by Scott Kacsmar
Week 15 was a heck of a week for favorites, who went 14-2 straight up. Only a pair of 1-point underdogs (Chiefs and Rams) pulled off "upsets" that weren't really upsets at all in divisional rematches.
That doesn't mean we didn't have any close finishes. There were in fact 10 games with a comeback opportunity, but only three game-winning drives. This was a week for failed comebacks, including a pair of games that only got that close after an onside kick was recovered.
More than anything, this was a week where two of the NFL's worst rules were applied in the week's two most high-profile games: the Patriots-Steelers showdown and Cowboys-Raiders contest on Sunday night. While the rules for a catch going to the ground and a fumble through the end zone were both applied correctly, that doesn't mean we should continue to accept bad rules. The league could use a better rulebook.
For the fourth week in a row, we start with the Steelers in the Game of the Week. It was supposed to be the Game of the Year, at least for the regular season, and shockingly, it delivered to that level. This rivalry has not done well for close games. Only once in the 15 previous matchups was there even a game-winning drive (New England in 2005).
Game of the Week
New England Patriots 27 at Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (24-16)
Game Winning Chance Before: 19.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 89.3 percent
Win Probability Added: 69.7 percent
Head Coach: Bill Belichick (52-79 at 4QC and 67-80 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (41-37 at 4QC and 53-39 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Big games in the NFL are often said to come down to situational football: third downs, red zone performance, turnovers, and the fourth quarter. In a game that was likely to determine everything from the AFC's Super Bowl favorite and home-field advantage to the MVP race, the ending was a stunning failure in situational football to the highest degree. On a red zone third down the final seconds of a 27-24 game, Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted. No game-winning touchdown pass (or at least none that counted). Not even overtime with a game-tying field goal in the team's back pocket.
It was a devastating final sequence for a team that did so many things well in the game's first 59 minutes. Even with Ryan Shazier (spine) in the press box and Antonio Brown (calf) at a local hospital after leaving early in the second quarter, the Steelers played one of their best games in recent history against the Patriots. Like in the 2011 win over New England, the Steelers played ball-control offense and didn't just sit in a soft zone on defense. The results may not have been spectacular, but it was enough to give the Steelers a 17-10 halftime lead and a 24-16 lead going into the fourth quarter. The defense even intercepted Tom Brady for the first time since 2005.
For 59 minutes, Pittsburgh's situational football was outstanding. The offense scored three touchdowns in the red zone and started a ridiculous 10-of-13 on third downs, but failed to convert their last three opportunities in the fourth quarter. The first was a third-and-20 situation that came after a couple of big penalties on left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Before a first-down holding call on Villanueva, New England's Game Winning Chance dipped to its lowest point in the quarter at 9.0 percent, according to EdjFootball.
Rob Gronkowski (168 yards) was one problem the Steelers never had an answer for, but few teams ever have. However, when Bud Dupree sacked Brady on a third-and-10 to force a field goal, the Steelers had a shot to put the game away on offense with 3:56 left. Instead of being aggressive with his best unit, Mike Tomlin allowed for a very conservative drive. Brown's absence really shined on a third-and-4 where Roethlisberger threw short of the sticks to JuJu Smith-Schuster for only a 3-yard gain. With a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 28, it would have been incredibly brave for Tomlin to go for it, but I think the punt was the right call given the 24-19 lead. It would have been different had the Steelers led 26-19 or 27-19, since the Patriots likely would have only gone for the tie.
With 2:06 left from his own 23, Brady's first pass was tipped and nearly intercepted by Sean Davis. As CBS' Tony Romo noted, when defenses give Brady a second chance on these drives, you know what the result usually is. We looked at this in Week 3 when the Texans dropped a game-ending interception thrown by Brady, who threw the game-winning touchdown to Brandin Cooks a few plays later.
Brady never gave the Steelers another chance. Three straight passes to Gronkowski, who just ran down the seam in single coverage, gained a fitting 69 yards. The last catch was a diving effort that just showcased how talented Gronkowski is, but the Steelers had to play smarter defense than this against him. Gronkowski had 56 percent of Brady's passing yards on the day. On first-and-goal from the 8, Dion Lewis took a simple run up the middle for a touchdown. Pittsburgh may have actually just been trying to let him score, though that would not have been the best strategy from the 8-yard line. However, once Lewis got close it was really the best result possible to save the most time.
The Patriots have been involved in some of the biggest two-point conversions in NFL history in the last few years, from the game-tying attempt that failed in the 2015 AFC Championship Game to two conversions in Super Bowl LI. This one would have to make a top 10 list too. Gronkowski was again left in single coverage out wide with Davis, and beat him easily for the conversion to make it 27-24. Things may have turned out quite differently if the Steelers had only been down 25-24 with a stop there, so that was a huge conversion.
Roethlisberger has pulled these late drives off before, and still had 52 seconds and a timeout left at his own 21. The Patriots may have played things defensively just as they would in a 25-24 game, but the call on first down was an interesting one. The Steelers used Martavis Bryant on a rub route to free up Smith-Schuster on a crossing route. The execution was good enough to where this should have gained about 19 yards at best, but the Patriots botched the sideline tackle to allow a huge gain of 69 yards after Smith-Schuster cut over to the middle of the field. The Steelers were wise to use their final timeout right away with 34 seconds left at the 10-yard line.
On first down, the Steelers had a perfect play designed. Tight end Jesse James came out of a bunch formation and found the hole in the zone where he settled in for the throw from Roethlisberger. He caught the ball, his knee landed short of the end zone, and he wasn't touched. James then broke the plane and appeared to score a go-ahead touchdown with 28 seconds left. CBS' Jim Nantz even said "they are verifying it upstairs and there is no doubt it is going to hold up." In fact, it wasn't until the ninth replay that one of Nantz or Romo wondered if they were looking at whether or not James lost control going to the ground.
Yes, the dreaded Calvin Johnson Rule struck again, and this was the most crucial application of it yet given the magnitude of this play and game. We all know the call was reversed, but we'll get back to that later.
There were still chances to win the game, and what the Steelers did next really set things on a path to destruction. Roethlisberger was pressured and got rid of the ball to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was tackled in bounds after a 3-yard gain. With the clock running, Roethlisberger is really known for two things here: a spike when he should have time to call a real play, or the fake spike that he loves so dearly. I thought last year's go-ahead touchdown on the fake spike against Dallas, in another game Pittsburgh lost late, would have quenched his thirst, but he went to the same well again. This time, he only had one receiver (Eli Rogers) to throw to while everyone else stood around to watch the world burn. Instead of just throwing the ball through the end zone once he saw the crowd over the middle, Roethlisberger forced the pass anyway. It was tipped and intercepted by Duron Harmon to end another edition of "The NFL Makes the Patriots Look So Smart by Being So Dumb."
These things just don't (and can't) happen in that situation. We had the table a week ago for Saints-Falcons when Drew Brees threw an interception to end the game. This is now the 11th time since 1994 that a quarterback threw an interception in the red zone in the final two minutes of a game that was tied or down by one to three points. A quarterback simply cannot make that throw when overtime is right there with the field goal.
The Calvin Johnson Rule Rant
I don't see how the NFL can seriously go into 2018 without some type of significant overhaul to what counts as a catch. The Patriots already won a game against Houston this year where Brandin Cooks had the ball touch the ground on his game-winning catch, but that was deemed OK because he still maintained enough control. The rules are allowing for a judgment call of control when the ball touches the ground or moves a little, and that's going to lead to inconsistent calls. When the majority of fans view these plays as catches, but the NFL continues to seek to overturn them, something is off here. This also isn't a New England Patriots thing, as they have been involved in controversial plays this year such as the Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumble, which was a combination of the NFL's two worst rules.
We complained about this in 2010 when it happened to Calvin Johnson. We complained in the 2014 playoffs when Dez Bryant caught a pass in front of our own eyes. We complained about Tyler Eifert against the Ravens and Devonta Freeman against the Redskins in 2015. Former VP of officiating Mike Pereira was concerned about the NFL's lack of common sense in overturning plays like Zach Miller's touchdown against the Saints this year. Any die-hard fan should be fed up with this by now.
This is a league-wide problem that can affect any game of any team. The NFL is killing itself in semantics with language ("survive the ground" is this month's trendy phrase) that is needlessly complex. In trying to explain the James play, Senior VP of Officiating Al Riveron even starts out by saying "Roethlisberger completes a pass to James." Whoops.
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) December 18, 2017
Anyone can complain about something, but what's a good solution to this? Well, allow me to retort.
Fix the semantics first. It's not about a catch. Receivers catch passes, but the actual word used in the gamebook for a successful passing play is a completion. To figure out when we have a completion, use a three-step process: catch, possession, move. Satisfy those three requirements and you have a completion made (CPM). Let's look at how this works for the James play.
Catch is the obvious part. When the ball is grasped and held onto by the receiver, he has a catch. If he's tipped the ball or is bobbling it, then he hasn't made the catch yet. Simply put, you know a catch when you see it. It's the other parts that are trickier.
Possession is when he gets two feet (or the equivalent of two feet) down in bounds. When James' left knee touches down while he has the ball, he has established possession.
Last part is the move. Why do announcers still like the phrase "football move" that was removed from the rules in 2015? It's a good rule to have as long as you define it properly. Here, James makes a move by extending the ball over the goal line. Once he does that, the play should be considered a touchdown. Other moves would include things like taking another step so as to avoid a bang-bang knockout play, or pulling the ball to your chest. If James can stretch the ball out like that, then it stands to reason that he had control and possession of it. If this play had been at the 50-yard line and James was untouched, then you can say that he fumbled the ball before recovering it.
Would the game have a few more fumbles a season with this rule? Sure, but so what? We're already watching a safe game with historically low turnover rates. A few more 50/50 balls wouldn't be the worst thing to add to the game, and most of these are likely to be recovered by the receiver anyway.
I think we can all agree that no one wants to see players use the ground to help trap a ball or anything like that. But that's not even what is happening with these "complete the process going to the ground" plays. The catch has already been made, possession is already established, and we're watching the player make a move in an effort to maximize yards and help his team. Why are we penalizing that effort? The only penalty should be that if he slams the ball to the ground and loses control; then the defense has a shot to recover the fumble. That's just the risk some players will have to take, but everyone from Johnson to Bryant to Eifert to James deserves a completion for their team on these plays. What they did sure looks more like the heart of what a catch should be than when Golden Tate was given this touchdown on replay against the Bears in 2015 after what looked like a bang-bang interception.
This was changed from an INT to a touchdown in 2015. pic.twitter.com/ztl9t7scXB
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 18, 2017
When that is considered a Detroit touchdown because Tate made himself "a runner" and this isn't a Detroit touchdown because Johnson put the ball down at the end, then we have ruined the purpose of what should be one of the easiest things to figure out in the game.
By the way, this may have been the best game these two teams have ever played against each other, and at one point I even thought it was great how the officials weren't having a big impact on it. But now the ending is going to be remembered for the James play. It's not even the fault of the officiating here. It is the rule itself that needs to survive common sense before it continues to be used next season.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Dallas Cowboys 20 at Oakland Raiders 17
Game Winning Chance Before: 52.9 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 83.3 percent
Win Probability Added: 30.4 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (24-35 at 4QC and 32-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (5-5 at 4QC and 8-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)
You can see the appeal this game had to schedule-makers in the spring after both teams won at least a dozen games in 2016 with young quarterbacks on the rise, as well as arguably the two best offensive lines in the NFL. Jump forward to Week 15 and these have been two of the more disappointing teams this year, and their prime-time meeting had lower stakes than anyone probably imagined.
Dallas needed a fake punt to score its only touchdown of the second half, but the Raiders were able to tie the game at 17. With just over five minutes left, Jason Garrett had the offense go for it on fourth-and-1 at the team's own 39. I liked that move, mostly because they used the quarterback sneak. It just wasn't a very good one, and referee Gene Steratore even made the unorthodox move of folding an index card and sticking it against the chains to measure if Dak Prescott had gained enough yardage for the first down.
First time I've seen a measurement by paper pic.twitter.com/F7653SoUSi
— the notorious ALBINO RHINO (@ArkyShea) December 18, 2017
Reminder: this is 2017 and that still happened. Three plays later, Dez Bryant came down with a 40-yard bomb. The Cowboys had two cracks from the 1-yard line, and probably should have tried another sneak, but Alfred Morris was stopped twice. Dallas settled for a 19-yard field goal by Dan Bailey to take a 20-17 lead with 1:44 left.
Derek Carr was having another quiet night, but he has actually been solid in his career in game-winning drive opportunities, because the situation actually forces him to be an aggressive passer. Case in point: Carr heaved a bomb to Michael Crabtree on fourth-and-10 and was able to draw a 55-yard penalty for pass interference (a good call). Crabtree had one hell of a statistically odd night. He caught 7-of-17 targets for a paltry 39 yards, but still had two short touchdowns to go along with that 55-yard penalty. He also was pulled from the game for a concussion check at the worst possible moment, with the Raiders facing a third-and-3. Carr scrambled and dove for the end zone, but clearly lost control of the ball, which was fumbled through the end zone for a touchback. Game over.
— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) December 18, 2017
For the second time in a matter of hours, one of the NFL's worst rules killed the hopes of a team who was going for the win. If the ball is fumbled at midfield and goes out of bounds, there is no penalty to the offense, and no reward of possession to the defense. Yet when the end zone is involved, the defense takes over with a touchback, and it frankly doesn't make any sense. Like with the Jesse James play against New England, the effort of a player trying to score is penalized here. I do think this type of fumble should carry some form of penalty to the offense, whether by a 5- or 10-yard penalty, loss of down, and a 10-second runoff in end-of-half situations. But why should the defense get rewarded a ball that it did not physically recover? That should only happen when a fourth-down stop is made.
This is another rule the NFL needs to take a serious look at in the offseason. I'm not sure how many more high-profile examples of it we need for that to happen. Maybe it would help if these two teams were as good as they were last year, because good games deserve better endings than something cheap like this.
Tennessee Titans 23 at San Francisco 49ers 25
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (20-16)
Game Winning Chance Before: 19.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 80.2 percent
Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (2-5 at 4QC and 2-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo (3-1 at 4QC and 3-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The Titans have seemingly played the same close, low-scoring battle every week for the last two months. This one was actually more offensive than the score may suggest. The 49ers scored on seven of nine possessions, and one of those "stops" was just a 1-play drive that was a handoff to Carlos Hyde for 1 yard before halftime with 29 seconds left. Jimmy Garoppolo impressed again with a career-high 381 passing yards, but the consistent settling for field goals allowed the Titans to turn a 16-3 deficit into a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The final quarter alone saw five scoring drives, including three field goals of 45-plus yards by Robbie Gould. The second kick gave the 49ers a 22-20 lead with 3:08 left. Tennessee's DeMarco Murray was eventually stuffed on a big third-and-2 that brought out Ryan Succop for a perfect 50-yard field goal with 1:07 left. The kickers were very good in this one.
Though not officially a one-minute drill, we got to see Handsome Jimmy G in the no-huddle with only a timeout left. He made things look pretty easy against Dick LeBeau's defense with three quick completions for 45 yards to get into range for Gould. His 45-yard kick split the uprights with no time left, and Garoppolo picked up his third game-winning drive in five career starts.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Packers at Panthers: Out of Juice
Aaron Rodgers' long-awaited return from a broken collarbone was much more Phantom Menace than it was The Force Awakens. After Atlanta's win on Monday night in Tampa Bay, the Packers have been eliminated from the playoffs, ending their attempt at tying the NFL record for consecutive playoff appearances at nine.
Rodgers was clearly rusty and not 100 percent, underthrowing some passes he would normally hit. He also threw three interceptions in a game for the first time since 2009, which says plenty about his day. Carolina also is just a really solid team, and its studs came to play on Sunday. This was a tough matchup for Rodgers to play the role of savior, as the Packers virtually needed to win out to make the playoffs. Cam Newton tossed four touchdowns and paced the Panthers all game long.
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It did not even look like this game would make the column after the Packers trailed 31-17 in the fourth quarter. A long drive by Green Bay went to waste after Rodgers suffered swarming sacks on third and fourth down. Former teammate Julius Peppers was in on the fourth-and-14 sack with 5:41 left. But Rodgers got another chance and found Richard Rodgers on some big plays, including a 24-yard touchdown with 2:43 left. The Packers had to try the onside kick with no timeouts left, and luck behold, they came away with a recovery at their own 48. Teams have now recovered 8-of-49 (16.3 percent) onside kicks this season, including one on Sunday by the Dolphins in Buffalo.
We just had the stat last week where the Packers are 0-28 when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter with Rodgers at quarterback. He was suddenly in a good position to break that streak, or at least get this game to overtime. However, with a first down at the Carolina 38, Rodgers' pass to Geronimo Allison was completed, but James Bradberry punched the ball out and the Panthers recovered. Game over. Season over.
That's a tough way for things to end for Green Bay, but a realist had to feel things were already bleak ever since Rodgers went down in Minnesota in Week 6.
Chargers at Chiefs: Ekeler, Think About the Future!
Saturday night's battle for the AFC West ended in predictable fashion. The Chargers had been looking good, but let a third-quarter lead slip away before a mistake-filled final frame on the way to a 30-13 loss. After falling behind 17-13, Philip Rivers was intercepted by Marcus Peters on a deep ball. Despite the return to the 6-yard line, the defense held the Chiefs to a field goal.
Down 20-13 in the fourth quarter, Austin Ekeler seemed to have a third-down conversion, but Peters forced a fumble. That led to another field goal for the Chiefs. On a fourth-and-1 at midfield, Rivers tried to hurry the offense, but was hit as he threw his second interception. Big runs by Kareem Hunt put the Chargers away with another touchdown to make it 30-13.
At the two-minute warning, Rivers had to force a pass and his third pick of the night also went to Peters, the league's top ball magnet. Rivers threw six interceptions in the two games against Kansas City this year compared to four picks in his other 12 games. The Chargers (7-7) still have a shot at the playoffs after climbing out of that 0-4 hole, but this team just makes too many mistakes against good opponents to expect anything to come out of that run. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have just defended home field very well against the Raiders and Chargers, and should have a firm grasp on the division again. With only games against Miami and Denver left, the Chiefs should be able to get into the playoffs with a 10-6 record and some restored confidence after dropping six of seven games at one point.
Eagles at Giants: Foles Covered Some Holes
Even though the Eagles were missing Carson Wentz (ACL), this was still an 11-2 team against a 2-11 team, and Philadelphia needed the win to keep hold of the No. 1 seed. So when the Giants opened the game with three touchdown drives to take a 20-7 lead, this was looking like an upset in the making. However, an interception by Eli Manning and a blocked punt had the Eagles back ahead before halftime, and the Eagles still led 31-29 to start the fourth quarter.
This rivalry is loaded with big plays on special teams, often going against the Giants, and this one was no exception. Aldrick Rosas saw his 48-yard field goal blocked with 11:26 left. He had an extra point blocked to start the game. Nick Foles was fairly impressive in his first start of the season with four touchdown passes, and a trio of third-down conversions helped the Eagles to another field goal and a 34-29 lead. That drive consumed half of the quarter.
Manning had 3:51 left to drive 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. He passed for 434 yards on the day with plenty of open slants against a suddenly vulnerable Philadelphia defense. Just when it looked like Manning would pull off another game-winning touchdown drive, things bogged down after a first-and-goal at the 9. A horizontal pass lost 2 yards. Manning narrowly avoided an interception in the end zone. A surprise draw with Shane Vereen on third down only produced a 6-yard gain. A false start brought it back to fourth-and-11, and then Manning's pass was too high for Evan Engram in the back of the end zone. The play design was terrible, with the back staying in to help against a four-man rush, and two of Manning's four receivers, including Sterling Shepard, ran their routes well short of the goal line. They basically gave Manning one target and he didn't hit it.
4th-and-ballgame: Not sure why you'd send out 4 receivers and have two of them run short of the end zone. I want my QB to have 5 TD options and hopefully he'll see a nice one. pic.twitter.com/erYU2aBa9U
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 19, 2017
Dolphins at Bills: Take That, Adam Gase's Close-Game Record
Miami was looking to keep its slim playoff chances alive after an impressive two-game winning streak over the Broncos and Patriots. Unfortunately, you cannot ride "momentum" from Florida to Buffalo, and the Bills led 24-6 with 9:32 left to play. It was only then that Miami mounted another wild comeback attempt thanks to some solid special teams play and a fourth-and-14 conversion from Jay Cutler to Jarvis Landry. Yes, the pass was actually thrown 17 yards that time, but that only led to a 26-yard field goal by Cody Parkey with 39 seconds left.
The Dolphins still trailed 24-16 and needed a couple of miracles. They got the first one when Preston Brown botched the recovery of the onside kick for Buffalo. Miami has three of the league's eight onside kick recoveries this season. Cutler had 37 seconds left from his own 37, but immediately threw a bad interception after some miscommunication with his receivers. Of course Tre'Davious White was on the receiving end of the pick, Cutler's third of the day. That's a cheap little loss to add to Adam Gase's ridiculous record of 10-6 in game-winning drive opportunities, but we have been expecting the Dolphins to start losing these one-score games.
Even the ones where Miami trailed by double digits for half of the game.
Jets at Saints: The Pesky Petty Picture Show
The Jets (5-9) have been pretty competitive this season, but no one expected much from a 16-point underdog who had to start Bryce Petty at quarterback for the injured Josh McCown (broken hand). The Saints were coming off a bad loss in Atlanta, and only needed three snaps before one of their stud running backs (Mark Ingram) broke off a 54-yard run. However, the way the Jets held New Orleans to only a field goal there was a sign of the struggle to come for the Saints in putting this game away.
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The Jets were able to intercept Drew Brees deep in his own end, and Brandon Coleman lost two fumbles in the red zone in the second half. The second came with the Saints leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, but Petty was unable to move the offense in response. Michael Thomas had two touchdowns taken away on replay reversals, but came through with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown on a key drive to give the Saints a 24-13 lead with 7:39 left.
New York eventually managed to find the end zone to make it 24-19 after a two-point conversion pass failed, but the onside kick attempt went out of bounds. Two plays later, Ingram finished off the Jets with a 50-yard touchdown run that the team really didn't need, but it makes the 31-19 final look a little more reasonable given the expectations of a blowout.
Cardinals at Redskins: Sunday Dark Match
Just like how the NFL RedZone channel shows every touchdown, we'll cover every comeback opportunity, including a game no one cares about like this one. Down 20-15, Blaine Gabbert had a couple of opportunities in the final 4:30 to lead Arizona on a game-winning touchdown drive. He took an awful sack and narrowly avoided a lost fumble on the first one. After starting at the Arizona 48 with 1:59 left, Gabbert's overthrow was bailed out with a very soft pass interference penalty drawn by the wily veteran Larry Fitzgerald. On the next play, tight end Troy Niklas failed to pull down a pass right near the goal line, which was Arizona's best shot at winning this game. On fourth-and-10, Fitzgerald tried to snag another off-target throw by Gabbert, but D.J. Swearinger made sure his contact was enough to disrupt Fitzgerald from another highlight-worthy catch.
Falcons at Buccaneers: Tampa Bay Kickers Don't Eat Ws
On Monday night, the Falcons reminded us that no lead is safe with them. Despite leads of 17-7 at halftime and 24-14 halfway through the fourth quarter, this game still came down to the final minute, much like most of Atlanta's 2017 season.
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Devonta Freeman's 32-yard rushing touchdown was a highlight on a big night for him (126 rushing yards), but Jameis Winston came right back with a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 24-21. Atlanta had two cracks at getting a first down to ice the win, but rushed Terron Ward (instead of Freeman) for no gain, and then Matt Ryan took a third-down sack after the two-minute warning. That wasn't well done, nor was the punt coverage that set Winston up at his own 29 with 1:00 left.
Winston was able to complete three passes for 35 yards to give his team a shot at overtime, but none of the receivers were able to get out of bounds, so he had to use two spikes. Winston still finished 27-of-35 for 299 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His 130.5 passer rating was the second-highest of his career and would have been the highest without the two spikes. The main reason this performance didn't lead to more points was a big lost fumble by Peyton Barber at the Atlanta 5 in the second quarter. That killed an 87-yard drive.
The other problem was a typical one for Tampa Bay: the kicker. The offense tried to get closer for Patrick Murray, but it did not help when the official who tried to spot the ball after Winston's last completion fell down. That wasted a few seconds where the Buccaneers could have tried one quick sideline route to get closer. From 54 yards away, Murray was wide right and the game was over. Matt Bryant made a 57-yard field goal for Atlanta in the second quarter. Switch the kickers and this game likely switches its outcome, but the Buccaneers have struggled more than any other team to find a quality kicker (especially at cost).
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 44
Game-winning drives: 69 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 122/224 (54.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 25
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.