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
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 Rex Ryan's big mouth has been replaced by a more reserved Todd Bowles, but the results were still the same: outcoached by Bill Belichick.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)|
|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
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.
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) October 26, 2015
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
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.
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.
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.