Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Only two teams came back to win after trailing in the fourth quarter this week, but one provided arguably the most stunning game-winning drive of 2013. We had nine total games featuring a comeback opportunity, so Week 6 was more about late-game failure than success. The faces of Rob Ryan and Eli Manning will be forever etched in our memories.

While one future Hall of Fame quarterback expanded his legacy, his worthy peer once again could only watch as his own go-ahead drive will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Game of the Week

New Orleans Saints 27 at New England Patriots 30

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (27-23)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.19
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (38-65 at 4QC and 53-66 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (28-24 at 4QC and 40-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Tom Brady now has 40 wins where the winning points were scored in the fourth quarter or overtime. This was the seventh time he led a game-winning touchdown drive in the final three minutes. It's the latest he had ever thrown a game-winning touchdown pass (five seconds left) and out of the 40 games, it may be the most improbable win yet.

It's good to see the best matchup of the week on paper turn into the Game of the Week, though this one was not a classic through three quarters. The Saints entered looking like the better team on both sides of the ball, but this game was in New England where the Patriots have not lost in October since Drew Brees put up 41 points as a member of the San Diego Chargers in 2005. This time Brees was not at his best; he completed just 47.2 percent of passes, the third-lowest completion rate of his career (minimum 20 attempts).

Part of the problem was that star tight end Jimmy Graham had just as many catches on six targets as Rob Gronkowski had for New England. Of course, Gronkowski did not even play, meaning Graham was shut out, primarily by coverage from cornerback Aqib Talib. Both players would get hurt in the game as well.

New England really controlled the game on both sides of the ball, taking a 17-7 halftime lead. Brady started strong, but missed what may have been an 83-yard touchdown to a wide open Danny Amendola in the third quarter. New Orleans tied the game on the ensuing drive. On the next drive, Amendola was knocked out with a concussion. To add insult to injury, a holding penalty made it second-and-19, so the Patriots could only muster a 54-yard field goal.

The stage was set for a great fourth quarter.

Down 20-17, Brees lofted a ball under pressure, but it was too high for Graham and Kyle Arrington made the interception. That keeps New England's streak alive at 33 consecutive games with a takeaway (longest in the league). Starting just 20 yards away from the end zone, Bill Belichick watched his offense stay surprisingly conservative with nothing but runs (one pass was negated with offsetting penalties), including one on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The field goal made it 23-17.

Brees started the drive with a rare 16-yard scramble. Later, a holding penalty forced a first-and-20. After two incompletions, Brees gave rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills a chance in the end zone despite tight cornerback coverage and a safety protecting over the top. Alfonzo Dennard tried to swat the pass away, but it dropped in perfectly for a 34-yard touchdown to Stills with 3:29 to play. New Orleans led 24-23.

However, three and a half minutes is an eternity of time in a one-point game. The Patriots' drive started with a low ball scooped up for four yards; on replay, the ball appeared to hit the ground, but the Saints chose not to challenge. Brady then threw three incomplete passes, all drops. The ugliest drop came from rookie Aaron Dobson on fourth-and-6 from the Patriots' 24-yard line with 2:50 remaining. Some questioned the decision not to punt, which is understandable. The Patriots were basically conceding the field goal if their fourth-down attempt failed, guessing (correctly) that even Sean Payton would get conservative. (Even if the Saints drove for a touchdown, Belichick was counting on getting the ball back in a one-score game, as we know no coach has the guts to go for two when scoring a touchdown already up by one.)

This Patriots drive only burned up 43 seconds, so you wonder what would have happened if Sean Payton challenged the first-down catch, which he would have easily won. Obviously the Patriots play things differently with 10 yards to go, but they are probably less likely to go for it on fourth-and-10 with over three minutes left. So that's one mistake already.

New Orleans ran the ball twice for three yards as the Patriots used two timeouts. On third-and-7, I am perfectly fine with Brees throwing the ball, but he cannot stare down a receiver and nearly throw an interception on a contested jump ball that stops the clock. This incompletion cost the Saints dearly. Quarterbacks must be trained in these situations to keep the clock running, even if it means taking the sack.

Instead of Bill Belichick using his final timeout or the Saints running it down to the two-minute warning, the Saints kicked a 39-yard field goal for a 27-23 lead with 2:24 left. That's how long Brady had now to go 80 yards for the winning touchdown.

We're used to seeing Brady take the short passes in these situations, but he shocked everyone by throwing a first-down bomb -- an ugly, underthrown bomb easily intercepted by Keenan Lewis. That burned eight seconds of clock.

At this point, most viewers expected the game was over. I had put out the stat on Twitter about this being Brady's 15th turnover in 27 failed game-winning drive opportunities.

However, we should never doubt the prevent offense. Knowing one first down would ice the game, Payton still took the conservative approach and ran the ball twice. The Patriots were able to use that last timeout, which they still had because of Brees' horrible pass, as well as the two-minute warning. With a chance to truly ice it on third-and-7, Brees tried a bootleg that failed miserably for a five-yard loss.

The Patriots got the ball back with 73 seconds left, no timeouts, and 70 yards to go for the win. Remember that pitiful four-and-out with the three dropped passes? In retrospect, it actually gave them another chance to win the game. Had Brady just completed one pass in bounds on that drive, then any interception after that point would have been a game-ending play. Instead, the Patriots somehow managed to get three possessions in the final 3:30. How rare is that?

Using the Drive Finder at Pro-Football-Reference, I searched for every game since 1999 where a team had three possessions in the final four minutes when trailing by one score. I could only find these four other games:

3 Possessions in Final 4:00 of 4Q, Trailing 1-8 Points (Since 1999)
Date Team Opp. Final Drive 1 Result Drive 2 Result Drive 3 Result
11/26/2000 STL NO L 31-24 3:41 Downs 2:21 INT 0:15 Clock
9/19/2004 CLE DAL L 19-12 3:45 Punt 0:09 Safety 0:06 Clock
12/26/2004 DAL WAS W 13-10 3:41 Punt 2:20 Downs 1:25 TD
9/23/2012 IND JAC L 22-17 3:02 Punt 1:33 FG 0:35 Clock
10/13/2013 NE NO W 30-27 3:29 Downs 2:24 INT 1:13 TD

These older games are nothing like Sunday's game. Only the Patriots were able to get three possessions all before the final minute without any takeaways or missed field goals. The 2000 Saints missed a field goal, which kept the Rams alive, but Trent Green only had 15 seconds left on his third drive. The 2004 Cowboys lucked out when the Redskins muffed a punt, which technically created their second possession. The 2004 Browns had two drives in the final nine seconds thanks to a safety and recovering an onside kick after said safety. Last year the Colts took a lead and lost it after giving up an 80-yard touchdown to Cecil Shorts.

That's the kind of nonsense it takes for this to happen. But it did happen, so Rob Ryan's defense had one more stop to make. He failed in this similar situation just two years ago with Dallas against Brady. That day Brady had 2:31 to go 80 yards. Aaron Hernandez caught that game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left. There was no Hernandez, Gronkowski or Wes Welker to throw to this time.

There was Julian Edelman, who got things started with a 23-yard gain down the middle. Austin Collie, just recently signed, worked the slot for a 15-yard gain. Brady used the fake spike and got six yards out of it to Dobson, who got out of bounds to stop the clock, which was very important. Brady was short on a pass just outside the end zone to Edelman, who made a diving attempt. Another slide by the one-yard line by Edelman resulted in no catch, though that may have been a good thing with all the time that would have gone off the clock.

However, it was fourth-and-4 at the New Orleans 26-yard line with 24 seconds left. Collie made the big catch for nine yards and Brady spiked it. Defending 17 yards, 10 seconds left, an immobile quarterback, the only defense is to load up the end zone, right?

Instead, Kenbrell Thompkins beat Jabari Greer one on one in the end zone with a great catch for the winning score. The safety help never arrived in time, and then Darren Sproles fumbled the kick return to end the game. Now it looks like someone just killed Rob Ryan's dog as this loss has to be much tougher than two years ago:

The only time Ryan blitzed on Sunday's final drive, Brady threw his most inaccurate pass. Brady was sacked five times in the game and Ryan rushed at least five on three of them. Only once did the three-man rush come up with a coverage sack, and even then Brady had forever to throw.

Brady joins the illustrious company of Tim Couch, Sage Rosenfels and Mark Sanchez as the only quarterbacks since 1999 to throw an interception inside the final three minutes of the fourth quarter when trailing by one score and still win the game.

Why teams continue to use the prevent defense instead of doing what works is a mystery, but there's nothing worse than when they run the prevent offense before it. Brees did not have his sharpest day, but is he not being paid to make plays that win games? Even a smart coach like Payton would rather give the ball to Khiry Robinson instead of Brees to win the game on New Orleans' own terms in the four-minute offense.

He's not alone as that's what other coaches do too in these situations. So for Brees, this goes down as his 11th lost comeback. That's a game where he was trailing in the fourth quarter, engineered his team back to a leading position, but still lost. Green Bay fans bring it up all the time for defense of Aaron Rodgers, who has seven lost comebacks (Tom Brady has two). Brees has the most lost comebacks of any quarterback since 1990. With further research, I may be able to conclude he has the most in NFL history.

Brees misses out on another big one, though the Saints needed a few more first downs from him in the final minutes. It may be hard to break convention and play for the win, but let this game serve as a reminder that any coach who thinks today's NFL is set up for three runs and a punt to put the defense on the field to potentially lose the game, may want to rethink that strategy.

A struggling offense with a ragtag receiving crew just made 70 yards in 73 seconds look easy. This is 2013.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Tennessee Titans 13 at Seattle Seahawks 20

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.52
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (14-31 at 4QC and 19-35 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (6-6 at 4QC and 8-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Seattle has the great reputation for how it plays at home, but right now the offense is struggling a bit with many of the key plays being nothing more than scrambles by Russell Wilson. Tennessee has also been one of the most improved defenses in 2013, ranking 11th in DVOA entering Week 6.

This may not have been much of a game in the fourth quarter had the Seahawks not botched a field goal before halftime for the second straight week. Kicker Steven Hauschka was out in the first half with injury, so safety Chris Maragos came in to hold with punter Jon Ryan performing the kick. Maragos had a Tony Romo moment with a botched hold and Jason McCourty returned the ball 77 yards for a touchdown.

Tennessee led 10-7 at halftime, but otherwise Ryan Fitzpatrick could only lead the offense to two field goals.

The game was tied 10-10 to start the fourth quarter with Seattle just having taken possession. Wilson avoided a sack and found Marshawn Lynch all alone at the Seattle 32-yard line. He had an open field ahead of him and picked up 42 yards after the catch for a total gain of 55 yards. Two big runs led to a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but Lynch fumbled. Just when it appeared the Titans had the ball, Zach Brown flipped it right into the waiting hands of Wilson.

That's the definition of fumble luck.

Wilson took a sack and then scrambled for four yards on third down. Hauschka returned to kick the 29-yard field goal with 11:23 left. As we looked at last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the last choices you want to lead a fourth-quarter comeback, because his attempts usually end with interceptions. Rarely ever does he lead a scoring drive.

Sure enough, the first play of the drive was an underthrown ball picked off by Richard Sherman. Wilson quickly marched the Seahawks back into the red zone with a great 24-yard sideline catch by Sidney Rice. Lynch ran in the three-yard touchdown for a 20-10 lead.

The Titans embarked on a long 14-play drive, but had to settle for a 25-yard field goal after Fitzpatrick scrambled for eight yards on third-and-11. With all three timeouts, the Titans kicked off deep. It appeared Tennessee forced the quick stop, but an offside penalty on Lavar Edwards created a first down. Lynch iced the game with a 10-yard run as the Titans could no longer stop the clock.

Fitzpatrick is now 5-25 (.167) at 4QC opportunities and 7-26-1 (.221) at overall game-winning drive opportunities. In the 26 losses, he has 18 turnovers (16 interceptions). That's right near the bottom (or top, depending on perspective) of the list since he started his career in 2005.

Speaking of lists, it looks like Wilson will race Andrew Luck to see which player can be the first to lead 10 game-winning drives after just two seasons (including playoffs):

Most Game-Winning Drives, First Two Seasons
Rk Quarterback Seasons GWDs GWD Record
1T Bernie Kosar 1985-86 9 9-5
1T Jake Plummer 1997-98 9 9-8
1T Andrew Luck 2012-13 9 9-5
4T Peyton Manning 1998-99 8 8-11
4T Ben Roethlisberger 2004-05 8 8-2
4T Russell Wilson 2012-13 8 8-7
7T Matt Ryan 2008-09 7 7-5
7T Josh Freeman 2009-10 7 7-7
7T Mark Sanchez 2009-10 7 7-11
7T Tim Tebow 2010-11 7 7-4
7T Andy Dalton 2011-12 7 7-10

That's dominated by recent quarterbacks, but it's still a relatively new thing for young quarterbacks to be successful right away in the NFL. Wilson and Luck are two of the best to come along.

Detroit Lions 31 at Cleveland Browns 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.40
Head Coach: Jim Schwartz (12-25 at 4QC and 14-25 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (9-15 at 4QC and 11-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)

As a NFL historian, when I hear Lions at Browns, three things come to mind: past greatness when these teams met in four NFL Championship Games in the 1950s, decades of ineptitude, and the 2004-05 versions of these teams exposing Jeff Garcia as a system quarterback.

I also recall the unexpected shootout between rookie Matthew Stafford and Brady Quinn in 2009. That was Stafford's first comeback and he would need another one on Sunday as it was all Browns in the first half. Calvin Johnson played this week, but he was held to three catches for 25 yards on eight targets.

The running game was shut down early, but Reggie Bush got the offense moving in the third quarter with a 39-yard run and an 18-yard touchdown catch to make it 17-14 Cleveland. That was the score to start the fourth quarter as well. Stafford again used Bush to move the ball before finding his tight ends. Brandon Pettigrew made a nice move to gain 12 yards on third-and-7. Stafford fired one in perfectly to Joseph Fauria for a 23-yard touchdown. Detroit now led 21-17.

Brandon Weeden got off to a solid start, but faded down the stretch. An intentional grounding penalty -- does it seem like these have been more frequent in 2013 or is that just Eli Manning's fault? -- short-circuited the next drive. David Akers tacked on a 51-yard field goal for the Lions.

Weeden drove the offense to the Detroit 44-yard line, but threw one of the most embarrassing interceptions you will ever see when he flipped it out to DeAndre Levy. Yeah, like it's any wonder how Weeden is 1-9 at 4QC opportunities.

With 4:36 left, Detroit stayed aggressive, even calling four straight passes at one point. There was a very soft roughing-the-passer call on third down. Later, while most teams would run the ball and probably kick the short field goal at the two-minute warning to go up by 10, Stafford threw his fourth touchdown of the day to Fauria, who now has five touchdowns on seven receptions in 2013. After all the fourth-quarter problems last year -- Lions were 3-8 at game-winning drives -- it's good to see Jim Schwartz be aggressive.

Cleveland spent the last 121 seconds driving to the Detroit 8-yard line, but time expired.

I have written in the past about Stafford having big stat lines in his games with a late drive to win. This was the fifth time he has thrown at least four touchdowns while also leading a game-winning drive.

Quarterback Total GWD GWD w/4+ TD Pct.
Dan Marino 51 8 15.7%
Matthew Stafford 11 5 45.5%
Dan Fouts 26 5 19.2%
Johnny Unitas 40 5 12.5%
Tommy Kramer 20 4 20.0%
Brett Favre 45 4 8.9%
Peyton Manning 50 4 8.0%

Only Dan Marino has done it more often with eight of his record 51 game-winning drives. While there is legitimate "it's just Cleveland" talk to go with Stafford's day, this was the No. 12 pass defense (DVOA) coming into the week and we cannot ignore the lack of impact Johnson had. When Kris Durham leads the Lions with eight catches and 13 targets, you know something strange is going on.

Maybe Stafford only shows up against the little teams, but the Lions are no juggernaut with this roster and still sit at 4-2. This is more of what was expected last season from Detroit.

Cincinnati Bengals 27 at Buffalo Bills 24

Type: GWD (OT)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.80
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (22-54 at 4QC and 31-54-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (5-12 at 4QC and 8-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)

With home wins over the Packers and Patriots, this was a road game where we needed to see the Bengals play well against an inferior opponent if we are to believe this team is a contender in the AFC. The Bills were starting Thaddeus Lewis in place of the injured EJ Manuel, but as expected, the drop-off was not significant. In fact, it was the best performance by a Buffalo quarterback this season. Lewis gave the Bills an early 7-3 lead, but Cincinnati soon took control as Andy Dalton had his biggest game of the season with 337 yards and three touchdown passes. A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard both displayed their talent on their touchdowns.

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The door was left open after the Bengals suffered the "field goal is good, but there's a penalty, back them up 10 yards and now the kicker misses" mistake. Down 24-10, Lewis converted on fourth-and-8 with a 22-yard touchdown to Scott Chandler, who was covered by defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

A combined three punts followed and Lewis had the ball again with 2:40 left in a 24-17 game. It seems like Buffalo's offense has been in this situation every week, but it was actually the fourth time in six games. Chandler got open on a scramble drill for a 25-yard catch. On the very next play rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin burned Terence Newman for a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game with 1:08 left.

An ill-fated screen to Bernard for a loss of five yards ended the Bengals' hopes of winning in regulation. The game headed to overtime where the Bengals won the coin toss and elected to receive. Dalton could only complete a 10-yard pass on third-and-15 and the Bengals punted from the Buffalo 37-yard line. Buffalo went three-and-out after Lewis was low and wide of the mark on third down.

Brandon Tate returned the punt 29 yards to the Buffalo 33-yard line. That put the win probability at 80 percent and the Bengals just handed it off three times for eight yards. Mike Nugent was perfect on the 43-yard field goal with 6:44 left, ending this one at 27-24.

The Bengals escaped with some more question marks, but lead the AFC North at 4-2. For Buffalo, all six games this season have seen them score at least 20 points and allow at least 20 points. They are the ninth team to do so since 1940, but sit at 2-4 with only one game-winning drive at the expense of the Carolina Panthers.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Giants at Bears: The Eli Manning Numbers You Don't Know About

The turnover problems the New York offense has been experiencing this season reared their ugly head again on Thursday night as Eli Manning threw two interceptions on his first five pass attempts. Whether it's a bad throw or miscommunication, this is exactly what has plagued the Giants as they have started 0-6 for the first time since 1976.

It also does not help when the defense shows little resistance as Jay Cutler had a sack-free, turnover-free evening for Chicago. But even after taking a 27-14 lead late in the third quarter, Chicago had a hard time putting the Giants away. Manning did not play too badly after the initial giveaway shock.

Brandon Jacobs, who stunned everyone by rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns, made it a 27-21 game heading into the fourth quarter. Cutler made a big mistake then by getting called for intentional grounding, which knocked the Bears out of field goal range. However, the Giants failed to capitalize. On his next drive, Cutler threw a deep ball on third-and-4 at midfield when going for the shorter play for the first down would have been wiser.

Manning had a chance to redeem himself with 5:21 left and 89 yards to go. Though he did convert a third-and-7 by finding Hakeem Nicks for 11 yards, this drive was about the running game. Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott had runs for 14, 12 and 13 yards on the drive with Scott getting injured on his carry. That run came right after Manning was nearly intercepted by Tim Jennings on an underthrown ball off his back foot.

Sure enough, with 2:02 left Manning threw too high for open tight end Brandon Myers, and the tipped ball was picked off by Jennings. Myers was off the ground with full-arm extension, so you know the pass was just too high. Cutler converted a third-and-7 with a tight throw to Martellus Bennett and it was basically over right there, but not before one of the all-time "Manning Face" images.

That graphic says it all, but instead of just focusing on what has been a terrible season, what about Manning's career history of turnovers in big spots that led to losses for the Giants? Everyone seems to remember each of the 12 times Tony Romo has had one, but Manning can slip on his "precious!" Super Bowl rings, cloaking himself in invisibility from backlash that at this point could teeter on benching the two-time Super Bowl MVP for poor play. That's not crazy talk either as one could just look at the Matt Schaub situation in Houston.

Manning is 28-32 (.467) at all game-winning drive opportunities in the fourth quarter/overtime, and here are his 21 turnovers in those late-game situations in the 32 losses:

Eli Manning's Career Turnovers in the Clutch (Losses Only)
No. Date Opp. Result Down Time Down/Dist LOS Play
1 12/18/2004 PIT L 33-30 3 3:31 3rd-and-2 NYG 44 INT w/3:19 left (W.Williams)
2 12/26/2004 at CIN L 23-22 1 0:36 1st-and-10 CIN 47 INT w/0:28 left (C.Powell)
3 10/16/2005 at DAL L 16-13 OT 4 9:05 3rd-and-15 DAL 21 Fumble (sacked); returned to NYG 33 w/9:03 left
4 11/13/2005 MIN L 24-21 8 4:02 2nd-and-9 MIN 10 INT w/3:48 left (D.Sharper)
5 9/10/2006 IND L 26-21 2 4:03 3rd-and-11 NYG 9 INT w/3:51 left (N.Harper)
6 11/26/2006 at TEN L 24-21 0 0:32 2nd-and-1 NYG 28 INT w/0:23 left (A.Jones); TEN gets GW FG
7 12/17/2006 PHI L 36-22 7 2:57 1st-and-10 NYG 20 Pick 6 w/2:47 left (T.Cole)
8 12/29/2007 NE L 38-35 3 9:59 2nd-and-6 NYG 27 INT w/9:53 left (E.Hobbs)
9 10/25/2009 ARI L 24-17 7 1:15 2nd-and-10 ARI 39 INT w/1:08 left (A.Rolle)
10 12/13/2009 PHI L 45-38 7 0:19 2nd-and-3 NYG 12 Fumble (sacked) w/0:08 left
11 11/21/2010 at PHI L 27-17 7 4:18 1st-and-10 NYG 39 INT (A.Samuel) fumbled back to NYG w/3:57 left
12 7 3:13 4th-and-6 NYG 44 Fumble (scramble) at PHI 40 w/2:51 left
13 10/9/2011 SEA L 36-25 4 1:25 1st-and-10 SEA 10 Pick 6 w/1:08 left (B.Browner)
14 11/13/2011 at SF L 27-20 7 12:40 2nd-and-7 NYG 14 INT returned to NYG 17 w/12:26 left (C.Rogers)
15 11/20/2011 PHI L 17-10 7 1:25 1st-and-10 PHI 21 Fumble (sacked) w/1:17 left
16 9/30/2012 at PHI L 19-17 3 15:00 1st-and-10 PHI 10 INT w/14:49 left (D.Rodgers-Cromartie)
17 9/8/2013 at DAL L 36-31 6 2:00 1st-and-10 NYG 48 Pick 6 w/1:50 left (B.Carr)
18 9/15/2013 DEN L 41-23 8 15:00 2nd-and-2 NYG 28 INT w/14:53 left (T.Carter)
19 10/6/2013 PHI L 36-21 1 10:49 1st-and-20 NYG 41 INT w/10:35 left (M.Kendricks)
20 8 10:12 3rd-and-10 NYG 20 INT w/10:02 left (B.Boykin)
21 10/10/2013 at CHI L 27-21 6 2:02 2nd-and-9 CHI 35 INT w/1:54 left (T.Jennings)

Some crucial mistakes there, including five this season. While not every turnover was 100 percent Manning's fault, let this list serve as a reminder that even the "clutch, two-time Super Bowl MVP" can blow a game from time to time with a huge error.

Going on a hot streak for two months over 10 years should not just absolve these mistakes and losses.

Redskins at Cowboys: No Worthwhile Tony Romo Stats to Plagiarize This Week

If one was looking for some interesting stats on Tony Romo in close games, this was not the week to add anything of relevance as Dallas' most polarizing figure was a supporting actor at best in this 31-16 win.

Romo followed up his 506-yard effort with just 170 yards as Dwayne Harris starred with 222 return yards on the night, including an 86-yard punt return touchdown. Washington again struggled offensively in the first half, producing two field goals. Robert Griffin III has only engineered one touchdown drive in the first half in five games in 2013.

Trailing 21-16 to start the fourth quarter, Griffin threw incomplete (out of bounds even) on third-and-11. Kai Forbath missed the 49-yard field goal wide to the left. Romo had one of his better drives, but DeAngelo Hall broke up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone. Dallas settled for the 30-yard field goal and 24-16 lead.

After a holding penalty brought up second-and-19, Griffin backed into a sack-fumble by Kyle Wilber (who?) as the Cowboys were very short-handed on the night. That put the ball at the Washington 3-yard line and Joseph Randle, a rookie running back, powered ahead for his first career touchdown. Dallas' two second-half touchdown drives covered a grand total of 18 yards.

By the way, since we have looked at the clutch turnovers in defeat for Manning and Romo, keep in mind Griffin is 3-7 at comebacks now and has lost four fumbles in the seven losses (no interceptions yet).

Griffin had 8:44 left, needing a Santana Moss-sized miracle comeback, but he threw a puzzling interception to Orlando Scandrick in the end zone with no receiver in sight with 5:08 to play. Dallas punted and the last gasp by Washington ended when Leonard Hankerson dropped a pass on fourth-and-9 just before the two-minute warning.

Griffin did get back to his running ways with nine carries for 77 yards, but he's already matched his turnover count (seven) from last season. Though this is the NFC East, 1-4 is a big hole to climb out of.

Raiders at Chiefs: Pryor to the Pass, a Sack

Evidently, the Oakland Raiders are not the steaming pile of crap most of us predicted coming into the season. Still, they have had enough rough patches to where a 7-7 tie at halftime in Arrowhead came as a surprise.

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Also a bit surprising is the dominance the Chiefs have displayed on defense this season with many of the same pieces from last year's unit, which ranked 30th in DVOA. No one has scored more than 17 points on the 2013 Chiefs and that's the main reason this team is 6-0 as the limited offense continues to keep games close.

A bad interception by Terrelle Pryor (off his back foot) gave Alex Smith the ball at Oakland's 23-yard line late in the third quarter, which is how the Chiefs took a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Smith only completed 14-of-31 passes for 128 yards.

Oakland has been one of the new adopters of the read option, but Pryor made a bad read on a third-and-2, resulting in a sack. That would be the theme of the day as Pryor went down 10 times on sacks. While that sounds like a pass-rushing dynamo tearing through a bad offensive line, I feel like all but one or two of the sacks were Pryor's fault. They were the mistakes of a young, mobile quarterback who held onto the ball too long or did things a pocket passer like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady would not do.

The defining moment of the game came halfway through the quarter. After a holding penalty, Pryor was sacked by Tamba Hali, then picked up a delay of game penalty. Eric Berry came in for another sack, bringing up third-and-48, which surprisingly is not a record. The Raiders had the audacity to try a short screen, which was incomplete.

Yet all the Chiefs could do was go three-and-out for the third straight drive. Pryor's slant was picked off by Marcus Cooper, putting the ball at Oakland's 29-yard line. The Chiefs were able to add a field goal for the 17-7 lead. Another poor throw by Pryor was intercepted and returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Husain Abdullah. The game fittingly ended with sack No. 10 of Pryor.

Right now the 2013 Chiefs remind me of the 2008 Titans. With upcoming games against Houston, Cleveland and (at) Buffalo, we may not learn much more about the Chiefs, especially the defense, until they play the Broncos in Week 11.

Eagles at Buccaneers: Nick Foles Loves Tampa Bay (Minus the MRSA)

It took six games, but the inevitable Michael Vick injury (hamstring this time) put Nick Foles into the starting lineup. That's okay, because Foles had the best game of his rookie season in Tampa Bay last year when he passed for 381 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the final play in a 23-21 win.

Things have only gotten bleaker in Tampa Bay since, where the Buccaneers have been battling a MRSA problem that's infected three players. There was talk about this game being canceled, but the teams were cleared to play.

Foles came through with another great performance as he passed for 296 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He even rushed for a touchdown. Tampa Bay rookie Mike Glennon was making his second start after last week's poor debut. Trailing 21-17, Glennon ended the third quarter with a big conversion to Vincent Jackson on third-and-9, but the drive stalled after three plays for no gain at the 9-yard line. On third down Tim Wright looked surprised by a ball that hit him in the chest. Rian Lindell made the 27-yard field goal to cut it to 21-20.

Riley Cooper took a short pass from Foles for 44 yards before DeSean Jackson was open for the 36-yard touchdown. The Eagles struck quickly to go up 28-20. I guess the swinging gate to make it a two-score game was not an option for Chip Kelly.

Pressure got to Glennon as he was the victim of a third-down sack by Connor Barwin and it was a quick three-and-out drive for Tampa Bay. The Eagles appeased me by going on a long drive with LeSean McCoy (171 total yards) taking command. Tampa Bay made a sack on fourth down, but the offsides penalty negated that. Alex Henery's 24-yard field goal with 2:34 iced it at 31-20. The pass rush again thwarted the giant beanstalk at quarterback with a hurried incompletion on fourth-and-6.

The Buccaneers are 1-10 in their last 11 games and coach Greg Schiano has fallen to 1-9 at game-winning drive opportunities. To make matters worse on Sunday, there were reports Schiano was the culprit in leaking confidential information that ex-quarterback Josh Freeman was in the league's substance-abuse program.

You don't have to be a nice guy to be a good head coach, but you can't be a hard ass and a loser if you expect to keep this job.

Colts at Chargers: Ryan Mathews > Danny Woodhead > Donald Brown > Trent Richardson

Indianapolis' stock has risen after beating teams like San Francisco and Seattle, which made this Monday night game in San Diego an appetizer for the showdown with Peyton Manning next week. However, despite the dramatic amount of roster turnover for both sides, the Chargers brought out their Colts voodoo to win for the sixth time in the last seven meetings.

It's just that no one expected a 19-9 final. The Colts came into the game second in the league in yards per drive (40.21) on offense while San Diego was dead last on defense (38.20 yards per drive). Yet on this night, the Colts averaged 29.78 yards per drive on nine possessions while going just two-of-10 on third down.

The Colts were also No. 1 in offensive plays per drive (6.83), but that’s where San Diego stole the show with four consecutive scoring drives of at least 11 plays. The Chargers were turnover free and were balanced with Ryan Mathews rushing for 102 yards. Meanwhile the Colts tried to be a power-running team, but also dropped a season-high five passes on the night.

Outside of the opening drive, if there was not a hurry-up element to Indianapolis' offense, success was not found. Even Reggie Wayne, on a night where he made his 1,000th catch, dropped a big third-down pass.

San Diego took a 13-6 lead into the fourth quarter and extended it to 16-6 with another field goal. Finally the Colts put the game in Andrew Luck's hands, but a sack quickly put an end to drive productivity. Adam Vinatieri made a 51-yard field goal with 7:21 left.

The defense finally got a quick stop thanks to a sack of Philip Rivers. Luck started at his own 9-yard line and you could cue the "comeback kid!" narrative from ESPN. Yes, Luck's been successful here, but this was not his night. It may have been a great drive to tie the game, but when Trent Richardson dropped an easy pass on first down and guard Hugh Thornton, unaware of the drop, destroyed his man on the block, that brought out a flag and a second-and-14 situation. Luck passed for eight yards on second down, but his third-down pass to Coby Fleener, who had a rough night, came up two yards short.

With a fourth-and-2 at your own 17-yard line with 3:29 left, going for it is risky. Conversion is at best a 50/50 proposition. Failure to convert likely means, at best, you go down 19-9 with three minutes left and no timeouts. It could be much worse if the Chargers get even one first down. If the Colts trailed by fewer than six points then I would probably go for it, but at 16-9, I am okay with the decision to punt. Pat McAfee had a bad one that went just 35 yards.

Still, the Colts caught a break when San Diego was penalized for a false start. You cannot let Mathews gain 15 yards on first-and-15 on the ground, yet that's exactly what happened. Again, offenses have been running the ball over 95 percent of the time on first down in these situations the last two seasons. There's no excuse not to be prepared to stop the run. Mathews helped by going out of bounds on his next run. On third-and2, Rivers threw to Antonio Gates, who ran his route short and only gained a yard.

With a fourth-and-1 at the Colts 33 with two minutes left, I go for the quarterback sneak to win the game. Quarterbacks convert all fourth-and-1 runs at 82.2 percent from 2009-12 and the sneak alone is 82.2 percent. Rivers is 25 out of 29 (86.2 percent) in his career on short-yardage runs.

Mike McCoy instead went with Nick Novak on the 50-yard field goal, which is about as successful as a running back getting the ball on fourth-and-1 (63.8 percent). Novak made the kick, but it's hard to support that decision.

The only thing left was for Luck to pull an "Eli" and throw a pass too high that Wayne tipped for an interception to put a bizarre Week 6 in the books.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 27
Game-winning drives: 32
Games with 4QC opportunity: 60/92 (65.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 14

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.


12 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2013, 6:26pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I agree that the Saints' clock management was not the best, but can we discuss Brees not getting a timeout that he called (or a delay of game penalty) which led to this:

3-12-NO13 (12:20) (Shotgun) D.Brees pass short right intended for J.Graham INTERCEPTED by K.Arrington at NO 25. K.Arrington to NO 20 for 5 yards (P.Thomas)

Brees threw to Graham, who wasn't in position because he was limping, and Arrington made the play. NE spent 3:36 gaining 15 yards and 3 points to get a 6 point lead.

So what are you supposed to do when the refs miss a timeout call?

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

"Maybe Stafford only shows up against the little teams"

Don't forget his game-winning drive against Seattle last year. I heard they had a pretty good pass defense that year, too.

Good write up though. And that picture of Eli Manning is my new favorite Manningface.

6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I remember it well. That's the first (and until we know for sure, the lone) win in the "Stafford is 1-23 against teams with a winning record" stat. Probably his best game ever against a quality opponent.

That was also a lost comeback for Russell Wilson, which someone mentioned on Twitter today. Throw in the LC for the Atlanta playoff game, and Wilson has as many lost comebacks in his rookie year (2) as Tom Brady's whole career.

And everyone can probably guess which two games Brady has it for. Hint: same opponent.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

After all the hype about Aaron Rodgers issues I was hoping for a quick note that he led a successful game clinching drive to prevent Flacco from even getting an opportunity at a GWD. Well, most of that work was Eddie Lacy and the OL, but still.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

The second 1st down was all Lacy and the OL, but the first 1st down was all Rodgers, with the 6-yard scramble on 2nd and not an easy pass to Finley on 3rd, where the failure of which would've allowed Flacco to only get a field goal to win.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

The 49ers also had an epic drive to turn a 22-20 lead into 29-20, but I didn't write about that either. As much as I may be interested in adding a fourth section for rare games like these two, I think we're already at capacity here.

8 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I think you should have written about both of them, at least in the context of the Saints failure. Ironically, the Packer game had two game-winning style drives in the 4th quarter. The first took 7:30 off the clock, and resulted in a two-score lead. The second ran off the last 2:04 and the Ravens never got the ball back. This is the antithesis of what happened in the Saints/Pats game. The situations were very similar at the end, but the Packers succeeded and the Saints failed.

The Niners did the same thing: tore up so much clock that the Cardinals had no chance. Since, Scott, you're making such a big point of the failures, wouldn't it make sense to spend some time on the successes?

Not all wins are comebacks. Sometimes, winning is making sure the other team doesn't come back.

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Every recap is reserved for a game that featured a 4QC and/or GWD opportunity. BAL/GB and ARI/SF just did not fit the requirement this week. If I was doing a four-minute offense article, which will be coming again, then the last drive in BAL/GB would certainly be in that.

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Cutler made a big mistake then by getting called for intentional grounding, which knocked the Bears out of field goal range.

I am admittedly biased on this subject, but I was *very* surprised that the flag was thrown on that play (though not as surprised as Cutler, who rode the refs for several plays in a row, making me worry he would get an unsportsmanlike call). The Bears were trying to set up a middle screen, and it was going to be a disaster, so Cutler threw it at the feet of the linemen at the back end of the scrum that had developed near the line of scrimmage. By the very strict letter of the law, it probably was IG, but you very rarely see that call made. So the only mistake Cutler made was incorrectly assuming he could get away with a teensy bit of grounding, avoid the sack, and preserve the opportunity for a game-sealing FG.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Brady used the fake spike and got six yards out of it to Dobson, who got out of bounds to stop the clock, which was very important.

Let me fix that for you...

"Brady used the fake spike and got six yards out of it to Dobson, who was inexplicably dragged out of bounds by the defensive back to stop the clock, which was very important."