by Scott Kacsmar
College football keeps stealing all the great finishes. For the third Saturday in a row, something insane happened to end a college game. This time it was Miami's eight laterals to beat Duke in pure controversial fashion. I wish the NFL would get an ending like that. We just get the bad officiating part every week.
Oh, but Week 8 was quite solid with eight comeback attempts. We even had two overtime games after 17-point comebacks, but both teams were able to recover after squandering the big lead.
Game of the Week
Indianapolis Colts 26 at Carolina Panthers 29
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (26-23 in OT)
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (10-20-1 at 4QC and 10-21-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (10-20-1 at 4QC and 10-21-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The Colts are the kings of the improbable comeback, but even this one was too far-fetched to ultimately go their way. November just started, but Andrew Luck came bearing gifts to Carolina on a rainy Monday night. Beyond the three interceptions, Luck had 14 other passes defensed. Only two games in Week 8 had more passes defensed from both teams combined, and those game had 15 each. You could legitimately take four or five plays from this game and present them as the worst plays of Luck's career. That is how bad he played at times, yet Carolina did not start to pull away until the fourth quarter. The Panthers missed an extra point (which may have actually been to their favor, as I'll explain later), but led 23-6 with 10:44 left.
I have documented every Luck comeback, but nothing from the first 50 minutes of this game suggested he was ready to rally this offense. At the time, he was 5-of-16 for 40 yards with two picks. Maybe he is playing with broken ribs, or maybe he still has a shoulder problem. Those do not sound like things that will heal themselves after another night of abuse, but Luck somehow started making plays. Over the next two drives, Luck was 12-of-15 (including one dropped pass) for 143 yards and two touchdowns. This did not happen against a prevent defense either. Carolina rushed four or five defenders on every dropback and Luck, afforded better protection, threw into some solid coverage. The rain had certainly settled down, and so had Luck. The Colts trailed just 23-20 with 2:27 left and two timeouts.
The four-minute offense is the best way to close a game, but no one has really perfected a strategy to be consistent with it. Carolina had a third-and-3 to ice the game with the Colts out of timeouts, but Cam Newton, who had his own share of problems on the night, nearly threw an interception. The pass was way behind the receiver, but Vontae Davis was unable to come away with the deflection.
Luck had his chance for a game-winning drive now with 2:02 left. On fourth-and-10, he found Griff Whalen (official FO nickname: Grief Whale) for a big first down -- at least that's how the call stood on the field, even though the ball may have touched the ground. Who knows anymore? Luck was attacking the drive like he was down by four points with 30 seconds left, but his aggressiveness helped move things along. Whalen definitely got away with a dumb slide in bounds that should have kept the clock running late, but he was ruled to have gotten out of bounds. The Colts had a few cracks in the red zone, but this is where that missed extra point probably helped Carolina -- down by three, the Colts could get away with settling for a tying field goal, rather than being forced to use every down to go for a winning touchdown. On third-and-4 from the Carolina 6, Luck nearly threw the game away with a terrible pass over the middle, but Luke Kuechly dropped it in the end zone. Adam Vinatieri then made the 24-yard field goal to force overtime.
The Colts won the toss and received, and Luck kept scrambling so well that it is hard to believe there is an injury issue here. No matter the issue, the drive stalled and Vinatieri set an NFL record with the 10th overtime field goal of his career. But that no longer ends the game. This is the 11th time we got to see that very unique situation of a team able to play four-down football with no time constraint. No one has yet to take advantage of it for a game-winning touchdown, as seven teams were stopped by the defense and the other four kicked a field goal to extend the game. Carolina came so close, but Ted Ginn Jr. dropped what likely would have been a 56-yard touchdown pass. Carolina should have had the win there, but settled for a field goal to tie the game. Luck's next pass over the middle was defensed and the deflection was hauled in by Kuechly for the interception at the Indianapolis 39.
Newton's tipped pass fell incomplete in 4Q. Luck's tipped pass was intercepted in OT. Them's the breaks. pic.twitter.com/IVcywTIDlg— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 3, 2015
That was fitting. Carolina had five drives start inside the Colts' 40, which led to 26 points. The Panthers only gained 5 yards on this drive, the 33rd of the night, but Graham Gano was able to squeeze in the 52-yard game-winning field goal. This still made history: Carolina is the first team in NFL history to win a game after trailing in overtime.
Since 2012, the Colts were a league-best 23-2 at holding a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.
If you want to call the 2015 Panthers the worst 7-0 team ever, consider that a 9-0 team was unable to beat Luck's Colts. Twice. Carolina leads the NFC for now, but a performance like this against the Packers on Sunday will not cut it.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
New York Giants 49 at New Orleans Saints 52
Type: 4QC and non-offensive game-winning field goal
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (49-42)
Head Coach: Sean Payton (20-34 at 4QC and 27-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (26-48 at 4QC and 38-54 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Yes, the muck in the monsoon bumped this passing fancy down a section. One can only wonder if this was the fate the Giants had waiting for them if the 2011 NFC Championship Game had been played in New Orleans instead of San Francisco, which came with two free passes from Kyle Williams. I was asked about this game on the radio last week, and I mentioned how Drew Brees has destroyed the Giants in the Superdome, but cautioned that those games were from several years ago (in 2009 and 2011).
Brees was in vintage form on Sunday, playing his most prolific game yet in a very prolific career. The difference in this aerial assault on the Giants was that Eli Manning answered back with his own monster day. Brees (seven) and Manning (six) combined for 13 touchdown passes, a new single-game record. The Giants tied the record for most points scored in a loss. With a score like 52-49, you expect some terrible defense, and that was on display. But the quarterbacks and their receivers also made a ton of great plays, so it was fun to watch the back-and-forth affair.
Even with Brees' historic day pacing the Saints to leads of 28-14 and 42-28, the Giants were in position to win in the fourth quarter. Manning made two great plays to Dwayne Harris for touchdowns to tie the game at 42. Brees was driving again before Willie Snead took a big hit and the ball popped into the hands of Trumaine McBride, who returned it for a go-ahead touchdown with 7:11 left. That was actually changed from a fumble to an interception, so Brees played one of the best games of his career and still was charged with a crucial pick-six and had to score more than 50 to win at home. But he got his help in this one later.
Mark Ingram converted a fourth-and-1 run from his own 29, because how could Sean Payton trust his defense at that point? You rarely see a team down by seven take their time the way the Saints did, but the slow march to the end zone consumed 6:35. Brees tied the NFL record with his seventh touchdown pass of the day, this one to C.J. Spiller, to tie the game with 36 seconds left.
It is understandable why the Giants would prefer to skip overtime on the road, but you have to be careful in this situation. Manning threw two incompletions as part of a three-and-out, and the Giants had to punt with 20 seconds left. It wasn't a 2010 DeSean Jackson repeat, but the result was still pretty bad. New Orleans fumbled on a big punt return, and Snead picked the ball up to advance it before getting his facemask pulled by punter Brad Wing. Technically, Snead cannot advance that fumble, so Wing didn't even have to tackle him, but instincts are hard to shake.
The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the 32 with five seconds left. That left only enough time for new kicker Kai Forbath to attempt the 50-yard game-winning field goal. He nailed it, which goes down as a non-offensive game-winning field goal. These are very rare to see, especially in regulation. The last came in 2005 when Seattle beat Dallas after a Drew Bledsoe interception was returned to set up a 50-yard field goal by Josh Brown. A few weeks later, the Texans caught a break on a facemask on a kick return, but Kris Brown missed a 31-yard game-tying field goal against the Titans. So it has been a decade since we saw an ending in regulation like this.
It could be longer before we see another passing shootout like this, especially given the current state of the league's young quarterbacks.
Cincinnati Bengals 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (10-6)
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (28-58-1 at 4QC and 39-58-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (11-16-1 at 4QC and 16-16-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Some have said the Bengals showed their newfound mental toughness again by knocking off the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Andy Dalton shook off what was a very shaky game with a game-winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green. He is different now.
Baloney. This was like a carbon copy of the 2012 game when a superior Cincinnati team eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention in a 13-10 finish in Week 16. Ben Roethlisberger, who still wasn't playing well after missing time with injury, threw a terrible interception late in the game and Dalton only needed to find Green for one completion to set up the game-winning field goal. The only real differences on Sunday were that Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in his first game since Week 3, and Dalton had to throw a touchdown this time.
In his career, Roethlisberger is 52-4 (.929) at home when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points. Three of the losses are to the Bengals, who have forced him into some of the worst games of his career. Rust did not seem to be a problem when the Steelers opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown drive, but the offense scored just three points on the final 11 drives. Roethlisberger was missing receivers and throwing dangerous passes into coverage, and yet Dalton beat him to a pair of fourth-quarter picks with Pittsburgh hanging onto a 10-6 lead.
However, Roethlisberger cut Dalton a big break. With 5:46 left, you have to take care of the ball and work on the clock. Roethlisberger escaped a sack, extended the play forever, declined to scramble for a first down, and forced a pass down the sideline to Will Johnson, a fullback who moonlights as a tight end. In either form, he's not an experienced receiver and he stopped on the route to make sure he'd get his feet in bounds. Shawn Williams broke on the ball and made an excellent diving interception, the first of his career. The Bengals were 45 yards away from the lead and cashed in this time. Ross Cockrell was no match for Green on a quick slant, resulting in a 9-yard touchdown.
Only needing a field goal, Roethlisberger's very next pass was way overthrown and intercepted by Reggie Nelson, who returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 2. Penalties brought the ball back to the 26, where the Bengals used a very conservative four-minute offense strategy: three straight runs with Jeremy Hill. The first run was over at 2:39, but Mike Tomlin held onto all three of his timeouts and let the clock go down to the two-minute warning. Are you kidding me? Tomlin could have used a timeout after each run and gotten the ball back with about 2:25 left. He ended up getting the ball back with 1:47 and one timeout left instead. Gee, those extra 38 seconds sure could have helped in getting a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive.
The drive took forever to get to midfield. Roethlisberger tried a fake spike to Martavis Bryant, but the risk was silly since the play only gained 2 yards. The five seconds he lost in the process were more valuable than 2 yards. The Steelers were very fortunate to get the call that Bryant went out of bounds, because his forward progress was stopped in bounds. Sunday was a strange day for forward progress (see Seahawks-Cowboys below). Bryant picked up 21 yards in eight seconds after being left alone on the next play. He snuck out of bounds at the Cincinnati 16 with four seconds left. Again, wouldn't an extra 38 seconds have been wonderful here?
You cannot really lob a Hail Mary from the 16, so this was going to have to be a good throw to the end zone. For reference, passes into the end zone from the 16-yard line have converted for a touchdown 29.3 percent of the time since 2006. I'm pretty sure throws that go out of the end zone have never worked, and that was where Roethlisberger's pass landed. Way too far for Antonio Brown to bring down in bounds.
The Steelers drop to 4-4, lose Le'veon Bell in the process, and have all but surrendered the AFC North to the undefeated Bengals (7-0).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 at Atlanta Falcons 20
Atlanta racked up 496 yards of offense, but also turned the ball over four times and committed 11 penalties in another self-inflicted defeat in the division. Tampa Bay was essentially playing without three of its top four receiving weapons. Jameis Winston barely cracked 6.0 yards per pass, and the running game was held to 3.7 yards per carry. This is not to say the Buccaneers did not earn the win, but when you see Atlanta lose fumbles on unforced errors like a bad snap and a botched handoff inside the 20-yard line, this was more about one team losing a game than an underdog winning it.
Despite the 20-3 deficit late in the third quarter, Atlanta mounted a comeback. We noted last week that the Buccaneers have only held nine of 24 (37.5 percent) one-score leads in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2012. That's a horrible percentage, so maybe Lovie Smith needed to do something more aggressive to finish a game. The Buccaneers did a good job in the red zone to make Atlanta kick a field goal after a seven-minute drive, but it was only a 20-13 game at that point. Doug Martin picked up one first down before the Falcons started using their timeouts in short-yardage situations that were going to be difficult to stop.
Tampa Bay faced a third-and-1 at its own 40 with 2:35 left and Atlanta out of timeouts. Gaining 1 yard and staying in bounds ends the game. Martin was stopped, bringing the clock to the two-minute warning and setting up an interesting decision.
Field position dictates when you should punt, go for it, or kick a field goal to go up 10 in this situation. Some of those choices are obvious, like being inside your own 20 (punt) or inside the opponent 20 (heavy towards field goal). The middle of the field -- let's say between the 40s -- is the gray zone. Time remaining is another big factor. If it is under a minute, you are still best served to punt due to the rarity of one-minute touchdown drives. But with two minutes left at your own 40, those are probably the bare minimum requirements for when it becomes worthwhile to go for it.
Smith let the offense try to win the game, and I like the call given that they had a 7-point lead. The reason I don't agree with Bill Belichick's famous fourth-and-2 decision was because he only led by six and opened himself up to blowing the game with very little time left, which is exactly what happened. You have to like your offense's odds on fourth-and-1, and it is hard to fear overtime under the new system, so why not go for it here? This was one of the closest decisions to fourth-and-2 since that play happened in 2009, but that was a hyped prime time contest, not a 1 p.m. game called by Justin Kutcher. The reaction was just not going to be as volatile if Tampa Bay had failed in this game.
Winston used play-action out of the I-formation, and only two tight ends ran a route on the play. Neither got open, so Winston scrambled. He nearly got the conversion on the dive, but ultimately came up short on what goes down as a 0-yard sack. I'm always in favor of spreading a team out to run in those situations instead of going with the big formation.
Atlanta had 1:52 to drive 40 yards for the tying touchdown. Matt Ryan made the drive look easy. After a couple of throws to Devonta Freeman, Ryan used a hard pump fake to Freeman to draw up the safety, clearing plenty of space in the end zone for Julio Jones on an 8-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left. That was just a really smart drive in a situation usually reserved for desperation plays instead of strategic thinking. Winston took a knee after the ensuing kickoff, and the teams headed to overtime.
Tampa Bay's offense mostly stalled in the second half, but Winston made three big third-down conversions in overtime to set up a field goal. Atlanta had 7:47 left to get at least a field goal to tie, or a touchdown to win. Atlanta got away from Freeman in overtime, letting Ryan drop back on each play. Freeman actually had to pick up a Ryan fumble on a sack that nearly ended the drive in three plays. The Buccaneers dialed back the pressure to four on fourth-and-7, but Ryan was quickly under siege and forced a ball into a spot where no one could catch it. The Buccaneers pulled off the upset.
That last drive was especially disappointing given how well the Falcons had moved the ball all game long. Excluding the one-play drive before halftime in the final 30 seconds, Atlanta netted at least 26 yards on its other eight drives. The overtime drive moved 22 yards despite the Falcons having their entire playbook open to them with no concerns about time.
Seattle Seahawks 13 at Dallas Cowboys 12
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 2 (12-10)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (19-41 at 4QC and 27-46 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (11-16 at 4QC and 16-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Seattle's reputation on defense has taken a bit of a hit this year, but that unit is still effective most of the time. The offense is where the standard has really sunk to a new low, only able to score more than 20 points in one game this season (23 against Carolina). How low did it get on Sunday? The Seahawks needed two cracks at a game-winning field goal in a 12-10 game in Dallas with Matt Cassel not even throwing for 100 yards.
There is still talent on the Dallas defense, even if we don't respect the quality of the human being to whom it belongs. Greg Hardy made a great individual play to tip a Russell Wilson pass to himself for an interception. That set up the Cowboys at the Seattle 16 going into the fourth quarter, but the offense again failed to convert and settled for Dan Bailey's fourth field goal of the day. Technically, Seattle's defense gave up another fourth-quarter lead, but it would have been blasphemous to blame the defense for this one.
The Seattle offense needed a drive in the worst way, as a loss would have dropped the Seahawks to 13th place in the NFC, losing another head-to-head tie-breaker in the process. Almost everything was on the running game at this point, besides Jimmy Graham contributing two catches for 25 yards to the drive. Steven Hauschka came out for the go-ahead field goal, but his 47-yard attempt with a low trajectory was blocked with 8:59 left. Dallas then went three-and-out with Darren McFadden getting stopped on a third-and-2 run.
Wilson was much more involved in the next drive, but he nearly floated an interception to Barry Church just three plays into it. Wilson was smarter with the ball the rest of the way, but the Seahawks were helping the Cowboys out by going out of bounds in the final five minutes a whopping six times on this drive. You can live with a few of those, but six is way too many when you would prefer to set up a game-winning field goal to end the game. Not all of those plays stopped the clock, however, because forward progress was considered to be stopped in bounds. I found this a bit confusing.
The biggest run came from a Wilson scramble on third-and-7 in the red zone. Dallas only rushed three and wasted Rolando McClain as a spy over the middle, but Wilson had no problem running to the left and diving for the first down. The play-by-play lists him as being "pushed ob," but his knee landed in bounds, so the clock was right to keep rolling. On the very next play, Marshawn Lynch made a huge mistake and went out of bounds after contact on a run with 2:07 left. With the Cowboys out of timeouts, that saved Dallas a precious 40 seconds. The weird part is the run looked just like the one with 3:10 left when Lynch was pushed out of bounds, but ruled to be given forward progress, causing Dallas to burn its last timeout. How can these plays be called differently?
How can 1st run be considered forward progress stopped in bounds and 2nd be ran OOB? pic.twitter.com/FrYBmlGqEw— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 2, 2015
On both runs, Lynch engaged with a defender, then a second defender came in for a hit that caused Lynch to step backwards (not forwards) out of bounds. The clock should have either been stopped for both plays or allowed to run for both plays. Seattle got one of each. Ultimately, the drive ended with Hauschka's 24-yard field goal and Seattle led 13-12.
Cassel had 1:06 left from his own 20, but that is enough time to get a field goal. He picked up 15 yards after Michael Bennett went in low for a roughing the passer penalty. A fumble-six was wiped off the board when replay showed that Cassel's arm was clearly going forward and it was an incomplete pass. Despite the return of Dez Bryant, Cassel threw for just 97 yards, including 12 yards to Bryant and 16 to Jason Witten. McFadden had 49 receiving yards, but Cassel needed to hit a big play here. On third down, Cassel took one of the most oblivious sacks of the season, never sensing Bruce Irvin on a play even after holding the ball for seven seconds. Cassel was sacked again on fourth down, but Dallas actually caught a break because the play officially never happened due to a false start. Sure, it's a 10-second runoff, but it gave them another shot on fourth-and-21 instead of turning the ball over on downs. Cassel's miracle toss towards the sideline was fittingly knocked down by Richard Sherman to guarantee a fifth consecutive Dallas loss.
The Cowboys are now just 6-14 in games without Tony Romo since he took over as the starter in 2006. Meanwhile, Wilson's 11th fourth-quarter comeback and 16th game-winning drive ties him for the most in NFL history in a quarterback's first four seasons. Sometimes you need one in a game you'd rather win comfortably, but Seattle's not playing well enough to avoid more of these finishes.
San Diego Chargers 26 at Baltimore Ravens 29
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (23-19)
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (16-34 at 4QC and 23-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (16-33 at 4QC and 23-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It is hard to believe these teams are both 2-6. They were expected to be in the playoff hunt at the very least, if not division winners. Close losses, bad defense, and a lot of injuries have paved the way for these starts. Even this game saw Keenan Allen suffer a kidney injury and Steve Smith tear his Achilles in what could go down as his final snap if he does not return in 2016.
These teams are not easy outs, so it was no surprise to see a close game played within a one-score window for 60 minutes. The game was also played rather cleanly. In fact, this is only the sixth game in NFL history where both quarterbacks passed for more than 300 yards with neither offense committing a turnover. It wasn't as good as 2009 Packers-Steelers, but clearly these are not your typical 2-6 teams.
Baltimore trailed 23-19, but had great field position at the San Diego 38 after forcing the Chargers to punt from their own 1-yard line. Joe Flacco finished the drive with the rare quarterback sneak on first down for a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:34 left. Some soft Baltimore defense allowed Philip Rivers to easily drive into field goal range, where the Chargers shot themselves in the foot on successive plays. On second down, a terrible snap barely got to Rivers, who exacerbated the moment by flinging the ball forward into traffic. A false start brought up third-and-14, and Rivers was off the mark on a back-shoulder throw to Malcom Floyd. Josh Lambo was good on the 49-yard field goal to tie the game.
The Ravens tried matching San Diego's drive almost too well. At the San Diego 34, another bad snap (Baltimore had some offensive line shuffling) was barely corralled by Flacco for a 9-yard loss. Marlon Brown failed to catch a pass, setting up third-and-19. Flacco threw one up for Kamar Aiken, who did his best Torrey Smith impersonation and drew a 21-yard penalty for pass interference on Steve Williams. Actually, Michael Fassbender might have some Oscar competition, because Aiken's acting job was superb. There was contact, but Aiken made sure to throw up his arm and fall down to really sell the call.
All Baltimore needed to do was run the ball twice to set up the reliable Justin Tucker, who you can't ice with a timeout, Mike McCoy. Tucker was good from 39 yards away with no time left to clinch the win.
Minnesota Vikings 23 at Chicago Bears 20
If you like defense and special teams, then allow me to direct you to the first three quarters of this one. The offensive flurry of a finish was unexpected given that Teddy Bridgewater only had 73 passing yards through 45 minutes, but the Vikings were right in position for a 48-yard game-tying field goal by Blair Walsh. Chicago lost Matt Forte to injury, but Jay Cutler was still there to fire a beautiful pass to Marc Mariani for 19 yards on third-and-8. That helped to extend a drive that reached 14 plays, ending with Cutler's 4-yard touchdown run where he took a big pop at the goal line with 4:55 left.
It almost seems preposterous that the Bears lost this game in regulation, especially after a sack put the Vikings 91 yards away from the end zone. But that's when Bridgewater played the "YOLO" Madden card and did some wild stuff. He scrambled for 19 yards, then was fortunate to squeeze a pass around Kyle Fuller to Stefon Diggs for 20 yards. Chicago consistently rushed five, but the Vikings picked up the pressure on third down for Bridgewater to have time to find Diggs again. Sherrick McManis fell down in the open field and Diggs had the moves to finish off the play for a 40-yard touchdown. The game was tied with 1:49 left.
These are becoming huge moments in tied games now, because offenses have shown an improved ability to quickly set up field goals in recent years. It hurts to go three-and-out here, but that's what Chicago did, even saving Minnesota all three of its timeouts. Jeremy Langford, Forte's replacement, had a huge drop on third down after Cutler scrambled to find him. The throw may have been a hair behind him, but it was very catchable.
Minnesota had 60 seconds left. With Diggs hobbling off after a short catch, Bridgewater went back to 2014's reliable receiver: Charles Johnson. The Bears also had a throwback to 2014: a Cover-2 defensive call that would make Mel Tucker proud by having the corner pass the receiver off to the safety. Who doesn't love having their cornerback cover a nice big patch of nothing, only to get there in time to watch the game-changing completion in front of Antrel Rolle?
When you can have your CB cover a big patch of nothing, you always pass the WR off w/the game on the line. pic.twitter.com/giMhAxIKQ4— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 2, 2015
Even with a run-heavy formation on the next play, Adrian Peterson churned ahead for 9 more yards. All John Fox could really do was use his last timeout to ice the kicker. Blair Walsh has missed two extra points this season, but he was good on the 36-yard game-winning field goal. Minnesota (5-2) has spent most of the season barely getting by teams with just a win or two, so we will find out very soon how legit this team is as their schedule is about to pick up in difficulty.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Cardinals at Browns: Not a Josh McCown Revenge Game
Arizona drafted Josh McCown in the third round in 2002. Even the most optimistic fan of that pick probably would have never expected McCown to still be starting an NFL game in 2015 at the ripe age of 36. Any football fan coming into this season could not have imagined McCown throwing this many touchdowns to Gary Barnidge and Brian Hartline for the Cleveland Browns. Yes, Hartline actually found the end zone twice on Sunday, and the Browns had a shocking 20-7 lead.
Then Arizona scored the game's final 27 points. It was hardly a clean road performance with four turnovers, but the Cardinals finished on defense in the fourth quarter as we are accustomed to seeing in the Bruce Arians era. Twenty-seven yards away from the lead, McCown did something we are also used to seeing, and that is forcing an interception. Safety Rashad Johnson read the deep pass the whole way and had an easy time coming over for the interception in the end zone with 14:52 left. Where Arizona shined in the game was on third down, converting 13 out of 16 chances. Carson Palmer converted a trio of third downs on the ensuing drive, then threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, this one to Larry Fitzgerald, for a 31-20 lead with 9:32 left.
McCown had the Browns driving at the Arizona 38, but his handoff to Robert Turbin was not controlled and Arizona had another takeaway. The former Seattle back helped the rival Cardinals out on that one. Arizona burned more than five minutes before adding a field goal, then had few problems stopping a Johnny Manziel-led drive on downs to secure another win. Arizona heads into a bye week before facing a huge challenge at Seattle in Week 10.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 36
Game-winning drives: 37 (plus five non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 70/119 (58.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 17
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.