Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Clutch Encounters: Week 1

by Scott Kacsmar

We are one week into the 2014 NFL season and already four teams have won after trailing by double-digits. There were just as many close calls and 11 of the 16 games featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. If Sunday's action in particular proved anything, it's that leads just don't feel as safe as they used to in this league. Denver and Pittsburgh, two teams we projected as division winners, nearly blew three-touchdown leads at home in the second half.

Game of the Week

New Orleans Saints 34 at Atlanta Falcons 37 (OT)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (34-31)
Win Probability (4QC starting with 1:20 left): 0.13
Win Probability (GWD in overtime): 0.77
Head Coach: Mike Smith (19-24 at 4QC and 26-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (18-23 at 4QC and 25-23 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When the Saints and Falcons play, you can throw out the records. The only expectations should be for a good game. Ten of the last 13 meetings have been decided by eight points or less. New Orleans usually gets the better end of it, but Matt Ryan very well may have had the best game of his career on Sunday.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees brought their high-powered offense too, and the Saints even led 20-7 at one point, but a 17-0 run put Atlanta ahead to start the fourth quarter. Mark Ingram finished an 80-yard touchdown drive for the Saints, but Ryan later led the Falcons 94 yards with Jacquizz Rodgers making a special 17-yard scoring run with 2:50 left. Brees needed a touchdown, and little time was needed for Ingram to score again to make it 34-31.

Ryan had 80 seconds to get at least a field goal, which should have been a piece of cake given that he had 20 seconds in this situation in the second quarter and succeeded. I've been critical of how defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has called the game in these situations, allowing some big touchdown drives to the Patriots and Panthers in the last few years. He started with a four-man rush, with which Matt Ryan had little trouble, gaining 25 yards on two passes. After an injury timeout, Rex's brother rolled the dice and rushed seven, which is quite the aggressive move on first down. Matt Ryan played excellent under pressure throughout the game, despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line. But against a huge blitz, he could only force a quick incompletion.

Against another four-man rush, Ryan was able to find Devin Hester down the middle for 21 yards. Rodgers then only gained a yard, forcing the Falcons to use their last timeout. Ryan bailed on a play quickly to throw the ball out of bounds, failing to get the Falcons any closer than a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Fortunately, Matt Bryant is a very good kicker and he made the kick to force overtime.

The Saints won the toss and obviously elected to receive (see Bills-Bears for why that's not always favorable). Just two plays into overtime, disaster struck when Marques Colston fumbled a pass and the Falcons took over at the New Orleans 38. Colston was understandably devastated by the play. Safety William Moore freed the ball loose.

Even though Ryan had thrown for a career-high and franchise-record 448 yards, the Falcons were very conservative. Steven Jackson gained four yards on two runs and Ryan couldn't connect on third down. Bryant came in again for the 52-yard field-goal attempt, and he was good again for the unexpected win.

Ryan has tied Ben Roethlisberger for the most game-winning drives (25) in a player's first seven seasons. He didn't make his last couple of throws, but the game never reaches that point without his consistent effort throughout the day.

Bryant added to his history with his 21st game-winning field goal. In his career, Bryant is 32-of-36 (88.9 percent) on clutch field goals, defined as any field goal in the fourth quarter or overtime with the game tied or trailing by three points or less.

This is familiar territory for Brees and the Saints. It's the 13th time in Brees' career he led his team from behind in the fourth quarter to take a lead, only to eventually lose the game. That's the definition of a "lost comeback" and no quarterback in NFL history has more lost comebacks than Brees.

There have been 423 lost comebacks since 1991. Sometimes a team has to take the lead twice, but asking for three go-ahead drives is a bit much. I'm personally not in favor of adjusting records for lost comebacks, but if done, here's where active quarterbacks would stand.

Quarterbacks: Fourth-Quarter Comeback Records Adjusted for Lost Comebacks (LC)
QB 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. Rk LC Adj. Wins Adj. Losses Pct. Rk Diff. Rk
Brandon Weeden 1 10 0.091 30 3 4 7 0.364 24 0.273 1
Aaron Rodgers 6 25 0.194 27 8 14 17 0.452 14 0.258 2
Russell Wilson 8 8 0.500 3 4 12 4 0.750 1 0.250 3
Drew Brees 23 42 0.354 12 13 36 29 0.554 6 0.200 4
Cam Newton 6 17 0.261 23 4 10 13 0.435 16 0.174 5
Joe Flacco 12 23 0.343 14 6 18 17 0.514 8 0.171 6
Matthew Stafford 10 22 0.313 17 5 15 17 0.469 12 0.156 7
Eli Manning 25 31 0.446 6 7 32 24 0.571 4 0.125 8
Matt Cassel 8 17 0.320 16 3 11 14 0.440 15 0.120 9
Matt Schaub 11 26 0.297 21 4 15 22 0.405 19 0.108 10
Ben Roethlisberger 23 34 0.404 9 6 29 28 0.509 10 0.105 11
Michael Vick 12.5 25.5 0.329 15 4 16.5 21.5 0.434 17 0.105 12
Andy Dalton 6 14 0.300 19 2 8 12 0.400 20 0.100 13
Carson Palmer 17 43 0.283 22 6 23 37 0.383 21 0.100 14
Christian Ponder 1.5 8.5 0.150 29 1 2.5 7.5 0.250 29 0.100 15
Peyton Manning 40 47 0.460 5 7 47 40 0.540 7 0.080 16
Tony Romo 20 30 0.400 10 4 24 26 0.480 11 0.080 17
Matt Ryan 18 23 0.439 7 3 21 20 0.512 9 0.073 18
Tom Brady 31 28 0.525 2 4 35 24 0.593 3 0.068 19
Andrew Luck 8 7 0.533 1 1 9 6 0.600 2 0.067 20
Ryan Tannehill 5 11 0.313 18 1 6 10 0.375 23 0.063 21
Robert Griffin III 4 12 0.250 24 1 5 11 0.313 26 0.063 22
Colin Kaepernick 4.5 4.5 0.500 4 1 5 4 0.556 5 0.056 23
Jason Campbell 7 29 0.194 25 2 9 27 0.250 27 0.056 24
Ryan Fitzpatrick 7 29 0.194 26 2 9 27 0.250 28 0.056 25
Philip Rivers 17 40 0.298 20 3 20 37 0.351 25 0.053 26
Chad Henne 4 18 0.182 28 1 5 17 0.227 30 0.045 27
Alex Smith 11 18 0.379 11 1 12 17 0.414 18 0.034 28
Sam Bradford 5.5 10.5 0.344 13 1 6 10 0.375 22 0.031 29
Jay Cutler 16 21 0.432 8 1 17 20 0.459 13 0.027 30

Backup Brandon Weeden aside, it's no surprise to see Aaron Rodgers getting the biggest boost in record among starters, but he still ranks 14th out of 30 in adjusted win percentage. Brees is right there with an increase of 20 percentage points and would have the sixth-best record in the league. Sunday was just Brees' latest exercise in watching victory slip away.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Cleveland Browns 27 at Pittsburgh Steelers 30

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.66
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (15-33 at 4QC and 25-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (23-34 at 4QC and 34-39 overall 4QC/GWD record)

After spending another offseason championing the no-huddle offense, the Steelers repeatedly huddled in the first half against Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger shouldn't complain after throwing for the most yards (278) he's ever had in a first half. The Steelers led 27-3 behind some dazzling playmaking, but it was the Cleveland no-huddle that turned the game around in stunning fashion.

Brian Hoyer completed his first pass of the game (47 yards to Jordan Cameron), but threw for just 10 more yards in the half. The Browns added a little tempo and play-action passing after halftime, and the Steelers suddenly had no answers on defense. A broken play to end the third quarter was perhaps the only thing stopping the Browns from three straight touchdown drives. The Browns started sacking Roethlisberger and after getting the ball back, and Hoyer tied the game with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin.

Only seven home teams have ever lost after leading by at least 24 points, but the Steelers haven't even blown a lead of more than 10 points at home since 1987. Not even a brilliant fake punt from their own 20 could get the Steelers back on track, but that drive flipped the field position. Cleveland punted twice, giving Roethlisberger the ball at his own 43 with 47 seconds and one timeout left. After wasting precious time for just a 2-yard gain, Roethlisberger went back to Markus Wheaton, who had a strong performance in his debut as a No. 2 receiver. With 20 seconds left, every defense knows the offense will look to go to the sidelines, but the optimal strategy is to attack the middle of the field, hurry up to spike the ball and kick the field goal. Pittsburgh executed this perfectly with a 20-yard strike to Wheaton and a spike with five seconds left. Shaun Suisham made the 41-yard field goal to give the Steelers a huge sigh of relief after getting a far closer finish than ever imagined.

This was the 33rd game-winning drive of Roethlisberger's career, putting him in a tie for 10th all-time with Joe Montana and Vinny Testaverde. It's the first time he's led a one-minute drill. So while he got to finish the game in his no-huddle glory, it's the Pittsburgh defense that needs the most work in that department.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 at Baltimore Ravens 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (16-15)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.44
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (23-56 at 4QC and 34-56-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (6-14 at 4QC and 11-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

What does rock bottom look like? At the end of the first half, Joe Flacco seemed to hit that point. With eight seconds left, he cost his team a short field goal by using all that time to eventually take an embarrassing sack. Rookies know better in that situation, and for a veteran in Flacco's position, there's no excuse. However, like he's done before, Flacco can shake off a lousy start and finish on a high note. Of course it helps when the Bengals aren't finishing plays after moving into scoring territory.

Once down 15-0, Baltimore moved to within five in the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-14, Flacco scrambled and ripped off a bomb with Steve Smith waiting downfield to explode. Looking like vintage 2005 Smith, he threw Adam Jones out of the way for an 80-yard touchdown. Justin Forsett couldn't score on the two-point conversion run, but Baltimore led 16-15.

Not to be outdone, the Bengals only needed two plays to answer. Chykie Brown, starting for the injured Lardarius Webb, could not keep up with A.J. Green down the sideline. Green bobbled the ball a bit, but this was cleaner than the Hail Mary he caught in Baltimore last year. Darian Stewart couldn't cut him off and Green had a 77-yard touchdown. Dalton hit an important two-point pass to Mohamed Sanu and the Bengals led 23-16 with 4:58 left.

Time was not an issue and the Ravens utilized a lot of short throws to move into scoring range again. After reaching the Cincinnati 22, things began to falter. A screen to Forsett was sniffed out for a loss of 4 yards. Dennis Pitta made his tenth catch of the day, but on third-and-4, Flacco couldn't find a receiver in Baltimore's empty set and Wallace Gilberry took him down for a huge sack. Converting fourth-and-9 is doable, but Cincinnati's four-man rush got the job done again by sacking Flacco. If Reggie Nelson's pass rush wasn't enough, Gilberry got another piece of the quarterback.

Since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco has thrown at least 50 passes in five of his last 17 starts. Straight from the file of sports' most bizarre coincidences, he's attempted a career-high 62 passes in each of the last two season openers (both losses). What was better about last year's opener in Denver? It was the last time that Flacco led Baltimore to 27 offensive points.

Buffalo Bills 23 at Chicago Bears 20 (OT)

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD): 0.54
Head Coach: Doug Marrone (2-5 at 4QC and 4-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: EJ Manuel (1-2 at 4QC and 3-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Chicago nearly doubled up Buffalo in first downs (29-15), but early turnovers led to a 17-7 deficit. By the fourth quarter the game was tied and Jay Cutler began engineering a long drive into Buffalo territory, reaching the Bills' 34 with a third-and-1 situation. I'm the biggest advocate for the quarterback sneak when you really need a short-yardage conversion, but teams sometimes get a little cutesy with the play call. Cutler faked a toss, but combined cute with stupid when he threw late and across the middle of the field where Kyle Williams, a defensive lineman, was waiting for the interception. That set up the Bills for a 33-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter with 4:02 left.

Cutler had a chance to redeem himself, and historically, he has done well in these situations. Utilizing short passes to Matt Forte, Cutler moved the Bears to the Buffalo 19, but that's where the short-yardage strategy again was questionable. The Bears had one timeout with 45 seconds left. On second-and-1, Cutler went for the end zone but could not connect with Brandon Marshall. Cutler's third-down pass was also long and incomplete, setting up Robbie Gould's 37-yard field goal to force overtime. Given the time and timeout, I would have liked to see a draw to Forte to pick up the first down, then the Bears would have had more shots at the winning touchdown.

In overtime, Chicago won the coin toss and received. After one first down, Cutler nearly threw a third interception with Leodis McKelvin getting a good break on the ball. Buffalo's duo of running backs did little early, but saved big plays for overtime. C.J. Spiller started the drive with a 13-yard run, EJ Manuel found Mike Williams for 20 yards, then Fred Jackson made the win almost a certainty with a 38-yard scamper to the 1-yard line. Buffalo centered the ball and Carpenter's 27-yard field goal ended the game.

If you followed along last season, you may know I implore coaches to consider kicking off first in this modified overtime. Maybe that's the wrong strategy with Drew Brees in Atlanta, but in this game it definitely should have been considered. Bill Belichick putting the ball in the hands of Peyton Manning instead of Tom Brady wasn't the trendsetting move I had hoped for, because most will chalk it up to the wind that night.

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The fact remains many drives will start at the 20 or worse after a kickoff. The average line of scrimmage to start overtime has been the 22.0. An 80-yard touchdown drive, assuming conventional three-down football, is difficult for any offense. Only six of 41 teams (14.6 percent) have been able to end overtime with an immediate touchdown drive. Chances are you'll get the ball back, and with likely better field position, only needing a field goal. The average field position for the kicking team's first drive is 33.1.

Through 41 overtime games, the team receiving first is 20-19-2 (.512). After Sunday's two overtime games, we've now seen 14 games end by the kicking team getting a field goal on the second drive of overtime -- by far the most common outcome. That doesn't include four missed field goals that could have brought the total to 18. The 14 is one more than the number of times the receiving team has won with a first-drive touchdown (six) or a second-possession field goal (seven) combined.

We'll update these numbers every time there are multiple overtime games in a week.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at Philadelphia Eagles 34

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.57
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (2-3 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Nick Foles (3-6 at 4QC and 3-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

By the end of this 34-17 victory by Philadelphia, the Eagles looked like the Chip Kelly team we expected and the Jaguars looked like, well, the Jaguars. That doesn't mean this wasn't an eye-opening display for more than half of the game. Nick Foles was sacked five times and had three turnovers in the first half alone as Jacksonville built a 17-0 lead. Consider the fact that the Jaguars have led by more than 14 points in just one game since 2011. Darren Sproles ended up sparking the comeback with a 49-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1.

Philadelphia trailed 17-14 to start the fourth quarter, but tied the game on Cody Parkey's 51-yard field goal. With the defense stiffening, Foles got the ball back and used play action to find Jeremy Maclin disgustingly wide open for a 68-yard touchdown with 6:59 left. Safety Chris Prosinski, filling in for injured starter Johnathan Cyprien, blew the coverage.

Now trailing 24-17 and out of timeouts, Jacksonville tried an unconventional fourth-and-1 at its own 29 with 6:01 left. We know these are converted at a high rate, but failure to do so would all but guarantee a two-score deficit in the final minutes. Jacksonville essentially put the game on the line and Chad Henne was too inaccurate on what should have been an easy completion. The Eagles added a field goal and Henne lost the ball on a sack, returned for a touchdown by Fletcher Cox to make the score more favorable.

This would have been a huge Week 1 upset, but the Jaguars failed to move the ball in the second half. Henne started well, but only five of his 23 second-half dropbacks before the fumble touchdown (21.7 percent) were statistically successful plays.

The Eagles are the first team to trail by at least 17 points in the second half and win by at least 17 points since the 2010 Bills turned a 31-14 hole into a 49-31 win over Cincinnati. The Bengals also blew a 31-13 lead against Pittsburgh in 1995 for a 49-31 loss. The Eagles appear to be only the third team ever to flip a 17-point margin around after the half.

That's the kind of scoring run Kelly was known for at Oregon, but few would have imagined it would have been necessary to beat Jacksonville at home in Week 1.

San Diego Chargers 17 at Arizona Cardinals 18

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 11 (17-6)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD): 0.17
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (8-4 at 4QC and 11-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (17-43 at 4QC and 25-43 overall 4QC/GWD record)

For the second year in a row the Chargers made us burn the midnight oil to recap their latest fourth-quarter letdown in the Monday night double-header. This wasn't nearly as bad as last year's Houston loss, but San Diego let a winnable game slip away. Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers are basically statues in the pocket, but Palmer was very nimble on the night with 29 rushing yards and evaded multiple pressures. He learned the hard way last year that you have to play that way to survive in a Bruce Arians offense. Rivers wasn't bad either, but as the game progressed Palmer made more positive plays to bring Arizona back from a 17-6 deficit to start the fourth quarter.

Rivers fumbled a third-down snap that knocked San Diego out of field-goal range. Palmer, now down 17-12, scrambled for 12 yards to convert a critical third-and-10. Arizona's top receivers made big catches, but John Brown got the call on a screen for the go-ahead 13-yard touchdown. Palmer's two-point conversion pass to Larry Fitzgerald failed, which could have been very costly.

San Diego only trailed 18-17 and had 2:25 with two timeouts to get a game-winning field goal. That's an eternity in today's game. Rivers started with two quick completions for 20 yards, but things went sour after the two-minute warning. Arizona brought pressure and Rivers did not handle it well. He should have had an easy throw to convert third-and-2, but misfired. On fourth-and-ballgame, he incredibly took too long at the line to bark out commands and the Chargers had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. When the play finally happened, veteran linebacker Larry Foote tipped the quick pass and Keenan Allen was unable to adjust to the new trajectory of the ball. It was a makeable play, but Allen couldn't pull it in. Three runs produced a game-clinching first down for the Cardinals.

Arizona actually showing some aggression on defense in a one-point game was a satisfying end to the week. I'm not sure that's what Arians has applied late in games in the past, but his 11-4 record at game-winning drive opportunities continues to make his teams relevant even when expectations aren't high.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Colts at Broncos: The Visions of Elway

In what could have been the final game matching Andrew Luck against Peyton Manning, no one should have viewed the outcome with better focus than John Elway. On one hand, he watched his team take a solid first step in pursuit of getting back to the Super Bowl with Manning's closing window. He wants that perfect ending for Manning like he experienced himself on a stacked Denver team. On the other side, Elway might see even more of himself in Luck, a highly-touted prospect from Stanford with the weight of the team on his shoulders. Luck fueled another improbable comeback, but this one came up short.

Just last week I dispelled a myth about Luck getting credit for putting out fires he started in regards to his seven comeback wins from multiple-score deficits. When you look at what Luck did in those games prior to the Colts first falling behind by double-digits, there's not much that screams bad quarterback play. His conventional stats are solid and while the success rate could be higher, one turnover on 17 drives isn't the end of the world. The fact that he later had success to lead the Colts back to a win suddenly doesn't feel so improbable. Looking at the 12 times he's fallen behind big and lost, a different picture is painted.

On Sunday, Luck had the early pick on a high pass, but he was quickly down 10-0 to Denver. Manning only needed four drives to jump out to a 24-0 lead, but Luck closed the half with a touchdown run. Could we use stats in this manner to predict the chances of a comeback for teams with the better quarterbacks in the league? If your team is behind big and the quarterback is playing lousy, then there's little reason to believe things will turn around. But if you're down multiple scores and the quarterback has hardly had any negative impact, then maybe that's a hopeful sign.

Denver's offense helped the rally with conservative play and too many dropped passes. The Broncos still led 31-10 with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter, but like in the AFC playoffs last year against the Chargers and Patriots, not even a late three-score lead is comfortable with this defense. Luck went on to lead two touchdown drives and Manning couldn't hit a pass in the four-minute offense. Just like that, Luck had 2:58 and 64 yards to go with a 31-24 score.

The game came down to a fourth-and-6 at Denver's 39. Luck threw to Reggie Wayne, but rookie cornerback Bradley Roby had perfect timing to deflect the pass away and help Denver escape with the win.

The Colts entered the night 16-2 in games decided by one score since 2012. Luck dropped back on 61 of Indianapolis' 70 plays, but needed to make a few more to force overtime. Elway can certainly respect that effort, but he also knows the Broncos will have to play better to reach this year's goal without burdening Manning the way Luck was burdened on Sunday.

Patriots at Dolphins: See You Feign Surprise

The Patriots entered this season with high Super Bowl expectations again, but Miami's win is no surprise. The last time we saw the Dolphins look impressive was Week 15's victory over the Patriots last December. However, the way this game played out was shocking in just how much Miami won in the trenches. Miami's revamped offensive line (even without Mike Pouncey) paved the way for 193 rushing yards and Tom Brady was sacked four times with two lost fumbles. Maybe it was the heat and new personnel, but Miami was the more physical team. Even Mike Wallace took on the challenge of Darrelle Revis and caught a game-tying touchdown in traffic.

New England led 20-10 at halftime, but the second-half turnaround was remarkable. Miami took a 23-20 lead into the fourth quarter, but still managed to stifle Brady drive after drive. Even when starting at the Miami 45, the Patriots gained one yard and had to punt. Usually, that's at least a game-tying field goal from New England, but the day belonged to Miami. A 12-play, 85-yard touchdown drive fittingly capped off by Knowshon Moreno's tough run put Miami ahead 30-20 with 3:29 left. Cameron Wake sacked Brady on fourth down to cause another fumble and the game was essentially over.

Miami held the Patriots scoreless on seven possessions in the second half. Brady's 4.45 yards per pass (on 56 attempts) was the lowest of his career in any game with at least 45 attempts. His -0.44 Win Probability Added was the second-lowest game of his career, according to Advanced Football Analytics. It's like the Dolphins were extra motivated to see if Brady would live up to his words about retiring when he sucks.

It's just one game, and we have seen the Dolphins surprise Bill Belichick before early in a season. The Logan Mankins trade may have had nothing to do with this, but the retirement of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia could be a cause that's often cited this year. Miami should be ecstatic to walk away from a big game and not be the team in need of answers on the offensive line.

Raiders at Jets: Only Close on the Scoreboard

New York took the lead for good just before halftime, but struggled to separate from the Raiders in rookie Derek Carr's first start. The pesky minus-two turnover differential and 11 penalties for 105 yards were the main culprits. Down 13-7, Carr had his first fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. CBS' Jim Nantz said "let's check out this kid's moxie." Well, he threw three very short, quick passes to the right side of the field with two tips and the third-down throw gaining a yard to James Jones.

Are you not entertained? Carr mixed it up a little more on his next drive, but that too ended in a three-and-out. Chris Ivory only needed one play to break a 71-yard touchdown run and the Jets led 19-7 after a failed two-point conversion pass from Geno Smith. With 2:39 left, the Jets had outgained Oakland 404-85 in yardage. Carr eventually found Jones for a 30-yard touchdown with 1:21 left to make it 19-14, but this wasn't going to be another Heidi game. The Jets recovered the onside kick to end the game.

Redskins at Texans: Do Your Passes Come with Points?

To the naked eye, Robert Griffin's passing stat line looks solid: 29-of-37 for 267 yards. Incredibly, not a single one of his dropbacks produced any points in Houston as the only Washington scoring drive was four running plays. Fueled by 12 failed completions, Griffin couldn't hit big plays down the field. The one time he did, Niles Paul fumbled in the red zone on a 48-yard play. Houston was looking to turn that into a long touchdown drive, but Arian Foster also fumbled in the red zone in a defensive matchup with few big plays unless you count the Washington special teams being "special" again.

Leading 14-6 in the fourth quarter, Houston turned to J.J. Watt to shut down the comeback attempt. Ever his usually disruptive self, Watt helped force three plays for a loss (including a sack), culminating in a punt after Griffin's overthrown deep ball on third-and-17. Houston's offense all but clinched the win after putting together a 13-play drive (duration of 6:32) for a field goal with 1:55 left to take a 17-6 lead. Fittingly, the last "relevant" play from scrimmage was Griffin avoiding a sack to complete a 6-yard pass on fourth-and-10.

Maybe it's a whole different game without the fumbles, but the offense won't be productive if Pierre Garcon (7.7) and DeSean Jackson (7.8) are both averaging under 8.0 yards per reception.

Panthers at Buccaneers: Could Have Been Played in 2007 for All We Know

Remember some of the hallmarks of Lovie Smith's Chicago teams? The defense was strong and talented, but good luck trusting that offense with a shaky offensive line and even shakier quarterback. Nothing really changed in Smith's year away from the game. His Buccaneers could pass for some of his Bears teams, but Josh McCown was unlikely to look like he did with Marc Trestman in Chicago last year. He looked more like the McCown we've come to expect taking over for bad offensive teams like the 2007 Raiders. Behind a revamped offensive line with little chemistry, McCown made some incredibly poor decisions under pressure against one of the league's top front sevens. One year ago McCown was the only quarterback with a positive DVOA under pressure since 2010, but some regression was obviously expected. Sunday was too much.

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McCown's second interception looked to have doomed Tampa Bay, trailing 17-0 early in the fourth quarter after Derek Anderson cashed in with a strike to rookie Kelvin Benjamin. That was the other 2007 throwback in this game: Anderson actually looked good starting in place of Cam Newton, who started the first 49 games of his career before this rib injury kept him out. Anderson on the road against a talented defense sounded like a disaster, but he responded very well.

On a day with many unexpected comeback attempts, McCown led two touchdown drives to cut the game to 17-14. Carolina made a big mistake by not returning the ensuing kickoff with 2:06 left to burn up the two-minute warning, essentially buying the Buccaneers a fourth timeout. Anderson tried to pass on third-and-9, but nearly threw the game away had Dashon Goldson not dropped a huge interception. It wasn't the easiest catch for a safety, but this had pick-six potential and at the very least would have instantly put Tampa Bay in field-goal range.

McCown had 1:36 to work with in his own end, but the drive lasted one play. Bobby Rainey caught a short pass only for Luke Kuechly to force the ball out. Carolina recovered the fumble and ran the ball three times to drain the clock. With fourth-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 15 with 28 seconds left, a team can kick a field goal, but it would also be easy to justify going for it. The six-point lead isn't so favorable as we have seen before, but the general lack of time for Tampa Bay was a big advantage to Carolina. Down 20-14 after the successful kick, McCown could only complete a 9-yard pass to end the game with a whimper.

With even someone like Tony Dungy picking the Panthers to regress this year, this was a sound road win without their most important player.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 4
Game-winning drives: 6
Games with 4QC opportunity: 11/16 (68.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 4

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced Football Analytics. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.


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