Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Clutch Encounters: Week 6

by Scott Kacsmar

We had nine games with a comeback opportunity this week, and six teams put together a game-winning drive. Two efforts were spoiled, at least momentarily, by a missed extra point that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter. Those are quite rare, with the 2003 Saints having the most infamous example ever following the River City Relay against Jacksonville. However, the NFL's new 33-yard extra point makes it likely that we will see more of these in the future. Great, like we needed more losses to blame on the kicker when he misses a 95-percent kick. Isn't that right, N.C. State fans?

I get that the NFL wanted some more excitement with a play that has become so automatic, but why not tinker with a system that would eliminate these kicks altogether, and give us more offense vs. defense? For example, more strategy would have to exist if there was a choice between a one-point conversion from the 1-yard line or a two-point conversion from the 3-yard line. Fantasy players would love the increased scoring, unique scores would fall more often, and who knows, maybe the additional practice of goal-line plays would help teams get better in goal-to-go situations. This is also self-serving, as I want to see a larger sample of two-point conversions so that we can have more meaningful discussions on them, because that also came up again this week in the Browns-Titans game. Rather than debating when a team should go for two, the discussion would shift to whether a team should go for one or two with its offense.

Of course, this is probably a bigger pipe dream than getting pass interference to be reviewable, but we can still dream.

Game of the Week

Atlanta Falcons 24 at Seattle Seahawks 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (24-17)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (23-43 at 4QC and 31-48 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (15-18 at 4QC and 20-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A rematch in the playoffs almost feels necessary after the way this one ended. Yes, the build-up would include a gross amount of focus on a pass interference penalty that was never called, but that would take away from what was a truly great second half of football. As overmatched as the Atlanta offense looked early when the Seahawks led 17-3, the Seattle defense looked just as confused in the third quarter on three long touchdown drives while the Falcons stormed back to take a 24-17 lead.

Seattle's offense was still sharp behind Russell Wilson, but the special teams had a day to forget. A bad snap threw off kicker Steven Hauschka's rhythm on a 29-yard field goal attempt with 11:27 left. After Christine Michael's 1-yard touchdown run looked to tie the game, Hauschka's extra point was blocked with 4:43 left. The Falcons did not look like a team that was hanging on to just a 24-23 lead. Ryan came out throwing, knowing just a few first downs would finish off Seattle, which was down to one timeout. Unfortunately, Devonta Freeman stepped out of bounds on an 11-yard gain, but he at least made an effort to take a dive in bounds to keep the clock running. The right foot just would not stay in. On a far more damaging play, Julio Jones tipped Ryan's next pass into the air, and Earl Thomas came away with an interception at the 50 with 3:48 left.

On third-and-2 at the Atlanta 42, Wilson pulled off one of his magic tricks under pressure and found Alex Collins for a 9-yard gain, the drive's only first down. Atlanta's defense held, but the kicking unit redeemed itself with Hauschka's perfect 44-yard field goal with 1:57 left. Seattle led again, 26-24, but now it was Ryan's turn, and it was only fitting that this game would come down to the final drive. Wilson and Ryan have both been on a historic pace for game-winning drives in their careers. Wilson tied Dave Krieg for the most game-winning drives (20) in Seattle history.

Most Game-Winning Drives Thru Year X
Thru Year Quarterback Seasons GWD
1 Andrew Luck 2012 7
2 Andrew Luck 2012-2013 11
3 Russell Wilson 2012-2014 15
4 Russell Wilson 2012-2015 18
5 Matt Ryan 2008-2012 23
6 Matt Ryan 2008-2013 24
7 Matt Ryan 2008-2014 27
8 Matt Ryan 2008-2015 31
9 Matt Ryan 2008-2016 32
10 Dan Marino 1983-1992 34
11 Peyton Manning 1998-2008 37
12 Peyton Manning 1998-2009 44
13 Peyton Manning 1998-2010 46
14 Peyton Manning 1998-2011 46
15 Peyton Manning 1998-2012 49
16 Peyton Manning 1998-2013 51
17 Peyton Manning 1998-2014 52
18+ Peyton Manning 1998-2015 56

Seattle fans know all too well how good Ryan can be at setting up Matt Bryant for game-winning field goals. We also know that the Seahawks tend to blow way too many leads in the fourth quarter during the Wilson era, but any defense would have its hands full with this offense, nursing a small lead with plenty of time.

That is why Atlanta's drive was such a disappointing four-and-out. Seattle's defense did break its tendency by going with four blitzes instead of its conventional four-man rush. Ryan seemed to be almost too worried of the pressure, and did not make good throws or decisions on the drive. He could have run for some decent yards on the third down instead of forcing a deep throw to bring up fourth-and-10. Of course, that fateful pass went downfield inside the Seattle 40 to Jones, who was only able to get one hand on the ball after Richard Sherman applied a little armbar to Jones' right arm.

Does that pass interference get called in Atlanta? Quite possibly. Does it get called in Atlanta if it was just Jeremy Lane in coverage? More probable than not, but biases towards the home team and star player are something we have come to expect in sports officiating. So hopefully we get a rematch of this one, but odds are now that it will happen in Seattle again.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Indianapolis Colts 23 at Houston Texans 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 14 (23-9)
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (6-7 at 4QC and 6-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Brock Osweiler (4-2 at 4QC and 4-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Two days later, it is still hard to believe what the Colts did on Sunday night in Houston with first place in the AFC South on the line. For a team that rarely starts well, and usually closes strong, this was the complete opposite of what we have come to expect. With a 23-9 lead, the Colts let an erratic, inaccurate passer get hot in the final five minutes, while Andrew Luck suddenly was off his game when it came time to seal the deal.

In other words, the Colts got Tebowed in front of a national audience.

Instead of Tim Tebow himself, this was done by another ex-Denver quarterback in Brock Osweiler, who somehow improved to 3-2 in starts where his team trailed by multiple scores in the second half. All of the wins (including last year with Denver against New England and Cincinnati) were on prime-time television, keeping his stock up with the casual observers who may not be aware of how inconsistent the $72 Million Man has been so far.

While the Colts left some points on the field, this was one of the most balanced team efforts of the Chuck Pagano era -- at least for the first 55 minutes. Every comeback has a starting point, and this one came clearly after Houston called its first timeout with 4:56 to play. Facing a third-and-9, Osweiler threw a low pass to DeAndre Hopkins, who went down to make the catch for the big conversion. Houston probably would have gone for it on fourth down had that not been made, but that was the first real breaking point where the Colts could have wrapped this one up. That completion got Osweiler in a rhythm, and he hit four passes in a row to Hopkins. Still, this had a garbage-time stench to it until Lamar Miller, who was spectacular on the night with 178 yards from scrimmage, made Indianapolis' defense look silly on a third-and-7 catch that he turned into a 10-yard touchdown. That was the second big miss by the Colts. Now the Texans trailed 23-16, and this was still a game with 2:37 left.

The Colts had a lousy effort in the four-minute offense, including a false start, a bad sack taken by Luck, and a stuff of Frank Gore that momentarily took away his 100-yard rushing performance. Yes, the Colts finally had a 100-yard rusher for the first time since 2012, and they still lost both games in Houston. After the three-and-out, Osweiler only needed three passes to tie the game with a nice 26-yard touchdown to rarely used tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz with 49 seconds left. Mike Adams somehow missed the ball entirely, which was another bad play for the Colts.

Luck can set up kicker Adam Vinatieri with two timeouts left, right? Not this time. Luck was unable to step into a throw and badly missed a wide-open T.Y. Hilton on a play that would have put the Colts at the Houston 37. The Colts ended up punting and playing for overtime, where they won the toss and elected to receive first. For as much as Pagano talks up his defense, I would have trusted that unit here to not give up a touchdown to Houston, which would have been playing more conventional offense now. Even if the Texans scored a field goal, I would have certainly trusted Luck to win or tie the game with four downs.

Of course, the Colts were unable to get to midfield on their lone drive of overtime. On a crucial third-and-3, Indianapolis kept in seven blockers, but none of the three receivers were able to get open, and Luck was buried for another sack. That was a terribly designed play for that moment. Houston got the ball back and moved to midfield, where Osweiler threw a good deep ball for Jaelen Strong, the latest Colts killer. Strong beat Rashaan Melvin for a 36-yard gain that all but ended this one. Nick Novak's 33-yard field goal secured the 26-23 win, and a 4-2 record for the first-place Texans.

The Colts had only blown two fourth-quarter leads in the first 61 games of the Pagano-Luck era, but have done so four times in the last 15 games. This one will sting more than any of them.

Baltimore Ravens 23 at New York Giants 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (23-20)
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo (2-1 at 4QC and 3-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (29-47 at 4QC and 36-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Another week, another Baltimore game that went right down to the wire. Baltimore's third-straight loss was the first with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg after Marc Trestman was fired last week. The running game received more carries (25), but Joe Flacco did have double-digit failed completions (10) for the third game in a row. However, the old "chuck it deep on third down and hope for PI" strategy returned in grand fashion.

On a weekend where pass interference was quite controversial, the home team was twice flagged in the fourth quarter for plays totaling 72 yards to help extend Baltimore scoring drives. The first call was fine, but the second, with 2:14 to play, was such a sham that referee Jeff Triplette should consider retirement, or be forced out given his track record. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie practically ran the route for Breshad Perriman, and it was Perriman who did his best to prevent the defender from making the interception. Not only was this called defensive pass interference, but Triplette had the nerve to offer an explanation that Rodgers-Cromartie "grabbed the receiver at the waist and pulled him down in preventing him getting to the ball." It was as if Triplette thought Perriman was playing for New York.

Does the NFL need to make pass interference reviewable in the last two minutes, and as a challengeable play? I think so. In terms of potential yardage, it is the biggest penalty in the game, and that fact alone should add more scrutiny to getting it right just as the league has done with turnovers and scoring plays. We may not need an automatic review of each instance, but at least let the egregious ones have a chance to be rectified.

This bogus call put the ball at the 8-yard line, and three plays later, Terrance West cashed in for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:04 left. New York was in danger of going four-and-out after tight end Larry Donnell made an incredibly soft play to get out of bounds on third down instead of charging ahead for the first down. On fourth-and-1, the Giants, who had no real push on the ground all day (17 carries for 38 yards), were in the shotgun, putting the game on Eli Manning's arm. Unfortunately for the Ravens, two defenders ran into each other while trying to cover Odell Beckham Jr. on a slant, and he was off to the races. Lardarius Webb converted to safety this season, and while he was far back enough to prevent a touchdown, he was caught flat-footed in the open field, and Beckham raced right by him for a 66-yard touchdown. By removing his helmet, Beckham picked up a 15-yard penalty, helping the Ravens start their drive at their own 32 with 1:19 left.

Once the drive reached the New York 39, things got ugly in a hurry. Landon Collins dropped a game-ending interception, and the Giants were hit with a game-extending roughing the passer penalty after Flacco threw an incompletion on fourth down. But even from the 24-yard line, Flacco missed a wide-open Mike Wallace inside the 10. On a last-ditch effort, Flacco's pass into the end zone was knocked away by none other than Rodgers-Cromartie to seal the win. No phantom call this time.

Carolina Panthers 38 at New Orleans Saints 41

Type: GWD
Head Coach: Sean Payton (21-38 at 4QC and 30-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (27-52 at 4QC and 41-59 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Much like last year's 41-38 final in the Superdome, these teams put on an offensive show. However, at least Carolina had a strong defense then, which put the clamps down late to sweep the Saints in two tight contests in 2015. Hard to believe these teams were only battling for their second win of the season in Week 6, but that is how quickly things have changed for the Panthers. Naturally, Drew Brees was spectacular at home, shredding Carolina's inexperienced secondary and building a lead as high as 21 points. Unsurprisingly, Cam Newton led his team back against a New Orleans defense that still has no answers for its habitually poor play.

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Down 31-17, Carolina stacked together 50-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but Graham Gano missed a game-tying extra point with 9:38 left. This led to an interesting moment when the Saints scored another touchdown to take a 37-30 lead. Sean Payton originally had the offense on the field for the two-point conversion, something no coach does in this situation, but something I would like to see to take a two-score lead late in the game. This was certainly the right offense vs. defense matchup to exploit for that. Alas, Payton ended up using his first timeout and went with the extra point instead to make it 38-30.

Carolina had no issues in driving down the field, including a second flag in the quarter on New Orleans for a defensive pass interference of more than 30 yards. Newton found the corner of the end zone on a touchdown run, and had an open Devin Funchess on the game-tying two-point conversion pass with 2:58 left.

While last year's Carolina defense may have made its stand at this point, this year's version allowed a crucial third-down conversion at the two-minute warning, as Brees was able to find an open Travaris Cadet. This was a very patient dink-and-dunk drive from New Orleans, which could afford to be safe with the tied score and time remaining. None of Brees' nine passes traveled more than 6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on the drive. Carolina stopped Brandin Cooks short on a third-down screen and used its second timeout with 16 seconds left. Rookie kicker Wil Lutz had a tough 52-yard field goal ahead of him, but he nailed the kick with 11 seconds left. There was only enough time for a failed lateral attempt by the Panthers.

Very few teams ever go 15-1 or 16-0 in a season, but among the six teams that have, none have lost more than six games in the following season. The 1985 49ers and 1999 Vikings both finished 10-6, but were still playoff teams. Carolina (1-5) can tie that losses mark in its next game, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game with Arizona in Week 8.

Los Angeles Rams 28 at Detroit Lions 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (28-21)
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (18-24 at 4QC and 21-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (20-32 at 4QC and 23-32 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This may have been pegged as a defensive game before the season started, but instead it featured eight touchdown drives, and seven of them traveled at least 75 yards. These defenses are struggling, and it does not help when Robert Quinn and Haloti Ngata are out. Even though Ezekiel Ansah returned for the Lions, the pass defense was as brutal as ever, allowing Case Keenum to threaten the NFL record books after he started the game hitting 26 of his first 28 passes.

The good news is that Matthew Stafford continued to thrive in Jim Bob Cooter's short-passing attack. Golden Tate even got involved again with one deep ball on his way to a 165-yard day. Kenny Britt had a monster day for the Rams with 136 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which gave Los Angeles a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Britt's balance and strength to turn that short throw into a 9-yard touchdown was excellent. Detroit answered with some help from the Rams on a few third-down penalties, but a well-designed screen pass to take advantage of Los Angeles' soft coverage worked for a 23-yard touchdown from Tate with 6:02 left.

Rarely do you see a screen thrown beyond the line of scrimmage, but that was a perfect call against that defense.

After a three-and-out, Detroit got the ball back with 5:06 left, and drove into field-goal range at the Los Angeles 26 at the two-minute warning. Let's give Jim Caldwell some credit here. So many coaches would favor a first-down run in a tied game, and so many would end up playing for the field goal. However, Los Angeles had all three timeouts, so the Rams getting the ball back with plenty of time was very possible. Just last week, we criticized the Lions for playing so conservatively for the field goal against the Eagles. This time, the Lions were more aggressive, sticking with the pass. Aaron Donald got a first-down sack, but Detroit ran two more screens to Tate, who came up just a yard short of another conversion. The end result was still a 34-yard field goal by Matt Prater, but at least the Lions tried to succeed with their best players.

For as hot as Keenum's start was, he was cold to end the game with the Lions getting a finger on each of his final four throws. Over the last two drives, Keenum finished 1-of-4 for 4 yards with a game-ending interception to Rafael Bush on a poor read with 1:01 left. All three Detroit wins have been fourth-quarter comebacks this season.

Stafford reached his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win in his 101st game, the second fastest to that milestone in NFL history.

Fewest Games to 20 Fourth-Quarter Comeback Wins
Rk Quarterback Games to 20th 4QC Age Date
1 Johnny Unitas 98 30-194 11/17/1963
2 Matthew Stafford 101 28-252 10/16/2016
3 Matt Ryan 109 29-183 11/16/2014
4 Ben Roethlisberger 115 29-207 9/25/2011
5 Tom Brady 126 30-148 12/29/2007
6 Jay Cutler 128 32-194 11/9/2015
7 Eli Manning 131 31-019 1/22/2012
8 Randall Cunningham 136 34-275 12/27/1997
9 Tony Romo 140 33-245 12/22/2013
10 Peyton Manning 141 30-191 10/1/2006
11 Jake Plummer 142 31-328 11/12/2006
12 John Elway 144 31-190 1/4/1992
13 Dan Marino 146 31-012 9/27/1992
14 Y.A. Tittle 147 36-011 11/4/1962
15 Drew Bledsoe 152 31-233 10/5/2003
16 Joe Montana 154 33-098 9/17/1989
17 Philip Rivers 156 33-012 12/20/2014
18 Warren Moon 159 37-353 11/6/1994
19 Fran Tarkenton 160 32-269 10/29/1972
20 Carson Palmer 163 36-020 1/16/2016
21 Jim Kelly 164 36-200 9/1/1996
22 Drew Brees 168 33-266 10/7/2012
23 Dan Fouts 169 34-153 11/10/1985
24 Kerry Collins 173 35-280 10/5/2008
25 Joe Ferguson 178 36-207 11/16/1986
26 Dave Krieg 179 36-045 12/4/1994
27 Vinny Testaverde 182 37-335 10/14/2001
28 Brett Favre 222 35-042 11/21/2004

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at Chicago Bears 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 13 (13-0)
Head Coach: Gus Bradley (6-15 at 4QC and 7-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Blake Bortles (5-11 at 4QC and 6-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If the Bears blow a 13-point lead at home to the Jaguars, and no one is around to see it, does it make an impact on the NFL season? Probably not, as this game flew under the radar on Sunday. Chicago's third blown fourth-quarter lead of the season ties the Bears with San Diego for the league lead, and this one certainly came out of nowhere after a lifeless start from Jacksonville.

As a reminder of some of last season's ugly Jacksonville comebacks, a mistake turned this game around rather than a positive play. Down 13-0 with 53 seconds left in the third quarter, Blake Bortles threw an incomplete pass on third-and-7 at midfield. While Jacksonville appeared to be holding on the play, a roughing the passer penalty was issued for Willie Young after an inadvertent swipe of Bortles' face. Jacksonville turned that into a touchdown drive. Young did get some revenge later with a strip-sack, but the Chicago offense only managed a field goal despite the great field position.

Down 16-7, the Jaguars added a field goal and the defense forced a three-and-out. With 3:18 left, Bortles began his march in a 16-10 game, and after getting out to midfield, he delivered a strike to Arrelious Benn. Yes, the former second-round pick of the 2010 Buccaneers, and a frequent addition to our injury database, is still around. Benn had not caught a pass for more than a 9-yard gain since the 2011 season, but he still drew Chicago's best cornerback, Tracy Porter, in crunch time. Porter just so happened to slip on the play, allowing Benn to get up at the 35-yard line and race to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown with 2:49 left.

Jacksonville led 17-16, but 2:49 with three timeouts was an eternity of time for Chicago to answer. The Bears needed it too with their dink-and-dunk attack led by Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer has played some efficient football this season, the Bears have only exceeded 17 points in one game: last week's 29-23 loss in Indianapolis, in which Hoyer struggled to find an open receiver on the game-winning drive attempt. Hoyer's 12 failed completions led all passers in Week 6. He had a few more on the last drive, but the real killer was a holding penalty on running back Jordan Howard after he tackled Paul Posluszny. That put Chicago in an undesirable third-and-16, on which Hoyer only threw a 6-yard pass to the emerging Cameron Meredith. On fourth-and-10 from the Jacksonville 48, Hoyer had to attack the sticks. The protection held up well against the blitz, but Hoyer's pass for Alshon Jeffery was defensed by rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey to seal the deal for the Jaguars.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Eagles at Redskins: No Reed, But Maybe Some Reid?

Tight end Jordan Reed has arguably been Washington's steadiest skill player this season, but some offenses can do just fine without their top receiver. While Reed missed the game with a concussion, the Washington offense was in dominant form, piling up 493 yards of offense (230 on the ground) and 26 first downs. The Redskins were their own worst enemy on Sunday, blowing a 14-point lead without the defense even taking the field due to two return scores, including a bad pick-six thrown by Kirk Cousins. This also meant that the Philadelphia offense went from the 13:26 mark of the second quarter to the 8:40 mark of the third quarter without running a legitimate, non-kneeldown play from scrimmage. That is almost a third of the game.

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While the deficit was only 24-14 to start the fourth quarter, the last two weeks have been a huge reversal for the Eagles after that 3-0 start where they barely ever trailed. Perhaps more than any other team this season, I was looking forward to how the Eagles would fare in close games. Part of this was the fact that rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is so inexperienced, even from a college level, at carrying a team through high-scoring games where he has to throw the ball a lot. But a lot of this was about the coaching hire. When Doug Pederson was hired by Philadelphia to be the head coach, he infamously got started at his press conference by defending his play calling as Kansas City's offensive coordinator on that slow-march touchdown drive for the Chiefs in January's playoff loss in New England. Pederson seriously said "It took us time, because, No. 1, we did not want to give Tom Brady the ball back." Yeah, the Chiefs were down 14 points in case you (or Pederson) forgot. Throw in the fact that Andy Reid is his mentor, and the clock management decisions are going to be something to watch here.

So far, the results are poor at 0-2 for the Eagles in close games. Much like last week in Detroit, the offense's tendency to settle for field goals was troublesome. Of course, the offense only mustered two field goals on eight drives all day, but the call for a running play on third-and-4 at the Washington 20 was questionable. We noted last week that the Eagles were the only team that had yet to throw the ball on third-and-short this season. While this was a third-and-medium situation, third-and-4 is a heavy passing down in the NFL, especially for a team trailing in the fourth quarter. The Eagles even tried another run on third-and-4 on the next drive, but that play was blown dead by a false start.

Three field goals were scored in the quarter before a Washington punt led to the real Philadelphia comeback attempt at 27-20 with 4:05 left. Last week, Wentz went for the big play right away, but was intercepted. This drive was slowly moving along, but hit a major snag leading into the two-minute warning when Wentz held the ball too long and took a 9-yard sack by Ricky-Jean Francois. Much will be made of the loss of suspended right tackle Lane Johnson, but Francois' sack came on a three-man rush, and Wentz failed to locate his open running back and tight end. On third-and-15, Washington brought a delayed blitz and the duo of Trent Murphy and Preston Smith collapsed on the quarterback for the sack. About eight seconds were lost before the Eagles decided to use their first timeout with 1:44 left.

Now this is really no man's land to be in fourth-and-24 at your own 40, but down to two clock stoppages, can a trailing team really afford to punt here? The most realistic outcome the Eagles could have hoped for was to get the ball back with just under 40 seconds left, no timeouts, and respectable field position after forcing a three-and-out. That would still probably require a Hail Mary attempt at some point. If the Eagles failed to convert from the 40, then maybe Washington could have added a long, decisive field goal, even without gaining a first down, but that seems unlikely. More likely, the Eagles end up with the ball back, but a longer field to go in the same dire amount of time. Of course, lots of things can happen on a legit fourth-and-24 attempt. You might actually convert, you might draw a phantom flag that automatically converts, or you might get a nice chunk that at least helps with the field position.

According to Pro Football Reference's play finder, this was only the seventh punt since 1999 by a team that trailed by four to seven points in the final two minutes. The Raiders had a nearly identical situation in 1999 against Miami, including consecutive sacks of Rich Gannon that brought up fourth-and-24 with Oakland still having two timeouts. However, the end result was the same. The opponent ran the ball three times and iced the game with a third-down run. This time it was Matt Jones breaking away on third-and-7 for a 57-yard gallop.

I think I would have tried to go for the fourth-and-24, but I know this will not be the last critique of Pederson's game management this season. The Eagles are going to hit the meat of their schedule now, starting with the undefeated Vikings in Week 7.

Browns at Titans: Hue Jackson's Wager

While these teams usually seem to meet for positioning at the top of the draft, the Titans (3-3) are still very much relevant in the AFC South after dropping the winless-but-competitive Browns to 0-5. Cleveland's defense left the offense to play from behind all day again, but an interception of Marcus Mariota on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Browns possession, down 21-13.

Through Week 5, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler averaged the shortest passes (6.11 air yards) in the league, and was also dead last in third-down ALEX (minus-3.3). He attacked downfield much more in this game, averaging 10.6 air yards per throw, but rookie wide receiver Ricardo Louis had a terrible drop on third-and-15 with 13:51 to play. That pass would have been a 20-yard gain out to the Tennessee 45.

The Titans took over and made three big third-down conversions to Kendall Wright, who shocked everyone with 133 receiving yards in only his third appearance this season. Mariota finished the drive with his third touchdown pass of the day, and Tennessee led 28-13 with 6:43 left.

Cleveland needed two fourth-down conversions and burned a costly timeout with the clock already stopped, but eventually found the end zone again with an easy 5-yard touchdown pass from Kessler to Terrelle Pryor with 2:07 left. Down 28-19, that was when head coach Hue Jackson made another interesting decision this season. He already kicked off after winning the coin toss in overtime against Miami, but here he did something almost as rare: he decided to go for the two-point conversion after the first touchdown.

We looked at this in Week 2 in regards to the Bengals-Steelers game. Some people think a team should always go for the conversion after the first touchdown, especially now since extra points are no longer as automatic. This gives a team instant information on what they'll need the rest of the way. Others, including myself, believe a team should almost always wait to attempt the conversion until it is absolutely necessary. Keep extending the game and make it a one-score game with the extra point. This is the same strategy from the NBA when teams keep looking for the quick two and foul, saving the three-point shot for the final seconds when they absolutely have to start draining them. Likewise, NHL teams score more with an extra attacker, but most trailing teams still wait until the last two minutes to pull the goalie, because any empty net goal essentially makes the rest of the game pointless. While a study into any of these leagues may yield an optimal time on when to change strategies, there is never any one right way to go about this. You have to take into account how the game has gone to that point, and how your team stacks up to the opponent.

No matter which strategy you believe in, it cannot be stressed enough how being down 15 points in the fourth quarter is a terrible situation. The 105 teams since 1994 that scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to cut the deficit to nine points still went 5-100 (.048) in the game, including an 0-11 record for the offenses that went for two right away. Two of the six teams in this situation this year went for the conversion, including Mike Mularkey's failed attempt for the Titans in Week 1's loss to Minnesota. Pittsburgh, a historically great two-point conversion offense under Ben Roethlisberger, was in this same situation on Sunday in Miami, but still opted for the extra point with 1:02 left to cut its deficit to 23-15.

In this particular case, Cleveland's offense had been stymied on the ground (14 handoffs for 37 yards) and Kessler had been sacked six times. With three clock stoppages left, Cleveland could have easily kicked deep in a 28-20 game, and likely given itself close to a full two minutes to answer with the tying drive. However, a failure on the conversion meant recovering a difficult onside kick was a must. In fact, since the Browns were obviously going to need some time to drive for a score, you could say Cleveland was going to need two onside kick recoveries, making this gamble far too risky to support. That "extra information" gained is not very useful at such a late point in the game when everything is going to be rushed.

Sure enough, Kessler was pressured and unable to make something happen on the attempt, keeping the game at 28-19. Even though the Browns were fortunate to recover the first onside kick, and had the knowledge of being down two scores, the final drive was still a sight of hopelessness. The Browns used their last two timeouts before Duke Johnson finally finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, but only 27 seconds remained. The second onside kick went out of bounds to effectively end the game.

On Saturday, I watched My Night at Maud's, a classic French film from 1969. Two of the main characters had a philosophical debate about Pascal's Wager and mathematical hope. The last part about the Russian revolution and maximizing hope was especially interesting.

While football is a far lighter topic than the existence of God, one could apply this conversation to their feelings about this particular two-point conversion dilemma, and that balance of hope and despair. Any of the three potential deficits present a bleak outlook late in the game, but hope for me comes in the form of a one-score game. As long as I have the ball with time and a one-score deficit, I always have a chance. That hope outweighs the despair of a 9-point deficit with 2:07 left, but I am flexible with this depending on the time left, as well as the quality of each offense and defense. Cleveland's offense is not yet ready to take advantage of these opportunities.

Broncos at Chargers: Thursday Night Member Berries

Instead of trying to seriously analyze a Thursday night game at this point, we'll let the member berries cover San Diego's 21-13 hang-on victory.

Member when FO said the Broncos were better this year with an improved offense? Yeah, I member! That may have been premature, or we may not be giving enough credence to quarterback injuries and the absence of Gary Kubiak (migraines) in San Diego.

Member when the Chargers tried to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead at home to Trevor Siemian? Yeah, I member! It was only last Thursday night, and it all started with a muffed free kick following a safety, but at least the defense forced a big Demaryius Thomas fumble this time with 3:35 left. Member when the Chargers still looked ready to blow this one by not recovering an onside kick with 27 seconds left in a 21-13 game? Yeah!

Member when San Diego did blow a 24-point lead to Denver in 2012? I member! The Broncos had The Sheriff, and actually had a downfield passing game. Yeah! Now their new quarterback casually strolls into a 0-yard sack when he can run for a first down, or throws a Hail Mary short of the end zone.

Member when prime-time games were something to get excited about? It's been a while, but, yeah, I member.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 27
Game-winning drives: 32
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 57/92 (62.0 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 14

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


22 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2016, 7:06am

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

In the LA-DET game, I'm surprised you didn't mention that before Prater's field goal, the Lions had 4th and inches. I was screaming for them to go for it. It should be makeable with a QB sneak. The upside if you make it is that you can run down the clock to 1 second before kicking the game-winner. The downside if you don't is that it's still a tie game, and the Rams would still need to drive at least 35 yards or so to get into makeable FG range.

Instead, Caldwell opted for a lame hard-count to try to draw the Rams offside, which predictably failed (very similar to the 2014 Wilcard Game against Dallas). I don't know what your thoughts are, but I feel like if you have a chance to win the game on one play, why not take it? The way their defense was performing, I thought giving the ball back to LA with a chance to win/tie was a big risk. They got lucky that Keenum threw the pick on the next series.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Someone asked me about that on Twitter right after I finished this section. If Detroit was up 3, I'd love the call to go for it there because of the 3 vs. 6 thing, and yes, a QB sneak makes a lot of sense. But in a tied game, I think the field goal was the right call. Heads might roll if they went for it, were stopped, and that terrible pass D allowed Keenum to drive the Rams for the 31-28 win.

I think the argument to go for it gets much better with better field position. The Colts, with Jim Caldwell on the staff, did this to the Chiefs in 2007 in a 10-10 game. Manning did a QB sneak on fourth down, the Chiefs had to use their last timeout with 1:44 left, and the Colts took knees to set up Vinatieri's FG. But the Colts were also at the 3-yard line when they did the sneak, and it's not nearly as bad to put the defense on the field against an offense led by Brodie Croyle.

22 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Understand the field position argument, but there's also the counter-factor that never seems to be taken into account in such circumstances, which is the likelihood of making the field goal (because commentators LOVE to treat FG range as binary).

Had the Lions gone for it and made the 4th & 1, not only do they get to get bleed the clock, but they are also closer to the sticks, and then have the option of running extra plays to get even closer. In this scenario, the benefit of turning a 34 yarder (~91%?) into a 95+% kick against the risk of a turnover by running additional plays is probably negligible, so I can understand the decision to kick. But it certainly becomes more of a factor as the length of the field goal increases.

20 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I am uusually in favor of going for it on 4th down but I was less certain about what to do there, but the hard count stratagem was was a waste of a time-out (which they might have needed).

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Sorry guys but Stafford plays his 100th game this Sunday and already has 23 4qt or overtime comebacks. Check your info

16 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Each QB listed in the headers has a link to their PFR page (my data) that sorts that stuff out:

20 4QC, 23 GWD. It's not a comeback if you didn't trail. And I included playoffs for the games, hence it's 101 for Stafford. Sunday is his 100th regular-season game.

And some people on Twitter think I should exclude the games in that table for quarterbacks like Romo and Montana when they were FG holders/backups and didn't throw a pass. I can definitely see that argument. This stuff isn't always the easiest to come up with because of guys getting benched, or leaving the game early with injury, or coming off the bench late, or only taking a knee in the game, etc.

8 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

"Very few teams ever go 15-1 or 16-0 in a season, but among the six teams that have, none have lost more than six games in the following season. The 1985 49ers and 1999 Vikings both finished 10-6, but were still playoff teams. Carolina (1-5) can tie that losses mark in its next game, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game with Arizona in Week 8."

The '99 Vikings started 2-4, too, but made the QB change to Jeff George and won 8 of their last 10 to make the playoffs.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Both Seattle and Atlanta had one very bad drive in the second half. Seattle's was the one where Carroll inexplicably punted on 4th and 1 from Atlanta's 45. The resulting 97-yard TD drive (actually 99-yard drive considering the initial holding penalty) should've surprised no one. I don't understand why Seattle doesn't run QB sneaks in these situations. I know it failed once for them, but that's successful over 80% of the time.

Then for Atlanta, after three straight TD drives arrived at almost exclusively through passing, and after an initial 18-yard pass to start the next drive, they stalled the drive themselves with two straight short runs, leading to a sack on third down. Seattle was on their heels at that time, and Atlanta should've kept airing it out.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

While that is definitely PI on Sherman, the only reason Julio Jones was open is because Jones committed an illegal-use-of-the-hands penalty at the line of scrimmage.

Sherman almost never gets beat deep. During the game they showed several releases where Sherman's press was locking up Jones. If you watch Jones's release on this play, he went for broke, knowing he had little to lose, and swatted Sherman away to get free. No chance he gets away that clean without the head slap. Only defensive players at the line of scrimmage are allowed to slap an opponent's head and you do not see receivers doing this routinely. Without the slap, Sherman almost certainly would have been in position and not needed to interfere. This isn't some technicality away from the play. Just watch the play.

My post on reddit is probably what helped get this a little attention:

It's been picked up nationally:

If PI needs to be reviewed, then the whole play needs to be reviewed. Giving Atlanta the ball at spot would have been a travesty of justice.

13 Pass Interference Calls

There is definitely a need to address the pass interference penalty in the NFL, but reviewing the call via instant replay is not the answer. Sunday's game between the Falcons and Seahawks is a perfect example of why the NFL needs to change the pass interference call to a 15 yard penalty and not a spot foul. The Seahawks were given an opportunity to win the game when Julio Jones, a Pro Bowl receiver, dropped a catchable pass that was tipped in the air and intercepted. Therefore, the first reason pass interference should not be a spot foul is that there is no guarantee that the receiver is going to catch the ball. Also, if the penalty for pass interference was not so punitive, officials would not be hesitant to throw a flag in any situation. However, when a call can result in a 40 to 60 yard penalty, an experienced official is going to take that into consideration. In addition, watching slow motion replays and penalizing players is a slippery slope. What if we replayed significant downs and focused in on the offensive line, would we find holding more than 50% of the time? I feel as though we are constantly trying to take the physicality and emotion out of football. We are already to the point where commentators, fans, and even coaches whine for penalties on hits based on the force of the hit rather than the technique. Certain players are targeted for celebrations and emotional outbursts. We expect our heroes to play hurt, not with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, but fueled by their will and
their desire to win. Those are emotions, but they must be harnessed at the sound of a whistle and called upon in the huddle. That's not realistic. With the way the NFL is handling our beloved pastime, I feel like my sport is becoming like professional wrestling, it's almost not even football anymore. Sorry for my tangent.....

14 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

There are reasons to throw a Hail Mary short of the end zone.

I've also seen versions where the ball is thrown to the goal line, basically. The idea is that you can get your receivers in front of the DBs and screen, and make them go over the back to stop it. You can get DPI calls on Hail Marys in the NFL.

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

I like Cleveland's decision to go for two, so they'll know how many scores they need. There is no benefit in the end to prolonging a game without winning it.

21 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Absolutely. This really isn't debatable unless someone can offer evidence that waiting either increases the odds of converting the second attempt or it hastens the second touchdown, giving more time to get the now necessary third score. Arguments in favor of waiting don't provide this justification, though, and instead utilize a rather obvious false equivalence fallacy.