Clutch Encounters: Week 2

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

by Scott Kacsmar

Only three of the first nine games of Week 2 were within one score in the fourth quarter, and one of those (Lions-Panthers) actually ended with a 24-7 final. Luckily for this column, the Gambler's Fallacy came to life in the late games. Six of the final seven games of the week featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity.

Game of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles 30 at Indianapolis Colts 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (27-20)
Win Probability (4QC starting with 5:08 left): 0.13
Win Probability (GWD): 0.70
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (3-3 at 4QC and 3-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Nick Foles (4-6 at 4QC and 4-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Behind an unusually productive rushing attack and some solid red-zone defense, the Colts were in control of this game for 55 minutes. Then the season's first real controversial ending happened. Before that, it was an entertaining game even if both quarterbacks were missing too many throws. Andrew Luck only had 58 yards passing on 17 throws at halftime, but got his legs involved in the third quarter to put the Colts ahead, 20-6.

The Eagles quickly made their comeback on three huge plays: a 21-yard pass from Nick Foles to Zach Ertz on third-and-11, a Trent Richardson fumble at his own 26, and a 21-yard run on third-and-15 by LeSean McCoy. Just like that, the game was tied at 20 to set up a thrilling fourth quarter. The Colts strayed away from the run and Luck went to work on his best drive of the night, finishing with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Bradshaw with 11:49 left in the game.

After the Eagles went three-and-out, Luck's 16-yard completion on third down to T.Y. Hilton seemed to make it a sure thing that the Colts would have a two-score lead in the final five minutes. After two unsuccessful Bradshaw runs, Luck dropped back to throw on third-and-9 with a 39-yard field goal in his back pocket, but that's when disaster struck. Malcolm Jenkins intercepted the pass and Reggie Wayne prevented a pick-six with the tackle. On replay, it looked pretty clear that Brandon Boykin had his way with Hilton, who fell down on the pick. There was no flag despite an offseason built on making this type of play a point of emphasis.

Two plays later, a good tackle on McCoy by LaRon Landry would have brought up third-and-6, but the referees erroneously penalized the play as a horse collar tackle even though Landry never had contact inside the pads.

Blow two calls that close together and everyone will take notice. While the Colts had a right to be mad, they have a job to stop the Eagles too, and Darren Sproles was back to his Colt-killing ways, just like his days in San Diego. Sproles went 51 yards in a blink of the eye on a screen. He finished with a career-high 152 receiving yards. On the next play, Foles found Jeremy Maclin for a game-tying touchdown pass.

The Colts had 3:25 left at their own 20, only needing to drive for a field goal with the reliable Adam Vinatieri waiting. However, most teams would be better off trailing in this situation by a point or two, because conservatism is hard to shake. Case in point, the Colts started the drive with two runs by Richardson instead of putting the ball in the hands of its best player. They didn't even give the ball to their best back. Richardson actually averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the night, which is a miracle these days, but that's not how the Colts have thrived in these situations. Luck threw incomplete on third-and-5 and it was a quick three-and-out drive.

Foles needed one play to find Ertz for 24 yards, and the Eagles were on the fringes of field-goal range. Sproles gaining 17 more yards on another screen made it a definite. Philadelphia ran down the clock for Cody Parkey, a kicker the Colts traded to the Eagles this offseason, to attempt the 36-yard game-winner. He made it, the field was a mass of chaos, but the Colts snuck in their final timeout to ice him. After clearing the field, Parkey came back and calmly drilled the kick again for the 30-27 win.

The 2014 Colts have already lost as many one-score games (two) as the 2012-13 Colts combined.

After one fourth-quarter comeback last season, the Eagles have pulled off two in a row to start 2014. However, as we observed at this point last year with Chicago and Houston, this has rarely led to a successful season.

4QC/GWD in First Two Games (Since 1960)
Quarterback Year Team Record Result
Charley Johnson 1966 STLC 8-5-1 No Playoffs
Kent Nix 1971 CHI 6-8 No Playoffs
Brian Sipe 1979 CLE1 9-7 No Playoffs
Doug Williams 1980 TB 5-10-1 No Playoffs
Lynn Dickey 1982 GB 5-3-1 Lost NFC-DIV
Steve DeBerg 1983 DEN 9-7 Lost AFC-WC
Boomer Esiason 1990 CIN 9-7 Lost AFC-DIV
Brad Johnson 1996 MIN 9-7 Lost NFC-WC
Drew Bledsoe 1999 NE 8-8 No Playoffs
Vinny Testaverde 2000 NYJ 9-7 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2007 DEN 7-9 No Playoffs
Alex Smith 2007 SF 5-11 No Playoffs
Jake Delhomme 2008 CAR 12-4 Lost NFC-DIV
Michael Vick 2012 PHI 4-12 No Playoffs
Jay Cutler 2013 CHI 8-8 No Playoffs
Matt Schaub 2013 HOU 2-14 No Playoffs
Nick Foles 2014 PHI TBD -

Only five of the last 16 teams made the playoffs, but the Eagles have the NFC East working in their favor. The 2014 Eagles are also the first team to ever start 2-0 after trailing by at least 14 points in the second half of both games (both were AFC South opponents). Fortunately for the 0-2 Colts, six games against the AFC South remain on their schedule too, but this game will be a tough one from which to move on.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Chicago Bears 28 at San Francisco 49ers 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 13 (20-7)
Win Probability (4QC with 15:00 left): 0.14
Win Probability (GWD): 0.48
Head Coach: Marc Trestman (5-5 at 4QC and 5-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (17-21 at 4QC and 21-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Just about every close play went against Chicago in the first half, which is why San Francisco's 17-0 lead never felt that imposing. The 49ers frankly didn't look that good, but the Bears were a bit worse early. One huge hit on Jay Cutler before halftime and everything changed with a brilliant Brandon Marshall touchdown.

Of course, the 49ers still used up 9:04 to kick a field goal and take a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, but that's when things really clicked for the Bears. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have been banged up, but they can still go up and get the ball. After gaining 58 yards on his first 21 pass plays, Cutler played to his receiver's strengths and the 49ers helped with an absurd number of penalties (16 accepted on the night for 118 yards). Marshall caught another touchdown and we had a one-score game again. Colin Kaepernick tried to thread the needle to Michael Crabtree, but rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller came away with the pick. Cutler was set up at the 3-yard line and immediately cashed in with a touchdown to Martellus Bennett. That actually became Cutler's 15th game-winning touchdown pass of his career, which is one of the highest totals in NFL history.

Kaepernick, on his way to a four-turnover night, tried to make another throw into a tight window, but Fuller again came down with the interception. Cutler found Marshall for their third touchdown of the night with 6:55 left. Now I still believe teams should consider a two-point conversion in this situation to take a nine-point lead, and this was definitely an appropriate situation. Getting one score was looking difficult for the San Francisco offense, let alone two with limited time. The Bears kicked the extra point and led 28-20.

As a counterpoint, most teams fall into the trap of not preparing for the chance they miss the two-point conversion and will need to manufacture another score. San Francisco seemed to be doing that by not displaying much haste on the ensuing drive. They were huddling, they were running the ball, and they were using a lot of the play clock. A Kaepernick scramble set up a fourth-and-6, but the 49ers ended up burning a timeout with 2:07 left. That was a killer, because the next play was likely to take out the two-minute warning, so success was paramount. Kaepernick moved and found Michael Crabtree for the conversion.

This may sound familiar with the 49ers, but things began to stall after reaching the red zone. Kaepernick lost two yards on a zone-read keeper that fooled no one. A bad throw into the end zone for Stevie Johnson never had a chance and then, shockingly, the 49ers were hit with a delay of game penalty. On third-and-17, the 49ers seemed content with a checkdown to Frank Gore to cut the distance in half, but that still brought up fourth-and-9. With Vernon Davis out after a nasty tackle earlier in the game, you could pretty much guess where this pass was headed. Just like Super Bowl XLVII and last year's NFC Championship, Kaepernick went for Crabtree near the end zone, but the two failed to connect again. NBC's Cris Collinsworth, who should know something about wide receivers, made a good point how Crabtree took a step back instead of another step towards the ball and that made the catch extra difficult.

Including the playoffs, Kaepernick has completed 10-of-27 passes to Crabtree in the red zone with five touchdowns. Beyond the fact that a few of those misses have been so memorable, those are still poor rates that must get better. A big part of Chicago's turnaround was receiver dominance in the red zone.

New Orleans Saints 24 at Cleveland Browns 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (24-23)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 2:46 left): 0.37
Head Coach: Mike Pettine (1-1 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer (2-2 at 4QC and 2-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

After last season, New Orleans should know better than any team about the importance of the four-minute offense and two-minute defense. Both failed miserably in critical losses to New England and Carolina last season. No one would have expected the Cleveland Browns to do the same to the Saints, making them one of the most surprising 0-2 teams in years.

This wasn't a fluke win. Cleveland controlled much of the game with good pressure on Drew Brees, who also threw a pick-six to fall behind 16-3. Two touchdowns to Jimmy Graham didn't calm things down, with the Browns extending the lead to 23-17 to start the fourth quarter. Then Graham put the Saints in the red zone with a 20-yard catch over Joe Haden, and Mark Ingram finished the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Much like last week, the Saints were back on top in the fourth quarter, but 24-23 is hardly a safe lead.

Cleveland couldn't answer and the Saints had 8:59 to burn. That's far too long to run out the clock, but an offense of this caliber should at least be expected to add to the lead while using a good chunk of time. Brees moved the ball past midfield before the Saints switched to the run. On third-and-5 at the Cleveland 31, Karlos Dansby came in unblocked and sacked Brees, knocking the Saints out of field-goal range. That's a terrible protection error in a crucial situation. A first down there could have done massive damage to Cleveland's win probability.

Brian Hoyer got the ball at his own 4, but with 2:46 and three timeouts left, that's really an eternity to set up a game-winning field goal. Miles Austin made a couple of big third-down catches to get things moving. Junior Galette beat Joe Thomas for a sack, but Hoyer was able to convert on fourth-and-6 to Gary Barnidge for 10 yards. That was really Rob Ryan's best chance to bring pressure and win the game, but he rushed four and Barnidge made a tough catch over the middle. Austin caught a pass for 13 more yards on the sideline and the clock was becoming an issue with 13 seconds left.

[ad placeholder 3]

With one timeout, the Browns really just needed five yards for a reasonable field goal. They ended up getting 28 after two Saints inexplicably covered the same receiver near the 40-yard line and left Andrew Hawkins wide open down the field. I'm not one to pretend to know who exactly was at fault (coach or player), but I know the Saints didn't have a deep safety on the play. The defense was FUBAR here. Billy Cundiff kicked the 29-yard field goal to drop the Saints to 0-2.

After extending his troubling record last week, Brees now has 14 lost comebacks, but this isn't one from which to deflect blame. The offense needs to help the defense more to avoid these last-minute situations. Neither unit is getting the job done right now.

Arizona Cardinals 25 at New York Giants 14

Type: 4QC (non-offensive game-winning score)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (14-10)
Win Probability (4QC with 15:00 left): 0.35
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (9-4 at 4QC and 12-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Future regression could be rough on Bruce Arians, but for now his team is still producing results in a variety of ways in the fourth quarter. Drew Stanton received the surprise start for an ailing Carson Palmer, but Arizona still scored the first 10 points before Eli Manning came to life with a pair of touchdown drives for a 14-10 lead. Stanton was only able to lead the offense to a fourth-quarter field goal after three incomplete passes in the red zone.

Victor Cruz failed to bring in Manning's pass on third down, forcing a fateful punt. Ted Ginn Jr. dodged tackles and returned the punt 71 yards for a dazzling touchdown with 10:10 left. Like last week, the Cardinals failed to get the important two-point conversion after Jonathan Dwyer was stopped on the ground, but Arizona led 19-14. Special teams succeeded again with a forced fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which Arizona turned into three more points for a safer 22-14 lead.

For the fourth-quarter semantics, this game does not go down as a 4QC for Stanton and the offense, because the deficit was still fully erased by a non-offensive score. This is something I struggle with every year and may change in the future, but I just don't think a field goal in a 14-10 game and ultimately winning on a punt return is worth crediting to the offense. Had it been a 14-3 game and the offense's touchdown made it 14-10 and Ginn still had the winning score, then I'd probably want to give offensive credit, but that wasn't the case here. For some reason this happens most with Arizona. It's the eighth game won with a non-offensive score by Arizona since 2007.

Manning still had time to answer and had great success with his new tight end Larry Donnell, who most of us never heard of prior to Week 1. He's been about the only bright spot among the skill players. Rashad Jennings caught a pass in the red zone, but he slipped and fumbled without being contacted. Unlike the 2011 meeting between these teams when Cruz was controversially ruled to have given himself up before a fumble, Jennings had no such luck.

The Giants got the ball back at their own 15, but the subpar ball security continued. On third-and-6, Arizona remained aggressive with a six-man rush, but Manning got off a good pass to Rueben Randle, who could not bring it in down the sideline against Antonio Cromartie's tight coverage. The Giants had one timeout left at their own 19 with 2:41 to go. That's a tough situation, because if it was more like 2:55 left, then certainly they could punt, make Arizona run two plays to get to the two-minute warning, then use their last timeout after a third-down stop to give Manning enough time for another drive. But at 2:41, that's going to cost the Giants at least 40 seconds assuming Arizona isn't going to throw another pass. The game was basically put all on this fourth-and-6 attempt, since a failure to convert would put Arizona in easy field-goal range to make it 25-14.

On fourth down, Arizona's blitz forced Manning off his spot and he hurried a throw well behind Donnell. Arizona added the field goal and Manning finished with a desperation interception. The Cardinals start 2-0 with a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks to further pad Arians' lead among all active head coaches for the best record in crunch time.

Best Active Records at 4QC/GWD Opportunities
Rk Head Coach Record Pct.
1 Bruce Arians 12-4 0.750
2 Jim Harbaugh 12-11-1 0.521
3 Mike Smith 26-24 0.520
4 Rex Ryan 18-21 0.462
5 Jason Garrett 16-19 0.457
6 John Fox 40-49 0.449
7 Bill Belichick 56-70 0.444
8 Sean Payton 23-30 0.434
9 John Harbaugh 19-26 0.422
10 Mike Tomlin 25-37 0.403

St. Louis Rams 19 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 5:08 left): 0.39
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher (35-80-1 at 4QC and 50-87-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Austin Davis (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Are we sure Greg Schiano isn't still the coach in Tampa Bay? The Buccaneers were gifted two home games against a Carolina team missing Cam Newton and a St. Louis team down to starting Austin Davis. That's not the menu for a 0-2 start, but that's where the Buccaneers find themselves after a battle of field goals in the fourth quarter.

Josh McCown eliminated some of last week's mistakes (though he still had a horrific red-zone pick) and Bobby Rainey surprised with 174 yards from scrimmage in place of an injured Doug Martin. The Buccaneers looked to add to their 14-13 lead to start the fourth quarter, but Patrick Murray's 24-yard field goal was blocked. Davis played admirably in his first career start, leading a go-ahead field-goal drive that was answered by Tampa Bay thanks to Rainey's 31-yard run.

Down 17-16 with 5:08 left, Davis started at his own 9 and calmly guided the Rams across midfield, not needing to score too quickly. The pivotal throw came on third-and-9 with a 27-yard strike to Austin Pettis. That put the ball in range for a field goal and the Buccaneers had to use their three timeouts. After three runs, Greg Zuerlein made the 38-yard kick to put St. Louis ahead 19-17.

McCown only had 38 seconds left at his own 20, but we've seen crazier things before. Rainey took a dumpoff 19 yards and McCown spiked the ball with 20 seconds left. McCown drilled a perfect throw to rookie Mike Evans in between a sea of Rams for a 29-yard gain.

Much like Pittsburgh did to Cleveland in Week 1, this should have been plenty of time to get the offense ready for a spike and to bring out the kicker for the winning field goal. However, Evans was hurt on the play; on video, you can hear a whistle blow with 11 seconds left. The clock ticks down to eight seconds, and with the Buccaneers out of timeouts, the 10-second runoff was charged, ending the game. The only thing that made that ending worse was having Jeff "Gomer Pyle" Triplette tell us the game was over on a technicality.

That's a horrible way to lose a game. I guess in the future Evans will know to have a teammate help him stand up so they can spike it, or to make sure the injury is noticed faster. Either way, the Buccaneers were a matter of seconds away from the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Jets at Packers: Jets' Goof Meets Lambeau Lore

The Jets rarely score a lot of points in the first half, and the Packers rarely make big comebacks. When the Jets raced out to an early 21-3 lead, something had to give. In the end, the home team won as expected, but not before some late drama in a surprisingly scoreless fourth quarter.

Since 1992, the Packers were 1-56-1 when trailing by at least 15 points. The win and the tie both came with Matt Flynn behind center last season. Neither Brett Favre nor Aaron Rodgers ever won a game after trailing by more than 14 points, but that changed on Sunday. This was the first time in his career Rodgers ever trailed by more than 14 points in consecutive games.

Geno Smith's great first half went sour with a late interception in scoring territory, which Rodgers turned into an excellent 97-yard touchdown drive to end the half. The Jets were only up 21-16 and the big-lead advantage was gone. In most of those 56 losses you can bet the Packers weren't down by just five with half the game to go. This started to feel inevitable, and the Jets only got worse when Eric Decker left the game with an injury.

Even after the Jets came back to tie the game, Rodgers only needed one play to find Jordy Nelson for an 80-yard touchdown with 2:08 left in the third quarter. Then the scoring ceased. Both offenses looked poor in the fourth quarter with a barrage of bad sacks (one by Michael Vick even on a strange play) and inaccurate throws. Smith had one more great throw in him, but the Jets called their final timeout just before the 36-yard strike to Jeremy Kerley in the end zone. Wipe it out. Whether it was offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or Sheldon Richardson who influenced the referee on the timeout, only Rex Ryan or an offensive player should have been granted that timeout.

The blunder was massive, but Smith still converted the real fourth-down play. However, the drive stalled from there with three bad passes that turned the ball over on downs. One first down would have done it for Green Bay, and Rodgers converted third-and-3 with a 15-yard pass to Nelson, who finished with 209 receiving yards.

The pass fittingly moved Rodgers past Bart Starr for second place in passing yards in team history. Like Rodgers, the biggest comeback of Starr's career was from a 21-3 deficit, with a long touchdown putting Green Bay ahead for good in the third quarter in a 31-21 final. This wasn't a fourth-quarter comeback, but it was a huge comeback to avoid a 0-2 start. For the Jets, this was just another self-inflicted missed opportunity.

Seahawks at Chargers: Streaks Don't Survive the Cemetery Gates

The Seahawks have been on some record-setting streaks the last few years for consistently great play, but San Diego ended two of them with a worthy performance. Pressure on Russell Wilson produced enough stops, but the offense played keep-away, with long drives ending in scores. Through three quarters, the Chargers scored 27 points on six drives (4.5 Pts/Dr), which would be phenomenal against any defense, but especially against one like Seattle. Philip Rivers didn't fear Richard Sherman and Antonio Gates had a masterful game with three touchdown catches.

[ad placeholder 4]

Despite the defense being on the field for 42 minutes and 15 seconds, Seattle still made enough big plays to stay close. Down 27-21, Wilson was pressured on three consecutive plays before scrambling for 13 yards on third-and-15. Donald Butler just got a piece of Wilson to trip him up short of the first down. On a crucial third-and-7, Seattle's blitz forced Rivers to throw the ball away when he should have just taken the sack to run clock with 3:08 to play. That was one big mistake on what was otherwise one of Rivers' best days.

If Seattle was going to come back, it would have to be in dramatic fashion: 3:04 left and 89 yards to go. Backed up, the Seahawks went with the jet sweep on first down. Percy Harvin lost 6 yards, and that just threw off the whole drive. Had Wilson kept the ball on the fake, he wouldn't have lost that many yards and maybe even would have gained some. Two little completions under pressure to Marshawn Lynch only gained back 5 yards, setting up a decisive fourth-and-11.

I did not watch this game live, but in review it's hard not to notice Fox's David Diehl, who has made the jump to analyst. He kept playing up the "heart of a champion" angle some announcers (especially those with rings) cling to when he was talking about Seattle. The lowest point had to be when Seattle was obviously going for it on fourth down with 1:51 left, just like, you know, every other team in the NFL would in this situation. Diehl had this to say about that obvious decision:

"That's who they are as a team. Good, bad or different, whatever situation they are in, they're going to come out firing. They're not going to concede this game and you've got to respect that about Pete Carroll and this football team, because that's what got them in the position that they've been in. They've been in the Super Bowl and the success they've had as a team."

-- David Diehl, champion

Gag me. The courageous fourth-down attempt was a whimper, with Wilson's pass sailing out of bounds down the right sideline. Seattle would not lead in the fourth quarter for the first time in 32 games. San Diego was able to take three knees, and since Seattle had one timeout left, the Chargers added a field goal to make it 30-21, ending another record streak for the Seahawks. They'll just have to start new ones.

Most Consecutive Games Without a Loss by >7 Points
Rk Team Years Start Finish Games
1 Seahawks 2011-14 11/13/2011 9/4/2014 46
2 Packers 2009-11 11/15/2009 1/1/2012 45
3 Packers 1965-68 12/5/1965 9/15/1968 39
4 Vikings 1998-99 9/6/1998 1/9/2000 35
5 Bears 1940-42 10/6/1940 12/6/1942 34
6 49ers 1988-90 1/1/1989 11/18/1990 32
7 Vikings 1975-76 9/21/1975 12/26/1976 31
8T 49ers 1990-92 12/3/1990 10/18/1992 30
8T 49ers 1994-95 10/9/1994 12/24/1995 30
8T Broncos 2012-13 10/15/2012 1/19/2014 30
Most Consecutive Games with 4th QT/OT Lead
Rk Team Years Start Finish Games
1 Seahawks 2012-13 10/28/2012 9/4/2014 31
2 Patriots 2006-08 12/17/2006 9/14/2008 27
3 Redskins 1982-83 12/12/1982 1/8/1984 26

The Seahawks aren't going anywhere, but unfortunately neither is David Diehl for the time being.

Lions at Panthers: The Lion Sleeps Hungry Tonight

Since the 1970 merger, no NFL team has a lower winning percentage in games against teams with a winning record than Detroit (.228). Maybe the Panthers won't finish the season with a winning record, but they've looked sound so far. These defenses finished Week 1 as the top two in DVOA, but that's really code for playing against a struggling Eli Manning and a gift-bearing Josh McCown. The 6-0 score at halftime may paint both defenses as legitimate, but by the end of the game, only Carolina looked like the playoff team it was last year with Cam Newton back, and the Lions made the same big-game statement they have for more than 50 years: "We're not ready."

Two missed field-goal attempts blanked the Lions early and the offense, which looked so good at home against the Giants, only managed one touchdown on the day. Newton didn't get any help from his running game, but avoided turnovers and passed for 281 yards, including a touchdown to put Carolina ahead for good at 13-7. Matthew Stafford looked to answer the drive by moving to midfield, but his escape under pressure led to a 15-yard sack. Stafford was sacked four times in the fourth quarter, even with Greg Hardy deactivated by Carolina before the game.

Getting the ball back at his own 48, Stafford tried what has worked sometimes in the past, and that's to force the ball deep to Calvin Johnson in double coverage. This one didn't have a chance and the tipped ball was intercepted by Melvin White. That's a bad decision and a bad throw. A defensive holding penalty on Rashean Mathis led to a Carolina touchdown and two-point conversion with 7:26 left. Jeremy Ross fumbled the ensuing kickoff and this turned into a full-fledged Detroit disaster with Carolina's field goal making it 24-7 with 4:45 left. Not even two more drives with the game out of reach could bring a pity score and fantasy satisfaction from Detroit. Instead it was just more of the reality that this team usually doesn't win this kind of game.

Chiefs at Broncos: C'mon, Doesn't That Make it Three in a Row?

In both meetings between Andy Reid's Chiefs and the Broncos last year, Alex Smith threw a crucial incompletion on fourth-and-short to Dwayne Bowe late in the fourth quarter. Sunday's game ended no differently, but the injury-ravaged Chiefs inched a few steps closer to toppling their rival. A ball-control offense was the answer to Peyton Manning's three first-half touchdown passes, but the Chiefs, trailing 21-10, wasted the first ten minutes of the second half only to miss a 37-yard field-goal attempt.

Third down was a critical part of the game and an eyesore for Denver, with the Chiefs converting 11 out of 16 opportunities. In the 2012 regular season, Denver's third-down pass defense (including fourth-down plays) had the fourth-best DVOA (-66.9%) of any defense since 1989. Then in the playoffs, the Rahim Moore-Jacoby Jones play happened on a third down. Last season, the Broncos not only were last in the league on third-down pass DVOA (39.9%), but they ranked 744th out of 765 defenses since 1989.

The regression for Denver's defense has been devastating, and Smith continued to expose the Broncos on crucial downs by finding Travis Kelce open several times on third-and-long. One of those conversions set up a touchdown, and the Chiefs trailed 21-17 with 7:11 to play. For some reason, Reid decided to kick the extra point instead of going for two to try making it 21-18. Think only needing a field goal to force overtime would have helped late? How about scoring a touchdown for the 25-24 win? Those are some of the advantages of going for two. Had the Chiefs not converted, they would be down 21-16, would still need a touchdown and a Denver field goal would still keep things a one-score margin. There's no benefit to being down four versus five here, unless you have zero faith in your offense's ability to convert for two.

Manning had just his second possession of the second half, but a good kick return by Andre Caldwell helped lead to a field goal and 24-17 lead. Smith had 3:20 to drive 66 yards, and he nearly ended the drama quickly with Aqib Talib jumping a pass for a pick-six. However, the Broncos were really jumpy before the snap on Sunday despite being the home team, and the Chiefs converted the third-and-5 via penalty. DeMarcus Ware appeared to have iced the game again for Denver with a strip-sack, but replay reversed the call to an incomplete pass even though the intent did not look like a forward pass from Smith. The NFL can get rid of the Tuck Rule, but quarterback fumbles are still a mystery.

Eventually the Chiefs faced fourth-and-goal from the Denver 2. The Broncos rushed four, but Smith didn't hesitate and went to Bowe again. The result was just like the last two losses to Denver: incomplete with little chance of ever being caught. Terrance Knighton deflected the pass at the line. Denver held on again, but for a Chiefs team missing multiple defensive starters and losing guys like Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry during the game, this was a lot closer than expected.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 9
Game-winning drives: 10
Games with 4QC opportunity: 20/32 (62.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 7

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.


26 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2014, 8:22pm

#1 by panthersnbraves // Sep 16, 2014 - 5:00pm

I want to mention that it was the KICKER who recovered the fumbled Kick-off...

Points: 0

#2 by Kevin from Philly // Sep 16, 2014 - 5:35pm

It wasn't an Eagles come from behind win - it was a Colts come from ahead loss. It worked out for my team, but the play calling at the end was miserable.

Points: 0

#3 by Beavis // Sep 16, 2014 - 5:52pm

According to the rulebook, it was a horse-collar tackle on McCoy, why don't any talking heads actually know the rule ?

from Page 9:

Article 15:Horse-Collar Tackle.
No player shall grab the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads or jersey pads or jersey, and pull the runner toward the ground.
This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a
quarterback who is in the pocket.
Note: It is not necessary for a player to pull the runner completely to the ground in order for the act to be illegal. If his knees are buckled by the action, it is a foul, even if the runner is not pulled completely to the ground.

Points: 0

#4 by gdejong // Sep 16, 2014 - 7:01pm

Are you arguing that it was in the tackle box or that the inside collar was grabbed?

In any case, it doesn't look like a penalty to me. To me, it looks like the outside of the jersey was grabbed, not the inside of the jersey.

Points: 0

#7 by Beavis // Sep 16, 2014 - 7:32pm

No, I'm arguing that the rule states that pulling a player down by his jersey from behind or the side causing his kness to buckle is a penalty. McCoy was grabbed from behind by the jersey and maybe some pad inside the jersey, jerked backwards, which caused his knee to buckle. Basically if the runner looks like a wildabeest being brought down by a lion, it's a penalty.

Points: 0

#8 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 16, 2014 - 7:49pm

They wouldn't call it a horse-collar penalty if the play didn't have anything to do with the player's collar (neck/top of shoulder) area. If it was just about pulling the jersey, then this foul would have a different name. You can't just penalize any play where a guy gets taken down behind by the jersey as a horse collar. I saw a receiver get stopped by his jersey this weekend, and there wasn't a flag. I saw Vernon Davis go down on a tackle from behind very awkwardly on Sunday night, but there wasn't a flag. When it's a horse collar, people expect to see the defender get his hand inside the jersey or into the shoulder pads. That didn't happen here. It shouldn't have been called, and they need to let coaches challenge penalties for this reason.

Also, when I write about MNF games, I don't have the luxury of reviewing things in Game Rewind. When I upgrade my DVR, I'll start recording the MNF game, but I only have my live viewing experience to go off. Watching this game, I thought it was clearly not a horse collar, and on the pick, that's a slap in the face to this idea of "points of emphasis" on contact if they're not going to flag Boykin there.

Points: 0

#9 by Beavis // Sep 16, 2014 - 8:35pm

I'm not saying that it doesn't have ANYTHING to do with the player's collar, just that it ALSO has to do with the back of the jersey.

From 2006:

The committee expanded the definition of a horse collar tackle. Last year, the committee determined the tackling style of Cowboys safety Roy Williams and others was causing too many injuries. Williams would grab a player by the back of his shoulder pads, pull him down and fall on his legs, causing at least four serious injuries during the 2004 season. In 2005, though, only two "horse-collar" penalties were called. On Wednesday, owners voted in a change that will include grabbing the back of the jersey as a horse collar tackle. The vote was 25-7 in favor.

Points: 0

#5 by Ezra Johnson // Sep 16, 2014 - 7:09pm

You're not reading that right. Everything is predicated on INSIDE the "collar, back or side of the jersey or shoulder pads." McCoy was pulled down by the OUTSIDE of the jersey. Perfectly legal.

Points: 0

#6 by Beavis // Sep 16, 2014 - 7:26pm

I read it:

No player shall grab
the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads
or jersey pads
or jersey,
and pull the runner toward the ground.

You read it:

No player shall grab
the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads
or the inside collar of the back or the side of the jersey pads
or the inside collar of the back or the side of the jersey,
and pull the runner toward the ground.

What is the inside collar of the side of the jersey ?

I don't think your reading makes any sense.

Points: 0

#11 by Eddo // Sep 16, 2014 - 10:01pm

Your interpretation means that any time a runner is tackled by his shirttails, it should be a penalty on the defender.

And actually, it means most tackles are penalties, as defenders usually grab at least some part of the jersey when grabbing the ball carrier.

Points: 0

#15 by Mountainhawk // Sep 17, 2014 - 12:13am

If it makes the players knees buckle, then it is a horse collar if you pull them down via the jersey. They are protecting against broken legs/blown knees.

Points: 0

#21 by Eddo // Sep 17, 2014 - 9:48am

I'm not speaking to the play in question, but rather tbwhite's reading of the rule, which is ridiculous.

Points: 0

#23 by Beavis // Sep 17, 2014 - 12:03pm

"and pull the runner toward the ground."

That's from the rule. If you grab the shirttail and pull the runner backwards to the ground that would be a penalty. If you grab the shirttail and get pulled along by the runner and he ultimately falls forward to the ground that would not be a penalty.

Why is my reading of the rule ridiculous when it is exactly what was being said when they changed the rule back in 2006 ?

Points: 0

#24 by Eddo // Sep 17, 2014 - 12:19pm

Because "pull the runner to the ground" doesn't specify "backwards".

By your reading, if a defender was lying on the ground and the ball carrier approached him, the defender could not grab the front of his jersey to tackle him.

Points: 0

#20 by Theo // Sep 17, 2014 - 8:49am

I think it means:
- inside the back of the pads or
- inside the side of the pads or
- inside the back of the jersey or
- inside the side of the jersey.

I don't know what they mean with jersey pads.

Points: 0

#10 by Beavis // Sep 16, 2014 - 8:57pm

As for the controversial Eagles interception, TY Hilton just plain fell down. That said, Boykin did have his hands touching him, so if they called that like all of the pre-season games it would have been a penalty.

But, if Boykin doesn't touch him, Hilton still falls down and the pass is still intercepted.

I don't think Colts fans have much to be pissed about, if the roles were reversed, and it was a Colts DB, and he was called for the penalty negating a Colts pick and it cost Indy the game, I'm sure they would bitch about that too.

Points: 0

#13 by Purds // Sep 16, 2014 - 11:03pm

" I'm sure they would bitch about that too"

So graceful in victory, especially with all those Colts fans clogging up this board "bitching"

Points: 0

#16 by Beavis // Sep 17, 2014 - 12:30am

You're right, I shouldn't single out Colts fans. If the call went against the Eagles, Eagles fans would have been bitching as well. Which is really the point, that I wanted to make but failed. That was the type of play that was going to leave someone feeling screwed no matter how it was called.

Points: 0

#25 by Purds // Sep 17, 2014 - 2:52pm

On that point, I heartily agree. The outcome was such a turn of the tide, that either side that lost that outcome would be ticked off.

Points: 0

#18 by Bobman // Sep 17, 2014 - 4:03am

Well, Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis and to a lesser extent Steve Young were bitching, so they must all be Colts fans, I guess. Dilfer was really wigging out, while Young agreed the calls were dubious but laid the blame on Indy for the rest.

I don't usually find myself agreeing with Belichick, but the minute he said "everything should be reviewable" last year I thought he was nuts, but about 60 seconds later I realized he was right. It would not slow the game down any more if coaches had the same number of challenges, but they could challenge all the stuff that matters--that needlessly alters the game in the closing minutes.

Yes, there was some dubious play-calling by Indy and yes they still need to tackle Sproles. (WTF does that guy have against the Colts, anyway? Did a blue horse poop on his baby carriage when he was a tot?) But that was a 10-pt lead with about a 98% likelihood had the INT been reversed, and probably a 70% chance of it being a 14 pt game. Tackling Sproles after that would have been nice, but not nearly as necessary.

Points: 0

#12 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 16, 2014 - 10:28pm

On a side note, I find it inexcusable that nearly 24 hours after the game has ended PHI-IND is still not up on Game Rewind.

Points: 0

#14 by Thomas_beardown // Sep 16, 2014 - 11:12pm

Clearly the NFL is hiding something. It's a conspiracy!

Points: 0

#19 by killwer // Sep 17, 2014 - 7:49am

On the Luck interception, it was within 5 yards, so it can never ever be illegal contact (biggest focus point this year), only thing a CB cant do to a WR inside 5 yards is: block him in the back and hold.

Points: 0

#22 by Eddo // Sep 17, 2014 - 9:50am

I know they kept saying "illegal contact" on TV, but to me, it looked like the Eagles' DB grabbed Hilton's jersey, which should have been a holding penalty.

You could also debate whether the ball was already thrown when the contact took place, which would make it defensive pass interference; I'd have to watch the replay again on that, though I don't think the ball had been released.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Scott
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Scott Kacsmar. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Scott.