Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Clutch Encounters: Week 1
Clutch Encounters: Week 1
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

The 2015 NFL season began in typical fashion, with nine games featuring a comeback opportunity. We expect this year to talk about more extra point and two-point conversion strategies, and Week 1 did not leave us empty on that front. While Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly are feeling the heat for some decisions on kicks and fourth-and-1 plays, Tom Coughlin's Giants are responsible for one of the worst examples of clock mismanagement we'll ever see. And here I thought Sunday's biggest clock flub would be FOX's Kenny Albert figuring out the field goal distance for the Rams in the final minute of a game they trailed 31-24…

Game of the Week

New York Giants 26 at Dallas Cowboys 27

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (23-13)

Head Coach: Jason Garrett (18-20 at 4QC and 22-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Tony Romo (25-32 at 4QC and 29-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Sometimes I research old games in the offseason and shake my head at the poor clock management, like this classic from Ray Rhodes against Carolina in 1999. How do you not save any time for a Brett Favre comeback?

Sixteen years later and the question this week is, how did the Giants save so much time for Tony Romo to rip their hearts out? Teams should have this stuff memorized by now, but as shown by the Steelers on Thursday night and the Giants on Sunday night, many teams are still clueless when it comes to clock management.

New York was fortunate to even have two 10-point leads in the second half, because Dallas was clearly the better team. Ball security was just a serious issue as Dallas had problems with fumbles, dropped passes, and deflections. Romo's pass to Devin Street should have been caught, but the young receiver lost the ball upon contact and it was returned to the 1-yard line on what goes down as an interception. The Giants led 23-13 with 8:01 left, but even with Dez Bryant out due to a broken foot, you can't count out Romo. He went to work with Terrance Williams ("Next Man Up") and Jason Witten ("Old Reliable") from that point. Witten caught a 1-yard touchdown with 5:08 left to make it 23-20.

Eli Manning started taking snaps with 10 to 17 seconds left on the play clock, which wasn't smart, but that was just the tip of the iceberg to come. Dallas had two timeouts left when things started to go really wrong for the Giants at the 2:17 mark, but it's amazing just how much went wrong.

Mistake 1: Dallas' Jeremy Mincey was penalized for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. That's great, but that also stops the clock, which I think is a problem in the NFL rulebook. I write about this at least once a year, but there are situations like this one where the trailing team can tactically commit penalties to stop the clock and improve their chances of getting the ball back with time to score. Dallas even called timeout after the play, but was given it back due to the Mincey penalty.

Mistake 2: Rookie tackle Ereck Flowers was penalized for an illegal formation on the next play. Dallas declined, but that still stopped the clock, which would have gone to the two-minute warning if Dallas hadn't used a timeout.

Mistake 3: After the two-minute warning, Manning drilled a potential dagger to Odell Beckham Jr. for 16 yards on third-and-14. Dallas was offsides, but of course New York declined the penalty to take the result of the play. However, this is where the rules are really screwed up, because even a declined penalty on the trailing team stops the clock. What the hell kind of rule is that? If I decline the penalty, then it didn't happen, and I want the result of the play: a completion in bounds that should run the clock. Why do the NFL rules hurt the leading team here when the leading team just wants to run clock? I hope this game garners some interest in changing this. The Tuck Rule only impacted a few games a year and they changed that. This loophole is worth eliminating.

Mistake 4: With a first down at the Dallas 4, running back Rashad Jennings was told by Manning to not score on the next two runs. I understand wanting to run clock, and Manning lost track of Dallas' timeouts, but the touchdown is really what you want here to go up by 10 points. You can't just hope you'll get the touchdown on third down, so wasting two downs by telling your back not to score is silly.

Mistake 5: Things got worse for Eli on third down. First, I do not like the idea of a pass play here, even if someone may have broken wide open due to the surprise factor. The quarterback, especially one who just got paid at the start of his 12th year, has to know to take the sack and keep the clock running if the receiver isn't open. Manning incredibly just threw the ball away to stop the clock with 1:37 left. He saved Romo 40 seconds. That's why I prefer to just run and take that time off.

Mistake 6 (?): Was the 19-yard field goal to go up 26-20 a mistake? We don't have concrete evidence on this, but it sure seems like you're more likely to lose in regulation if you're up 26-20 versus 23-20 in the final minutes. The team down six will aggressively pursue the touchdown with four-down football, while the team down three will likely stay conservative since they know the field goal and overtime is an option. New York would have been less likely to sweat this decision if Romo had 50 seconds instead of 90, but that bridge had already been burned.

Romo had 89 seconds to drive 72 yards, and he just made it look easy. The passes to the running backs were open all night, and that led to a quick 40 yards in a fashion that would have made Joe Montana proud. Even when Romo bobbled a low snap, he still calmly picked it up and fired a touchdown to Witten that was all too easy with seven seconds left. Dan Bailey became the first kicker to make the game-winning extra point from 33 yards away and the Giants started 0-1 for the fifth straight season.

Romo is the 14th quarterback in NFL history with at least 25 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He has 19 game-winning drives since 2011 alone. It's about time people accept him as one of the most reliable and consistent quarterbacks in the league with the game on the line. Yes, the Giants gifted him more time on a drive that should have lasted a New York minute at best. But hey, it's about time Romo catches a break.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Seattle Seahawks 31 at St. Louis Rams 34

Type: 4QC/GWD and game-ending defensive stop (OT)

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher (36-87-1 at 4QC and 52-94-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Nick Foles (5-8 at 4QC and 6-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Rams have given Seattle fits in all four of Russell Wilson's starts in St. Louis. The special teams and defensive line played huge roles again, and Wilson had to rally the Seahawks from a 24-13 deficit in the fourth quarter. An 18-0 run took place for Seattle, capped off by Cary Williams' blitz burying Nick Foles for a sack-fumble that Williams scooped up for a go-ahead touchdown with 4:39 left.

Up 31-24, this is where Seattle has to live up to its reputation on defense, even without holdout Kam Chancellor. Instead we have seen this defense let down in this situation too often -- this was the 11th time since 2012 the Seahawks have blown a fourth-quarter lead in a loss. Foles converted a third-and-15 with a great pass to Britt, but then had a wide-open Lance Kendricks for a 35-yard touchdown after Dion Bailey fell down. Why was Bailey starting? He is Chancellor's replacement during this holdout, and Sunday was Bailey's first regular-season game. If the sides are going to quibble over $900,000, then Bailey may have given Chancellor the edge he needs to get what he wants.

A sixth sack of Wilson led to overtime where we thought Pete Carroll made an interesting choice. As it turns out, the surprise onside kick to start overtime was actually just a poorly executed kickoff by Steven Hauschka. The Rams called for a fair catch since the ball didn't bounce off the ground, and were drilled anyway on the play without a flag. Of course referee Jeff "Gomer Pyle" Triplette was not going to call that, but at least he did not penalize the Rams for an invalid fair catch.

I would like to see a team do a surprise onside kick to start overtime, because any legal recovery means you can now win the game with a field goal. The opponent had its chance to possess the ball. We know teams aren't very aggressive in modified overtime with just nine opening-drive touchdowns in 54 games. Alas, the Rams started at the Seattle 49, the first time in 54 modified overtime games a team started in opponent territory on the first drive. Foles hit one big pass to Stedman Bailey for 22 yards with Richard Sherman in coverage, and that was enough for Greg Zuerlein to hit a 37-yard field goal.

For just the ninth time we saw an offense get to play four-down football in a 3-point game with no time constraint. The defense has held six times to end the game, while three teams kicked a field goal to extend the game. For the first time in his 57-game NFL career, Wilson threw more than 37 passes, finishing with 41. That's not the Seattle formula, but neither is allowing 34 points. With 1 yard to go, running the ball with Marshawn Lynch is the Seattle way (except that one time), but the Rams were ready for the shotgun handoff and buried Lynch for a loss to seal the win. I love the quarterback sneak in those situations, but Seattle almost had a nonchalant approach to this huge run that ended the game. That beats throwing a tight-windowed pass to Ricardo Lockette, but the 1-yard call haunts Seattle again.

Detroit Lions 28 at San Diego Chargers 33

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)

Head Coach: Mike McCoy (8-8 at 4QC and 8-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Philip Rivers (21-42 at 4QC and 24-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If you told me there was an 18-point comeback in a game featuring the Lions and Chargers, I would have guessed San Diego blew the lead based on recent history for these teams. Detroit had everything rolling at 21-3 with rookie Ameer Abdullah scoring a 24-yard touchdown on his first carry, Glover Quin's pick-six, and second-year tight end Eric Ebron showing up with a touchdown. Regression? This was Detroit taking a step forward after a playoff season a year ago.

Then the second half started and we were reminded of Detroit's history: the Lions are 0-18 on the road with Matthew Stafford against teams with a winning record. We don't know if the 2015 Chargers are going to add to that, but certainly this team has high expectations. Stafford struggled with two interceptions in the third quarter and Philip Rivers had the Chargers within a point to start the fourth quarter.

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Ladarius Green finally took advantage of his opportunity to replace the suspended Antonio Gates. His career-high five catches included a 13-yard game-winning touchdown with 11:49 left. Down 26-21, San Diego was wise to go for a two-point conversion, but failed to get the ball snapped in time. The 5-yard penalty for delay of game meant a conversion from the 7-yard line or a 38-yard extra point. This is really our first official case of new extra point shenanigans in crunch time. Game situation says go for two, but expected value still favors the kick. If you look at plays on third and fourth down from the 7-yard line, offenses convert for a touchdown less than 30 percent of the time. This is true if you split the first half and the second half. Your odds of a 38-yard field goal are certainly much better than 60 percent, so I definitely wouldn't fault any team for trying the kick. One advantage is you leave the conservative approach of two field goals open to the opponent instead of letting them aggressively drive for the tying touchdown. San Diego's problem was that new kicker Josh Lambo was wide right on the kick.

Stafford missed badly on throws to Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson, who only combined to finish with 63 receiving yards. Eric Weddle almost picked Stafford off on a pass to Johnson. Rivers had the early picks, but turned this into a 400-yard day after completing 35-of-42 passes. Keenan Allen was the man again with 15 grabs on 17 targets. The two hooked up five times on a long drive that ended with Danny Woodhead's touchdown to extend to a 33-21 lead with 2:33 left. Detroit had a good shot of getting the ball back in a one-score game with San Diego facing third-and-19 on this drive, but Allen was inexplicably allowed to catch a drag route at the line of scrimmage and skirt past two tackles for a 20-yard gain and first down. It was just that kind of day for Detroit.

The Lions respectably drove 83 yards in 89 seconds for a touchdown to make it 33-28, but with 1:04 left, the last hope was recovering an onside kick. The ball bounced out of bounds off the fingertips of Allen -- about the only thing he didn't catch on the day.

Miami Dolphins 17 at Washington Redskins 10

Type: 4QC and non-offensive game-winning score

Head Coach: Joe Philbin (8-17 at 4QC and 8-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (8-17 at 4QC and 8-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This was the kind of game that could lead to someone getting fired. On Monday, Washington kicker Kai Forbath actually was cut, but this was a disappointing start for Joe Philbin in a crucial year for him in Miami. The Dolphins eventually woke up from a sluggish start, but the expected offensive machine never got fully running against a lackluster defense.

With Miami at the Washington 20-yard line in a 10-7 game to start the fourth quarter, linebacker Keenan Robinson dropped a sure interception thrown by Ryan Tannehill. Jarvis Landry had a very eventful day. His 14-yard gain on an end-around looked to set Miami up for a go-ahead touchdown, but he also lost 7 yards on a catch after Tannehill dumped a pass off to him to avoid pressure. Miami settled for a 22-yard tying field goal by new kicker Andrew Franks. Penalties immediately derailed Washington's following drive, and the ensuing punt was returned down the middle for a thrilling touchdown by Landry with 10:22 left. Landry only gained 53 yards on eight catches, but the punt return was good for 69 yards.

This is actually the third time in the 49-game Philbin/Tannehill era that Miami had a fourth-quarter comeback capped off by a non-offensive game-winning score. There was a game-winning safety against Andy Dalton in 2013, a game-winning safety after a blocked punt against Minnesota last year, and now Landry's punt return touchdown.

Kirk Cousins (1-7) has not been in these situations often, but he has already thrown five interceptions on 17 drives in 4QC situations. That number rose to six after Brice McCain made a great interception on a 50-50 ball in Miami territory. Cousins had another opportunity in Miami territory, but he couldn't find his accuracy under pressure. Worse, Washington had to blow a timeout with the clock stopped and only 2:22 remaining. Miami rushed six on fourth-and-7 and Cousins floated a terrible pass that Jordan Reed never had a chance to catch.

Washington could have used that fourth clock stoppage to get the ball back, but Lamar Miller put the game away. He gained 22 yards on a screen on second-and-16, then drove the final nail in with a physical run between the tackles for 8 yards on third-and-8.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 at Atlanta Falcons 26

Type: 4QC/GWD

Head Coach:Dan Quinn (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback:Matt Ryan (21-27 at 4QC and 28-27 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Sam Bradford era in Philadelphia got off to an inauspicious start, but a familiar one for St. Louis fans. A terrible first half served as a reminder of how unproductive Bradford was with the Rams, dinking and dunking his way to meager offensive outputs. This was supposed to change in Chip Kelly's system, but perhaps the most stunning part was the failure to establish any running game. DeMarco Murray finished with eight carries for 9 yards. The defense was supposed to be better too, but Julio Jones basically made Byron Maxwell look like Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher all over again on a 141-yard night.

Atlanta led 20-3 at the half, and the people finishing up Marcus Mariota's bust needed to start working on one for Dan Quinn, who has transformed a putrid defense into a strong unit. But that was the first half hysteria of Week 1, and things looked much different in the second half. Matt Ryan started forcing bad throws and Bradford kept throwing short to Jordan Matthews and a talented trio of running backs. The Eagles managed to gain 120 yards of offense on one 95-yard touchdown drive thanks to numerous penalties on a sloppy night. The margin shrunk to 23-17 and soon the Eagles were driving to take the lead in the fourth quarter, a familiar sight to Atlanta fans in the last few years. Ryan Mathews scored on a 1-yard run and the Eagles led 24-23 with 8:37 left.

Ryan immediately answered with a 44-yard bomb to Jones that was just too easy with Maxwell in coverage. The drive stalled from there, but Matt Bryant is as good as they come. He nailed the 47-yard field goal and is now 35-of-39 (89.7 percent) on clutch field goals in his career.

A costly holding penalty took the Eagles out of a goal-to-go situation and led to a third-and-1 that Mathews failed to convert on the ground. There was hesitation from Kelly on whether or not to go for it on fourth-and-1, but he eventually sent out the field goal unit. Cody Parkey rushed his kick and was wide right from 44 yards away.

Kelly is catching a lot of flak for not going for it, but how many coaches would in that situation? There was 2:32 remaining and it was fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 26. You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time a team went for a fourth-and-short in the final five minutes when a field goal shorter than 45 yards would have given them the lead. The Colts did it to Kansas City in 2007 on a Peyton Manning sneak, but that game was also tied and the Colts had the ability to run out the clock and make the field goal the last play. This was different. Sure, Ryan was playing well and didn't need much time to set up Bryant, but the Falcons are not automatic in that situation. The Eagles also couldn't get any push all night with Murray and Mathews combining for 13 yards on 11 carries. They maybe could have used Darren Sproles or thrown another short pass to Matthews or Zach Ertz, but I don't think the Fourth Down Revolution is far along enough to where we'll see NFL coaches actually bypass the lead in such situations any time soon.

Atlanta went three-and-out. It has gotten comical to watch offenses try to convert a third-and-1 on the ground with a heavy formation these days. Malcolm Jenkins snuffed that one out and the Eagles had the ball back with 1:49 left at their own 14. Bradford was taking his time with one timeout left, but it was quickly third-and-8 and his pass intended for Matthews was deflected into a game-ending interception. Matthews caught 10 passes on the night, but just flat-out dropped the ball here. Ricardo Allen made a great effort on the pick, starting off the Quinn era with a good defensive stand.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Ravens at Broncos: So This Is the New Year?

In the 2013 calendar year these teams played two high-scoring games at Mile High. On Sunday, neither scored an offensive touchdown. According to Pro-Football-Reference, the 32 combined points are the most since 1940 in a game with zero offensive touchdowns. We did not even see a play ran in the red zone until 3:40 remained in the fourth quarter. That's especially troubling for the Broncos, who only reached the red zone once in their January playoff loss to the Colts. Since Denver didn't get into the red zone until its last drive on Sunday, that means the Broncos failed to reach the red zone at home on 20 consecutive drives.

Both quarterbacks threw a bad pick-six in the third quarter. Joe Flacco's came in the closing seconds, giving Denver a 16-13 lead into the fourth quarter. After not being able to run the ball all game, Denver's ground game came to life -- mostly with Ronnie Hillman -- on a drive that consumed 10:56 off the clock. That's the longest drive the Broncos have had in at least two decades. Peyton Manning had a very rough debut in Gary Kubiak's offense, but he completed all five passes on the drive, which ended with another field goal by Brandon McManus.

Flacco had 2:55 left and a pair of timeouts to drive 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He has been in worse situations in Denver. Flacco nearly stunned Denver fans again when Bradley Roby misplayed a ball, but Steve Smith could not haul it in for the touchdown. Sports can be cruel like that.

On the very next play Flacco lobbed a pass up to tight end Crockett Gillmore in the end zone, but David Bruton did a phenomenal job to break up the pass and Darian Stewart made a great catch for the game-clinching interception. Since 2012, this defense has just been bulletproof at upholding one-score leads in crunch time except for that one long pass to Jacoby Jones. The defense was incredible in Wade Phillips' return to Denver.

Was this a game between AFC contenders with incredible defenses and shaky offenses? Probably, but the offenses were surprisingly ghastly in every way. The Ravens looked like they missed Kubiak and the Broncos didn't look like they had him yet.

There is a lot we could say about this game in regards to Manning and Denver, but we'll save some of it after seeing more evidence first. I just know that it looked awfully similar to the Indianapolis playoff loss, but with worse offensive line play. I thought Manning should have held the ball longer in the playoffs to open up more space for the receivers down the field. I don't think he had the time to do so on Sunday. The Colts and Ravens, the two teams who have made Manning look so ineffective in his last two outings, are also the only defenses to register four sacks of Manning since the Falcons last did it way back in 2007.

In the playoffs against the Colts, Manning had 15 failed completions -- the most for any of the 13,352 offensive team performances since 1989 -- and he had 10 more on Sunday. I highlighted Baltimore as one of the few defenses capable of shutting this offense down. On Sunday, the Broncos averaged 2.71 YAC per catch, the second-worst game in the Manning era. Their only worse game was a 2012 contest when they averaged 2.24 YAC per catch against … the Ravens. On Sunday, the Broncos were in third-and-10 or longer seven times, the most since Baltimore did that to them in 2012. The Ravens and Colts (as well as Seattle and maybe New England if the secondary comes around) have been the few defenses capable of stifling Denver, but this could be a long year if other defenses start having similar success. Fortunately, the defense is going to keep the Broncos competitive as they try to figure out the offensive woes.

Packers at Bears: The Return of James Jones

Jay Cutler is now 1-11 against Green Bay, and before Sunday, he had only led his offense to more than 17 points in one of those games. It wasn't even the lone win back in 2010. That 20-17 final needed a Devin Hester punt return touchdown, 18 Green Bay penalties, and a late James Jones fumble to break Chicago's way.

Cutler had one of his better efforts against the Packers on Sunday, even if the ending was all too familiar. Trailing 24-16 in the fourth quarter, the Bears ran into trouble at the 2-yard line with new offensive coordinator Adam Gase up to his old tricks from Denver. Cutler was nearly intercepted on one of the ugliest screen attempts you'll ever see from a team this close to the end zone. While it's true that Matt Forte is not a great goal-line runner (15 touchdowns on 44 carries from inside the 2-yard line when the average is around 50 percent), teams tend to ignore the run far too often when they only need 2 yards. Forte had a hell of a game too, with 141 rushing yards, but three straight passes from Cutler at the 2-yard line never had a chance with the Packers getting effective pressure on some blitzes. You could argue going for the field goal with 7:42 left, but against an offense like Green Bay, it's best to go for it and take advantage of the field position if you fail.

Chicago's defense held and Cutler was soon 29 yards away from the end zone. That's when the Packers fooled Cutler again as Clay Matthews broke on a pass intended for Martellus Bennett for a huge interception. Cutler never saw Matthews and the Bears only had 3:41 left. Jones, who looked like he never left Green Bay, nearly got free for his third touchdown of the day, but Kyle Fuller grabbed him instead for pass interference, putting the ball at the 2-yard line. That just delayed the inevitable as Eddie Lacy scored on the next play to make it 31-16 with 1:55 left. Given Chicago only had one timeout left, you have to wonder why Green Bay didn't just kneel three times and kick a very short field goal to go up 27-16 with about 30 seconds left. Either way, the Bears were cooked.

Cutler led a drive that cannot be considered garbage time, but it had that odor. Bennett was wide open and broke some tackles for a 24-yard touchdown, but only 34 seconds remained. The Packers probably worked on their onside kick recovery this offseason, and the unit successfully ended the game this time.

Panthers at Jaguars: Can't Wait for Game Seven (Yes We Can)

This was Game 6 of The Battle of 1995 Expansion Teams. The Jaguars got off to a 3-1 start, but Carolina has now taken both meetings in the Ron Rivera/Cam Newton era to force a Game 7 in 2019. Will Cam Newton still be upright for that game? Will the Jaguars be on yet another quarterback they drafted in the top 10 that did not pan out?

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You know it's not going to be a pretty offensive game when Ted Ginn Jr. (seven) and fifth-round rookie Rashad Greene (15) lead their teams in targets. The game really swung in the third quarter when Blake Bortles threw a pick-six to Josh Norman. It reminded me of Brice McCain's big pick-six of Bortles for Pittsburgh last year. It was even thrown to a similar spot on the field.

The score was still 17-9 in the fourth quarter when Bortles tried to scramble on third-and-7, but was taken down for a sack by Thomas Davis. On a Sunday filled with long drives, Carolina put together its own, consuming 8:07 off the clock to add Graham Gano's 47-yard field goal with 2:41 left. Jacksonville's defense missed several tackles on the drive and Newton had three designed runs after getting into opponent territory. Bortles immediately threw an interception under pressure, but Jacksonville blocked Gano's field goal with 1:09 left.

Not much changed from last year on Sunday. Bortles suffered five sacks and averaged 4.58 yards per pass -- his seventh straight game under 5.7 YPA. Bortles ended his day with a 4-yard pass on fourth-and-15, a fitting summary of just how far the Jaguars have to go on offense.

Saints at Cardinals: No Sean Payton, You Can't Have Bruce Arians' Magic Beans

Sean Payton was once groomed as the NFC's smartest coach. Bruce Arians has turned into the league's most persevering coach, grinding out improbable wins with the Colts and Cardinals since 2012. Arizona won 11 games last year and successfully defended a one-score lead in the fourth quarter in each game. In fact, Arizona allowed just three points on 20 drives with the game tied or leading by 1 to 8 points. On Sunday, the Cardinals allowed six points on three such drives. However, the Saints had to settle for two field goals after trying conservative screen passes on third-and-long that Arizona easily snuffed out. New Orleans also failed to stop Arizona from scoring two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.

Still, Drew Brees had the ball in a 24-19 game with 97 yards to go in 2:12 with two timeouts. This would have been an epic drive, but it was doable. It just never went anywhere as the Saints gained 4 yards in three plays. They lost the two-minute warning, so the Saints could only stop the clock twice. Even by punting the Saints were likely looking at Brees having about 50 seconds to drive a very long field without a timeout. That's a poor situation to be in. Being down 27-19 would be even worse, but the main obstacle remains the touchdown. So why not just go for it on fourth-and-6 where Brees is probably close to 50 percent at converting for you? He's 15-of-31 at converting on fourth down in the 5- to 9-yard range in his career. The Saints got a good 54-yard punt away, but I really did not like the punt decision from Payton.

I did not write a four-minute offense study for 2014, but for previous years I found that teams leading by one score in this situation tend to run the ball roughly 85 percent of the time on second down. So it was refreshing to see Arians dial up a safe pass on second down to rookie back David Johnson, who raced down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown to ice the game. Of course, he should have gone down at any point after the first down to effectively end the game right there, but I'll let the rookie have his moment in his first game. If Payton had taken a few more risks like Arians likely would have, this one may have played out differently, but it looked like more of the same from these teams in recent years.

I'll end with the FOX broadcast showing off a new wrinkle in their game-winning drive opportunity stats: a ranking that places Brees 14th.

The 36 successes are correct, which means they are including playoff games, but I have 89 total games after including this one. I am also not sure what the qualifiers are for ranking in FOX's list, but this is where my list stands after Week 1:

Career Records in 4th Quarter Comeback/Game-Winning Drive Opportunities
Quarterback 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. 4QC/GWD Wins 4QC/GWD Losses Pct.
Tom Brady 35 29 0.547 47 31 0.603
Andrew Luck 9 8 0.529 12 9 0.571
Matt Ryan 21 27 0.438 28 27 0.509
Russell Wilson 10 14 0.417 15 15 0.500
Peyton Manning 41 50 0.451 53 55 0.491
Colin Kaepernick 7.5 7.5 0.500 9.5 10.5 0.475
Ben Roethlisberger 25 36 0.410 36 41 0.468
Tony Romo 25 32 0.439 29 34 0.460
Jay Cutler 17 24 0.415 21 25 0.457
Andy Dalton 8.5 16.5 0.340 13.5 16.5 0.450
Eli Manning 26 39 0.400 31 41 0.431
Nick Foles 5 8 0.385 6 8 0.429
Geno Smith 3 10 0.231 7 10 0.412
Alex Smith 14 22 0.389 16 23 0.410
Drew Brees 25 47 0.347 36 53 0.404
Joe Flacco 14 28 0.333 21 31 0.404
Matt Cassel 8 17 0.320 11 17 0.393
Matthew Stafford 15 28 0.349 17 28 0.378
Carson Palmer 18 43 0.295 26 43 0.377
Mark Sanchez 10 19 0.345 12 20 0.375
Michael Vick 12.5 27.5 0.313 16.5 30.5 0.351
Philip Rivers 21 42 0.333 24 45 0.348
Matt Schaub 11 26 0.297 14 27 0.341
Ryan Tannehill 8 17 0.320 8 17 0.320
Sam Bradford 5.5 11.5 0.324 5.5 12.5 0.306
Aaron Rodgers 8 27 0.229 12 29 0.293
Robert Griffin III 4 15 0.211 6 15 0.286
Cam Newton 8.5 20.5 0.293 8.5 21.5 0.283
Ryan Fitzpatrick 7 31 0.184 9.5 32.5 0.226
Josh McCown 4 20 0.167 4 23 0.148

I know these are still just win-loss records that lack serious context. Still on the to-do list: quantifying every 4QC/GWD opportunity with win probability and adding stats like average deficit, time left, points per drive and even DVOA to this table for each quarterback. Just have patience.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 5

Game-winning drives: 4 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)

Games with 4QC opportunity: 9/16 (56.3 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 3

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.


11 comments, Last at 16 Sep 2015, 6:56pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Brian Burke rated the Redskins' special teams in the top 1/2, after they'd been rated here #29 and #32 the past two seasons. I tried to gently suggest on Twitter that maybe he was wrong. I don't care if the general trend in special teams is for variation -- the Redskins suck on ST coverage and have done so for years. That it would have cost them a game already is not surprising.

In other news, Kai Forbath is seeking new employment.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

In all seriousness, how the heck does Eli Manning "lose track of the timeouts"? Every stadium I've ever been in has the number of TOs remaining right up there on the scoreboard. If he has any doubt he just has to take a half second and glance over at it.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

I really have to disagree with the point about a declined penalty not stopping the clock. The problem is, when you start making exceptions to the standard rules, you have to make sure that the exception applies to all circumstances. For example, what's the threshold? The last two minutes? The last five minutes? The fourth quarter? Many times, "clock-killing" starts well in advance of the last two minutes of the game. Then again, funny things happen in football. What if on the play after the Beckham catch, Eli threw a pick-six? I bet he'd want that time back on the clock then. Or if Dallas scored quickly after getting the ball back. Unlikely? Sure. But the point is, when you're going to make a rule different than the standard rule, that rule needs to be justified with "it's a fix to an obvious problem," not "sometimes it has unintended consequences."

Next, what's the rule? Obviously, the penalty isn't declined until the officials talk, determine what the flag is, and offer the chance to accept or decline. So, how is "let the clock run" to be determined? Do the officials just have the clock restart after the penalty is declined? (That could allow the leading time to kill a lot of clock if they're the offense, but has very little effect if the leading team is the defense.)

And then there are situations like the Mincey penalty. Sure, the Giants were trying to run clock. They're also trying to score. Fifteen yards and an automatic first down gives them a much better chance to score, plus at least three more plays to use in killing clock. "Automatic first down" penalties really don't create a lot of downside for an offense by stopping the clock.

Ultimately, I don't really see a problem in need of fixing here, and the potential solutions seem too cumbersome compared to the level of the fix accomplished.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

To me a declined penalty should not stop the clock in any situation. We are basically saying the penalty did not happen, thus the end of the play is a completed pass in bounds.

I know this would bring up the opposite situation (team trailing does not get the advantage of a stopped clock on a failed off-sides), but it makes sense for there to be no clock stoppage if there was no penalty.

6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

"So, how is 'let the clock run' to be determined? Do the officials just have the clock restart after the penalty is declined?"

I assume it would be like any other point in the game, with the clock starting after the officials have officially spotted the ball. The play clock would start at the same time.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

The current rule is that the cock stops on all penalties only in the last two minutes of the first half and the last 5 minutes of the second half. Otherwise the clock starts when the ball is started. This is also true for pays when the ball goes out of bounds. League spokesman Michael Signora "... the traditional timing rules were retained for the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half. During those periods the game clock starts on the snap after all out of bounds plays and after all penalty enforcements."

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Two more Eli related points. Yes he wasn't letting the clock run down enough, but one of the examples was particularly egregious. There was that interminable clock malfunction, where first the game clock then the play clock were out of synch-- Eli stood there knowing that when the whistle finally blew he could take a full 39 seconds off the clock-- he clearly alerted his linemen he was going to milk it, but then chose only to use about 20-21 seconds. Strange.

and then his own explanation of the failure to take the sack on the 3rd down play was that he thought the Giants were committed to going for the TD on 4th down-- which would have been the smart play. Thanks, NFL-- we're in full autopsy mode already!

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

... it sure seems like you're more likely to lose in regulation if you're up 26-20 versus 23-20 in the final minutes
So what? It also seems like you're more likely to win in regulation if you're up 26-20. This isn't hockey where you get a point in the standings for making it to overtime.

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

He had something similar in this article:

But my point was simply that losing in regulation is no worse than losing in OT.

Burke's data shows that with all relevant time left and starting near your own 20, you are more likely to score a needed FG than a needed TD. So a 6 point lead is clearly better than a 2 point lead, or a 7 point lead is better than a 3 point lead.

But it matters that a TD when down 6 would give you a win, while a FG when down 3 merely gets you overtime. Even considering that, you are better off scoring to go up 6 with less than about 90 seconds left. (see Burke's graphs on FG and TD chances late in the game)

The real lesson in Burke's work is that when your team is down by 3 with 1:30 to 3:00 left, you should be playing for a TD, and accepting overtime only if necessary. NFL coaches have historically been bad at this situation, assigning too much value to reaching overtime or too little value to winning.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

"I think Brian Burke did a study where he showed that your win percentage (WP) is actually significantly lower with a 4-6 point lead (need TD to score) than with a 3 point lead."

He did, but his studies are typically made up nonsense. His study contained a lot of statements like, "With a successful conversion, the Ravens' win probability would jump to 97.3%; a failure means 77.6% chance to win. The probability of converting on 4th-and-4 is roughly 43.6%...."
And then based on these made up probabilities he calculates the result. Of course, as it is completely preposterous that he could claim to know that Baltimore has precisely a 43.6% chance to convert, or any of his other made up numbers, make the calculation completely pointless.