Clutch Encounters: Week 11

Clutch Encounters: Week 11
Clutch Encounters: Week 11
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

After a superb Week 10, the Week 11 schedule looked like we were in for a letdown. The best game on paper, the DVOA Bowl between Philadelphia and Seattle, turned out to be the least competitive game of the week. Every other game was within one score in the fourth quarter, even though the Cowboys, Patriots and Redskins all pulled away for comfortable margins of victory.

Among the 10 games with a comeback opportunity this week, only three were successful. Fortunately, none of the games were directly decided by a missed extra point. Sunday featured 12 missed extra points, a quarter of the 2016 season's 48 misses, and the NFL record for a single day. Now, we are just 28 weeks into the new extra point rule, so the record for misses was bound to fall at some point, but Sunday was an especially bad day for a play that is supposed to succeed 95 percent of the time.

Game of the Week

Houston Texans 20 at Oakland Raiders 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (20-13)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (27-51 at 4QC and 37-51 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (9-14 at 4QC and 9-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A close Monday night game means a controversial finish, or is that only in Seattle? This game was in Mexico City, and the designated home team (Oakland) sure did seem to get some home cooking. I am not going to dwell on the officiating, but a quick whistle and some absurd ball spotting sure did help out the Raiders, who have already had their share of late-game breaks on their way to an 8-2 record this season.

However, the real failure in this game was Houston head coach Bill O'Brien. When he needed to make a gutsy call, he usually caved to conservatism. When he probably should have gone the safe route, he rolled the dice. He was a baffling mess, and it was a shame, because the Houston offense actually looked functional around Brock Osweiler for a change. Some defensive breakdowns and a lack of pressure kept this a high-scoring game. The Texans needed to adjust for that accordingly in their decision making, but struggled to do so. Houston moved the ball more consistently than Oakland, and held the ball for over 36 minutes, but still only managed 20 points.

O'Brien's first head-scratcher of the night came in the first quarter. Up 3-0, he decided to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Houston 46. Now, this is a very common decision around the league, but we want to establish the inconsistent logic used throughout this game by Houston. Why should any team be afraid of falling behind 7-3 so early in the game? That's really the (plausible) worst-case scenario of going for it, but shouldn't the benefit of a 10-0 or 6-0 lead outweigh that? Sure enough, Oakland took over and went on a 79-yard drive for a touchdown.

In the third quarter with the score tied at 10, O'Brien changed his strategy and went for a fourth-and-1 from his own 44. Jay Prosch was successful on the fullback dive to keep the drive alive, which ended in a Lamar Miller touchdown run and 17-10 lead. So what changed? Houston was 2 yards farther back, and the score was tied instead of a 3-0 lead. This was arguably the worse spot to go for it, but that's what O'Brien did.

Then there is the job of putting your best players in the right positions to succeed. In the fourth quarter, Houston had a 17-13 lead, but faced a third-and-1 at the Oakland 11. As we looked at in ALEX last week, Osweiler has struggled this season in every range of third-down passing. He has converted half of his third-and-short passes this season. Meanwhile, the Houston offensive line is fourth in power runs. Houston should have run Miller here, who was having a good night (24 carries for 104 yards), or take advantage of Osweiler's huge size -- Jon Gruden will grow his legend to 6-foot-11 if he lasts four years in Houston -- on a quarterback sneak. Instead, Houston tried a play-action pass with only three receivers on routes, and Osweiler missed Miller in the flat. This mistake was compounded with a decision to kick a 28-yard field goal instead of going for it to extend the drive for a hopeful touchdown and 24-13 lead.

Oakland needed just one play to tie the game, because Houston completely blew the coverage on fullback Jamize Olawale, who was wide-open for a 75-yard touchdown catch with 10:44 left. It sounds crazy to say that the running backs dominated this game for Oakland when the offense rushed 18 times for 32 yards, but the three backs combined for 11 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

Tied at 20, Houston continued to move the ball well into the red zone. On a third-and-2, Miller got the ball this time, and he appeared to pick up the first down rather easily. The spot was terrible, and brought up fourth-and-1. Spot challenges are tough to win, but when you have such irrefutable evidence like O'Brien should have been told he had from his team, it was worth the challenge.

O'Brien decided to not challenge, and kept the offense on the field, bypassing a 33-yard field goal that would have given Houston a 23-20 lead with about 6:30 left. Yeah, that was a really rare, aggressive call. According to Pro Football Reference, since 1994, there have only been five other fourth-down attempts in the red zone with the game tied in the fourth quarter and fewer than 10 minutes remaining:

  • The Colts used a Peyton Manning sneak at the 3-yard line against the Chiefs in 2007 to set up a last-second field goal.
  • Jeff Garcia tried to score from the 1-yard line for Detroit against the 2005 Packers in a 13-13 tie, but was stopped.
  • Detroit's Scott Mitchell's sneak worked against the 49ers in 1995 to lead to a game-winning field goal.
  • Coincidentally, the last two instances also happened to involve the Texans from the Gary Kubiak era. In 2011, Arian Foster helped break a 10-10 tie with Atlanta with a 7-yard run from the 9-yard line.
  • In 2009, Matt Schaub sneaked from the 15-yard line against Tennessee to set up a game-winning field goal with 2:55 left.

But was this really a necessary gamble by O'Brien? Much like Houston experienced in that 2009 game, going for it from the 15-yard line is hardly a predictor of a touchdown to come. They could have just ended up kicking the field goal four plays later anyway, and still would have left plenty of time for Oakland to answer. The hidden value to taking a 23-20 lead is that Oakland would likely play conservative, three-down football in scoring territory instead of going all out for the touchdown. I think O'Brien should have just kicked the field goal, but what he really should have done was challenge that third-down spot.

Instead of getting Miller back in the game for fourth-and-1, the Texans ran the ball again with Akeem Hunt, who also appeared to have the first down. Cue a second poor spot, which O'Brien challenged this time, but to no avail. It was truly surreal to see the run, see the spot, and still see the official mark them short and say that the call "stands" in replay.

Oakland only needed five plays to score the game-winning touchdown. Latavius Murray picked up big YAC on a 39-yard play, and then Amari Cooper did the same for a 35-yard touchdown with 4:43 left.

O'Brien put a rancid cherry on top of his bad night after Houston faced a fourth-and-5 at its own 44 with 3:13 left. If a team had all three of its timeouts left, then you could actually consider the punt here. But when the Texans had one timeout left, this should have been an automatic decision to go for it. The field position was not terrible enough to mean an instant field goal (and game over) for Oakland if you fail. The distance to go (5 yards) was also well within reason of a conversion, so the decision to punt was about as bad as it gets. Derek Carr hit one more big pass to Jalen Richard (a running back, of course) for 29 yards on second down, and that about wrapped this one up. Murray for sure iced the game with a 6-yard run on fourth-and-1. The Texans never touched the ball again after punting it away.

With respect to copyright infringement, this is where you would close with a supercut of a flustered O'Brien on the sideline set to Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Miami Dolphins 14 at Los Angeles Rams 10

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (10-0)
Head Coach: Adam Gase (3-3 at 4QC and 4-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (12-24 at 4QC and 14-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Dolphins had not come back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter since nearly 11 years ago against Buffalo. They had not done so on the road since nearly 15 years ago to the date, which was also a Buffalo game where Chris Chambers came up big. You can sometimes sense when a big comeback is about to begin, but Sunday was not one of those cases. Miami was dreadful on its first 11 possessions in rainy Los Angeles with 10 punts and one interception. Ryan Tannehill, after one of his best performances a week ago in San Diego, was offensively inept, to put it nicely. He had minus-105 DYAR through three quarters (the worst in Week 11), and would have had multiple interceptions if the defense had actually held onto the ball. Missed opportunities really did the Rams in in Jared Goff's debut.

Goff was barely a story in this offensive mess -- the teams combined to go 3-of-24 on third down. Much like with the offense under Case Keenum, this was another 10-point effort that again failed to establish a strong running game with Todd Gurley. Goff showed some elusiveness in the pocket, but rarely impressed with his throws, which traveled just 4.8 yards beyond the line of scrimmage when removing the final drive, which was an act of desperation.

While Goff did not elevate his offense in his first start, his presence did not prevent the Rams from being in a position to win this game. The blame should really fall on head coach Jeff Fisher for coaching not to lose instead of coaching to win. A third-down pass from Goff came up a yard short of the first down at the Miami 30. Fisher called his first timeout with 6:45 left, leading 10-0. At this point, a field goal had marginal value, since Miami could still win with two touchdowns and two extra points. By going for it, a potential touchdown wins the game, or at the very least, the Rams get to burn more minutes of clock before another fourth-down decision had to be made. Fisher opted for a 48-yard field goal in the rain, and Greg Zuerlein hit the left upright. For a coach that's not "f***ing going 7-9" (or 10-6 for that matter), this scaredy-cat decision was the definition of 7-9 bullsh*t. How many high draft picks have to be used on offense before that unit can be trusted to gain a yard?

Miami caught fire by abandoning the run and going to a no-huddle shotgun attack. The Rams were undisciplined with two penalties that helped to stop the clock, but may still have survived the drive with better effort. Jarvis Landry caught a short pass at the 5-yard line, and he should have been tackled to bring up third-and-medium, but the Dolphins "wanted it more," if you will. With some help, Landry muscled his way into the end zone on an incredible play. The fact that the highly touted Aaron Donald was blown backwards after not being able to put Landry down is perhaps the most unbelievable part of the play.

So we had a game again with Miami down 10-7 with 4:02 left. The Rams did not help themselves with a false start on second-and-5, but at least Goff was allowed to throw the ball on third-and-10. His pass was just too short and the Rams had to punt.

Donald again asserted himself poorly with a roughing the passer penalty for jumping late at Tannehill's head. That tacked on 15 yards to a 15-yard completion, and Miami was nearly in field goal range after just seven seconds. None of Tannehill's 24 completions gained more than 15 yards, but the penalties were costly down the stretch for Los Angeles. DeVante Parker had a monster drive with three diving catches, including a 9-yard touchdown after he beat Trumaine Johnson with 36 seconds left.

The stunned Rams were down 14-10, and Goff had to lead a game-winning drive that required a miracle even after a good kick return. The Rams were at their own 41 with 29 seconds and one timeout left. After wasting four seconds with some timeout confusion, Goff fired two ugly sideline passes before making a smart, short throw on fourth down to make the Hail Mary shorter. From the Miami 47, Goff needed a true Hollywood ending in his first start. He effortlessly had the arm strength to fire the pass over 55 yards in the air to reach the end zone, but only Dolphins were waiting to knock the ball away to end the game.

While the majority of this game ssuggested that Miami is not really that good, the Dolphins have won five in a row, and could win their next five before a Week 17 home meeting with New England. This is just the state of the league this year, where the team that should have lost to Cleveland has a realistic shot at double-digit wins.

Jacksonville Jaguars 19 at Detroit Lions 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (19-16)
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (21-25 at 4QC and 24-25 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (23-33 at 4QC and 26-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The best 2016 drama on TV just may be the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead six fourth-quarter comeback wins in his team's first 10 games. The single-season record for the regular season is seven comebacks, which was accomplished by Peyton Manning in an MVP campaign for the 2009 Colts, who were also coached by Jim Caldwell. Yes, there is some irony in a deadpan coach who could star in a Weekend at Bernie's remake leading two of the more thrilling seasons in NFL history.

Most Fourth-Quarter Comeback Wins, Single Regular Season
Quarterback Team Year 4QC Team Result
Peyton Manning IND 2009 7 Lost Super Bowl (14-2)
Dan Pastorini HOIL 1978 6 Lost AFC-CG (10-6)
John Elway DEN 1985 6 Missed Playoffs (11-5)
Dan Marino MIA 1992 6 Lost AFC-CG (11-5)
Peyton Manning IND 1999 6 Lost AFC-DIV (13-3)
Matthew Stafford DET 2016 6 TBD (6-4)

The latest triumph came at the expense of the Jaguars, who led 19-16 to start the fourth quarter. Stafford faced a difficult third-and-13 situation, but stepped up in the pocket to find tight end Eric Ebron wide open for a 61-yard gain. Stafford turned things over to the running game, which was surprising given the Lions actually finished the game with an unfathomable 21 carries for 14 yards (including one kneeldown for minus-1 yard). The last team to run the ball at least 20 times for fewer than 20 yards was Arizona in 2013, which was also a win over Jacksonville. After a 7-yard run by Theo Riddick to the 1-yard line, Ebron finished the game-winning drive with the now-in-vogue tight end jet sweep with 10:03 remaining.

After a quick Jacksonville three-and-out, Detroit did a fantastic job of putting together a 15-play, 60-yard drive for a field goal that consumed 7:57 of the final 8:19 on the clock. Sen'Derrick Marks made a foolish mistake when Stafford was just trying to draw the Jaguars offsides on a fourth-and-2 at the Jacksonville 46. It was unlikely that he was ever going to actually snap the ball, but Marks bit, leading to another first down. Riddick's momentum led him out of bounds on a third-down conversion that otherwise would have iced the game, so the Jaguars finally did get the ball back, down 26-19, with only 22 seconds left. Blake Bortles tried a few home-run balls to no avail, and was intercepted again after Marqise Lee kicked a ball to safety Tavon Wilson.

For a change, we'll see Detroit in a very meaningful Thanksgiving game when the Lions host the Vikings in a battle for first place in the NFC North. Another comeback would be historic, as even the 2009 Colts needed 14 games to get to seven comebacks. It is not good that the Lions keep trailing in the fourth quarter every week, but when so little of the team is good outside of the passing game, a 6-4 record is a great achievement.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Titans at Colts: Validation Denied

Those looking to validate the Titans as real contenders again in the AFC South had to be shaking their heads when Tennessee fell behind 21-0 in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck, who is still a perfect 9-0 against the Titans, was shredding the defense, while the Exotic Smashmouth offense couldn't stop doing a bland thing like punting. However, this one really turned after a terrible dropped pass by Dwayne Allen on a third-and-6. The Colts looked to be driving towards a 28-0 lead, but Allen's drop forced a field goal attempt from Adam Vinatieri, who missed the 42-yard kick after a record streak of 44 makes. The Titans scored the game's next 17 points, and only trailed 21-17 with 12:14 to play in the fourth quarter.

Luck was feast-or-famine down the stretch, and he was going to ride or die with T.Y. Hilton in this one. A 50-yard strike from Luck to Hilton set up Vinatieri for a 49-yard field goal and 24-17 lead, but on the next drive, Luck forced a bad throw under pressure to Hilton that was intercepted. A long Tennessee drive came down to a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 19. It is hard to question running DeMarco Murray in this situation, but the Colts were ninth at stopping power runs coming into the week. Clayton Geathers made a great stop of Murray short of the sticks to give the Colts the ball back with 2:42 left. With one first down to win the game, Luck extended the play one last time to find Hilton on a third-and-5 to seal the deal.

The Titans are just 1-6 at game-winning drive opportunities this season. The only downer for the Colts here was a concussion for Luck that could keep him out of Thanksgiving's big game against Pittsburgh.

Buccaneers at Chiefs: Air Less Unexpected

This was the upset of Week 11, but was it really that surprising when we just talked last week about how inconsistent the Chiefs have been this season? The one area where they have been consistent is ball security, with just one turnover in the previous five games, but Alex Smith picked a really bad time to throw his most crucial interception of the season.

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After a rare deep ball to Travis Kelce put the Chiefs in a goal-to-go situation with a 12-10 deficit, Smith misread safety Chris Conte on a play-action pass over the middle intended for Chris Conley. The pass may have been ever so slightly tipped at the line, but it was dangerous either way, and Conte made Smith pay with an interception and 53-yard return out to midfield.

Jameis Winston took advantage of a Marcus Peters-less defense with three third-down conversions, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to H-back Alan Cross with 6:26 left to give Tampa Bay a comfortable 19-10 lead. If you will recall last week's discussion about a nine-point lead late in the game, the problem is that even when an offense knows it needs two scores, that first score usually takes a good amount of time to get. Smith dinked and dunked the offense to the red zone again, but two failed runs at the goal line by Spencer Ware worked the clock down before a touchdown pass by Smith with 2:27 left cut the lead back to 19-17.

On a huge third-and-3 with 2:11 left, Mike Evans came through for Winston with a diving catch while the Chiefs only rushed three defenders. That led to three more runs and a punt, but the Chiefs had just eight seconds at their own 27 when they got the ball back. An unimpressive lateral was fumbled to end the game, and end a 10-game home-winning streak for Kansas City.

Steelers at Browns: Blitzburgh Return

Even though the Cleveland defense allowed a season-low 17 points to the Steelers, Pittsburgh only had seven offensive possessions, and got the rare big road cover (minus-8.0) under Mike Tomlin to drop the Browns to 0-11. While the Steelers tend to play down to the competition, games against Cleveland are rarely in doubt, and the usual reason tends to be the smothering of the Browns offense, which was held to single-digit points for the ninth time against Tomlin's Steelers since 2007. The Browns were one of the many teams to miss an extra point on Sunday, keeping the deficit at 17-9 in the fourth quarter.

Despite struggling to rush the passer all season, Pittsburgh racked up four sacks of starter Cody Kessler, knocking him out of the game, and sacked backup Josh McCown four times in the fourth quarter alone. Pittsburgh was relentless in rushing a defensive back after McCown, but it was linebacker Ryan Shazier who delivered the crucial forced fumble that rookie Javon Hargrave recovered in the end zone for a touchdown with 3:36 left to make it 24-9.

From there, a futile Cleveland march stalled at the 14-yard line to end the game, dropping McCown to an unthinkable 5-31 (.139) at game-winning drive opportunities in his career.

Bills at Bengals: Jesus Christ, Superstar Injuries

If you bought a ticket for this game months ago, then you were hoping to see skill players such as Sammy Watkins, A.J. Green, and LeSean McCoy shine on the field on Sunday. Well, Watkins hasn't played since Week 2, Green lasted two snaps before a serious hamstring injury, and McCoy only carried five times before leaving with an injured thumb. Even Robert Woods (knee) only made it through 10 snaps, and Giovani Bernard tore his ACL.

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With that many injuries to key wide receivers and running backs, it is no wonder we had a 16-12 game. The loss of Green was most troubling for a Cincinnati offense that has come to rely so much on him after losing Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in the offseason. Green has 45 more targets and 545 more receiving yards than the Bengals' next closest receiver (Brandon LaFell). Buffalo is more of a rushing offense, and even without McCoy, the Bills had no problem still racking up 183 yards on the ground, including 39 yards from quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Taylor's legs kept a drive alive that led to a field goal and a 16-12 Buffalo lead early in the fourth quarter. Andy Dalton had four drives to answer with a single score, but failed to do so. In fact, Dalton's success rate to start the second half was 0-for-9 leading up to the final drive attempt. That was a drive that never needed to happen, but Rex Ryan went conservative with the lead. After the Bengals used their final timeout with 2:41 left, the Bills faced a third-and-3 at the Cincinnati 39. A conversion that stays in bounds ends the game. Being such a running team, the Bills should have treated this as four-down territory, as a run on third down had a chance to convert itself, or at least shorten the fourth-down attempt while taking the clock down to the two-minute warning. Instead, the Bills passed on third down, and Taylor missed the throw to Percy Harvin. Buffalo only gained 24 yards of field position on the punt, so the Bengals had to be very pleased with this outcome.

While Dalton had a long 85 yards ahead of him without Green, Bernard was still playing, and he caught four passes on the drive, including a crucial third-and-12 conversion. However, Dalton needed a bit more than the checkdowns to backs on this drive. They were time-consuming, and Cincinnati was still 33 yards away from the end zone with 10 seconds left. It was very surprising to see a 6-yard throw to Tyler Eifert, who got out of bounds, when the Bengals should have taken a shot at the end zone. There should have been enough time for a second shot, but by going with the Eifert play, they left themselves with one shot from the 27-yard line. Buffalo rushed four. Dalton's lob was good enough, but the ball never found a Cincinnati player in the sea of humanity in the end zone.

Now the Bengals (3-6-1) must head to Baltimore without Green, likely staring at their first missed postseason since 2010.

Cardinals at Vikings: Carson Palmer Files for Assault

These teams played one of the standout matchups of 2015 (on a Thursday night no less), but 2016 has been a different story for both. While so much of the attention has gone to Minnesota's putrid offensive line, the struggling Arizona passing game took center stage with the Vikings putting on a full-fledged assault of Carson Palmer. The FOX broadcast cited 23 quarterback hits in the game, but the actual play-by-play has 15 hits to go along with four sacks on 42 dropbacks. Either way, this was the type of mauling that has always been a concern in Bruce Arians' vertical offensive approach.

Palmer did a respectable job of keeping Arizona in the game despite two more return touchdowns for Minnesota that helped build a 30-17 lead going into the fourth quarter. Chandler Jones has arguably exceeded expectations for Arizona this year, and his eighth sack of the season forced a Sam Bradford fumble that set Palmer up at the Minnesota 27 with 9:10 left. A tight 4-yard throw for a touchdown to David Johnson, who continued his season-long streak of 100-yard games, cut the lead to 30-24 with 7:24 left.

Arizona had two more drives to get the go-ahead touchdown, but pressure on Palmer was the problem again. While we might be quick to associate Arians and Arizona with deep passing routes -- I just did so two paragraphs ago -- the truth is Minnesota just bullied the Arizona offensive line with very minimal blitzing. On the next-to-last drive, a sack by Danielle Hunter happened while four of Arizona's receivers were only 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Palmer finished that drive with an intentional grounding on third-and-18. The Vikings failed to put the game away on offense after a second-down incompletion and false start led to a three-and-out. Palmer had 2:20 and one timeout left to drive his offense 87 yards for the win. A bubble screen for no gain was an inauspicious drive starter, and Harrison Smith came through with a sack to set up a fourth-and-19. Palmer's incompletion should have ended the game, but Tom Johnson was penalized for a pretty weak roughing the passer call that would have been considered good defense in any other era. Johnson's hit was not late, but since he "drove" the quarterback into the ground, he was flagged. It is awfully difficult to ask a man of that size to stop his momentum from following through on the pressure.

This extra life lasted five more plays for Arizona. On a fourth-and-6, Palmer was surprised by another early snap from center, but once he started dancing away from the pocket, the Vikings had the game wrapped up. Hunter finished Palmer off with a 15-yard sack and one last hit on a day that Palmer's body won't soon forget. Minnesota ended its four-game losing streak with the type of win that fueled its 5-0 start: defensive domination, non-offensive scoring, and the hope that the offense won't screw things up.

Bears at Giants: Grizzly Men

The Giants sit at the top of the league with a 7-1 record in close games this season, while the Bears (0-4) are one of three winless teams in close games. So it may not have come as a surprise when the Giants were able to hang on for a 22-16 win, even though the game had a rough start with Chicago leading 16-6 in the second quarter.

However, Chicago failed to score on its final eight drives, including five opportunities in the fourth quarter. Connor Barth hit the upright on a 51-yard field goal that may have changed the late-game strategy for the Bears, and Jay Cutler never got closer to leading the offense to more points than that drive. Cutler's last chance came with 3:00 left from his own 22, and he even overcame a holding penalty to get to the New York 30 at the two-minute warning. From there, right tackle Mike Adams, the ex-Pittsburgh bust who was starting his first game with the Bears, was exposed badly by Jason Pierre-Paul for a big strip-sack fumble. While Adams recovered the fumble for his offense, the loss combined with an illegal shift set the Bears back to a second-and-29 situation.

Cutler still had time to chip away at that one, but he went for it all on one throw, only to see safety Landon Collins come away with his fifth interception of the season to clinch another close win for the surprising 7-3 Giants. Collins has four games in a row with an interception, and they have usually been huge plays for this team. For all the new faces that the Giants have brought in defensively this season, a second-year, second-round pick may be the star shining the brightest right now.

Saints at Panthers: Thursday Night Member Berries

We end the week where it began with another edition of Thursday Night Member Berries.

Member when these teams were both good? Yeah, it was only 2013! Member when they both blew games at home in Week 10 to make this contest fairly irrelevant? I member. Member when Sean Payton was considered a genius? Yeah, this one got so out of hand, that even Cris Collinsworth had to bring up the surprise onside kick from Super Bowl XLIV.

But for more recent nostalgia, we were reminded of how the 2015 Panthers would threaten to blow massive leads in the second half by allowing a lot of pass plays and not doing much offensively. Well, with the Saints down 23-3 to start the fourth quarter, Drew Brees nearly led the Saints to another rally, cutting the lead to 23-20 with 2:52 left. However, Cam Newton stepped up on a huge third-and-10 to find Kelvin Benjamin for 18 yards.

By the time Brees got the ball back, he only had 14 seconds left from his own 14. To the best of my knowledge on one-minute drills since 1981, only two offenses have been able to win a game after driving 50-plus yards in the final 20 seconds. Both required a Hail Mary: 1999 Browns in New Orleans (Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson) and 2010 Jaguars against Houston (David Garrard to Mike Thomas). So hey, those were games that involved the Saints and a Mike Thomas, but on this particular drive, a rookie named Michael Thomas decided to take Brees' final short pass into a crowd of Panthers without doing a lateral. With absolutely nothing to lose on the last play of the game, and the potential gain of a wild return or game-extending penalty, how can a player ever justify not throwing the ball backwards and getting tackled? It doesn't even matter if you blindly throw the ball -- just do it.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 47
Game-winning drives: 53
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 100/161 (62.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 26 (and one tie)

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


7 comments, Last at 23 Nov 2016, 2:08pm

#1 by Bjorn Nittmo // Nov 22, 2016 - 4:19pm

"Why should any team be afraid of falling behind 7-3 so early in the game? That's really the (plausible) worst-case scenario of going for it, but shouldn't the benefit of a 10-0 or 6-0 lead outweigh that?"

Don't see what the time of the game has to do with evaluating this decision -- if it's no big deal for failure to result in the other team scoring because it's early, it should be equally no big deal for success to result in your team scoring points because the other team has a long time to come back.

Points: 0

#6 by Scott Kacsmar // Nov 23, 2016 - 6:32am

Time of the game is relevant in that you wouldn't want to support going for it if there were few minutes left in the fourth quarter. In that case, you open yourself up to allowing a short field where the opponent can drive for the go-ahead score that leaves you little time to counter. Here, it's just not that big of a deal to fall behind 7-3, but I think it is more valuable to be up 10-0. Maybe a young QB comes out and presses with that deficit, throwing a pick that leads to another score. We've seen how things can snowball quickly in a game. Look at Chiefs-Steelers in Week 4. Not too many 10-point comebacks in an NFL season, though I'd imagine a lot of that has to do with the leading team being the better team most of the time, and the team expected to win the game anyway. Might be worth looking into the spread for all successful 10-point comeback wins.

Points: 0

#2 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible // Nov 22, 2016 - 4:22pm

I'm not going to argue on whether it was worth a challenge, but you're talking about coddled grown men who are in their incompetence still paid hundreds of thousands to millions-- who routinely botch timeouts, whentogofor2, etc.... you expect them to comprehend and master Parallax?
The standard is the standard!

Points: 0

#3 by Joe Pancake // Nov 22, 2016 - 4:54pm

"the decision to punt was about as bad as it gets"

And this is without mentioning that Houston's punter Shane Lechler is bad at pinning teams deep in their own zone, and the Raiders have one of the best punters in the game (Marquette King).

Even if the Texans get the Raiders to go three-and-out (which they didn't), they likely have to put together a longish touchdown drive with under two minutes and no timeouts. If you think your offense can do that, then you should think they can get five yards.

Points: 0

#4 by Drunken5yearold // Nov 22, 2016 - 5:36pm

The Texans also made the very weird decision to decline a defensive holding penalty that would have given them a 1st down on the OAK 15 yard line. Instead, they opted for a 2nd and 2 on the Oakland 12 yard line.

One, teams will almost always take the first down if the yardage difference is negligible.
Two, taking the penalty would have given them the chance to get another first down at the 5. By not taking it, they were opening up the possibility of a long 1st and Goal (which is what happened).

Points: 0

#5 by Bright Blue Shorts // Nov 23, 2016 - 3:13am

Thought the Texans really threw that game away.

Ignoring the coaching decisions, the Raiders just broke a couple of big touchdowns late having been bottled up all day. Not taking anything away from them because good teams find ways to win.

As for the officiating decisions,
- thought there was one angle of the 1Q disallowed TD that suggested Hopkins had put a foot out of bounds.
- the 3rd down ball placement/measurement was rubbish. Definitely would have been a first down if O'Brien had challenged it.
- the 4th down, I didn't see a conclusive angle that suggested the ball placement/measurement was that bad.

But those two ball placements highlight something that has always amazed me about the "we don't want refs making subjective decisions" stance, yet they rely on completely subjective spottings of the ball between plays.

Points: 0

#7 by Eddo // Nov 23, 2016 - 2:08pm

"Tied at 20, Houston continued to move the ball well into the red zone. On a third-and-2, Miller got the ball this time, and he appeared to pick up the first down rather easily. The spot was terrible, and brought up fourth-and-1. Spot challenges are tough to win, but when you have such irrefutable evidence like O'Brien should have been told he had from his team, it was worth the challenge."

The screenshot that you drew the line on doesn't really prove anything.

To begin, the line you drew is laughably poor; it's clearly not parallel with the yardline, so the fact that it's behind the ball doens't really mean anything.

Second, all that screenshot shows is that at some point after his knee was down, the ball crossed the marker (and yes, despite the poorly-drawn line, I do think it shows that the ball is past the marker). But that's not what matters - what you really need is a screenshot of him not down, and with the ball at or past the marker. For all we know, his upper body was vertical - and the ball short - when his knee hit, and now he's falling forward.

I'm not arguing that it wasn't a first down - everyone says it was, so I'm inclined to believe them - it's just that the still used is not strong evidence.

Points: 0

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