Clutch Encounters
A look at Sunday's fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drive opportunities

Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Clutch Encounters: Week 8
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

There were only 13 games in Week 8, but it was a good display with four double-digit comeback wins, as well as a tie for the second week in a row. We had some quarterbacks make their MVP cases, as well as a record number of penalties for one team. One thing we did not have for the first time this season was a game-winning drive opportunity for Andrew Luck and the Colts, who fell decisively (30-14) to the Chiefs at home.

We also still have yet to see a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity from Minnesota, which comfortably started 5-0, but has played poorly in two losses since its bye week. The Vikings are the only offense without an attempt yet, and Monday night's 20-10 loss in Chicago was arguably not even as close as the final score suggests.

One thing we will hopefully never have to see again this season: the Bears in prime time. After four prime-time games in eight weeks, the Bears look to be hibernating in the depths of the 1 p.m. slate for the rest of the year.

Game of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Dallas Cowboys 29

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (23-13)
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (21-30 at 4QC and 26-32 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (2-1 at 4QC and 2-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

We have talked about so many of the prime-time games being poorly scheduled this season, but for a change, the NFL's love for the NFC East paid off with the game of the week on Sunday night between the Eagles and Cowboys. These two teams have gotten off to surprisingly good starts with rookie quarterbacks who were not even expected to contribute coming into training camp this year.

Dak Prescott first turned heads with an incredible preseason performance, and was given the reins after a serious Tony Romo injury. Carson Wentz was injured in his preseason debut, but took the starting job after the Eagles shipped Sam Bradford to Minnesota in light of the Teddy Bridgewater injury. While Prescott started slowly before getting better, Wentz caught attention for the Eagles' hot 3-0 start, but then cooled down considerably after the bye week. Prescott has been very high in numerous advanced passing metrics this season, while Wentz's numbers have fallen off.

On Sunday night, both quarterbacks looked like rookies who were going through the typical growing pains of the position. Both players have also been given some "training wheels" treatment from their teams this season, but things went in opposite directions here. Prescott looked more like a gunslinger, averaging a season-high 9.9 air yards per pass attempt (his season average was 7.6). While Prescott has been excelling with the likes of Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, he welcomed the return of Dez Bryant. Bryant had nine targets that were thrown at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, connecting on four of them for 113 yards and a touchdown. But gunslinging also brings risk of sloppiness, and Prescott may have had more poor plays in this game than he has had all season. His red zone interception just before halftime turned the game heavily in Philadelphia's favor, forcing Prescott to lead a 10-point comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Wentz may have taken the conservative passing game to a new level. Wentz finished 202 passing yards, the fewest in a game with more than 30 completions since 1940. Wentz's average pass traveled just 3.9 yards past the line of scrimmage (his season average was 7.5), and not a single one of his 43 attempts traveled more than 16 yards down the field. His passing chart looked more like a graph of sine and cosine than a normal NFL passing chart. Wentz's 6.83 air yards per pass attempt are the lowest in the league this season.

With Philadelphia leading 23-13 in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had to battle between leaning on Prescott and still running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott. While it may have appeared that Dallas got away from Elliott in the second half, the truth is that the Eagles were shutting the run down. Elliott's first seven carries of the half: minus-1, minus-6, 1, 16, 2, 0, and 4 yards. That's one successful play out of seven. Darren Sproles was just as effective for the Eagles as Elliott was at one point in the game.

So the run was getting stuffed, Prescott was pressing, and Dallas resorted to some trickery, including a fake punt in the third quarter that led to a field goal. But with 13:21 left in the game, Dallas missed a huge opportunity when Beasley overshot Williams on a third-and-15 on a brilliantly designed throwback pass. However, the disappointment of that miss quickly subsided after Wendell Smallwood fumbled on the next play from scrimmage. While Dallas only turned that into a field goal to make it 23-16, that fumble was another big turning point in this game.

The next mistake has drawn criticism of Eagles coach Doug Pederson. First, the Eagles opted for a swing pass to Sproles on third-and-8, but Sean Lee buried that play for a 6-yard loss. Instead of trying a 54-yard field goal to take a 26-16 lead with about 6:30 left, Pederson punted and played for field position instead. When you have a reasonable shot to take a two-score lead this late in the game, you take it. Playing the field position battle there is nutty.

Prescott still had to drive the offense 90 yards, but he finally started making better throws. However, pressure makes a gunslinger do crazy things, and at the Philadelphia 22 with 3:19 left, Prescott almost threw the game away. In an effort to avoid a sack, Prescott forced a very dangerous pass that Leodis McKelvin almost intercepted. Depending on your perspective, this game can be rewarding or cruel, because Prescott took his second chance and immediately threw a 22-yard game-tying touchdown to Bryant on the next play.

With the game tied the rest of the way, Wentz continued to load up on the failed completions (14 in all, tied for third most in a game since 1989) in the short, horizontal passing game. Wentz later took two sacks, and it was a miracle that he did not fumble inside his own 10-yard line after getting taken down from behind.

Regulation did not end without another Pederson blunder. He had all three timeouts remaining, but refused to call a single one with Dallas facing third-and-21 following a sack. A solid 29 seconds were wasted there, which would have been enough time for the Eagles to set up a game-winning field goal. I guess this is what Philadelphia was bound to get by hiring an Andy Reid disciple.

In overtime, Dallas won the toss and received first. Prescott was on point, and picked up a fourth-and-1 with the quarterback sneak at the Philadelphia 28. That was a great call, and almost a must if you take the ball first and try to win with a touchdown. Elliott was a factor again and moved the ball to the 4-yard line. On second-and-goal, Prescott showed off his mobility and twirled around to fire a game-winning touchdown to Jason Witten, who was wide open after two safeties collided into each other.

While we could see Romo in the Week 17 rematch, this will always be the first meeting of what is expected to be many between Prescott and Wentz. The first round went to the risk-taking quarterback who was drafted in the fourth round. Time will only tell if Prescott keeps this starting job. Could Romo have spun around and fired a game-winning touchdown to Witten in overtime? Absolutely, but the more Dallas continues to win in what now looks like a winnable NFC (yes, the whole conference), the harder it will be to change the quarterback.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Green Bay Packers 32 at Atlanta Falcons 33

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (32-26)
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (5-6 at 4QC and 7-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (25-33 at 4QC and 34-35 overall 4QC/GWD record)

There have been 493 combined points scored in Atlanta's games this season, the sixth most in NFL history for a team's first eight games. While the Falcons have the highest-scoring offense in the league, they have also allowed at least 26 points to every team but Denver, which scored 16 in rookie Paxton Lynch's first start. Even though there has been a ton of attention on the year-long struggles of Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's offense, he can still tear up a poor defense, even with key players out. The Packers put on a valiant shorthanded effort, but in the end, the team with the quarterback who usually comes out on top in these contests since 2008 beat the team with the quarterback who usually comes out on the losing end in that same time.

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Every point mattered in the second 33-32 final in NFL history. So it was a surprise to see Atlanta settle for an extra point and 26-24 lead late in the third quarter after earlier failing on a two-point conversion before halftime, when the Packers led 21-19. Did Dan Quinn's controversial decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime in last week's San Diego loss enter into the thought process here? I find it hard to believe that a team would only prepare one two-point conversion play for that week's opponent. At a bare minimum, every offense should have at least one run and one pass prepared. Atlanta's pass never really materialized, and Matt Ryan was taken down on a failed scramble. There had to be something better planned than that.

Regardless of why the Falcons were content with a 26-24 lead, the Packers were thinking about the end zone in the fourth quarter. Rodgers engineered a very diverse drive that frustrated Atlanta's man coverage. He threw a few screens, but he also bought time and scrambled three times for 26 yards. On a crucial third down, he picked up the pace and caught the Falcons with 12 defenders on the field for a new set of downs. On a third-and-4, Rodgers drifted in the pocket and fired a bullet to Jeff Janis in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:58 left. Mike McCarthy was right to go for two to make it 32-26, since extra points are not as much of a sure thing anymore, and I would trust Matt Bryant before I trusted Mason Crosby. Green Bay almost always passes on these two-point conversions, but the Packers changed things up with a little zone-read keeper by Rodgers for the score.

Ryan needed to lead a 75-yard touchdown drive, and Julio Jones was ailing again. No worries, because Mohamed Sanu transformed into Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII and took the game over, with five catches for 50 yards on the drive. Ryan's only target to Jones was a dangerous one after the All-Pro receiver nearly tipped the ball to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for an interception. After a third-down conversion at the Green Bay 11, McCarthy could have used one of his two timeouts to conserver time for an answer score, but the clock ticked down to 36 seconds before the Falcons ran their first-down play. This basically put everything on getting the stop for Green Bay, but Ryan immediately hooked up with Sanu for the touchdown. While the Packers have been down their best cornerbacks, defensive coordinator Dom Capers needed to at least put a corner on a hot Sanu instead of watching him blow past linebacker Jake Ryan in the slot for a wide-open catch in the end zone. Bryant made the extra point and the Falcons led 33-32 with 31 seconds left.

At the end of the first half, Rodgers had 27 seconds and two timeouts left, and engineered a quick field goal drive (he even moved 44 yards into field goal range in 18 seconds), so we know these drives are doable when timeouts are on the board. But everything went haywire here on second down once Rodgers overshot Jordy Nelson at the 50. Nelson was shaken up on the play, and that cost the Packers an injury timeout with 20 seconds left. Rodgers scrambled on third down, but watched C.J. Goodwin drop a game-ending interception. On a final fourth-down chance, Rodgers' pass was out of reach of Davante Adams to seal the game for Atlanta.

This was a fairly typical game for Atlanta, relying on Ryan to close things in the end. His 25th fourth-quarter comeback win ties him with Johnny Unitas and Eli Manning for the most in a player's first 10 seasons. Of course, Ryan is only halfway into his ninth season. For Green Bay, this was a classic loss in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. The offense was efficient and productive, but Capers' defense fell apart late and the offense was unable to save the day.

This goes down as the ninth lost comeback for Rodgers, fourth-most among active players. This probably beats the last year of ugly Green Bay losses, but it is a loss nonetheless.

Oakland Raiders 30 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (24-17)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (26-51 at 4QC and 36-51 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (8-14 at 4QC and 8-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

From a purely statistical standpoint, this was one of the NFL's most interesting games since this website has existed. Oakland set a record it so truly deserves with 23 penalties in a single game. This was Oakland's 19th game with at least 15 penalties since the 1970 merger. The next closest team, Buffalo, has nine such games. Oakland's 200 penalty yards rank third all-time as well. Oakland outgained Tampa Bay by 356 yards (626-270) -- something not seen in an overtime game since the Eagles outgained Seattle by 379 yards (466-87) in 1992. Of course, that game, much like this one, saw a ton of penalties -- the Eagles were hit with 191 penalty yards, the fourth-highest total in NFL history.

The Raiders were bad hombres again on Sunday, and Derek Carr set franchise records with 513 yards on 40-of-59 passing. Carr quietly made some FO history with 16 failed completions, the most of any of the 14,094 offensive performances in the NFL since 1989. The previous record holder was Peyton Manning's 15 failed completions in the 2014 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Colts. Carr leads all 2016 quarterbacks with 69 failed completions, but this record-setting game was not nearly as bad as it sounds, though that does help explain why the game was such a struggle. Four of the plays came in the overtime period, and after all, Carr did have 40 completions on the day, so he was going to accumulate some unsuccessful gains.

The barrage of penalties really was the story, as it helped extend the game into nearly another tie, and explains a lot of the differential in yardage and why Carr had as many failed completions as he did. We know Oakland eventually won the game with a fourth-down pass when Seth Roberts broke a tackle and raced 41 yards for a touchdown with 1:45 left, but the Raiders could have won the game much sooner.

Amari Cooper dropped a pass inside the 20-yard line at the end of regulation, which would have set up Sebastian Janikowski for a shorter field goal. Janikowski ended up missing a 50-yard kick as time expired to send the game into overtime. On the first possession, Cooper was penalized for a blow to the head to move the Raiders back, then the offense executed an inexplicable screen pass on third-and-21 that failed to gain any yards, leaving Janikowski out to dry on a 52-yard field goal that he also missed. Later, a 41-yard gain to Michael Crabtree over Brent Grimes was wiped out by a Donald Penn holding penalty, which would have just added to the list of Grimes' late-game miseries. Let's thank Bradley McDougald and Jude Adjei-Barimah for missing the tackle on Roberts' game-winning touchdown to avoid a third tie in the last two weeks.

For all of Oakland's miscues, did Tampa Bay ever really have a good chance to win the game? Rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo missed a game-tying extra point with 14:55 left, but that became a moot point with the offense's two-point conversion later. Tampa Bay's go-ahead drive to take a 24-17 lead was actually the point at which Oakland's penalties seemed most likely to doom them. Four Oakland penalties led to first downs for Tampa Bay on the drive, including three on third down, of which two were for having 12 men on the field.

But for all of Oakland's record-setting penalties, one call on Tampa Bay may have been the costliest of them all. Down 24-17, Oakland faced a fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 5 with 1:49 left. Carr badly missed Crabtree in the end zone, but Adjei-Barimah was flagged for a pretty soft holding penalty that was inconsequential to the play. That helped Oakland tie the game, and Tampa Bay's offense went three-and-out three times the rest of the way. Overtime may have been a pipe dream if that had been a turnover on downs instead.

The Raiders have been living on the edge like that all season, including a controversial fourth-down penalty for pass interference in New Orleans in Week 1, and a near interception by Baltimore's Eric Weddle before Carr threw a game-winning touchdown pass in Week 4. Oakland has built its 6-2 record on close road wins over non-winning teams and two bad home losses to contenders like Atlanta and Kansas City. For this team to not be another 2003 Vikings or 2009 Broncos, they could really use an impressive showing in an ultra-rare Sunday night game in Oakland against Denver this week.

Seattle Seahawks 20 at New Orleans Saints 25

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Head Coach: Sean Payton (22-39 at 4QC and 31-42 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (28-53 at 4QC and 42-60 overall 4QC/GWD record)

In a fast-moving game with nine possessions for each offense, the Saints got the better of Seattle in the second half. Two plays into the fourth quarter, Tim Hightower picked up 28 yards on a toss after breaking a tackle. Seattle had only allowed one run longer than 18 yards all season before this, but the absences of Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor did not help. Of course, the officials did not help much either when they allowed blatant offensive pass interference on third-and-goal on what became the game-winning touchdown pass. Look, I said Seattle got away with defensive pass interference against Julio Jones in a Week 6 win, so some might say officiating has evened out in Seattle's case. But on such crucial plays, I think the officials need to be better at their jobs, and make the correct calls based on the guidelines of the rules regardless of the situation. I will continue to point out when they fail the most at doing so, just as I would when a player or coach makes a costly error.

Drew Brees' 2-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks gave the Saints a 22-17 lead, but a shovel pass to Coby Fleener failed to break the plane on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt. Seattle then drove to the 3-yard line, but faced fourth down. I thought Pete Carroll should have gone for the touchdown with 6:41 left. The chances of converting against a bad New Orleans defense, the incentive of taking a potential 25-22 lead, and the respect for a Brees-led offense that scored on its final six drives would have made this a justifiable decision. Of course, the field goal was defensible too, since the thought was to get a stop and then win the game with a field goal, but things did not work out as such. Brees led the Saints to another field goal to make it 25-20.

Russell Wilson has not thrown a touchdown pass in his last three games. In fact, his 2.1 touchdown rate is the second lowest in the NFL this season (Joe Flacco is last at 1.6 percent), which is another sign that not all is well with him physically this year. But he only needed one 68-yard touchdown drive here against a defense not known for much resistance.

The drive was not an efficient usage of time, but Doug Baldwin broke free on a slant and the Seahawks were 18 yards away from the win with 16 seconds left. A short pass over the middle was risky, but Wilson got the spike off with two seconds to set up a final play from the 10-yard line. Rarely do we see a game end on the final play like this with the offense in the red zone, touchdown or bust. Seattle kept its running back in to block the Saints' six-man blitz while four receivers ran routes into the end zone. Wilson identified the right matchup, Jermaine Kearse in single coverage with B.W. Webb, but the pass sailed and Kearse was not able to get both feet in bounds with the catch. Given that the Seahawks had a defensive touchdown in the game, 13 offensive points against New Orleans is a huge disappointment.

Clutch Encounters of the Tying Kind

Cincinnati Bengals 27 vs. Washington Redskins 27 (London)

Cincinnati Type: 4QC (tie)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (24-20)
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (29-64-2 at 4QC and 40-64-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (12-20-2 at 4QC and 17-20-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Washington Type: 4QC (tie)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (27-24)
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (5-12-1 at 4QC and 8-12-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (5-11-1 at 4QC and 6-11-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

I was hoping for more than a week to go by before the NFL had its next tie, but 25 possessions were not enough to determine a winner between the Bengals and Redskins in London. Just as we demonstrated in last week's tying encounter, a kicker was largely at fault again. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a 34-yard field goal with 2:09 left in overtime. Twenty of the 22 overtime ties in NFL history have seen at least one kicker miss a game-winning field goal in overtime. This was a bad all-around day for the kickers, with three missed field goals and a missed extra point. Hopkins has made 43 of his first 50 field goals, but this miss will hang around with him for a while as Washington (4-3-1) really could have used the full win in the competitive NFC East.

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A little more than just the Hopkins miss makes me believe Washington deserved the win more than Cincinnati. This was really a back-and-forth offensive affair, but Andy Dalton threw a terrible interception under pressure to start the fourth quarter when the Bengals could have added on to a 20-17 lead. Jamison Crowder then got disgustingly wide open on a blown coverage for a 33-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins. Cincinnati did answer right away after A.J. Green beat Josh Norman for a 40-yard bomb that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill with 6:54 left. So both quarterbacks led go-ahead touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but there would be no winner this time.

Two Dalton misfires to Green conserved plenty of time (3:15) for Washington to tie the game again. Cousins' great 20-yard completion to Crowder on third-and-13 was a game-saving play. However, after reaching the Cincinnati 22, Cousins threw three incompletions (two throwaways) as the defense did its job. Hopkins' 40-yard field goal tied the game at 27 with 1:07 left, but little did we know this would be the end of the scoring in London. Green almost caught another deep pass that could have set up a winning field goal in regulation, but safety Duke Ihenacho did a great job of knocking the ball away to force overtime.

After a Washington punt, Dalton had the Bengals at the opponent 40, but Ryan Kerrigan came through with a big sack to force a punt. From there, the Redskins marched down to the Cincinnati 13, but Jay Gruden made the curious decision to have Cousins take a 3-yard loss on a dive to center the football. Still, a 34-yard field goal should be makeable for any NFL kicker, and Hopkins even booted a practice kick through after Marvin Lewis iced the kicker. The fact that Hopkins shanked the real kick wide left means that icing the kicker is never going away from this game.

While a tie was starting to feel inevitable, the Bengals had a great opportunity on a third-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:11 left. Dalton tried the fabled quarterback sneak, but he shockingly fumbled the ball. On the 656 quarterback sneaks that I have charted for our short-yardage studies, only 11 times did the quarterback fumble (1.7 percent), and one of those was a play where the snap never actually got to the quarterback.

But once Pierre Garcon picked up a soft flag for offensive pass interference, the tie was almost a certainty. Cousins played things very safe, throwing two of his last four passes out of bounds, including the half-hearted "Hail Mary" attempt to end the game. Should Washington have tried something different? Gruden could have called his last timeout before fourth down with about 10 seconds left to try getting a completion out of bounds to set up a winning field goal. If the offense failed, then the Bengals would only be left with a highly improbable Hail Mary attempt on their own side of the field. I would have tried to gain 11 yards to set up a 55-yard field goal before trying to get a 48-yard Hail Mary, but Gruden seemed content with the tie.

Lewis now has three ties on his resume, tying him with Bart Starr (yes, when he was the Packers coach) for the most in the overtime era. Dalton joins Neil Lomax and Steve DeBerg as the only three quarterbacks to have multiple fourth-quarter comebacks that ended in a tie since 1974. Let's hope we can put the tie stats away for the rest of the season now.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Lions at Texans: The Opponent Adjustment

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford had about as much hope as Keyser Söze at winning this year's MVP award, but you have to understand why he was a leading front-runner coming into Week 8. The pool of legitimate candidates has not been deep. The award almost always goes to a quarterback on a team with double-digit wins. In this strange season, a lot of the best quarterback performances are coming from players who are trying to keep their team's terrible defense afloat. This includes Stafford, Matt Ryan (Falcons), Andrew Luck (Colts), Drew Brees (Saints), and Derek Carr (Raiders). Meanwhile, the best defensive teams are mostly led by quarterbacks who are either not playing that well, or do not have a track record of success. This includes Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Trevor Siemian (Broncos), and Sam Bradford (Vikings). Similar things can be said about Carson Palmer (Cardinals) and Carson Wentz (Eagles).

Without J.J. Watt, Houston is more in the second tier of top defenses, but Brock Osweiler has been one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks. However, he could at least point to a brutal road schedule this season with ugly losses at New England, Minnesota, and Denver. When he got a chance to play Detroit's bottom-ranked pass defense at home, it was no surprise to see Osweiler perk up, at least for a half when the Texans built a 14-0 lead.

For Detroit to get a fifth win, Stafford was going to have to lead a fifth fourth-quarter comeback in 2016. He cut Houston's lead in half to 17-10 after a little 1-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick on a pick play with 14:50 left. But when Stafford got the ball back, the dink-and-dunk offense that has served him well this year failed miserably. Houston snuffed out two receiver screens that led to a second-and-21 after an illegal block penalty. Stafford checked down on third-and-18, and Detroit went three-and-out. While 10:14 remained, Houston's running game finally came alive on a drive that led to a field goal and 20-10 lead with 4:09 left. Detroit quickly added a field goal to make it 20-13, but made the curious decision to try an onside kick with 2:53 and four clock stoppages left. Houston recovered, and then iced the game with four strong runs by Lamar Miller. After only rushing for 36 yards earlier in the game, the Texans finished with 72 rushing yards on their last two drives alone to deny another Stafford comeback.

And like that, Stafford is likely gone from the MVP discussion this season, as only improbable comebacks for the Lions (4-4) were going to keep him in the mix.

Jets at Browns: Halfway to Imperfection

With Cleveland winning this year's NBA Finals and leading in the World Series, the Browns' 0-8 start is almost too fitting. Even when the city is back on top, Cleveland 2.0 is still bringing up the rear in the NFL. This sure looked like the opportunity for that first win when the home team took a 20-7 halftime lead, but Quincy Enunwa came up with two huge plays for the Jets to regain a 21-20 advantage going into the fourth quarter. New York added a Matt Forte rushing touchdown to take a 28-20 lead, but that is still technically a one-possession game.

Unfortunately, journeyman quarterback Josh McCown has been on the losing side of such contests far more often than anyone would care to admit. McCown is now 5-30 (.143) at game-winning drive opportunities in his career. In his lone appearance this season, McCown forced a game-ending interception in a close loss to the Ravens in Week 2. He was back in the starting lineup after an injury to rookie Cody Kessler, but the results were painfully familiar to McCown, and very relatable to Ryan Fitzpatrick on the other side. McCown's first pass attempt in the comeback bid was launched into double coverage for Terrelle Pryor, but Marcus Gilchrist came down with the interception. On his next chance, McCown suffered some bad luck when a tight pass to Duke Johnson Jr. was knocked free by Calvin Pryor, and Lorenzo Mauldin came away with the ricochet pick with 5:13 left. That set up the Jets at the Cleveland 8, and the ensuing field goal was enough to take a commanding 31-20 lead with 4:04 left.

While McCown did lead the offense down the field for a touchdown and two-point conversion, the long drive only left 12 seconds on the clock. Brandon Marshall then recovered the onside kick attempt for the Jets to sink Cleveland to 0-8, halfway to the 0-16 imperfection that only Detroit can understand.

Chargers at Broncos: Member 2015? I Member

These teams had just met 17 days ago in a 21-13 San Diego win, but this rematch in Denver looked awfully familiar to last season's two contests. The Broncos played tough defense, picking off Philip Rivers three times, including a touchdown return, but the offense threatened to ruin things with two red zone fumbles. Remember, a slew of turnovers at home against San Diego in Week 17 last season led to Brock Osweiler being replaced by Peyton Manning for the rest of Denver's championship run.

This time in the fourth quarter, Denver led 24-13, but an accurate Trevor Siemian pass was tipped by wide receiver Jordan Norwood to San Diego cornerback Casey Hayward for a 24-yard touchdown. The pass should have been caught, but the fact that the throw was still several yards short of the sticks on third-and-10 made this such an unnecessary risk. Antonio Gates was actually called for setting a basketball screen on San Diego's ensuing two-point conversion, so Rivers' attempt from 10 yards deeper was knocked down to keep the score at 24-19 with 8:02 left. Siemian came right back with two big throws for 71 yards, as Gary Kubiak has been pretty confident in early-down throws with the lead with Siemian this year. That led to a field goal, meaning Denver's defense needed another stop at 27-19.

Rivers had a good drive going to the 2-yard line with 2:54 left, but San Diego actually passed the ball on four consecutive plays instead of giving Melvin Gordon, who has eight rushing touchdowns this year, a shot on the ground. I thought going for it here was absolutely the right call in an eight-point game, but would have liked to have seen a run mixed in at some point. Rivers threw four incompletions, but the worst may have been on fourth down when he was nearly intercepted by Lorenzo Doss.

Denver went three-and-out after a third-down incompletion from Siemian, but Riley Dixon got off an incredible 68-yard punt to flip field position. From his own 33 with 2:08 and one timeout left, Rivers fell in love with Gordon one drive too late. Gordon was the target on four of Rivers' last five passes, but this was mostly out of desperation rather than design. Denver's pass rush got after Rivers, who had to dump the ball down to the nearest receiver (Gordon) several times. On fourth down, Denver's four-man rush did its job, with Derek Wolfe taking Rivers down after he just got off an errant throw to Gordon near the line of scrimmage to seal the Denver win.

Denver's 6-2 start has been about as good as the team could have hoped for in its title defense, but five road games remain, including a big Sunday night showdown in Oakland in Week 9.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 35
Game-winning drives: 41
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 74/120 (61.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 22 (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.


23 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2016, 1:04pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

As a british nfl fan can someone explain the hatred ties get? I really don't get it. Is it because the nfl standings go on wins not points or is a cultural thing or what?

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Mostly cultural.

Another thing is that ties are half a win, so it's equivalent if 2 points were awarded for a win. Which actually makes ties more valuable relative to wins compared to sports that actually use points.

23 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

cultural. moist American fans dont' see m to like ties. I am American fan but I enjoy ties. it has eben excikting to ssee two so far this season. I onlty predicted one would happen 9see my season prediction s thread in discussion forum).

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

First, I don't think suspended players should be eligible for awards for that season. Second, I find it hard to give someone an MVP award when he missed a quarter of the 16-game season. That's a big non-value added chunk right there. Third, it's an even bigger issue when said team went 3-1 without the QB using two backups, and Jimmy G had some great numbers. Arguably the best defenses the Patriots have played were the Cardinals and Texans. Brady hasn't played anyone good yet.

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

So if Marcell Dareus was clearly the best defensive player in the NFL this year, you would refuse to vote for him, just because he served a 4 game suspension? That's stupid. If you're not going to respect the eligibility rules, then you shouldn't have a vote. I assume you didn't agree with Montana getting the 1989 MVP, because he missed 3 games. Or is that not a big enough "chunk"? If you think the Patriots were the same team without Brady, you're crazy. Maybe you were impressed by Brissett and his 187 net passing yards against the Bills, but I sure wasn't. If you truly can't see how Brady's 10.68 anypa in 4 games makes the Patriots better than they were before, I would suggest you don't know football.

Brady is currently ahead of his pace from the first half of the 2007 season, maybe the greatest half season a QB has ever had. I'm not saying I would necessarily vote for him over Ryan right now, but to deny that he's even a candidate is just stupid.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

There's no point in continuing with your Sisyphean task, ramirez. Brady could have a 16 game season where he threw for 7000 yards and completed every pass and Kaczsmar would find some "reason" to tell us how that's nothing special. It's what he is.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Oh I know that there's no way to reason with Kacsmar. But I would like to provide a counterpoint to his nonsense, because Kacsmar works very hard to hide any evidence that doesn't support his positions. Last time I encountered him on this site, he claimed he had never denied the existence of the dome effect, even though he has. He also claimed that Manning only played 2 indoor games with the Broncos, and discounted games played in Houston. But earlier in the same discussion, he had specifically cited games played in Houston when Manning was with the Colts as examples of indoor games.

Normally he doesn't tell outright lies, he just cherry-picks evidence and ignores what he doesn't like. But when necessary, he will produce blatant falsehoods to push his agenda.

13 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

I unfortunately broke my rule of ignoring the obsessed stalker, but just to relay some info to rational people that they probably already know...

Games played in Houston are considered indoors when the roof is closed, and outdoors when the roof is open. The roof was open when Denver played there in 2013. It was often closed when the Colts played there back in the day.

15 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

This look closed to you?

Maybe you should watch a game, or respect the effort I put into my research and stop calling me a liar. If you continue to question the integrity of my work and I get to prove you wrong again, I will certainly ask to have you banned from posting here.

16 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

So what about the Dallas game? Because you claimed Manning never played indoors in 2013. You also never answered my point about the dome effect. You denied ever saying that the dome effect isn't real, but you are on record saying just that on multiple occasions in the past. And if you continue to dispute this, I'll produce the quotes from your twitter account and your blog site that prove otherwise.

You also denied cherry-picking when you claimed that 2 indoor games with Denver for Manning where he played poorly invalidated the much larger sample from Manning's time with the Colts which shows he gets a stat boost form playing indoors. That's the essence of a cherry-pick, although I suppose you can claim that the definition of cherry-picking is ultimately open to interpretation.

Like Donald Trump, this guy lives in an alternate reality in which Brady is overrated, Rodgers can't lead a comeback, Carr has no potential, McNabb shouldn't make the HOF, Cam Newton sucks, etc. There's a reason why people like me have been questioning your credibility since you were posting on KFFL years ago.

17 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

This link proves I'm right about the Cowboys-Broncos game from 2013:

The article specifically says the roof was closed for that game. I was wrong about the Broncos-Texans game, though the boxscore at pro football reference does incorrectly say the roof was closed for the game in Houston.

Your claim that Peyton Manning never played indoors in 2013 is a lie.

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Stalker was a pretty apt description here. And people shouldn't engage their stalkers, but I just may be crazy myself.

I clearly said Manning only played in a dome in 2012 (ATL) and 2014 (STL) -
I clearly differentiated between dome and indoor (which would include the open retractable roof games like in 2013 Dallas) here -

I'm not going to entertain your half-assed dome argument here. You should spend a lot of time to write a long email or blog comment on this, so I can just delete it.

21 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Normally, Kacsmar doesn't engage in this kind of blatant dishonesty. What he normally does is present a position, and then refuses to reveal any evidence that hurts that position. I'm glad I finally caught him with his pants on fire.

His position is that Manning only played 2 indoor games with Denver (not true) and that his weak numbers in those 2 games invalidate the much larger sample that shows that Manning plays better in a dome than outdoors. So even if he was right about the Dallas game, using 2 games to try to disprove the dome effect is a terrible argument anyway. It's incomplete, misleading, and woefully unconvincing. In other words, it's the exact opposite of the type of intelligent analysis FO is supposed to be about. But Kacsmar does that kind of stuff all the time. Go check out his twitter account. Virtually all he does is make unconvincing arguments about why players he doesn't like (Brady, Newton, Carr, Rodgers, etc.) are overrated.

12 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

Removing Brady from the equation, do you not think that being suspended in the MVP season and missing four-plus games (whether it's suspension-related or not) should factor into MVP decisions? I think they are perfectly valid reasons to discount someone's MVP case.

To me, while the suspension itself doesn't really factor in, missing the four games does. Brady would essentially have to be 25% better at the end of the year than the next-best candidate for me to consider him MVP.

As for me, at this time, I don't think Brady's three games have provided as much value as Ryan's (or Carr's) eight games. As more games get played, he obviously has more time to make up for that gap, but as of now, Brady would not be my MVP, and games played is the main reason why.

(Also, while Scott does indeed have an anti-Brady agenda, it's balanced by ramirez's pro-Brady-at-all-costs agenda, so I'd rather not side with him, here.)

22 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 8

for me, guy would need to play in at least 75% of team's games to eb eligible for award or all-rpo honor. that is what I think bare minkmum requirement should be. then, once minimum games thingy is met, we can discuss grwatness and perofrm,ance and what not. but that is maybe just me.

6 Re: Rivers' fourth-down pass

I'm inclined to put more blame on the receiver, who no-sells the out route and then takes forever to turn back inside. Perhaps Rivers ought to have noticed that the defender didn't bite, but otherwise I think that throw goes pretty much where it needs to.

For Green Bay, this was a classic loss in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. The offense was efficient and productive, but Capers' defense fell apart late and the offense was unable to save the day.

Sad, but so true. That said, the Green Bay offense clearly ran into trouble right after halftime, and in a game of few possessions, to come away with no points on its first two second-half drives was critical:

Points per drive, by half:
GB 4.8
Atl 3.8

GB 2.0
Atl 4.8