Clutch Encounters: Week 2

Clutch Encounters: Week 2
Clutch Encounters: Week 2
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

From 2014 to 2016, there were only two NFL games where neither team had 15 first downs. Week 2 of 2017 was just bookended by two such games: Texans-Bengals on Thursday night and Lions-Giants on Monday night. You have to go back to the 2012 season to find a time when this happened before Week 10, a point where teams are more banged up and coaches have more information.

Four teams (Bengals, 49ers, Seahawks, and Giants) have failed to score multiple touchdowns over their first two games. That happened only a total of four times from 2012 to 2016. Perhaps we are witnessing a true pendulum swing to the defensive side of the ball, but clearly there is something offensive going on with offenses right now. This malaise also permeates into situations like watching the Steelers take a delay of game penalty while looking to go for a two-point conversion, or the Giants doing the same before a big fourth-down attempt. Now something like delay of game is usually always at its highest in the first two weeks of the season as teams get used to working with new quarterbacks, coordinators, and getting the plays in. But beyond the dullness of the offenses, the big games just haven't been very competitive.

Last week, I highlighted five games on the Sunday schedule that could have made Week 2 memorable. In the end, we watched four duds. The Vikings-Steelers game was dealt a blow when Sam Bradford (knee) couldn't go, leading to a 26-9 win by Pittsburgh over a Case Keenum-led offense. The Saints had absolutely no answers for New England's offense, and the closest Drew Brees got in the fourth quarter was the 36-20 final. In Denver, the Cowboys suffered their first blowout loss (42-17) of the Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott era. Finally, Sunday night ended with the Falcons opening up a 34-10 lead on the Packers, and they made this lead count in their new stadium for a 34-23 win.

At least the Eagles and Chiefs gave us a good game, and that is where we'll start in a week that ultimately featured eight games with a comeback opportunity.

Game of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Kansas City Chiefs 27

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 75.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 88.1 percent
Win Probability Added: 12.6 percent
Head Coach: Andy Reid (37-63-1 at 4QC and 50-71-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (19-27 at 4QC and 22-28 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When everyone says he's going to inevitably lose his job to rookie Patrick Mahomes, I could see how that might motivate Alex Smith, who now has two game-winning touchdown passes this year. He's still primarily throwing short passes, but the willingness to go deep was the difference in the comeback in New England, and he made more timely plays against the Eagles to help Andy Reid improve to 2-0 against his former team. This was also Reid's first game against his understudy Doug Pederson, who has tried to build a similar team to Reid's in Philadelphia.

Carson Wentz has had a wild start to the season. The effort to throw deep is definitely there, but still waiting on (sustainable) success. Where Wentz shined in Week 1 was on third down, where he led all quarterbacks with 133 passing DYAR. He had some good moments on third down in Kansas City, such as his 13-yard scramble on third-and-13 to help set up a game-tying field goal to lock the score at 13. However, on the next drive, Wentz made a big mistake on third-and-12. Instead of throwing the ball away at the ground, he flung a pass that bounced off of Justin Houston's helmet and deflected to Chris Jones for an interception.

The Chiefs were already in scoring territory at the Philadelphia 31. Smith then avoided a big sack and scrambled for a third-down conversion, pulling off the type of magic trick usually performed by an Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson.

In past years, Smith would usually have taken that sack and set up a long field goal for his offense. This was a great play, and two plays later, Smith had a simple shovel pass to Travis Kelce, who did the rest of the work for a 15-yard touchdown with 6:25 left.

When the Chiefs got the ball back after an Eagles three-and-out, you may have expected them to play it safe with the lead. Smith only threw three passes on Sunday that traveled more than 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, but he completed two of them. The big one was a 35-yard strike to Chris Conley as Smith took advantage of single coverage. That aggressive move set up the Chiefs for a two-score lead, and rookie Kareem Hunt finished off the drive with another touchdown with 2:14 left. The Eagles almost had to let him score at that point to get the ball back, even though they were down two scores.

Wentz led a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-20, but it took 13 plays and used up all but eight seconds on the game clock. Still, the Eagles got a pretty miraculous onside kick recovery by Trey Burton, leaving the opportunity for a Hail Mary pass from the Kansas City 39. Wentz threw one into the end zone, but no one was able to get free in the sea of humanity to make a catch.

This was a very 2016-esque loss for the Eagles, who are now 1-7 in game-winning drive opportunities in the Wentz/Pederson era. They are also 8-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points compared to 0-10 when allowing 20-plus points. That's rather stark. The only other winless teams in that scenario since 2016 are the Bears (0-14) and Browns (0-17). The NFL averages in recent years are roughly winning 80 percent in sub-20 point games and 32 percent for the higher scoring games.

I looked at the last 15 rookie quarterbacks who started all 16 games and how their splits fared 18 starts into their career (playoffs included).

Points Allowed Splits for First 18 Starts
Player <20 Record Pct. 20+ Record Pct.
Carson Wentz 8-0 1.000 0-10 0.000
David Carr 4-3 0.571 1-10 0.091
Sam Bradford 6-4 0.600 1-7 0.125
Peyton Manning 2-1 0.667 2-13 0.133
Cam Newton 5-1 0.833 2-10 0.167
Ryan Tannehill 7-1 0.875 2-8 0.200
Derek Carr 1-3 0.250 3-11 0.214
Jameis Winston 4-1 0.800 3-10 0.231
Andy Dalton 6-1 0.857 3-8 0.273
Russell Wilson 10-2 0.833 2-4 0.333
Joe Flacco 11-2 0.846 2-3 0.400
Geno Smith 4-3 0.571 5-6 0.455
Andrew Luck 7-0 1.000 5-6 0.455
Matt Ryan 6-0 1.000 6-6 0.500
Dak Prescott 8-1 0.889 6-3 0.667
Totals 89-23 0.795 43-115 0.272

Andrew Luck (7-0) and Matt Ryan (6-0) had the only other undefeated records in low-scoring games, but Wentz's 8-0 mark is the best. His 0-10 record when the team allows 20-plus is also the worst record, beating out David Carr (1-10) and the quarterback he replaced in Philadelphia, Sam Bradford (1-7). For Wentz specifically, the 8-0 is helped by the fact that the Eagles allowed fewer than 16 points in six of those games. The 0-10 is impacted by the fact that all 10 games allowed at least 24 points, so no 20- to 23-point games for the Eagles defense, but all but one game was in the 24- to 29-point range. Teams usually still win 32 percent of those games.

So that's been an interesting split to follow. If you were curious, Alex Smith's first 18 starts with San Francisco (2005-06) yielded a split of 5-2 under 20 points and 2-9 at 20-plus points. Smith didn't win a game in which his team allowed more than 20 points until his 23rd start, a 26-23 final in Denver with dueling pick-sixes.

Believe it or not, but the Smith-led Chiefs are an NFL-best 7-1 (.875) since 2016 when allowing 20-plus points. That record hasn't been padded by other games like this one where the score to break the 20-point barrier came so late with the Chiefs ahead. Kansas City has done impressive things in the last 1.125 seasons.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Miami Dolphins 19 at Los Angeles Chargers 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (17-13)
Game Winning Chance Before: 46.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 68.9 percent
Win Probability Added: 22.9 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (5-3 at 4QC and 7-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (22-31 at 4QC and 26-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Well, at least there wasn't a huge audience on hand to see the latest heartbreaking defeat for the Chargers. The team's first game in the StubHub Center in Los Angeles was no different than many past games in San Diego. The Chargers blew another fourth-quarter lead and missed another game-winning field goal.

Miami's 2017 debut was also quite similar to a 2016 game for Adam Gase. Jay Ajayi excelled with 122 rushing yards, and Gase's Dolphins escaped with another close win after the opponent missed a game-winning field goal. That happened twice last year for the Dolphins in overtime wins over the Browns and Bills. This time Jay Cutler was Gase's quarterback, but he played a careful, turnover-free game in his Miami debut. He also hit Jarvis Landry 13 times for 78 yards, tying Julian Edelman for the fewest yards by a wide receiver in a game with at least 13 receptions in NFL history. It only took one game for Landry to take an early league lead in failed completions on third down with four, so everything is back to normal with Miami.

After the Chargers took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter, Miami kept chipping away with field goals. Eventually, the Dolphins had possession at midfield in a 17-16 game after the Chargers were too conservative on offense with short passes. Ajayi gained 15 yards on four straight touches, but the Dolphins had to settle for a 54-yard field goal from new kicker Cody Parkey. He has now made all six of his career attempts from 50-plus yards, and this one gave Miami a 19-17 lead with 1:05 left.

Weren't we just in this situation with the Chargers in Denver last week? It is hard to imagine many other quarterbacks have ever found themselves behind by one score with possession of the ball in a game's final minute more often than Philip Rivers has in his career. This was his 90th game with a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity (26-64 record), and so many of those games came down to a moment just like this.

Rivers had a good drive going here, but I have to disagree with the clock management towards the end. After a completion to Keenan Allen set up second-and-1 at the Miami 26, the Chargers immediately used their final timeout with 19 seconds left. I thought given the down, the Chargers could have spiked the ball, set up a pass play anywhere on the field, and then used their final timeout. Instead, Rivers took a knee with the Chargers out of timeouts, and was going to do a spike to bring up fourth down. The Dolphins put an end to that spectacle with a timeout with 10 seconds left. Given this was the Chargers, I may have let things play out and see if they'd botch the spike with a false start (a 10-second runoff would have ended the game), or some other crazy outcome. Logically, Gase's timeout makes sense since it gave his team a shot at a kick return or even a lateral-filled play to end the game instead of having no chance at all with the ball should the Chargers have taken a 20-19 lead.

This brought out Younghoe Koo again, who had his game-tying kick blocked in Denver after his first attempt was negated by an "icing" timeout last week. No icing here, but Koo was unfortunately wide right from 44 yards away, burying the Chargers at 0-2 in a division with three 2-0 teams. The Chargers' season isn't over, but it looks like 2016 never ended either.

Arizona Cardinals 16 at Indianapolis Colts 13

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (13-3)
Game Winning Chance Before: 95.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 4.6 percent
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (15-14 at 4QC and 23-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (22-50 at 4QC and 35-50-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Cardinals almost doubled down on that terrible Week 1 when they lost in Detroit and lost star running back David Johnson (wrist surgery) for a few months. Without even a giveaway or return score allowed, the Cardinals trailed 13-3 in the fourth quarter to a Colts team that was starting Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Sure, it may have been worse if Scott Tolzien were doing this to them, but the Colts still had little going for them offensively after the quarterback change.

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Arizona had nothing going for its offense without Johnson, and also without starting tackle D.J. Humphries, guard Mike Iupati, wide receiver John Brown, and tight end Jermaine Gresham. That evened the playing field a bit with an Indianapolis team that was still missing Andrew Luck, Vontae Davis, and center Ryan Kelly (arguably its three best players). That's a lot of big-name injuries for a Week 2 game. And we wonder why the ratings may be down?

Arizona's season looked to be going down the toilet in a hurry. The Cardinals faced a third-and-20 with 8:14 left to play, still trailing 13-3. At this point, Arizona's Game Winning Chance was 6.3 percent, the lowest it fell in the fourth quarter. Carson Palmer dialed up a vintage 2015 throw to the sticks to Jaron Brown for a first down. (The Colts were also flagged for a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty, so Arizona would have converted either way.) Now the Cardinals were into Indianapolis territory, and one play later Palmer placed a perfect play-action bomb to speedster J.J. Nelson past two defenders for a 45-yard touchdown. On their next drive, the Cardinals picked on Quincy Wilson again (literally with a pick play) for a 31-yard completion to Nelson down the sideline. That led to a game-tying field goal with 3:25 left.

After the teams exchanged punts, the Colts got a bit careless in the final minute. Brissett nearly lost the ball deep in his own end after a strip-sack by Chandler Jones. With 38 seconds left, the Colts called a pass on third-and-10 from their own 13. I understand trying to look aggressive, but do you really think you're going to get into field goal range with that little time left with Brissett leading an offense he barely knows? I think the Colts should have ran the ball, made Arizona use its final timeout, and left about 25 seconds after a punt. That was the better path to overtime. Instead, Brissett grounded a ball incomplete and the Cardinals were at their own 49 with a timeout left. Palmer only needed one 20-yard gain to Brown to get into range for Phil Dawson. Arizona centered the ball for a field goal, and Wilson's bad fourth quarter continued after getting caught as a 12th defender on the field. Chuck Pagano iced the kicker, because that's totally something he would do, and sure enough it worked in his favor. Dawson made the "fake" kick, but was wide right on the real game-winning attempt. We'd get overtime, which is now just 10 minutes.

At least that didn't flirt with a tie. On the first play from scrimmage, Brissett was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu, who undercut Kamar Aiken on the route. The Cardinals were already at the Indianapolis 21, and just ran the ball three times to set up Dawson for some 30-yard redemption. He connected and the Cardinals avoided a horrific 0-2 start.

San Francisco 49ers 9 at Seattle Seahawks 12

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (9-6)
Game Winning Chance Before: 53.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 82.2 percent
Win Probability Added: 28.6 percent
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (25-46-1 at 4QC and 33-51-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (17-21-1 at 4QC and 22-23-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Seattle's Pete Carroll is 8-1 at home against the 49ers since 2010. The 49ers have never been able to score 20 points in those nine games, and this year's offense has yet to find the end zone at all under Kyle Shanahan. There was not much surprise to the Seahawks defense holding Brian Hoyer to 89 net passing yards on 29 dropbacks, but it was shocking to see the 49ers take a 9-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson hasn't always put up eye-popping numbers against the 49ers, but he has often lit up the scoreboard at home against this team, averaging 29.5 points per game in the previous six contests.

The Seahawks punted seven times through nine possessions. Through three quarters, the running game only produced an uninspiring 18 carries for 39 yards, and Wilson took three sacks. Doug Baldwin was held in check, and Jimmy Graham (one catch for a yard) was basically invisible, perhaps due to an ankle injury. The preseason narrative of "just get Wilson and Tyler Lockett back healthy, and this offense is going to be fine" is not working out so far.

Fortunately, the defense is still great, and Hoyer really was that bad. Despite the 9-6 deficit, Seattle's Game Winning Chance was still 53.6 percent since Seattle was a home favorite, and that is factored into the numbers. Wilson just needed to put together one great scoring drive to make up the 9-6 deficit, and he delivered one. His legs saved him again with three key scrambles. On a third-and-7 from the San Francisco 9, Wilson saved his best play for the win: a multi-sack escape to find Paul Richardson for a touchdown with 7:06 left.

Blair Walsh hit the upright on the extra point, giving the 49ers some hope in a 12-9 game. However, the offense went three-and-out after a pair of failed completions by Hoyer, including a laughable slant to Garrett Celek against K.J. Wright on third-and-9. Unless Carlos Hyde was supposed to illegally rub out Wright on the play, this call never had a chance to convert. The 49ers needed to be more aggressive with one timeout left, but ended up punting after that safe pass play.

Seattle had 4:47 to burn, and that's when seventh-round rookie back Chris Carson put the game away. Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch and Thomas Rawls was ineffective again. This put Carson in the spotlight, and he responded with four successful runs on five straight carries. His 16-yard jaunt iced the game at the two-minute warning as the Seahawks ran out the clock. Carson gained 58 of his 93 rushing yards on two fourth-quarter drives. The 49ers were never aggressive with a run blitz, and Carson did a good job of making the initial wave of defenders miss.

This looked like a different offense on the final two drives. It finally looked more like what we thought Seattle should look like this year. Now we'll see if this can carry over into a full game.

Washington Redskins 27 at Los Angeles Rams 20

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 52.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 91.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 39.4 percent
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (6-15-1 at 4QC and 11-15-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (6-14-1 at 4QC and 9-14-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Los Angeles had Week 1's most dominant win, but I needed to see some data points that didn't involve the Colts and Scott Tolzien before I could get on board with the 2017 Rams. Washington seemed like another winnable home game, especially with All-Pro Aaron Donald returning from his holdout, but the Redskins really flipped the script from Week 1's loss. While Kirk Cousins tied for the team lead in rushing (30 yards) against the Eagles, the Redskins had three different running backs rush for at least 67 yards in this game. That type of wild swing from week to week is why we love (and hate) predicting what will happen in this league.

So Cousins had help from his backs this time, but so did Jared Goff, who threw his only touchdown of the day after Todd Gurley did an amazing hurdle. Gurley then had his name called nine times on a fourth-quarter drive, but the drive was only kept alive by a fake punt pass from punter Johnny Hekker for a big 28-yard gain. Jeff Fisher might have to borrow that one as he plots his next non-winning season. The Rams failed to make it pay off for a touchdown after an offensive pass interference penalty on Robert Woods blew up the drive. Still, Greg Zuerlein was good from 40 yards away on a game-tying field goal to make the score 20-20 with 7:16 left.

Just last week I wrote how Cousins needs to step up in these situations if he wants to earn a huge, long-term deal. Put a game-winning touchdown pass on film instead of a devastating interception. He had his chance here after a modest passing day (179 yards) thanks to all of the rushing support. Cousins only had to make three throws on the drive, but he hit them all. The game-winning touchdown was a good, aggressive decision. With a third-and-4 at the Los Angeles 11, Cousins could have settled for a first-down gain, which would have allowed Washington to run down the clock to set up a last-second field goal. That is a sound strategy in a tied game, because it leaves no chance for a comeback by the opponent in regulation. However, when you see kickers missing extra points the way they have this year, nothing is ever really certain with a field goal.

It was surprising to see Wade Phillips' defense play this big down so passively. Michael Brockers (90) was left in no man's land: he dropped into coverage with no one to cover, and it was too late to get a rush on Cousins. Connor Barwin (98) was pretty relaxed in his rush against running back Chris Thompson. With Terrelle Pryor clearing some space out of a bunch formation, Ryan Grant had an easy path to the end zone for the score with 1:49 left. Cousins couldn't possibly miss that one.

Now it was Goff's turn to try for the first fourth-quarter comeback of his young career. Not too many of his first eight starts were close games, so this was interesting to see. However, if you blinked you may have missed the attempt. On the first play from scrimmage, Goff locked on Cooper Kupp all the way and was picked off by linebacker Mason Foster. Foster almost dropped the ball, but held on for the game-clinching pick.

How a quarterback handles these moments, especially early in his career, can go a long way in shaping his perception. Goff will have to learn from his mistake, or repeat it another time. As sure as the sun sets in the west, I'll be here to write about it.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Bills at Panthers: Keep Pounding … Until You Won't?

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera turned into "Riverboat Ron" in the 2013 season, but that reputation for bold fourth-down decisions was always a bit overblown. One of the mistakes that led to him trying to change his ways in the first place was another close loss in Week 2 that season to the Buffalo Bills. Rivera could have run Cam Newton on a fourth-and-1 to ice the game, but kicked a field goal to take a six-point lead with just over 95 seconds left. EJ Manuel led about the only relevant drive of his Buffalo career, hitting Stevie Johnson for a game-winning touchdown pass in a stunning 24-23 win.

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Four years later, it was the Panthers and Bills meeting in Week 2 again, and Rivera damn near made the same mistake. This game arguably would have been worse for Carolina to lose. Despite dominating the time of possession early, the Panthers only built a 6-0 lead going into the fourth quarter thanks to six sacks of Cam Newton keeping the Panthers in check. Newton even appeared injured at one point, but returned in time to lead another long drive in the fourth quarter with Carolina leading 6-3. After setting up first-and-goal at the Buffalo 1, two runs by Jonathan Stewart netted a loss of a yard. Buffalo used its first timeout with 2:43 left, which was absurd since rookie head coach Sean McDermott could have called that timeout 35 seconds earlier. Do you think that may have come in handy later? This one was poorly managed on both sides.

Carolina chose to pass on third-and-2. That is not Newton's strength, but the play was well designed, and running back Christian McCaffrey was open for a touchdown to seal the deal. Newton simply overthrew him. At that point, Rivera sent in the shaky Graham Gano for a 20-yard field goal. I think the Panthers should have ran the ball on third down, and ran it again on fourth down if that didn't work. The game would have been essentially over with a touchdown. Why set yourself up to lose by a point again like in 2013?

We consulted EdjFootball for their Game Winning Chance (GWC) data on this fourth-down decision:

  • Before the fourth-down snap, Carolina's GWC was 84.9 percent if choosing the field goal, and 94.3 percent if choosing to go for it.
  • If Carolina scored a touchdown on fourth down to take a 12-3 lead (extra point pending), its GWC would increase to 99.1 percent, or almost a certain victory.
  • If Carolina's attempt failed, and the Bills took over at their own 2-yard line with 2:35 left, down 6-3, then Carolina's GWC was still 88.6 percent.
  • The reality is after Buffalo received the kickoff in a 9-3 game at its own 25, Carolina's GWC was 84.5 percent, or lower than had the Bills started from the 2-yard line in a 6-3 game.

Put yourself in Rivera's shoes. Carolina's defense had been awesome all day. If you are so confident in preventing a 75-yard touchdown drive, then shouldn't you be even more confident in preventing a 98-yard touchdown drive? Most offenses will play conservatively once in field-goal range too, not playing four-down football and playing safe for the tie more than the win. Is going to overtime really that bad of an outcome here? Oh, by the way, offenses convert about 45 percent of their third- and fourth-down attempts at the 2-yard line. Carolina had a pretty good chance to ice the game before the two-minute warning.

But the decision to go up 9-3 left Tyrod Taylor with 2:35 and two timeouts to drive for the winning touchdown. With a 3-12 record in game-winning drive opportunities, these moments have not been kind to Taylor. After some short passes to get into Carolina territory, an offensive pass interference penalty on Andre Holmes really put the Bills in a bind on first-and-20. After Taylor scrambled for just a 4-yard gain, the Bills should have immediately used a second timeout to get things settled. Instead, they let the clock go down to 30 seconds before the next play, wasting another 17 seconds of precious time. Taylor later scrambled again for a short gain, leaving Buffalo with few options but a deep ball on fourth-and-11 at the Carolina 33 with 14 seconds left.

Carolina's four-man rush was easily picked up, and Taylor had exactly what he wanted in rookie wideout Zay Jones open deep for a touchdown. The defense was beat, but Taylor's throw was just off to make this a tough incompletion to end the game.

A great throw produces a game-winning touchdown there. Even if a slightly better throw may not have produced a touchdown, at least Jones could have made a diving catch and the Bills would have used their last timeout inside the 5-yard line. Either way, the Panthers made this a much more dramatic finish than it needed to be after Riverboat Ron failed to live up to his name. With the Saints and Patriots up next on the schedule, Carolina's offense has to be much sharper, because the defense (and those opposing quarterbacks) won't always bail them out like these first two games with the 49ers and Bills.

Lions at Giants: Washed Up?

How lucky were we to see the slowest-starting Giants offense in decades in prime time two weeks in a row? If last week's 19-3 loss in Dallas wasn't enough, the Giants took on Detroit on Monday night in a performance that in some ways was even worse. Sure, Odell Beckham Jr. returned, but he clearly was not 100 percent. Eli Manning took five sacks in a game for only the 10th time in his career, but even as the protection improved, the offense didn't. Manning ended all five of his possessions in the second half (excluding a final one-play run drive) with a negative-ALEX pass on third or fourth down.

New York has failed to score 20 points in eight straight games, a streak no NFL team has matched since the Cardinals were trotting out Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at quarterback in 2014. The Giants expected better results this season with a deeper receiving corps, but 33-year-old Brandon Marshall looks to be playing the part of "Washed-Up Veteran." For someone with a 1,000-yard receiving season for four different franchises (and more quarterbacks), I'm not sure "he's learning the offense" is going to fly as a valid excuse for his "2-of-9 for 27 yards" start this year.

Marshall was involved in the crucial sequence on the night. Trailing 17-10 with 14:02 left in the fourth quarter, Manning had Marshall open down the right sideline, but the receiver dropped the deep ball. Two plays later, Jamal Agnew made an incredible 88-yard punt return touchdown, the first kick to be returned for a score this season. The Giants now trailed 24-10, so later going for it on fourth-and-3 at their own 48 was an easy decision. However, you need to throw a hair beyond the sticks in that situation. Manning didn't on a pass to Shane Vereen, and after a challenge by Jim Caldwell reversed a ludicrous spot, the Lions took over on downs. On their last real gasp, the Giants saw Evan Engram drop a big gain after Darius Slay crushed him near the goal line. On fourth-and-10, Manning again threw short of the sticks to Beckham, who slid and dropped the ball anyway.

Detroit practically ran out the clock from there in a game script that is so unfamiliar for this team, especially on the road. The Lions never trailed and racked up 138 rushing yards. Matthew Stafford only had to throw 21 times for 122 yards, the lowest yardage in his career in a game he finished.

Texans at Bengals: The Old Familiar Sting

What better way to wrap up a disappointing Week 2 than with its ugly start on last Thursday night in Cincinnati? These teams have pretty much played the same game seven times over since 2011, a pivotal year for both franchises. Houston drafted J.J. Watt and made its first playoff appearance that season. The Bengals drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton to start a string of five playoff appearances. Neither looked playoff-worthy on Thursday, but even when they have in the past, these teams love to play games that are low scoring and quite boring. Houston is also 6-1 in these contests after the latest 13-9 barn-burner, the first start of Deshaun Watson's career. His 49-yard touchdown gallop before halftime kept the Bengals in catch-up mode for the entire second half.

A mistimed slant pass on a third-and-6 from Dalton to Brandon LaFell early in the fourth quarter was one of the few offensive hopes the Bengals had in making the comeback. Down 13-9 in the final two minutes, Dalton only mustered one first down before misfiring on a fourth-and-9 near midfield. After getting Houston to go three-and-out, Cincinnati's final play was lateral-filled eye candy, but Watt made sure to put an exclamation point on the final tackle.

As the NFL Network broadcast pointed out, the Bengals are the first team since the 1939 Eagles to open a season with two home games and not score a single touchdown of any type. That is quite the damning stat, but when you ignore venue, the list grows to 21 teams since 1940 to go without a touchdown through two games, including the 2016 Rams and 2017 49ers. Still, with the talent the Bengals have, nine points in eight home quarters is inexcusable. Even the 2017 Jets are averaging 16 points per game so far. On Friday, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese fell on the sword and was fired. He'll be replaced by Bill Lazor, who has experience working with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia in 2013.

With a trip to Green Bay next, the Bengals are unlikely to start scoring enough points to avoid a 0-3 start.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 5
Game-winning drives: 7
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 14/31 (45.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 3

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.


3 comments, Last at 21 Sep 2017, 12:35pm

1 I've heard no one talk about this anywhere for lower scoring

and think something that makes sense, why are there so fewer plays in lot of NFL games nowadays, this year especially.

Take the Lions/Giants game last night which combined for less than 110 plays overall from the line of scrimmage and thankfully the Giants were playing hurry up late as there were only around 90 plays overall around the half way point of the 4th quarter when I looked.

Obviously scoring is down for all the reasons that most talk about from quality OL play having dropped off, more athletic faster defenders in the 'hybrid safety' mold, overall QB play lower and also a push by the league to hurry the game up.

I find this odd though BECAUSE it's the exact opposite in CFB, which averages almost 30 more plays a game overall and on average I would estimate is a 20-30 minutes longer game. It is also the only collegiate level sport that I've ever heard that is longer than it's professional 'sister sport'.

I know some of it has to do with no huddle but there are others rules in place from the shorter play clock, stopping out of bounds and 1st downs in CFB plus less incomplete passes in the NFL, to make for a longer game.

Anyways thought this year been even more extreme as there were handful of games this weekend with only 110-ish plays and done at around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Some of these 1st quarters are over in 25 minutes nowadays. Wished someone at FO would push this conversation a little bit as I've heard no one talk about this anywhere and I really think the less plays in a game is one area where NFL is WAY behind the action packed CFB game.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 2

"Put yourself in Rivera's shoes. Carolina's defense had been awesome all day. If you are so confident in preventing a 75-yard touchdown drive, then shouldn't you be even more confident in preventing a 98-yard touchdown drive?"

I think I agree with you regarding Rivera's decision (he should have gone for it), but had they failed, the Bills wouldn't have needed a 98-yard touchdown drive. If they had taken over on their own two, they would have needed around a 75-yard drive to get into reasonable FG range.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 2

Re: Alex Smith and going deep vs short.

How much of that is on the QB and how much is on the coach/play design?

I always thought plays were designed with up to 4 or 5 receivers running routes that the QB reads in a particular sequence looking for the open receiver.

Is it the case that Smith is taking more risk on deciding whether his reads are open?