Clutch Encounters: Week 9

Clutch Encounters: Week 9
Clutch Encounters: Week 9
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Words to live by for understanding the NFL: "And I'm 100 percent certain that I'm not sure, because every time you think you got it, it changes."

That lyric from The Tension Between Stillness and Motion by Grade was probably written about life in general, but it applies perfectly to the flow of a NFL season where one play can drastically alter the course of events. We've essentially hit the midpoint of 2013, and if Week 9 was any indication, good luck to anyone predicting how this season's going to end. The Super Bowl MVP could retire to become a lumberjack.

We had 11 games feature a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity this week, everything but Nick Foles' seven touchdown passes in Oakland and the worst defensive performance in Pittsburgh history.

Game of the Week

Indianapolis Colts 27 at Houston Texans 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 12 (24-12)
Win Probability (4QC): 0.08
Win Probability (GWD): 0.33
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (3-4 at 4QC and 4-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (7-5 at 4QC and 10-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The rosters and philosophies have changed, but the Colts still know how to spoil Houston's day with an incredible comeback. Trailing 24-6 with just over 19 minutes remaining, Andrew Luck turned the worst game of his career into another history-making win, becoming the first quarterback to lead 10 game-winning drives in his first two seasons (25 games).

This one was as improbable as any. The first half was all Houston as Case Keenum passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns. Andre Johnson caught all three scores and had a whopping 190 receiving yards as he beat every defensive back the Colts put on him. In his first game without Reggie Wayne, Luck's favorite target was the dirt as pressure from J.J. Watt and company forced him into this halftime line: 3-of-12 for 56 yards and three sacks. Houston led 21-3.

So what changed?

For starters, Houston coach Gary Kubiak collapsed at halftime (he's reportedly "feeling good" now), prompting defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to take over. That's not an easy situation to just gloss over for fans and the Texans.

On the field, the Colts abandoned the run (four second-half carries), went to the shotgun, and allowed their two best players (Luck and T.Y. Hilton) to take the game over. At one point, Luck dropped back on 32 of 33 plays (including penalties and two-point conversions). Houston stayed conservative on offense (less attacking) and Johnson was contained. The breakdown is clear:

  • Colts' first half: seven drives, three points, two targets to Hilton (six yards).
  • Colts' second half: five drives, 24 points, 10 targets to Hilton (115 yards and three touchdowns).
  • Texans' first half: seven drives, 21 points, 10 targets to Johnson (190 yards and three touchdowns).
  • Texans' second half: five drives, three points, three targets to Johnson (39 yards).

After the teams exchanged field goals and Houston led 24-6, the Colts cracked the end zone with five seconds left in the third quarter on Luck's 10-yard pass to Hilton. The Colts went for two; it was an unorthodox strategy this early in the game, but a decision generally supported by advanced analytics. (Bill Barnwell goes into this issue in his Grantland column today.) Luck threw incomplete to Griff Whalen, and completely missed a wide-open Coby Fleener in the end zone. It stayed 24-12 to start the fourth quarter.

Houston settled for a 43-yard field goal attempt, but a struggling Randy Bullock was wide right. Two plays later Watt got to Luck, but the bomb already left and Hilton burned two Texans for a 58-yard touchdown with 9:46 left. Suddenly the comeback felt possible, if not probable.

Johnson appeared to have an 11-yard catch on a third-and-7, but Chuck Pagano challenged and shockingly won the reversal to an incomplete pass on the sideline. Earlier the referee surprisingly overturned a fumbled kickoff return that went against the Colts, so you wonder about a make-up call here. I thought it was a catch, but it's not like anyone knows what those are anymore.

Two pressures on Luck quickly brought up third-and-10, but the protection held up for him to find Whalen for 17 yards. Trent "3.0" Richardson took a dumpoff pass for 24 yards -- the fourth-longest gain of his career (443 touches). After a 2-yard pass to Fleener, the Colts used a pick and a nice move by Hilton on Johnathan Joseph for the 9-yard touchdown.

Luck fit an extremely good pass through double coverage to Fleener for the two-point conversion. Colts led 27-24 with four minutes left. Johnson gained 25 yards to start the Houston rally, but pressure on Keenum forced an incompletion on third down. Since that play took too long to set up, the Texans were going to lose out on the two-minute warning clock stoppage. With only two timeouts, I think Phillips had to go for it on fourth-and-11 at his own 42. He punted, which makes me wonder how Kubiak, an offensive guy, would have handled that one.

The Colts just ran it three times and punted. No use in throwing on third-and-12. Keenum had 44 seconds left at his own 33. He completed a 16-yard pass, but should have immediately spiked the ball instead of calling another play. Downs are not that important in this situation. He did find Johnson for 14 yards, but now there was only enough time for the spike with five seconds left.

A 55-yard field goal is tough for anyone, but Bullock has been a bad kicker this season, so it was not surprising to see him push it wide left to end the game. He's 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) this season with three misses in this one.

Keenum had a 96.6 QBR -- the highest by any losing quarterback to start a game since 2006 (as far back as the ESPN stat goes). With rounding, it just edges out the previous high of 96.6, set by Peyton Manning for the Colts in a 27-24 loss to the Texans in 2006. Wild.

(Note: Kurt Warner's 97.2 QBR against the 2007 Ravens is actually the highest in a loss since 2006, but Matt Leinart started the game.)

The Colts, now 13-2 in one-score games since 2012, are back to spitting in the face of regression. Some things never change.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Minnesota Vikings 23 at Dallas Cowboys 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (23-20)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.14
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (12-15 at 4QC and 13-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (19-28 at 4QC and 20-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Dallas is a great soap opera, and I am not talking about the one with J.R. Ewing. This one has an evil tycoon (Jerry Jones) and a loose cannon (Dez Bryant), but the star of the show is Tony Romo. Any time it's a close game, you know the ratings are about to peak. This was only a 1 p.m. game against the lowly Vikings, but when Romo threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter with 4:29 left, you could feel that "great disturbance" once again.

The difference this time is Romo's Cowboys gave him another chance, much like Tom Brady had against the Saints after a late pick, and he delivered as he's more than capable of doing.

It was good he did or else we'd never hear the end of this one, which was shaping up to be another disappointing loss to an inferior team. Dallas led 20-10 in the third quarter, but could not hold on to that lead. Romo dropped back 55 times compared to just eight handoffs for 28 yards. That even includes a 27-yard run by DeMarco Murray, so it was an unusual performance by the offense, putting almost the entire weight of responsibility on Romo to deliver.

The Cowboys led 20-17 to start the fourth quarter. Christian Ponder threw an interception right to Orlando Scandrick, but the offense did nothing with it. Adrian Peterson broke off a 52-yard run. Four plays later, it was fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 11. Peterson had one of the most impressive runs of his career, refusing to go down at the five (with some help from his teammates) and finishing in the end zone.

Incredibly, kicker Blair Walsh was wide right on the extra point, keeping it a 23-20 game instead of forcing the Cowboys to score a touchdown in the final 5:40.

But on the third play of the drive, Romo threw a dangerous pass and A.J. Jefferson intercepted it. The Vikings were set up at the Dallas 41, but Ponder scrambled for four yards to set up a fourth-and-5 at the Dallas 36. With just under three minutes left, the Vikings faked going for it only to take the delay of game penalty and punt.

I think you have to go for it for real here. The best winning strategy is to run out the clock and never give Dallas (two timeouts) the ball back. A field goal, as we seen last week in Detroit-Dallas, is really the worst move as now the Cowboys will play aggressively for the game-winning touchdown. What do you risk going for it with a 1-6 record? Leslie Frazier should be coaching to save his job at this point.

Romo got the ball at his own 10 with 2:44 to play in a 23-20 game. The win probability (WP) was 0.14 here. Had Dallas been down 24-20 and needed a touchdown, the WP would be 0.25, which speaks to the advantage of knowing you need a touchdown versus that seeping conservatism of knowing a field goal is okay.

Romo started the drive by hitting three passes for 35 yards. Terrance Williams dropped a pass, but Bryant made the big play with a 34-yard catch and run down to the Minnesota 21. Now in field goal range, it was interesting to see how aggressive Dallas remained with a chance to win in regulation. Romo threw for nine yards to Cole Beasley, five yards for Jason Witten on a screen, then threw one away on first-and-goal. On second down, Romo found Dwayne Harris on a slant for the 7-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left. Dallas led 27-23.

Next-level analysis: That's a pretty good drive for a so-called choker.

The squib kick was a poor decision, allowing Minnesota to start at its own 42 with 29 seconds left. The Vikings had all three timeouts, but that missed extra point loomed large now as only a touchdown would do. Ponder was sacked on second down, but eventually converted a fourth-and-5 with a pass to John Carlson. With only four seconds left at the Dallas 47, the Hail Mary was the last option.

If you thought the Vikings could get some payback for the infamous Drew Pearson play, think again. Ponder's Hail Mary hopped into the dirt more than five yards short of the end zone. Frazier falls to 1-15 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities -- the worst record among active coaches.

Romo's 20th game-winning drive puts him just behind Troy Aikman (21) and Roger Staubach (23) in that area, but detractors will point out it was a banged-up defense of the one-win Vikings and Romo did throw a bad interception.

Even when Romo wins, he still loses, which is why we love watching Dallas' tragic hero.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Seattle Seahawks 27

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (24-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.64
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (15-31 at 4QC and 20-35 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (7-6 at 4QC and 9-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)

In Week 4 I wrote how all Russell Wilson games end up close eventually. Seattle really put that 54-game streak in jeopardy after falling behind 21-0 to Tampa Bay, a 16-point underdog. The Seahawks never lose at home, Greg Schiano never wins in 2013, but none of the narratives mattered early in this one.

The Buccaneers capitalized on mistakes, including a bad interception by Wilson and a fumbled kick return by the Seahawks. Rookie Mike Glennon came in averaging 45.3 passes per game, but he amped up the efficiency this week with a 17-of-23 performance for 168 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Rookie running back Mike James paced the offense by rushing for 158 yards and even throwing a jump-pass touchdown.

Seattle did get a crucial 80-yard touchdown drive (largely thanks to penalties) just before halftime to spark the comeback. That was key as Tampa Bay did take over five minutes off the clock to add a field goal (24-7) in the third quarter. Seattle answered with an 86-yard touchdown drive and later Golden Tate returned a punt 71 yards to Tampa Bay's 25 to set up an interesting fourth quarter.

The Seahawks settled for the field goal, drawing within one score (24-17) of Tampa Bay, which punted on its final five possessions. Wilson looked to have the game-tying drive in hand with a 27-yard pass down to Tampa Bay's 3, but he was fooled over the middle with Keith Tandy making the interception. Wilson was even penalized 15 yards for grabbing a face mask. Tampa Bay went three-and-out.

Getting a second chance with 6:13 left, Wilson redeemed himself with another march. Following the two-minute warning, Seattle faced a third-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 10. Doug Baldwin parked himself at the sticks, Danny Gorrer whiffed on the tackle and it was a touchdown. The rally was complete, but the win was to be determined.

Glennon had 1:45, but the drive stalled after his 4-yard scramble on third-and-7. Instead of the 0-7 team going for it at the 50, the offense played possum and took a delay of game penalty. Weak. The game went to overtime.

Tampa Bay won the toss, but when your offense is struggling and outmatched, why choose to receive and force yourself into a situation where an 80-yard touchdown drive is the clearest path to victory?

With three overtime games this week, let's revisit the strategy. We'll need years of data to truly study this, but here are some facts on the 30 modified overtime games (includes 2011 Pittsburgh-Denver playoff game):

  • Games have been decided by 21 field goals, seven touchdowns, one safety and one tie.
  • The coin-toss winner is 18-11-1 (.617).
  • Only six teams (20 percent) have received and scored a game-winning touchdown on the first drive, including Washington on Sunday.
  • The most common outcome has been the coin-toss loser getting the ball back and driving for a game-winning field goal on the second drive of overtime (eight times out of 30).
  • Average starting field position for the coin-toss winner is 20.7 (17 times at the 20).
  • Only one coin-toss winner started past the 25-yard line (Arizona started at the 34 against Miami).
  • Average starting field position for the 24 coin-toss losers' first possession is 33.3.
  • As for momentum, the team to score last in regulation is 19-10-1 (.650) in overtime.

I highlighted the part in bold that I consider the optimal strategy: kicking off, getting a stop and having to drive a shorter field for a game-winning field goal. Not only has that happened eight times, but three other teams missed a very makeable field goal. That means 11-of-24 drives led to a game-winning field goal attempt.

According to the Win Probability Calculator at Advanced NFL Stats, which may not accurately reflect modified overtime, a team with 15:00 left and a first-and-10 at its own 20 in overtime has a 0.47 WP, so slight advantage to the coin-toss loser. If the fact that the team has to score a touchdown to win on the first drive is not being factored in due to the lack of real data, then it's likely the WP would be even lower than 0.47. A team has to start at their own 24 to hit 0.51 WP.

Would you rather drive 80 yards for a touchdown, stuck in the conservative limitations of three-down football, or would you prefer getting a stop and driving maybe 50 yards for a shot at the game-winning field goal?

Unless you're the worst defense in the league playing the best offense, no NFL defense should fear allowing an 80-yard touchdown drive. Even if there's an opening-drive field goal (done four times out of 30), that's still not a terrible position to be in as you get the ball back with a chance to play aggressive, four-down football all the way down the field with an opportunity to win.

In college football where it's not true sudden death, teams prefer to go on defense first. NFL coaches should no longer assume first possession is the right strategy.

Tampa Bay took the ball, started at its own 20 and went three-and-out after Glennon was sacked on third down. Seattle started at its own 40 after the punt, only needing about 25 yards to try a field goal. Marshawn Lynch converted a third-and-six with a 14-yard run. Three plays later Steven Hauschka kicked the 27-yard game-winning field goal.

Wilson earned his ninth game-winning drive and the streak continues. In his last 55 games (41-14 record) going back to college, Wilson has had 51 games with a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime, one fourth-quarter tie and three games where he could do no better than having the ball, down 3-7 points in the fourth quarter.

In this battle of 1976 expansion teams, the Seahawks notched the largest comeback win in team history. The Buccaneers may be the best 0-8 team ever, but in the end that only means they're a 3-5 team kept winless by bad coaching and the failure to execute in crunch time.

San Diego Chargers 24 at Washington Redskins 30

Type: GWD (OT)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.49
Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (32-84 at 4QC and 50-86 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III (4-8 at 4QC and 5-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Washington took a 21-14 lead in this game when Darrel Young scored his second 1-yard touchdown run in the game with 14:17 left in the fourth quarter. Washington later tacked on a 47-yard field goal after a David Amerson interception. Down 24-14 with 6:52 left, Philip Rivers went to the no-huddle offense. Dropping back on all eight plays, he finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen with 4:10 left.

It was a perfect setup for the four-minute offense. Washington started well with a 26-yard pass to Pierre Garcon off play-action. A holding penalty on Chris Chester tanked the drive, setting up second-and-19. Griffin hit Garcon for 16 yards, but his third-and-3 pass was woefully thrown incomplete. That stopped the clock and San Diego had 2:10, two timeouts and the ball at their own 8 in a 24-21 game.

Five plays into the drive Rivers faced a fourth-and-2. Somehow, Allen got this wide open for a 22-yard gain:

Allen feasted for two more catches for 31 yards, putting the ball in the red zone. Danny Woodhead then scored a touchdown, but it was reversed by replay as he never broke the plane with the ball. With first-and-goal at the one and two timeouts, this should have been an easy win for San Diego, but we know coaches fail to understand optimal short-yardage strategy.

Matthew Stafford's game-winning sneak last week would have helped this situation, but it was never used. Rivers' lack of athleticism may hurt him here, but even he entered the season 25-of-29 (86.2 percent) on short-yardage runs.

Woodhead carried out of the shotgun for no gain on first down. After a timeout, a fade pass to Antonio Gates fell incomplete. On third down, Rivers looked like he wanted a sprint-right option pass, but the receiver was covered and his pass into the end zone never had a chance to be caught. San Diego botched a golden opportunity and settled for the 19-yard field goal by Nick Novak.

In overtime, Washington won the toss and received, starting at its own 22. As in the Seattle recap, notice the win probability was just 0.49 at this point. A team better make the drive count when starting overtime and Washington did in a big way. Alfred Morris had a 19-yard run, but the key play was a 12-yard pass from Griffin to Jordan Reed to convert third-and-8.

Another holding penalty threatened the drive, but Griffin's 17-yard pass to Garcon followed by a (bogus) personal foul on Andrew Gachkar for hitting a defenseless receiver put the ball at the San Diego 13. After two runs by Morris brought up third-and-1, Young put the game away with a four-yard touchdown run -- his third score of the day.

The outcome was simple. San Diego had three cracks from the one at the end of regulation and still left a timeout on the board. That left them walking away in defeat as the Redskins finished in the red zone for the win.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Miami Dolphins 22

Type: 4QC
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Win Probability (4QC): 0.15
Head Coach: Joe Philbin (3-8 at 4QC and 3-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (3-8 at 4QC and 3-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Did you forget Halloween when Andy Dalton turned into a pumpkin with four turnovers and suffered the third walk-off safety in NFL history? It was a rough night for the Bengals, who lost Geno Atkins (torn ACL) for the season. Dalton's receivers did not do him many favors with their mistakes. A game-tying touchdown pass in the third quarter was taken away on a holding penalty by Jermaine Gresham. Instead, Dalton threw a pick-six and the Bengals had a 17-3 deficit.

At least rookie back Giovani Bernard showed up. He scored one touchdown, making it 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter. On the next possession, Bernard's 35-yard touchdown run was one for the all-time highlight reels. With the Dolphins giving away 14-point leads as treats this season, Miami's quick punt was answered by another Dalton interception after Mohamed Sanu should have made the catch in the red zone.

After a Miami punt, Dalton converted for 16 yards through a ridiculously small window to Sanu on third-and-7, but that only put the ball at the Miami 42. This is where Marvin Lewis may have blown the first shot at the win. Instead of staying aggressive and draining Miami of timeouts to kick the winning field goal, the Bengals ran it twice and threw a poor deep ball on third-and-4. The situation was botched and kicker Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal was one saving grace. Cincinnati led 20-17.

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Tannehill had 1:18 and a timeout at his own 24. A first-down sack put the Bengals in great shape for the win, but Tannehill responded with a 16-yard pass to Rishard Matthews on second-and-17. Miami converted for a first down and later Tannehill threw a sideline pass to Brian Hartline for a very difficult 21-yard catch. Four plays later Caleb Sturgis tied the game on a 44-yard field goal. We would get overtime.

Miami went three-and-out as Tannehill could not squeeze in another one to Hartline. The Bengals looked to be marching for the win after A.J. Green made a spectacular 14-yard catch, but again the Bengals ran BenJarvus Green-Ellis on first down at the Miami 41 for two yards. Dalton threw incomplete twice and the Bengals punted, passing up a fourth-and-8 at the Miami 39.

Mike Wallace went deep to draw pass interference on Terence Newman for 38 yards, but the drive stalled immediately afterwards. Miami punted on fourth-and-2 at the Cincinnati 40, so this game's coaching decisions were not pleasant to watch.

The "Bungle" moment was coming, however. Backed up at his own 8, Dalton hurried the offense on a deep shot to Green, which never had a chance. On third-and-10, Cameron Wake produced the fateful sack at the goal line for the game-ending safety. It was close, but Dalton did not get the ball entirely out of the plane of the end zone, so there's your winning score.

It's just the 10th game in my database where a team scored the game-winning points on a safety in the fourth quarter or overtime:

NFL's Game-Winning Safeties in the Fourth Quarter/Overtime
Team Date Oppt. Result Score Safety Play Win Type
SD 11/15/1970 at BOS W 16-14 Tied 14-14 Joe Kapp sacked in end zone by Joe Owens NON-OFF
MIN 10/12/1975 NYJ W 29-21 Down 21-20 Greg Gantt punt blocked OOB by Joe Blahak w/7:14 left NON-OFF
DAL 9/25/1983 NO W 21-20 Down 20-19 Ken Stabler sacked in end zone by Anthony Dickerson w/1:58 left 4QC/NON-OFF
NO 9/13/1987 CLE W 28-21 Tied 21-21 Bernie Kosar sacked in end zone by Bruce Clark w/9:45 left NON-OFF
MIN 11/5/1989 LARM W 23-21 OT Tied 21-21 Dale Hatcher punt blocked OOB by Mike Merriweather at 12:46 (OT) 4QC/NON-OFF
BUF 10/5/1997 DET W 22-13 Tied 13-13 Barry Sanders tackled in end zone (B.Smith, P.Hansen) w/2:12 left NON-OFF
ARI 10/24/2004 SEA W 25-17 Down 17-16 Donnie Jones punt blocked OOB by Gerald Hayes w/8:50 left NON-OFF
CHI 11/14/2004 at TEN W 19-17 OT Tied 17-17 Billy Volek sack-fumble; Adewale Ogunleye EZ tackle at 11:43 (OT) 4QC/NON-OFF
NE 9/10/2006 BUF W 19-17 Tied 17-17 J.P. Losman sacked in end zone by Ty Warren w/8:33 left 4QC/NON-OFF
MIA 10/31/2013 CIN W 22-20 OT Tied 20-20 Andy Dalton sacked in end zone by Cameron Wake at 6:38 (OT) 4QC/NON-OFF

Dalton becomes the sixth quarterback on the list, but at least he didn't suffer two safeties in the fourth quarter like Bernie Kosar did. Of course, one's enough in overtime.

Tennessee Titans 28 at St. Louis Rams 21

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.82
Head Coach: Mike Munchak (5-8 at 4QC and 8-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jake Locker (1-4 at 4QC and 3-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The meeting of mentor (Jeff Fisher) and pupil (Mike Munchak) garnered little fanfare as it was just the Titans (3-4) and Rams (3-5), but both offenses moved the ball to the tune of 363 yards in a close 60-minute battle.

Tennessee struck first in the fourth quarter with Jake Locker's 5-yard touchdown run on what may not have been a designed play. That broke the 14-14 tie, but it was answered immediately by Kellen Clemens' 10-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook.

Locker entered the game with one interception on 152 passes in 2013, but he was picked twice in this one, including a horrible throw on the ensuing drive. However, the defense helped him out when Jurrell Casey's strip-sack of Clemens produced a fumble. With 2:59 left and the ball at the Rams' 19, it only took one play for Chris Johnson to run for the game-winning touchdown.

Zac Stacy was impressive all day with his ability to break tackles, but the Rams had to pass now, which produced three incomplete passes in a quick three-and-out drive. After the punt, Johnson gained one first down, but facing third-and-10, the Titans went with the right approach in this one and handed it off again for three yards.

Remember the Rams against Seattle on Monday night? This would be tougher as 61 yards were needed in 50 seconds. Stacy started the drive by getting out of bounds on a 4-yard catch. Chris Givens was open down the middle for 25 yards, which led to a spike. Stacy again took the short pass six yards out of bounds, and suddenly Fisher took a look at those throwback uniforms of the Rams against his Titans and must have thought he was in Super Bowl XXXIV again.

This would be far less dramatic as Clemens threw two incompletions from the Tennessee 26 to turn the ball over on downs. Here's how close he got on fourth down to Austin Pettis:

It only hit one hand and Pettis would have had a difficult time staying in bounds. Clemens might figure out one of these fourth-down passes eventually this season.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 at Buffalo Bills 13

Type: Non-offensive game-winning score

It was only a matter of time before the Chiefs (9-0) had a game won definitively by the defense, which scored the team's only two touchdowns. The Chiefs have held off five consecutive comeback attempts, including three straight third-string quarterbacks making their first start of the season. Despite starting undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, the Bills gave Kansas City all it could handle in Buffalo, including 241 rushing yards.

Tuel had a chance to give the Bills a 17-3 lead in the third quarter, but his poor throw was intercepted and returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Sean Smith. Tuel engineered a drive later in the quarter to force a 13-13 tie as the game went into the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs went three-and-out as it was another difficult day for Alex Smith -- he was 19-of-29 passing for 124 yards. Dwayne Bowe failed to haul in a third-down pass.

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Facing a third-and-10 at their own 13, the Bills completed a short pass to T.J. Graham crossing over the middle, but rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper punched the ball out and Tamba Hali scooped it up for the game-winning touchdown with 12:47 left.

Despite the one-score deficit, Buffalo abandoned the run. Tuel threw on all eight plays on the next drive, but a bad drop by Marcus Easley and a third-down overthrow to Scott Chandler ended the drive at Buffalo's 40. The Chiefs punted after another third-down incompletion by Smith.

From deep in his own end, Tuel fired a bomb to rookie Marquise Goodwin, who bobbled it, but appeared to have enough control as he went to the ground, yet it was ruled incomplete as he did not maintain possession ("Calvin Johnson Rule"). Buffalo challenged, but to no avail. This tests my theory on if a receiver caught the ball, continued rolling out of bounds like he was on fire, then hit the stadium wall and the ball popped out, would that be ruled incomplete? I have a feeling it would, because no one knows what a catch is anymore and no one knows how long you have to have it to count as one.

That was the big one as Tuel overthrew his receiver on third down and the Chiefs got great starting field position at their own 4 7. Smith completed one pass for 10 yards as Jamaal Charles got five carries on the drive. Kicker Ryan Succop all but iced it with his 39-yard field goal with 2:13 left. The Chiefs led 23-13 and Buffalo bypassed a 52-yard field goal so Tuel could throw incomplete on fourth-and-4 to officially end it.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Note: Apparently to FOX, Peyton Manning's 51 game-winning drives do not count since he was on a bye week.

Saints at Jets: And In the End It's Only Round and Round and Round

The Jets' surprising win over New Orleans was built on 198 rushing yards and the favorable field position that came from two Drew Brees interceptions on tipped passes. The second led to a touchdown just before halftime that gave the Jets the lead for the rest of the game. New York then extended that lead to 26-17 after a 45-yard field goal by Nick Folk, who has hit all 23 of his field goals this season.

The Saints next got the ball with 11:50 left. Brees threw incomplete from his own 40 on third-and-6, but was bailed out by one of the worst roughing the passer penalties you will ever see. The hit by Josh Bush was not late, not high, nor was it too low as the referee called it. Take a look:

That extended the drive, but if you believe in make-up calls, Saints guard Ben Grubbs was tagged for an illegal use of hands penalty on the very next play, setting up first-and-20. This was managed into third-and-1, but fullback Jed Collins dropped Brees' pass in the flat. On fourth-and-1, the Saints decided to send third-string tight end Josh Hill (who?) on an end around, which was snuffed out easily by Quinton Coples for a loss of eight yards.

However, the Jets went three-and-out, so the Saints were still alive. Brees put together a solid drive, converting a critical fourth-and-2 with a 4-yard pass to Pierre Thomas. The drive stalled after Robert Meachem dropped a third-down pass. Garrett Hartley was good on the 43-yard field goal. The Saints had two timeouts and 3:01 left. That was plenty of time to kick it deep and get a stop, which they did after two runs produced one yard and Geno Smith skipped a ball into his receiver on third down.

The stage was set for Brees to lead a memorable game-winning touchdown drive. He had 118 seconds and one timeout to drive the Saints 81 yards.

On first down, Brees had time against the four-man rush, but the pass was nowhere near Lance Moore. A 16-yard pass to Nick Toon was wiped out by center Brian de la Puente's holding penalty, setting up second-and-19. The hold was necessary to avoid a sack. Moore seemingly never recognized the pass coming his way on the next play. Rookie Dee Milliner nearly ended the game with an interception on third down, but the ball hit the ground.

On fourth-and-19, Brees moved to his left, but the pressure from Coples forced him to shovel a hopeless pass that fell incomplete. The Jets won the drive with just a four-man rush on each play; the Jets' pass rush had a huge impact on Brees all game.

All that was left with 1:21 left was for the Jets to inexplicably run the ball twice before taking a knee. Given that New Orleans only had one timeout, this was a bit botched. Smith should have taken three knees to prevent any fumbling, but we'll let Ryan slide on what amounts to another big win in a season many (myself included) expected he would be fired at the end of.

Falcons at Panthers: Someone's Undershooting Their Expected Wins This Year

The final score of 34-10 was the third-largest margin of defeat in a game for Mike Smith and Matt Ryan, but it was only a 17-10 Carolina lead to start the fourth quarter. The pivotal play came on third-and-6 at the Atlanta 38 with 10:12 left. Cam Newton found Brandon LaFell for the first down, but Asante Samuel forced a fumble -- and then the ball bounced back to LaFell at the Atlanta 8. On the very next play, Newton easily scored on a rushing touchdown to make it 24-10.

Atlanta still had a fading chance with 8:39 to play, but Carolina shut the door with a pick-six when Drayton Florence jumped a route and returned the pass 38 yards for the touchdown. The rest of the game was frankly irrelevant, which is how you can describe the Falcons at 2-6.

The Falcons exceeded their Pythagorean wins in each of the last five seasons. Look no further than the success at game-winning drive opportunities during that span: 2008 (4-2), 2009 (4-4), 2010 (6-2), 2011 (3-4) and 2012 (6-2). This year the Falcons are 0-5 at such games.

The fall from a historic winning rate had to come eventually, but this descent is one of steepest you'll ever see.

Ravens at Browns: Cleveland Moves Ahead of Champs in AFC North

When Joe Flacco leads the team in rushing (three runs for 25 yards), there's something wrong with the Baltimore offense. When Jason Campbell throws three touchdowns without a turnover in spite of Willis McGahee's 21 carries for 31 yards, the defense has some explaining to do as well. Even the special teams had a muffed punt (Tandon Doss), which set up Campbell's third scoring toss of the day.

Cleveland led 21-10 in the fourth quarter, but Doss redeemed himself with a 36-yard punt return. Flacco finished off the 32-yard drive with a touchdown and two-point conversion to Marlon Brown.

Greg Little caught a 46-yard pass to set the Browns up on the Ravens' 34, but they failed to gain another yard. After a fake field goal/quick punt by Billy Cundiff, Flacco converted a fourth-and-1 from his own 38 via a quarterback sneak, but the Browns did not allow another first down on the drive. Cleveland took over with 6:44 left and remained fairly aggressive, passing instead of trying to kill the clock with just the run and converting a fourth-and-1 attempt at the Baltimore 43 with a 3-yard pass to Davone Bess.

An interesting rule situation happened after the two-minute warning. The Browns picked up 14 yards on a second-and-13 pass, but a horse collar tackle by Baltimore's James Ihedigbo tacked on five yards and stopped the clock. It was going to be a first down either way, but why can't we get a rule change where the team can decline the clock stoppage should they have the lead? Ihedigbo essentially bought the Ravens a timeout at the expense of five yards. That's a solid tradeoff in this situation.

McGahee ran the ball on a first-down play that came with 1:51 left. Baltimore used its final timeout, but now there was enough time to get the ball back, which would have been impossible without the penalty. That's shady. Regardless, Billy Cundiff kicked a 22-yard field goal and the Browns led 24-18.

The Ravens had to drive 80 yards in 13 seconds. A play with a lateral gained 14 yards, but an 18-yard pass to Ray Rice out to midfield put an end to this one. The Browns finally solved the Ravens, though it's starting to look like 2012 was the end of an era in Baltimore.

Bears at Packers: Unexpected Gem, Predictable Ending

A surprise entry, but no one expected Aaron Rodgers to get injured on the opening drive after taking a sack. That changed the whole complexion of the game, which turned into one of the best 60-minute efforts of the season despite Josh McCown and Seneca Wallace dueling at quarterback.

One area Rodgers would have had minimal impact on was Marc Trestman's play-calling, which was fantastic. The Bears have had terrible success against Dom Capers' defense. In 10 games, Matt Forte averaged 3.45 yards per carry (YPC) and scored one touchdown against Green Bay. In this game he scored and rushed for 125 yards (5.2 YPC).

Jay Cutler was out, but that may have been a blessing as he's been abysmal against the Packers with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. McCown passed for 272 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and took one sack. The touchdown he threw under pressure to Brandon Marshall in the first quarter was as impressive as any you'll see this year.

In Rodgers' absence, Green Bay kept pace by rushing Eddie Lacy for 150 yards and winning the special teams' battle with a blocked punt and surprise onside kick recovery. Wallace struggled, throwing for 114 yards and taking four sacks.

Trailing 24-20, Green Bay's quarterback deficiency was exposed in the fourth quarter when Wallace could not convert a pair of third-down plays in Chicago territory.

The Bears took over with 9:48 left at their own 11. This drive was as good as you'll see from a team playing with the lead. Facing a fourth-and-1 from his own 32 with 7:50 left, Trestman called timeout and sent the offense back on the field. Forte converted with a tough 3-yard run. I loved the call given the Bears had a four-point lead. While the quarterback sneak works better, McCown does have one of the worst conversion rates (11-of-19) on short-yardage runs by a quarterback.

Forte later converted a third-and-5 with an 8-yard run, which forced the Packers to use all three timeouts on a drive that consumed 8:58. Robbie Gould added the 27-yard field goal for a 27-20 lead. The Packers had to drive 75 yards in 46 seconds. Wallace, 2-12 at comeback opportunities, completed a 15-yard pass to Jordy Nelson, who got out of bounds. However, Chicago registered back-to-back sacks to drain the clock. Shea McClellin put Rodgers down to start the night and ended the game with his sack of Wallace.

Just when you thought the Bears were doomed and the Packers were ready to make a big run, the NFC North boasts three 5-3 teams and remains wide open -- a fitting end to the week.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 35
Game-winning drives: 44
Games with 4QC opportunity: 84/133 (63.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 19

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.


13 comments, Last at 08 Nov 2013, 12:14pm

#1 by Ryan // Nov 05, 2013 - 1:51pm

In retrospect, it looked like Fleener was pulling on a swing screen to Griff Whalen in the 2 point conversion, but Luck went to Fleener anyway. Or maybe it's the opposite, and Whalen was doing the patented Peyton Manning "throw to me" pick/non-pick play for Fleener. Either way, a crazy throw and catch.

Points: 0

#3 by Bobman // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:05pm

An amazing throw and catch. When you talk about tight windows, I like to think of percentages and inches--how much wiggle rom did the passer or catcher have. An inch lower, was this deflected? An inch to the left was it catchable? I know some of this is luck (small L) and a lot depends on the DBs as well. But still, an amazing pass into the tiniest of windows, and a phenomenal catch for a guy who probably didn't really see the ball all that clearly for more than a split second. "Oh hey, there's this brown flying thing. I'll grab it and see what it is. Hey! It's a two point conversion!"

The catch reminds me of Dallas Clark in some ways, how he'd snap a one-hander out of the air while being doubled on some plays and muff far easier ones other times. Clark was a bit more consistent thank fleener, but maybe that takes time.

Points: 0

#2 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 05, 2013 - 2:49pm

Great article Scott.
I'm really puzzled by the clock management of Mike McCarthy at the end of the MNF game.
I think he needs to use his timeouts before the 2 minute warning and not after. If the defense can stop the Bears then it's best to have about 2 minutes than about 1 minute.

Is there any statistics about this? What is your opinion?

And with the zillion of assitants we see today in the NFL would it be crazy to hire a clock-assistant to help the HC use his timeouts in a wise way? With playcalling, substitutions and all the stuff in their heads I think some coaches just can't manage the clock properly.

Points: 0

#4 by Ryan D. // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:12pm

Bill Simmons (ESPN/Grantland) was lobbying for this years ago.

Points: 0

#5 by Perfundle // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:21pm

"If the defense can stop the Bears then it's best to have about 2 minutes than about 1 minute."

Well that's the problem isn't it? He clearly had no confidence in his defense and it looks like he was right not to have. It took a questionable holding call for the defense to actually get the stop.

Points: 0

#6 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:32pm

Thanks, Luigi. It's a tough decision since McCarthy had 4 clock stoppages and almost 3:00 to work with. I do think some coaches would have used their first timeout after Chicago's 1st-down carry with 2:54 left. Then maybe use the rest before the two-minute warning, or possibly save one (use 2:00 warning) as they come in handy when a sack happens.

Here's the key: You're putting everything on a third-down stop (three plays only, not six) either way. Though if Chicago's first two runs take 9 seconds with timeouts (that might be a little fast since some can take 6+ seconds), that would bring clock to 2:45 with one timeout left. If you think you can stop that 3rd-down run and get play clock going before 2:40, then you're alright. If you fail to stop them, like GB did, then they'll have to run 1st-down play with about 2:02 left so you're facing 2nd down at the 2:00 warning. They'll run, you'll use final timeout at about 1:55. They'll run on third down, then kick FG after you stop them. You end up getting ball back with 1:10 at best.

McCarthy got it back with 0:46 left (including 4 seconds for a KR). So I think the argument can be made to use them before the 2:00 warning, but in this case, since Chicago's first play came at 2:54, it's very tight and risky. If their first play was at 3:00, then I'd say yes, call timeout right away. But there's a good chance those runs could take too long so you don't get that snap with 2:02 or 2:01 on first down.

But in the end, stop the damn team on third-and-5.

Something that puzzled me on McCarthy is why no challenge on that one third-down pass to Quarless (2nd QT maybe)? Looked like decent evidence of a catch and it was important enough.

Points: 0

#7 by Luigi (not verified) // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:38pm

Thank you for your answer. I think that 0:46 left is a good as nothing if your QB is Seneca Wallace and you need a TD. Maybe we forgot to factor that.
And while I think your analysis is perfect I have the very strong feeling MM would not have called a timeout with 3:10 in the clock either.

The non-challenge play is really puzzling, I think he got wrong advise from above but it looks like one of those plays that won't be overturned. It's not clear if he controls the ball before the knee is out. Anyway it was worth a challenge just in case.

Points: 0

#9 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 05, 2013 - 4:12pm

Wouldn't the defense have been slightly more rested if he used his timeouts earlier and had a better chance at getting the stop?

Points: 0

#10 by Led // Nov 05, 2013 - 8:58pm

The Jets had a clock management/game management assistant back in the Herm Edwards days -- an old timer named Dick Curl. The beat writers christened him "Father Time." Unfortunately, he did not seem to help much, although that could be as much about Herm (a good man and great motivator, but not a strategist) as it was about old Father Time.

Points: 0

#8 by BlueStarDude // Nov 05, 2013 - 3:58pm

Was Romo's interception really that bad? I thought he had Williams one-on-one on a deep out route? Romo is expecting Williams to win that matchup. He doesn't have time to wait and see if Williams does win. Ball's got to be out. Williams also has to make a greater effort to break up the interception.

Points: 0

#11 by buzzorhowl (not verified) // Nov 07, 2013 - 12:34am

I've only read half a paragraph of this column. I just wanted to say thank you for making that awesome Grade reference. You guys having such great music taste is just another of the many reasons I love this website.

Points: 0

#12 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 07, 2013 - 11:08am

Thank you. I've made a few references in the past to bands like that in my articles, but you're probably the first person to acknowledge it.

Points: 0

#13 by formido // Nov 08, 2013 - 12:14pm

As the NFL has said the PI on ET was incorrect, Tampa Bay's first TD was helped a lot more by penalties than Seattle's first TD, in which the penalties were totally legit.

Points: 0

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