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

Clutch Encounters: Week 11

Clutch Encounters: Week 11
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Last week, we looked at how fourth-quarter comebacks and comeback opportunities are down this season compared to the previous five years. Week 11 featured nine games with a comeback opportunity, as well as six game-winning drives, but none of the successes were in prime time. Those high-profile games tend to get the most headlines, for obvious reasons, and the lack of excitement in those games has helped build up the reputation that 2017 has been a down year for the NFL.

Sure, the Miami Dolphins appearing in prime time three weeks in a row didn't help matters, and the games coming up in the next week won't help either. It's not the NFL's fault that Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson are all injured, but the teams could still put on a better showing than what we have commonly seen in prime-time games.

Fortunately, Atlanta-Seattle was an entertaining game (perhaps for the wrong reasons) on Monday night, and we'll cover that below. Still, there hasn't been a game-winning drive in prime time since the Raiders shocked the Chiefs to start Week 7 over a month ago. Out of the six game-winning drives in prime time this year, four were on Monday night, two were on Thursday night, and none were on NBC's Sunday Night Football (SNF), the NFL's de facto Game of the Week. In fact, only two of those 11 SNF games were close late, so Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have done their share of filling time to finish broadcasts this season. Through Week 11 last year, SNF had six comeback opportunities, three overtime games, and four game-winning drives.

I looked back at how close SNF games were through Week 11 since 2012, and found that 2017 does stand out. The 2014 season also had a lot of blowouts and the largest margin of victory, but 2017 isn't far behind.

Sunday Night Football: Close Game Recap (Weeks 1-11 Only)
Season 4QC GWD 4QC/GWD
Avg. Margin
2012 4 6 8 8.3
2013 1 1 6 15.0
2014 1 1 2 21.5
2015 4 7 9 7.7
2016 5 (one tie) 4 6 9.9
2017 0 0 2 15.5

Game of the Week

Washington Redskins 31 at New Orleans Saints 34

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 15 (31-16)
Game Winning Chance Before: 71.9 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 28.1 percent
Head Coach: Sean Payton (24-42 at 4QC and 34-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (30-56 at 4QC and 45-63 overall 4QC/GWD record)

It was great to see Drew Brees enjoy a seven-game winning streak with a defense and running game that were playing at such a high level. I must have jinxed it when I pointed out that the 2017 Saints were the 11th team since 1978 to have a seven-game winning streak with every win by at least eight points.

Eight of those 10 teams reached the Super Bowl, while the 1998 Vikings and 2005 Colts are two of the greatest teams ever to fall short of the big game. The chances that the Saints become the "least memorable" team on this list could be really high, but this could also suggest that we are witnessing something historic brewing in New Orleans this year.

But the streak is over, and the Saints resorted to their old tricks, like giving up way too many easy completions and points. Washington, which has played the NFL's toughest schedule this year, already had impressive road wins in Los Angeles (Rams) and Seattle this year, so another good showing in New Orleans was not much of a surprise. Kirk Cousins finally has that signature win on his … oh, wait a minute.

I forgot that the Saints actually came back to win this game in the wildest fourth-quarter comeback of the season. According to EdjFootball, the Saints' Game Winning Chance dipped as low as 0.6 percent when the Redskins took a 31-16 lead with 5:58 left. Since 1994, the beginning of the two-point conversion in the NFL, there had only been two other comeback wins by a team trailing by at least 15 points which had fewer than six minutes left at the start of its comeback.

Comeback Wins of 15+ Points Starting in Final 6:00 (Since 2001)
Team QB Date Opp Down Result Start Note
IND Peyton Manning 10/6/2003 at TB 35-14 W 38-35 OT 5:09 Three TDs scored in final 3:43
DEN Tim Tebow 10/23/2011 at MIA 15-0 W 18-15 OT 5:23 Onside kick recovery w/2:44 left
NO Drew Brees 11/19/2017 WAS 31-16 W 34-31 OT 5:58 TD drives of 75 and 87 yards

Yes, 2003 Colts at Buccaneers is still peak comeback craziness. There have been five other games since 1994 where a team won after trailing by at least 15 points in the final six minutes, but with a first scoring drive that started before the 6:00 mark.

  • Super Bowl LI: The Patriots trailed 28-12 with 6:00 left, but had the ball at the 6-yard line by that point. Two touchdowns and two two-point conversions later, and the game was in overtime where the Patriots completed the 34-28 comeback win over Atlanta.
  • 2008 Colts at Texans: Indianapolis faced a 27-10 deficit and only had 4:10 left in Houston before Peyton Manning threw a 7-yard touchdown to start an absurd comeback highlighted by Sage Rosenfels' "Rosencopter" fumble.
  • 2004 Week 5: The NFC West went wild on this day. Similar to Super Bowl LI (minus the stakes), Tim Rattay led the 49ers back from a 28-12 deficit to beat Arizona 31-28 in overtime. The 49ers were at the Arizona 18 by the time the clock dipped under six minutes. More memorably, the Rams were down 27-10 in Seattle when Marc Bulger threw a touchdown with 5:34 left. Two scores later, the game was in overtime where Bulger threw a 52-yard touchdown to Shaun McDonald in a stunning 33-27 win.
  • 2001 49ers at Bears: Chicago trailed 31-16 and was driving at midfield when the clock ticked under 6:00. Shane Matthews threw two touchdowns to David Terrell to force overtime, when safety Mike Brown intercepted Jeff Garcia for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Bears had an even more insane comeback (two touchdowns engineered in the final 1:52) in Cleveland a week later, another win capped off by a Brown pick-six in overtime.

The Saints needed some things to break their way too, but it was largely the steady aim of Brees that made this comeback possible. He hit all 11 of his passes in the final 5:58 for 164 yards. After the first touchdown drive, Washington needed to just convert a third-and-1 to win the game. Samaje Perine had a big rushing day, but he was stuffed in the backfield after the old I-formation failed to budge New Orleans. At the Washington 33, this could have been a memorable fourth-and-2 opportunity, but Jay Gruden doesn't have the same clout as a Bill Belichick. This actually would have been a smarter call though, since the Redskins were up by eight points as opposed to Belichick's six-point lead. At least the two-point conversion was a safety net in case Brees got the touchdown on the short field, but the punt was the safe option.

Brees had 1:53 to drive 87 yards and didn't even need half of it. The Redskins failed to pressure him late and receivers continued to get open right down the seam. Washington's best chance to win the game was on the first play when Kendall Fuller intercepted Brees, but it was negated by his illegal hands to the face penalty for grabbing Brandon Coleman. Four plays later, Alvin Kamara bobbled a pass, but still hung on and ripped his way through the defense for an 18-yard touchdown that looked all too easy.

Kamara also tied the game up with a two-point conversion run with 1:05 left. Cousins still had time to answer, and he hit three passes to the New Orleans 34 with 31 seconds and zero timeouts left. While Cousins did an excellent job against heavy pressure all day, the next play is one that will be remembered for a while. Cousins threw the ball away quickly to no one in particular, which brought out a flag for intentional grounding.

That really did not seem to fit the requirement of a passer "facing an imminent loss of yardage due to pressure from the defense." The NFL has reportedly issued an apology to Washington for the penalty, which led to a 10-second runoff and pushed the Redskins out of field goal range. Cousins was sacked on the next play, and the game went to overtime. But Cousins' words in this Washington Post article are interesting. He basically admits to wanting to clock the ball there, but why not just do a normal spike? Cousins also confirmed that the two-minute offense practices conservative play once getting into field goal range. This is a problem around the league, where settling for long-distance field goals instead of getting that last completion to set up a higher percentage kick is the go-to strategy. Had Gruden coached his offense to be more aggressive in these situations, we likely would have seen a shorter field goal attempted and a potential win for Washington.

Alas, the game went to overtime, where pressure got to Cousins again for a quick three-and-out drive. Cameron Jordan had a big sack on second-and-10 to blow up the drive, but that was only after Vernon Davis dropped a good gain on first down. Cousins played more than well enough to win this game.

Mark Ingram took two carries and ran downhill for 51 yards to make the 28-yard game-winning field goal a piece of cake for Wil Lutz. Rare that Brees wouldn't throw a pass on the game-winning drive, but he had done the heavy lifting earlier, and his 30th fourth-quarter comeback should go down as one of the most memorable of his career.

When you give your quarterback help like this, great things can happen. We are finally seeing that again in New Orleans this year, and we're also seeing that Washington continues to come up short without enough help around Cousins. The narrative really changes if Josh Doctson hangs onto a pass in Kansas City and the defense doesn't blow a late 15-point lead here (or the running game gets one more yard). A 6-4 record is treated much differently than 4-6 even though the quarterback's performance would have been the same in that scenario. Cousins knows this as well as anyone. "It just is frustrating when a letter is really all you get, when it had such a major impact on the direction of our lives, when we're in it and doing it every day," Cousins said.

According to EdjFootball, that intentional grounding penalty dropped Washington's Game Winning Chance by 19.4 percent (from 63.8 percent down to 44.4 percent). A Monday letter indeed can't make up for that.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Los Angeles Rams 7 at Minnesota Vikings 24

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 64.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After:85.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 20.9 percent
Head Coach: Mike Zimmer (5-9 at 4QC and 9-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (2-9 at 4QC and 5-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The fact that the Vikings and Rams entered this game with strong defenses came as no surprise given that Wade Phillips and Mike Zimmer are the brains of those operations. On the other hand, the matching 7-2 records and ascension to the top five in passing DVOA for Case Keenum and Jared Goff would have been hard to fathom coming into this season. At the very least, this game was a reminder that Jeff Fisher did a poor job in coaching the Rams.

There were early offensive sparks, but the game stood at 7-7 for nearly 30 minutes. The Vikings started stringing together long drives in the second half. When Minnesota kicker Kai Forbath missed a 39-yard field goal off the left upright, the Vikings made sure to pound the next drive into the end zone with a 2-yard run by Latavius Murray with 14:15 left.

Goff has yet to lead a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive in his brief NFL career. The Rams are 0-5 with him in those opportunities, and Goff had some bad interceptions in losses earlier this year against the Redskins and Seahawks. This time, you really can't fault the young quarterback too much for the struggles to score more against a good defense, which has happened multiple times for the Rams this year. Goff rarely had a clean pocket to step up into in the second half, but when he did on a big third-and-10, Cooper Kupp dropped the pass on what would have been a conversion. Kupp also fumbled at the 1-yard line in the first half.

These types of mistakes killed the Rams against Seattle, and they continued to happen in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Vikings looked to put the game away with a 93-yard touchdown drive. Keenum hit a short curl to Adam Thielen, who slipped around Dominque Hatfield for 60 yards after the catch on a touchdown with 10:14 left. Todd Gurley, who was held to 37 yards on 15 carries, was stuffed on consecutive runs where the Rams only needed a yard to convert for a first down. That three-and-out led to another long field goal drive by the Vikings, who led 24-7 with 2:23 left. Goff's last drive was just garbage time, and it ended with a fourth-down sack in the red zone for good measure.

While so much of the talk coming into the game was about Goff's recent stats and the possible return of Teddy Bridgewater, Keenum continued to play solid football, and Thielen has turned into one of this season's best wideouts.

Kansas City Chiefs 9 at New York Giants 12

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 48.2 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 51.8 percent
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo (3-7 at 4QC and 7-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (30-53 at 4QC and 40-55 overall 4QC/GWD record)

For the third time this season, a double-digit underdog won, and for the second time it was the Giants. They also knocked off the Broncos in Denver in Week 6, but Denver hasn't beaten anyone since Week 4. Meanwhile, the once 5-0 Chiefs have dropped four out of five games, so was this really the upset of the year? Sure, New York had been blasted in the three games preceding this one, but don't forget that the Giants blew a fourth-quarter lead three weeks in a row earlier this season, including a game against the Eagles that was decided by a 61-yard field goal. Throw in an injury to a superstar like Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants were more like a 3-6 or 4-5 caliber of team that was mailing it in the last month after being dealt so many early blows.

But the Chiefs had a bye week and still came out flat in this one, which you don't expect from an Andy Reid-coached team. However, I looked at Reid's record after a bye in January when it was 19-2 and found that he usually just won games at home that his superior team was already favored to win. Reid's Chiefs lost in January to the Steelers in the playoffs, and now he has lost a road game in overtime that he was expected to win comfortably.

The Giants didn't do this with smoke and mirrors either. If there were any tricks, they were detriments, with both offenses using gadget plays resulting in interceptions thrown by non-quarterbacks. The Chiefs just happened to wait until the fourth quarter for their regrettable decision when Travis Kelce's deep ball was intercepted by Landon Collins with 6:36 left. After getting the ball back, Alex Smith threw his second pick of the day on an overthrow. That put the Giants in business at the Kansas City 23 in a 6-6 game with 2:07 left. Eli Manning wasn't able to throw the dagger on third down, so the Giants settled for a 26-yard field goal to take the lead.

Smith had 90 seconds to answer and got into New York territory rather quickly with a 32-yard gain to Kelce. But from there it was a lot of short passes and nothing that really challenged the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Smith's late scramble led to a timeout with five seconds left. Harrison Butker made a 23-yard field goal to force overtime.

I can't fault the Chiefs for wanting the ball first in overtime, but Smith needed to be more aggressive. Two failed completions led to a punt. Manning began the 40th game-winning drive of his career from his own 18. Soon the Giants were facing a fourth-and-5 at the Kansas City 36, a distance too far for a shaky kicker in Aldrick Rosas. Going for it was definitely the right call, and the Giants' choice to go maximum protection against an all-out blitz (eight defenders) from the Chiefs was the type of play we rarely ever see in the NFL. Roger Lewis beat Phillip Gaines, who was also flagged for pass interference, for a 34-yard gain. Lewis almost got up and zipped into the end zone, but he was just barely touched down after the catch.

After Manning took a knee, the Giants sent out Rosas for another 23-yard field goal to complete the 12-9 upset.

In Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, I compared the 2017 Chiefs to the 2006 Broncos when Jake Plummer was benched for rookie Jay Cutler for the final five games after the offense was sputtering. It's hard to imagine we're at that point again with Patrick Mahomes replacing Smith, especially since we spent two months calling this Smith's career-best season. However, with a soft six-game schedule left, things need to pick up again for the offense in a hurry.

Detroit Lions 27 at Chicago Bears 24

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 60.3 percent
Game Winning Chance After:85.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 25.1 percent
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (24-30 at 4QC and 29-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (26-38 at 4QC and 31-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Lions fell behind 10-0 before Matthew Stafford caught fire and the team went ahead late on a 52-yard field goal by Matt Prater. I probably could have copied that sentence from one of many Detroit recaps over the last two seasons, because that's how this team usually wins now.

Stafford has led 11 game-winning drives since the start of 2016, an impressive feat considering the all-time Detroit record used to be 11 game-winning drives by Hall of Famer Bobby Layne (1950-1958). On the other side, Chicago hopes that Mitchell Trubisky can grow into the type of franchise quarterback that Stafford has become for the Lions. Trubisky largely leaned on Jordan Howard's successful rushing day (15 carries for 125 yards) to move the ball on a 78-yard game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. Tarik Cohen finished off the march with a 15-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 24 with 5:02 left.

That's when Stafford took over, but the first play of the drive was a dangerous one. Wide receiver Marvin Jones got very physical with cornerback Kyle Fuller and fell down on the route. The ball just went through Fuller's hands. Really not egregious enough to be a dropped interception, but a close call nonetheless. Stafford was much sharper after that, and Eric Ebron got wide open for a 26-yard gain after a defender fell down. I don't think Bears coach John Fox should have let nearly 40 seconds tick away to the two-minute warning without using one of his three timeouts. With four clock stoppages, the Bears should have been able to save two minutes for a response drive.

Detroit helped out in a big way with a holding penalty on T.J. Lang on a first-down run and two incompletions (one dropped) by Stafford. Stafford even scrambled out of bounds on a second down to stop the clock. That's four plays in a row after the two-minute warning where Detroit did something to stop the clock, saving all three of Chicago's timeouts. It's a good thing Prater is reliable on the long kicks, but Chicago had plenty of time to answer with 1:31 left.

Beyond Stafford and Prater, the other common factor in Detroit's close-game success has been the defense's ability to seal games with takeaways. This time, Darius Slay dropped an interception after jumping one of Trubisky's passes. If that wasn't bad enough, Trubisky made the defense look silly on a fourth-and-13 scramble for 19 yards to keep the drive alive.

After one more completion, Trubisky had set up Connor Barth for a 46-yard field goal to force overtime. However, Barth's kick was so wide right that it would make postseason Mike Vanderjagt blush. Few endings this season will show the value of a good kicker better than this one. Barth was cut on Monday and replaced with Cairo Santos.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 at Miami Dolphins 20

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 54.3 percent
Game Winning Chance After:99.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 45.2 percent
Head Coach: Dirk Koetter (2-6 at 4QC and 5-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick (9-39 at 4QC and 13-40-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This game was once scheduled for Week 1, with Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston leading teams with high expectations into a new season. Instead, after a rescheduling for hurricane weather and some other calamities, this was a Week 11 romp to decide the worst team in Florida with the gunslinging services of Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Cutler had to bail early after a concussion (and three interceptions), but Matt Moore really should have been the starting quarterback all season long.

Moore entered the game with a 20-7 deficit in the third quarter, but threw for 282 yards in the half in another strong performance off the bench. While Cutler has struggled to hit the big plays all season, Moore converted a third-and-10 with a perfect 61-yard touchdown bomb to Kenny Stills to tie the game at 20 with 3:00 left. The only problem was that Miami's defense had to take the field next, and Fitzpatrick actually showed the kind of poise we rarely see from him in game-winning drive opportunities. His pass protection was superb, and Fitzpatrick completed 3-of-5 passes (with one drop) for 55 yards to put the Buccaneers in field goal range. From there, three runs bled the clock enough for Patrick Murray to kick a 35-yard game-winning field goal with four seconds left.

That was enough time for the Dolphins to move backwards on a series of laterals on the ensuing kickoff, and Tampa Bay recovered a fumble for a touchdown to push the final score to 30-20. While that may help keep Adam Gase's record in one-score games special, we know better than to count close games by the final score. The Dolphins have lost four in a row and that does include a close loss (Oakland in Week 9).

Arizona Cardinals 21 at Houston Texans 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Game Winning Chance Before: 39.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After:69.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 30.1 percent
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (9-15 at 4QC and 9-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Savage (6-20 at 4QC and 7-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When Blaine Gabbert throws two touchdowns to undrafted rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, you might think you are reading about a preseason game. Fear not, because this was a real game in Week 11, but also one that depicts the sad seasons these teams have endured. It's just not the same when J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, and Mike Iupati (among others) are all on injured reserve, and we are left watching Gabbert duel with Tom Savage in a game that knotted the teams up with 4-6 records.

Houston couldn't even enjoy the comeback without suffering another loss. Rookie running back D'Onta Foreman was enjoying a career game when he had nine touches on the game-winning drive, finishing with a 3-yard touchdown run with 13:13 left. Later in the quarter, Foreman put the game away with a 34-yard touchdown run with 6:19 left, but unfortunately he tore his Achilles at the end of the play, ending his season.

Speaking of running backs and general sadness, Foreman's second score was set up by a fourth-and-1 decision that went awry for Bruce Arians when he gave the ball to Adrian Peterson at his own 35. Keep in mind that Arizona finished the game with one rushing first down. Peterson had no chance to get out of the backfield and was swallowed up for a loss by a group of Texans led by Jadeveon Clowney. It was hardly a poor decision, but it was aggressive for Arians, who has slipped to 16-16 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities (3-8 since 2016). This regression has been long expected for Arizona, but it's still sad to have to hear Arians say "I cost our team the game" after his decision.

Gabbert's two interceptions in the final five minutes didn't help either, but Houston was the better team and deserved the (albeit pyrrhic) victory.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Falcons at Seahawks: New England Super Bowl Loss Support Group Meeting

Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary emerged in 2011, but with Richard Sherman (Achilles) and Kam Chancellor (neck) shelved for the year, can we expect more 34-31 shootouts for the Seahawks? Actually, calling Monday night's showing a shootout may not be accurate. More like a "shoot yourself in the foot" kind of game, with both teams making plenty of mistakes on the field and in game management from the sideline.

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Two early turnovers by Russell Wilson saw the Seahawks face a 21-7 deficit, but Seattle only trailed 24-17 at halftime. It should have been 24-20, but Pete Carroll elected for a mind-numbingly bad fake field goal from the 17-yard line with seven seconds left. It was a shovel pass to Luke Willson that lost 4 yards, and there was just never any chance he was going to score from that far away. Those points came back to haunt the Seahawks, though we shouldn't just assume the second half would have played out exactly the same had Seattle made the kick instead.

You honestly couldn't script a lot of this stuff. In the third quarter, Seattle called a timeout on a third-and-12, only to come back with a screen pass that set up a field goal anyway. That was a terrible use of a timeout. Matt Ryan had a solid game, which he often does against Seattle. Since 2011, the Seahawks have allowed 30-plus points in a game 17 times, but no one has done it to them more than Ryan's Falcons (four times). Arizona (twice) is the only other team with multiple 30-point games against the Seahawks, but clearly this wasn't the real Legion of Boom out there. Ryan hit a touchdown on a tight end throwback to Levine Toilolo for a 25-yard touchdown to take a 31-20 lead, which shrunk to 31-23 going into the final frame.

In the fourth quarter, no Atlanta lead ever really feels safe these days, especially against someone like Wilson. He was the main attraction for Seattle again with a game-high 86 rushing yards while his running backs only chipped in 50 yards on the ground. After the Falcons moved backwards out of field goal range with an 8-point lead (sound familiar?), Wilson went to work, but the initial comeback opportunity was short-lived after the usually reliable Doug Baldwin bobbled a third-down pass. Carroll made an ill-advised challenge, and the Seahawks were down to just one timeout.

Meanwhile, Julio Jones came through with a big third-down catch for his offense, and that led to a Tevin Coleman rushing touchdown that was correctly overturned on replay. He was in fact short, and I can't fault the Falcons for kicking a field goal on fourth down at the 1-yard line with 3:52 left. At that point, a 34-23 lead was nearly as good as a 38-23 lead. Time was Seattle's biggest enemy, especially with one timeout left.

However, Atlanta's defense really couldn't have played the ensuing drive any worse. A late hit out of bounds by Keanu Neal was an easy 15 yards, and Wilson found Baldwin wide open down the seam for a 29-yard touchdown with 3:00 left. The two-point conversion to Jimmy Graham was good to make it 34-31, and the Seahawks didn't even have to do an onside kick. Usually an offense takes until after the two-minute warning to get that first score, making the onside kick a necessity, but Seattle only needed 49 seconds to drive 75 yards.

They did need to make a stop, however. Ryan had a chance to end the game with a third-and-3 conversion after the two-minute warning. History was also on the line with Ryan sitting at 195 passing yards. Including the playoffs, Ryan had an NFL-record streak of 67 consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards. That streak is now over, as Ryan took a sack by Sheldon Richardson and Atlanta punted.

Wilson did a good job on the final drive until he got into Atlanta territory in the final minute. That's when he forgot about spikes and started throwing very short passes to receivers who had no hope of getting out of bounds to stop the clock. If it wasn't for an injury timeout charged to Atlanta, the Seahawks might not have even gotten to try a field goal. While Wilson used the middle of the field and spiked the ball like I thought he should, his last pass wasn't very deep, and Paul Richardson only gained 8 yards. That set Blair Walsh up for a 52-yard field goal on a night where the kickoffs were not getting deep at all. Today's kickers still make from this distance more than they miss, but Walsh was short on the kick even though it went right down the middle. Think an extra timeout or maybe that field goal before halftime would have been nice in this half?

The loss keeps the Rams (7-3) in first place in the NFC West, and drops Seattle (6-4) behind Atlanta (6-4) in the wild-card race.

Jaguars at Browns: Out the Back Door Before the Bottles

Jacksonville (7-3) is a great deal better at this "winning with little to no offense" thing than the now 0-10 Browns are. I really thought this could be a great shot for Cleveland to avoid going 0-16, and for a period of almost 38 minutes of game time, the Browns were right there with a 10-7 deficit. Cleveland's defense only allowed 13 points on 14 drives, forced a big strip-sack of Blake Bortles, and held the Jaguars to 6-of-20 on third-down plays. The defense did more than enough to help put the Browns in position for a win.

Unfortunately, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was no match for the No. 1 pass defense. Head coach Hue Jackson also didn't bother to help him with a running game against the No. 30 run defense as the backs produced 28 yards on 13 carries. Take your pick of fourth-quarter failures from the Cleveland offense. First, there was the three-and-out drive where Kizer had three failed completions. He later threw an interception to A.J. Bouye on a pass that could have been intended for two Cleveland receivers, but Bouye jumped the route with ease. That led to a field goal and a 13-7 lead for the Jaguars with 3:31 left.

Despite all of the struggles, Kizer was 40 yards away from the go-ahead touchdown at the two-minute warning. On a third-and-10, Kizer was under siege from Jacksonville's blitz and appeared to fumble the ball on a sack. If the officials had let this play go on instead of ruling Kizer down by contact, the Jaguars would have scored a touchdown on the recovery. Instead, the replay reversed the call to a fumble, and Jacksonville took over at its own 44. The "keep Bortles out of it" strategy was used again, and the Jaguars punted after three runs failed to produce anything.

Kizer had one more shot from his own 20 with 1:24 left. With all of the blowouts the Jaguars have been involved in this year, this was actually the first time they had to defend a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. They held up in impressive fashion. In his attempt to replace future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas, Spencer Drango really struggled, if we want to put it lightly. He was beat off the edge by Yannick Ngakoue for a strip-sack, and the Jaguars recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to take a 19-7 lead. Even after driving to the Jacksonville 22 in the final seconds, Kizer still couldn't crack this defense with a second scoring drive, ensuring that Cleveland failed to beat the spread for the eighth time this season.

Bengals at Broncos: 2015 Is a Distant Memory

It was just two short years ago when the Broncos were in the middle of a championship season. Brock Osweiler had taken over for an injured Peyton Manning, and despite much inconsistency, he saved his best moments for prime-time comebacks against two of 2015's AFC elites in New England and Cincinnati. Two years later, the Broncos have Osweiler back under center, but no progression has been made, and Denver just lost back-to-back home games to the Patriots and Bengals.

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At least this week's game was close, but many of the same problems that have plagued Denver on this six-game losing streak showed up again. The defense allowed a 1-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter after an Osweiler interception was nearly returned for a score. While the vaunted defense has fallen off in its ability to generate pressure, no defense faces tougher situations with field position. Denver's average defensive drive starts at the 34.9-yard line, which is the worst in the NFL coming into Week 11, and the worst of any defense since 2010.

Now, in the previous two years, the defense still likely would not have allowed Andy Dalton to throw three touchdowns without an interception, but nothing comes easy for Denver this season. Down 13-10 in the fourth quarter, C.J. Anderson fumbled near midfield after Vontaze Burfict popped the ball out. The Bengals were set up in good position again at the Denver 44, and Dalton capped off the drive with an impressive 18-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green to take a 20-10 lead with 8:56 left. Osweiler actually has a couple of double-digit fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, and he quickly led a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 17-yard connection to Demaryius Thomas.

The Bengals responded with a good mixture of plays, including a zone-read keeper by Dalton to convert a third down, to run some clock with the 20-17 lead. Cincinnati eventually punted the ball back at the two-minute warning, and that punt was certainly a smarter decision than trying a 59-yard field goal.

Osweiler had plenty of time (1:52 left at his own 20), but failed to get a single first down. A sack on second down by Carlos Dunlap really set the drive back, but Denver still got into a fourth-and-4 situation. A slant for Emmanuel Sanders is a good idea, but Dre Kirkpatrick had no problem defending the low pass and nearly came away with his second pick of the game.

Denver's minus-76 scoring differential is the worst 10-game start to a season that the Broncos have had since they were still in the AFL in 1968.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 29
Game-winning drives: 48 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 86/160 (53.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 17

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjFootball.


2 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2017, 7:09pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 11

Glad to see the gif of the awful grounding call of Cousins. The video makes it clear that the call is indefensible. That's the kind of flag that makes me want to see everything in a game reviewable, including penalties. That's not a flag that bears up to even the slightest of scrutiny.

If the purpose of having such a call non-reviewable is to trick us into respecting the officials more, it's not working.

Obviously not the only reason the Redskins lost. Letting Brees make 11 consecutive consecutive completions is hard to tolerate; even Drew Brees should face a little more resistance than that.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 11

That's not even the worst blown call to cost Wash a game in recent years. I remember a Steven Jackson Rams game where the ref blew the whistle to call Jackson OOB near the sideline, so the defenders thought the play was over and stopped. But Jackson wasn't actually OOB, and kept running through the whistle into the end zone uncontested. The TD stood because the crew called it an "inadvertent" whistle.

Still, it was a very bad call, and the NFL owes the team the fair chance to win in regulation, which is what they took away. The NFL should also allow fans to actually watch an overtime instead of cutting it off arbitrarily.

Edit: it may have been Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers actually, not the Rams. I don't remember