Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Clutch Encounters: Week 7
Clutch Encounters: Week 7
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Did you like that? Week 7 did not begin or end in strong fashion, but Sunday's action provided the largest comeback of 2015 and also one of its best games between playoff contenders. That is where we start in a week that featured eight comeback opportunities.

Game of the Week

New York Jets 23 at New England Patriots 30

Type: 4QC/GWD

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

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (46-71 at 4QC and 61-72 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Tom Brady (36-29 at 4QC and 48-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Coming into the week, the Jets and Patriots were the only two offenses in the NFL that had yet to have a 4QC/GWD opportunity this season. That changed on Sunday in what was a very competitive game that lived up to the hype for a change. Rex Ryan's big mouth has been replaced by a more reserved Todd Bowles, but the results were still the same: outcoached by Bill Belichick.

Seriously, name another team who would scoff at offensive balance and attack a defense with 61 dropbacks and five handoffs. True, Dion Lewis was out, but even if he had played, the only difference probably would have been more passes to him and fewer to Brandon LaFell, who dropped six balls in his season debut. Yes, a few were barely above the ground and a couple more were defensed, but that was a brutal game for the wide receiver. The Patriots respected the Jets' No. 1 run defense so much that they handed the ball off five times for 1 net yard. Tom Brady finished as the leading rusher with 15 yards on four carries.

New England approached this game in a very similar fashion to the way it played Baltimore and Seattle in the playoffs last year. Against the Ravens, the Patriots picked on a depleted secondary with 51 passes and seven handoffs for 14 yards. Against Seattle, New England eventually abandoned the run (19 carries for 60 yards) and continued to dink and dunk, avoiding the best cornerback on the field (Richard Sherman) and shredding the weakest link (Tharold Simon). On Sunday, the Patriots mostly avoided Darrelle Revis and anything deep outside the numbers, but what the Jets did a strong job of was tackling. The Patriots averaged a season-low 3.4 YAC per completion.

The Jets did a lot of things well, but they were not going to match New England's bold strategy of relentlessly attacking the defense's weakness. For New England this season, that is the secondary. You have to attack it, but the Jets still handed the ball off 24 times for 60 yards because that's what their offense is about. Even though Chris Ivory was not 100 percent, he still got 17 carries for 41 yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick did well to not throw an interception, but he really should have been allowed to throw more than 19 targets to Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall if the Jets were going to score enough points to win this one.

Still the Jets led 17-16 and were driving to start the fourth quarter. On third-and-7, Fitzpatrick's back-shoulder pass to Marshall was dropped on what would have been a touchdown. I wonder if NFL Films got Fitzpatrick's reaction to this one. He was dumbfounded over a much more difficult Marshall touchdown caught in Week 6 against Washington. This one was a big miss, and once the field goal went through to put the Jets up 20-16, the New England comeback felt inevitable.

People always say "you have to score touchdowns and be aggressive to beat the Patriots in New England" and they are not lying. I have the proof. Teams that attempt a fourth-quarter field goal in Foxboro when the game is within three points either way are now 1-13 since 2001. Only the 2008 Jets won, but that was a little different since their 34-yard field goal came in overtime.

New England Patriots at Home: Opponent Kicks a FG in 4Q/OT, +/- 3 PTS (2001-2015)
Team Date Final Score Time Field Goal Note
SD 10/14/2001 L 29-26 OT Tied 26-26 0:01 W.Richey 59-yd FG is no good Lose in OT after 3-and-out
IND 9/9/2004 L 27-24 Trailed 27-24 0:24 M.Vanderjagt 48-yd FG is no good Wide right
BUF 10/30/2005 L 21-16 Led 10-7 13:06 R.Lindell 35-yd FG is good (13-7 lead) Led 16-7 w/10:07 left (NE 14-0 run)
STL 10/26/2008 L 23-16 Tied 13-13 12:28 J.Brown 25-yd FG is good (16-13 lead) Matt Cassel's first career 4QC/GWD
NYJ 11/13/2008 W 34-31 OT Tied 31-31 7:15 J.Feely 34-yd game-winning FG Only possession in OT
GB 12/19/2010 L 31-27 Led 24-21 13:52 M.Crosby 19-yd FG is good (27-21 lead) Patriots finished on 10-0 run
DAL 10/16/2011 L 20-16 Tied 13-13 5:16 D.Bailey 26-yd FG is good (16-13 lead) 2nd NE chance: 80-yd GW TD drive
BAL 1/22/2012 L 23-20 Trailed 23-20 0:15 B.Cundiff 32-yd FG is no good Evans/Cundiff double-whammy in AFC-C
NYJ 10/21/2012 L 29-26 OT Trailed 23-20 2:11 N.Folk 43-yd game-tying FG (23-23 tie) D.McCourty fumbled ensuing kickoff
Tied 23-23 1:42 N.Folk 43-yd FG is good (26-23 lead) NE gets 2 FGs; M.Sanchez fumbles in OT
NO 10/13/2013 L 30-27 Led 24-23 2:29 G.Hartley 39-yd FG is good (27-23 lead) 2nd NE chance: 70-yd GW TD drive
CLE 12/8/2013 L 27-26 Trailed 27-26 0:01 B.Cundiff 58-yd FG is no good CLE led 26-14 w/2:39 left (NE 13-0 run)
NYJ 10/16/2014 L 27-25 Trailed 27-25 0:05 N.Folk 58-yd FG is blocked NYJ failed on 2PC on previous drive
BAL 1/10/2015 L 35-31 Tied 28-28 10:19 J.Tucker 25-yd FG is good (31-28 lead) NE: 74-yd GW TD drive; J.Flacco INT
NYJ 10/25/2015 L 30-23 Led 17-16 12:54 N.Folk 30-yd FG is good (20-16 lead) NE: 80-yd GW TD drive

You have to be aggressive in New England. Adding a field goal to stretch your lead out to four to six points is just opening yourself up to allowing a game-winning touchdown drive. Kicking a field goal in a tied game leaves Brady an opportunity to beat you with a touchdown. (Isn't that right, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan?) You need to turn that 3-point lead into a 10-point lead. You need to break a tie with a touchdown to keep a real advantage. Some of these games are not directly applicable to this, because the 2005 Bills actually built a 16-7 lead before losing 21-16 in ESPN's hilariously announced (see this parody) Tedy Bruschi return game. Teams such as the 2004 Colts (Mike Vanderjagt) and 2011 Ravens (Billy Cundiff) missed late field goals that would have forced overtime. However, you could always point to Edgerrin James fumbling on first down at the 1-yard line with 3:43 left and Lee Evans not hanging onto that ball in the end zone as to why those teams were still losing in the final seconds.

You have to execute, because you expect the Patriots will when given their chance. The Jets still almost made the stop, thanks to a 7-yard loss by LeGarrette Blount on a rare run. Maybe that's why the Patriots never tried to run in this one. On third-and-17, Brady threw his longest pass of the day, a 26-yarder, and Julian Edelman was there for a sliding catch. Danny Amendola finished the drive with a tough 8-yard touchdown catch with 7:16 left.

Fitzpatrick is 1-5 at 4QC opportunities against the Patriots, with four interceptions on those drives. On third-and-7, he threw a deep ball to Devin Smith that was not even close and the Jets punted with 5:32 left. That was not high-percentage offense. The Patriots stuck to their bold pass-happy strategy in a situation where almost any team would have tried running the ball. But when you are running nothing but high-percentage plays, why not keep throwing? This was refreshing to see in the NFL. Can you imagine another team throwing incomplete passes on first and second down outside of the two-minute warning and in long field goal range? The Patriots did not care, because the Jets weren't able to stop the trio of Edelman, Amendola and Rob Gronkowski.

Brady continued to throw after the two-minute warning, setting up a second-and-3 at the New York 22. For some reason, Bowles was still holding onto his three timeouts. He defended his strategy on Monday, and had some valid points about the earlier plays not presenting the opportunity to call timeout, but he should have used one before second-and-3. Two stopped gains there still would have left Bowles with about 65 seconds and one timeout, down 26-20. Is that really better than having about 1:40 and no timeouts? If Bowles was so worried the Patriots would convert on second down to "waste" his timeout, does he not realize by not calling one that a conversion there would have likely left the Jets with 25 seconds to score a touchdown? That's basically hopeless. If Bowles' hope was for a second-down incompletion, then he called one of the worst defensive plays imaginable. How do you rush seven and leave Gronkowski completely wide open for a walk-in touchdown? And that's just a little reminder of why the Patriots have owned this division for 15 years.

Sure, the Jets managed a 55-yard field goal and actually recovered an onside kick, but only 14 seconds remained. A short pass over the middle was risky given the time, and sure enough the Jets botched the spike with one second left. Marshall was not set, resulting in a game-ending 10-second runoff. A Hail Mary attempt from the New England 37 would have been a great ending to this game, but as is usually the case, the game ended with a frustrated opponent leaving the Patriots' field.

Since 2001, teams are 1-47 (.021) at 4QC opportunities in New England.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 at Washington Redskins 31

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (30-24)

Head Coach: Jay Gruden (3-9 at 4QC and 5-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (3-8 at 4QC and 3-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The largest comeback in Washington Redskins history (24 points) is in the books, and a reaction captured by video will live forever thanks to Captain Kirk Cousins.

I do like that, and it is the highlight of the year if you pretend he was saying this to Robert Griffin III. The Redskins have followed Cousins' lead this season. When he has been on target and interception-free, they are 3-0. When he throws multiple interceptions and fails to score an above-average amount of points, they are 0-4. Cousins made his first huge mistake in this one on a strip-sack returned for a touchdown, which gave Tampa Bay a 24-0 lead in the second quarter. Cousins was possibly playing for his job at that point, and he responded with a strong finish.

Washington's surprise onside kick was a great move in the third quarter to help bring the Redskins within three points. Tampa Bay's offense was efficient and balanced coming out of its bye week, but one problem was its contribution to the team's 16 penalties for 142 yards on the day. That really hurt in sustaining offense the rest of the game after the hot start. This second half actually featured six consecutive scoring drives, but the Buccaneers were held to two field goals.

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Doug Martin's 49-yard run to the 5-yard line seemed to set up the Buccaneers for a pivotal touchdown in the final four minutes, leading 27-24. However, the defense held, stopping Charles Sims for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 from the 1-yard line. With the way Washington was playing the run there, it may have been nice to see Jameis Winston on a bootleg with a chance to score himself. Whether it was Sims or Martin, this run up the gut never stood a chance, with Washington engulfing the interior of the line.

Tampa Bay kicked a field goal for the dreaded 6-point lead with 2:24 left. I definitely think going for it would have been the right call at the 1-yard line, but it was tougher after Sims lost 2 yards. You cannot really sweat overtime anymore, nor should a defense fear Cousins leading a 99-yard touchdown drive. But we know coaches are wired to kick the field goal here and put the game on the defense.

Like he was against the Eagles in Week 4, Cousins was money on the last drive, using the abundance of time and calmly directing the offense for the game-winning touchdown. Even when Tampa Bay decided to blitz, Cousins got the ball out quickly and with good placement. He only started missing from the 6-yard line, including a mix-up with Andre Roberts that Chris Conte nearly turned into an interception. On third down, Washington had four receivers aligned to the left and tight end Jordan Reed in single coverage to the right. Cousins went to Reed on a quick slant for an easy touchdown with 24 seconds left. It was sad to watch Lavonte David pound the ground in frustration after the play. He was stuck in no man's land. Ideally, he helps provide coverage on Reed to force the throw to the left, but Cousins is mobile enough to run up the middle for a score too, so David had to respect that. He was just too late in getting over to Reed and the Buccaneers did not have a timeout to call to clear up their confusion.

Without a timeout, Winston's task was very difficult, setting up a field goal from his own 20 with 24 seconds left. He hit three passes in a row, but Sims fumbled at the Washington 39. There wasn't enough time to spike the ball anyway, though the game clock never started on the play, so that could have been controversial if Sims went down with possession and the Buccaneers did a spike. Hopefully, things would have been corrected and common sense would have prevailed -- there was no way they ran those two plays in 12 seconds. If Jeff Triplette failed to get that right, then maybe we need to get him "corrected" too, Mr. Grady.

Incredibly, since 2012 the Buccaneers have only held 9-of-24 (37.5 percent) leads of eight points or less in the fourth quarter/overtime. Those 15 blown leads of that type are the most in the league. That rate is also easily the worst in a league in a situation where most teams are above 60 percent. Greg Schiano got a lot of the blame, but we are seeing the same things under Lovie Smith too.

You don't like to see that.

Dallas Cowboys 20 at New York Giants 27

Type: Non-offensive game-winning score

The Cowboys still have one of the season's most fortunate wins, stunning the Giants back in Week 1, but New York got some payback here. Matt Cassel managed the first half well in his first start for Dallas, but he melted down in the second half and wasted his team's great rushing effort, as the Cowboys ran 40 times for 229 yards. Cassel threw interceptions on three consecutive drives, including a pick-six that put the Giants ahead. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had his second interception of the game.

Despite the thefts, Dallas still only trailed 20-13 and had the ball back again with the running game moving the ball to midfield. To his credit, Cassel answered with two big throws that looked very similar. On both plays, Cassel scrambled to his right and threw a sideline pass to a receiver who fell down to complete the catch. Devin Street's 25-yard touchdown tied the game with 7:14 left.

Eli Manning did not have his greatest game, but the offense was able to practically take the fourth quarter off. We all know about the absences of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, but Dallas is also missing another player this season, and that is because he signed with the Giants in March. Special teams ace Dwayne Harris haunted his old team with a 100-yard kick return touchdown to quickly regain a 27-20 lead.

Dallas still had an eternity to answer, and clearly the plan was to stick with the productive running game and limit Cassel's dropbacks. Cassel finally got involved again around the two-minute warning, but the Giants blitzed to force a fourth-and-8 with 1:56 left. New York only rushed four this time, and they were picked up well, but Cassel checked down to James Hanna for a 6-yard gain. Three Giants met him on the tackle, short of the first down. ALEX is sad.

The Cowboys still had all three timeouts, so maybe the Giants would botch the clock again. They ran three times and punted, which would have given Cassel about 86 seconds to drive the field for a touchdown. Hard, but doable. However, Cole Beasley muffed the punt and the game was over once the Giants recovered the loose ball. No epic game-winning drive this time.

No Tony Romo, no win for the Cowboys in 2015, but this division is far from settled.

Buffalo Bills 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 34

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (31-27)

Head Coach: Gus Bradley (3-10 at 4QC and 4-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Blake Bortles (2-6 at 4QC and 3-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)

What kind of product did the NFL put out for the first global stream of a live game? It was actually a pretty good display of why this is the ultimate team game and how teams can experience so many highs and lows in one contest. Early risers got to see EJ Manuel lose a game in a record third different country (United States, Canada and now London). His three early turnovers led to a 27-3 deficit. Then fans were treated to a huge comeback attempt from Manuel, who was playing without Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. Buffalo's defense did its job for most of the day, even stopping Toby Gerhart on four consecutive runs from the 1-yard line. That was really where Jacksonville should have kicked a field goal to take a three-score lead, because the Jacksonville offense had done very little without Manuel's help.

After nearly finishing a 99-yard touchdown drive, the Bills settled for a field goal in the fourth quarter despite the 27-13 score. Not a fan of that call from Rex Ryan, but Jacksonville's offense helped the Bills out with three straight three-and-out drives. This game somehow squeezed in 10 offensive possessions in the fourth quarter alone, excluding the final kneel-down drive. Manuel's 58-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Easley on a perfectly thrown deep ball made things interesting with 6:33 left as Buffalo only trailed 27-24.

On third-and-11, Blake Bortles forced a throw against a seven-man blitz that he would like to have back. Allen Robinson fell down and the pass sailed right to Corey Graham, who returned it for a 44-yard go-ahead touchdown. Just like that the Bills were actually leading and Bortles needed to drive his stagnant offense for a touchdown with 5:19 left.

To this point, Buffalo's defense had only allowed 14 points on 10 drives and it looked like they had capped off their own 24-point comeback. But in closing time, Ryan's defense cracked. Bortles found Robinson twice for 38 yards, then caught a huge break on third-and-15. Nickell Robey was penalized 17 yards for pass interference, but it was a horrible call. He played the ball and did not restrict Bryan Walters from having an opportunity to make a catch. In a strange coincidence, Robey was also penalized for a bogus PI call in Toronto on a critical third-and-16 against the Falcons in 2013. This man can't catch a break when he leaves the states. Two plays later, Bortles made his best play of the day and found Allen Hurns for a 31-yard touchdown to retake the lead.

Manuel still had 2:16 and all three timeouts to close the game for Buffalo, down 34-31. LeSean McCoy was taken down in the backfield on second-and-1, setting up a big third down. Sure, I love the quarterback sneak, but I'm not sure I have ever seen one that actually lost a yard like Manuel did here. Sen'Derrick Marks looked like he absorbed center Eric Wood on his way to Manuel in the backfield. Most of us have not streamed penetration like that since the night before the game.

On fourth down, Buffalo tried a little rub route, but Manuel's floater (instead of a needed dart) was knocked down by Aaron Colvin to seal the Jacksonville win.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Steelers at Chiefs: Familiar Script

The reason I don't bet on Pittsburgh games can be summarized by the last three weeks, which started with those improbable wins over San Diego and Arizona. But when it comes to road games against lowly teams like the Chiefs, losers of five straight, I should be going all out with no fear. I knew this reeked of a classic Pittsburgh road performance against a bad team, which usually means an ugly offensive display. The following table looks at Pittsburgh's last 10 road games against non-playoff teams. 2015 is excluded for obvious reasons, but this game and the 12-6 squeaker over the Rams could certainly fit right in eventually. The "OFF Pts" is how many points Pittsburgh's offense scored in the game, removing any return scores. Ben Roethlisberger started all of these games for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Anti-Road Warriors on Offense (2013-14 Games vs. Non-Playoff Teams)
Year Week Opp Record Opposing QB Result OFF DVOA OFF Pts Note
2013 4 at MIN 5-10-1 Matt Cassel L 34-27 13.3% 27 Played in London
2013 6 at NYJ 8-8 Geno Smith W 19-6 -6.2% 19 -
2013 8 at OAK 4-12 Terrelle Pryor L 21-18 -30.6% 18 Trailed 21-3
2013 12 at CLE 4-12 Jason Campbell W 27-11 15.4% 20 Defense added pick-six in 4Q
2013 13 at BAL 8-8 Joe Flacco L 22-20 29.6% 20 Game-tying 2PC failed w/1:03 left
2014 5 at JAC 3-13 Blake Bortles W 17-9 7.2% 10 Defense added pick-six in 4Q
2014 6 at CLE 7-9 Brian Hoyer L 31-10 -14.9% 10 Only TD came w/2:36 left in game
2014 10 at NYJ 4-12 Michael Vick L 20-13 -26.8% 13 80-yd TD pass w/1:16 left
2014 11 at TEN 2-14 Zach Mettenberger W 27-24 10.9% 20 Early pick-six; needed 11-pt 4QC
2014 15 at ATL 6-10 Matt Ryan W 27-20 31.1% 20 Pick-six (2Q) was game's first TD

Given that the first game listed was played in London, you could say the Pittsburgh offense hasn't cracked more than 20 points in a true road game against a below-average team since 2012. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were the best quarterbacks on this list, and the Pittsburgh offense was at its best in those games. But generally, the Steelers get into ugly games with bad teams who are starting suspect quarterbacks.

I cannot crucify them too much for this one given that Landry Jones and new left tackle Alejandro Villanueva were making their first career starts, but the Chiefs were also without Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin. Charcandrick West rushed for 110 yards and Alex Smith looked fairly competent with Albert Wilson and rookie Chris Conley stepping up at wide receiver. Pittsburgh did not open up the offense too much until Kansas City took a 16-3 lead, but the limitations of the new starters showed up in the fourth quarter.

Le'Veon Bell made some incredible cuts on a 42-yard run into the red zone with Pittsburgh down 16-10, but Jones failed to hook up with Martavis Bryant for a fourth touchdown in two weeks. On third down, Tamba Hali got past Villanueva untouched for a big sack to force a field goal. Smith found that good things can happen when you throw beyond the sticks on third down, as he converted a third-and-4 with a 26-yard gain by Travis Kelce. West broke a 36-yard run and Conley finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown catch. Sure, in typical Chiefs fashion, Conley lined up like a flexed tight end normally would, but that fooled Pittsburgh enough to leave him wide open for a game-changing touchdown with 5:13 left.

Jones' no-huddle didn't have much of a hurry to it, and he kept dumping off to Bell without any big chunks gained. The Steelers even caught a break with a pass interference penalty on Sean Smith on fourth down to extend the drive. But on the next play, Villanueva again was beaten by Hali for a sack. This one stripped the ball and the Steelers lost a fumble for the first time in 2015. The three giveaways by Jones matched the team's season total coming into Week 7.

Next week the Steelers will hope to have Roethlisberger and Bell finish a game together for the first time since Week 16 against Kansas City last year.

Eagles at Panthers: Ground & Drop Offenses

Their records may suggest otherwise, but the Eagles (3-4) and Panthers (6-0) have been close this season, both in performance and style. The defense is the strongest unit for both teams. He had a big pick on the night, but the addition of cornerback Byron Maxwell has mostly backfired on the Eagles, while Carolina's Josh Norman has been one of the best defenders of 2015. Big-name linebackers Kiko Alonso and Luke Kuechly have been hurt this year, but Kuechly was able to suit up and help his team. Both offenses try to build around the run, though Carolina has had more success so far, but the Eagles matched the running production fairly well on the night despite a back injury to left tackle Jason Peters.

The passing games are both pretty limited by the caliber of the quarterback and the quality of the receivers they have. It was amazing to see back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter on plays where the receiver should have been able to make the catch. Philadelphia's deficiencies were more by choice in not retaining its No. 1 wideout (Jeremy Maclin) for the second year in a row. Jordan Matthews really struggled on the night, including some drops, which is something that plagued him 10 times in his last year of college football. Carolina lost Kelvin Benjamin to injury and Devin Funchess has proven to be a poor replacement in his rookie season. The Eagles also haven't gotten much out of rookie Nelson Agholor (ankle), who was inactive. That's why we see the ghosts of Ted Ginn and Miles Austin continue to contribute, but even there the Carolina player was better on Sunday night.

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Overall, the Panthers were better and that's why they got the win, but the Eagles had some chances. After Cam Newton's third interception, Josh Huff was unable to bring in a pass in the back of the end zone. In the fourth quarter, down 21-16, the Eagles called timeout and ended up running a bubble screen on third-and-9. Huff lost a yard and Caleb Sturgis then missed the 50-yard field goal. That pass was worth minus-13 ALEX and never had a shot. Since 2006, third-down passes worth exactly minus-13 ALEX (sample size: 443) only convert 12.0 percent of the time. On a third-and-15 on the next drive, Sam Bradford short-hopped a throw to Austin that would not have converted either. Bradford has to take more chances in this offense.

Carolina got weird and ran Cameron Artis-Payne for the first time all night on a big third-and-1. He was stuffed for no gain. Newton, Jonathan Stewart, or Mike Tolbert weren't better options?

Down 24-16, the Eagles needed to drive 89 yards in 3:12. That never came close to materializing. Bradford even caught a rare break on a third-and-16. A tipped ball negates pass interference, but it's not tipped if your arm is hit as you throw. Kuechly had the contact thinking there was a tip, and after a good challenge by Chip Kelly, the call was correctly changed to a pass interference penalty. That is on a very short list of challenges in relation to a penalty, but the Eagles didn't take advantage. On fourth-and-9, Austin was able to bring in Bradford's pass for a fitting end to the night. Carolina added a field goal, because Ron Rivera wasn't fearful of a Florida State-Georgia Tech encore with a block getting returned for a touchdown.

Falcons at Titans: Where Were the Points?

A scoreless fourth quarter is rare in the NFL, but we saw it happen 15 times in 2014. How about a game with fewer than 18 combined points? Atlanta's 10-7 win is the first such game since Week 15 of the 2012 season, when Oakland shut out Kansas City 15-0. There had been 672 games played since that one (including playoffs) leading into Sunday's 1 p.m. action. So this game actually ended what was easily the longest streak in NFL history of consecutive games with at least 18 points scored. The 2013 and 2014 seasons are the only seasons to not have a game with fewer than 18 points scored.

The chances were certainly there in Tennessee for more points. Both quarterbacks threw interceptions in the red zone, but Matt Ryan's fourth-quarter pick was more of the bad luck variety. First, I loved that the Falcons went for it on fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line up 10-7 with 6:38 left. Go for the crucial 10-point lead instead of a 6-point margin that would force Tennessee to pursue a go-ahead touchdown. The outcome just turned out poorly for Atlanta. Ryan's pass was tipped, but Jacob Tamme still nearly caught the ball on his knees. Avery Williamson dived in to grab the deflection, and that was big since the interception resulted in a touchback instead of putting the Titans at their own 1-yard line.

The Titans went to punt on fourth-and 9 from their own 32 with 3:47 left. I agree with that decision, especially with Zach Mettenberger starting for an injured Marcus Mariota. After Atlanta was penalized for having 12 men on the field, we saw a rare change of heart from a coach as Ken Whisenhunt brought the offense back onto the field to try converting fourth-and-4. That too is a good decision with an easier conversion, but Mettenberger's pass was woefully short of his receiver and the sticks.

Atlanta could have wrapped this one up with a conversion on fourth-and-2, but decided this time to go for the 6-point lead, to my chagrin. Matt Bryant, usually reliable, was wide right from 47 yards away with 2:28 left. That just feels like a kick that is too far away with too much time left for Tennessee. Let's be favorable and say you make the kick 75 percent of the time and prevent the touchdown 80 percent of the time. Do you still prefer those odds over your offense picking up 2 yards that will practically run out the clock? Tennessee had one timeout left. It's not much to go on, but in his career Ryan is 8-of-10 at converting fourth-and-2 passes. I would have trusted the offense there, but Dan Quinn trusted his kicker and defense.

The kicker failed, so the defense had to protect a shorter field in a 10-7 game. The Titans were driving at the Atlanta 42, but Mettenberger forced a pass after some pressure got up the middle on a five-man rush. Robenson Therezie read the quarterback the whole way and made the interception well in front of the receiver. It's the same type of interception Mettenberger struggled with as a rookie. The Titans probably would have won this game with their rookie quarterback, because the defensive effort was there this week.

Ravens at Cardinals: Not an Elite Finish

There are some Monday night games where I am really surprised a comeback opportunity came to fruition, and this was one of them. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise given that the Ravens have played in 10 consecutive games with a 4QC opportunity (going 3-7 in those games), but special teams and some bad four-minute offense made this one possible.

Arizona was looking to take a 27-10 lead with 8:08 left, but missed the long extra point off the right upright to keep it a two-score game. Still, things looked bleak for Baltimore. On Arizona's next possession, the punt was blocked by the Ravens and returned to the 1-yard line to set up a quick touchdown and two-point conversion. Just like that we had a 26-18 game with 4:26 left.

You know Bruce Arians would have some pass plays ready for the four-minute offense, and Andre Ellington helped Carson Palmer out with a great catch on a third-and-3 for a first down. The only problem was that he stepped out of bounds, saving Baltimore's last timeout with 2:37 left. Palmer could have iced the game on a second-down throw, but he never saw a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald down the middle of the field. Instead he just threw the ball to no one in particular, which brought out a penalty for intentional grounding. You would much rather have had your quarterback scramble and go down to keep the clock running to the two-minute warning. Not only did the penalty stop the clock, but that set up a third-and-22. It was a huge mistake by Palmer. The Cardinals just ran the ball on third down to set up the punt.

Joe Flacco had 1:53 to drive 76 yards. The drive was not smooth, but a blown coverage led to 31 yards for Chris Givens and Crockett Gillmore used his height on a 23-yard grab down to the Arizona 4. Even after a spike, the Ravens failed to line up in a timely fashion, leading to an illegal shift penalty. From the 9-yard line, Arizona rushed six, but Flacco made a poor decision to float a pass off his back foot to Gillmore. He should have thrown it away or thrown it harder to let the tight end use his size again. The lob landed in the hands of Tony Jefferson for the game-clinching interception, the third time Flacco has thrown such a pass this season.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 30

Game-winning drives: 31 (plus four non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC opportunity: 62/105 (59.0 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 16

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


60 comments, Last at 30 Oct 2015, 8:17pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

"Against Seattle, New England eventually abandoned the run (19 carries for 60 yards) and continued to dink and dunk, avoiding the best cornerback on the field (Richard Sherman) and shredding the weakest link (Tharold Simon)." Was that a shot?

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I never thought tharold was that much of a downgrade from Lane.He was worse but i thought it was more good NE than bad seahawks secondary, attacking a teams weakness consistently and them not being able to stop it says more about the team attacking then the vice versa.

Also do you have the data on teams that are agressive against NE and their record?

6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I think Lane is an overlooked loss for the 2015 Seahawks. Would definitely upgrade that secondary.

Going back to our AFC-C preview, there's a part at the bottom about the 15 home losses Brady has finished since 2001

The common trend is to play great defense (hold them to 21) and don't get behind. Only three teams won after trailing in 2nd half. So you need a good start to the game. I think with the table above, it's more about how some of those teams (especially 10 GB, 11 DAL, 13 NO) could have won if they were more aggressive in situations like 4th down and four-minute offense. I kept this to home games, but last week I think it was mentioned in Audibles how Pagano did some smart things like the early 4th down TD and an onside kick, because you almost have to do those things as an underdog against a very strong NE team.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

did not reaf whole thing yet btu just wantwed to comment on K. Cousins thingy. "YOU LIKE THAT! YOU LIKE THAT!" was berts m,oment of nfl season so far besides Raiders wins. when see Cousins do that my first thioguht was "Insane Squirrel ina ction." reaon for this is because want Redskins to change n ame to Squirrels.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

The NFC East is not settled, but it’s hard to fathom the Cowboys winning more than 6 or 7 games at this point.

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I think you may be overstating how much Todd Bowles was "outcoached" in this game. They went into New England and had the lead in the third quarter, led by a quarterback who the Texans didn't want (and they have the worst quarterbacks in football). They held Brady to 6.5 yards per attempt. Did he mismanage the clock at the end? Most definitely. But what about everything leading up to that moment? I just think it's strange how much we focus on the minutiae of clock management and ignore everything that went into making this a competitive game.

15 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I like Bowles, but there are some things he needs to learn from that loss: when to use your timeouts, etc. Whether he's a good coach or not may be answered this week, if they return to form and don't tank against the Raiders.

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

As badly as teams do kicking FGs late in close games at New England, they do even worse if they try for a fourth down conversion instead. Since 2001 no team has tried one in the fourth quarter or OT in a three point or closer game and gone on to win.

If you go by this kind of analysis, the only choice on fourth down is punting. Field position, Baby!

38 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Honestly, I think the Jets would be better off if they stop punting for the rest of the season. If they punted from the Pats 20, they'd still figure out a way to let the Pats move the ball to the 50 yard line, bouncing the ball off the uprights, etc.

41 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

There's an even better strategy: Losing the ball via a turnover gives better results than kicking a field goal, too.

I invite teams to use this kind of analysis to choose strategies against the Patriots.

You will get results.

I guarantee it.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Scott, don't you think your comments about NE's successful dink and dunk strategy are a little hypocritical, considering how relentlessly you've criticized Brady in the past for relying too much on YAC and throwing too many short TD passes?

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I've made it very well known I am not a fan of watching a dink-and-dunk offense, and this season is probably the most dink-and-dunk across the league. I prefer a more vertical attack instead of watching QBs load up on screens, picks & rubs and refusing to hold the ball beyond 2.5 seconds. That's just a style preference for me. If defenses can't stop you from doing what you're doing, then you should keep doing what you do best instead of trying to be something you're not. The Patriots get this better than anyone.

I also think there's a big difference between deciding how much credit to give a QB in his style of offense compared to analyzing the overall success of said offense. It's like how a run-and-shoot offense puts up results against so many defenses, but that doesn't mean Graham Harrell should have won the Heisman or gone higher in the draft than Michael Crabtree. I think NE's offense is basically plug-and-play except for Gronkowski. There's no good replacement for that guy, and when he's healthy, that makes this whole thing work a lot better than it should. They can have success being one-dimensional and with a passing game that doesn't even use the whole field. I'm not sure why coaches haven't been able to stop it lately, but they're on a good roll now. We'll see how long it continues, because even the 2007 offense was slowed down eventually. The first 10 games versus the last nine (including playoffs) were dramatically different that year.

20 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

"I also think there's a big difference between deciding how much credit to give a QB in his style of offense compared to analyzing the overall success of said offense. It's like how a run-and-shoot offense puts up results against so many defenses, but that doesn't mean Graham Harrell should have won the Heisman or gone higher in the draft than Michael Crabtree. I think NE's offense is basically plug-and-play except for Gronkowski. "

The obvious question this raises then is if this offense can be run so effectively regardless of the players involved, why don't other teams with crappy offenses run this offense?

21 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Why don't teams run the QB sneak as much as NE? From the shotgun-spread to 2-TE sets, the Patriots have continuously been ahead of the curve offensively from the rest of the NFL this century.

I include Brady as plug-and-play, because you don't need a dominant athlete to run this offense. You need a smart QB with good short-to-medium accuracy, so that already eliminates the likes of Josh McCown, Kaepernick, Newton, Manuel, Fitzpatrick, RG3, Stafford, etc. I think a Kirk Cousins could be coached up to play in this offense, because he gets rid of the ball quickly. Belichick would just have to coach him to be patient to cut down the picks.

And like I said, Gronkowski makes this thing lethal, and there is hardly anyone in the NFL close to him. Travis Kelce reminds me of him most. But beyond that, the Patriots have basically cornered the market on the perfect slot receiver for their offense. I knew Julian Edelman could replace Wes Welker with no problem. Danny Amendola could probably replace Edelman if he has to. The key is durability. Welker had it and Edelman has absorbed some huge hits pretty well. That 3rd down in the Super Bowl, the most important play besides you know what, was a huge hit by Kam Chancellor and he still held onto the ball. You don't always get that around the league. Percy Harvin has more talent than all of those dudes, but he'd probably be on IR by Week 5 if the Patriots used him the way they use the slot WR. He wouldn't be a better fit.

If you're a team like Dallas, you're not going to build your offense around Cole Beasley and an aging Jason Witten. You're going to use Dez Bryant the most, despite the fact he will see more double teams, more snaps against #1 CBs and require deeper targets that are harder for the QB to complete. That probably does sound inefficient, but that's how the game has worked for decades from Hutson to Alworth to Rice. That's also probably why we see the spread and short passing game taking over the college game, but we're not seeing a lot of great QBs coming into the NFL. Simplifying the reads and shortening the throws makes the QB's job easier, and the wide receiver talent is still getting developed because those guys are getting so many opportunities to show their skills now.

Most NFL teams are still coached to believe in stopping the run, defending the deep ball and the best receivers play on the outside. That's what the game was for decades. But the Patriots have completely turned that around and beat you from the inside out with barely even testing the deep throws and sometimes abandoning the run entirely. They'll gladly substitute a short pass for a run, and it will probably gain more yards on average anyway. It's not a sudden change either. They embarrassed the Steelers in the 2002 opener with this style of offense. They did it to Mike Tomlin twice; first with the 2006 Vikings (MNF) and again with the dominant 2007 offense. And he's still really never learned how to defend this offense outside of the 2011 game when Pittsburgh's best defense was its ball-control offense. And then of course they have the flexibility to turn into a running team when needed, like in almost any matchup with the Colts in the last dozen years.

Some teams are too stubborn to expand upon "we do what we do" every week while the Patriots put in the work to have a unique gameplan specific to that opponent. When you compare this 15-year run by the Patriots to the other teams, no one could make a good argument that Brady gives them more of an edge than any other QB out there does for his team. No one could argue the defense has been the best in the league given the consistency of teams like PIT and BAL. You might be able to say they've had the best kickers with Vinatieri and Gostkowski, but that's a small part of the picture.

The real gulf between the Patriots and the rest of the NFL is what Belichick and his coaches do every year. Maybe part of it is his willingness to bend or break the rules, but he gives his team a greater advantage than any other coach. The standard is the standard for Tomlin, obviously. Andy Reid still doesn't know how to manage a clock. Marvin Lewis can't win a Wild Card game. Rex Ryan can't coach offense. Sean Payton can't coach defense. Mike McCarthy is somewhere contemplating a field goal right now. Tony Dungy is wondering why he doesn't punt and John Fox expects a kneeldown. Jeff Fisher is figuring out how to finish 8-8 this year. One Harbaugh is already gone and the other has to figure out how to replace what's been lost since his one SB win. Pete Carroll has come up short on the doorstep of greatness twice now (USC and Seattle). Tom Coughlin has gotten the best of Belichick a few times, but he's more likely to miss the playoffs than anything.

IF that's the best of the rest, then this run starts to make more sense.

(Well that was longer than expected, but free bonus content for everyone)

23 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I agree with most of what you've said here, Scott, but I guess I just fundamentally disagree with your evaluation of Brady. I don't think someone like Cousins could reproduce Brady's success, but since it's a hypothetical, it's impossible to prove one way or the other.

"When you compare this 15-year run by the Patriots to the other teams, no one could make a good argument that Brady gives them more of an edge than any other QB out there"

I strongly disagree with this statement, though since it's a hypothetical, it's impossible to prove, at least for now. It's worth noting that all of the on-field personnel have changed around Brady, but he has remained the one constant as the QB. The one season Brady was absent, the offense was not nearly as good as it has been in Brady's best seasons, though it was still decent. Brady benefits from a system in much the same way that Montana and Young did, but suggesting that Brady doesn't make the system excel just seems absurd to me.

Brady's always had many critics, many of whom are part of the analytics community. When he was young, we were told that Brady was a glorified game manager who would never reproduce the stats of guys like Manning. When that changed in about 2005, and Brady really broke out statistically in 2007, it was because of the system and Randy Moss. Then later it was because of Gronk and the 2TE set working so well. But again, the common link is Brady under center. He's the most accomplished QB in history, and his statistical record, particularly since the start of 2005, is very close to Manning and Brees. I will agree that the Pats QB has benefitted from the Belichick system, whatever that consists of. But characterizing Brady as just another replaceable part is absurd to me.

25 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I'm not expecting Cousins to start for 15 years and make the HOF, but I think he could lead a highly-ranked offense and win the AFC East at the very least. And I think the Brady of 2001-06 was more replaceable than 2007-present version.

For me, that group of Peyton, Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger, Romo and Rivers could match or exceed Brady's success in NE if given the chance to work with Belichick. I think Eli (ugh, his A-game is HOF-worthy, but he's too inconsistent), Ryan and Flacco are a tier below, and if this year is any indication, we need to slow down on praising Luck and Wilson from a historical standpoint. But that's still six names of very talented players who almost always have their teams relevant and in position to do something. And the fact is we've seen the Patriots stay afloat without Brady better than those teams have without their QB.

Matt Flynn did put up some numbers in GB though, but obviously things weren't smooth with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. The 2011 Colts were a disaster, as were the Colts in those late-season games when Manning left early. The Cowboys have looked pretty bad without Romo in 2008, 2010 and this year of course. Roethlisberger, the Steelers basically don't have a passing game when he's out, relying on a historic percentage of return TDs to stay competitive in the games he misses. Rivers never gets hurt, so we don't really know about that one. Billy Volek did lead a GWD for him in the 07 playoffs in Indy. Brees has missed one game due to injury in his career, so that one doesn't really have evidence to it, but there's something else there. Brees misses the playoffs more than all these guys, but we have to acknowledge he's drawn the short end of the stick with defensive help. He just hasn't had the strong defenses as often as these other QBs. Still, it's not like he's had many 6-10 years. Peyton and Rodgers basically make the playoffs every season. When Ben misses, the Steelers are relevant right up to Week 17. All of these guys but Rodgers have succeeded with multiple head coaches too. They know all about roster turnover, if not outright changing teams.

All of these QBs have some flaws in their game. It is all hypothetical to think about what these QBs would do in the other's situation, but I just don't agree that Brady's game is better than the rest that only he could have this much success in NE.

27 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I think you are really underestimating Brady from 04 on. 2006 there was not a single NFL caliber receiver on that team (leading receiver was Reche Caldwell, 760 yards) and he lead the 5th ranked passing offense.

You know what Kirk Cousins would look like in that offense? Alex Smith at best, Sam Bradford at worst.

28 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

But receivers depend on the QB more than any other position does. This is exactly what I was planning to write about on Saturday, but I'll get into it a little here. Why do we give QBs credit for playing worse than they could, and take away credit from guys who complete more passes to their receivers? The QB has a lot of control over how many yards his leading receiver has. You put any WR as the No. 1 for a guy like Peyton or Rodgers, and that receiver is going to finish with 1000+ yards, no doubt. That's how they play the game. Maybe 06 Brady or Cam Newton would do it differently in offenses that try to mix up formations or build around the run and TE/RB, but they don't deserve some kind of badge of honor for not doing more with their guys. And the media has the nerve to use the "do more with less" line for these situations. No, they actually did less with less.

Is the "more" supposed to be about winning games? If you're going to talk about the 06 NE receivers, then you still have to acknowledge the coaching advantage, the very good OL, the strong running game that provided nearly 2,000 yards, the third-best starting field position in the league and the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense. Sure, Brady was 10th in DVOA and 5th in QBR (with a number that would rank 19th in 2015), but that team didn't need to be a dominant offense to win games given the caliber of the other parts. The 06 Pats allowed fewer than 24 points in every game except for the two losses to Indy.

And there's a huge difference between having good receivers and having NFL-caliber receivers. You're making the standard for the latter ridiculously high. Ben Watson, a first-round pick, is still in the league and he's going to have one of his best seasons at age 35. Troy Brown was Brady's first favorite target in this league. Brady was also used to succeeding with Daniel Graham and Kevin Faulk, two more reliable short-throw options. Jabar Gaffney also had a long career and came on late for the team. You're basically fixated with 47 Doug Gabriel targets and Caldwell. Can I just point out Caldwell caught 48/72 targets for 705 yard and 4 TD from Drew Brees in 2004-05 in San Diego? Those are fine numbers as a backup receiver and he was a second-round pick. He's not a guy you want as your #1 WR, but you could do worse.

34 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

It's silly to say that you could plug and play another QB (well according to your arguments you shouldn't pick a shoddy one, just the right one;) ) into the Pats offense and it would work. Sure the Patriots are coached very well, that showed especially last Sunday, when they had a boatload of key players injured or dinged up. Belichick and his staff do many more things right than they do wrong.

But Brady is still an integral part, and there would be a large dropoff if you removed him. They would be nowhere close to the success they have had in the past years.

I mean, no one can prove you wrong apparently, but I give you some food for thought ...
- The Pats sucked in 2008. They lost all games against playoff-bound teams. Sure Cassel looked competent, but he was nowhere near Brady's production. Sure they should have made the playoffs, but they were not a good team
- Why do all Backup QBs the Pats have had in the past years look like shit in preaseason action they see? None of these guys - even high draft picks like Mallett, Garoppolo, O'Connell and I can't remember the names of all the other guys - looked even remotely competent in that offense even in preseason, even when playing with the starters.
- The offense of the Pats is very complex. It takes a lot of mental capacity of the QB to run this. Why does it take a hundred years for new reveivers to get used to this system? When they signed LaFell, he looked overwhelmed by the offense. Dobson apparently only starts to have it figured out after THREE years. It's not like it's drop back, short pass.
- Why did Belichick choose Brady over Bledsoe for that first Super Bowl? That was a no brainer for him, and Bledsoe played well in that Championship game, in fact, Bledsoe won that game for the Pats. Wouldn't Bledsoe have added another wrinkle to the offense? Bledsoe is a very good QB, took a team to the Super Bowl. Arm-wise he is lightyears ahead of Brady. Still, easy choice Brady over Bledsoe. Must be something else, huh?
- Belichick always raves about Brady's work ethic, attitude and in game intelligence. No other QB belichick has seen - probably only Phil Simms - comes close to this. Well, can't measure that ...

44 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

"The offense of the Pats is very complex. It takes a lot of mental capacity of the QB to run this. Why does it take a hundred years for new reveivers to get used to this system? When they signed LaFell, he looked overwhelmed by the offense. Dobson apparently only starts to have it figured out after THREE years. It's not like it's drop back, short pass."

Funny how Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth were all brand new in 2007 and that thing was purring from the first drive of Week 1. As early as Week 2 of his 2009 rookie season, Julian Edelman, a college QB, stepped into Welker's role and had Welker production in a few games when Welker was out. How many players like that put up 8/98 vs. the best D in the league (Jets) in their rookie debut? Hernandez and Gronk were pretty good as rookie tight ends (usually minor production from those guys) in 2010, another strong offense that brought Deion Branch back in-season (last played there in 05) and he had no problem picking things up despite the changes in style. No one cares to mention these things. Seems like talent and playing style trumps complexity in NE.

This "the offense is so hard to learn" thing has become code for "most outside receivers come to NE to die or put up 900 yards at best like Brandon Lloyd". Notice the guys who keep failing are usually outside receivers like Dobson. Unless you have an all-time gifted WR like Moss, that type of receiver doesn't do a whole lot with Brady. That's how it's always been, and they build the team accordingly. Ochocinco is probably the poster-child for "NE's offense is too tough to learn," but he was never a good fit anyway. Reggie Wayne getting out of there in a hurry this year doesn't prove anything to me. That guy was on his last legs and should have just retired. Ditto for Joey Galloway years ago.

50 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

So we agree that Moss is probably (one of) the smartest receiver ever to play the game. Fine.

What about Amendola? Inside receiver, took ages to get productive. In fact, it took two years even though he knew McGenius' system.

Kyle Brady? Lacked mental toughness.

Benjamin Watson? nothin but the strip in the 2006 playoff game. Probably too smart for Belichick too handle. First round pick.

Scott Chandler? Not exactly much production.

Tim Wright? Useful only and only in goal to go situations. Useless everywhere else.

So, actually for every inside man you pinpoint one can find an inside receiver of a similar quality who failed.

I think Hernandez shouldn't be considered as a TE. Makes little difference in this discussion, but he was coached and used like a WR.

I don't agree to the outside receiver stuff ... Brady's deep ball has actually gotten a lot better the past two seasons.

I would actually say that what Brady needs are receivers with long arms and a huge catch radius compared to their size. I lost count of how many passes Welker actually caught which seemed to be targeted at his feet rather than his head or number. Gronk also seems to catch everything no matter whether it's too high or too low.

53 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Can we drop the "smart" snark? If anything, it's insulting to act like NFL players are too stupid to grasp NE's offense. It's still just football.

Most of the guys you're bringing up are nothing more than role players -- some even filling their roles quite well like Wright last season. Wright didn't have a bad year as a rookie UFA in TB either.

As for Danny Amendola, his most production with NE was his first year (2013). He's had two big games in a row, but we'll see how this year goes. Amendola had one of the highest catch rates and YAC% in NFL history with the Rams' inferior passers. Not much has changed in coming to NE, because there's not much variation in his usage. He's just not as relied upon in NE as he was in STL.

Brady's lack of success throwing to outside WRs is nothing new -
I could try digging up the tables I made for Rodgers, Peyton and Brees like that. There's no comparison really, and all the +/- stats we have also show Brady trails his HOF peers in stats that focus on where the ball is thrown.

51 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

And I forgot to ask: If Belichick is as smart as you, wouldn't he have sent Brady packing and signed another system QB on the cheap (maybe 1 mio instead of 14 mio)?

I mean, he does that with every other position ...

35 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Scott, I've read your writing for half a decade, and for the most part, I think it's consistently excellent. I especially admire the obvious amount of work and research you put into every one of your articles -- it's rare that I don't learn something from one of your massive pieces -- and your love of football shows. It's why I keep coming back.

(Larry David voice) Having said that, were I to take away one thing about your work from my time reading you, it's the fact that you're going to give Peyton Manning every benefit of the doubt, and you're going to nitpick everything that Tom Brady does. For every "Peyton's 9-12 playoff record is because he's unlucky," there's a "Oh come on, Reche Caldwell isn't THAT bad for a #1 WR." For every "Here's 4,000 words on why Peyton Manning isn't actually regressing," there's a "If we plugged Kirk Cousins into this offense, he'd be an All-Pro." And that's fine, I guess. But the longer this type of thing happens (years), the more dishonest it becomes, at least speaking for myself.

And it's ironic that most of the writers and commenters here refer to the Irrational Brady / Manning Argument thread in jest when this site's most prolific writer is the unironic human version of that thread.

(For the record, this wasn't intended as one massive backhanded compliment -- the positive observations in the first paragraph exist next to those in the second.)

46 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Thanks (for each part). On any topic I write what I believe, based on watching games and studying the numbers. I still have a 4,000+ word piece to write this year on the topic, because I found a lot of clarity in the offseason that I need to piece together. I actually can thank a few Patriot fans for helping me reach that clarity, but I haven't had the time to write about it because of personal family reasons that are taking up so much of my free time (especially Saturdays) right now.

I don't agree that I put little effort into the NE stuff relative to other things. In this comments section alone I'm writing quite a bit here and citing specific examples of how unique and bold the Patriots are, and I refuse to buy the idea that they only do these things because of Brady. That might be true if everything I brought up involved just the passing game.

And I never said Cousins would be an All-Pro. I said they'd still be a playoff team with a very good offense. Winning a SB is more up to chance at that point, and anyone who watched the 2001-2014 Patriots should be able to see that by now.

I'm not afraid to attempt rationalizing the irrational, because there are a lot of important parts of this that need to be analyzed better to prevent other irrational arguments. We can't really begin to do that if we can't even agree on things like Ben Watson belonging on an NFL roster.

The stuff tuluse is posting in #36 below you, I can't buy most of it. There is no proof Brady raises the level of his receivers' play more significantly than the other QBs I have mentioned. The dismissal of 2008 because of what happened in 2007 is always absurd. There was always going to be regression, even if Brady was the QB in 2008. What can't be ignored is that offense still led the league in first downs and won 11 games with a QB who hadn't started a game since high school. They weren't overly inflated by garbage-time numbers compiled in losing efforts while trailing. Cassel wasn't just relying on ridiculous Moss/Welker plays to move the offense and score points. You don't produce the most first downs without a consistent offense.

The reason these things never go anywhere productive is because we can't even agree on simple elements of the game that aren't even relative to the QBs in question.

When I say "Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are easier to complete passes to than Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders," I am basing it on what I've learned from their careers in regards to playing style, target depth, catch rate, drops, and maybe catch radius if I've taken the time to chart.

But when I say that, I get hit with a barrage of crap about draft status, Pro Bowls, "little white guys", 1000-yard seasons, "you're an idiot if you'd take those guys who couldn't make the team in Denver", "Brady would throw 25 TD to Demaryius", etc.

And this happens any time you try to talk about "weapons." Can't we just talk about how these players play the game and how they accumulate the numbers they do? Then we can slowly make our way to looking at QBs in the same light. That is why I'm so into encouraging research that quantifies playing style, whether it's looking at how passes are being caught (catch radius) or making use of air yards in regards to decision making (ALEX) or the breakdown of how these running QBs are running with the ball.

Some people will never care about such things. 80 catches are 80 catches no matter how they happened, but I like to think most of the people I choose to communicate with have a deeper care and interest in this game.

36 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I don't know why you brought winning games into this. The QB is one guy on the field, he doesn't win or lose games by himself.

As for the "QB makes the receivers", Brady has made plenty of receivers look very good and they looked significantly worse when they left. Is it a coincidence that all of Troy Brown's best years were with Brady? Or Deion Branch? What about David Givens being out of the league one year after leaving Brady?

Yes, the 06 Patriots had a good offensive line and running attack. They still had a really crappy set of pass catchers and Brady made them work.

"And there's a huge difference between having good receivers and having NFL-caliber receivers. You're making the standard for the latter ridiculously high. Ben Watson, a first-round pick, is still in the league and he's going to have one of his best seasons at age 35. Troy Brown was Brady's first favorite target in this league."

Watson was an average pass catcher. As you can see by a career of mostly sub 500 yard seasons. Troy Brown was 35 and wouldn't catch another pass in the NFL after this year. He was clearly an over the hill guy who was just hanging around because his teammates sucked so bad. Faulk is ok, but no one is building an offense around checking down to the running back, not even the 06 Patriots since he was 4th on the team in the catches. Graham was even worse than Watson at receiving, never hitting 500 yards in his whole career.

"Can I just point out Caldwell caught 48/72 targets for 705 yard and 4 TD from Drew Brees in 2004-05 in San Diego? Those are fine numbers as a backup receiver and he was a second-round pick. He's not a guy you want as your #1 WR, but you could do worse."

Are you kidding me? 350 yards per year as the what the 5th option when no one was looking at him? How about the fact that he was out of the league by 2009. No one wanted him on their team, much less being a starting receiver, much less being the #1 target.

Just to fan some flames here, the Patriots offensive DVOA dropped from 72% to 14% from 07-08 (58% drop), while the Colts DVOA dropped from 29.5% to -16.5% from 10-11 (46% drop).

39 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Trust me, Scott, as a Jets fan, Tom Brady is special, not a plug and play guy. I've known this since at least 2003. Perhaps people are a little high on Kirk Cousins right now, but go watch the second half of the Skins Jets game from this year. The Jets just destroyed him in a way that they never have against Brady. People like to say the Pats went 11-5 without him, but they forget that record is a five game depreciation from the 16-0 year before. If the Pats were stuck playing Garappolo for the rest of the year they would have problems dealing with the AFC East defenses to the point of possibly blowing the division.

30 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

This is great and all new to me, although I have been reading here for awhile. I must have missed it.
So, QBs who are successful fall into essentially two categories--dominant athletes or plug and play, and the latters' success or failure is scheme/system driven. And since I am not aware of anyone ever claiming PM, Brees, Montana or many others as being dominant athletes, clearly they are plug and play, Since their dominance had little or nothing to do with athleticism, but with things such as leadership, decision-making, and reading defenses. Clearly, TRB is PnP as those others are.
What are the FO metrics that measure QB athletic dominance?
As far as Belcheck goes, I offer a different interpretation. He is not an offensive innovator, per se, as was Walsh. Rather, he is the ultimate pragmatist who is the coach that has gone farthest in basing his decision-making on the truths of the free agent, salary cap era. Such truths would include:
There is a salary cap, so I cannot pay everyone what they may be worth. Since tomorrow always comes, I will get rid of/let players go early, rather than risk overpaying them, and damaging future cap management.
Injuries will happen. I am therefore better off with a bunch of B/B+ players rather then wrecking my cap/personnel management with a few superstars who might wind up not being available, And those players need to multifaceted and not one trick ponies, although specialisation is only common sense (comparative advantage).
The draft is a crap shoot, so I am better off stocking up lower round picks to give me more chances to hit gold.
I am crappy at drafting WRs and CBs, so my offense and défense will not be designed around them. Rather, if I do hit, then I will change the system to reflect it.
Conventional wisdom is, empirically, often wrong. So I will take cheap, low risks fliers on players in low demand, such as aging veterans, UDFAs/very late round picks, even guys who have been out of football. If I hit--Moss, Welker, Edelman,Lewis, etc.-- my ROI is high. If I miss--Ochocinco and no doubt others I do -- the downside is low and can come off the books quickly.
I will always invest in STs, since most teams do not, which will give me a clear advantage over them.

Which leads me back to TRB. Belicheck depends on having a quarterback who can excel in any system, using any personnel and formation--whatever the match ups dictate, because to a pragmatist, the match-ups dictate everything. This is especially true in the playoffs, where you might run into a team carrying Kryptonite against a particular scheme. Run heavy, WR heavy, TE heavy, maybe all in the same game or even the same series. Looking at the difficulties, for example, an old talented QB such as PM is having in DEN, or what a young, talented QB such as RGIII had in WASH, or what all these spread QBs seem to be having in the NFL, this does not seem to be a wide-spread trait. So, I cannot buy him as PnP; rather he seems unique.
Wanting under inflated balls, just as Rodgers wants overinflated ones, sure.

24 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Comparing the Texas Tech offense to an NFL team like the Pats doesn't make sense to me. Texas Tech puts up huge numbers against overmatched opposition, but struggles to reproduce those results against top 10 defenses. The level of play in the NFL is way more even than it is at the FBS level. Baylor is this year's version of an overrated Big 12 offensive attack.

Yes, the 2007 Pats came back to earth, but you're ignoring the fact that pretty much all of the best pass attacks in NFL history were eventually shut down, including the 1983 Redskins, 84 Dolphins, 98 Vikings, 2010 Patriots, and Manning's 2004-05 Colts and 2013 Broncos. The 2007 Pats weren't one-dimensional, and Gronk wasn't on the team. The Patriots under Belichick have never had an outstanding offense without Brady at QB.

55 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

The only reason you bring up Texas Tech is because schematically they're basically running Mike Leach's version of the Air Raid offense for their core offense. The confusion is that Leach in college has only ever produced system QBs (Graham Harrell, Kliff Klingsbury) but great WRs (Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree). So, on some level watching NE at times would be like... "What if Mike Leach had a once (or in the case of Brady/Manning twice) in a generation QB?"

Clearly there are some differences comparing NFL to college, Belicheck uses TEs and runs the ball. But, much of that comes from the lack of philosophical orthodoxy that has characterized the BB Patriots.

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

13 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I hate watching the Patriots offense too. Boring stuff.

I think the most aesthetically pleasing offense I've ever seen was the Greatest Show on Turf. When they were rolling it was definitely a show.

12 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Bowles made it pretty clear why he didn't call the time out. He was banking on a stop, and then a t.o. - but he didn't want to call it because it wasn't wise to use it if the Pats made the first down, because then he would of had to burn all of them.
- does this make sense?
I think the Jets would have done much better if they had a ground game, losing Ivory on the first play doomed them. Their m.o. is to run the ball and keep Brady on the side lines. The Jets aren't built to pass 50 times in a shoot out with Brady. However, they still played well & gave the Pats a good game. The Pats' receivers did drop a few balls, but they're having to adjust to a harder ball now. ;)

& I'm going with the Squirrels now, too. I like it.

26 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

We know this is true. Fitzpatrick is actually 4-22-1 when throwing more than 35 passes in a game. But the real question is which NFL offenses even try to throw 50 times as their gameplan going in? Most of those 50-attempt games are the result of playing catch-up offense for the majority of the game. If we charted the time in game and scoring margin when a QB hits his 50th pass attempt, I bet Brady reaches it with the best scoring margin and maybe the earliest in the game. They're not afraid to go into a game with the mindset of throwing 50 times, and they are no strangers to continue throwing with a big lead.

Look at that 2007 game against the Eagles, which ended up being a real test against A.J. Feeley on SNF when the Pats were like 21-point favorites. In the first half, Brady had 25 throws, 2 sacks and a 12-yard scramble. He handed off to Heath Evans one time for a 1-yard TD. That was the only run of the half and the only play that wasn't out of the shotgun. NE led 24-21. What other offense would even dare calling a first half like that?

That's the Patriots in a nutshell. They do things other teams won't dare to try. Sometimes they work (Troy Brown on defense against 04 Colts), sometimes they don't (4th-and-2 in Indy), and sometimes they get lucky (having Julian Edelman on defense in 2011 AFC-C). The point is they try. Look at the intentional safety in Denver (2003 MNF) that worked out late in the game. You just don't see that from a trailing team. Or how Belichick is the only coach to take the wind in modified OT (2013 Denver game). No team does a better job of deferring the opening kickoff to try setting up the halftime double score, the smart strategy. They used that ineligible/eligible receiver stuff to a great advantage this past postseason before the NFL cracked down on it.

I could go on, but you get the point.

43 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

So they aren't afraid to go on defense in OT (not give the ball to Brady) or use a WR on defense in a critical moment because Tom Brady is an exceptional QB? See, that's the most simplified answer you could give to that. They do a lot of unique things in each phase of the game.

And as I keep saying, he's not the only exceptional QB in this era. And no one player, except maybe Gronk for the last few years, is bigger than the system in NE.

45 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Those examples have nothing at all to do with QB play, not even tangentially. All they prove is that Bill is willing to go against the grain, but he still needs a reason to do so. If he didn't think Brady passing 70+% of the time gave him the best chance to win, he wouldn't use that game plan.

You don't have to take my word for it, just look at the Patriots under Bill with the two other QBs. In 34 games, Cassell and Bledsoe only hit 50 attempts once (the second Jet game in 2008) and only surpassed 40 six times. In 2001 alone, Tom Brady had 50+ attempts twice.

It makes no difference whether you credit NE's winning percentage in 50+ attempt games to Brady's ability or Bill's ingenuity. The fact is the latter wouldn't use that tract without the former.

47 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Cassel also recorded two 400-yard passing games (back-to-back) in 2008 while Brady didn't get his second until the 2011 opener. That shouldn't just be ignored. The Jets and Dolphins also weren't bad teams at the time. Jets knocked off the 10-0 Titans after winning in OT in NE after Cassel led a great drive to force said OT. Miami won the division.

Belichick learned a lot from Bill Parcells, who also had a thing for winning a few Super Bowls with a very suspect cast of receivers. He was also big on the QB sneak, which is why you've heard Phil Simms bring it up for years. He let a young Drew Bledsoe throw the hell out of the ball when he went to NE. Let's recall the 70-attempt game the 1994 Pats won in OT with Bledsoe out-gunning Warren Moon. Sounds like a future Brady/Belichick game. After John Hannah retired in 1986, the Patriots went a long number of years with a running game that averaged under 4.0 YPC. Think 2004 finally broke the streak. Despite some weather games to deal with, it wasn't uncommon to see that offense throw a ton of passes, and a lot of them were short to substitute for the run. From 1986-2000, the Patriots (17) had the second-most 50-attempt games (Miami had 20), and tied the Dolphins for the most wins (5) in such games. Kinda like that blueprint was already there in NE to start the Brady/Belichick era.

There's a lot of Parcells influence at work here, and yes, Brady is a better QB than Simms, Bledsoe and any other QB they had to work with.

49 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Here are Matt Cassell's yardage totals for each game that season

152, 165, 131, 259, 203, 185, 267, 204, 234, 400, 415, 169, 268, 218, 345, 78 (in a very windy game).

Two things immediately jump out: 1) The first 400 was on the dot and 2) The two 400 games appear to be anomalies more than anything else.

I'll admit that I've dabbled in arbitrary end points, but this is taking it to the extreme. Not only are you imparting great meaning to 400 yards (as opposed to the 399, 388 380 or 373 Brady reached in 2007), you then up the ante by granting importance to how long it takes someone to do it twice. If you are going to make that claim, you are going to need to demonstrate it.

On top of that, you miss quite a few important points of context, including but not limited to:

1) Cassell literally needed every yard in his first 400 game because the team forced overtime with no time left on the clock. Only one of the games I mentioned above were the Patriots trailing in the 4th quarter.

2) Cassell's had Moss and Welker as the top two targets in his one year as a Patriot starter. Brady had Troy Brown and David Patten.

3) Even including the 400 yard games, as well as the fact that Matt's receiving weapons dwarfed who Brady had to start his career, Matt's average yardage per game is almost identical to what Brady was putting up from 2001-2006. Brady's numbers since 2007 are roughly 55 yards per game greater.

4) Matt Cassell's DVOA in 2008 was 1.1%. Brady's lowest in his career is 5.4% (2001) and hasn't been below 17% (in 2006) since 2004. The two years surrounding 2008, when Brady had similar weapons, he put up DVOAs of 54.1% and 40.4%.

I appreciate the effort, Scott, but the more you comment on this the more apparent it becomes that you really don't have a good grasp of Brady or the Patriots offense.

52 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I don't think you grasp what other backup QBs do or how unique of a backup Cassel was. It's understandable why he didn't start at USC, but how many other QBs in the NFL make their first start since high school?

And you have 74 starts in Cassel's career to cite yardage from. The only other 400-yard game was in 2010 in one of the all-time garbage-time games ever played:

I don't see any other team in the league where 2008 Cassel could have gone and had the season he did in NE.

It's just not normal to have a productive offense with a definite backup QB at the controls, unless you have some damn good coaching. And yeah, the 49ers in the days of Montana and Young had that. Other long-term successful teams have not. Since 2004, the Steelers have started a QB not named Roethlisberger 22 times. Their total stat line in 22 games is 299/530 for 3,507 yards, 16 TD, 23 INT. They hit 240 passing yards in one game (276 by Batch at 2012 BAL). Awful.

You can cling to the stats you want, but you're missing the big picture on what happened in 2008. And it's just a small part of the overall discussion we should be having about how the Patriots do things differently.

I've never tried saying Kirk Cousins can be Brady in NE. I did say they could succeed with him. I have said I think a group of 6 current QBs could have been Brady, if not better, if given the chance to start for a team that's smarter than the rest of the league.

54 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

The problem with using Cassel to make the "Brady is replaceable" argument is that with hindsight, we can see clearly that Cassel was a lot better than a replacement-level QB. He made the Pro Bowl in 2010, with a 93.0 rating and a better TD-INT ratio than in 2008. Sure, he's never sustained that success since then, but he was much better than a "definite backup QB", circa 2008-2010.

56 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I'd prefer to not talk about Cassel, but it's unavoidable given it's the only season Brady was hurt. It's also just a really unique case for so many reasons. It was almost a full season of evidence outside of one quarter. With a Marino/Elway/Young/Aikman, you're used to just seeing a game or two here and there over the years where they missed time. And it's not just the 400-yard games. Cassel was up 47-0 in Week 16 in the snow with 345 yards and 3 TD against Arizona, a team who would reach the SB. Was he as impressive as the numbers? Hell no, but that's the NE offense. They run a YAC-based attack and that's especially helpful in bad weather where so many teams are afraid to throw. Am I supposed to believe this California kid who sat on the bench at USC is built to dominate in the cold? It was just NE being NE without Brady. I think they could have made some more noise that season if he was playing better early, but he needed to gain experience.

Cassel was one of the worst QBs in the league in 2009, btw. Chiefs were suckered into that trade by his NE success.

I'm just tired of people nitpicking his 2008 and simultaneously praising his 2010 in KC. That is straight up hypocrisy. If you're going to point to advanced stats and easy schedules, then what do you call his 2010 season? He couldn't beat a good team then either. He piled up all those garbage-time numbers in that game against Denver. His QBR was 52.3 in 2010, compared to 63.2 in 2008, and an embarrassing 4.5 in the playoff loss to BAL. Being under 60% completions and 7.0 YPA is always pretty telling. He fooled people with the TD:INT ratio into making the Pro Bowl.

Cassel led a better offense in NE, and just because it didn't live up to the standard of a record-setting unit with a future HOF QB, that doesn't mean the 08 Patriots weren't an impressive offense in their own right. That 08 offense also had 21 rushing TD, the second most for the Patriots under Belichick. And while Cassel had Welker and Moss, I don't see anyone pointing out the rest of the target leaders were K.Faulk, Gaffney, Watson, Sammy Morris and David Thomas. I'm told these aren't even NFL-caliber receivers.

No other team is achieving that kind of success with 08 Cassel as their QB for the season.

57 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

In 2008, Cassel had an 89.4 rating, and 6.04 anypa. In 2007, with mostly the same receivers, Brady had one of the great QB seasons of all time, with a 117.2 rating and 8.88 anypa. Then in 2009, in a season when Brady was probably still bothered by his ACL injury to some degree, he had a 96.2 rating and 7.38 anypa. Those numbers don't suggest to you that Brady makes the Patriots offense better than the Matt Cassels of the world?

I agree with you that someone like Rivers or Roethlisberger could step into Brady's shoes and get similar results in NE. But that doesn't really help your case, because those 2 guys have been among the best QBs in the league. And I think Brady, if he was in San Diego or Pittsburgh since 2004, could have reproduced the achievements of the other guys. Where you lose me is the claim that someone like Cousins, who for most of this season has looked bad, could pull a Cassel with the Pats offense. I just don't see any evidence for this claim.

I thought the comment from the Jets fan was interesting. I would bet that if next time they play NE, the Jets found out Brady had the flu, and instead they would face 2008 Cassel or Kirk Cousins, the team and their fans would be ecstatic. The Patriots were headed nowhere in early 2001. They've consistently won a huge number of games ever since Brady became the starter, including a 14-3 W-L record in his first season. Maybe that's just a coincidence, or it's all the coaches, or the defense, or the receivers, or the refs handing out Tuck Rules, or the cameras and 2 PSI taken out of the balls, but I honestly don't think so. I think it's undeniable that Brady and his performance have had a hugely positive impact on his team, just like Montana and Unitas had on their teams.

58 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

"I don't think you grasp what other backup QBs do or how unique of a backup Cassel was. It's understandable why he didn't start at USC, but how many other QBs in the NFL make their first start since high school?

And you have 74 starts in Cassel's career to cite yardage from. The only other 400-yard game was in 2010 in one of the all-time garbage-time games ever played:

I don't see any other team in the league where 2008 Cassel could have gone and had the season he did in NE."

If he had started right away, then I might agree with you. In his fourth year with one of the greatest pairs of WRs and a strong stable of RBs? It's not that far off from what you'd expect from a well coached team that has a strong understanding of their personnel.

Oddly, the truth is that Cassel is a point *against* one of your earlier claims. The fact that Curtis Painter was so much worse than not only Brady/Manning, but even Matt Cassel, is a major contributing factor as to why NE didn't fall off as badly as Indy did. That's not the only reason, of course, there are numerous others. In fact, the reasons are so numerous that attributing each team's success (or lack thereof) primarily to the ability of the lost quarterback is one of the worst arguments I've ever seen.

The 74 start thing bears no relevance. Why would it be surprising that he would pass for less yardage when not throwing to Moss/Welker?

Lastly, I find it odd that you call referencing information that rebut your earlier claims as "cling[ing] to stats." It's especially odd when you continually reference your own stats, most of which misrepresent the context. For instance, was Charlie Batch ever quarterbacking a team that set a scoring record the year before?

59 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Both of you are continuing to miss the point with these meaningless comparisons to 2007. Most offenses in NFL history are going to come out short of that one. The fact is the 2008 Patriots were a successful team and offense with a very unique QB situation.

The fact is the 2004-2015 Steelers with Roethlisberger are one of the most efficient passing offenses. In the 22 games without him starting, they are one of the worst passing offenses. You're not going to get 25 PPG with a Cassel-caliber QB there or in almost every NFL city. Some QBs are harder to replace than others, and that's about player skill and coaching ability. The Patriots spent a 7th-round pick on Cassel. That's not some huge investment into a QB2. He worked there because they have developed a system to make sure the team keeps winning despite any changing parts.

I agree with you that someone like Rivers or Roethlisberger could step into Brady's shoes and get similar results in NE. But that doesn't really help your case, because those 2 guys have been among the best QBs in the league.

How was this not my point from the beginning? Read comment 21 again. I said there isn't a sizable gap between Brady and six other QBs from this era. I said the biggest gap that works to NE's success is the gap between Belichick and the other coaches. No one has really challenged this part, but instead you guys just keep bringing up the 07 Patriots and pointing out a Cassel-led team scored 400 points instead of 560.

The Patriots were headed nowhere in early 2001. They've consistently won a huge number of games ever since Brady became the starter, including a 14-3 W-L record in his first season. Maybe that's just a coincidence, or it's all the coaches, or the defense, or the receivers, or the refs handing out Tuck Rules, or the cameras and 2 PSI taken out of the balls, but I honestly don't think so. I think it's undeniable that Brady and his performance have had a hugely positive impact on his team, just like Montana and Unitas had on their teams.

Montana and Unitas also watched their backup, albeit very talented, win league MVP (Earl Morrall and Steve Young). Those Colts were good for a long time. The 49ers, save for a strike season, were great from 1981 to 1998. Now add the Patriots of 2001-present. You can't be that good for so long without getting far more than just the QB position right. Great QB play alone won't always get you winning seasons. Just look at Sean Payton and Drew Brees' time in New Orleans. And all I was saying above was that for this group of six QBs, if they had the benefits of Belichick and the way the Patriots run their team, they would have even more success than they've already achieved in lesser situations.

Brady is the QB, so he's a big part of their success, but he's not the driving force behind why this team is the most innovative and forward-thinking in the NFL.

60 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

I think we've delineated where we disagree on this. I just don't think your examples are that useful. Pittsburgh has been replacing Big Ben with replacement-level QBs who haven't reproduced Roethlisberger's efficiency. So what? Of course they haven't. I'm saying that Cassel from 2008-2010 was a lot better than most backup QBs, so the fact that he did pretty well isn't surprising. The stats show that Brady outperformed Cassel both before and after that season. That doesn't indicate to me that Brady is easily replaceable.

We can agree that Brady, Ben, and Rivers are all in the same tier. What sets Brady apart is his vastly wider achievements. You claim those achievements are the product of the system, I'm saying I think it has more to do with Brady's individual ability, reflected in his career statistical record. That is where we disagree.

Using the examples of Morrall and Young doesn't help your case any more than Cassel does, because even more than Cassel, those 2 guys have been hugely efficient QBs. I believe Montana, Brady, and Unitas all had a huge impact on their teams' success, and the fact that Morrall and Young were nearly as good doesn't invalidate that point.

Brady doesn't do it alone, any more than any other QB, but if the Pats had someone like Cousins or Cassel since 2001, they would not be one of the great teams in NFL history like they are now.

17 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

WATCHED ENTRIE jETS GAME AND AGREED WIOTH t. bOWLES NO CLALING TIMEOUT WHEN DID NOT CALL OEN. I undertsnad argemnt agaiant sbut again, I thought he called/did not call timeouts correclt at end. not quite by the book but book is often conservative and wrong

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Bowles was right to think it was going to be hard to stop them on 2nd-and-3. His blitz call made it almost impossible to stop them. His best hope was Brady throwing an incompletion, which would have been a nutty thing for the Pats to do at the 15. But the blitz made it so easy for a Gronkowski TD. Almost like he wanted to let them score to set up a NYJ FG, onside kick recovery and Hail Mary. They almost got that anyway, but anytime your strategy involves recovering an onside kick, you're in trouble.

The fact is despite the difficulty of the task, stopping them on 2nd-and-3 and third down was a necessity. If the Patriots convert, the Jets would have under 25 seconds to get a long-field TD. That's pretty much impossible without a long kick return, a Hail Mary or crazy lateral play. I strongly disagree with Bowles considering it a "waste" to call timeout before 2nd-and-3. I'd rather have the extra ~37 seconds than the timeout. You could easily get 3-4 plays out of that time.

40 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

The interesting thing to me about the Gronk touchdown is how he got so open, and how the Jets react the next time they play. The Pats were keeping Gronk in to max protect, and using audible calls to do it. They changed the audible for that play, suckering the Jets into thinking Gronk was staying in to protect. So what can the Jets do about it? I would line up one of their big three D-linemen on Gronk wherever he is, and just hit him every play. Their pass rush wasn't getting to Brady, and if the Pats decide to try running on them it's a win for the Jets defense. Make Gronk stay on the line of scrimmage whether he wants to or not.

29 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7


I don't think anyone (not even self-appointed geniuses like Mike Shanahan) would argue with Belichick as being the most important factor in the Patriots current success. However, I think the argument that Brady is an important (perhaps indispensable) part of that holds some water. In addition to the Matt Cassel years, we have the Drew Bledsoe years. Now, perhaps Belichik hadn't perfected his coaching chutzpah yet, but I think it is telling that the Patriots were only close to being contenders before Brady and champions after him. I say this as a Peyton Manning fan. Yes, Brady gets a boost for being Belichik's QB, but I think he (like Montana on the 49ers before him) actually made some of what Belichik wants to do possible. Could Belichik do the same with another top ranked QB--probably yes? However, Parcel's thought enough of Bledsoe to take him along to the Cowboys and Bledsoe couldn't quite do it for Belichik. I don't want to stir up any irrational debates, but "*one could argue* Brady gives them an edge" and maybe one that only a few QBs could do. You've got at least three people arguing that point with you.

37 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

A lot of itneretsubg comments onbfootball here. Wil oolk to readball this Friday night and maybe comment mlre