Clutch Encounters: Week 10

Clutch Encounters: Week 10
Clutch Encounters: Week 10
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Expect the unexpected in the NFL. Two games in Week 10 ended with 10-6 scores. One future Hall of Fame quarterback came off the bench to throw for 379 yards, while another was benched on his worst day ever after throwing for the most career yards in NFL history. Sunday's marquee national games actually exceeded the hype. We started the week with Rex Ryan getting a fortunate win against his former team. "That Rob Ryan defense" is no longer a thing as the blowout win by Washington over New Orleans was one of only four games this week that did not feature a comeback opportunity. Road teams were 11-3. Underdogs were 11-3. The Lions even won in Green Bay for the first time in a quarter of a century. You like all of that?

Any given Sunday? Game of inches? Sure, that always helps, and Week 10 was a perfect display of it. Sunday's early slate had four game-winning drives despite the quarterback getting away with a poor (and in some cases game-losing) play each time.

We had an unforced game-ending fumble that never happened. We had a game-ending sack negated on a play that should have never been allowed to happen. We watched one of the luckiest bounces you'll ever see. We saw two game-ending interceptions dropped in the final two minutes, and we still don't know what a catch (or fumble) is. Somehow, T.J. Yates delivered the most legitimate game-winning drive of Week 10 to knock off the 8-0 Bengals, so there are many reasons why you had so many road underdogs winning this week. Let's sort out one of the crazier weeks of the year.

Game of the Week

New England Patriots 27 at New York Giants 26

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (23-17)

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (47-71 at 4QC and 62-72 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Tom Brady (37-29 at 4QC and 49-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

These teams should be scheduled to play each other in a meaningful game every year. The Patriots just seem to bring out the best in the Giants, who were having another middling season before perking up for this one. New York's 10-point lead was New England's largest deficit of the season, though an 82-yard punt return by Danny Amendola helped to set up another classic back-and-forth fourth-quarter finish.

Despite the lack of a pass rush this season, the Giants lead the NFL with 23 takeaways. On the very first play of the fourth quarter, the Giants stripped Tom Brady and returned the ball to the New England 31. It helps that Jason Pierre-Paul is back and the Patriots had several starting linemen out, but the three sacks were still pretty unexpected. This was a huge opportunity to extend New York's 23-17 lead, but Eli Manning took a bad sack of his own by Rob Ninkovich on first down, losing 13 yards. The Giants ended up punting on the drive. Three plays later, Brady found Rob Gronkowski down the seam again and hit him for a 76-yard touchdown, the longest catch of Gronk's career. Week 10 was oddly filled with long pass plays, and this was as important as any of them.

Manning set a career-high with 251 first-half passing yards, but he had gone cold in the second half to this point. The Patriots were on the move again after Brady survived a second strip-sack in the quarter. LeGarrette Blount appeared to have a 1-yard touchdown run, but that was negated by holding. From the 5-yard line, Brady threw behind his receiver and Trumaine McBride, FO's 2013 charting standout, made the big interception with 6:01 left. Down 24-23, that is a lot of time, but the Giants were at their own 3-yard line and had a chance to milk this clock all the way down to kick a game-winning field goal with no time left. A key to their last three wins over the Patriots was taking the lead in the final minute and not leaving Brady much time to answer.

As he often does in these moments, Manning excelled in the no-huddle offense. At least, he made good throws. The time management came under scrutiny again, which is how the Giants started this season in Dallas. A 30-yard strike to Dwayne Harris put the ball in field goal range and the Patriots used their first timeout at 2:14. After a 5-yard run used up Bill Belichick's second timeout at 2:10, a very crucial play happened that ended up changing New York's strategy. Manning found Harris for 18 more yards, but Harris' momentum carried him out of bounds at the 5-yard line to stop the clock at 2:06. If the Giants would have converted in the field of play, they could have eventually kicked a field goal and only left Brady about 30 seconds without a timeout to answer. Something over the middle of the field could even have allowed for another first down to use up the entire clock before the field goal.

With the ball at the 5-yard line, this made getting the touchdown very important, because the alternative was leaving Brady nearly two minutes to get a field goal. The only way to get another first down at that point was via penalty, so forget about that. That's why I did not mind the throw on first down, because if passing is your best shot to get the touchdown -- and it is in the case of the 2015 Giants -- then take three of your best shots. Manning went to Odell Beckham in the end zone, and he surprisingly got the touchdown call, but I thought with these silly rules in place that it was obviously going to get overturned to incomplete. He just did not have the ball long enough before it was knocked out, though I wish for the end zone the rule was something as simple as catch plus two feet equals touchdown. Why are you trying to be a runner there? The play is over once the second foot is down. If a catch like this happens outside of the end zone, then call it a fumble on the strip. But let's not get sidetracked by this since we could argue it every single week. The pass was ruled incomplete after replay review, leaving the Giants with second-and-goal from the 5.

The play also ended with 2:01 left, which was another break for the Patriots. Manning's next dropbacks never had much of a chance, but at least he learned to slide in bounds and take a sack. The 29-yard field goal was good, the Giants led 26-24, but Brady had 1:47 from his own 20 to set up one of the best kickers in the NFL. Even without a Dion Lewis or Julian Edelman (who broke his foot early in the game), you still expect Brady to make this happen, especially with Amendola doing his Edelman role.

In his career, when Brady has the ball in the fourth quarter with a one- or two-point deficit, he has led the Patriots to seven go-ahead scores on 16 opportunities. We looked at that for Aaron Rodgers in Week 2, and Rodgers is now 11-of-16 in his career. Brady is not quite automatic; remember his bad drive in Seattle in 2012, or an interception against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football in 2004. Stephen Gostkowski's lone miss in the clutch in his career was against Arizona in 2012. But the Giants were in trouble here.

On the very first play of the drive, Brady uncharacteristically attacked deep, and rookie safety Landon Collins appeared to end this one with an interception. That would have been Brady's third turnover of the quarter after entering the game with three all season. However, Collins lost the ball after rolling over on the ground, so there's the huge break the Patriots have been hoping for against the Giants, who made amazing catches in the two Super Bowl wins, but failed to hang on to a go-ahead touchdown and a game-ending interception in the final two minutes here. The drive still got to fourth-and-10, but that was when Brady finally made a play and found Amendola for 12 yards to get things moving.

Eventually, the Patriots were at New York's 45 with 19 seconds left. Gronkowski and Amendola had to be the priorities for the defense, but Amendola was left open to catch a short pass, make a move, and pick up 7 huge YAC to make the field goal easier after a Brady spike. Gostkowski lacks the playoff resume of big kicks that Adam Vinatieri has, but he is very good and can put this one on top of his list. The 54-yard attempt snuck in the left upright and the Patriots were back on top with one second left. This is the longest game-winning field goal in franchise history, besting Gostkowski's own record of 53 yards (at the Texans in 2013). Brady's 37th fourth-quarter comeback win moves him into sole possession of second place all time.

Maybe there will be a rematch in a few months.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Arizona Cardinals 39 at Seattle Seahawks 32

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (29-25)

Head Coach: Bruce Arians (12-8 at 4QC and 15-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Carson Palmer (19-45 at 4QC and 27-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)

It was nearly four hours long on Sunday night, but this was a hell of a game in Seattle. Carson Palmer's excellent deep passes built a 19-0 lead, putting some famous Seattle streaks in major jeopardy. However, all Russell Wilson games really do end up close eventually. Palmer's failing protection and two fourth-quarter fumbles quickly put 12 points on the board, finally giving Seattle a lead for the 65th consecutive game, an NFL record. The Seahawks have had a lead or been within one score in the fourth quarter in 79 consecutive games, also an NFL record.

Some will say that lead should have included two extra points instead of two failed two-point conversions, but given the offense's lack of production this year, it would be hard to rely on them to get very many scoring chances. Up 29-25 with 13:00 left, most teams will go for two to ensure the opponent can't kick two field goals and win. The conversions just were not good, including a fade to Jermaine Kearse.

Palmer easily could have been shaken at this point, but he delivered on the ensuing drive. So did Jaron Brown, a decent No. 4 wideout for Arizona who is rarely used. He beat Richard Sherman to a deflected pass for a big catch. Tight ends have crushed Seattle this season, and Jermaine Gresham went right down the seam for a 14-yard touchdown with 8:41 left. Intentional grounding sunk Seattle's response and Wilson nearly threw an interception right to Tyrann Mathieu. Arizona's offense was then on the move again, with Brown making another big third-down catch. This drive was about the run however, and on a crucial third-and-4 with 2:07 left, a shotgun draw to Andre Ellington broke open for a 48-yard touchdown. Seattle had not allowed this many points (39) since the 2010 season.

Down 39-29, the Seahawks set up a field goal with 58 seconds left, but needed to recover an onside kick. Larry Fitzgerald came through on the hands team to end the drama and one of the better games this season. The Seahawks are 1-6 at game-winning drive opportunities since February's Super Bowl. The five blown fourth-quarter leads this season are two shy of tying the NFL record. Given the competition, you could easily argue Seattle has been a better team in its five losses than in its four wins, but things are starting to slip away at 4-5. The Cardinals are just better this year.

Houston Texans 10 at Cincinnati Bengals 6

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (6-3)

Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (3-6 at 4QC and 3-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: T.J. Yates (2-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Even if he's only packing his Red Ryder BB gun, Andy Dalton is still better suited to playing outdoors in the daylight. In prime time, he's more likely to shoot his eye out. Injuries have leveled the playing field this season, so in a normal year the Bengals probably would not have started 8-0, but they would still be one of the NFL's best teams. The big differences this year were mostly on offense, with Dalton sustaining a higher level of efficiency and a healthy Tyler Eifert adding another dimension at tight end. Against Houston, this looked like the same old Bungles. The Texans are 4-1 against the Dalton-led Bengals, limiting him to two touchdown passes on 173 attempts in those games.

Cincinnati failed to find the end zone on 11 possessions on Monday night. The run game never clicked, Dalton's deep passes sailed out of bounds, and some of his better throws were dropped by Eifert (three times at least). Only when Brian Hoyer left the game with a concussion in the third quarter did this offensive dud start to get interesting. T.J. Yates took over for Hoyer, and his first pass killed any worms crawling underneath the turf at Paul Brown Stadium. But Yates has enjoyed playing against the Bengals. They basically account for all of the relevant moments of his career. Yates had a wild-card playoff win as a 2011 rookie against the Bengals, and he can now boast that both of his fourth-quarter comebacks are against the Bengals.

Yes, after that first putrid throw, Yates shook off the rust and actually converted two third-and-longs to tight end Ryan Griffin, who had not played since Week 1. Four plays into the fourth quarter, Yates threw one up for DeAndre Hopkins, and one of the league's best receivers made one of the season's best catches over Adam Jones for a 22-yard touchdown.

Cincinnati has answered the bell a few times this year, but things kept getting worse on offense. Dalton missed a wide-open Eifert on a third down. On his next drive, he watched the Texans drop an interception. Eifert dropped a first down to harm a third drive. The defense was holding up. Even A.J. Hawk had a sack after no one blocked him, but the Bengals needed a touchdown and were down to one more drive with 3:54 left. It had to go 81 yards, but the time was not a factor yet. J.J. Watt became a factor with a big sack to set up third-and-18, but Dalton finally hit a big throw to A.J. Green for 26 yards to get things moving.

With the clock ticking under a minute and the ball inside Houston's 35, Dalton kept going to Green on crucial downs, but the coverage was strong from rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson. On fourth-and-6 with 50 seconds left, Dalton made the perfect throw to Green, who caught it, but Quintin Demps came over and knocked the ball loose before Green was down on a great defensive play. The Texans recovered the fumble, and this team that has trailed 42-0 and 41-0 in two games this year pulled off the big upset.

It's not like the Bengals were going to go undefeated, and the defense has yet to allow more than 21 points in any game this season. But a performance like this from the young players on offense will continue creating doubt in the minds of those skeptical that things are going to be different this postseason.

Miami Dolphins 20 at Philadelphia Eagles 19

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (16-13)

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

Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (9-18 at 4QC and 9-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The first truly close game of Miami's Dan Campbell era did not start well, with the Eagles jumping out to a 16-3 lead. The Dolphins allowed a safety for the third game in a row, tying the record of the 1980 Seahawks, according to ESPN. (Believe it or not, we have another 1980 Seahawks record being tied this week in the Jaguars-Ravens recap, so shed a tear for Jim Zorn.) But Miami rallied, the score remained 16-13 for more than 21 minutes, and Sam Bradford was lost with a shoulder and concussion. The game's healthy quarterbacks had some fourth-quarter adventures in the red zone when a field goal still would have been a positive. Ryan Tannehill had the Dolphins at the Philadelphia 4 to start the final quarter. His deflected pass off Connor Barwin's helmet should go down as one of the luckiest game-winning passes in NFL history. How often do you see something like this?

Malcolm Jenkins seemed to lose track of the ball, because he should have just tackled Jarvis Landry after the deflection (there is no such thing as pass interference on deflected passes) instead of letting him catch the ball.

Enter Mark Sanchez, who almost did his job for the Eagles here. Miles Austin failed to keep his second foot in on one go-ahead touchdown, and Riley Cooper failed to get set in time in the no-huddle to wipe out another touchdown due to an illegal shift. Eventually the Eagles settled for the field goal and a 20-19 deficit.

Still down a point with 4:32 left, Sanchez had the ball at the Miami 9. He missed Austin and found Reshad Jones on a crucial interception. Miami needed to make some hay in the four-minute offense, and did well to convert a tough third-and-7 with Tannehill's pass to Landry. The Eagles used their final timeout after sacking Tannehill on another third down, forcing a punt.

Enter the Caleb Sturgis redemption moment -- or not. The thought of Sanchez setting up an unreliable ex-Miami kicker may be tough for Eagles fans to hear, but they had to like their chances with 1:40 at their own 29 in a 20-19 game. Miami rushed just four on the entire drive, because standard pressure was doing its job against an offensive line still missing left tackle Jason Peters. After gaining 15 yards, the Eagles had a big miss when DeMarco Murray dropped a second-down screen with blocking ahead of him. This definitely had first down written all over it at the very least, but drops have hurt the Eagles this season. On fourth-and-10, pressure got home quickly and Sanchez dumped a short pass to Jordan Matthews for a 6-yard gain that never had a chance of getting YAC. This was the week's ALEX lowlight as Matthews needed to run a better route that actually gave him a shot at the first down in case Sanchez had to throw there.

It's not like the Eagles could count on a helmet-deflected touchdown there.

Jacksonville Jaguars 22 at Baltimore Ravens 20

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (20-19)

Head Coach: Gus Bradley (4-11 at 4QC and 5-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Blake Bortles (3-7 at 4QC and 4-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The 2015 Ravens are the first team in NFL history to have their first nine games decided by no more than eight points. Somehow, they have gone 2-7 in that stretch. This loss was easy to figure out, but tough to swallow after a controversial ending.

First, the Ravens let Jacksonville hang around after Joe Flacco turned the ball over on three consecutive drives in the third quarter, clinging to a 14-13 lead. In the fourth quarter, Jeremy Ross muffed a punt, leading to a touchdown pass from Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson. Jacksonville's fade on the two-point conversion failed, because, duh. It's not like the Ravens have not answered on offense this season, and Flacco redeemed himself with a nice drive, throwing a 14-yard touchdown to newcomer Chris Givens. These two-point conversions are very important, but Baltimore also failed after Flacco's play-fake basically cut off half the field and he had to force a pass to Kamar Aiken that was nearly intercepted. Baltimore led 20-19 and forced a Jacksonville punt.

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With 3:57 left, this was a classic four-minute situation. Naturally, the first completion on the drive saw fullback Kyle Juszczyk let his momentum carry him out of bounds to stop the clock. It sure seems like we have to point this out too often this season. To his credit, Juszczyk showed he learns quickly as he took a very similar play for 22 yards and this time stayed in bounds to force the Jaguars to use their second timeout. Eventually, the Ravens faced a third-and-9 at the two-minute warning. A conversion here would have iced the game. Only up by one, you have to be aggressive here. I did not like the big formation with a play-action pass that looked designed for a short dumpoff to the back for a 4-yard gain. Go shotgun with your wide receivers and win this thing now.

Bortles had 1:06 left from his own 20 to set up a field goal. This is the situation in which he has thrown quite a few interceptions in the last two seasons. His passes were short and he was not spiking the ball, consuming 41 seconds just to move 20 yards. This was not working. The game-ending interception? Oh, Bortles threw one out of desperation, but Kendrick Lewis dropped the ball. With 14 seconds left on third-and-15, Bortles threw short of the sticks in the middle of the field to a receiver with nearby coverage. That was awkward, because the only option left after that was a fire drill to throw a Hail Mary on fourth down with no time left. Counting down the seconds to a Baltimore win, Jacksonville actually beat the clock to get the snap off. Bortles fell down right away, got up, and was spun around violently by Elvis Dumervil for a game-ending sack. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Bortles spun like that because Dumervil was swinging him around by the facemask. Well, with that facemask action, you knew the game could not end on a defensive penalty. The rare untimed down reared its ugly head again and Jason Myers was good on the ensuing 53-yard field goal.

Jacksonville pulled off the shocking win, but should it have counted? The NFL admitted that the Jaguars should have been penalized for a false start on fourth down, resulting in a 10-second runoff and securing a Baltimore win. Wow, imagine the reaction if this season was not already a total loss for the Ravens. It makes you wonder if the NFL, going forward, should enable itself the power to reverse game outcomes when there is conclusive evidence that the final play of the game was botched as badly as this was. This rarely ever happens, but it sure would be nice to have a "final review" to make sure the game's true ending was legitimate.

Ultimately, this goes down as the fourth lost comeback of 2015 for Flacco and the Ravens. A lost comeback is a game that meets all the requirements of a fourth-quarter comeback except for winning the game. The only other team in my research with four lost comebacks in a season is the 1980 Seahawks with Jim Zorn at quarterback. That team's 4-3 start fell apart to a 4-12 finish.

Dallas Cowboys 6 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (6-3)

Head Coach: Lovie Smith (22-50 at 4QC and 28-53 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Jameis Winston (1-3 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This was supposed to be the most winnable game yet for the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, yet these teams only mustered three field goals in the game's first 59 minutes. Tampa Bay has been hard to figure out all year long. The 38-31 win over Jacksonville in Week 5 featured 27.5 more points than the over/under (41.5), which is the third-highest difference of 2015. This one's over/under was 43 points, so the 27 points below expectations ranks as the fifth-lowest game of 2015. The lowest game of 2015 was actually last night's 10-6 finish in Cincinnati (O/U: 47 for a difference of 31 points).

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In simple terms, we expected more points from these teams. Opportunities were squandered, but Tampa Bay really was the better team despite Dallas holding onto the lead for most of the day. Driving to the Dallas 23 with 5:48 left, Jameis Winston had just gotten away with one bullet pass, but his next risky throw was well behind the receiver, it was tipped and Jeff Heath made a diving interception. That was the second time in the game Heath was able to intercept a deflected ball to deny a scoring chance. Overall, Heath has struggled in his career as I have outlined in the past.

Dallas went three-and-out after Dez Bryant dropped a good pass on third-and-1. Sterling Moore was there, but he never got a hand on the ball. Clean drop for Bryant, who has to be better in that situation. Just a 38-yard punt put the Buccaneers at their own 44 with 4:00 left in a 6-3 game. That is an enviable position. The offense did not even face a third down until it was third-and-goal from the Dallas 4 with 1:07 left. Last week, Winston did an excellent job on a dive for the end zone against the Giants. He tried to repeat that scramble effort here, but this time he lost the ball on his own lunge short of the goal line, and the Cowboys were set to take over with a good chance to win the game. However, Heath was flagged for defensive holding after a little hook-and-turn attempt on a receiver who was probably never going to see a target from the running, fumbling, fortunate Winston.

Watching this unfold live, I had a strategy idea as Dallas was out of timeouts with 59 seconds left and the Buccaneers had all three left. You do not want to score right away and give Matt Cassel nearly the full minute to answer. On first-and-goal from the 1, why not have Winston take a dive for no gain to let the clock run and then try to score with under 25 seconds left? Yes, you would be giving yourself two chances to score instead of three (or four if you are ballsy enough to go for the regulation win a la Le'Veon Bell in San Diego), but the clock difference is huge. That's what I would do in this situation, and if you are Dallas, letting them score right away would also have been wise.

On first down, Tampa Bay called the play I wanted to see in Week 7 in the Washington loss: a Winston bootleg. He walked in for the touchdown with 54 seconds left. That's good, but one short kickoff and one silly penalty gave the Cowboys 43 seconds to drive 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown. This is not a pipe dream when you have a receiver with incredible jumping ability in the end zone like Bryant. After a short pass and spike, Cassel threw that bomb from the Tampa Bay 45 to a single-covered Bryant in the end zone, but Bradley McDougald came away with the game-clinching interception. There was a little contact, but not enough to warrant a 44-yard, game-altering penalty. Bryant's effort was lacking, and the Cowboys have lost seven in a row with six failed game-winning drive opportunities.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Lions at Packers: When Streaks Collide

Something had to give when a trio of odd 0-for streaks collided in the NFC North. The Lions had lost 24 consecutive games at Lambeau Field. "It's just kind of fell our way the last 20 times or whatever, but it's always been very competitive," Aaron Rodgers said jokingly earlier in the week. Detroit's streak included an 0-13 record at game-winning drive opportunities, so there have been a lot of chances to get over the hump for this team. But the Lions have spent decades mastering how to lose these games in heart-breaking fashion against a superior team like the Packers, especially on the road.

Just last week, though, we looked at how Rodgers is 0-25 when trailing by multiple scores in the second half of games in his career. Appropriately enough, Detroit took a 12-3 lead with 13:10 left in the fourth quarter. Someone's streak was going to end.

In his career, Matthew Stafford started 0-18 in road games against teams that finish the season with a winning record. That could easily get to 0-19 with this year's Vikings, and maybe 0-21 based on how Seattle and Kansas City finish the year. With Stafford's luck in these games, the Packers will continue to fade, and he will lose out on the first big road win of his career. He got a lot of the help he needed early in this one, including a 104-yard kick return to start the third quarter that led to the game's first touchdown. He did not get help from the running game, but neither did Rodgers. Stafford still had a big mistake with an interception from the Green Bay 23 when he could have put the Packers behind by two scores, but Detroit led 9-3 to start the fourth quarter and went ahead 12-3 shortly thereafter.

This looked like the perfect time for Rodgers to break his losing streak when down by multiple scores, as four of his 13 game-winning drives have come against the Lions. Not to mention this was a 1-7 Detroit team that was allowing 8.7 yards per pass on defense. It is almost a miracle the Lions held Rodgers in check to this degree, forcing him to throw a career-high 61 passes for 333 yards (5.5 YPA).

The final quarter was littered with mistakes from all three units on both teams, but Stafford was as good as any player on the field. Green Bay applied the pressure with a long touchdown drive to draw within two points with 5:55 left, an eternity of time to get the ball back. On third-and-9, Stafford did a great job to escape pressure and find Calvin Johnson on a low throw for a first down. On third-and-3, the Packers rushed six, but left the middle of the field wide open. Detroit's bunch formation freed up Golden Tate for a wide open catch after two Green Bay defenders ran into each other. He broke several tackles to turn the short pass into a 43-yard gain, but made the huge mistake of going out of bounds for the second time on the drive. This needs to be coached better around the league. Detroit was able to finish the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore, which should have been huge with 1:57 left, but Matt Prater missed the extra point, keeping it an 18-10 game.

This is an interesting debate to have in light of the new extra point, which has been missed 36 times in 2015 for a 94.8 percent success rate. Some felt the Lions should have gone for two. At the absolute worst, you give up two points to Green Bay on a return, but let's focus on more realistic outcomes. At worst, you fail and probably end up in overtime. That's not so bad anymore. If you kick the extra point to go up nine, then you make it a definite two-score game, but still open yourself up to a one-point loss with the opponent scoring twice. However, if the defense stops the two-point conversion, that can still happen anyway (see below). It becomes the same situation at that point. If you get the two-point conversion, then you have a solid 10-point lead, which means at worst you could be in overtime, but only after an improbable onside kick recovery and double score by the opponent. If you really like your offense against the opponent's defense, then you could go for two when up eight in this situation. All three situations are nice, and all three share the same goal: do not allow a touchdown.

The Lions must have missed that last part as Rodgers moved Green Bay 73 yards on the strength of James Starks screens, very accurate throws to Justin Perillo (who?), and a tough roughing the passer call. After a great throw to Perillo for the touchdown with 32 seconds left, Rodgers needed one more throw. The Packers have passed on all 21 of their two-point conversion attempts under Mike McCarthy. They did it again, Detroit rushed seven to force the quick throw, and Rodgers went to Davante Adams on a 22-target day (including this play). The throw was decent, but Crezdon Butler, just signed by the Lions, managed to get his hand in there at the right moment to help knock the ball away. Those 22 Adams targets produced just 79 yards. According to Pro-Football-Reference's target data, Adams joins Chris Penn (85 yards) as the only players to have at least 20 targets and fewer than 100 receiving yards in a game since 1992.

Green Bay knows what those improbable onside kick recoveries look like, but who would have imagined Calvin Johnson would be the player to botch the recovery? The Packers were in business with 31 seconds left at the Detroit 49, smelling the 19-18 win. Adams caught two passes for 15 yards, so the Packers could have gotten closer, but this at least gave Mason Crosby a shot. There are at least eight kickers in the NFL preferable to Crosby in these situations, but he was Green Bay's only choice. The 52-yard field goal was nowhere close; a putrid knuckleball to let Detroit shake off its own special teams blunders at the end.

One streak ends and at least one other continues after the biggest upset of 2015.

Panthers at Titans: A Footnote

What is this 27-10 final doing here? This was actually a tight, one-score game for the first 51 minutes before Carolina pulled away late. Tennessee had the ball with a 17-10 deficit. In a week where the game-winning drive attempts were pretty ugly, this fit right in. On third-and-8, Marcus Mariota mishandled a fine shotgun snap and put the ball on the ground. He eventually recovered, but the Titans had to punt. A good return by Ted Ginn had the ball at the Tennessee 43 and Carolina added a field goal to extend to a 20-10 lead with 9:06 left.

Running out of chances, Mariota was very safe with the ball on three straight plays to lead to a third straight three-and-out drive. Carolina put the game out of reach with another touchdown. The Panthers are 8-0 in close games this year, holding up a one-score lead in the fourth quarter of each win. Only the Buccaneers, in a 37-23 loss in Week 4, failed to keep it that close with Carolina.

Vikings at Raiders: Not an Ugly Win

Not to kick-start the irrational Teddy Bridgewater vs. Derek Carr debate you know is brewing, but their first career meeting put the obvious on display. The reliability of Adrian Peterson combined with Mike Zimmer's defensive prowess gives Bridgewater a big edge in team support to this point. Minnesota had taken a rough path to 6-2, but this was a pretty clean road performance -- zero turnovers and three penalties outweigh a horrific dropped touchdown by Kyle Rudolph -- where the Vikings only trailed for a total of 13 seconds. Why only 13 seconds? Cordarrelle Patterson reminded us he was alive with a 93-yard kick return touchdown to immediately regain a 20-14 lead for the Vikings before halftime.

These offenses looked poised for more points, but that 20-14 score carried over into the fourth quarter. Blair Walsh missed his second field goal of the game, but this 39-yard attempt was blocked by Keith McGill with 10:53 left. Oakland's offense failed to capitalize, going three-and-out after just enough pressure affected Carr's throw on third-and-4 to an open Amari Cooper. That was the closest Oakland got as the defense let down again.

Bridgewater only passed for 140 yards on the day, but a quick pass to Stefon Diggs, the best rookie wideout not named Cooper, gained 37 yards after a few broken tackles. Peterson was the closer with 137 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone. Walsh was good on a crucial 34-yard field goal to put Minnesota up 23-14 with 3:50 left. Needing a quick score, Carr did well in the no-huddle, moving the ball to the Minnesota 11. One thing that really stood out from his rookie season was that he was not afraid to give his receivers a chance to make a play. Sometimes that works out, like the 34-yard touchdown to Andre Holmes (against a safety) in the second quarter. But sometimes the defense makes the play, and that's what veteran cornerback Terence Newman did in the end zone against Holmes to come away with his second interception of the game. That pass needed a bit more arc towards the back corner of the end zone.

One play later, Peterson broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run. That put him over 200 yards rushing for the sixth time in his career, tying O.J. Simpson for the most such games in NFL history. Minnesota led 30-14 and the game ended with Carr misfiring three passes from the Vikings' 10-yard line.

It is understandable to still be tentative of the Vikings (7-2), but the biggest game of the Zimmer era comes next Sunday when Minnesota hosts Green Bay (6-3) in a battle for first place in the NFC North.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 44

Game-winning drives: 49 (plus five non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC opportunity: 90/146 (61.6 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 21

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


25 comments, Last at 19 Nov 2015, 10:15pm

#1 by RickD // Nov 17, 2015 - 4:28pm

"He just did not have the ball long enough before it was knocked out, though I wish for the end zone the rule was something as simple as catch plus two feet equals touchdown."

Why not for everywhere? I mean in terms of having possession, not TD, obviously. Why does a receiver in the middle of the field need to do anything other than control the ball and establish his presence in the field of play?

The NFL has screwed itself with this entire line of logic. Of course, that's typical for them. Never admit a mistake!

Points: 0

#4 by deus01 // Nov 17, 2015 - 5:17pm

I agree. We don't need separate rules for the endzone, what we need is a better rule for qualifying what a catch is and have it apply everywhere. Once those conditions are satisfied it becomes a catch and if that occurs in the endzone is immediately a touchdown (similarly with going out of bounds).

Points: 0

#11 by ClavisRa // Nov 17, 2015 - 7:18pm

New Catch Rule: continuous control of football for two seconds during which receiver establishes self inbounds momentarily.

This rule covers all situations on all parts of the field including end zone and sideline, and let's you dump all the specific language about 'becoming a runner' or 'going to the ground'. And it's simple and clear and matches peoples' intuition for what's a catch or not most of the time.

Points: 0

#14 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 18, 2015 - 6:32am

I hate semantics debates, but I think that's another problem with the "what is a catch?" thing that the NFL needs to address.

A catch literally happens as soon as the ball gets in the receiver's hands. He caught it, but was it a completion/reception? That is ultimately the name of the statistic the NFL recognizes for a successful pass in this game. The NFL should use the word "completion" as the goal of completing the process. So you check to see if the ball was caught, if the player got the equivalent of two feet down, and then I guess the next part is where people disagree. Element of time? How long is long enough? Establish yourself as a runner?

Would getting a third foot with control down satisfy everything? But a TD like Santonio Holmes in the Super Bowl only got two feet down, then he fell forward out of bounds. He never lost the ball, but how do you establish yourself as a "runner" if you just fall over? The rules need tweaking here.

Points: 0

#17 by lrargerich // Nov 18, 2015 - 10:41am

If you are going down you just have to keep control of the ball to complete the process of a catch. If you are not going down you have to establish yourself as a runner for the catch to be considered completed.

I think the rules are easy to understand and are fine. If you change them then the result will likely be a lot of new fumbles in situations were you had just an incomplete pass before. It is my opinion that those fumbles will randomize the game too much. Furthermore the argument will be about if you held or not held the ball before it popped.

I'm sorry but I really can't understand WHY you want the rules to be changed and what really eludes me is WHY those that say the rules need to be changed don't even consider the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

Points: 0

#2 by lrargerich // Nov 17, 2015 - 4:37pm

As usual great article Scott, the best column about this week's game.

I have a couple of comments about your Giants-NE snippet.

First about the rule of a catch in the endzone.

If you define a catch as "catch + two feet" then you can have a LOT of fumbles and there's a particular case to consider: If a defender bats the ball after a "catch" then it is a fumble and the offense can recover for a TD. That is unfair to the defense, as the rules are today if a defender bats the ball before the process is completed it's just an incomplete pass.

I think the rules are what they are for several good reasons. I find it a little simplistic when journalists say "the rules must change" without even informing why the rules are like they are today and what positive and negative impact a change would bring.

Then about NY kicking a FG.

I think even down by 1 they should have gone for it in 4th down. If you convert the TD then great, if not then you are down by 1 with NE pinned and two timeouts. It seems to me that going for it gives you 3 (yes three) chances to win: either the TD, a stop and a FG or a safety because down by 1 you actually win the game with a safety too. It sounds crazy not to take a FG when you are losing but that gives you two chances of losing: missing the FG or the other team driving up the field and winning with a FG.

Points: 0

#3 by deus01 // Nov 17, 2015 - 5:15pm

I don't think if what is currently a defensed pass became a catch and fumble it would unfairly benefit the offense. If anything that situation probably results in it being more likely the defense could recover for a touchback.

Points: 0

#6 by RickD // Nov 17, 2015 - 5:47pm

If a defender bats the ball after a "catch" then it is a fumble and the offense can recover for a TD. That is unfair to the defense, as the rules are today if a defender bats the ball before the process is completed it's just an incomplete pass.

Seems like it's much more likely that the defense would recover the fumble than that the offense would both recover the fumble and score a TD. I mean, in general, unless we want to have special rules for the end zone (and I do not).

The rules are what they are because the NFL wants to allow defenders the chance to hit a receiver and force him to drop the ball without it causing a fumble. That's their motivation. That want for there to be some kind of minute amount of time between when a receiver has a ball controlled and when the catch is "complete". But the language cannot be properly defined because they are chasing rainbows here. Before the Calvin Johnson rule, a catch was always "two feet + control". It was simple and well-understood. I just don't understand why the NFL has moved away from that. I mean, I do understand, but they're trying to simultaneously satisfy mutually contradictory ideas. So it's never going to work.

Your argument about preferring to turn the ball over on downs as opposed to a FG just doesn't work. Why would it be easier to prevent a NE first down if the Giants were trailing than if they were ahead? If they're ahead, all they have to do is prevent a FG. If they're behind, they cannot even let the Patriots get a first down. One of these challenges is much easier than the other.

BTW, by 4th down the Giants were way out at the 10 yard line. Eli was sacked looking for an open receiver by the right sideline.

Points: 0

#8 by Eddo // Nov 17, 2015 - 6:16pm

"Before the Calvin Johnson rule"

I dislike that it's called that. It dates at least back to Bert Emanuel in the 1999 NFC Championship (January 2000).

Per this article, "In 1999, the NFL's catch rule was pretty basic, if not silly. No matter what the receiver did with the ball, if it touched the ground during the attempt to make the catch, the rule said it was an incomplete pass." The rule was then clarified to be that the ball could hit the ground, and as long as it was still controlled by the receiver (i.e. didn't move), it was a catch.

So we should show some respect to a forgotten receiver and call it the "Bert Emanuel Rule".

Points: 0

#9 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 17, 2015 - 6:34pm

That's not the Calvin Johnson rule. The CJ rule has nothing to do with the ball touching the ground. It's a "clarification" of control which has to do with a receiver going to the ground. So a receiver who catches securely, takes 2 steps and goes out of bounds then looses the ball is a catch, but a receiver who catches securely, but does a diving catch and loses before he gets up is not a catch.

Points: 0

#18 by SandyRiver // Nov 18, 2015 - 10:57am

How about the Troy Polamalu Rule? He made the apparent pick of Peyton, hit the ground and rolled over, then dropped the ball as he was getting up to run, and the pass was ruled incomplete.

Points: 0

#10 by Otis Taylor89 // Nov 17, 2015 - 6:43pm

Uh, have you watched the Pats the past 15 years with their current coach? Do you really think that would work if they didn't score a TD?

Points: 0

#5 by Last of the Sk… // Nov 17, 2015 - 5:45pm

AJ Green has a history of fumbling in tight situations. I never thought the Bengals were going to lose this game until they went and did ;(.

On the other hand, could we drop the "Same old Bungles" trope? At least from people purporting to be professional journalists? This is the most extensive run of success the Bengals have had, ever. Three straight playoff appearances, 4 straight winning seasons (assuming that they don't lose out I guess).

The Bungles were the team that went the entire decade of the 90's without a winning record. The Bungles drafted KiJana Carter and Akili Smith. The Bungles were a laughing stock. Those days are long past. The modern Bengals team bears no relation to that era of Cincinnati football. Most of this team wasn't even born the last time Cincy was the Bungles.

Points: 0

#7 by RickD // Nov 17, 2015 - 5:48pm

Yes, the press tend to be stupid and they never let the facts stand in the way of a good story line.

(That's not a problem limited to the sports world.)

Points: 0

#12 by Led // Nov 17, 2015 - 7:19pm

"With the ball at the 5-yard line, this made getting the touchdown very important, because the alternative was leaving Brady nearly two minutes to get a field goal."

If the Giants run it three times from the five, either they get a TD or kick a FG and leave the Pats with about a minute 15 seconds left, or a bit less if the first run took 6 seconds. The risk of an INT is probably somewhat greater than a fumble, but we can call the TO risk a wash. I wouldn't love giving the Pats 1:15 to get a FG but the extra 32 seconds the Giants actually left them is huge. I'd say that extra time probably increased the chances of the Pats kicking the game winning FG from a toss up to something north of 80%. I don't think passing 3 times increased their chances of of scoring a TD by enough to outweigh the "cost" of those extra 32 seconds.

Points: 0

#13 by Eleutheria // Nov 17, 2015 - 11:54pm

The risk of an INT in those situations isn't nearly what you think it is:
Manning held the ball for longer then he normally does, and was more conservative to where he threw then he normally is.

Why? Because he knows that an interception ends the game. He wasn't going to take the chance.

Points: 0

#15 by dmstorm22 // Nov 18, 2015 - 9:05am

That assumes the first running play takes the 6 seconds needed to get to the 2:00.

The real key was the first play ending at 2:01; that was critical for the Patriots. Not as critical of it course not being a catch, or Landon Collins dropping the sure pick, but that was huge break #1.

Points: 0

#16 by Led // Nov 18, 2015 - 9:47am

No. Three runs means NYG are running at least one play after the 2:00 warning with NE unable to stop the clock. That's 40 seconds plus the time it takes to run the 3rd down play and kick the FG. That's at least 45 seconds.

But I agree that the pass to Beckham ending at 2:01 was a huge break.

Points: 0

#20 by dmstorm22 // Nov 18, 2015 - 1:17pm

Sorry, yes you are right. Not sure why my thinking was wrong there.

Issue for the Giants was 1st and Goal really made TD a priority there. In a weird way, the pass to Harris to set that up would have been more effective if it was a smaller gain.

Anyway, I'm sure Patriots fans are just happy that for once against the Giants, the late-game breaks went their way. I will say this though, Landon Collins drop INT was far, far, far easier than Asante Samuel's in SB XLII.

Points: 0

#21 by PatsFan // Nov 18, 2015 - 1:29pm

Samuel gets way too much grief for "dropping" that INT in SB42.

He should get more grief for giving up on the helmet catch play -- Tyree was his man.

(Still wish I knew why Harrison didn't just try to punch the ball out.)
(And why the hell NE called a jailbreak blitz at their own 3 with smurf Hobbs matched on Burress.)

Points: 0

#22 by dmstorm22 // Nov 18, 2015 - 1:46pm

Agree on Samuel; he was fully extended and barely got his hands on that. It was a hard pick to make.

As for the big blitz, no clue.

What always struck me as weirder was Brady taking deep shots on 1st and 2nd down (sacked), when he had 0:35 and two (I think) timeouts. They made it seem far more desperate than it was.

Points: 0

#23 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 18, 2015 - 2:28pm

29 seconds, but all three timeouts, which we know is very doable with the whole field open to the offense. I was going to mention that drive and the weird deep ball on first down (similar to this weird, dropped INT), but I was already over 6,300 words here and running on fumes.

Points: 0

#24 by BJR // Nov 19, 2015 - 8:54am

He did have a certain receiver that year, quite well known for his threat deep down the field. Probably sensible to target him in a desperate situation. I can quite imagine the complaints had he not.

The deep pass attempt in this game was strange, I'll grant you.

Points: 0

#19 by PD // Nov 18, 2015 - 11:10am

Was anybody else bothered by Ed Hochuli's in-game explanation of why the OBJ catch was not a catch? He said it was because the ball was knocked out "as" the second foot was coming down. But OBJ's second foot was clearly down before that happened, not "as" it happened.

Now, perhaps it still should not have been ruled a catch because Beckham didn't complete the (probably ill-defined) "process" enough. That's what the Mike Pereira types have been saying. Meanwhile, I'm also sympathetic to Scott's position that in the end zone, it should just be possession plus two feet.

But whatever the case with these other aspects of the debate, what Hochuli told everyone during the game simply doesn't match up with the video. Isn't that sort of ... bewildering, frustrating, etc?

Points: 0

#25 by LionInAZ // Nov 19, 2015 - 10:15pm

TJ Yates could have notched a win against the Ravens in those playoffs as well if Torrey Smith had been properly penalized for his facemask grab against his defender on his TD that stole the game from the Texans.

Points: 0

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