Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

College football can claim this weekend's craziest finish after what happened between Michigan and Michigan State on Saturday. Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines, leading 23-21, tried to punt in the final 10 seconds. The botched snap was lost and returned by Michigan State for a game-winning touchdown with no time left.

Can you imagine if an NFL team blew a game like that in the final minute? Well, look no further than the 1986 Falcons. Leading the 0-13 Colts by a familiar 23-21 score, the Falcons tried to punt on fourth-and-27. The punt was blocked and Eugene Daniel returned it for a 13-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left.

The state of Michigan has experienced this too, and the Colts were on the losing end of a similar finish in a 1977 game against Detroit. Leading 10-6, the Colts declined to take an intentional safety and attempted to punt from deep in their own end. Leonard Thompson blocked the punt and returned it two yards for the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left.

But that's probably enough talk about the Colts and devastating, mind-melting punts for this week.

Game of the Week

Carolina Panthers 27 at Seattle Seahawks 23

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 9 (23-14)

Head Coach: Ron Rivera (9-20-1 at 4QC and 9-21-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Cam Newton (9-20-1 at 4QC and 9-21-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Seattle was able to close out Carolina in each of the last three seasons in low-scoring games. Carolina's breakthrough on Sunday was unexpected, but this is really just another chapter in the rarely told story of how the Seahawks have struggled to finish teams off. Since 2012, no team has lost more games after leading in the fourth quarter than Seattle's total of 14, which includes all four losses this season and also two playoff defeats.

This one is especially troubling since it happened at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks were 28-2 (.933) in the Russell Wilson era coming into the game. The offense cracked 20 points for the first time this season, though two field goals were on short fields after Cam Newton interceptions. Still, Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown in his return and Jimmy Graham exploded with 140 receiving yards.

Seattle led 23-14 with possession of the ball and just 10:06 left to play. In this Ron Rivera/Newton era, the Panthers were 0-27 when trailing by more than three points in the fourth quarter. Even just a four-minute drive without points would have been beneficial here, but this was where things started to go poorly for the Seahawks.

The offense went three-and-out. Newton shook off a bad start and began delivering on-target throws against an ineffective pass rush. Greg Olsen pulled down a pass for a 32-yard gain to the 1-yard line and Jonathan Stewart finished the drive with a plunge into the end zone. Graham Gano was wide left on the extra point, which at first looked like a big blow to Carolina, but may have actually been a positive in the end.

Seattle had 3:55 to burn, but Carolina had all three timeouts left. Wilson dropped back to pass on three straight first-down calls, but a holding penalty on Lynch really set the drive back. Seattle punted after Wilson was sacked on third-and-20. Newton had 2:20 left from his own 20, so an eternity of time in a 23-20 game. Even when the defense appeared to make a big play with a Bruce Irvin sack, Newton came right back with a 16-yard gain to Devin Funchess, who finally hauled one in after some drops. Jerricho Cotchery made a tough third-down catch, then Newton found a pretty wide-open Olsen in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left. Seattle's secondary began pointing fingers, but this was the same type of bad communication and blown coverage we saw a week ago against Tyler Eifert and the Bengals. In this case, apparently the process of sending in the signal to the defense was botched. That is about the only way to explain leaving Carolina's only dangerous receiver so open.

Since it was a 23-20 game, there was not any real motivation for Seattle to use its timeouts to save time. By the time Carolina really got into field-goal range, Newton was throwing the game winner, so the Seahawks still had all three timeouts. Had Gano made the extra point earlier and made it a 23-21 game, then we should have seen Seattle try to save time. Good on Carolina to aggressively pursue the touchdown instead of settling for overtime like so many end up doing in that situation.

Even with three timeouts, driving the field for a touchdown in 29 seconds is almost impossible without a Hail Mary or crazy lateral play. It's even harder when a bad kick return starts the offense at its own 9. Seattle only picked up 30 of the 91 yards it needed, dropping to a stunning 2-4 while Carolina (5-0) remains unbeaten.

Pete Carroll has not found a link between these fourth-quarter collapses, but hopefully he has looked beyond Super Bowl XLIX. This has been a problem for several years now, which is rather amazing given Seattle's overall accomplishments and its reputation on defense. You can't win all those games, compete hard every week and finish first in DVOA three years in a row without being really damn good, but what is with the finishes? This year, Seattle's DVOA on offense and defense has significantly declined in the fourth quarter/overtime compared to the first three quarters. In fact, their decline would rank as the 11th-largest of the 829 teams since 1989 according to research from our own Vincent Verhei.

In the past, we have seen Seattle lose after some incredible efforts such as Matt Ryan setting up a field goal in 12 seconds, Carson Palmer's touchdown to Michael Floyd in 2013, and Tony Romo's conversion on third-and-20 to Terrance Williams last year. In addition to the 14 comebacks allowed, the defense is fortunate the offense has been able to win four more games with walk-off touchdowns, including the Fail Mary and three overtime games where the defense allowed a late game-tying drive. Jay Cutler only had 20 seconds left in 2012 and found Brandon Marshall on a brilliant play for 56 yards to set up a field goal. Last year in Seattle, Peyton Manning led Denver on the first ever successful one-minute drill by a team trailing by eight points. Matthew Stafford never beats good teams, but he downed the Seahawks late in 2012 and nearly did it again two weeks ago before the illegal bat controversy. That could have easily been a fifth blown lead in six games for the 2015 Seahawks.

This season, the offense isn't helping and the defense is getting beat on plays that look simple in comparison. Maybe the Seahawks are the best 2-4 team ever given their three blown leads over teams who are still undefeated after Week 6. That's not a title with value. Maybe better execution is the simple solution to Seattle's problem, but the first step is admitting this has been a multi-season problem that is very much a part of Seattle's story. The reason it's not the driving narrative is because Colin Kaepernick threw an interception in the end zone in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. As they say, it's a game of inches, and the margin between clutch and choke is this thin.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Denver Broncos 26 at Cleveland Browns 23 (OT)

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (20-16)

Head Coach: Gary Kubiak (15-35 at 4QC and 22-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Peyton Manning (43-50 at 4QC and 56-55 overall 4QC/GWD record)

"We're not having a ton of breaks. I won't be going to Vegas for my bye week, and I'm not feeling real lucky right now."

That was Peyton Manning at the podium after another hard-fought win for the 6-0 Broncos, who continue to struggle offensively. While Manning is correct that nothing is coming easy for his offense this year, the defense has continued to make sure those mistakes do not lose the game. The 2015 Broncos are only the second NFL team to win three games out of their first six in which the offense threw a pick-six. The other was the 1999 Dolphins, a defensive-led team that started 5-1 in Dan Marino's final season. Those Dolphins actually made it to 7-1 before fading down the stretch and finishing 9-7, winning a road playoff game and finally getting killed 62-7 in Jacksonville. Denver may endure a similar fate if things do not get better.

The Broncos are 6-0 against competition Manning is used to beating -- he is incredibly 50-6 (.893) against the Ravens (11-3), Chiefs (14-1), Lions (4-0), Vikings (4-0), Raiders (10-2) and Browns (7-0) in his career. Manning should retire without a loss to the Browns, but the games have almost always been strange affairs, requiring a comeback or ending with a very low score.

This ended up like your typical 2015 Denver game, complete with dueling return scores, bad offense, and late stands. Ronnie Hillman rushed for 111 yards and Manning was not sacked as this week's struggles were more about timing, play-calling, and missed opportunities. Over the course of 48 pass attempts, Manning showed a wide range in the quality of his play, from horrible decisions to bad throws to brilliant plays and all the mistakes Denver is making in between.

The defense began to show some cracks in the fourth quarter, and Cleveland took the lead after a tipped Manning pass was returned for a touchdown by Karlos Dansby with 8:07 left. Manning pumped before releasing the ball, which caused the pass to be a little behind Hillman to his left shoulder. It was still catchable and that is just the kind of bad break this offense has been having lately.

For some reason, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine has been getting killed in the media for attempting a two-point conversion to push a 20-16 lead to 22-16. "If you go up six and then you kick a field goal, now you're up nine which makes it a two-score game on their part." OK, taking a page from Phil Simms' book to talk about assumed stops and future field goals is bad coaching, but overall, I don't see the problem here. Since when is the 5-point lead so cherished? At 22-16, you are protected from losing in regulation to two Denver field goals. At 20-16, a Denver touchdown would force Cleveland to need a field goal to tie. At 21-16, Denver would go for two after a touchdown to try leading 24-21. If Denver failed on the conversion (22-21), then any responding Cleveland touchdown would still require the Browns to go for two, so they might as well try it now. Whether the lead is four, five or six, the defense's goal is the same: do not give up the touchdown.

In typical Cleveland fashion, the Browns failed miserably. The two-point conversion was attempted from the 1-yard line due to a Denver penalty, but Josh McCown's pass failed.

Manning then only needed one play to drop in a perfect pass to Emmanuel Sanders in stride down the right sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. All year, this is the play Manning kept overthrowing and just missing with Sanders, but they nailed it here with Tramon Williams in coverage.

We keep waiting for Denver's mistakes to add up to a loss, but no one has taken advantage. Another roughing the passer penalty had the Browns on the move, but the drive still ended in a game-tying field goal. With 1:25 left in a 23-23 game, Denver quickly showed how good this passing game can be again, but how it has not worked this season. In a span of not even two minutes of game time, the Broncos failed to haul in three passes that would have gained at least 75 yards.

The first was one of two ugly drops by Demaryius Thomas, who could have moved the ball past the 40-yard line. Cleveland was able to get the ball back and appeared to be driving for the win in the final minute, but McCown threw a horrible interception that he says he was trying to throw out of bounds.

Sanders thought he had a 38-yard catch into the red zone with 11 seconds remaining, but replay took it away. I'm not even sure that was the right call, because it looked like Sanders had his arm underneath the ball.

On the first possession of overtime, Manning hit Thomas in the hands again into Cleveland territory, but he failed to catch the ball. On the very next play, Manning floated a terrible pass to Barkevious Mingo for an interception returned to the Denver 39. That about sums up the current state of this Denver passing game. The big plays that are there are not being made, but the mistakes seem to come too easily.

While it looked like the offense had finally done the team in, the defense just flexed its muscles, causing the Browns to lose yards on each of the next three plays and punt. So while this offense has not had any performance luck, it is lucky to have this defense save the game in moments like this. Manning completed three passes to drive to midfield, then the running game took over to set up the game-winning field goal. Brandon McManus was good from 34 yards away and the imperfect Broncos head into the bye week with a perfect 6-0 record.

Chicago Bears 34 at Detroit Lions 37 (OT)

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (31-24)

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (14-22 at 4QC and 16-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (16-30 at 4QC and 18-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Lions are no longer 2015's last winless team, but we all lost by watching this game in its inept glory. How much did I loathe this finish? Let me count the ways.

First groan: Down 24-16, the Bears took over on a short field after a muffed punt. Jay Cutler threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery with 12:27 left. John Fox had the Bears kick the extra point, bypassing the game-tying two-point conversion. No coach has done that in the fourth quarter in this situation since Mike McCarthy did it with the Packers against the Bears in 2013. Since 1994, there have been 151 touchdowns scored in the fourth quarter by a team trailing by eight points. The Bears are only the third team to kick the extra point. Yeah, there was 12:27 left, but you would have to score again anyway, and the extra point is longer this season. Coaches are so afraid of failing on the conversion and giving up a touchdown (likely an 80-yard drive in today's game given the kickoff rules) to go down nine. Yet the odds of that happening are only about 10 percent at worst. That is coaching scared.

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Second groan: Matthew Stafford channeled his inner Brett Favre and flipped a pass to his running back that was wide of the mark and intercepted by Jonathan Anderson. The worst part? It was a short throw on third-and-12 that wasn't going to convert anyway. Chicago took over at the Detroit 24 and was soon in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion. Chicago led 31-24 with 7:50 left.

Third groan: Thanks to a neat fake punt (one of the quarter's few highlights), the Lions were driving again. The drive stalled at the Chicago 13, where the Lions faced a fourth-and-4 with 2:50 left. Now at a certain distance, there is a good argument to kick the field goal given Detroit had three timeouts and the two-minute warning remaining. But this was 4 yards to go, not 14. Teams go for it in this situation. That's just how the game works. I'm not saying it does not exist, but I have not found another example of a team kicking a field goal in the last three minutes in the red zone when trailing by seven points. This is why we joke about whether Jim Caldwell has a pulse or if he's a real-life Weekend at Bernie's puppet. The field goal was a crazy decision to make it 31-27.

Fourth groan: Matt Forte is good, but Cutler is the team's big-money player. Let your quarterback throw on third-and-4 to ice the game. Instead the Bears ran Forte three times and punted after Detroit used all three timeouts. Stafford had 2:23 to drive 66 yards for the game-winning touchdown, which is pretty favorable against this defense. It only took two plays to move 60 yards to the Chicago 6.

Fifth groan: Hanging onto a 31-27 lead, Fox had to use his timeouts to save time for Cutler on a response drive. Chicago could have stopped the clock at 1:12 after a first-down run from the Lions. Fox did nothing. The clock ran down to 49 seconds before it was finally stopped for an injury timeout on the Bears. That's a waste of 23 seconds. Keep that number in mind.

Sixth groan: The players were not excused from poor plays either. Stafford was penalized for intentional grounding, which lost 10 yards and 10 seconds, then missed everyone on third-and-12. He was bailed out by Pernell McPhee losing his mind and diving low at Stafford's legs well after the ball was released. That's roughing the passer, putting the ball at the 6-yard line with a first down. Calvin Johnson was too big for Tracy Porter to cover for an easy touchdown in the back of the end zone. Detroit led 34-31.

One delight: Just last week we saw Kirk Cousins move his offense 46 yards in 19 seconds to set up a field goal to force overtime. Cutler had two timeouts and 21 seconds left, but didn't even need to call one to move the ball 69 yards on three throws, including a 20-yard pass interference penalty. Josh Wilson was left on an island down the right sideline with Jeffery for no logical reason on two catches for 49 yards. The Bears had to kick a field goal from the 11-yard line, but imagine if Fox had managed the time better earlier and they still had those 23 seconds. The offense would have had time for the game-winning touchdown instead of settling for overtime. Robbie Gould made the 29-yard field goal to send this to a fifth quarter.

Overtime groan: The whole overtime session was really one long groan. Both offenses looked impotent and the Bears failed to get a first down on either drive. This was the eighth modified overtime game (out of 60) to reach five possessions, which had me worried we would see a divisional tie for the fourth year in a row. Only three games have ever ended in an overtime tie with both teams scoring at least 34 points. You figured someone would break through, and it was Detroit. Stafford ran to his right and fired a bomb to Johnson for 57 yards. That works, especially when the refs just swallow their whistles on the play. It seemed pretty obvious the Lions got away with holding, but this game just needed to end. Matt Prater's 27-yard field goal ended the suffering.

I didn't even get to groan about the ridiculous Golden Tate touchdown from the second quarter. All this game needed was Indianapolis' fake punt call to trigger the events in the movie The Happening.

Houston Texans 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (14-10)

Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (2-6 at 4QC and 2-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Brian Hoyer (6-6 at 4QC and 6-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The 31-20 final may be deceiving, because Jacksonville actually entered the fourth quarter with a 14-10 lead. That happened thanks to a blown coverage on Julius Thomas, who ran right down the field out of a bunch formation for a wide-open 29-yard touchdown.

Brian Hoyer is a better quarterback than Ryan Mallett, but DeAndre Hopkins really does not care at this point. He is going to get his share of targets and production every week. Hoyer went to him four times on the ensuing drive, and Hopkins made three catches, including the go-ahead touchdown with 11:20 left. That score came on another blown coverage. Jacksonville has a few weapons now, so it's almost understandable how Thomas can slip through the cracks. Given Houston's lack of weapons in the passing game, though, there is no excuse for Hopkins to slip out of your sight in the end zone on third down.

Jacksonville has a very thin margin for error due to inadequacies on both sides of the ball. The offense really only had the next drive to answer, and that drive was short-circuited by a holding penalty thanks to J.J. Watt giving right guard A.J. Cann more than he could handle. On third-and-13, Blake Bortles missed an open Allen Robinson. Houston started at the Jacksonville 46 after a punt, and four plays later Hopkins had another touchdown after burning Davon House again. On the very next play from scrimmage, Bortles threw wide of Thomas and Andre Hal scored on a 31-yard pick-six. In a span of 3:32, the Jaguars went from holding on to the lead to trailing 31-14. Bortles threw another touchdown and another interception to end the game, but the outcome was inevitable the moment Houston went up three scores.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Chargers at Packers: Greatness Denied Again

I have made the Philip Rivers-Tony Romo comparison a lot over the years, but Rivers has now joined Romo in the 500-yard passing game club. Romo's game against Denver two years ago was more impressive overall in a 51-48 loss, but all people wanted to take away from it was the late interception Romo threw that set up the game-winning field goal. Romo had a chance to take down Norm Van Brocklin's record of 554 yards passing. On Sunday, Rivers had the same shot had he forced the game to overtime, but he too came up short in the end.

Rivers did not throw an interception on 65 pass attempts, but he came awfully close early in the fourth quarter on a miscommunication with Dontrelle Inman in the red zone. San Diego settled for a field goal and a 24-20 deficit. For the third week in a row, Green Bay's offense was slowed enough to make the game winnable, but the Chargers failed to capitalize on opportunities. Eddie Lacy fumbled, but San Diego failed to recover in what would have been great field position. Malcom Floyd was unable to win a 50/50 ball over Damarious Randall near the end zone as Green Bay's defense usually stiffened in its own territory on the day. San Diego's defense also held up late, forcing a field goal and keeping Green Bay's lead to 27-20.

That set the stage for Rivers, who had to drive his offense 80 yards in 2:37 with all three timeouts left. Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead were all Rivers needed to move into the red zone before Ladarius Green caught a pass at the 3-yard line, moving Rivers to 503 passing yards. With four chances from the 3-yard line and two timeouts, the Chargers had the whole playbook open to them to get this touchdown. They did not have a full complement of players, with Keenan Allen injured and Melvin Gordon benched after the rookie fumbled again. Two shotgun handoffs to Woodhead did not fool Green Bay. Where Woodhead should have gotten the ball was on a second-down pass that likely would have worked if thrown quickly towards the front pylon. Rivers overthrew Gates in the end zone instead. On fourth down, the Packers made the adjustment and Randall was a tad closer to Woodhead. Perhaps the main difference was that Rivers had a messier pocket this time and the ball wasn't a quick dart. Randall was able to knock it away to clinch the win.

Rivers came up three completions and 52 passing yards short of breaking some major single-game records, which he probably could have achieved in overtime given a possession or two. He is on pace to throw for a record 5,644 yards, but it rings hollow right now given that the Chargers are 2-4 and have failed to score more than 20 points in all four losses. Getting to 21 points was easy for the old Chargers, who had balance with LaDainian Tomlinson leading the running game. Rivers' numbers have gone up as the team has put more on his shoulders, but that unsurprisingly is not leading to much success. This is the 17th time a quarterback threw for 500 yards, but it's only the second time that quarterback's team was held under 26 points. Drew Brees led the Saints to just 16 points in a meaningless 500-yard game against the 2006 Bengals.

What Rivers did here is not meaningless, but without the proper finish, it is the kind of empty achievement with which the San Diego Chargers are all too familiar.

Cardinals at Steelers: Landry Jones to the Rescue?

Speaking of racking up yards and few points, the Cardinals lost a tough one in Pittsburgh. Arizona became just the 20th offense since 1940 to surpass 450 yards and score fewer than 14 points. Meanwhile, the Steelers were sparked to 19 points over a span of four drives from a most unlikely source: backup quarterback Landry Jones, who made his regular season debut after Michael Vick left the game with a bad hamstring. Vick barely got started with a net of 1 passing yard, so there was pressure on Jones to produce some offense. He has sure come a long way from the rookie who ran into his own running back on his first snap in 2013.

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Though he lacks on-field experience, Jones has had three seasons to learn Todd Haley's offense, and you could see the faith the coaches had in him to get the ball to Pittsburgh's bevy of talent, which was in full force with the season debut of Martavis Bryant. Jones' first career completion went to Bryant for a touchdown, and Bryant later helped set up a field goal. Antonio Brown got into the picture with a 23-yard back-shoulder grab in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers were soon scoring again to extend to an 18-13 lead. Chris Boswell, the fourth Pittsburgh kicker of 2015, had a banner day despite suboptimal weather at Heinz Field, with three field goals of at least 47 yards.

Carson Palmer fluctuated between pinpoint accuracy and erraticism. With 2:25 left at the Pittsburgh 20, Palmer forced a play-action pass into the end zone where Mike Mitchell came down with an easy interception -- Arizona's third turnover of the day. Pittsburgh has had multiple takeaways in three straight games, so that may be starting to turn around after a historical drought for this defense in recent years. Pittsburgh is the first team since 1940 to intercept fewer than 12 passes in four consecutive seasons (2011-14), but the Steelers are up to five picks so far this year.

While most teams would expect the third-string quarterback to hand the ball off to Le'veon Bell three times, the Steelers did something very rare in the four-minute offense. They let Jones throw on second down, and Bryant shook off Tyrann Mathieu after the catch before speeding away for a game-sealing 88-yard touchdown. Bryant's 94-yard catch at Cincinnati was the longest reception of 2014, and it only took him one game to claim 2015's longest reception through Week 6. If this is what the offense can do with Jones off the bench, then the potential for this offense with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger is scary.

Ravens at 49ers: Super Bowl XLVII Feels Like Forever and a Day Ago

Three seasons ago, these teams met in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, only nine of the 44 starters in Super Bowl XLVII started in this game for the same team. That does not include both Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, starters for the Ravens in that Super Bowl who have jumped ship to San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick was able to use both effectively against a Baltimore defense that has fallen on hard times. Even fullback Bruce Miller had three catches for 89 yards in the first quarter.

Joe Flacco does not have nearly the arsenal he had when he won Super Bowl MVP honors against the 49ers. At this point, Baltimore's season is about seeing how many more brilliant games a 36-year-old Steve Smith can have before his planned retirement at the end of the year. He can certainly put milestones like 1,000 receptions, 14,000 receiving yards and 80 touchdown receptions on his to-do list. He gave the Ravens some life with a great touchdown catch in the third quarter, but the defense continued to give up the big play. Boldin hauled in a 51-yard bomb and the 49ers were eventually up 25-13 with 10:52 to play.

Flacco delivered on a pass-happy drive, showing great poise on a fourth-and-2 before finding Kamar Aiken for a touchdown with 5:14 left. Well, Aiken caught the pass as Flacco may have been looking for Marlon Brown behind him, but you never know with quarterbacks throwing passes into a San Francisco end zone while moving to the right sideline.

Kaepernick nearly gave the Ravens a big break by running out of bounds on a third down with 2:26 left, but a defensive holding penalty on Jimmy Smith extended the drive. The 49ers kept it conservative by running three times and punting. Flacco needed to drive 80 yards in 66 seconds, but this would not be the first time he has done so. Rich Gannon, calling the game for CBS, was audibly irate with Baltimore's time management and some players jogging to the line for a spike, but two Flacco completions and a penalty for 12 defenders on the field had the Ravens at the 35-yard line with 13 seconds left. I kind of like the idea of taking two shots to the end zone here, but Flacco tried to split the difference. He used half the time to throw a high pass to Aiken that was incomplete at the 17. Down to one play, Flacco's last-gasp pass into the end zone saw Smith surrounded by a sea of red for a game-ending pass deflection by Eric Reid.

Since the win in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens are a decisively average 20-20, including the playoffs.

Chiefs at Vikings: Jesus, Take the Wheel (Since Jamaal Can't)

How was life without Jamaal Charles for Kansas City? Not good this week, as the team finished with 16 carries for 47 yards. Minnesota did not fare much better with a healthy Adrian Peterson (26 carries for 60 yards), and none of the Vikings' four scoring drives were longer than 53 yards in what was an offensively-challenged contest.

Despite trailing 13-0 to start the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had multiple chances to win the game late. Down 13-3, the Chiefs even caught a break with their poorly-conceived third-down strategy when a screen pass on third-and-10 broke open for a 42-yard touchdown by Albert Wilson. Mike Zimmer sent a seven-man blitz at Alex Smith on the play, but the quick pass with blockers out front made for a pretty easy touchdown.

Minnesota added a much-needed field goal thanks to a 30-yard gain from Stefon Diggs on third-and-15. Diggs, a 2015 fifth-round pick out of Maryland, may be the real deal for the Vikings with 87 yards in his debut against Denver and 129 yards in his second game here. Kansas City also looked to a new face with different results. Down 16-10, Travis Kelce moved the ball into Minnesota territory on a 37-yard gain, but young running back Charcandrick West lost a fumble with 4:32 to play. The defense held on a three-and-out when rookie Marcus Peters nearly came down with a second interception of Teddy Bridgewater in the quarter.

Smith had his opportunity again, needing to drive 80 yards in 2:46 for a game-winning touchdown. After Knile Davis picked up 12 yards, Smith threw four straight incompletions with his accuracy just off on a few plays. He bounced a third-down pass off the ground to Wilson before having similar results on fourth down after stepping up to avoid Minnesota's standard four-man pressure.

The Chiefs (1-5) are toast, and the Vikings (3-2) have a favorable upcoming schedule to get on a winning streak.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 27

Game-winning drives: 28 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC opportunity: 54/91 (59.3 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 14

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


18 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2015, 7:04pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Leading the 0-12 Colts by a familiar 23-21 score, the Falcons tried to punt from deep in their own end.

The Colts were 0-13 at the time, and the play started from past midfield (the ball bounced back 30 yards after the block). Video here (0:40 mark).

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Using PFR Play Finder:

Rams @ 49ers, Nov. 2007, 49ers kick field goal down 7, on 4th and 10 from the 28, with 1:55 left

Falcons @ Texans, Nov. 2003, Falcons kick field goal down 7, on 4th and 23 from the 24, with 1:29 left.

Obviously, 4th and 23 is a different case. You can make the argument that the first one was dumb, but they actually got the ball back after a Rams 3-and-out, and got all the way to the 21.

6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I only searched for red zone plays, so I missed these.

The Falcons were in a horrible situation there. Vick ran for a yard and there seems to be some indecisiveness on what to do since the timeout did not come until 1:29 after a play at 1:53. Given the Falcons had one timeout left, I think I still might take my chances with the 4th-and-23. Even if you gave yourself a 15 percent shot to convert that, your odds are really no better of recovering the onside kick. Anything that involves an expected onside kick bugs me, and that was Atlanta's only hope by kicking the FG. Hell, the 42-yard field goal isn't a lock either.

49ers - hey Trent Dilfer. Really don't remember that one at all. SF had three timeouts. I guess I could see it, but a 46-yard field goal isn't easy. They still tried the onside kick too, but Rams recovered before going three-and-out. Not a terrible last drive attempt from Dilfer, but a game-ending INT in end zone.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

One thing that worries me about Denver's defense (aside from Unforeseen Injury) is the penchant for idiot penalties. In the Cleveland game you had Jackson's facemask on 3rd down, Wolfe's roughing the passer near the end of Q4, and Talib lining up offside. They're lucky that none of these cost them the game, though Wolfe's came close.

Granted, Jackson's facemask allowed Cleveland to keep the ball and set up Talib's pick-6, so, good job Malik?

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I'd love to see an analysis of what the problem is with the Seahawks and closing games out late. My impressions as a Seahawks fan who has been pondering this for years:
1) The late game offense has been really bad for years (at least when they're playing with a lead). It's tempting to put this on Bevell, but Wilson and the receivers have also looked worse in closing out games. It seems as though the receivers drop more balls and Wilson makes more bad passes. In many games, the running game also starts stalling.
2) They take a lot of penalties and sacks on those drives as well. The quick passing game appears to disappear, and once the Seahawks are in a 2nd and 15+ situation they tend to play conservative.
3) The predictable defense gets exposed once QBs are willing to air it out. The defense relies on making deep throws too risky, forcing QBs to rely on short passing. But if QBs are looking for 20 yard pickups and willing to throw into tight windows, there are opportunities and the defense can be mortal.
3a) I wonder if the Seahawks press receivers less when they are maintaining leads?
4) The predictability of the defense can also be a problem once the offense finds a play that works. Often they can call the same play multiple times in quick succession.
5) The Seahawks also rely too heavily on their defense to close out games. Often it works, but there's a risk involved in relying on your defense rather than your offense in late game situations.

Often the Seahawks do manage to protect their late leads with a combination of Lynch rushes and stifling defense. But when something "clicks" for the other team, the Seahawks aren't flexible enough to adjust.

Other unrelated thought: I've often thought that the best comparison for Seattle is the good Giants of years past. The didn't manage the sort of sustained success as Seattle, but their brand of inflexible football what somewhat similar--rely on DE pressure, big plays on offense, and execution.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

1) I would say that Bevell and Carrol are one of the most traditional teams in terms of being happy with 3 yards and a cloud of dust. They put their offense in bad positions with lots of 3rd and long situations where the play sequence is run-run-predictable pass, its just bad offensive theory. When they do well is when they abandon traditional smash mouth football and play miss-direction option from the shotgun. They lose almost every play under center and almost every play with a fullback.

2) They take a lot of penalties and sacks when they put themselves in predictable passing situations with an offensive line that has been below average at pass blocking for the whole time that Pete Carrol has been in Seattle

3) They play a predictable cover-3 defense on almost every down. The bet is basically that the pass rush will get to the QB before the traditional 3 beater routes, which take extra time to develop, get through their breaks. When the pass rush begins to break down the cover-3 beater routes begin to pick them apart. The best example was the OT win against Denver last season.
3a) Gus Bradley definitely pressed WRs less when defending a lead. Dann Quinn tended to play defense the exact same without regard to situation and blitzed more than Bradley. I haven't seen enough of the new DC to make a judgement. But Williams is just enough worse than Maxwell and the Seahawks no longer have starting caliber DBs for the 4-5th WRs.

4) The Seahawks are the least game planned team in the NFL. Basic core Carrol philosophy, you have to beat me before I'll even attempt to adjust to what you're doing. They will install the game plan on offense and defense if they're being beat but it they're playing even or leading by any amount they'll never install it.

5) This goes to the 1970s offense discussed in part 1. The Seahawks basically reject the theory of efficient offense that the entire rest of the NFL depends on. They want to play a boom/bust offense, but their o-line is no longer good enough for the long P/A routes they use to score on. They also lack receivers like Sidney Rice and Golden Tate that are nearly as good at improvising as when Wilson entered the league, last year that was made up by improved line play this year...

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

14 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

But it actually works most of the game! The question is why all the late-game comebacks in games that the Seahawks have been winning.

On offense I think it comes down to o-line play. The whole Seahawks offense gets a little worse in late-game situations, but the o-line is critical for consistent gains. They also have some real issues getting push in short-yardage situations.

On defense it's partly the pass rush, but I do think it's something about QBs taking more chances and OCs pulling out the whole playbook.

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I would say they're getting exposed more, because this is their worst O-line so far. As the article pointed out they have blown 3-5 big leads a season, including last year's Superbowl, and their offense has been good enough to bail them out when REALLY pressed. Last year it was a lack of depth on the D-line and WRs that couldn't make anything happen on their own. This year, O-line and lack of depth at DB. The O-line is just a bigger problem.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

While it looked like the offense had finally done the team in, the defense just flexed its muscles, causing the Browns to lose yards on each of the next three plays and punt.

That was a breathtaking stand. TFL, sack, sack. We'll have our ball back now chump.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Regarding the Bears game, in addition to those 23 seconds, they also could have had the 10 seconds from the intentional grounding runoff, since I believe you can decline the runoff. 33 seconds would have been nice. But I suppose with 33 more seconds on the clock, the lions might have played less preventy, and actually stopped the bears, or at least slowed them down.

12 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Not to correct you but this week's SNAFU was not a mind-melting punt. It wasn't even a mind-melting punt formation. It was a mind-melting snap that was expected by just one person in a stadium of 65,000. Check that--one person on the Colts and maybe three from the Pats.

Pagano and the ST coach should surely be spanked for that, but I feel pretty sorry for Whalen, who deserves SOME abuse, was a sub "center" and is probably a smartish guy (Stanford and all that--just rooming with Luck probably made him smarter... and more boring). How and why did he snap it? We'll have to wait for his eventual best-selling memoir. My money is on a Belichick Jedi mind trick.
"You want to snap that ball.
"I want to snap this ball."

15 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

He snapped it because the QB called for the ball, and the play as designed and practiced includes that as a possibility, usually to draw a penalty but sometimes to exploit a defensive misalignment.

Unfortunately, it was actually a "hard count" - one that the coaches had forgotten to tell the snapper about.

The play now known as "The Pagano" is almost entirely a coaching foul up.

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