cleveland got the ball back at its own one-yard line with 3:34 left. There was also a change at quarterback with Jason Campbell replacing Weeden (thumb injury).

Shockingly, Campbell came out throwing downfield, picking up 21 yards on a pass interference penalty that happened before the pass was tipped. Davone Bess had a bad drop with no one around him on first down. Pressure forced Campbell to throw it away the next two plays.

On fourth-and-10, we got the Campbell special:

Not only did he barely make the throw to the line of scrimmage when he needed 10 yards, but he shoveled it underhand to Cameron, who could only gain six yards. That's Campbell in a nutshell. With Ray Rice out with an injury, Bernard Pierce put an end to it with a four-yard run on third-and-4.

John Harbaugh and Flacco are a perfect 11-0 against the Browns since entering the league in 2008. Someday, Cleveland. Someday.

Cowboys at Chiefs: Reid Wrinkle and Romo Waning

It was no surprise to see the Cowboys play a close game in Kansas City, which had the best defensive performance in Week 1. The Cowboys have a few more weapons than the Jaguars, though you could hardly tell as Dez Bryant had 141 receiving yards and the Cowboys ran it 14 times for just 34 yards. Naturally, Tony Romo would have to carry the offense's burden, which can sometimes be a bad thing.

Sunday was one of those bad times as Romo struggled in the fourth quarter. After the Chiefs extended their lead to 17-13 in the fourth quarter, Romo moved out of the pocket but was stripped for a fumble. The Chiefs failed to make it count when Alex Smith was sacked on third down by Bruce Carter, forcing a punt.

Bryant had a big game, but had a miserable drop for what would have been a huge gain when he beat Brandon Flowers down the sideline. Romo's next drive was more successful, but things bogged down in Kansas City territory. While Romo did not throw an interception on his 42 passes, he tried his hardest on this drive. The Cowboys had to settle for a 53-yard field goal by Dan Bailey to cut it to 17-16.

We can already see some of Andy Reid's influence on Smith, who had 48 dropbacks -- the most dropbacks Smith has ever had in a win. He even led the team in rushing with 57 yards on eight runs (several by design). Jamaal Charles only had 55 rushing yards, but he picked up 47 of those on this final drive.

The crucial play was a third-and-10 with 2:32 left after Dallas used its final timeout. Smith threw incomplete to Donnie Avery, but Morris Claiborne was flagged for pass interference. It was a tough call and allowed the Chiefs to run out most of the clock. Romo only had 16 seconds left to dump a 10-yard pass that ended the game.

If Tony Romo has a fourth-quarter failure in a game that starts at 1 p.m., does it still count? Either way, Dallas is back to .500 and the Chiefs have already matched last season's win total.

Steelers at Bengals: Broken Bad

Similar to the Giants game, the Steelers had a faint chance at a comeback, trailing 17-10 to start the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw aimlessly deep and incomplete, which was a common theme of the night. The Bengals basically put the game away with a field goal drive that consumed 6:51 off the clock. Down 20-10, Roethlisberger's high pass was tipped by Jerricho Cotchery and safety Reggie Nelson came away with the interception. That was the game outside of some garbage-time yards at the end.

It was not the prettiest night for Cincinnati, but Andy Dalton avoided turnovers on 48 drop backs, Tyler Eifert had a huge 61-yard catch and rookie back Giovani Bernard impressed with his first two touchdowns. The defense shut things down practically all night, so it's a good win for Cincinnati, which has had trouble beating the Steelers at home.

Of course, these are not the 2008 Steelers, the 2005 Steelers or even the 1997 Steelers. This is a declining team littered with holes and they barely looked any better than last week's pathetic performance.

Center Maurkice Pouncey was out, but you could not tell the difference with the same substandard offensive line performance. The running game went from 15 carries for 32 yards last week to 15 carries for 38 yards this week. Is that progress? The burden of the offense is all on Roethlisberger, who was held under 150 yards passing deep into the fourth quarter for the second straight week.

The Steelers have their least talented corps of wide receivers since 2000. There's no tight end on this team. The one imitator, David Paulson, fumbled in scoring territory on his first catch.

To make matters worse, the vaunted defense has zero takeaways (tied only with Jacksonville) and one sack. They have only played the Titans and Bengals, and it's not like they are elite offenses.

This means the Steelers have started 15 of their 23 drives inside their 20, leaving a long field to cover with a limited passing game having to create practically all of those yards in the absence of the run. This does not even get into the problems with Todd Haley's playcalling. Cotchery was willingly given an end around opportunity.

It's all a recipe for disaster, and isn't it lovely that we get to see it all again during a consecutive prime-time appearance against Chicago (2-0) this Sunday? For as much disgust as I have for the lazy writers of Dexter, that series finale may be a better way to spend an hour on Sunday night than to watch this mess unfold again.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 14
Game-winning drives: 14
Games with 4QC opportunity: 25/32 (78.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 4

Future Encounters: Week 3 has been batsh*t crazy the last two seasons. In 2011, all eight games played at 1 p.m. had a fourth-quarter comeback and there were 10 for the week (a NFL record). Last year I went a lifetime-worst 4-12 at picking games and the replacement refs stole the headlines. This year the schedule does not look as enticing. Andy Reid returns to Philadelphia in a battle of clock mismanagement. The 0-2 Giants take on the 0-2 Panthers in a game ripe for this column. This may be the week where the blowouts return on a larger scale, because things have been unusually tight so far.

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.


29 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2013, 4:30pm

#1 by peterplaysbass // Sep 17, 2013 - 1:59pm

Concerning Pittsburgh:

"It's all a recipe for disaster, and isn't it lovely that we get to see it all again during a consecutive prime-time appearance against Chicago (2-0) this Sunday?"

MNF week 2
SNF week 3
London game week 4

That's a whole lot of exposure for a pretty lousy team.

Points: 0

#6 by NateTG (not verified) // Sep 17, 2013 - 2:47pm

Leaving out London for the moment, I thought all teams got turns on Thursday, Sunday night, and Monday Night.

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#7 by Dean // Sep 17, 2013 - 3:11pm

Thursday? Yes.

Sunday and Monday nights? I don't believe so.

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#24 by Chris (not verified) // Sep 18, 2013 - 8:39am

Chiefs only have the one prime time game this Thursday. Unless they get flexed into a better spot later in the season.

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#2 by Ryan D. // Sep 17, 2013 - 2:15pm

I'm just going to copy/paste my comment from the Audibles thread:

Scott, can we start calling it a "Rivera" when a team loses a lead in the 4th quarter?

Example: Cam Newton led a would-be game-winning drive, but instead he got his 12th career Rivera when the opposing QB led a game-winning drive as time expired.

I have a new idea for the Panthers. For the first 3 quarters, they are coached by Ron Rivera. For the 4th quarter, new GM Dave Gettleman calls down to the bullpen, and they are coached by Mariano Rivera.

Points: 0

#3 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 2:21pm

I'll raise you one better.

If the loss is mostly a result of bad coaching, we'll call it a Rivera.
If the loss is mostly a result of bad QB play, we'll call it a Weinke.
If it's a win you never really expected to see, we'll call it a Delhomme.

Thanks, Carolina Panthers. Knew your franchise would be good for something.

Points: 0

#4 by Jon Goldman (not verified) // Sep 17, 2013 - 2:40pm

Can we call a win with good QB play but bad coaching a Newton?

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#5 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 2:45pm

No, that's been a "Roethlisberger" for at least five years.

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#8 by Ryan D. // Sep 17, 2013 - 3:13pm

I am completely in favor of making all facets of terrible play somehow revolve around Panthers "legends."

However, I think using "Delhomme" in this positive context goes against Bill Simmons' "Delhomme" terminology from his Thanksgiving 2012 mailbag:

BUCS (+1) over Falcons

Q: Five interceptions in one game? That's a "Delhomme."
Five interceptions and a lost fumble is a "Full Delhomme."
A "Full Delhomme" in the playoffs is a "Royal Delhomme."
For example: Atlanta was fortunate to overcome Matt Ryan's Delhomme to defeat the Cardinals.
—Murray, Greenville, SC

Sports Guy: Good idea. I'd like the ability to use it as a verb as well, as in, "Atlanta improved to 9-1 despite getting Delhommed by Matt Ryan."

Points: 0

#11 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 3:51pm

This is why I will remember Delhomme, circa 2003-2008 (before the Arizona playoff game) as being underrated. People will remember how badly it ended after he self destructed in the playoffs, but he was very solid for several years there in Carolina. He was just as good, if not better than Tom Brady in that Super Bowl. All of his TDs came on third-and-long if I remember correctly.

Note: Delhomme (26-29) was very close to cracking the top 10 in this week's all-time table. Something about those guys named Jake...

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#12 by Ryan D. // Sep 17, 2013 - 4:10pm

Jake Delhomme (CAR vs NE) and Kurt Warner (ARI vs PIT) probably played the best possible games in a losing Super Bowl effort. Delhomme and Steve Smith (mostly the latter) absolutely carried the team back into the playoffs again in 2005, before getting blown out in Seattle in the NFC title game.

Delhomme's biggest strength before his epic playoff meltdown was his late-game heroics. With the game late and close, you always felt like Jake could lead a comeback win. Now, I feel this way about the Panthers opponent each and every week. It doesn't matter who it is, if the game is late and close, I always feel like the opponent is going to win.

I was calling the Buffalo comeback the entire way in the 4th quarter. See it here:

Points: 0

#13 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Sep 17, 2013 - 4:14pm

You might want to watch that game again if you really believe this, Scott. Carolina's WRs were what kept them in that game, not Jake. Not that he was bad, mind you, but he was nowhere near as good as Brady in that game.

Delhomme was also terrible long before that playoff travesty in 2008.

Points: 0

#9 by Insancipitory // Sep 17, 2013 - 3:31pm

Not particularly relevant to anything; on Fark, they celebrate The Jake (after Delhomme) which is an award for the worst QB performance that week. It's based on his stat line from his last playoff game in Arizona, a perfect Delhomme being throwing 5 interceptions, losing 1 fumble, in the playoffs, on one's birthday.

Points: 0

#10 by Ryan D. // Sep 17, 2013 - 3:37pm

I know it's nit picking, but that game wasn't in Arizona. It was in Charlotte, against Arizona. That should make his performance even worse, in retrospect.

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#16 by Kevin from Philly // Sep 17, 2013 - 6:13pm

Was this week Eli's birthday? oh wait, you said playoffs. Never mind.

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#28 by Bobman // Sep 19, 2013 - 1:29am

Why do we have ho-cakes?

Ho's gotta eat, too.

Haven't thought of that movie in a while, Batty-boy.

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#14 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 4:44pm

Was just reminded of this on Twitter.

I set up the classic comeback/GWD situation in the GWD study: Down 4-6 points, 2:00 or less on the clock and needing to go 80+ yards for a TD.

I said Matthew Stafford (2009 Browns) was the only QB of the 22 studied to do it in his career. Well that's what EJ Manuel engineered on Sunday. To the best of my knowledge, that's only the 7th time since 1999 a team scored a TD in that situation. It's the third time it happened against Carolina, though they still won one of those games when the 2003 Buccaneers botched the extra point that would have won the game. Carolina won in OT.

So yeah, extremely rare drive by Buffalo on Sunday, but I know the Panthers helped with it.

Points: 0

#15 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 17, 2013 - 5:17pm

The Browns helped Stafford's effort in 2009, as well. As time expired during a desperate hailmary, a Browns DB tackled a receiver who wasn't even the intended target, giving the Lions an untimed down at the 1 yard-line.

I guess the point is accomplishing that feat is very hard, and you often need help from the defense to do it.

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#18 by kamiyu206 // Sep 17, 2013 - 7:04pm

-Broncos at Colts: Eli Gets Another Bad Bounce in a National Game-

Should be fixed to 'Broncos at Giants'.

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#19 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 9:01pm

Staring in disbelief at Microsoft Word on my screen right now. Thanks.

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#20 by Luigi (not verified) // Sep 17, 2013 - 9:12pm

Scott I think it's worth to do an investigation about Aaron Rodger's unclutchiness. I think he never won a game if losing at halftime. And I can't remember any memorable comeback victory lead by Rodgers. For his quality of play, titles and achievements I find this really strange and fascinating.

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#21 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 17, 2013 - 9:22pm

Crunched some numbers the other day for about 70 QBs. Will share the results when the time is right. Sums up the oddness of GB very well.

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#22 by Luigi (not verified) // Sep 17, 2013 - 9:34pm

Thank you that will be interesting. The Packers either win-win or lose-lose they never win games that seemed to be lost. It's very strange but in most of GB games you can almost be sure of the final result at halftime.

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#25 by nat // Sep 18, 2013 - 10:52am

The table showing the fate of teams starting the season with two come from behind fourth quarter wins shows exactly why I hate this stat.

In the 16-game season era, twelve teams have done this before this season. If they were dead average teams, you would expect them to average 7-7 for the rest of the season, with an average of 9 wins per year. If this ability to rack up come-from-behind wins indicated something good, you might see a slight improvement on that.

Instead, these teams average just 5.5 more wins for the season. Just one of the twelve managed to be better than .500 for the rest of the regular season. Five of them were below .500 for the rest of their games. Six achieved a very generic 7-7 record in their remaining games.

Which raises some questions:
Does getting into a lot of 4QC/GWD opportunities indicate a good team or a bad one?
How much does having a good success rate in those opportunities say about a team?
Does raw total 4QC/GWD or per season 4QC/GWD say anything useful about a team or QB?

Points: 0

#26 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 18, 2013 - 11:09am

"Make comebacks in moderation" would come to mind. Great teams, especially today, have to be able to win close games. That's how they (except the Packers) get 10+ wins a year. They win a few close ones or else they'd be 8-8. Now if you start your season trailing in both games because you had some real struggles such as the Texans have had, then that may be the sign of a team that's just not very good. We'll see with Houston, but I think they have a good shot to be a 10+ win team. But generally you'll want to stretch these wins out over a 16-game season. The 2009 Colts went 14-0 and had seven comeback wins, for example.

Some of those listed teams were the worst 2-0 teams ever. I'd direct you to an article I did on NBC last year, but they seem to have lost the tables I had, which butchers the reading. I had a good feeling the Cardinals and Eagles were not legit last year.

If I changed the criteria to just 2 GWDs (ignore comebacks) to start a season, that sample jumps from 16 to 28 since 1960. That includes playoff teams like the 2000 Rams, 2003 Panthers, 1988 Bengals, 1996 Bills, 1969 Raiders, 1992 Steelers, etc.

Does getting into a lot of 4QC/GWD opportunities indicate a good team or a bad one?

What's a lot? Six? Eight? Those bad 4-12 teams usually have quite a few, which shows they're competitive enough most of the time, but can't finish games. That's why they're 4-12 instead of 7-9. The Detroit Lions have numerous seasons like this. The 0-16 Lions had 9 failed GWDs, IIRC.

How much does having a good success rate in those opportunities say about a team?

Last year the teams with the best overall 4QC/GWD records were Indy, Atlanta, Denver and Houston. They had the only above .500 records. The Jags, Bucs, Panthers, Browns and Chargers were the worst, ranging from 1-6 to 0-7 (SD). None of those teams finished better than 7-9. You can get some oddities like the 2012 Titans going 3-3 at GWD, but 6-10 overall because of how bad there losses were. Generally, you want to have a good record in these games to have a successful season.

Does raw total 4QC/GWD or per season 4QC/GWD say anything useful about a team or QB?

Is raw total ever as useful as percentage? I think the second table here says a lot about top QB play often giving those teams an advantage in close games.

Points: 0

#27 by nat // Sep 18, 2013 - 12:42pm

I think you could easily look into these statistically rather than just bloviating on the topic.

A table looking something like this would be a good start:

Team Season Record DVOA abs(DVOA) GWD-opps GWDs GWD rate 4QC-opps 4QCs 4QC rate
---- ------ ------ ---- --------- -------- ---- -------- -------- ---- --------
NFL. 2012...

We could see whether being good (high DVOA) tended to increase or decrease opportunities, whether begin closer to average (low absolute value of DVOA) did, and what DVOA said about success rates and vice versa.

My questions are asked in the spirit of FO-style statistical analysis. "A lot" means "a lot more than average", obviously. Maybe a standard deviation more? Something like that. But something we can use for looking at correlations.

Your reference to how teams that lose these close games tend to have losing records is the kind of statistical screw up that FO cut its teeth on years ago. If a team went 1-6 in close games and still managed to go 7-9 for the season, then they were 6-3 in all other games. That is, if you used their record in 4QC/GWD situations to predict their play in other games, you would have been woefully wrong.

Points: 0

#29 by ManMachine (not verified) // Sep 19, 2013 - 4:30pm

Man, I love this column. Better than any recaps.

Points: 0

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