Clutch Encounters
A look at Sunday's fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drive opportunities

Clutch Encounters: Week 11

Clutch Encounters: Week 11
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Week 11 provided a surplus of backup quarterbacks and lousy officiating, or just another week in the NFL's 2015 season. After nine more games with a comeback attempt, this season is on pace to be the closest on record. Injuries have certainly evened the playing field, as only nine teams have a record above .500 through 10 games. Working backwards, here is how many teams have been above .500 through 10 games in the previous nine years: 17, 12, 14, 14, 14, 14, 16, 12, and 13. Thanksgiving won't change that number, but Sunday could bring the total to as high as 15 or as low as 11. Either way, it is a top-heavy season and our game of the week reflects that well.

Game of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals 31 at Arizona Cardinals 34

Type: GWD

Head Coach: Bruce Arians (12-8 at 4QC and 16-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Carson Palmer (19-45 at 4QC and 28-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If Super Bowl 50 looks anything like this game, then that would be a great ending to a season filled with mediocre play. For the second week in a row the Cardinals impressed in a high-scoring Sunday night game, coming out on top against another quality opponent. I tend to not write as much about these games since they are the most watched of the week, but Carson Palmer's three-touchdown third quarter was very impressive on a night when he started poorly. His deep passing has been off the charts and he is clearly having the best statistical season of any quarterback in 2015. Palmer is just the ninth quarterback since 1960 to throw at least 300 passes and average at least 9.0 yards per pass through 10 games. Palmer and Andy Dalton were the only 300-yard passers this week.

After taking that third-quarter gut punch to fall behind 28-14, the Bengals showed great mettle on the road. Even after Dalton lost the ball on a strip-sack and the Bengals were down 31-21 with 6:27 left, the offense kept the pressure on a team that rarely ever squanders late leads. Tyler Eifert's second touchdown of the night made it 31-28 with 3:44 left, setting Arizona up in a classic four-minute offense situation. Bruce Arians likes to throw on early downs there, but Chris Johnson dropped Palmer's first-down pass. Johnson was stuffed on third-and-1, and the Bengals were actually in position to win this thing with an 84-yard touchdown drive. With 2:45 remaining, time was not an issue.

Giovani Bernard was impressive with 128 receiving yards, and his 30-yard gain moved the ball to the Arizona 33. On a third-and-2, though, the Bengals botched the end-game strategy. Dalton threw deep and it was almost intercepted, then almost caught by A.J. Green at the pylon.

That is not a high-percentage play on third-and-2, nor is it a smart play with 1:14 left and the Cardinals out of timeouts. Run the ball or throw a short pass to extend the drive. You want to score a touchdown with as little time remaining as possible. Some may think managing the clock there is a pipe dream and that you take the score however you can get it, but I like to believe it is manageable with the right plays. It is certainly important in this era when offenses are moving down the field quickly to set up scores for kickers who are smashing records for long field goals. The clock can be your opponent, but it can be your ally in these situations too. Even a run that came up short would have in all likelihood sent this game to overtime. Dalton trying to throw a 25-yard touchdown pass with over a minute left was just not rational even with Patrick Peterson ailing on the sideline.

Mike Nugent was good on the 43-yard field goal, but Palmer had 58 seconds left from his own 16 to drive for the win against his former team. He only needed three perfectly placed intermediate passes to get into field-goal range. The Cardinals moved 57 yards in 38 seconds without a timeout -- not too shabby. Palmer took a knee to center the ball, then lined up for another spike. With the clock running in the last 10 seconds, there was a lot of movement, which first looked like a possible false start and 10-second run-off penalty. That would have been crushing to the Cardinals, but instead it was a rarely called penalty on the Bengals for simulating the snap. That did not sit well with Marvin Lewis, but what a bonus for the Cardinals as it turned a 46-yard field goal into a much easier 32-yard kick for Chandler Catanzaro, who was good on the kick. The Bengals had time for a lateral-filled kick return, but that never went anywhere significant.

Very good and competitive game, but cannot help but feel the Bengals cost themselves overtime at the very least with some huge mistakes down the stretch. As a head coach, Bruce Arians is now 16-8 in games where his team has an opportunity to score the winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime. The next closest active coach is Chuck Pagano (10-9). There is some (Andrew) luck correlation there, but Arians is carving out his own legacy in Arizona.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Indianapolis Colts 24 at Atlanta Falcons 21

Type: 4QC (return score) and GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (21-14)

Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (7-8 at 4QC and 10-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck (17-29 at 4QC and 27-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Atlanta's 5-0 start, built on four fourth-quarter comebacks against the NFC East, feels like eons ago, and as if it was done by a completely different team. Since that point the Falcons are 1-4 with the lone win a 10-7 nailbiter over the Titans. The high-scoring offense? It's in shambles even though the only major injury was Devonta Freeman leaving this game early with a concussion. Atlanta has not scored more than 21 points in any of its last five games.

The Colts have another win to put in the cap of those who believe Matt Hasselbeck should be starting over Andrew Luck regardless of health, but this game was not about the quarterback. Indianapolis still started slowly with Hasselbeck intercepted on his first pass and the Falcons taking a 14-0 lead early. That's even with Matt Bryant missing a 46-yard field goal and Matt Ryan throwing a red zone interception that clearly hit the ground. The Falcons easily could have led 20-0 or 24-0. The Colts did climb back into it with two touchdown passes to Ahmad Bradshaw, then recovered a Tevin Coleman fumble on the final play of the third quarter, down 21-14. Another comeback was in the making, but Hasselbeck was intercepted in the red zone three plays into the fourth quarter.

For book-keeping purposes, this one goes down as a "no decision" for a 4QC opportunity for Hasselbeck. He gets credit for the game-winning drive later, but the comeback scoring was fully taken care of by the defense. After a punt by Pat McAfee pinned Atlanta at its own 1-yard line, Ryan failed to see D'Qwell Jackson drop into coverage and threw a pick-six right to him with 10:07 left to tie the game.

Both offenses struggled for a bit after that. The Colts were not explosive under Hasselbeck, only gaining more than 15 yards on two plays, but a 31-yard screen pass to Frank Gore came in a huge spot. That led to a 43-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 52 seconds left, and the Falcons trailed for the first time on the day.

Eric Weems cost his team five seconds and 2 yards by fielding a kickoff from 8 yards deep in his end zone to the 18-yard line. Ryan had 47 seconds left, but he has delivered five one-minute drills in his career to win games, the highest count on record. This was about getting to overtime, and not helping was Leonard Hankerson starting the drive with a drop at his own 36. If Hankerson isn't leading the league in drops (this was at least his ninth) he has to have the worst at drop rate this season. It took the Falcons three more plays to reach the 36, and only 11 seconds remained.

Julio Jones then nearly had one of the catches of the decade. Hell, he probably did, but insert silly NFL rules about going to the ground and completing the process. Jones caught the ball with two feet down, went backwards to try getting out of bounds (he got five feet and his ass down), and only after that did the ball get knocked out. To me, that's a catch.

The problem here is that if the play had been ruled a catch, Jones was down in bounds with five seconds left. That time would have run out before the Falcons could have spiked the ball and kicked the field goal. If review changed this to a completion, it would be extremely unfair to the Colts for the Falcons to be allowed to line up and spike the ball immediately after the clock started running on the ready for play signal. So it's probably for the best that Jones' effort was not rewarded.

Ryan's Hail Mary needed to travel very far, but he came up well short of the end zone and Coby Fleener actually finished the game with an interception. That was Ryan's third interception of the game, but we know the one that stings is the second, which tied the game and helped the Colts to yet another improbable 14-point comeback win.

Dallas Cowboys 24 at Miami Dolphins 14

Type: GWD

Head Coach: Jason Garrett (18-26 at 4QC and 23-28 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Tony Romo (25-32 at 4QC and 30-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)

After going 0-6 at game-winning drive opportunities without Tony Romo, the 2015 Cowboys improved to 2-0 in the only two games he has completed this season. Interesting. It would be just wrong to act like Romo's return in Miami was sublime quarterback play to lift Dallas' spirits, but it sure is nice to know you have a player like that back under center.

Romo needed plenty of team help, mixed with a bad Miami day, to get this win. On his two interceptions, he looked more like a shaky rookie than a rusty veteran, but Dallas never trailed, with Ryan Tannehill's pick-six providing the game's first score. Miami eventually tied the game at 14, but Romo had Dallas driving as the third quarter ended.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were stuck in a second-and-goal from the 16 thanks to a holding penalty. Dez Bryant, arguably the best red zone wide receiver in the game, ran the perfect route between the linebacker and safety, and Romo put the ball on the money for the go-ahead touchdown. That is a great way to break the franchise record for most touchdown passes between a duo, as they cashed in for the 50th time together.

Miami had another inexplicable play-calling day with Lamar Miller ran the ball on both of Miami's first two plays, gaining 21 yards in the process -- and then had only five carries for 23 yards the rest of the day. A horrific 1-of-10 day on third downs failed to sustain offense for the Dolphins, who answered Dallas' game-winning drive with a three-and-out. A big punt return and silly penalty put the Cowboys at the Miami 21, but the defense held for a field goal and 24-14 deficit.

Miami's offense still could not get out of its own way and the Cowboys had the ball back with 6:29 left. Just when you thought Miami had things under control on third-and-14, Romo did his little draw handoff to Darren McFadden, who found a surprisingly easy path to a 15-yard run and big first down. Even after you remove the kneeldowns and botched snaps, runs in that situation convert maybe 5 percent of the time, and often it's from a quarterback scramble. That put McFadden right at 100 rushing yards, and he added 29 more on a drive where Romo only had to convert a third-and-4 to Cole Beasley to keep the clock moving. Dallas did not turn the ball over on downs until just 1:04 remained. Miami used that time to run four plays, including a 22-yard loss on a fourth-down sack to end the game. Actually, the clock should have stopped at six seconds with the change of possession, but who wants to see another kneeldown drive added to the official records?

Romo is the 18th quarterback with at least 30 game-winning drives in his career, and he did it in the sixth-fewest games (154). Given his first 27 game appearances were primarily as a holder, one could say only Matt Ryan got there in fewer games as a quarterback.

Fewest Games to Reach 30 Game-Winning Drives (Includes Playoffs)
Rk Quarterback Total GWD Date of 30th GWD Age Season Game No.
1 Matt Ryan 30 9/27/2015 30-133 8th 118
2 Johnny Unitas 40 12/4/1966 33-211 11th 140
3 Jake Plummer 30 11/12/2006 31-328 10th 142
4 Dan Marino 51 9/27/1992 31-012 10th 146
5 Ben Roethlisberger 35 10/20/2013 31-232 10th 147
6 Tom Brady 48 10/17/2010 33-075 11th 152
7 Tony Romo 30 11/22/2015 35-215 13th 154
8 Eli Manning 32 12/22/2013 32-353 10th 163
9 Peyton Manning 54 11/18/2007 31-239 10th 167
10 Drew Brees 37 10/7/2012 33-266 12th 168
11 John Elway 46 12/12/1993 33-167 11th 170
12 Warren Moon 37 11/5/1995 38-352 12th 175
13 Drew Bledsoe 31 12/11/2005 33-300 13th 192
14 Kerry Collins 30 10/24/2010 37-298 16th 195
15 Joe Montana 33 1/8/1994 37-211 15th 198
16 Vinny Testaverde 33 11/25/2004 41-012 18th 218
17 Brett Favre 45 11/14/2004 35-035 14th 221
18 Fran Tarkenton 34 11/21/1976 36-292 16th 225

St. Louis Rams 13 at Baltimore Ravens 16

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (13-3)

Head Coach: John Harbaugh (17-35 at 4QC and 24-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Joe Flacco (17-34 at 4QC and 24-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)

On a day when Ed Reed went into Baltimore's Ring of Honor, the Ravens and Rams played so poorly it seemed the winner would be forced to bestow the same honor on Tony Banks. Case Keenum (13.6) and Joe Flacco (8.6) had the lowest QBRs of Week 11. Todd Gurley was held in check, and Justin Forsett broke his arm. Still, the Rams held a 13-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but all Baltimore games are incredibly close this season. A fumble by Gurley led to a 3-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Kamar Aiken, the de facto No. 1 wide receiver now.

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For a game with subpar offense, the receivers were surprisingly wide open. Crockett Gillmore was left all alone on a short pass that gained 46 yards and set up Justin Tucker for a game-tying 20-yard field goal. The Rams put together their own drive with Keenum buying time to find Benny Cunningham on a 20-yard catch-and-run effort to the Baltimore 39. On third-and-5, Keenum was wide of the mark to Tavon Austin. A conversion there would have been big, but you know Jeff Fisher wouldn't have tried to get many more yards after that. That's why I would have just run Gurley out of a passing formation to make the field goal shorter than 52 yards, and run the clock down to nearly 60 seconds with the Ravens out of timeouts. After the incompletion, Greg Zuerlein had to attempt a 52-yard field goal, which still would have left Flacco a good 100 seconds to answer. Zuerlein was just wide right on a windy day, and that meant good field position for the Ravens.

Chris Givens caught a 20-yard pass against his former team, but went out of bounds to stop the clock. The Ravens got really conservative with short runs on first and third down. Sure, the Rams had to use two timeouts, but a 51-yard field goal is not easy even for a great kicker. Tucker was 17-of-17 on clutch field goals (down one to three points or tied in the fourth quarter or overtime) to start his career, but he suffered his first miss here with 1:13 left. Speaking of suffering, Keenum banged his head off the ground on a nasty looking shot, but somehow never left the game. The new concussion protocol is supposed to get these players out of the game, but Keenum somehow stayed in anyways. The NFL is investigating, but this was another bad look for the current system. Two plays later, Courtney Upshaw blew right by Greg Robinson to force a strip-sack of Keenum, and the Ravens had the ball at the St. Louis 41.

Flacco threw one incompletion before the Ravens went back to the ground game and let the clock run all the way down to three seconds before a spike. This looked like more madness at the time, but we quickly learned after the game that Flacco tore his ACL and MCL on that incompletion. He remained in the game, because they couldn't have trusted Matt Schaub to not botch the ending, but Flacco's incredible ironman streak is over in an absolutely brutal year for the Ravens on the injury front. Tucker was good from 47 yards away, but it was a pyrrhic victory for a team that will face many health questions heading into 2016.

Oakland Raiders 13 at Detroit Lions 18

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (13-9)

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (15-22 at 4QC and 17-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (17-30 at 4QC and 19-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Oakland offense was red-hot in the three games after their Week 6 bye, but this was a second consecutive dud against a Detroit defense that may be turning the corner at a time when the No. 1 pick seemed within reach. This was not the offensive shootout many expected. Detroit led 9-0 at halftime before Oakland rallied for a 13-9 lead. The Matthew Stafford Improv Show took over in the fourth quarter with a flip to Theo Riddick on third-and-10 for a big conversion, followed by an 18-yard scramble from the quarterback. Stafford then called his own number on a quarterback draw from an empty set, and his 5-yard touchdown with 11:04 left proved to be the game-winning score.

Oakland had plenty of time to answer, but failed to gain another first down. Amari Cooper had one catch and two drops, including a big one that could have bought some breathing room with the Raiders backed up at their own 4. That was crucial, because on third-and-14, Carr held the ball long in his own end zone before throwing a safe pass for just a 9-yard gain. However, Donald Penn was penalized for holding in the end zone, a safety. Detroit got the ball back with 7:22 left, now leading 18-13, and had a very impressive drive, alternating between Riddick runs and Stafford completions. All three Detroit backs got in on the action, and Joique Bell was the one to deliver the final first down, wisely not scoring at the 2-yard line with the chance to end the game on two kneeldowns.

Rarely ever will you see a team run out the final 7:22 while nursing a one-score lead, but hats off to the Lions for another excellent drive after last week's success in Green Bay.

Tennessee Titans 13 at Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (13-9)

Head Coach: Gus Bradley (5-11 at 4QC and 6-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Blake Bortles (4-7 at 4QC and 5-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Let's take a trip back to last Thursday night. Blake Bortles has led four game-winning drives this season, more than any other quarterback, but I may have to dig up the worst season anyone has ever had while doing that. This is a strong contender, given that the London winner against Buffalo was a self-inflicted opportunity set up after a Bortles pick-six, and of course last week's ridiculous win against Baltimore came after the Ravens dropped what should have been a killer pick, then the refs botched the ending and gave Jacksonville an untimed down.

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What happened here? Bortles threw another pick with the Jaguars down 13-9 and the ball at the Tennessee 23 with 10:55 left. Tennessee's offense went cold and rookie Rashad Greene returned a punt 63 yards to the Tennessee 5 with 3:34 left. Bortles only needed one pass to find Julius Thomas for the go-ahead touchdown.

On Tennessee's next drive, Phillip Supernaw fumbled on his second catch of the season. The Jaguars were then stuffed on a third-and-1 at the 19-yard line with 2:22 left. I think this would have been a great situation to go for the yard and the win with Tennessee out of timeouts, but Jacksonville kicked the 36-yard field goal for the dreaded 6-point lead.

For further confirmation that going for it was the better call, even Phil Simms said he would have gone for it there. As Simms put it, going for the field goal is like saying the Titans offense can't score a touchdown on your defense. Well, is that still not the belief in a 16-13 game? Your ability to prevent the touchdown in a 3-point game is actually better than it is in a 6-point game, because the other offense is bound to get conservative and stick to three-down football once in field goal range. Not to mention the offense had a better than 50 percent chance to get 1 yard and convert and end this thing right there.

Instead, Marcus Mariota had 2:19 to drive 80 yards for the win, and he gave it a good shot on a night where the limited Titans were missing Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter (who was on IR). Incredibly, the ending mirrored last year's 21-13 Jacksonville win, also played on a Thursday night. In that one, Charlie Whitehurst had one shot from the Jacksonville 35, but was sacked by Sen'Derrick Marks to end the game. Here, Mariota had one shot from the Jacksonville 23, but Andre Branch sacked him as the right side of the Titans' line collapsed.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Bills at Patriots: Upon Further Review, a Real Mess

Leave it up to Monday Night Football to add another controversial ending to my workload. The officiating was the only thing more atrocious than these offenses, but we almost never got to our 99th game with a 4QC opportunity this season. I warned about the game-ending Leodis McKelvin muffed punt, and it happened, but he managed to recover with 1:51 to play.

So close, because by now you just expect Buffalo to do these things against the Patriots. McKelvin also fumbled on a punt return late in the third quarter, setting up the Patriots for a 20-10 lead. That is a death sentence in New England, where the Patriots are 94-0 since 2001 when leading by at least eight points at any time in the game. In that same time, opponents are now 3-52 (.055) at 4QC opportunities against the Patriots in New England or on a neutral field. Eli Manning has led the Giants to all three wins, but Tyrod Taylor is no Eli just yet.

Rex Ryan had a good game plan for his defense, but as is usually the case with Ryan, his offense and game management left a lot to be desired. His defense also caught a break with the Patriots losing Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola to injuries after already entering the game without Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman. Tom Brady probably threw more balls away or into the dirt on the night than some quarterbacks do in an entire season. He threw a deep interception in the fourth quarter, the only quarter in which the Patriots did not score since the first quarter of Week 1 against Pittsburgh, ending an NFL record 38-quarter streak. The injuries have this offense very vulnerable right now, but Buffalo failed to capitalize. Chris Hogan catching a pass at the sticks and giving up the first down with a negative YAC play kind of epitomized how unfocused the Bills looked offensively.

Amendola was great in the Edelman role as expected, and he was involved in the game's most criticized play with the inadvertent whistle in the third quarter. Between 14 yards at the point of the catch and 15 yards on a penalty on the Buffalo sideline, the Patriots netted a 29-yard gain on that play, which was probably a fair compromise to both teams on a totally screwed-up officiating process. No, the Patriots were not robbed of a touchdown by any means. Ronald Darby clearly pulled up on Amendola after the whistle, and likely would have made the tackle if the play had been allowed to continue naturally. The flag was just a bonus. The whistle was clearly blown before the catch was made, so by rule the down should have been replayed at the New England 31. The officials cut the Patriots some slack by allowing the reception to stand. It should have been a legal pass play all the way.

It is disappointing how much talk that play generated afterwards, because the game's ending was worthy of intense scrutiny. Despite the slow-as-molasses offense the Bills were running down two scores, Buffalo got this to a 20-13 game late. They even forced the Patriots to go three-and-out after a very conservative drive that was just three runs by LeGarrette Blount.

Taylor was clearly in pain, but he never left the game. He had his shot, much like in Week 2, to drive the Bills 84 yards in the final 1:51 to tie the game. Immediately the refs had an impact again, incorrectly giving Buffalo a first down on what was clearly a 9-yard gain. The Bills were having headset issues and precious time was lost, but the review corrected the call to bring up second-and-1. A wincing Taylor was struggling with accuracy, which quickly brought up a fourth-and-6. Sammy Watkins seemed to make a routine catch on the sideline, but what appears to be the worst line judge in the league ruled that incomplete, which would have effectively ended the game. Review had to fix that one too.

Taylor was not getting the ball down the field, and his checkdown to LeSean McCoy was fortunately dropped to save time. Rob Ninkovich came up with a killer sack, which means the clock kept running even as referee Gene Steratore let us hear his voice again on a long night. The Bills snapped the ball with just seven seconds left, and Taylor found Watkins near the sideline again for a 16-yard gain. Never touched on the play, Watkins went backwards and got out of bounds with two seconds left, which should have been enough time for a Hail Mary from the Buffalo 48. However, that line judge came in again to run the clock and end the game. The explanation that Watkins gave himself up in the field of play does not pass the smell test one bit.

The Bills were jobbed a Hail Mary attempt, but this was probably the proper ending to such a poorly officiated game.

Broncos at Bears: Still Getting 2015 Results

Brock Osweiler started his first NFL game in place of an injured Peyton Manning, but this still resembled a typical 2015 Denver game in many ways. Sure, the shotgun was far less prominent and the Broncos had their fourth productive rushing game of the season (though it should be noted Chicago ranked 31st against the run coming into Week 11. The tight ends were much more involved, with 137 receiving yards. When Denver started 7-0, the tight ends accounted for just 228 yards. Yet even without any turnovers, the end result was just a 17-point outing, with Osweiler already tying Manning's career single-game high in sacks (five). In such a tight game with few big plays, Chicago arguably blew it early by allowing a blown-coverage touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on the game's opening drive. Even with Emmanuel Sanders out, Thomas had just 3 yards the rest of the way after his fast start.

Denver led wire to wire, but the Bears were always within one score. Six of Chicago's last seven games have been decided by three points or less. Jay Cutler's task was a tall one with Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, and Eddie Royal inactive, but his mobility helped produce six pass plays of 20-plus yards, a season-high allowed by the aggressive Denver defense. Marquess Wilson, Zach Miller, and Josh Bellamy were the unexpected trio of big playmakers for Chicago, but the Denver defense showed some cracks again with DeMarcus Ware still absent. The penalties were also a problem again, with Denver racking up eight for 118 yards, adding to its league-high personal foul count (21 coming into the game), while the Bears had zero penalties. According to CBS' Ian Eagle, the Denver defense has been fined more than $420,000 this season. Expect T.J. Ward to add to that total after dropping a late hit on Cutler in the fourth quarter.

Yet even with all of the mistakes, the Denver defense notched another huge takeaway and made three clutch stops in the fourth quarter. Down 17-9, Cutler appeared to bypass some great scrambling opportunities from the 4-yard line, throwing incompletions instead. It was stunning to see the conservative John Fox let the Chicago offense go for it on fourth-and-goal at the Denver 4 with 10:10 left. I would have kicked the field goal. Too often coaches get caught up with tying the game, but to win this game the Bears were going to need two scores anyway. Kick the field goal now, get the game-winning touchdown later. This is the area where not having Jeffery really hurts, with his size advantage and overall superiority to the leftovers on Chicago's wide receiver corps.

Von Miller helped produce this week's big takeaway with a strip-sack of Cutler with 2:23 left. Osweiler then took an odd-looking give-up sack on third down for a 9-yard loss. The punt would have taken care of the two-minute warning, so the loss of yardage there was not worth it.

Cutler had 1:49 to drive 65 yards, and he did it very well, utilizing his mobility in the pocket and the size of his tight ends. Martellus Bennett drew an 18-yard pass interference flag on Bradley Roby for being too big for the small corner to properly cover out wide. Jeremy Langford rushed for a 2-yard touchdown on a very quiet day for him, so it all came down to a two-point conversion. Matt Forte has been good on these, and so has Cutler, but Langford had just 13 carries for 25 yards on the day. The tight formation was all wrong here and Langford never had a chance as he was buried in a crowd up the middle.

Maybe Bennett should have blocked Ward, who got part of the tackle, instead of running a route. Just say no to this play, Chicago.

Chicago has done a lot of great things on special teams over the years, but Robbie Gould is 0-for-16 at onside kicks in his career. Thomas put the win away with a clean recovery. The Broncos have a big decision to make this season, but this win and the upcoming schedule should buy them a few weeks before they have to make it.

Jets at Texans: The Ryan Fitzpatrick Special

Some of the luster has left the Jets defense over the last month. Then again, DeAndre Hopkins can make any defense look silly whether the pass is thrown by T.J. Yates or another quarterback, and whether Darrelle Revis is on him or out of the game with an injury. The Texans carried a 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Yes, the game had a surreal quality to it with Yates starting for the Texans for the first time since the 2011 playoffs. He did not even join the team this season until late October. Last year Bill O'Brien went with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the true replacement for Matt Schaub, and he had one of the best statistical years of his odd career, but it was a one-and-done experiment. Fitzpatrick was traded to the Jets in March, and here he was again posting some of the better numbers of his career with his sixth NFL team.

However, no matter which uniform he dons in a given season, you usually get the sense Fitzpatrick is one play away from a crucial interception. After he called his own number on a quarterback draw for a touchdown with 4:20 left to cut the lead to 24-17, you had to wonder if Fitzpatrick was concussed on the play. He lowered his head and absorbed a pretty good hit, but he allegedly passed the concussion test on the sideline. With 3:08 left, Fitzpatrick only needed to drive the Jets 59 yards to tie the game. He did not pick up a first down. On fourth-and-5, Eddie Pleasant undercut Fitzpatrick's pass for an easy interception. CBS' Rich Gannon was livid with the aggressive decision to go for it, but I did not see the problem with the ball at midfield. The Texans actually lost 17 yards of field position by making the pick. It's not like the Houston offense was putting things away. On third-and-10, Yates threw to no one in particular, stopping the clock with 2:29 left instead of taking a sack that would have brought the game to the two-minute warning.

The Jets' last-ditch effort only lasted two plays. Andre Hal, another Houston safety, jumped a slant route to Brandon Marshall for a game-clinching interception with 1:52 left. Fitzpatrick is 7-34 (.171) at 4QC opportunities in his career, the second-worst record among active starters behind only a young Derek Carr (2-10). Since his debut in 2005, Fitzpatrick's 18 interceptions in 4QC opportunities trail only Eli Manning (19) and Philip Rivers (22), but both of them have more than double the number of pass attempts in those situations. Fitzpatrick has 18 picks on 218 attempts (8.3 percent) -- the highest interception rate in such situations in the NFL.

At 33, Fitzpatrick has to be running out of opportunities -- but we did just watch a week of action where Blaine Gabbert, T.J. Yates, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum, and Matt Hasselbeck all started games.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 48

Game-winning drives: 55 (plus five non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC opportunity: 99/160 (61.9 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 23

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


20 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2015, 1:12pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 11

The problem here is that if the play had been ruled a catch, Jones was down in bounds with five seconds left. That time would have run out before the Falcons could have spiked the ball and kicked the field goal. If review changed this to a completion, it would be extremely unfair to the Colts for the Falcons to be allowed to line up and spike the ball immediately after the clock started running on the ready for play signal. So it's probably for the best that Jones' effort was not rewarded.

The NFL has a rule on the books to prevent this. Rule 4-7-4:

If a replay review inside of one minute of either half results in the on-field ruling being reversed and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock, then the officials will run 10 seconds off the game clock before permitting the ball to be put in play on the ready-for-play signal. All normal rules regarding 10-second runoffs will apply.

Had the review ruled that Jones had caught the ball and been down in bounds, the remaining five seconds would have been run off.

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Yeah, someone showed this on Twitter to me. Just more proof the NFL rule book is loaded with things hardly anyone is aware of until after the situation pops up. At least this rule seems to be pretty fair as in any situation where the 10-second runoff would have ended the half, it's unlikely the offense would have been able to get the spike off in time.

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... an inadvertent whistle that appeared to negate a New England touchdown, benefited New England? I agree with Scott, if there had been no whistle on the play, Amendola likely would have been tackled shortly after the catch. But I don't see anyway the weirdest call of the night could have actually helped the Patriots.

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morganja is a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the Patriots. Even in the midst of a year when the Patriots have been systematically railroaded by the NFL league office, and after a game when a reception was whistled dead before any YAC could be accumulated, the officials did everything "to benefit the Patriots".

I do not agree that Amendola would have been quickly tackled if the play had stayed live. He had a step on the guy covering him, which is why he was open in the first place. The nearest defender downfield was about 30 yards away. And might have been blocked by the Patriot standing next to him.

Regardless, it was a horrible inadvertent whistle, and one would have to be positively delusional to think that it was done to help the Patriots.

I also don't see how it helped the Patriots when the officials first said a 4th down catch was not made late in the game, and then reversed themselves to give the Bills a first down. Seemed like that helped the Bills more than the Pats. Regardless, if this conspiracy to help the Pats was in play, the officials could have simply ruled that receiver was out of bounds.

And shall we talk about the Shady McCoy TD? That could have been ruled either out of bounds or down outside the end zone. But it was ruled a TD, again in contradiction to the "refs always help the Patriots" theory.

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First of all, it's not clear he would have caught the ball in the first place. The defender clearly holds up when he hears the whistle. That Amendola wouldn't have been tackled at the catch is delusional.
But think through this with me:

Inadvertent whistle while the ball is in the air:
By NFL rule, the play should have been an incomplete pass.
Instead, the home team is gifted the 15 yard catch.
So, since the 15 yard catch granted the home team, instead of an incomplete pass, is of benefit to the home team, we can say that the home team benefited from the incorrect application of the rule.
Is that clear?

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Actually he had more than just a step on the guy. Amendola was balanced with momentum heading downfield on the catch. The defender had just taken his first step in Amendola's direction from the sideline, pushing his momentum horizontal to the field. Their momentums were perpendicular, which means it would have been extremely difficult for the defender to both close the space and redirect himself into a tackle with enough force to get Amendola off his feet. Probably the only real chance the Bills would have had is if the lone downfield defender was able to get off his block and redirect Amendola enough that a speedy player could trip him up from behind somewhere around the 10.

And further, the cause of the inadvertent whistle was Rex Ryan interfering with the official. He should have been immediately ejected. While the refs awarded the catch in fairness to the Pats for the interference, really that was the least they could do, and certainly could have given the Pats the ball much further advanced down the field to correct the unfairness of a non-player interfering with a live play.

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To me, the more egregious call that not many seem to be discussing is allowing a play to be run on the White TD in the 3rd quarter with guys on both teams like 25 yards behind the play trying to run off. I get that the outcome would've been a penalty on the bills, but how that wasn't flagged and called dead is amazing.

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If it is a penalty on the Bills why should the play be blown dead? The penalties would be offsides -- which does not kill a play and/or too many men on the field -- which also does not kill a play.

That said, I'm curious about what the exact interpretation of the substitution rule is. Chandler did clearly step onto the field, but never went inside the numbers, never came anywhere near any player, and got off the field before the snap (already had an argument about this with someone on the slack chatroom :) )

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The Pats didn't substitute, is what I've heard reported, but a Pats player started to come on, then was waived off. The Pats have done this many times before, raced to the line after a long completion. It's been legal every other time, too, as it should be.

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From what I read (and I believe it was a Pats reporter/fan) the fact the Bills guy was well behind the LOS was in a way that it was the offsides where the play is blown dead.

Also, he said Chandler came out far enough it was reasonable to suspect there was an intention to substitue, which should allow the Bills time to sub. I remember this coming up somewhere earlier this year, can't remember where for the moment.

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As a Lions fan I'm stunned that Stafford is only 19-30 in game wining drive opportunities, as it seems the only time we have win is when Stafford leads an impressive, improbable comeback.

But then again we never win, so it's not too surprising that he'd have a bad record anyway.

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The Jets Texans game was very disappointing for me. I pulled out the dread Karma shirt (it has a recycling symbol on it, an ex-girlfriend gave it to me in 2009, and I wore it during the playoff run), and it did not work. Fitzpatrick's failures don't surprise me anymore, and Revis and Mangold getting injured are a collective bummer. In another note, Quinton Coples just got cut, and the Dolphins picked him up. Another season down the ...

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Look, a Jake Plummer sighting!

I realize Flacco isn't on the list, but it's amazing that among the recent QBs, Aaron Rodgers isn't on the comeback list and is not anywhere close. I wonder who else has such a dichotomy between their overall winning percentage and their comeback record.

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Not all that amazing (with the exception of Rodgers) considering recent QBs haven't played all that many games yet. It looks like at his current rate Rodgers isn't going to get to the 30 GWD mark. Flacco will make the list baring a career ending injury. He only needs 6 to get 30 and he's averaged 3 a season so it looks like he'll slide in maybe between Elway and Moon.

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"I wonder who else has such a dichotomy between their overall winning percentage and their comeback record."

I had that data for 67 quarterbacks in an ESPN Insider article in 2013, but after some digging to find the file, I see it hasn't been updated since Sept. 2013.

From the article: Rodgers is 9-26 (.257) when he can score the winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime, but 49-5 (.907) in all other games, meaning the Packers are often on the winning end of blowouts. That .650 difference in winning percentage is the largest I have found in a sample of 67 quarterbacks.

At the time, Cam Newton (.645) and Philip Rivers (.549) were the closest to Rodgers. I should update this.

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thanks for mentioning how terrible the decision was by the bengals to try for the TD on that 3rd and 2 with that play. like you said, even coming up short on a run likely leads to OT as the bengals could've run the clock down to 25 or so seconds before calling a timeout and attempting the FG to go to OT. and they still had plenty of time ( & 2 timeouts remaining if i recall ) if they pick up the 1st down and would've had better shots to win the game.
even if the play succeeds & they score a TD they still leave enough time for the cardinals to possibly score a TD of their own.
awful decision from a game theory perspective.