Clutch Encounters: Week 14
by Scott Kacsmar
After talking about last week's craziness, Week 14 was relatively bland for this NFL season. We had 11 games on at one time in the early afternoon on Sunday, yet not a single one featured a fourth-quarter lead change. In fact, the only successful fourth-quarter comeback all week (out of nine games with an opportunity) came from Oakland in Denver, and that was very early in the quarter. One of the week's best games and finishes came on Thursday night between the Vikings and Cardinals, but we covered that on Friday.
Game of the Week
New York Giants 31 at Miami Dolphins 24
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (43-90 at 4QC and 53-93 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (27-44 at 4QC and 33-46 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Eli Manning has always had a strong "A" game, but he rarely sustains it for a full 60 minutes. Monday night in Miami was one of those virtuoso performances. Manning completed 27-of-31 passes (career-high 87.1 percent) for 337 yards and four touchdowns. If the Giants are consistent with anything, it is feeding the ball to Odell Beckham, who shined with 166 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that came in ranked 32nd against No. 1 wideouts. Hopefully you bought a t-shirt or souvenir while the Brent Grimes bandwagon was still operational.
This was a good shootout for 40 minutes before the scoring slowed down in a 24-24 tie. While the Giants kept going to their best player in crunch time, the Dolphins again got away from Lamar Miller, who shined early with two touchdown runs. Miami never trailed by more than seven points, but Miller had only five carries in the second half, and touched the ball just once on Miami's 16 plays in the fourth quarter. This offense gets too infatuated with short throws to Jarvis Landry, who is nowhere near the threat of Beckham, his college teammate. Landry caught 11 passes, but for 99 yards on 18 targets.
Beckham nearly got that many yards on one play after Miami blew a coverage, leaving him open down the seam for an 84-yard touchdown with 11:13 left. The Giants led 31-24. Miami drove to the 31-yard line, but moved backwards after a holding penalty. On third-and-20, Ryan Tannehill threw for Jordan Cameron, but he was unable to come down with the pass in traffic. Cameron has been a major free-agency flop so far, with 329 receiving yards and a catch rate under 50 percent (29-of-62).
Following a New York three-and-out, Landry put his offense in a second-and-25 hole after throwing down Trevin Wade after the whistle. Tannehill overthrew Landry again, and the Dolphins punted. The Giants had 4:39 to burn, which sounds improbable given the season this team has had. But if you never give the ball back, then you don't have to worry about blowing the lead in the final 90 seconds for a sixth time.
Beckham got the drive off to a questionable start by going out of bounds after an 8-yard catch, but Rashad Jennings ended up converting the ensuing third-and-2 on the ground. Manning seemed to catch the defense by surprise with a play-action pass on second down for another first down. The game came down to a third-and-3 at the two-minute warning. Maybe some teams still run and punt here, but those teams don't have this defense. Manning threw to Beckham, Grimes was on the ground again, and the low catch was barely made for the game-clinching first down.
Game on the line, Brent Grimes on the ground again. pic.twitter.com/1SsOYv2zmg
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
Next week we will get another test of just how dangerous the Giants can be this season. They will attempt to hand a team that is 13-0 (or better) its first loss for the fourth time in franchise history. The 1934 Bears (13-0), 1998 Broncos (13-0), and 2007 Patriots (18-0) all fell to the Giants.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Oakland Raiders 15 at Denver Broncos 12
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (12-9)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (22-48 at 4QC and 32-48 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (4-11 at 4QC and 4-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
At halftime, the Raiders were down 12 on the scoreboard and managed a minus-12 in the yardage column. Denver's defense was stealing the show again, but some major mistakes by the other units set up just the fourth 4QC allowed by the Broncos since 2012. In Week 5, Denver's offense never found the end zone in Oakland, struggling with dropped passes, poor blocking, and no running game. With Brock Osweiler at quarterback this time, the offense suffered the same problems, going eight quarters in 2015 without a touchdown against Jack Del Rio's defense.
The turning point came late in the third quarter with Osweiler standing in his own end zone. Khalil Mack may have turned in the defensive performance of the season with five sacks and seven quarterback hits, but the memorable play was here when he got to the quarterback. Mack actually did not knock the ball out, but instead grabbed Osweiler's towel. Still, his contact hurried Osweiler into a mistake, as he just dropped the ball. The Broncos were fortunate to recover for only a safety instead of giving up a go-ahead touchdown.
Wow, on the safety, Khalil Mack might have gotten some balls instead of the ball. Osweiler just dropped it. pic.twitter.com/fo6cbcdU09
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 14, 2015
Oakland took that possession into the fourth quarter, now only down 12-9, but threw a screen (sad ALEX moment) on third-and-15. Seth Roberts made things a little dangerous with a drop on a pass thrown slightly behind him. However, Oakland immediately got another chance after Emmanuel Sanders muffed the following punt return at his own 11. The defense quickly forced a third-and-15 situation. This is where the previous third-and-15 screen may have paid off. Derek Carr faked a screen to Amari Cooper, freeing up Mychal Rivera for a wide-open touchdown in the end zone. Rivera nearly dropped it, he was so open.
Up 15-12, when Oakland kept the offense on the field for a two-point conversion, my jaw dropped. How could Del Rio possibly think this was the right call when an extra point makes it more likely Denver will need a touchdown -- something it has yet to do this year against your defense -- to win? Since 1994, there had been 387 touchdowns in the fourth quarter by a team trailing by three points. Only one of the first 386 teams was credited with a two-point conversion try: the 2000 Seahawks against Oakland. Given the play-by-play says Seattle was in a kicking formation, it was probably a botched snap or hold and not a real attempt. Oakland pulled off a first here, but there were extenuating circumstances.
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Long-snapper Jon Condo, who recovered the Sanders fumble, injured his shoulder and was getting work done on it while Oakland scored. You would think a team would have a backup in this situation, or just use the regular center (Rodney Hudson). The Steelers tried James Harrison in 2008 with poor results, but at least they tried.
One good thing about Oakland's failed conversion is it meant Denver would likely stay conservative in field-goal range. The Broncos got that far, and Brandon McManus' 49-yard attempt hit the left upright with 10:22 left. Denver's next drive saw Demaryius Thomas drop a pass on third-and-4 that would have converted, which has been a problem for him.
Condo returned for Oakland, but Sebastian Janikowski missed a 43-yard field goal with 5:07 left. Denver was starting to run out of opportunities, so going for it on fourth-and-5 at its own 38 with 3:50 left made sense. Oakland's defense made no sense as Vernon Davis was left completely open, but he dropped the ball inside the Oakland 45. Again, these mistakes have been there all year for the Broncos, and there is no reason players of this caliber should not be making these catches.
The four-minute offense never took off after Cooper, who caught 0-of-8 targets on the day, was penalized for an illegal block above the waist. Oakland lost 13 yards and punted, giving Osweiler one last chance with 2:35 left from his own 8. After the two-minute warning, Mack took over again. He abused Michael Schofield on his way to his fifth sack of the game. Osweiler almost hit a big throw to Sanders, but led him just a tad too far to the sideline. On fourth-and-12, Oakland rushed three, but Osweiler made a poor decision to scramble out of the pocket. He invited the pressure for nearly a sixth sack, but flung the ball forward while going down on what I must say was an impressive (albeit inconsequential) heave with nothing to lose.
Bad decision by Brock to leave the pocket here on 4th-and-ballgame. pic.twitter.com/Eali4xFo3k
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
After the Andy Dalton injury earlier in the day, the Broncos had a decent path to the No. 1 seed, but may end up settling into No. 3 with two tough games to come with the Steelers and Bengals. Gary Kubiak's offense has been a problem since the start of the season, and wasting this defensive effort in a 15-12 home loss to Oakland is a really bad look.
While the defense surrendered the game-winning score on a third-and-15, it is hard to criticize them harshly for allowing an 11-yard drive. Once again the special teams set up the game-winning points against this team in a 4QC/GWD opportunity. A muffed punt sunk the Broncos in overtime in 2013 in New England, and a 49-yard punt return set up Cincinnati's winning field goal in 2014. While the Rahim Moore-Jacoby Jones play still stands out like a sore thumb in Denver's crunch-time defense, even that game did not actually end until a 16-yard drive in double overtime following a Peyton Manning interception.
|Denver Broncos Defense: Fourth-Quarter Comeback Attempts (Down 1-8 PTS), 2012-2015|
|9/9/2012||PIT||B.Roethlisberger||25-19||W 31-19||3:00||T.Porter pick-six w/1:58 left|
|10/15/2012||at SD||P.Rivers||28-24||W 35-24||3:52||C.Harris pick-six w/2:05 left|
|11/4/2012||at CIN||A.Dalton||24-20||W 31-20||11:42||C.Bailey INT w/8:38 left; offense added TD|
|11/18/2012||SD||P.Rivers||30-23||W 30-23||0:23||E.Dumervil sacks Rivers to end game|
|11/25/2012||at KC||B.Quinn||17-9||W 17-9||0:11||D.Bruton INT w/0:00 left|
|1/12/2013||BAL||J.Flacco||35-28||L 38-35 OT||1:09||70-yd TD pass to J.Jones w/0:31 left; lose in OT|
|9/15/2013||at NYG||E.Manning||24-16||W 41-23||15:25||C.Harris INT w/14:53 left|
|10/6/2013||at DAL||T.Romo||48-48*||W 51-48||2:39||D.Trevathan INT w/1:57 left|
|10/27/2013||WAS||R.Griffin||28-21||W 45-21||14:18||V.Miller strip-sack w/13:15 left|
|11/10/2013||at SD||P.Rivers||28-20||W 28-20||6:43||Incomplete on 3rd-and-16 w/3:37 left|
|11/24/2013||at NE||T.Brady||24-21||L 34-31 OT||14:32||J.Edelman go-ahead TD rec. w/13:13 left; lose in OT|
|12/1/2013||at KC||A.Smith||35-28||W 35-28||3:32||Incomplete on 4th-and-4 at DEN 13 w/1:46 left|
|12/22/2013||at HOU||M.Schaub||16-13||W 37-13||15:21||M.Adams INT w/14:11 left; offense added TD|
|9/7/2014||IND||A.Luck||31-24||W 31-24||2:58||Incomplete on 4th-and-6 at DEN 39 w/1:51 left|
|9/14/2014||KC||A.Smith||24-17||W 24-17||3:20||Incomplete on 4th-and-2 at DEN 2 w/0:15 left|
|10/5/2014||ARI||L.Thomas||27-20||W 41-20||13:48||Three-and-out w/12:20 left|
|10/12/2014||at NYJ||G.Smith||24-17||W 31-17||0:56||A.Talib pick-six w/0:15 left|
|11/23/2014||MIA||R.Tannehill||32-28||W 39-36||5:01||T.Ward INT w/3:30 left; offense added TD|
|12/22/2014||at CIN||A.Dalton||29-28||L 37-28||9:43||M.Nugent 23-yd GW FG w/7:49 left (drive start: DEN 12)|
|9/13/2015||BAL||J.Flacco||19-13||W 19-13||2:55||D.Stewart INT in end zone w/0:28 left|
|9/17/2015||at KC||A.Smith||31-24||W 31-24||0:27||Game-winning fumble return TD; sacked Smith to end game|
|9/27/2015||at DET||M.Stafford||17-12||W 24-12||7:50||D.Bruton INT w/3:37 left; offense added TD|
|10/4/2015||MIN||T.Bridgewater||23-20||W 23-20||1:51||T.Ward strip-sack w/0:29 left|
|10/11/2015||at OAK||D.Carr||9-7||W 16-7||10:58||C.Harris pick-six w/6:53 left|
|10/18/2015||at CLE||J.McCown||23-20||W 26-23 OT||4:51||CLE tying FG; McCown is picked in 4Q, CLE 3-and-out in OT|
|11/22/2015||at CHI||J.Cutler||17-9||W 17-15||1:49||CHI gets TD, but tying 2PC run fails w/0:24 left|
|11/29/2015||NE||T.Brady||24-21||W 30-24 OT||1:09||NE tying FG w/0:00 left; NE 3-and-out in OT|
|12/13/2015||OAK||D.Carr||12-9||L 15-12||14:42||D.Carr go-ahead 16-yd TD pass to M.Rivera w/14:26 left|
|*Trailed earlier in 4th quarter; allowed 15 points to Dallas in quarter|
|Note: not every drive is listed for each game|
It is hard to believe, but the last four game-winning drives in a 4QC against Denver have covered a grand total of 34 yards.
Buffalo Bills 20 at Philadelphia Eagles 23
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (3-11 at 4QC and 6-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Sam Bradford (5-13-1 at 4QC and 7-14-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Buffalo rallied from a 20-10 deficit in the third quarter to tie, but there was only one more score after that. Neither offense was particularly sharp in the fourth quarter as both defenses stepped up to make plays. From the Buffalo 24, Sam Bradford looked like he was going to get a big catch from Brent Celek, but Leodis McKelvin stole the ball away for a huge interception.
This pass turned into an interception for Leodis McKelvin. pic.twitter.com/lkTzJt8Rfo
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
The Eagles had great field position on their next drive, but rookie Ronald Darby broke up a pass for Jordan Matthews on third-and-5. Richie Incognito almost single-handedly destroyed Buffalo's next drive. First he had a face mask penalty, then he was destroyed by Fletcher Cox on a run that lost 10 yards for LeSean McCoy, who was nothing special in his ballyhooed return game to Philadelphia.
While McKelvin taketh away earlier, he's been known to giveth too. The turning point of the quarter was an odd-looking play all around. Josh Huff set a pick for Zach Ertz, and the crushing collision between Huff and Corey Graham came about simultaneously at real speed with Ertz catching the short pass. Ertz broke McKelvin's tackle and then got a big handful (with control) of face mask -- why is this almost never called on the offensive player? -- on Duke Williams for a 41-yard gain. That is a 9-yard gain at best if McKelvin makes the tackle. Darby then forced Nelson Agholor into a dropped/defensed play on third down to bring out Caleb Sturgis for a 30-yard field goal with 3:26 left.
Incognito submarined another drive with a holding penalty, and the Eagles had the ball back with 2:17 left. Two runs brought up a third-and-6 with 2:07 left. Bradford had to understand the clock situation, as this play came after Buffalo's second timeout. If the pass was not there, he could have thrown it away here. There was no point in taking a sack since your punt was going to chew up the two-minute warning. What did Bradford do? He kept retreating backwards and eventually let Mario Williams sack him for a 15-yard loss. Those are 15 big yards when you are only protecting a 3-point lead. That was just a horrible sack to take, showing no awareness of the moment much like the Eagles did at the end last week in New England. A solid net of 44 yards on the punt saved Bradford a little, but he can never do that again.
Taylor had plenty of time to set up the field goal, but Buffalo's 15th penalty of the day (a false start on Jordan Mills) was a killer, turning third-and-3 into third-and-8. Taylor might not have forced such a deep pass without that penalty, but he did, and Ed Reynolds had the game-ending interception on an overthrown pass. Buffalo is another loss closer to going 16 seasons without a playoff berth, which would be the second-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.
Bills: another loss closer to 16 straight seasons without a playoff appearance. pic.twitter.com/xr1fpHfEcs
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
Washington Redskins 24 at Chicago Bears 21
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (3-10 at 4QC and 6-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (3-9 at 4QC and 4-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Jay Gruden was just 1-12 as a head coach on the road, but most of those opponents were simply better than Washington. The 2015 Bears made for an evenly matched opponent. Once Chicago stopped killing itself with holding penalties and protected Jay Cutler better, the Bears rallied from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter.
Washington was already driving thanks to a 29-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to DeSean Jackson. On third-and-14, Cousins threw short of the sticks for 10 yards, but it was a rare failed completion that was a smart play, because it allowed the Redskins to kick a 47-yard field goal. Dustin Hopkins was good with 14:07 left, and that actually concluded the scoring at 24-21.
The teams exchanged punts, with neither doing much until Cousins decided to spin around and throw up a Hail Mary that was tipped and caught at midfield by Matt Jones for just an 18-yard gain. When I went to watch this pass, I thought NFL Game Pass had taken me to the wrong play (or game), because it made no sense why Cousins did such a reckless play with the lead. Jones, untouched after the catch, must have been in shock too as he casually let go of the ball with the play still alive before recovering. Washington now has two plays in the running for the Darwin Play of the Year: this and Jackson's punt return last week. The Redskins were fortunate in too many ways here, but eventually they punted the ball back with 2:11 left.
Cutler immediately found a wide-open Alshon Jeffery for a 50-yard gain. This looked like another case of a cornerback (Will Blackmon) passing off the best receiver on the field for no good reason. The space Blackmon filled had no receiver even in the vicinity, and Cutler was more than 25 yards away from him. It was just a ridiculous waste of a defender. In fact, it looks like an absurd waste of three defenders in the middle of the field with no receivers around. Chicago sent four players on routes. Three were reasonably covered, but the one guy on the field who could really hurt you for a big play was left wide-open.
Need @MattBowen41 to explain what looks like the biggest waste of 3 WAS defenders ever on 50-yd Jeffery catch. pic.twitter.com/fEyY7mnn8u
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
That at the very least should have set up a game-tying field goal. On second-and-7, Cutler went deep for Jeffery again, but the receiver was actually defended by two players this time. Naturally, I hate that call for a low-percentage pass. Even if successful, it would have left Cousins nearly the full two minutes to win the game. Washington only had one timeout left. Run some clock here with high-percentage plays. Cutler short-hopped another long throw for Eddie Royal, and it was already fourth down with 1:45 left. Robbie Gould is not in that upper tier of kickers these days, but he is usually reliable. For the second week in a row, he missed a clutch kick, pulling this one to the right. Even with one timeout left, Chicago was going to have a hard time getting a punt return to end the game, let alone a scrimmage play. Jones made it a moot point with an 8-yard run on third-and-7.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Chargers at Chiefs: Bah Humbug
Only four teams have scored fewer points than San Diego's 250 this season. That is rather amazing since the offense was expected to carry the team again, but for the third time in the last four games, San Diego only mustered a field goal. For the second week in a row, the defense allowed just 10 points. When you have Philip Rivers at quarterback, you expect to win those games every time regardless of what is around him. Rivers himself came into the game with flu-like symptoms, but he has mostly struggled for nearly two months now.
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Neither offense got much going on a rainy day. The only score in the second half was a San Diego field goal, keeping the score at 10-3 for the final 20 minutes. With 10:15 left, Rivers should have had the equalizer to Malcom Floyd, but the receiver dropped the deep pass inside the 20. Marcus Peters has had an eventful rookie season filled with boom or bust plays, but this one really should have been a 58-yard touchdown. On third-and-10, Dee Ford buried Rivers on a sack after Chris Hairston failed to recognize the snap fast enough.
Kansas City had the ball at the San Diego 40 with a chance to drive for a critical field goal, but Alex Smith nearly turned the ball over twice before throwing one of his 1-yard passes on third-and-9. The Chargers had a full five minutes left to drive 89 yards for the tying touchdown, and they sure tried to squeeze out every last second to do so. San Diego actually snapped the ball 13 times in the last 54 seconds, if you can believe that. Things looked poor early with another sack, but Floyd redeemed himself with a great 41-yard catch on third-and-14 over Peters again.
This drive would not die. Rivers completed three contested passes on fourth down alone, with the last caught by Vincent Brown for 22 yards on fourth-and-10. Brown has played for San Diego before, but he was just signed on Tuesday and made his season debut. The ball was at the 1-yard line, but Rivers had to spike it with five seconds left. Ford was behind the play and penalized for being offsides. Rivers then waited too long to adjust the play at the line, resulting in a delay of game penalty. That may not have been a bad thing, as it gave the offense more room to throw the ball. Rivers and Ladarius Green just failed to connect on a pass that was a little high, but two seconds remained. A false start by Hairston was not a good penalty to take, making the last snap from the 11-yard line.
The Chiefs only rushed three, but there was enough pressure at the end of the play -- Hairston was just awful -- to force the throw from Rivers. Ford actually dropped into coverage with Danny Woodhead, and the running back definitely had a shot on the ball in the end zone. He did not make the catch, though, and the game was over. It would have been interesting to see if San Diego (3-10) would have gone for two and the win there if Woodhead had caught the touchdown.
Dee Ford on Danny Woodhead to end the game. pic.twitter.com/Nt4CCyLaK8
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
Saints at Buccaneers: Now You Win on the Road and Play Defense?
I will be happy when there are no more 2015 Buccaneers games to get completely wrong in predictions. This was a fantastic home matchup for Jameis Winston and the offense, yet Tampa Bay came out flat while Drew Brees was on target to build a 14-0 lead. An injury to Vincent Jackson did not help matters. The lead stood at 24-10 in the fourth quarter, but you knew the Saints were not going to win that easily. Tampa Bay mounted a comeback and scored a touchdown on a nicely designed play that got Adam Humphries completely wide-open on a little flip from Winston after a bootleg.
The Saints picked up 14 yards on a screen, setting up fourth down with a very long yard to go from the Tampa Bay 49 with 5:31 left. The Saints had gone 12-of-17 on third down. What ever happened to aggressive Sean Payton? With the way the season has gone with this defense, I don't know how he can punt in that situation. That is not trusting your best players, almost all of whom happen to play on offense right now. Doug Martin only needed one carry to move the ball to the Tampa Bay 44 on a 24-yard gain. However, the expected game-tying drive hit a roadblock. Mike Evans could not bring down a high throw on first down. Winston overthrew a wide-open Charles Sims on a go route. On third-and-10, Donteea Dye was open inside the 40, but dropped the ball cleanly. The Saints got the stop even though the defense showed no resistance on all four snaps. This is what you call beating yourself.
Buccaneers beat themselves on final drive. Saints' defender beat on all 3 passes. 0/3 pic.twitter.com/k1LNu934Wc
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 15, 2015
New Orleans had 4:13 to burn, leading 24-17. Sounds like the perfect time for Tim Hightower, right? File that under things no one expected to write ever again. Hightower last played in 2011, but his role has increased after Mark Ingram went on injured reserve. Hightower had 29 touches in the game and seven came on this final drive. Oddly enough, Brees was still getting the ball in his hands on third-and-short passes, and Benjamin Watson helped out with a stretch for one key first down. A successful run on third-and-2 could have iced the game for the Saints, but Brees threw and drew a defensive holding penalty. That's nice, but it also stopped the clock at 2:24. No worries, as Hightower's 4-yard run on third-and-3 put the game away for good.
It was not like the Saints put on some defensive clinic. Tampa Bay allowed one sack, missed a field goal, and had no giveaways on nine possessions. The Buccaneers just did not make enough plays, especially the ones that were there for the taking.
Cowboys at Packers: Dez Denied Again
The schedule release teased this as a potentially great rematch of January's playoff classic with major NFC playoff implications again. Oh, both teams are still up for a division title, but the Cowboys entered with a 4-8 record and Matt Cassel at quarterback. Dez Bryant only caught one pass this time for 9 yards, and he was never even targeted in the fourth quarter. Green Bay won 28-7 with a dominant statistical edge, but this was a one-score game for about 45 minutes as Dallas only trailed 14-7.
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The Cowboys ran the ball 20 times for 171 yards, but still only had one touchdown to show for it thanks to the impotency of the passing game. Dallas is the only offense since 1940 to average at least 8.0 yards per carry on at least 20 rushes and score fewer than nine points. Dallas was 1-of-11 on third down and started the fourth quarter with Cassel taking a big sack by Clay Matthews on third-and-4. The defense held up again, but Cassel struggled all day with ALEX decisions, throwing for 10 yards on third-and-13 to bring out the punting unit again. That was Cassel's fourth failed completion on third down in the game.
Mike McCarthy was back to calling the plays for Green Bay. Eddie Lacy was out of the doghouse after missing curfew last week. The Packers went to an old-school ground game in the rain to put Dallas away with an 84-yard drive capped off by a James Starks 30-yard touchdown run on second-and-25. Even Aaron Rodgers got into the running action with a key 11-yard scramble on third-and-9 at midfield. The Packers rushed for 230 yards, their first 200-yard effort since 2009 (against the Browns) and their second-highest game under McCarthy behind only the 235 yards in a 2007 playoff win against Seattle.
Down 21-7, Cassel threw incomplete on fourth-and-4, and Lacy ate up all 38 yards to put a stamp on this one. Thanks to having the best division record in the NFC East at 3-2, the 4-9 Cowboys are still not eliminated from the playoffs, but why would anyone still have hope? At this point, let's see Kellen Moore start a game in the NFL.
Lions at Rams: Must Capitalize on Onside Kick
This is about the time of year where it gets hard to care about games between teams out of the playoff picture, like Detroit (4-9) and St. Louis (5-8). Todd Gurley regained his dominant form with two great touchdown runs to put the Rams ahead 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Of course he only got two of the Rams' final seven touches in closing time, but Jeff Fisher will do as Jeff Fisher wants. Matthew Stafford dinked and dunked his way down the field, taking nearly 58 minutes to complete his first pass of the game to Calvin Johnson. That set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate on a pick play. You feel bad for the defense in those situations. Blocking is legal within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, yet it should be a penalty when the contact takes place with the ball in the air. You know if the defender contacted a receiver with the ball in the air, 1 yard or not, that would likely get flagged for defensive pass interference. Tough task.
Detroit had 2:05 left and all three timeouts, so the onside kick was a bit of a surprise. The Lions caught their break when Bradley Marquez muffed the recovery. Teams are now 8-of-51 (15.7) on onside kick recoveries in 2015, which would be the sixth season in a row under 20 percent. The offense has to take advantage of such a rare gift, but the Lions did not. Stafford watched Trumaine Johnson, who started the scoring with a pick-six in the second quarter, drop an interception at the two-minute warning. T.J. Jones failed to squeeze a high one, setting up fourth-and-3. Travis Swanson's snap was poor, Stafford did his best to recover it, but Eric Ebron fell down after some incidental contact on the route. That drive was a real dud.
Gurley broke an arm tackle for 21 yards with 1:25 left. The Rams could have just taken three kneeldowns, but Benny Cunningham got two meaningless carries to end a game that the guy from Memento will have to tattoo on his body if he wants to remember it tomorrow.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 60
Game-winning drives: 73 (plus six non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 128/208 (61.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 30
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.
17 comments, Last at 19 Dec 2015, 5:36am
#1 by Travis // Dec 15, 2015 - 4:06pm
Only one of the first 386 teams was credited with a two-point conversion try: the 2000 Seahawks against Oakland. Given the play-by-play says Seattle was in a kicking formation, it was probably a botched snap or hold and not a real attempt.
Jeff Feagles, the holder, fumbled the extra point snap and then inexplicably kicked it the ball out of bounds.
#2 by Scott Kacsmar // Dec 15, 2015 - 9:29pm
It is beyond awesome that you actually found this game on Youtube. And here I was searching game recaps that ignored or hardly mentioned the failed extra point, which gave Oakland some hope in a 3-point game.
#4 by Billy Everyteen // Dec 16, 2015 - 10:39am
Start that video from the 47th minute for more fun: Ricky Watters seems on the way to giving the Seahawks the lead with an 80-yard touchdown run, BUT Charles Woodson strips the ball about 30 yards from the end zone, the loose ball flies forward down the field, and the Raiders recover - BUT the Raiders player who recovers the ball does so at the Raiders' own 1-yard line and then slides into his own end zone. The officials end up ruling it a safety - so one play goes from TD to fumble to safety.
The botched conversion comes after the Seahawks score a TD following the free kick.
#6 by PatsFan // Dec 16, 2015 - 12:29pm
But why a safety? When a DB intercepts the ball and his momentum carries him into the endzone that is always ruled a touchback, not a safety. Why was this any different?
I thought the rule was that the impetus starts with the ballcarrying team and stays with the ballcarrying team until the recovering/intercepting/kick-receiving team imparts new impetus to the ball?
#8 by Billy Everyteen // Dec 16, 2015 - 12:53pm
Your interpretation makes sense to me, and while I'm a Hawks fan, I agree that the call was questionable. A little Googling turned up some articles with quotes from the officials explaining their logic. Basically they argued that Pope had gotten himself into the end zone and made no attempt to get out. Looked to me like he was just a victim of wet grass and momentum, though. In either case, he did the right thing - better to fall on the ball even if you give up a safety than to let the Seahawks recover it a few yards from the goal line.
Also, I wish we'd bring back those royal blue uniforms as alternates.
#10 by Travis // Dec 16, 2015 - 1:15pm
The pre-2001 rule used to be that there was a momentum exception for an interception (meaning that the next play would have been Raiders ball at the 1, not a touchback), but not on a fumble recovery. As you can imagine, the rule was changed after this play.
#11 by Billy Everyteen // Dec 16, 2015 - 1:49pm
Interesting, thanks! The refs still did a poor job of explaining - they could have just said "there's no exception for momentum on a fumble recovery," but instead they argued that Pope had been responsible for getting himself into the end zone.
#14 by Travis // Dec 17, 2015 - 7:49am
Here's a contemporary article that explains the then-current rule. Strangely, it was the second time such a safety had happened in 2000.
#5 by Jay Z // Dec 16, 2015 - 11:47am
Giants were out of the playoffs from 1964-80. Why stop at 1966? I know it is "Super Bowl Era", but it wasn't any harder to get into the playoffs, just no Super Bowl.
I suppose it eliminates the pre-tiebreaker playoff games, but there was one of those in 1968 in the AFL anyway.
#7 by Bucs_Rule // Dec 16, 2015 - 12:40pm
Interesting that if a team is eliminated from the playoffs has any bearings how whether a team should go for two to win the game. A defensive struggle should be one of the last games you’d consider the more aggressive approach. One could certainly argue that since the Chargers are much worse overall they should take the more aggressive approach.
I do understand that the media criticizes going for two when it fails regardless of whether the math makes it the correct decision or not. When a team is eliminated the attitude becomes, doesn’t matter if you miss it, you aren’t going to make the playoffs anyways so might as well.
Just interesting that the key factors in deciding to go for two are based on media reactions and not odds of making the conversion, odds of missing the extra point and odds of winning in overtime.
#15 by Lomn // Dec 17, 2015 - 10:07am
The new wrinkle, though, is that defensive scores on PATs are now a thing. Yes, trying to get a four-point lead vs a team that can't reach the endzone is good -- but risking falling from a 3-point lead to a 1-point lead in Denver is bad. If you're worried that an emergency long-snapper might fling the ball past the holder (more or less the Harrison example provided), then I think there's pretty good justification for switching to the now-lower-variance two-point play.
(I have no idea how closely a shotgun snap approximates a PAT snap, so no clue where Oakland's usual center would sit between the usual long-snapper and James Harrison on the risk index)
#17 by Andrew Potter // Dec 19, 2015 - 5:36am
I made the same point in Audibles at the Line. Oakland's emergency long snapper is apparently tight end Lee Smith, but the last time Oakland had a mid-game injury to Jon Condo was the absolute disaster against San Diego where, with linebacker Travis Goethel long snapping, they had one punt blocked and two others that Shane Lechler didn't even get off -- just fell on the ball. If I'm three points up and circumstances make me believe I'm more likely to concede a return on a bad long snap than an interception or fumble, going for two is actually the safe play.