Clutch Encounters: Week 5

Clutch Encounters: Week 5
Clutch Encounters: Week 5
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Week 5 was one of those NFL weeks that could have been created from the mind of Lars von Trier, who once directed a series of films known as "The Depression Trilogy." There was a lot of emotional baggage to get over this week, starting with the terrible kicker situation in Tampa Bay with Nick Folk. On Sunday, we saw rookie DeShone Kizer get benched in perhaps Cleveland's last great shot at a win in 2017. Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, who apparently feel pain together these days, both missed a start, and their teams lost without them. Ben Roethlisberger threw a career-high five interceptions and questioned if he still has "it" after the game. Two of the game's biggest superstars, Odell Beckham Jr. and J.J. Watt, suffered season-ending injuries, and the pain on their faces is a sight that is hard to forget. Finally, we watched Sam Bradford struggle to move around on Monday night for nearly a whole half until Mike Zimmer did the humane thing and replaced him with Case Keenum.

There were nine games with a comeback opportunity, but not a lot of fun to be had here. Fortunately, we did get what was easily the best game of 2017 so far in Dallas between the Packers and Cowboys. There were five lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, and Green Bay's 78.9 percent win probability added on its game-winning drive was the biggest swing yet this season.

Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers 35 at Dallas Cowboys 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (21-15)
Game Winning Chance Before: 18.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 97.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 78.9 percent
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy (18-45-1 at 4QC and 27-47-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (12-34 at 4QC and 19-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)

There's just something about Aaron Rodgers and Dallas. The first touchdown pass of Rodgers' NFL career came in Dallas in 2007 when he came off the bench to replace an injured Brett Favre in a prime-time showdown with the Cowboys. Rodgers has two game-winning drives in the postseason and both were against the Cowboys. Not everything has been a positive, though. Two of the worst home losses in Rodgers' career (2008 and 2016) were to Dallas, although those are the only two times he has lost to the Cowboys as a starter in eight tries. In 2010, Rodgers roasted the 1-6 Cowboys so bad in a 45-7 win that Dallas fired Wade Phillips and promoted offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to head coach. Rodgers finished that 2010 season by winning his first Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP … in a game played in Dallas.

Rodgers' latest masterpiece is also the latest entry to a long line of disappointments for the Cowboys at home in their grand stadium. There are a ton of big moments to unpack in this instant classic of a game, but we are going to stick to a few salient points.

First, a real turning point occurred in the third quarter. Garrett's Cowboys punted on a fourth-and-2 from the 50 while leading 21-15. The Packers soon faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 48, but Mike McCarthy took a timeout and kept his offense on the field to go for it. Green Bay converted, and Rodgers capped off the long drive with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on the first play of the fourth quarter. Both coaches could have "gambled," even though the reality is both offenses had a favorable conversion to make against two struggling defenses. But only McCarthy had the stones to go for it while Garrett punted.

The Cowboys later regained a 24-22 lead, but relinquished it in unexpected fashion when Terrance Williams dropped a pass from Dak Prescott that turned into a pick-six for Damarious Randall. Green Bay went for two, which was another example of McCarthy aggressively pursuing as many points as he could in a high-scoring game. The Packers didn't convert, but still led 28-24 with 9:56 left. With that much time left, it wouldn't have been unthinkable for Dallas to score two field goals, so McCarthy's desire to go up 30-24 makes sense.

When FOX's Troy Aikman started talking about the Cowboys using as much clock as possible on their next drive, I thought he was crazy. With nearly 10 minutes left, of course you expect Rodgers to get the ball back with some time to answer. Dallas couldn't go too slow, or else risked the chance that this drive would be its only opportunity.

Well, wouldn't you know, Dallas made things very difficult on the drive, having to convert a few third downs and a monster fourth-and-1 just before the two-minute warning. Ezekiel Elliott appeared to be stopped short, but his extension for forward progress was enough to get the conversion. Ideally, Dallas would score its touchdown in the final minute. Not helping that cause was a risky pass into the end zone on second-and-2 from the Green Bay 11. I hated that call. Run the ball, get a new set of downs, make McCarthy consider using his final timeout, and perhaps take this thing under a minute. On third down, Prescott had a clear path to the end zone on a zone-read keeper. He took it the distance for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 left.

What if Prescott had gotten the first down, but then gone down the 1-yard line? We'll assume the Packers immediately call their last timeout, which would leave Dallas with first-and-goal at the 1 with 1:13 left. According to EdjFootball, Dallas' Game Winning Chance would be 77.9 percent. By scoring the touchdown to take a 31-28 lead, Dallas' Game Winning Chance was actually 82.6 percent, or 4.7 percentage points higher. I think Prescott made the right move in a situation where Dallas absolutely needed to score a touchdown. While this offense could be trusted to score on four chances from the 1-yard line, you never know when a false start or holding penalty can totally change those percentages.

Prescott just needed his defense to make a stop, or at the very least, hold Green Bay to a field goal for overtime. It's too bad Tony Romo couldn't call this NFC game, because what happened next is all too familiar to him and Dallas fans. After a couple of Rodgers completions, the Packers snuck in a 15-yard run by Aaron Jones, and the rookie also got out of bounds to stop the clock. His next carry wasn't as much of a surprise, and the Cowboys had Rodgers in a big third-and-8 with no timeouts left. A sack could have made things really interesting for the field goal unit to scramble onto the field, but Rodgers made another great escape to his left to avoid a sack and run down the sideline for an 18-yard scramble. After one try to Davante Adams in the end zone, Rodgers went right back to the same look and Adams caught the game-winning 12-yard touchdown against rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Dallas had only enough time for a desperation lateral play, but it was a fun attempt while it lasted.

While Aikman and Joe Buck talked up Rodgers' ability to pull off these late drives, the fact is his resume is not loaded with such comebacks. In fact, Sunday was just the fourth time in his career that Rodgers led a touchdown drive that started in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. Two of those four drives were Hail Mary passes, including the 2015 Arizona playoff loss where Rodgers did not see the ball in overtime. There was also a touchdown against Detroit in 2015 where Rodgers didn't get the game-tying two-point conversion, so the Packers still lost 18-16.

So Sunday was really the first time in his career that Rodgers ever threw a game-winning touchdown that wasn't a Hail Mary in a final two-minute drive. That's not a knock either, because these specific moments are very rare. Since 2011, there have been 23 game-winning touchdown passes on drives that started in the final 2:00 of the fourth quarter.

Game-winning Touchdown Pass on Drive That Started in Final 2:00 (Since 2011)
Team Opp Quarterback Receiver (TD) Date Result Deficit Start End DL
NYG NE Eli Manning Jake Ballard 11/6/2011 W 24-20 3 1:36 0:15 80
IND HOU Dan Orlovsky Reggie Wayne 12/22/2011 W 19-16 4 1:50 0:19 78
SF NO Alex Smith Vernon Davis 1/14/2012 W 36-32 3 1:32 0:09 85
DET STL Matthew Stafford Kevin Smith 9/9/2012 W 27-23 3 1:55 0:10 80
JAC IND Blaine Gabbert Cecil Shorts 9/23/2012 W 22-17 1 0:56 0:45 80
SEA GB Russell Wilson Golden Tate 9/24/2012 W 14-12 5 0:46 0:00 46
NYG WAS Eli Manning Victor Cruz 10/21/2012 W 27-23 3 1:27 1:13 77
IND DET Andrew Luck Donnie Avery 12/2/2012 W 35-33 5 1:07 0:00 75
BUF CAR EJ Manuel Stevie Johnson 9/15/2013 W 24-23 6 1:38 0:02 80
NE NO Tom Brady Kenbrell Thompkins 10/13/2013 W 30-27 4 1:13 0:05 70
SD KC Philip Rivers Seyi Ajirotutu 11/24/2013 W 41-38 4 1:17 0:24 78
Team Opp Quarterback Receiver (TD) Date Result Deficit Start End DL
BAL MIN Joe Flacco Marlon Brown 12/8/2013 W 29-26 4 0:45 0:04 80
NE CLE Tom Brady Danny Amendola 12/8/2013 W 27-26 5 1:00 0:31 40
CAR NO Cam Newton Domenik Hixon 12/22/2013 W 17-13 3 0:55 0:23 65
TB PIT Mike Glennon Vincent Jackson 9/28/2014 W 27-24 4 0:40 0:07 46
ARI PHI Carson Palmer John Brown 10/26/2014 W 24-20 3 1:56 1:21 80
DAL NYG Tony Romo Jason Witten 9/13/2015 W 27-26 6 1:29 0:07 72
NYG SF Eli Manning Larry Donnell 10/11/2015 W 30-27 4 1:41 0:21 82
GB DET Aaron Rodgers Richard Rodgers 12/3/2015 W 27-23 2 0:23 0:00 79
DET WAS Matthew Stafford Anquan Boldin 10/23/2016 W 20-17 4 1:05 0:16 75
PIT BAL Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown 12/25/2016 W 31-27 3 1:18 0:09 75
IND JAC Andrew Luck Jack Doyle 1/1/2017 W 24-20 3 1:33 0:09 75
GB DAL Aaron Rodgers Davante Adams 10/8/2017 W 35-31 3 1:13 0:11 75

So the drive Rodgers led here on Sunday is something that happens about three or four times a season. That's why when it does actually happen, it is easy to remember, as most of these games are quite memorable. Too often a final drive is simply setting up a field goal, or maybe it's just a touchdown that forces overtime (hey, Jacoby Jones and Rahim Moore) rather than one that wins the game. Also, a lot of the greatest "two-minute drives" in NFL history actually started just before the two-minute warning. Eli Manning had 2:39 left for the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Ben Roethlisberger had 2:30 left for Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII, and his classic drive to beat Rodgers' Packers in 2009 started with 2:01 left. Rodgers had a game-winning drive like this in Miami in 2014, but that one started with 2:04 left. None of those drives would make the cut for something that looks at the final 2:00 only, but we have to set a cutoff point somewhere. The two-minute warning isn't arbitrary either. The game literally stops for it, and the rule book adjusts for it.

Over their last 14 games, the Packers are 12-2, with the only losses coming in Atlanta in games that weren't close. During this stretch, Rodgers is 5-0 at game-winning drive opportunities, a remarkable run given that his record was 14-36 (.280) in his first 50 opportunities. He never had a winning streak longer than two games, but is up to five now, including the overtime win against the Bengals in Week 3.

For Dallas, this kind of high-scoring loss at home has become all too common in the Garrett era. Going back to January's similar 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay, the Cowboys have lost their last three home games in which they scored at least 30 points. That's the second-longest streak in NFL history, only topped by the time Dallas lost four such games in a row in 2012-13. Yes, Garrett has been the coach for all of those games. Prescott already has as many home losses (three) when scoring 30-plus points as Tom Brady (two) and Rodgers (one) have combined in their careers.

Dallas has lost 10 home games since 2010 when scoring at least 30 points. The next closest teams (Saints and Bills) have five such losses. Dallas' 15-10 (.600) record when scoring at least 30 points at home since 2010 is easily the worst in the NFL. The rest of the league wins 90.1 percent of such games. You have to go back to 2002 to find another team (Saints) that has accumulated 10 home losses with 30-plus points. Odder yet, the Cowboys are 14-1 on the road since 2010 when scoring 30-plus points. Only 10 teams since 2010 have won a higher percentage of road games than home games when scoring 30 points, but Dallas has by far the biggest increase.

Scoring 30-Plus Points: Home vs. Road (2010-2017)
Team Home Pct. Rk Road Pct. Rk DIFF Rk
JAC 9-0 1.000 1 4-3 0.571 31 0.429 1
CHI 11-0 1.000 1 8-3 0.727 26 0.273 2
CAR 17-0 1.000 1 13-4-1 0.750 23 0.250 3
MIN 18-2 0.900 16 4-2 0.667 28 0.233 4
TB 7-1 0.875 20 6-3 0.667 28 0.208 5
OAK 13-2 0.867 22 6-3 0.667 28 0.200 6
PIT 19-2 0.905 15 8-3 0.727 26 0.178 7
WAS 11-1 0.917 12 6-2 0.750 23 0.167 8
BUF 13-5 0.722 31 5-4 0.556 32 0.166 9
GB 28-1 0.966 6 20-4 0.833 19 0.133 10
NYJ 13-0 1.000 1 7-1 0.875 13 0.125 11
NO 27-5 0.844 27 15-5 0.750 23 0.094 12
MIA 10-0 1.000 1 10-1 0.909 11 0.091 13
PHI 15-1 0.938 9 17-3 0.850 17 0.088 14
DET 18-3 0.857 24 7-2 0.778 22 0.079 15
CIN 18-2-1 0.881 19 9-2 0.818 21 0.063 16
Team Home Pct. Rk Road Pct. Rk DIFF Rk
KC 12-1 0.923 10 13-2 0.867 15 0.056 17
BAL 15-2 0.882 18 10-2 0.833 19 0.049 18
DEN 24-2 0.923 10 14-2 0.875 13 0.048 19
HOU 14-2 0.875 20 11-2 0.846 18 0.029 20
NE 40-2 0.952 8 29-2 0.935 6 0.017 21
ATL 23-1 0.958 7 18-1 0.947 5 0.011 22
SEA 21-2 0.913 13 11-1 0.917 10 -0.004 23
LACH 20-2 0.909 14 13-1 0.929 8 -0.020 24
IND 12-2 0.857 24 13-1 0.929 8 -0.072 25
TEN 10-2 0.833 28 10-1 0.909 11 -0.076 26
LARM 9-1 0.900 16 7-0 1.000 1 -0.100 27
NYG 12-4 0.750 30 12-2 0.857 16 -0.107 28
ARI 13-2 0.867 22 9-0 1.000 1 -0.133 29
SF 12-2 0.857 24 10-0 1.000 1 -0.143 30
CLE 5-1 0.833 28 3-0 1.000 1 -0.167 31
DAL 15-10 0.600 32 14-1 0.933 7 -0.333 32

At some point, Garrett has to be held accountable for the shortcomings of the defense, or else the Prescott era is going to look an awful lot like the Romo era.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Minnesota Vikings 20 at Chicago Bears 17

Type: GWD
Head Coach: Mike Zimmer (5-9 at 4QC and 8-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (2-9 at 4QC and 4-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The real intrigue of Monday night's game was seeing the return of Sam Bradford, who hadn't played since Week 1, and the debut of rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Ultimately, Bradford was not healthy enough to make it to halftime, and Trubisky's uneven performance led to a disappointing finish for Chicago.

For a while there, it didn't seem like we would get any offensive points after the Bears went up 2-0 when Bradford took a horrible sack in the end zone for a safety. Case Keenum proved to be much more effective and mobile, and really should have started the game. In the second half, we saw four consecutive touchdown drives from these teams, including a 38-yard fake punt by the Bears. While John Fox kicked the extra point to keep the deficit at 10-9, perhaps it was wise to not go for two early. When the Bears later dialed up their two-point conversion play to tie the game in the fourth quarter, it was this incredible gem:

Was that not the sweetest play design for a two-point conversion in NFL history? Imagine trying to run this play with a giraffe like Mike Glennon at quarterback. It should be noted that this only came after Trubisky's first NFL touchdown pass, a fluke play that safety Andrew Sendejo nearly intercepted in the end zone. Instead, the tipped ball deflected right to Zach Miller for a 20-yard touchdown.

The final 12 minutes were not nearly as exciting. The teams even exchanged timeouts prior to a first-and-19 situation. With 2:32 left, Trubisky had his first good crack at a game-winning drive, but immediately threw an interception on the move after he failed to notice safety Harrison Smith. That was a dagger since the Vikings took over at the Chicago 28. Minnesota didn't go ultra-conservative here, as Keenum did drop back on second and third down. Leonard Floyd was flagged for defensive holding on third down, which was a pretty ticky-tack call that likely never happens without tight end Kyle Rudolph's outstanding acting performance. That penalty allowed the Vikings to kick the 26-yard game-winning field goal from Kai Forbath with 12 seconds left. The Bears only had time for one attempt at the circus of laterals, but that was snuffed out quickly this week (and not returned for a spread-beating touchdown).

In the end, the better team won, but it wasn't all bad for Trubisky, who only threw for only 128 yards to arguably the weakest cast of receivers in the NFL. He showed some really solid ball placement early against a good defense, and he looks fairly mobile and willing to take some risks. His first attempt at being a hero ending in a game-crushing interception in prime time is not good, but he should have plenty of chances to redeem himself.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 at New York Giants 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (22-17)
Game Winning Chance Before: 70.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 76.1 percent
Win Probability Added: 5.6 percent
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn (1-3 at 4QC and 1-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (23-61 at 4QC and 27-65 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Starting 0-5 in this league is difficult, especially when you had playoff aspirations like the Chargers and Giants did. Yet it was a near certainty for one of these teams to hit that mark after they both entered this game with 0-4 records. At the end of the three-plus-hour show, the Giants managed to craft an afternoon so depressing and unbelievable that even the Chargers could say "at least we don't have it that bad."

No team in NFL history has ever started 0-5 and made the playoffs, so this was the last hurrah for both teams in 2017. It was a back-and-forth affair, and once again Odell Beckham Jr. came through with a big play, getting wide open for a 48-yard touchdown. However, much like last week in Tampa Bay, the Giants failed on the two-point conversion and only led 22-17. After the Chargers later got a field goal, things really darkened on the Giants' season. Beckham fractured his ankle after trying to come down with a pass from Eli Manning with 4:00 left, and he'll miss the rest of the season. The Giants had already lost wide receivers Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Dwayne Harris (foot) to season-ending injuries earlier in the game, and Sterling Shepard also was out with an ankle injury. I can't recall ever seeing a team lose that many players at one position to injury in the same game.

On the snap after the Beckham injury, Manning lost the ball on a strip-sack by Melvin Ingram, setting up Philip Rivers and the offense at the New York 11. On third-and-9, Rivers found Melvin Gordon for an easy touchdown out of the backfield to take a 27-22 lead with 2:58 left.

Manning had plenty of time left to drive 74 yards for the game-winning touchdown, but he was basically down to receiving back Shane Vereen and rookie tight end Evan Engram as his main weapons. Vereen was very busy on the drive, with seven plays going to him, but the end result was fairly predictable. On a fourth-and-10 at midfield, Manning's pass intended for Engram was picked off by Tre Boston to wrap up the win for the Chargers. Yes, even the Chargers can go across country for an early body-clock game and beat the injury-ravaged Giants in the fourth quarter.

The Giants were 11-1 when defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter a year ago when they were a playoff team. They are 0-3 this year and have blown a fourth-quarter lead in three straight weeks. This makes the Giants the fifth team since 1978 to start 0-5 after a season with at least 11 wins.

Teams to Start 0-5 After 11-Win Season (Since 1978)
Team Year Record Result Y N+1 Final Record
NYG 1986 14-2 Won SB 1987 6-9
STL 2001 14-2 Lost SB 2002 7-9
TEN 2008 13-3 Lost AFC-DIV 2009 8-8
DET 2014 11-5 Lost NFC-WC 2015 7-9
NYG 2016 11-5 Lost NFC-WC 2017 TBD
Note: No team in NFL history has made playoffs after 0-5.

New York was already the first stunning example on this list. The 1987 team started 0-5 after winning the Super Bowl the previous year, but that probably deserves a major asterisk because the Giants were 0-3 in the replacement games. (Discussed further here.) None of these teams totally tanked and lost a double-digit number of games, but big changes occurred midseason. The Rams replaced an injured Kurt Warner at quarterback with an unexpected hot hand in Marc Bulger. The Titans turned back to Vince Young at quarterback in 2009. The 2015 Lions fired their offensive coordinator and went to Jim Bob Cooter's offense to get Matthew Stafford going.

The Giants aren't likely to bench Manning or ditch any coordinators. Their star receivers are done and all hope is lost for 2017. From a 61-yard field goal in Philadelphia to Beckham's injury and the ensuing strip-sack, the Giants' season fell apart in what felt like a New York Minute.

Buffalo Bills 16 at Cincinnati Bengals 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (13-10)
Game Winning Chance Before: 31.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After:63.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 32.0 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (30-70-2 at 4QC and 41-71-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (13-26-2 at 4QC and 18-27-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A.J. Green had one of the more interesting "he giveth and he taketh away" games you'll ever see from a star player. Wide receivers generally aren't criticized for their bad plays in a game in the way that a quarterback is, or even an offensive tackle when he gets beaten badly by a pass-rusher. We tend to look at Green's seven catches for 189 yards and a 77-yard touchdown and just conclude he had a monster day. On one hand, he certainly did, but on the other hand, he was directly responsible for three turnovers that kept this game very close for Cincinnati. We talked about the Bills getting some fortunate turnovers from Matt Ryan in Atlanta a week ago, and here in the rain, Green tipped two of Andy Dalton's passes right to Bills for two more interceptions. Green also fumbled after getting hit from behind on a 20-yard gain that would have given the Bengals a first down in the red zone late in the third quarter.

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The Bills drove after that Green fumble for a field goal, taking a 13-10 lead. Green had to redeem himself, and on a third-and-10 to end the third quarter, he did with a long catch-and-run for 47 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, rookie back Joe Mixon took the handoff and bounced to the outside for an impressive 5-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 17-13 lead. It was Cincinnati's first rushing touchdown of the season.

Two drives later, a 40-yard punt return by Brandon Tate and a penalty on the Cincinnati sideline put the Buffalo offense at the Cincinnati 12, a great opportunity to take the lead. Tyrod Taylor continued to have his struggles with rookie Zay Jones, who has now caught just 5-of-23 targets for 66 yards this season. Jones tried to make a diving one-handed attempt in the end zone on a bad Taylor pass, but did not complete the play. LeSean McCoy ended up leading the Bills in targets (nine) and catches (six), and that's just not good enough when he only gained 26 receiving yards. The Bills were also missing tight end Charles Clay, who left in the first half with a knee injury. Buffalo had to settle for a 28-yard field goal to make it 17-16. Dalton played fairly well with 328 passing yards and the two interceptions being tips that should have been caught. He set up another scoring drive for a 29-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 20-16 lead with 3:33 left.

The Bills were out of timeouts, so this was really the final chance for Taylor, who is now 2-13 (.133) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, the worst record among active starters in the NFL. He had a very poor drive, starting with the sack he took on first down after holding the ball way too long. That was followed by a late dumpoff to McCoy for no gain, and finally a poor overthrow on third-and-15 that was intercepted by George Iloka. At the two-minute warning, Mixon bounced another run to the outside for 10 yards and a game-clinching first down.

While Cincinnati (2-3) seems to be finding its offensive stride again, it is hard to see Buffalo (3-2) ever getting on track offensively this season. Once the turnovers start to dry up on defense, the offense is going to have to do more than it has so far for this team to continue as an unlikely playoff contender.

San Francisco 49ers 23 at Indianapolis Colts 26

Type: GWD (OT)
Game Winning Chance Before: 54.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 45.5 percent
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (11-13 at 4QC and 15-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jacoby Brissett (0-0 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

For the third time in their last 16 games, the Colts watched a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter evaporate. This one seemed over once Jacoby Brissett rushed for a touchdown to give the Colts a 23-9 lead with 9:56 left, but Brian Hoyer led the competitive 49ers on back-to-back touchdown drives to force another overtime game. The Colts had two shots on fourth down to end the rally attempt, but Hoyer found tight end George Kittle each time. First, Kittle made a great catch for 19 yards on a fourth-and-1 play-action pass that was a little risky by Kyle Shanahan. Then, Kittle caught a slant on a pick play and fought to break the plane with 20 seconds left on the game-tying touchdown.

In overtime, the Colts received first, and T.Y. Hilton continued his monster day (177 yards) with a 46-yard bomb off play-action to put the Colts at the San Francisco 8. You may have expected Chuck Pagano to go conservative here, but Brissett threw on first down. He just happened to not spot Ray-Ray Armstrong, who came up with an easy interception. Now the 49ers could win with a field goal, but a holding penalty on Laken Tomlinson made things difficult. Hoyer threw low and well short of the sticks on third-and-15, and the 49ers punted with 3:39 left.

This one smelled like a tie, but Marlon Mack provided another big run (35 yards), the kind that has been sorely missing from this offense in the Pagano era. The Colts really did a lousy job of getting closer after Mack's run, but when you have Adam Vinatieri as your kicker, you can trust him with the game on the line. Vinatieri drilled the 51-yard game-winning field goal with 1:38 left, sparing us a pesky tie, but you can see one is going to be coming any day now with this shortened overtime.

The 49ers have lost in the final 100 seconds of overtime two weeks in a row, and have lost their last four games by a combined 11 points. Shanahan has his team fighting hard, but the wins just haven't been there yet.

Tennessee Titans 10 at Miami Dolphins 16

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 49.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 69.9 percent
Win Probability Added: 20.4 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (5-3 at 4QC and 8-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (22-31 at 4QC and 27-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This was the third game this season where neither team had 15 first downs, matching the NFL total for all of 2014 to 2016. Maybe this was to be expected in a quarterback battle between a guy who retired (Jay Cutler) and a guy who probably should retire (Matt Cassel). The absence of Marcus Mariota (hamstring) certainly hurt the Titans, but in a game between two of 2016's best running backs (DeMarco Murray and Jay Ajayi), there was little to see offensively.

Cutler was basically good for one drive all day, and it just so happened to be the game-winning drive to start the fourth quarter, breaking the 10-10 tie. Cutler completed a 17-yard pass to Jarvis Landry, and 17 yards was the longest gain by either team in the whole game. He finished the drive by squeezing in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry on third down, but Cody Parkey missed the extra point, keeping the lead to 16-10 with 10:33 left.

Cassel's success rate was 1-for-6 over his next two drives after he missed badly on a few throws and took a third-down sack to bring the clock down to three minutes. The Titans could have set up one more game-winning drive attempt with two minutes left, but Ajayi lunged ahead for an 8-yard gain on third-and-7, costing the Titans their final timeout. By the time Cassel got the ball back, only 19 seconds remained and the ball was 93 yards away from the end zone. Delanie Walker was tackled immediately on the game's final play before he could even start a lateral chain.

Cutler finished the game 12-of-26 passing for 92 yards. What do you call a game where a quarterback throws at least 25 passes, doesn't crack 100 yards, but still gets credit for a game-winning drive? I might call this a "McMahon" given that Mike McMahon did this twice for the Eagles in a four-week span in 2005. There have only been 10 instances since 1950.

Games with 25+ Passes, Fewer Than 100 Yards, and a Game-winning Drive (Since 1950)
Player Date Team Opp Result Cmp Att Pct. Yds TD INT PR Sk Yds Note
Billy Kilmer 9/27/1976 WAS at PHI W 20-17 OT 11 33 33.3% 96 0 3 4.5 0 0 GW FG (OT)
Phil Simms 9/13/1981 NYG at WAS W 17-7 8 27 29.6% 93 0 1 26.0 1 7 GW FG
Vince Evans 11/8/1981 CHI at KC W 16-13 OT 7 30 23.3% 77 1 0 50.7 0 0 GW FG (OT)
Jim Miller 12/23/2001 CHI at WAS W 20-15 13 26 50.0% 98 0 0 59.5 0 0 GW fake FG TD pass
Brett Favre 11/16/2003 GB at TB W 20-13 13 28 46.4% 92 1 1 51.5 0 0 GW TD run
Drew Brees 12/28/2003 SD OAK W 21-14 15 28 53.6% 97 1 0 73.1 3 23 GW TD run
Mike McMahon 11/27/2005 PHI GB W 19-14 12 28 42.9% 91 0 0 51.3 0 0 GW FG
Carson Palmer 12/11/2005 CIN CLE W 23-20 13 27 48.1% 93 1 1 53.5 0 0 GW FG
Mike McMahon 12/18/2005 PHI at STL W 17-16 15 28 53.6% 97 1 3 33.5 4 21 GW TD pass
Jay Cutler 10/8/2017 MIA TEN W 16-10 12 26 46.2% 92 1 1 52.1 1 14 GW TD pass

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Seahawks at Rams: Not Super Enough

If there was one thing Jeff Fisher did well in his time as head coach of the Rams (2012-2016), it was compete against the Seahawks. Fisher was 5-4 in those games despite always being the underdog. Sean McVay had his first crack at the Seahawks on Sunday, and it was a great chance to go to 4-1 and first place in the NFC West, but the team fell flat as a slight home favorite. The opportunities were certainly there. Beyond the early 10-0 lead, Todd Gurley fumbled through the end zone on the team's first drive of the day, and Greg Zuerlein missed a 36-yard field goal to start the third quarter after the Seahawks had tied the game at 10. Those are not coaching mistakes, but the Rams did look like a young team that just does not have the experience yet of winning this type of game.

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Seattle has that experience and took a 13-10 lead on Blair Walsh's 49-yard field goal. Jared Goff came into Week 5 leading the league in passing DVOA, but this was his first real defensive test in 2017. He may not have failed miserably, but he certainly didn't pass. Goff flirted with a few dangerous passes, but was finally burned on a third-and-20 from the Seattle 25 in the final minute of the third quarter. Goff was just trying to throw a screen to Gurley, but was way too high on the throw. The pass was tipped, because that seems to be the new norm to get interceptions in the NFL this year, and Sheldon Richardson came away with the big takeaway. Later in the fourth quarter, Goff had another impressive drive going, but was hit as he threw late and the wobbler made its way to Earl Thomas for another interception with 6:02 left.

The defense forced Seattle into a third straight three-and-out drive, so Goff was getting help there. He found tight end Tyler Higbee three times on the day for plays that gained at least 22 yards each (86 yards total). That's pretty remarkable when Higbee had just 85 receiving yards on 29 targets as a rookie last year. But after a big play to Higbee, Goff turned the ball over again after a strip-sack by Frank Clark.

At the two-minute warning, Russell Wilson had a third-and-6 that would have iced the game with a conversion. He threw short of the sticks to Tyler Lockett, who couldn't break a tackle. With a fourth-and-2 at the 12-yard line, I like the idea of going for it to win the game and avoid the 6-point lead situation. However, when you feel like you can trust your defense, then kicking a field goal to go up 16-10 and leave Goff little time to drive 75 yards for a touchdown is an attractive option too. After a timeout, the Seahawks at least had the offense line up, but it wasn't clear if they would ever actually snap the ball. It looked more like a ruse to draw the Rams offsides, but instead Doug Baldwin was hit with a false start, sending Walsh out for a 35-yard field goal.

So Goff had 69 seconds left to drive 75 yards for the first game-winning drive of his career, and that certainly would have been a nice one to remember. He started out with a 35-yard pass down the seam to Higbee, and soon had another 20-yard gain to reach the Seattle 20 with a spike and 17 seconds left. From there, it had to be throws to the sidelines or the end zone. On third-and-10, Goff delivered a good seam pass for rookie Cooper Kupp, but it just wasn't a perfect pass. Kupp failed to make the great game-winning catch.

On fourth down, Goff tried a similar throw to Kupp, but that pass was way too low and short of the end zone. The Seahawks hung on and move into first place in the NFC West with both teams at 3-2 now. This would have been a big one for McVay, Goff, and the Rams, but until proven otherwise, Seattle is still the team to beat in this division.

Patriots at Buccaneers: Get the Folk Out

Let's take a quick trip back to the Thursday night disappointment by the Buccaneers at home against a vulnerable New England team that was missing Rob Gronkowski (thigh) and saw Tom Brady turn the ball over twice. Regardless, the Buccaneers trailed 16-7 to start the fourth quarter when kicker Nick Folk was wide left on a 49-yard field goal. He had missed a 56-yard field goal to end the first half, but this should have been makeable from 49 yards. Worse yet, Folk later wasted a five-minute drive by the offense when he missed a 31-yard field goal with 5:36 left. Jameis Winston finally got the offense into the end zone on the next drive, but Folk's lousy onside kick was recovered by the Patriots, who added a field goal to take a 19-14 lead.

Winston had 70 seconds and no timeouts to drive the offense 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Things started well with a 24-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, but a failure to line up quickly and run the next play cost Tampa Bay dearly with a false start penalty and 10-second runoff. By the time Winston ran his offense's second play of the drive, only 26 seconds remained. But two more completions and a spike gave the Buccaneers one final shot from the 19-yard line. I think Bill Belichick made a good decision to not call a timeout, as many defenses do that to make sure their final-play strategy is sound, especially after seeing what formation the offense comes out in. The Seahawks and Colts called timeout in this situation in Week 5, for example.

However, with three seconds left at the 19-yard line, wasn't it kind of obvious that Winston would be throwing to the end zone? Well, despite an allotment of tall receivers and just a three-man rush from the Patriots, Winston hurried his throw and never gave rookie tight end O.J. Howard a chance to make a play. Howard, who was not targeted all night until this play, never turned around for the ball. It was a weird ending to an ugly night for the Buccaneers.

It is not as simple as saying "Tampa Bay wins if Folk makes two kicks" since the Patriots would have approached the ending differently, but the kicker position sure has hurt the Buccaneers in recent years. Roberto Aguayo was a huge bust as a second-round pick, and Folk, who is now on injured reserve, is not the answer either.

Jets at Browns: When Winning Is Losing

No professional team enjoys losing, but this was a loss that would have given one of these teams a great push towards securing the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. By embarking on this three-game winning streak, the Jets are all but out of that race. This had to be the most winnable game left on Cleveland's schedule, if not the only game that can stop this team from going 0-16. If this was a battle of tanking teams, then the Browns clearly had the better of it. They missed a 39-yard field goal, while the Jets made a 57-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead at the half.

Oh, Cleveland still made things look good. After benching DeShone Kizer for Kevin Hogan at halftime, the Browns took their first lead of the season on a touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku. No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett quickly picked up two sacks in his NFL debut. However, the Jets led 10-7 going into the fourth quarter, and Hue Jackson went for the first down on a fourth-and-2 at the New York 4. In past years, this would have been an automatic game-tying field goal for most coaches, but I liked the call with nearly a full quarter left and with a good advantage in field position. The Jets crowded the line and Isaiah Crowell ran right into it for just a 1-yard gain to fall short of the marker.

Little did anyone expect Josh McCown to respond with a 97-yard touchdown drive to put the game out of reach. He converted two big third downs and found Jermaine Kearse wide open on a 24-yard touchdown after the Browns -- namely Briean Boddy-Calhoun -- were late in reacting to Kearse in motion on a fake screen. Down 17-7, Hogan was unsuccessful on his first six fourth-quarter plays, but did get a 41-yard touchdown at the two-minute warning after Duke Johnson showed impressive YAC skills on a screen pass to beat the blitz. However, Cleveland's onside kick failed and the Jets kneeled out the clock.

At the very least, Cleveland may have wrapped up a future victory, because if the Jets want their quarterback of the future with the No. 1 pick in the draft, they'll likely have to deal a fortune to the Browns.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 13
Game-winning drives: 25
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 42/77 (54.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 8

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 10 Oct 2017, 6:33pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

As I recall, Wade Phillips wasn't the only coach fired in 2010 immediately after being beaten by the Packers. Wasn't the Vikings coach also fired after a loss to the Packers that year?