Clutch Encounters: Week 9
by Scott Kacsmar
There may have only been 13 games this week with six teams on a bye, but 10 of those games featured a comeback opportunity, including three overtime finishes. Surely you all expected to see Landry Jones and Shaun Hill engineering game-winning drives, right? But onto the injuries, inane field-goal decisions, and the eye poke…
Game of the Week
Oakland Raiders 35 at Pittsburgh Steelers 38
It is great when you expect a shootout and both offenses actually deliver on the hype. Oakland allowed a franchise-worst 597 yards, but the young Raiders gave the Steelers all they could handle at home. Derek Carr played quite well, Latavius Murray left with a concussion, Amari Cooper had some struggles, and Michael Crabtree has been one of the best signings this season. Pittsburgh's insurance signing of DeAngelo Williams has also paid off greatly with the difficult circumstances Le'veon Bell has had. Williams had one of the best games of his career on Sunday, but no one played better than Antonio Brown, who practically carried the Steelers to this win with 17 catches for 284 yards and 22 more yards on the ground. Brown filled up his highlight reel, and he did this without even scoring a single touchdown.
Maybe some Brown touchdowns would have made things easier, but the Steelers were in good shape early in the fourth quarter. Martavis Bryant made up for some of his past mistakes with great moves to score on a 14-yard touchdown to take a 28-21 lead. Oakland fumbled the ensuing kickoff and two plays later the Steelers were back in the end zone with a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jesse James. The Steelers rarely blow such leads, but Baltimore did come back from 13 down in Week 4 this season.
Oakland only needed four plays to drive for a touchdown, then Roethlisberger hurt his foot on a third-down sack. He was not able to put weight on it, momentarily putting his season in jeopardy again. How often do you see a player get carted off twice in the same season and maybe end up only missing five games total? He is very fortunate. With Roethlisberger's health uncertain at the time, things sure looked to be swinging Oakland's way, especially when Brown made his biggest mistake of the day and fumbled a punt return.
Pittsburgh was 1-4 against Oakland under Roethlisberger, and the losses have all been in those non-playoff seasons where he was usually plagued by some injury. This was looking all too familiar again, but Carr had another potential miscommunication play with rookie tight end Clive Walford, and Ross Cockrell came up with a huge interception in the end zone. Again, Carr had a league-high 14 miscommunication incompletions last year, and that still looks to be happening with this offense this year.
With Landry Jones in at quarterback, the plan was still to throw to Brown. It almost worked, but Markus Wheaton was penalized for offensive pass interference, negating a third-and-11 conversion. Oakland was able to get the ball back with 2:15 left. Carr only needed a minute on the 69-yard drive, finishing with a perfect 38-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree to tie the game at 35. For as good as the throw was, it made no sense why linebacker Lawrence Timmons was on Crabtree in coverage. That's a mismatch.
The Steelers have shown a lot of faith in Jones this season. One has to wonder what that faith would have been if Heath Miller's first-down holding penalty would have happened earlier in the play, setting up first-and-20 instead of a more manageable first-and-7 situation. On third-and-2, Wheaton ran a cleaner rub route and Brown was open again in a footrace with Charles Woodson. Oakland actually would have been better off letting Pittsburgh score, but Brown was smart enough to run out of bounds at the Oakland 15 with 45 seconds left. You know some players would have wanted the 300-yard receiving game, which he just missed out on. That eventually set up Chris Boswell for the 18-yard field goal to win the game.
This could be a pivotal one when it comes to tie-breaking scenarios later this season.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Denver Broncos 24 at Indianapolis Colts 27
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (7-6 at 4QC and 9-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (10-9 at 4QC and 14-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It would be easy to write that Denver reverted to the form of the team that started 6-0 despite a ton of sloppiness that would certainly catch up to them when an opponent played well. The offensive line struggled as the Broncos had a season-low 35 rushing yards. The receivers dropped several more big passes and Peyton Manning overthrew another ugly interception. The aggressive defense picked up careless penalties. All of that happened, yet who would have imagined the Colts would be the team to play well enough for an early 17-0 lead after the way their season has gone? New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a balanced attack and took a lot of shine off of Denver's vaunted defense, which failed to create a takeaway and struggled with the likes of Griff Whalen.
Still, on a day when Manning was in line to break some major records, the Broncos rallied to tie the game shortly after two long touchdowns. Moving towards the fourth quarter this now looked like a classic duel between the two quarterbacks in perhaps their final meeting. Manning played arguably his best half of the season, leading an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 24 with 8:54 left. The Colts then stalled, but Adam Vinatieri nailed a 55-yard field goal that proved to be the game winner.
Three yards away from breaking Brett Favre's NFL record for most passing yardage, Manning started the next drive with a forced pass that was intercepted by Darius Butler. Demaryius Thomas tried to sell contact instead of playing the ball, but Butler made a clean play. The Colts had the ball at the Denver 49 with 6:00 left. Alright, this is usually where the Denver defense makes its mark to set up the offense. Even if the Colts added a field goal, the offense could win with a touchdown.
Except the Colts were not done making plays. On a third-and-10, Luck found Whalen, the Grief Whale, for 18 yards. Alright, Denver still had a good shot to get the ball back with more than a minute, seeing if Manning can lead a touchdown drive to break the records for most wins and passing yards. CBS was going to get all the drama it could have wanted. But that's when they got the Three Stooges instead. Aqib Talib decided to stick his hand into something he had no business getting into: Dwayne Allen's eye. Talib deserves a one-game suspension for this crap. Von Miller was already pushing the envelope with the post-play scuffle, but Talib gone act the damn fool here. That drew a flag and basically ended any excitement. The passing yardage record was going to fall to some silly lateral play in the closing seconds.
But even that was not to be as the Broncos were penalized on the field goal for defensive holding, allowing the Colts to run out the final six minutes. Rarely do you see that, especially from a drive starting at midfield. Denver's sloppiness finally cost the Broncos a win, and to a team that has now won three of the four meetings since 2013.
Chicago Bears 22 at San Diego Chargers 19
Both of these teams have lived on the edge this season, so someone was likely to fall again on Monday night. The offensive shootout did not transpire with San Diego leading 16-7 to start the fourth quarter thanks in part to a Jason Verrett pick-six thrown by Jay Cutler, who finally broke Sid Luckman's team record for touchdown passes. Injuries have clearly taken their toll on both teams. A week after losing Keenan Allen for the season, Malcom Floyd went down for San Diego. The Bears were without Matt Forte, but rookie Jeremy Langford was very solid in his place. He finished off a 93-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 14:02 left.
San Diego's long drive could have regained a two-score lead, but D.J. Fluker made a big mistake by going downfield on a rare Philip Rivers scramble. He rarely moves like that, but Rivers was always going to throw the ball. He happened to fire a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, but the penalty on Fluker wiped that off the board. A minus-11 ALEX throw led to a field goal, so the Bears were only down 19-14.
Cutler made an excellent throw under pressure to Alshon Jeffery to convert a third-and-6, and that was where the loss of Verrett (groin injury) really hurt. Two plays later, tight end Zach Miller -- the unproductive, often injured Jacksonville one and not the once productive, often injured Oakland/Seattle one -- made one of the catches of the year. With one hand he snagged the ball out of the air for a 25-yard touchdown. Langford was good on the crucial two-point conversion run and Chicago led 22-19.
Even with a skeleton crew of wideouts, you would expect Rivers to use Gates and Danny Woodhead to get into field-goal range with few problems as more than three minutes remained. The drive reached the Chicago 46 at the two-minute warning, but that was when things went to hell. Lamarr Houston had just 2.0 sacks in 15 games with the Bears since 2014. He came up huge here by getting around right tackle Joseph Barksdale for a sack. After Houston was penalized for offsides on the next play, he dominated Barksdale again for yet another sack to bring up third-and-23. Rivers had his pass knocked down, and the crowd sounded like this game was in Chicago instead of San Diego. On fourth-and-23, Rivers' deep pass could have easily been intercepted, but that would have been pointless. The ball hit the ground and Chicago had another comeback win.
Cutler is the ninth active quarterback with at least 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins, and he has 17 game-winning touchdown passes in his 24 game-winning drives. The latter is a very high ratio, which has always been interesting about Cutler. If you keep the game close enough for long enough, he becomes pretty reliable. He… cares.
For Rivers, it is the 50th time in his career he has had a 4QC/GWD opportunity and San Diego walked away with the loss. He cares too, as this season has to be increasingly frustrating with all the injuries and losses piling up around him.
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 10, 2015
Philadelphia Eagles 33 at Dallas Cowboys 27
The first half was dull, but what a finish we had on Sunday night. Excluding a kneeldown, nine of the game's final 10 possessions produced a score. The Eagles actually needed four go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter/overtime to clinch the win. If that is not an NFL record, then it has to be on a very short list.
Dallas kept fighting back, but ultimately the better team won. DeMarco Murray looked very good in his second shot at Dallas, and Sam Bradford probably played his best game this season. Offense just came a little easier to the Eagles, and that was clear in the fourth quarter. Matt Cassel threw a pick-six to rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks, who made a great read on the ball. Dallas relied on a long kick return and an 18-yard Hail Mary touchdown -- that is not a typo -- to Dez Bryant to score its final touchdown of the game. The teams continued exchanging field goals, though Dallas had the ball in the final two minutes with a chance to win. A suspect pass interference penalty on Byron Maxwell was called on a third-and-6 before the Cowboys were in field goal range. That helped, but the drive still ended with Dan Bailey deflecting in a 44-yard field goal off the upright.
Through 65 modified overtime games, the team receiving first has started its drive at the 20 yard line or worse 47 times (72.3 percent). After a false start, the Eagles were looking at 85 yards to the win. To make going first count, you have to approach it aggressively. So when the Eagles faced a fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 43, the best decision was to go for it. Ryan Mathews converted with a 2-yard run. On the next play, Bradford just got the ball out in time to find Jordan Matthews, who lost one defender and blew by another on his way to the end zone. That is only the 11th time in 65 games (16.9 percent) that an offense ended overtime with a first-drive touchdown.
Between watching Tony Romo break his collarbone in Week 2 and handing the Cowboys a sixth-straight loss, the Eagles have essentially destroyed Dallas' 2015 season.
Tennessee Titans 34 at New Orleans Saints 28
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (28-20)
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey (3-14 at 4QC and 3-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
If anyone ever wants to write a book about Drew Brees being the most underrated quarterback of his era, contact me. I have some facts you will need. Brees picked up from last week's huge game with another strong start with the Saints looking to move to 5-4. But as has often been the case in New Orleans, the defense -- that Rob Ryan defense -- got in the way of progress. Tennessee never led until the final play of overtime concluded, but the Titans were always in striking distance with Marcus Mariota's big day.
A 28-20 lead in the fourth quarter at home is usually safe, but the Saints lacked discipline with bad penalties. Mariota only had to throw a handful of darts to eventually tie the game on a two-point conversion pass to Delanie Walker. Then on a big third-and-7, Brandon Browner did his usual job of grabbing a receiver (Walker) and he was flagged again. On the previous play, another tipped ball somehow found Walker for a 1-yard gain instead of an interception, so Ryan's defense had the triple whammy of bad coverage, bad discipline, and some downright bad luck on Sunday.
However, Mike Mularkey was on the other side in his first game as interim head coach for the fired Ken Whisenhunt. Despite Mariota's generally good ball security, the Titans ran the ball with Dexter McCluster on second-and-19 and third-and-16 to set up a 55-yard field goal. I lack the energy to muster a good rant about how stupid that sequence was. Field position, quality of your kicker, opposing offense, strength of your offense -- any of these things been on your mind, Mike?
Ryan Succop's kick hit the crossbar and Brees was at his own 45 with 1:55 left in a tie game. One catch moved the ball to the Tennessee 33, but the Titans brought a six-man rush and Brian Orakpo was able to dump Brees for a sack. The offense got those yards back, but both of Brees' completions on the drive led his receiver's momentum out of bounds, saving time for the Titans. Kai Forbath came on for the 46-yard field goal, but the kick was blocked with 56 seconds left. The Titans then went three-and-out, setting up overtime.
This was not a game to trust your defense, so of course the Titans took the ball after winning the coin toss. Mariota had the game in his hands, and after so many Walker targets, his other tight ends were the difference in overtime. Craig Stevens made a tough catch behind a diving defender before getting up and running for a gain of 24 yards. Mariota's mobility was put to great use with a designed throwback pass to Anthony Fasano for the 5-yard, game-winning touchdown. That's a memorable first 4QC/GWD for the rookie.
For Brees, he had his own triple whammy: the defense lost a good lead, the kicker missed a go-ahead field goal, and the offense never got the ball in overtime.
St. Louis Rams 18 at Minnesota Vikings 21
The league's recent best running back (Adrian Peterson) and the league's future best running back (Todd Gurley)? Naturally, the post-game talk was focused on the hit that knocked Teddy Bridgewater out with a concussion with Minnesota hanging onto an 18-15 lead in the fourth quarter. I have to agree with Jeff Fisher that it is not too uncommon to see a defender struggle to slow down against a sliding quarterback. On the other hand, when this happens with a Fisher team with Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, history makes you wonder a bit more.
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A quarterback the Rams sometimes have to knock out of the game is their own, and that is the biggest problem with the way Nick Foles has played this year. He took an intentional grounding penalty on third down to push the Rams out of field-goal range. Most depressing was the drive that started with 5:10 left. Five running plays moved the ball to the Minnesota 33 at the two-minute warning, but you have to start getting the passing game involved to drive for the go-ahead touchdown or make the field goal shorter. St. Louis put the ball back into the hands of Tavon Austin for a loss of a yard, then ran Gurley for just a 4-yard gain on third-and-11. Greg Zuerlein was wide right on the 48-yard field goal with 1:42 left. That was a bad kick on a windy day.
I still may hold a position in the Shaun Hill fan club, but even I was shocked to see the Vikings start their drive with a play-action pass and Hill taking an 11-yard sack. That's your backup quarterback off the bench. This is Peterson time, but that sack derailed the whole drive. The Rams used all three timeouts to get the ball back with 1:14 left. Foles made a couple of throws this time, but the drive stalled to set Zuerlein up with a 53-yard attempt. This kick worked and the game went to overtime.
Minnesota won the coin toss, but Mike Zimmer became just the second coach (after Bill Belichick in 2013) to take the wind and go on defense in modified overtime. Even though this call too appears to be all wind influenced, I still loved the decision in this particular game. Your starting quarterback is out and your backup has one completion. Your defense is playing well and holding up against Gurley. Their offense does not have much of a passing game. Why fear them driving 80 yards for a touchdown, and can you honestly trust your offense to do the same? Go on defense, get the ball back in good field position, and yes, there was a significant wind advantage to gain.
Once Gurley lost 6 yards in the backfield on a first-down run, the Rams were screwed. A screen to Austin was devoured and Foles overthrew his one deep attempt for a quick three-and-out. A nice punt return ended up putting Minnesota at its own 49-yard line. Hill only needed to complete one 6-yard pass under pressure before Peterson finished the drive with two runs for 17 yards into decent field-goal range. Fisher tried to ice the kicker, but Blair Walsh drilled the 40-yard game-winning field goal.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Packers at Panthers: Scared of the Almost Comeback?
It sure looked like for the second week in a row, the Packers were going to get blown off the field on the road by an undefeated team. The Broncos did it on Sunday night in a 29-10 win, and the Panthers led 37-14 here with just 9:22 to play. But just like on Monday night against the Colts, the Panthers began allowing plays on defense and stalled on offense. James Starks made three big YAC plays and Josh Norman had a pass go through his hands to James Jones on a crucial fourth-and-14 after a crazy escape by Aaron Rodgers, who then threw his fourth touchdown pass. Just like that, Green Bay only trailed 37-29 with 3:43 left.
Cam Newton had a chance to end the Colts in the four-minute offense on Monday night, and had a dropped interception. This time Newton went right back to the passing that worked well to build the lead, but Damarious Randall intercepted him on the sideline after bobbling the ball. Or did he? On first blush, I thought Ted Ginn's contact on the ball was enough to make Randall lose control before he got his second foot in bounds. However, the call on the field of an interception stood and the Packers were just 22 yards and a two-point conversion away from the tie. Some in the crowd were furious.
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 8, 2015
The Packers needed to score somewhat quickly in case their ensuing two-point try failed, but Green Bay had a hard time cracking the defense this close. The Packers also burned their second timeout with the clock stopped, which hurts. Rodgers converted one fourth down to Randall Cobb and targeted him two more times, but he needed one more play to Cobb. On fourth-and-goal from the Carolina 4, Cobb came in motion and was wide open in the flat on a pick play. Rodgers also had his choice of Davante Adams on a slant, but held the ball, faced pressure and had to unload to somewhere. His reputation for avoiding risky throws to keep the picks down would have reached a new level if he had taken a sack there, but at least Rodgers got the ball off. It just happened to flutter to Thomas Davis for an interception. Rodgers could only look in disgust at the play on a tablet on the sideline, knowing he missed one to Cobb.
Green Bay got the ball back with six seconds left, but that was only enough time for a failed lateral. Rodgers took the blame after the game, but had an interesting word choice. "I had an easy opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown, and I got scared by something. I can't explain it. It was a mistake by myself. I'll definitely be thinking about that one on the ride home."
Scared? All players are human and will miss a big play from time to time, but admitting you were scared of something intangible is a really bad look for a guy with, let's face it, a history of coming up short in these situations.
Rodgers is now 0-25 when trailing by at least nine points in the second half of games. The following table shows each of those games along with the scoring margin at the end of game, halftime, and through three quarters, along with the smallest deficit was in the second half. It is noted whether or not the game had a typical 4QC opportunity for Rodgers and the offense (down one score).
|Aaron Rodgers: 0-25 When Packers Are Trailing by 9+ Points in Second Half|
|Date||Opp||Final||Gap||Halftime||Gap||Thru 3 QT||Min 2H DEF||4QC/GWD Opportunity?|
|11/29/2007||at DAL||L 37-27*||-10||Down 27-17||-10||Down 27-24||-3||Yes (sacked on 3rd-and-5; DAL added TD)|
|9/21/2008||DAL||L 27-16||-11||Down 13-6||-7||Down 20-9||-4||No|
|9/28/2008||at TB||L 30-21||-9||Down 13-7||-6||Down 20-14||1 (lead)||Yes (led on a C.Woodson 4Q pick-six)|
|10/5/2008||ATL||L 27-24||-3||Down 17-7||-10||Down 17-10||0 (tie)||Yes (A.Rodgers INT led to ATL 27-17 lead)|
|11/9/2008||at MIN||L 28-27||-1||Down 14-10||-4||Led 24-21||6 (lead)||Yes (M.Crosby 52-yd FG no good w/0:26 left)|
|11/24/2008||at NO||L 51-29||-22||Down 24-21||-3||Down 45-21||-3||No|
|11/30/2008||CAR||L 35-31||-4||Down 21-10||-11||Tied 21-21||7 (lead)||Yes (CAR outscored GB 14-10 in 4Q)|
|9/20/2009||CIN||L 31-24||-7||Tied 21-21||0||Down 28-21||0 (tie)||Yes (comp. to CIN 10, but false start ends game)|
|10/5/2009||at MIN||L 30-23||-7||Down 21-14||-7||Down 28-14||-7||No (MIN recovered onside kick w/0:55 left)|
|11/1/2009||MIN||L 38-26||-12||Down 17-3||-14||Down 24-20||-4||Yes (down 31-26, M.Crosby 51-yd FG no good w/5:38)|
|11/8/2009||at TB||L 38-28||-10||Led 21-17||4||Led 21-17||11 (lead)||Yes (A.Rodgers pick-six w/0:35 left)|
|12/20/2009||at PIT||L 37-36||-1||Down 21-14||-7||Down 24-14||6 (lead)||Yes (go-ahead score w/2:06 left; lost on last-play TD)|
|Date||Opp||Final||Gap||Halftime||Gap||Thru 3 QT||Min 2H DEF||4QC/GWD Opportunity?|
|1/10/2010||at ARI||L 51-45 OT||-6||Down 24-10||-14||Down 38-24||0 (tie)||Yes (A.Rodgers fumble-six in OT)|
|12/18/2011||at KC||L 19-14||-5||Down 6-0||-6||Down 9-7||1 (lead)||Yes (sacked on 3rd-and-10; KC added TD)|
|1/15/2012||NYG||L 37-20||-17||Down 20-10||-10||Down 20-13||-7||Yes (sacked on 4th-and-5; NYG added FG)|
|9/9/2012||SF||L 30-22||-8||Down 16-7||-9||Down 23-7||-8||Yes (A.Rodgers inc. on 4th-and-10 at SF 45 w/0:49)|
|11/25/2012||at NYG||L 38-10||-28||Down 31-10||-21||Down 38-10||-21||No|
|12/30/2012||at MIN||L 37-34||-3||Down 20-10||-10||Down 27-24||-3||Yes (GB tying TD answered by MIN GW FG w/0:00)|
|1/12/2013||at SF||L 45-31||-14||Down 24-21||-3||Down 31-24||0 (tie)||No|
|9/4/2014||at SEA||L 36-16||-20||Down 17-10||-7||Down 22-10||-7||No|
|9/21/2014||at DET||L 19-7||-12||Down 12-7||-5||Down 12-7||-5||No|
|10/26/2014||at NO||L 44-23||-21||Tied 16-16||0||Down 30-16||0 (tie)||No|
|12/14/2014||at BUF||L 21-13||-8||Tied 10-10||0||Down 16-10||0 (tie)||Yes (A.Rodgers stripped; recovered for BUF safety)|
|11/1/2015||at DEN||L 29-10||-19||Down 17-7||-10||Down 24-10||-7||No|
|11/8/2015||at CAR||L 37-29||-8||Down 27-7||-20||Down 30-14||-8||Yes (A.Rodgers INT on 4th-and-4 at CAR 4 w/1:54 left)|
|Includes all regular season and playoff games where Aaron Rodgers played in both halves and was Green Bay's leading passer|
|*Did not start game (Brett Favre)|
As you can see, this was only the second time Green Bay trailed by more than 14 at halftime. The blowout loss to the Giants in 2012 ended Green Bay's 69-game streak of having a lead or being within one score in the fourth quarter/overtime. That is the second longest streak in NFL history behind only Seattle's active 78-game streak. Since that 2012 loss, Rodgers has had a tougher time rallying the Packers to make the game close in the end, which is another reason this was such a surprising finish on Sunday.
Sixteen of these games still did get to a 4QC opportunity, but Green Bay went 0-16 with Rodgers at the helm. How many games on this list did he deserve to win? "Deserve" is always a tough way to word it, but I would say Rodgers did his job well enough to put his team in a position to win against the 2008 Panthers, 2009 Steelers (the best argument on the list, given that Ben Roethlisberger won the game on the last play) and 2012 Vikings. In just two of these 25 games did Rodgers lead a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter and lose.
Naturally, the blame can be shared amongst coach Mike McCarthy, the defense, and kicker Mason Crosby. However, the other odd part is when you consider the Packers went 2-4-1 in this situation with other quarterbacks since 2008. In a four-game stretch of 2013 alone, behind Matt Flynn the Packers had a 16-point 4QC tie against Minnesota, an 11-point second-half comeback against Atlanta, and a 23-point second-half comeback in Dallas. But they're 0-25 with Rodgers when down two scores in the second half.
Even if Rodgers was 3-22, that still would stand out among his highest peers. Andrew Luck is already 8-20 (.286) when trailing by multiple scores in the second half. Peyton Manning is 21-60 (.259) and Tom Brady is 19-37 (.339). It's not as if Rodgers cannot play well in such situations, but you can find a bunch of situations where Rodgers has the best efficiency stats, Brady's team wins the highest rate of games, and the Indianapolis-drafted quarterbacks overcame the longest odds. Ultimately, people are going to remember the triumphs best and not worry what your interception rate is. Why do you think Brett Favre is remembered more for 45 game-winning drives instead of 54 turnovers in 72 failed opportunities? Whether Rodgers is too "scared" to throw interceptions from behind or whatever it may be, "almost comeback" endings like Sunday's have been there for Rodgers his whole career.
Falcons at 49ers: WTF?
I am not sure which question to ask first. How do you lose a 17-16 game to an offense led by Blaine Gabbert, Shaun Draughn, Quinton Patton, and Garrett Celek? How do you kick a field goal from that close to the goal line in the final three minutes? These teams have come a long way from the 2012 NFC Championship Game, yet the Falcons still have not solved the 49ers in the red zone. Matt Ryan's pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-4 that day at the 10-yard line. In a 2013 Monday night game to close out Candlestick Park, Ryan forced a tight throw from the 10-yard line again, and NaVorro Bowman intercepted it for an 89-yard touchdown.
Bowman was one of the few remaining pieces that made you realize these were still the 49ers. Even with the mass exodus of talent in San Francisco, including this week's benching of Colin Kaepernick and the Vernon Davis trade, this cast of rejects led the Falcons for the game's final 46:19 without even the benefit of one turnover as the Falcons had been giving those out so freely in recent weeks.
Atlanta trailed 17-13 at halftime and had five drives to try to take the lead. The Atlanta defense pitched a second-half shutout with two Gabbert interceptions, so not a ton has changed on that front. Ryan had the Falcons at the 8-yard line with a first-and-goal, but we have seen this picture before. Justin Hardy's third-down catch was officially credited at the 1-yard line, but he clearly needed a full 2 yards.
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Still, how do you not go for it that close on fourth down in a 17-13 game with the clock getting down to three minutes? We just saw similar madness from the Lions against the Bears in Week 6, but this was similar. Yeah, Ryan and Matt Bryant are great at setting up game-winning field goals. Your defense is playing well, you have three clock stoppages and that is still Gabbert and his misfit toys on the other side. There was some logic to the decision, but according to Brian Burke at ESPN, Atlanta about cut its win probability roughly in half by going for the field goal (48.6 percent to 27.0 percent).
Then Gabbert just had to rub it in with a 5-yard bootleg run on third-and-4 to get to the two-minute warning. Atlanta was already on life support, but one more first down run by Kendall Gaskins (who?) locked in the upset. The Falcons have really been their own worst enemy this season in losing three of their last four games as they head into a bye.
Jaguars at Jets: Six Degrees of Hollow Man
These days you have to consult the injury report to check the statuses of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chris Ivory, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker, but they were involved in all four of the Jets' touchdowns. New York led for the game's final 50 minutes, but Jacksonville put up a good fight. We see this often with the Jaguars this season, but the results are not there in the end as the offense usually suffers a breakdown via sacks or turnovers at the worst moments.
New York's defensive reputation has lost some luster in recent weeks, and Blake Bortles did efficiently throw for 381 yards with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both going over 120 yards in this one. However, the first red zone trip of the day did not end well with the Jaguars settling for a field goal to cut the score to 21-16 with 10:18 left. On the ensuing drive, a 45-yard run by T.J. Yeldon had the Jaguars at the New York 10, but a holding penalty on the next play pushed the ball back to the 20. Bortles showed poor pocket presence on a scramble, allowing Calvin Pace to strip him of the ball from behind. Jacksonville had a good initial shot at the recovery, but the Jets came up with the ball with 5:16 left. The Jets caught another break after Nick Marshall muffed a punt, setting up a 20-yard touchdown throw to Marshall with 2:41 left. That was a good, aggressive call to jump out to a 28-16 lead on a diving catch.
Not to go away quietly, Bortles led the Jaguars 72 yards in 25 seconds for another touchdown. The drive only took three plays and required just one declined penalty (offsides) to stop the clock. That is about as efficient as it gets in managing the clock to shred a defense, but the Jaguars still needed to try the onside kick with one timeout left. The Jets recovered, but three Ivory runs were not enough to run out the clock in a 28-23 game. Ivory even fumbled on third down when it really should have been a Fitzpatrick dropback, but the Jets recovered their third fumble in the game's final 5:29. What a fortunate finish.
The ball even bounced New York's way on the ensuing punt. Jacksonville let it go thinking it could be a touchback, but the ball moved to the 8-yard line, burning off five more seconds of precious time. Bortles had 54 seconds to drive 92 yards. Doable by his previous drive efficiency, but historically it looked bleak. On the first play, a four-man rush flushed Bortles out of the pocket and he was intercepted by Marcus Williams on the game-clinching pick.
This is still miles ahead of where Bortles was at the end of last season, but you would like to see him cut down on the turnovers in these situations. The last pick is forgivable, but you cannot lose your field presence on first down, 20 yards away from the lead.
Giants at Buccaneers: TD by Superman, 2PC by Clark Kent
Tampa Bay was hanging around despite a stagnant running game and Mike Evans dropping nearly as many passes as he caught (eight). Trailing 20-12 in the fourth quarter, Charles Sims broke some tackles for a 59-yard run. Otherwise, the Buccaneers had 19 handoffs for 53 yards on the day. Jameis Winston had one of the scrambles of the year, leaving his feet to complete a beautiful 10-yard touchdown run with 9:25 left. On the two-point conversion, which never got a good replay from FOX, Winston sprinted to his right and had two receivers left open in the end zone. He chose Russell Shepard, but the pass was so high that that receiver was unable to land in bounds with both feet.
New York added a 53-yard field goal for a 23-18 lead, but Winston was right back at midfield. He started spraying 10-plus-yard passes with none of the three coming anywhere close to a completion and the Giants had the ball back. That is kind of what the Tampa Bay offense is without Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Winston throws it deep, usually to Evans, and you just have to pray.
With 4:57 left, the Giants did well to run down the clock, aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Akeem Spence. He pushed a lineman down without even looking at him while going to a referee to complain. Unreal. The Giants added another field goal to take a 26-18 lead, leaving Winston just 18 seconds left to make a 94-yard miracle after an ill-timed penalty on the kick return. Fittingly, Evans dropped a pass and was also charged with a fumble after Logan Mankins was unable to catch his lateral attempt. Instead, the Giants recovered for a 5-yard touchdown with no time left. The Giants took a rare knee on the two-point conversion, fudging up the numbers, but we'll be sure to make note of it for this year's true conversion rate.
Surprisingly, this was the second 32-18 final in NFL history as the Rams beat the Patriots in 1998.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 38
Game-winning drives: 43 (plus five non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 80/132 (60.6 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 19
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.