Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Clutch Encounters: Week 7
Clutch Encounters: Week 7
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

As the writer of the chapters on Pittsburgh, Seattle and Arizona for Football Outsiders Almanac 2016, I had circled Week 7 as a momentous occasion more than six months ago. With the Patriots coming to Pittsburgh and the NFC West rivals meeting for Round 1 in prime time, this was going to be an epic day for our top Super Bowl favorites.

So imagine my dismay when the day came and I got to watch Landry Jones start in place of Ben Roethlisberger, and another divisional game end in a flippin' tie. Sure, both games still ended up being entertaining in a car-crash sort of way, and they were two of the week's nine games with a comeback opportunity. But I definitely had higher expectations for the NFL product this week. I also expected the day to begin with Jared Goff starting for the Rams in London, and The Walking Dead only killing off one character instead of two, but October 23, 2016 clearly turned out to be nothing like I had expected back in April.

Game of the Week

Seattle Seahawks 6 at Arizona Cardinals 6

Seattle Type: 4QC/OTC
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (3-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (23-43-1 at 4QC and 31-48-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (15-18-1 at 4QC and 20-20-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Arizona Type: Failed GWD
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (13-10 at 4QC and 19-10-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (20-46 at 4QC and 31-46-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

There were 13 possessions in the fourth quarter and overtime, so let's go over each one to see how many opportunities these teams missed to secure a big victory.

Actually, I probably would have done that if this had been an afternoon game, but since this was Sunday Night Football, most people likely watched that long ending without that satisfaction of getting a winner and loser. I obviously do not like ties in football, but whether you agree or not, there are two things that should be highly agreeable about this 6-6 tie.

First, Arizona needed the win more given its 3-3 start to the season. The other is that Arizona was closer to getting the win than Seattle. The Cardinals squandered so many scoring chances in Seattle territory, and the special teams failed them again in mind-numbing fashion. Seattle's first game-tying field goal was set up after a blocked punt with 4:33 left. In overtime, Michael Floyd had a terrible drop on a third down at the 15-yard line, which only led to a 45-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro that did not end the game. Seattle's pass defense really cracked at some bad times in the final session, including a 40-yard gain by J.J. Nelson over Richard Sherman. However, the run defense made two incredible tackles of David Johnson at the 1-yard line after that play to keep the game going. You never expect a kicker to miss a 24-yard field goal, but Catanzaro doinked the left upright with 3:19 left. Seattle's strategy of leaping over the line to block these kicks might be getting into the head of some kickers.

Of course, even after Russell Wilson seemed to have solved the defense with two big completions to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin, kicker Steven Hauschka added to the game's lore by shanking a 28-yard field goal with seven seconds left. Carson Palmer's Hail Mary was not answered, and we were left with one of the more stunning ties on record.

I thought this would have been the perfect game to kick off first in overtime, or even attempt a surprise onside kick. Both offenses looked incapable of getting into the end zone, and after 75 minutes, that was proven to be correct. However, that decision by Arizona to go on offense first was a moot point in the end.

This is the fourth overtime tie in the 75th modified overtime game since 2012 (5.3 percent). Under the old system, only 3.6 percent of overtime games ended in a tie, so maybe the new system will lead to an extra tie or two over the years. The system is hardly broken, though. Kickers are usually the scapegoat for why ties exist in the NFL at all. Among the 21 ties in overtime history, 19 of them have featured at least one kicker missing a game-winning field goal.

NFL History: Overtime Ties and the Field Goals That Would Have Prevented Them
Home Road Year Date Result Kicker Team DIST Time Left Miss Type
ARI SEA 2016 10/23/2016 T 6-6 Chandler Catanzaro ARI 24 3:19 Left Upright
Steven Hauschka SEA 28 0:07 Wide Left
CIN CAR 2014 10/12/2014 T 37-37 Mike Nugent CIN 36 0:00 Wide Right
GB MIN 2013 11/24/2013 T 26-26 - - - - -
SF STL 2012 11/11/2012 T 24-24 David Akers SF 41 8:07 Wide Left
Greg Zuerlein STL 58 2:42 Wide Right
CIN PHI 2008 11/16/2008 T 13-13 Shayne Graham CIN 47 0:07 Wide Right
PIT ATL 2002 11/10/2002 T 34-34 Todd Peterson PIT 48 10:58 Blocked
Jay Feely ATL 56 0:01 Blocked
WAS NYG 1997 11/23/1997 T 7-7 Brad Daluiso NYG 54 3:18 Wide Left
Scott Blanton WAS 54 0:02 Short
BAL PHI 1997 11/16/1997 T 10-10 Matt Stover BAL 53 2:21 Wide Right
Chris Boniol PHI 40 0:00 Wide Left
CLE KC 1989 11/19/1989 T 10-10 Nick Lowery KC 47 0:03 Short
NYJ KC 1988 10/2/1988 T 17-17 Pat Leahy NYJ 44 5:09 Wide Right
GB DEN 1987 9/20/1987 T 17-17 Al Del Greco GB 47 10:58 Short
Rich Karlis DEN 40 0:09 Wide Left
Home Road Year Date Result Kicker Team DIST Time Left Miss Type
PHI STLC 1986 12/7/1986 T 10-10 Eric Schubert STLC 40 10:55 Blocked
Paul McFadden PHI 43 1:33 Wide Left
Eric Schubert STLC 37 0:05 Wide Right
ATL SF 1986 10/19/1986 T 10-10 - - - - -
DET PHI 1984 11/4/1984 T 23-23 Eddie Murray DET 21 10:16 Right Upright
STLC NYG 1983 10/24/1983 T 20-20 Neil O'Donoghue STLC 44 8:50 Wide Left
Neil O'Donoghue STLC 19 1:03 Wide Right
Neil O'Donoghue STLC 42 0:20 Wide Right
CLT GB 1982 12/19/1982 T 20-20 Dan Miller CLT 44 10:54 Blocked
Jan Stenerud GB 47 1:56 Wide Right
MIA NYJ 1981 10/4/1981 T 28-28 Pat Leahy NYJ 48 0:00 Wide Right
TB GB 1980 10/12/1980 T 14-14 Tom Birney GB 36 0:00 Wide Right
GB MIN 1978 11/26/1978 T 10-10 Rick Danmeier MIN 21 4:00 Wide Right
Chester Marcol GB 40 0:17 Wide Left
MIN LARM 1976 9/19/1976 T 10-10 Tom Dempsey LARM 30 7:55 Blocked
DEN PIT 1974 9/22/1974 T 35-35 Jim Turner DEN 41 3:13 Wide Right

This is the ninth tie in which both teams missed an overtime field goal, but none are going to be as memorable as the time the Cardinals and Seahawks missed two short ones on Sunday night.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

San Diego Chargers 33 at Atlanta Falcons 30

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (30-20)
Head Coach: Mike McCoy (9-19 at 4QC and 10-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (22-53 at 4QC and 26-57 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When the league's two highest-scoring teams meet, you probably want to bet on the better defense. But how many fans would correctly point out that San Diego has been a bit better than Atlanta in that area this season? The Chargers were 12th in DVOA coming into Week 7, while Atlanta was only 26th. San Diego has also added a significant talent in rookie Joey Bosa, who racked up two more sacks in his third game. After falling behind 27-10 in the second quarter, San Diego outscored Atlanta 23-3 the rest of the way. Yes, San Diego was always better than its 1-4 start suggested, while the Falcons still have some issues that have carried over from last season.

After not closing out the Seahawks last week, Atlanta struggled again in the fourth quarter. Bosa chased down Matt Ryan for a sack, and Devonta Freeman dropped a third-down pass that may have extended the drive in the red zone, or at least set up a good fourth-down opportunity. Matt Bryant's 31-yard field goal extended Atlanta's lead to 30-20, but 13:23 remained.

Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn came from Seattle, where he was the defensive coordinator in 2013-14. We have documented the blown leads for those Seahawks, but watching Philip Rivers eat up a soft zone defense at a time that was way too early to go into a prevent made me look into the Atlanta numbers. While Quinn started 5-0 at holding onto one-score leads in the fourth quarter, part of that was helped by Ryan's proficiency at leading game-winning drives. Twice the Falcons did surrender leads before Ryan got them back. However, the Falcons have allowed three fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives in their last 16 games alone -- the latter number would lead the league in most years. Atlanta in general has played 17 nail-biters in Quinn's 23-game tenure, but so far his task of improving the defense has not gone well.

Many times, Atlanta's offense has been its best defense in putting games away, but not in the last two weeks. While Julio Jones tipped a Ryan pass into an interception in Seattle last week, this time Ryan never saw linebacker Denzel Perryman drop into coverage when he threw a pick on first-and-20 with 3:32 left. San Diego nearly completed the comeback in regulation, but Robert Alford did a great job of tearing the ball away from Antonio Gates at the goal line with 22 seconds left. The Chargers had to settle for a 33-yard game-tying field goal.

Ryan had 18 seconds left from his own 25, but all three timeouts too. No quarterback has more experience at leading game-winning drives in the final seconds, and two quick completions to Jones for 35 yards at least gave Bryant a chance at a 58-yard field goal. This would have been the most fitting ending for the seasons these teams have had, but Bryant just hit the left upright with his kick. The Falcons won the coin toss and elected to receive first in overtime.

Overtime may have felt familiar for Atlanta fans. Ryan was stuffed on a third-and-1 quarterback sneak that was poorly executed. Ryan was 31-of-36 (86.1 percent) on short-yardage runs in his career coming into this season. With the ball at the Atlanta 45, was this the right spot to go for it? Win probability was not a fan of the call. I always say that the team going first in modified overtime needs to make it pay off by aggressively driving for the touchdown, but a new set of downs at midfield really does not seem like incentive enough to risk San Diego only needing one first down to win the game on a field goal.

In 2011, Quinn's predecessor Mike Smith infamously opted to go for a fourth-and-1 from his own 29 in overtime against the Saints. Michael Turner was stuffed, and the ensuing loss seemed to limit a lot of Smith's aggressiveness from that point forward. This may have been a case of déjà vu after Freeman was stuffed by Perryman. Rivers only needed one 11-yard completion to Gates, and the Chargers kept the rest of the drive on the ground. For a team with a shaky kicking unit, I did not like Rivers taking a dive on a first down to set up a 42-yard field goal for Josh Lambo, but unlike some kickers we know, he came through to give this game a winner.

Washington Redskins 17 at Detroit Lions 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (17-13)
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (19-24 at 4QC and 22-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (21-32 at 4QC and 24-32 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The first game-winning drive study I wrote for Football Outsiders was in 2013. At the time, Matthew Stafford only had nine game-winning drives, but in a sample of 22 quarterbacks, his drives came with the largest average deficit and the least time remaining in the game. Naturally, that meant the lowest expected win probability. An update would be nice, because Stafford has added 15 game-winning drives since, including four this season. In fact, Stafford is just the sixth quarterback since 1960 to lead at least four fourth-quarter comebacks in his team's first seven games.

Don't let the 20-17 final fool you -- this was one of the most offensive games of the season. The teams combined for 37 points on 17 possessions, including two missed field goals and a Washington fumble that inconspicuously squirted into the end zone. Kirk Cousins also botched a handoff in the third quarter in Detroit territory, which is part of the reason why Washington trailed 13-3 in the fourth quarter. But not every Washington blunder was taken advantage of. Detroit failed to intercept a dangerous pass Cousins threw into a crowd with 9:37 left. That drive ended with a touchdown, and following a Detroit punt, Cousins had the offense on the move again.

After getting into the red zone, Washington was in an odd spot, needing to find a balance between running some clock and still being aggressive to get the go-ahead touchdown. Detroit had all three timeouts left, but that became a moot point for the time being once Cousins faked out the defense on the read-option and ran for a 19-yard touchdown with 1:05 left. The Lions not tackling Cousins at the 1-yard line may have been the best outcome, since it saved time and timeouts.

Still, having to lead a 75-yard touchdown drive with 1:05 left is a difficult task, even with three timeouts remaining. However, Stafford has overcome longer odds before. His 80-yard drive to down the Cowboys in 2013 was one of 24 game-winning touchdown drives we have seen since 1981 in which a team only had the final 75 seconds to erase a deficit of at least four points.

Game-Winning Touchdown Drives in Last 75 Seconds, Down 4+ Points (Since 1981)
Date Team Quarterback Scorer Opp Down Final Start End Yards
11/22/1981 BUF Joe Ferguson Roland Hooks NE 17-13 W 20-17 0:35 0:05 73
9/19/1982 PHI Ron Jaworski Leroy Harris (RUN) at CLE 21-17 W 24-21 0:52 0:22 65
12/26/1982 SLC Neil Lomax Roy Green NYG 21-17 W 24-21 1:07 0:27 70
9/20/1987 SF Joe Montana Jerry Rice at CIN 26-20 W 27-26 0:02 0:00 25
11/11/1990 SEA Dave Krieg Paul Skansi at KC 16-10 W 17-16 0:48 0:00 66
11/3/1991 ATL Billy Joe Tolliver Michael Haynes SF 14-10 W 17-14 0:53 0:01 80
9/6/1992 CHI Jim Harbaugh Tom Waddle DET 24-20 W 27-24 1:05 0:01 74
9/20/1992 GB Brett Favre Kitrick Taylor CIN 23-17 W 24-23 1:07 0:13 92
8/31/1997 CIN Jeff Blake Carl Pickens ARI 21-16 W 24-21 1:10 0:38 63
9/8/1997 KC Elvis Grbac Andre Rison at OAK 27-22 W 28-27 0:58 0:03 80
11/22/1998 SD Craig Whelihan Charlie Jones KC 37-31 W 38-37 0:51 0:09 63
10/7/2001 ARI Jake Plummer MarTay Jenkins at PHI 20-14 W 21-20 1:09 0:09 74
12/8/2002 CLE Tim Couch Quincy Morgan at JAC 20-14 W 21-20 0:47 0:00 53
12/14/2008 SD Philip Rivers Vincent Jackson at KC 21-16 W 22-21 1:11 0:36 61
10/3/2010 BAL Joe Flacco T.J. Houshmandzadeh at PIT 14-10 W 17-14 1:08 0:32 40
11/21/2010 NYJ Mark Sanchez Santonio Holmes HOU 27-23 W 30-27 0:49 0:10 72
9/24/2012 SEA Russell Wilson Golden Tate GB 12-7 W 14-12 0:46 0:00 46
12/2/2012 IND Andrew Luck Donnie Avery at DET 33-28 W 35-33 1:07 0:00 75
10/13/2013 NE Tom Brady Kenbrell Thompkins NO 27-23 W 30-27 1:13 0:05 70
10/27/2013 DET Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford (RUN) DAL 30-24 W 31-30 1:02 0:12 80
12/8/2013 BAL Joe Flacco Marlon Brown MIN 26-22 W 29-26 0:45 0:04 80
12/8/2013 NE Tom Brady Danny Amendola CLE 26-21 W 27-26 1:00 0:31 40
9/28/2014 TB Mike Glennon Vincent Jackson at PIT 24-20 W 27-24 0:40 0:07 46
10/23/2016 DET Matthew Stafford Anquan Boldin WAS 17-13 W 20-17 1:05 0:16 75

Thanks to the timeouts, Stafford was able to attack the middle of the field, which Washington left pretty wide open. Stafford hit two passes for 43 yards and scrambled for 14 more on three plays that only consumed 34 seconds. With the ball at the Washington 18, only then did the Redskins decide to blitz. Stafford just missed on a touchdown to Golden Tate in the end zone, and then forced an incompletion under pressure. On third down, Washington sat back with a three-man rush, but Anquan Boldin beat Kendall Fuller in the slot for a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. Washington's only real hope was a deep ball and instant timeout, but Cousins overthrew DeSean Jackson. A failed lateral attempt ended the game.

This is the third time in his career that Stafford has led at least four game-winning drives in a season. The last two instances were playoff years (2011 and 2014) for Detroit. To get that far again, Detroit must turn things around on defense, or Stafford will have to keep excelling in these moments.

Indianapolis Colts 34 at Tennessee Titans 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (23-20)
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (10-12 at 4QC and 13-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (13-12 at 4QC and 17-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Welcome to our weekly edition of "Star Wars Numbers," where Andrew Luck has to bail out the Indianapolis defense by leading a game-winning drive. The Colts were road underdogs with four offensive starters out, but as long as Luck and T.Y. Hilton are active, the Colts will always have a chance. This team has not lost to the Titans with either Peyton Manning or Luck at quarterback since 2008. The Colts got off to another uncharacteristically strong start, leading 17-6, but Tennessee came back to tie the game early into the fourth quarter. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson had a rough moment on a third-and-19 when Rishard Matthews broke free of his tackle to convert for a first down. Tennessee took a 23-20 lead on a 48-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with 6:02 left.

Luck got the Colts' game-winning drive started with a good piece of luck when Wesley Woodyard tipped a pass right to tight end Jack Doyle for a 24-yard gain. Penalties were a big problem on the day, as the Colts were hit with 12 flags for 131 yards. An illegal shift by Frank Gore took away a 23-yard touchdown pass to Hilton, but the Colts moved back into the red zone after a nice 20-yard grab by newcomer Devin Street on third-and-13.

The Titans did a bizarre job of using timeouts. They took their first one after Gore rushed for a first down to the 3-yard line with 2:18 left. A second timeout was immediately used after a 1-yard run by Gore with 2:13 left. The Titans finally let the clock run to the two-minute warning after a run for no gain. After a false start brought up third-and-7, Luck fired a pass to Doyle in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Obviously, preventing the touchdown was big here for the Titans, but I would have preferred to use the timeouts after the two-minute warning in case the Colts tried something different that may have stopped the clock.

Either way, Tennessee was down to 1:55 and one timeout left in a 27-23 game. Marcus Mariota has not been too promising in these situations so far, and this game won't help his reputation. On the very first play of the drive, defensive tackle T.Y. McGill beat a double-team and knocked the ball right out of Mariota's hands. Robert Mathis was in the right position for the scoop and score, and the Colts led 34-23 with 1:47 left. The Titans added a quick field goal, but the onside kick went out of bounds to end the game.

Not all is well in Indianapolis, but at least this team is still reliable enough to beat the Titans.

Buffalo Bills 25 at Miami Dolphins 28

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Head Coach: Adam Gase (1-3 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (10-24 at 4QC and 12-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)

"You think you know, but you don't know, and you never will, OK?"

It is always good to quote retired coach Jim Mora from time to time. We tend to think that we know what is best for teams, but the NFL season is always throwing curveballs each week. The Bills looked like a dominant rushing team again this year, moving up to No. 2 in DVOA, but Rex Ryan may have fooled himself this time. Was LeSean McCoy going to play on an injured hamstring, or would the Bills turn things over to Mike Gillislee? The end result was 13 carries for 31 yards between the two backs. McCoy finished the game on the sideline after tweaking his hamstring, putting his status in question for Week 8's big showdown with New England. Tyrod Taylor was the team's leading rusher with 35 yards on Sunday. Good job, Bills.

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Meanwhile, the Dolphins had very little running game to speak of in Weeks 1-5. Jay Ajayi opened the season as a healthy scratch after having lost his starting job to a refurbished Arian Foster. Less than two months later, Foster has retired, while Ajayi has joined O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Ricky Williams as the only players in NFL history to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games. While head coach Adam Gase can cite "10 bad days" as the reason for Ajayi's slow start, if the Dolphins knew what they had here, why wait until Week 5 to start him?

An intact offensive line that features four first-round picks and veteran Jermon Bushrod certainly helps, but Ajayi has been incredible in the last two games. Ajayi kept the offense on schedule after Miami fell behind 17-6 in the third quarter. Down 17-14 in the fourth quarter, Ryan Tannehill made a big throw on the run to Jarvis Landry to convert a third-and-7 with an 18-yard gain. The running attack finished off the game-winning drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by backup Damien Williams. After a Buffalo three-and-out, Tannehill added an insurance score with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills to make it 28-17 with 2:24 left. Ronald Darby was beaten on the play, and collided with a teammate to leave an open field to the end zone for Stills.

Buffalo's offense was a huge disappointment in the fourth quarter. Taylor took a bad third-down sack by Ndamukong Suh that knocked the Bills out of field-goal range when they could have added to the 17-14 lead. An embarrassing Wildcat play sunk another drive when Gillislee lost 10 yards on first down. Down 21-17, Taylor hung a hospital ball in the air for Marquise Goodwin on third-and-10 that led to a concussion for an already limited receiving corps. The Bills were only able to score via a Reggie Bush touchdown and two-point conversion catch to make it 28-25 with 14 seconds left. However, the Dolphins recovered the onside kick to end the game.

New York Giants 17 vs. Los Angeles Rams 10 (London)

Type: GWD
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo (2-1 at 4QC and 4-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (29-47 at 4QC and 37-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Much like fumble recoveries, tipped passes bring a lot of randomness to NFL games, and they can also be very significant to the outcome. A pass tipped by Tavon Austin in the second quarter led to an incredible pick-six by Landon Collins, which erased what was once a 10-point lead for the Rams in London. In the fourth quarter, Case Keenum was off on a throw, which again was deflected right to Collins for an interception at the Los Angeles 35. On the very next play, Eli Manning threw a bad pass under pressure, but Mark Barron was unable to make the interception.

That was the type of break a struggling offense needed in a game like this 10-10 drag. Two plays later, Manning found Odell Beckham Jr. for a great 22-yard grab down to the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Rashad Jennings scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown to take a 17-10 lead with 9:23 left.

Keenum had a whopping 13 failed completions on the day, but did convert three third downs to move the Rams to the New York 37 with 4:16 left. After badly missing on one deep throw, Keenum went deep again for the end zone, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came away with the interception. The defense provided one final drive for the offense, and Keenum drove the Rams to the 15-yard line in the final minute. From there, his timing was off with his young receivers. On a third-and-10, Brian Quick ran a little hitch, while Keenum threw a rainbow for the end zone on one of the worst cases of miscommunication you'll ever see. Rodgers-Cromartie could have made this an all-time classic play if he had signaled for a fair catch.

That was Keenum's fourth interception of the game, and the third loss in a row in which he had crucial interceptions in crunch time. The Rams have several problems beyond just quarterback, but wasn't the whole point of moving up for Jared Goff in the draft to fix that position? Keenum is dead last in QBR (42.2), Todd Gurley is next to last in yards per carry (3.0), and Tavon Austin is taking a run at the least valuable receiving season on record. How much worse can this offense get with a quarterback change?

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Patriots at Steelers: Chess vs. Checkers

From the final paragraph in our Pittsburgh essay in Football Outsiders Almanac 2016 (still available here):

But no game is bigger than hosting the Patriots in the national late-afternoon slot for Week 7. A Pittsburgh win could go a long way in securing home-field advantage, as well as removing a mental roadblock. But even the benefits of a win against New England could be thrown away with unexpected losses to losing teams. It may be asking a lot for the Steelers to stay healthy, be logically aggressive, and approach each game with the proper level of importance, but that really is what stands between this team and another trip to the Super Bowl.

Between last week's terrible performance in Miami and Ben Roethlisberger's torn meniscus, the Steelers have been straying from a Super Bowl path. The AFC's Game of the Year was not all it could have been. With Landry Jones at quarterback and Cameron Heyward out on defense, the Steelers were hoping to not get embarrassed at home against a team that has dominated far better versions in the past. For the most part, Pittsburgh did put up a good fight after an early 14-0 deficit, but some familiar problems showed up again in the fourth quarter.

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In some ways, the Steelers were trying to do the unthinkable: upset New England with Jones throwing to Cobi Hamilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey on crucial downs. With Antonio Brown gimpy on the sideline, and Markus Wheaton (inactive) and Sammie Coates (left early after just one target) largely unavailable, Hamilton and Heyward-Bey were really the only options left at wide receiver. While Brown returned at the start of the fourth quarter, Jones was unable to find him after a fake screen attempt on third-and-10. The Steelers settled for a 44-yard field goal, which was fine, as it made the score 20-16 with 14:44 to play.

Pittsburgh was very laid back in its defensive approach against Tom Brady, who picked apart the middle of the Pittsburgh defense and rarely threw anything deeper than 13 yards down the field. The Steelers blitzed one time in the game, but it just so happened to lead to the biggest gain of the day for New England. Brady used play-action, and after a blitz that was more of an accident than a plan, he found Rob Gronkowski in single coverage with Robert Golden for an easy 37-yard gain. That led to a second touchdown for LeGarrette Blount, who had a big rushing day (127 yards), and New England led 27-16.

The Steelers caught a break when Julian Edelman fumbled on a punt and long snapper Greg Warren recovered the ball. But this was where Mike Tomlin added to his reputation for inconsistent aggression. Needing about two-and-a-half yards on fourth down, Tomlin hesitantly sent in the field-goal unit with 9:05 left. Chris Boswell shanked a 54-yard field goal, but why was he ever out there in the first place? Tomlin defended his decision after the game. "He made a similar kick over a year ago right there in that same spot and the same field when we tried him out, and the weather conditions were worse than they were tonight," Tomlin said. "We were down there and had an opportunity to make it one-score game, I took that chance."

First, Boswell has never made a field goal longer than 51 yards. Second, 50-plus-yard kicks at Heinz Field are historically difficult -- kickers were 8-for-28 (28.6 percent) when we last checked a season ago. Nothing in Tomlin's answer acknowledged the time remaining or the difficulty of playing a team like the Patriots, and how touchdowns are a necessity. With the way Le'Veon Bell was picking up yardage, it was nuts to try that long field goal, but this is the type of decision-making Tomlin has become famous for, especially when matching wits with someone like Bill Belichick. While Tomlin will go for a two-point conversion or a fake punt in the first quarter, he tends to lose that aggressive edge when it is needed most.

Pittsburgh never got closer in the final nine minutes than that golden fourth-down opportunity. In fact, the remainder of the game saw the Steelers waste a timeout for the third time, and a punt on fourth-and-13 with 5:29 left, still down two scores. While a rematch in the playoffs could certainly be different with Roethlisberger back, that game would now likely be played in New England, where the Steelers have been even more outmatched against the Patriots. Wherever a rematch happens, Pittsburgh still has to deal with the coaching matchup that looks like one guy playing chess, and the other not wanting to move past checkers.

Saints at Chiefs: A Better March, A Familiar Outcome

Reputations are often built quickly in the NFL, and once established, they can be hard to shake. New Orleans has developed a reputation for being untrustworthy away from the Superdome, especially the record-setting offense from the arm of Drew Brees and mind of Sean Payton. This is despite the fact that the Saints had the NFL's best road record (18-8) in 2009-2011.

Since 2012, that record has dipped to 15-22, but there is also a strong national perception at work here. We have grown accustomed to watching Brees have these special performances at home in prime time over and over. So when his offense has a difficult night on a big stage like it did in Denver (2012) and Seattle (2013), this creates a perception of disparity in performance. When the Saints really struggled a year ago in Philadelphia (39-17 loss), Washington (47-14 loss) and Houston (24-6 loss), then that just reinforced this reputation.

Such expectations certainly followed New Orleans on a tough road trip to Arrowhead on Sunday. When the Chiefs took a 21-7 lead halfway through the second quarter, this could have been another road slaughtering. The defense allowed two long touchdowns on a screen pass and a rare Alex Smith deep ball, and Brees had some bad luck on a tipped pass for a pick-six.

However, the Saints did toughen up the rest of the way, and gave themselves a shot at another big fourth-quarter comeback against an AFC West opponent this season. Brees was mostly on point in his record 100th regular-season game with 300-plus passing yards, but he did not always get the necessary help. Down 24-14, running back Mark Ingram had a crucial fumble at the Kansas City 7 with 8:26 left. Brees was able to lead an 80-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, including a great touchdown throw to Brandon Coleman after extending the play, but only 2:33 remained. With one timeout left, the Saints were right to try the onside kick, but that went out of bounds.

The New Orleans defense was actually in a good position to get Brees the ball back with nearly two minutes left in a 24-21 game. But this wouldn't be the New Orleans defense without some type of calamity. Kansas City rookie Tyreek Hill made the big mistake of going out of bounds on an end-around that would have brought up third-and-8 with 2:18 left. However, Nick Fairley decided to throw Spencer Ware down on the other side of the field away from the action.

That penalty for unnecessary roughness led to a 41-yard field goal by the Chiefs, and Brees got the ball back with only 28 seconds left, down 27-21. Brees completed a pass to Michael Thomas, who could have gotten out of bounds with a few seconds remaining for a Hail Mary attempt, but the rookie was tackled in bounds to end the game.

For Brees, this marked the 16th time in his career that he lost a game after throwing for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns. The only other quarterbacks in double digits are Dan Marino (14) and Peyton Manning (10). That is also a good way to earn a reputation for being a quarterback who did not get enough team support in his career.

Ravens at Jets: Whom Else Can They Fire or Bench?

While the one-win Jets can steal headlines with a quarterback change, the real story here was another Baltimore season derailing with close losses and injuries after a 3-0 start. The Ravens had another impressive inactive list with seven starters out on Sunday. While all of the attention was for Geno Smith replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, Fitzpatrick had to replace an injured Smith (torn ACL) in the second quarter. Still, both New York passers did something an ailing Joe Flacco could not: lead touchdown drives. Baltimore's only touchdown came in the first quarter when New York punter Lac Edwards embarrassed himself with a botched punt that he was unable to recover. New York erased an early 10-0 hole and led 24-16 to start the fourth quarter.

The Jets were unable to add to that lead, and the Baltimore offense had four cracks in the fourth quarter at tying the game. Despite firing offensive coordinator Marc Trestman two weeks ago, Baltimore's offense has not seen any improvements. Flacco had at least 10 failed completions for the fourth game in a row, and threw two interceptions in the third quarter that set up New York's go-ahead scores. The running game was totally shut down against New York's front seven, gaining 10 yards on 10 carries. The Jets continued to blitz Flacco and his accuracy was off. Flacco's fourth-quarter success rate was 3-of-16.

Nick Folk's 51-yard field goal was blocked with 3:04 left, giving the Ravens one final shot from 70 yards away at tying the game. After driving to the New York 44, Flacco's last three passes fell incomplete. On fourth-and-8, Flacco threw deep for rookie Chris Moore, but cornerback Marcus Williams knocked the ball away to secure a fourth-straight loss for the Ravens. A whopping 24 of the last 26 Baltimore games (including playoffs) have been close late, but the Ravens are just 10-14 in those contests.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 31 (and one tie)
Game-winning drives: 37
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 66/107 (61.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 18

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


6 comments, Last at 26 Oct 2016, 10:31am

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

"Don't let the 20-17 final fool you -- this was one of the most offensive games of the season"

Certainly fans of well-played football were offended.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Scott - you know my regular complaint about how the modified OT system hasn't really changed any results but ...

Am I right in thinking this is the 2nd game to actually have a different outcome? In the old days Arizona would have won the game 6-3 due to that first possession make.

Plus have there been fewer OT games this year than compared to other years?

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Well this is the 15th time a team has started modified OT with a FG. In response, nine teams turned the ball over via downs or giveaway, one missed a field goal (oh, it was Josh Brown too), and five extended the game with a tying field goal. Houston still beat the Jaguars with a TD in 2012 (43-37 game), but the other four games had a different outcome than they would have under the old system.

2013 GB-MIN - Packers win instead of tie
2014 CIN-CAR - Bengals win instead of tie
2015 IND-CAR - Colts win instead of lose
2016 SEA-ARI - Cardinals win instead of tie

So the Panthers have gotten the most out of this so far by avoiding two losses.

Overtime games thru Week 7
2012 - 9
2013 - 4
2014 - 6
2015 - 9
2016 - 5

Not really down.

6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

Thanks for the reply Scott and the update on the numbers.

I guess before this week there'd only been 3 OT games which is why I felt they were down. Looking in the R&F there seems to be quite a large variance across the years.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 7

here's a game more suited to Tomlin's acumen

The standard is the standard!

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