Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Clutch Encounters: Week 6
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

What did we learn from a wild Week 6 that was great for underdogs? Scoring on special teams is still possible despite the rule changes. The season had its first two kickoff return touchdowns, and the punt return count doubled from two to four. There was also a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in Jacksonville. Overall, Week 6 produced 15 return touchdowns, the most in any week since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, if not the most in NFL history.

In the end, we had 10 games with a comeback opportunity, which is fairly normal. What's not so normal is that we have only had 16 fourth-quarter comeback wins through Week 6. The average for 2011 to 2016 was 27.2 comebacks at this point of the season, with every season having at least 22 comebacks. We're still getting a typical number for games with an opportunity, but we have seen failure at a higher rate in 2017. Offenses are 16-49 (.246) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in 2017. Last year, teams won 33.6 percent of those opportunities.

Season 4QC thru Week 6 Games with 4QC opportunity
2011 31 59 of 90 (65.6 percent)
2012 29 53 of 91 (58.2 percent)
2013 27 60 of 92 (65.2 percent)
2014 22 54 of 91 (59.3 percent)
2015 27 54 of 91 (59.3 percent)
2016 27 57 of 92 (62.0 percent)
2017 16 52 of 91 (57.1 percent)

Remember that some times both offenses can get comeback opportunities in the same game. Take Monday Night Football, for example.

Game of the Week

Indianapolis Colts 22 at Tennessee Titans 36

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (19-15)
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey (7-25 at 4QC and 7-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (5-11 at 4QC and 5-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)

On Monday night in Tennessee, the Titans pulled off a comeback that is rare for this franchise, but a very important hurdle to get over for the Marcus Mariota era. The Colts had won 11 games in a row against the Titans, but much of that was built on superior quarterback play. With Andrew Luck still out and Mariota (hamstring) returning from a week out, that difference proved to be pivotal.

While Jacoby Brissett had a hot start, he cooled off considerably in the second half, and tight end Jack Doyle did him no favors with several drops and a fumble. Mariota was the opposite on the night. He started slowly, looked stiff in the pocket, and threw a pick-six to start the third quarter that put the Titans behind 19-9.

Mariota then had a practically flawless fourth quarter. The Titans were still down 19-15 to start the period, but made a wise decision on the first play with a quarterback sneak from Mariota to convert a fourth-and-1. That drive ended with DeMarco Murray in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. A 60-yard kick return helped the Colts out immensely, but intentional grounding by Brissett sunk the drive. Adam Vinatieri was still good from 52 yards away on a field goal to tie the game at 22 with 7:27 left.

Mariota came right back with the game-winning touchdown pass: 53 yards to rookie wideout Taywan Taylor, who got past rookie safety Malik Hooker. There was plenty of time for Brissett to answer, but his checkdown brought up a big fourth-and-1 with under 2:30 remaining at the Tennessee 13. While the Titans went quarterback sneak to start this quarter, the Colts had a different plan with their big backup quarterback. Brissett kept the ball on a bootleg, but came up short even after he tried to lunge forward with the ball. We also got a reminder here of the NFL's different rules for the end zone versus the rest of the field. Once Brissett crosses into that boundary line the ball is dead, so he was ruled short, and the Colts lost a challenge and timeout here.

I personally subscribe to the "shortest distance between two points is a straight line" theory. Run the quarterback sneak and keep this thing moving. The bootleg was a weak call there.

The Colts still had a chance to get the ball back, but the Titans turned the game over to Derrick Henry on the ground. He finished the Colts off with a 72-yard touchdown run that wasn't really necessary, but pushed the score to 36-22.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Miami Dolphins 20 at Atlanta Falcons 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Game Winning Chance Before: 36.1 percent
Game Winning Chance After:66.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 30.6 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (6-3 at 4QC and 9-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (23-31 at 4QC and 28-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Way to go, Atlanta. Nothing like blowing a 17-0 halftime lead at home a week before your rematch with the Patriots in prime time in Week 7. Not to mention this was to a Miami offense that continued to look lethargic for a half. But in a game that was lean on possessions (17 total), the Dolphins scored on four straight drives in the second half.

Similar to the Super Bowl LI collapse, Atlanta's offensive line really struggled. A collapsing pocket around Matt Ryan led to a sack by Ndamukong Suh to blow up one drive. In the fourth quarter, Jake Matthews, who had two huge holding penalties in the Super Bowl, had another one here, and Ryan was sacked by Cameron Wake to bring up a third-and-24. The Falcons even botched the snap on the ensuing punt, so the Dolphins started at their own 48 on the game-tying drive. Finally, William Hayes exploded through the line to tackle Tevin Coleman for an 8-yard loss that brought up a third-and-16 on another Atlanta three-and-out before Miami took the lead for good.

Also much like the Super Bowl, that decisive stop the Falcons needed on defense never came. The Dolphins converted two fourth downs in the half, and Jay Cutler got away with an interception thanks to a careless late hit by Grady Jarrett that brought out a flag for roughing the passer. Miami finished that drive with a touchdown. On the game-winning drive, Miami's best players came through. Jay Ajayi ripped off back-to-back 18-yard runs, and Cutler found Jarvis Landry on a third-and-9 conversion that took precious time off the clock and made an easier field goal (38 yards) for Cody Parkey with 2:30 left.

That still left plenty of time for Ryan in a 20-17 game. He drove the offense to the Miami 26 in the final minute, so the game-tying field goal was in the back pocket for Matt Bryant to at least force overtime. Ryan may have pushed the envelope too far, however, by attempting a pass in tight coverage to Austin Hooper. The pass was tipped to Reshad Jones for a game-ending interception with 39 seconds left.

This was the fifth time since the 2012 NFC Championship Game that Atlanta has lost a game after leading by at least 17 points. (They also blew a 27-7 third-quarter lead to Seattle the week before in the 2012 divisional round, but came back to win 30-28.) You have to go back to the Texans (circa 2008-2013) to find a stretch when a team accumulated five blown leads of at least 17 points. The only other team with more than two such losses since 2012 is the Chargers (three). The Falcons have blown three 17-point leads in the last calendar year, starting with that loss to the Chargers in Week 7 last season. So this is really bad stuff.

Ryan has six interceptions in his last three games after tossing seven picks in 19 games in 2016. What has the difference been? Tipped interceptions by his own receivers. Ryan has four of those in the last three games after having two all of last season. The only other quarterback to have four tipped interceptions in the last six seasons was Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2011. This is four in three games, so sometimes regression just comes in the form of bad luck. 2017 has been an awful luck year for Ryan, which already looked like a true statement on February 5.

Los Angeles Chargers 17 at Oakland Raiders 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (10-7)
Game Winning Chance Before: 32.9 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 67.1 percent
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn (2-3 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (24-61 at 4QC and 28-65 overall 4QC/GWD record)

I am not sure which is crazier: the Chargers pulling off fourth-quarter comeback wins in consecutive weeks, or the Raiders losing four games in a row. The Chargers last did that late in the 2008 season, while Oakland hasn't had a losing streak this long since the team started 0-10 in Derek Carr's rookie season (2014). Carr returned to action after missing last week with a back injury, but the offense continued to be less than sharp. Still, Cordarrelle Patterson's 47-yard touchdown burst on a jet sweep was enough to give the Raiders a 16-14 lead with 7:51 left. New kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was wide left on the extra point, but that just set things up for the Chargers to blow the game-winning field goal, right?


That's the kind of thing that happened to the Chargers last year, especially in losses to the Raiders where they couldn't even get the snap handled on the field goal. But that was 2016, a season where the Raiders were the only team in the NFL to not blow a fourth-quarter lead. They finally blew one here (twice even), but the offense was also pretty complicit in the fourth quarter, which began with an incompletion by Carr on a fourth-and-2 at the Los Angeles 41. Philip Rivers took advantage of that short field and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Gordon to take a 14-10 lead, but later found himself with the ball, down 16-14, and 4:09 left. That was after Oakland tried an interesting hook-and-lateral play on third-and-12 that came up a couple of yards short. Teams usually only run those plays in desperate times, but things are getting desperate early in this season for Oakland.

Tight end Hunter Henry came alive for the Chargers with two big catches behind the defense for 57 yards early in the drive. With Oakland having all three timeouts and the two-minute warning, the Chargers had to still be aggressive and pursue the touchdown. Instead, the Chargers went to old-school ground-and-pound football -- and it worked. They hammered Gordon on five straight runs, mostly from the I-formation with a fullback. After Gordon's third-down conversion put the ball at the Oakland 10 with the Raiders out of timeouts, the best strategy was to center the ball for the field goal on the final play. That's why the Raiders may have been better off letting Gordon take the bait of an open path to the end zone and score in a 16-14 game. At least the offense would have had 100-plus seconds to answer, but that wasn't the case. Rivers kneeled twice and Nick Novak was good on the 32-yard field goal with no time left for a 17-16 win.

Shockingly, this one drops the Raiders into last place at 2-4, the same record as the Chargers now.

San Francisco 49ers 24 at Washington Redskins 26

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 82.3 percent
Game Winning Chance After:85.6 percent
Win Probability Added: 3.3 percent
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (6-16-1 at 4QC and 12-16-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins (6-15-1 at 4QC and 10-15-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The 49ers had lost four really close games in a row, but that streak looked to be ending after Washington started on a 17-0 run in the first half. However, rookie C.J. Beathard replaced Brian Hoyer at quarterback, and the 49ers went on consecutive scoring drives. A fumble by Vernon Davis led to a 1-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 17 late in the third quarter. Kirk Cousins had another big game, but had to convert a couple of third-and-long situations to keep the ensuing drive going. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cousins checked down on third-and-12 to Chris Thompson, who dodged a tackle to pick up 13 yards. Thompson is becoming one of the premiere receiving backs in the NFL and led the team with 105 receiving yards on Sunday. Dustin Hopkins kicked a 21-yard field goal with 10:34 left that was technically the game-winning drive, but the 49ers made sure to make the Redskins sweat this one out. That was even the case after Cousins scored on a 7-yard zone-read keeper with 3:28 left. But Hopkins missed the extra point, which could have been huge later.

The 49ers trailed 26-17, but got a quick score after Beathard scrambled to find Aldrick Robinson wide open for a 45-yard touchdown with 1:58 left. Too bad that drive wasn't a few seconds quicker, because the 49ers lost the two-minute warning. They went onside kick, which was recovered by Washington. Despite holding a slim 26-24 lead, the Redskins stayed pretty conservative with three runs, including one on third-and-6 where a first down would have won the game, and a punt. Worse, that punt was a touchback, leaving Beathard with 52 seconds left from his own 20.

Pierre Garcon caught a deflected pass to get to the Washington 40 with 28 seconds left. From there, an offense should use the middle of the field to get another completion, spike the ball, and attempt the game-winning field goal. The 49ers stuck more to the left side, and on second down, Beathard's pass intended for Garcon fell incomplete with a lot of contact on the play. Garcon was penalized for offensive pass interference, apparently for setting an illegal pick. I really think this looked more like defensive pass interference by linebacker Zach Brown, who even admitted he wanted to run into Garcon to draw a penalty.

That might be the worst offensive pass interference call in crunch time this season since the phantom call on San Francisco's Trent Taylor in Week 3. And you wonder why this team is 0-6?

The penalty set up a second-and-20 at the 50, and Carlos Hyde alligator-armed a pass. On fourth-and-20, Beathard's desperation throw was picked off to end the game.

The 49ers set an NFL record by becoming the first team to lose five consecutive games by three or fewer points. You don't set a record like that without some remarkable things going against you. Now we'll have to see if Beathard provides any spark as a starter over Hoyer.

Chicago Bears 27 at Baltimore Ravens 24

Type: GWD (OT)
Game Winning Chance Before: 36.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 63.6 percent
Head Coach: John Fox (36-61 at 4QC and 47-68 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky (0-1 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Head coach John Fox's "Foxball" style of football has worked out in the past, but Chicago's specific formula for winning in 2017 may not be sustainable. It involves hiding the quarterback so that he barely breaks 100 net passing yards; running Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to the tune of over 200 yards; and pulling things out in overtime over AFC North teams.

Well, at least there should be a third win over Cleveland in Week 16, but the Bears were a little fortunate to escape with a road win in Baltimore. Then again, the Ravens were fortunate to even make it to overtime after two incredible return touchdowns on special teams. Joe Flacco and the offense struggled mightily again through the air. There was a sequence early in the fourth quarter that really sums up the ineptitude of this passing game. The Ravens trailed 17-10 with a first-and-goal at the Chicago 9. Flacco proceeded to throw two horizontal passes, then crossed the line of scrimmage for a third-down pass.

Later, Flacco had a pass tipped and deflected -- this is 2017's favorite thing, apparently -- to Adrian Amos, who made an amazing 90-yard return for a touchdown. The Bears led 24-13 with 5:08 left, but the Ravens still staged an unexpected comeback. Justin Tucker made a 50-yard field goal, and then the defense stopped Howard on a third-and-1 at the two-minute warning where a conversion would have iced the game. Michael Campanaro returned the ensuing punt 77 yards for a touchdown, and Flacco finally delivered to Nick Boyle on the two-point conversion to tie the game.

The game went to overtime, and if my team had won the coin toss, I would have elected to kick off first. Baltimore's offense was unable to drive for a touchdown in the game, but the Bears took the ball first. Their offense wasn't much better with a limited passing game, and a holding penalty ruined the drive. Baltimore had good field position at the 40, only needing a field goal to win, but the offense went three-and-out. Howard immediately flipped field position with a 53-yard run, but rookie Mitchell Trubisky had to make one big throw to get his first NFL win and game-winning drive. On third-and-11, Trubisky evaded pressure and fired a pass for a leaping Kendall Wright for 18 yards. Three runs later, the Bears brought out Connor Barth for the 40-yard game-winning field goal with 2:06 left in overtime. We thankfully avoided a tie again.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Steelers at Chiefs: Kansas City's Kryptonite

Only Mike Tomlin's Steelers could lose to the Mike Glennon-led Bears, lose by 21 points at home to the Jaguars, and then go beat the NFL's last undefeated team on the road. Pittsburgh's defense has had an embarrassingly easy schedule so far, but the Steelers just held the No. 1 offense to 6 yards at halftime. The second half was a different story, but Pittsburgh really controlled this game and should have had an even bigger lead. They were hurt by lingering issues in the red zone, and Tomlin's on/off switch for aggression wasn't working again. He even took a delay of game at the Kansas City 35 and punted.

The Chiefs almost took advantage of that opportunity in a 12-3 game, but Andy Reid's fourth-and-2 decision at the Pittsburgh 4 backfired. Alex Smith's pass for Demetrius Harris looked like a catch, or a simultaneous catch, but then it looked like an interception by Sean Davis, only to finally be ruled incomplete. Yeah, I don't even know what's real anymore, but no touchdown looked to be the right call.

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According to EdjFootball, Kansas City's Game Winning Chance with a short pass in that situation was 32.9 percent, a run (by Kareem Hunt) would have been 33.7 percent, and a field goal would have been 28.7 percent. So going for it seems to be the right call, though not so much with a pass. Personally, I kind of prefer the field goal with almost 13 minutes left since the Chiefs struggled so much to move the ball to that point. I also would have thrown the ball on third down instead of running like the Chiefs did.

But the next drive did not come up empty after Smith found De'Anthony Thomas for a 57-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh responded with its own big play. While Ben Roethlisberger has had some bad luck lately with interceptions, he caught a break on third-and-2 with 3:34 left. His pass was deflected by the defense and snatched by Antonio Brown, who made a great move and took off for a 51-yard touchdown to take a 19-10 lead. The Chiefs still answered quickly with a field goal, then forced a three-and-out on defense after Roethlisberger threw incomplete at the two-minute warning. Reid should have saved his second timeout for after the two-minute warning to dare Pittsburgh to run, but we are talking about Reid and clock management here.

The Chiefs were still in a pretty good spot, especially after Tyreek Hill's 32-yard punt return put the ball at the Kansas City 44 with 1:42 left. However, some of the limitations of the receiving corps took shape here. The Chiefs were already without Chris Conley (Achilles), and Hill sat out this drive with an injury situation. Ageless wonder James Harrison was getting close to Smith off the edge, and on a third-and-10, he delivered again with a huge sack to set up fourth-and-18. Smith's pass was nowhere close, and the 1972 Dolphins could start their annual celebration of a perfect season.

Kansas City has done a lot of great things since last season, but beating the Steelers has not been one of them. Pittsburgh has taken all three meetings, including two at Arrowhead. If this matchup happens again, that's going to be all you hear about, but the Chiefs will have to come up with answers for Le'Veon Bell and Brown.

Patriots at Jets: The "But Fumble?" Game

New York's early 14-0 lead evaporated quickly as the Jets scored just a field goal on their final eight possessions. Josh McCown came back to earth with two interceptions, but the controversial play is the fumble through the end zone by Austin Seferian-Jenkins when the Jets were trying to make it a 24-21 game with 8:24 left. Originally ruled a touchdown, the call was reversed to a fumble at the 1-yard line with the ball going out of bounds through the end zone. One of the NFL's worst rules, which hopefully will get consideration for removal, dictates that a fumble through the end zone results in a touchback for the opponent. This is not the case anywhere else on the field with a fumble from a play from scrimmage. Go figure, the New England defense gets credit for a takeaway without actually taking the ball away.

For starters, this was clearly a catch and not a case of a receiver going to the ground to complete the process. Seferian-Jenkins clearly lost control of the ball at one point, but quickly regained control as well. When he lands on the pylon, he seems to maintain a firm grip on the ball, and it's possible that his left knee was down as well. Al Riveron, the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, supported the fumble call, and he made it based on the same TV angles we saw in the broadcast. Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino did not see enough clear evidence to overturn the call on the field of a touchdown.

In the future, I think the fairest ruling here would be a fumble out of bounds at the 1, but the offense keeps the football. New York's Game Winning Chance fell 19.7 percentage points from that reversal, down to just 3.0 percent. However, the Jets did eventually end up with the ball in a 24-17 game with 1:53 left. It's just that McCown has one of the worst records (5-30) in history at pulling off fourth-quarter comebacks. He took two sacks on the drive, and while he was able to convert one fourth-and-long, a second was nowhere close to end the game.

The Patriots hung on again, thanks in large part to a tight end not hanging on for 100 percent of a play.

Lions at Saints: IT WAS 45-10!

During the early-afternoon slate, I always check the second-half scores to get an idea of which games I'll have to cover for this column. When I see a 45-10 lead, regardless of the teams involved, I never imagine having to cover that game. Yet, a 45-10 lead for the Saints somehow shrunk to 45-38, and Matthew Stafford had the ball at his own 1-yard line with 5:11 still left to play in a game with 33 offensive possessions that took nearly four hours to complete. The expected Detroit regression in comebacks was going to die a brutal death if the Lions pulled this one off.

Cameron Jordan finally ended the attempt at the largest comeback in NFL history with a pick-six in the end zone after he tipped yet another Stafford pass. The wild game featured eight turnovers, and four were returned for touchdowns, including three by the Saints defense. New Orleans' Game Winning Chance was 99.9 percent with 8:34 left in the third quarter after a pick-six pushed the lead to 45-10. Detroit actually managed to get its Game Winning Chance up to as high as 18.4 percent after that point, an impressive feat given the deficit. Drew Brees and the offense had a sloppy finish, turning the ball over two more times, including a bad pick-six by Brees from his own 1-yard line. You know it's a wild game when multiple defensive linemen are getting pick-sixes. Detroit also had a 74-yard punt return score by Jamal Agnew to help its cause, but it wasn't enough in the end.

This would have been the largest comeback in NFL history, topping the 32-point rally in the 1992 AFC wild-card game by the Bills over Houston. The largest blown lead in regular-season history (28 points) coincidentally happened to the Saints when the 49ers erased a 35-7 deficit behind Joe Montana in an overtime win in 1980. There is also a more obscure game between the 1960 Bills and Broncos where Denver erased a 38-7 deficit for a 38-38 tie in the pre-overtime era.

To the best of my knowledge, Detroit appears to be the first team in NFL history to have a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity (possession and down one score) after trailing by at least 35 points in the second half. I've included some notes on some of my favorite "near comebacks" from deficits of 30 or more points in NFL history.

  • 1985 Chargers at Chiefs: Even with Mark Herrmann at quarterback instead of Dan Fouts, the Chargers almost rallied back from a 35-3 deficit, losing 38-34. After Herrmann's third touchdown pass, the Chiefs were able to run out the final 2:44 on the clock.
  • 1989 Packers at Rams: Don Majkowski tried to work his comeback magic after the Packers trailed the Rams 38-7 at halftime. He had the ball in a 38-31 game with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter, and just drew 40 yards for pass interference in the end zone to put the ball at the 1-yard line. However, Brent Fullwood fumbled on the next play and the Rams added a field goal to go up 41-31. Fullwood later scored a 1-yard touchdown to make it 41-38 with 2:21 left, but the Rams ran out the clock.
  • 1992 Cowboys at Giants: Dallas led 34-0 with 13:30 left in the third quarter. Phil Simms led the Giants on four straight touchdown drives to pull within 34-28. Simms had the ball back with 3:42 left, but the Giants went three-and-out, punting with 2:07 left due to having three timeouts. However, Dallas did what it often did on offense in that era and ran the clock out with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.
  • 1995 NFC wild-card game: Detroit, also behind Majkowski, trailed Philadelphia 51-7 in the third quarter, but trimmed that down to a 58-37 final in a wild playoff game. Majkowski came off the bench to replace putrid starter Scott Mitchell (four interceptions). This wasn't as close as the other games, but it might be the most familiar game to Detroit fans to what happened on Sunday.
  • 2006 Giants at Seahawks: This is the second time this game has come up in Clutch Encounters this year. The Giants trailed 42-3 to start the fourth quarter before scoring four touchdowns to lose 42-30.
  • 2015 NFC divisional round: Seattle trailed 31-0 in Carolina at halftime, but rallied for a 31-24 finish. The Seahawks were unable to recover an onside kick with 1:11 left.

Rams at Jaguars: It Was Special

You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time the Rams and Jaguars were both at least .500 in a season. Both finished 8-8 that year, and any meeting in the last decade would have been met with little fanfare. But this one on Sunday was interesting, because the Rams' new-look offense and Jacksonville's now-stingy defense provided a solid matchup. The wild start to the game with 31 points in the first quarter gave way to 13 points the rest of the way.

In the end, special teams really decided this one. The Rams opened up the game with a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown by Pharoh Cooper. Los Angeles also blocked a punt for a touchdown, and had an 8-yard scoring drive that ended with a 56-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein. So Sean McVay's offense really only scored 13 points. Meanwhile, Jacksonville kicker Jason Myers ended each half by missing a 54-yard field goal.

Down 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Blake Bortles almost lost a fumble, then was turned over by the defense with a pick on third-and-13. The pass deflected off one of Marcedes Lewis' hands right to Nickell Robey-Coleman. A holding penalty and sack sunk Jacksonville's next drive. While the Rams weren't doing a whole lot offensively, they did take over with 7:40 left and put the game away with a 57-yard drive for a field goal to take a 27-17 lead with 2:32 left. Cooper Kupp, who was coming off a tough drop against Seattle last week, had a big third-down catch to extend the drive into scoring territory.

Bortles had 2:32 and no timeouts to manufacture 10 points, so an onside kick was going to be necessary for the Jaguars to recover. After getting to a second-and-8 at the Los Angeles 36 with 1:12 left, head coach Doug Marrone made an odd decision to bring out Myers for a 54-yard field goal. Sure, the field goal was going to come into play eventually. I can understand the idea that offenses take too long in getting the touchdown in this situation, but why on second down, and why from 54 yards away? That just seemed like a terrible decision at the time, and Myers made it look worse by blowing the kick wide left to effectively end the game with 1:07 left. Jacksonville should have at least tried to drive closer for the field goal, or just go all out for the touchdown. It's not like an offense needs a ton of time after recovering a low-probability onside kick to set up a long field goal or a Hail Mary depending on what the outcome of the first drive was. The fact that you have to get the onside kick, period, is the real troubling aspect of this situation.

Eagles at Panthers: The Big Short

In a battle of 4-1 teams on Thursday night, Carolina had a chance for a late comeback despite some ugly numbers. The offense was 4-of-16 on third down, Cam Newton threw three interceptions, and the running backs carried the ball 13 times for 1 yard. The defensive fronts were feasting in this game, yet Newton had the Panthers in Philadelphia territory twice in the final 3:30, trailing 28-23.

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Perhaps the lack of rushing success on the night led to a short pass from Newton to Christian McCaffrey on a big fourth-and-2. Those short timing throws aren't really Newton's strength, but he made the play work that time. Three plays later, he threw his third interception after some miscommunication with Kelvin Benjamin. The Eagles could have put the game away with a third-and-7 conversion, but Carson Wentz never saw a completely wide open Nelson Agholor in the slot, so the Panthers got away with a blown coverage there.

Newton had 2:03 left from his own 31 to drive for the go-ahead touchdown. In getting to the Philadelphia 48 with a yard to go on third and fourth down, the Panthers eschewed the unsuccessful running game for passes from Newton, a curious decision to say the least. One of those plays needed to be a run, even if it was a quarterback power run from Newton, which he is so successful on. In his career, Newton is 70-of-78 (89.7 percent) at converting rushes on third or fourth down with 1 yard to go into a first down. He is 24-of-41 (58.5 percent) at converting passes in those situations. Alas, Newton's third-down pass was batted down, and he tried to thread a short needle to McCaffrey on fourth-and-1, but skipped the pass off the ground to end the game.

While the Panthers couldn't run the ball traditionally on Thursday night, they forgot to take advantage of their quarterback's unique skillset to run the ball on the game's most crucial plays.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 16
Game-winning drives: 30
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 52/91 (57.1 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 11

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.


14 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2017, 7:21am

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Despite the near unanimity of boos and cries of foul on the Internet, I rather thought the fumble call in the Jets-Pats game was the correct call, given the rules. You might say homer bias, and I'll concede that it would have been fair to argue there wasn't enough information on the film to rule conclusively... There was a similar play in the 2005 Pats-Denver playoff game, where Champ Bailey was running back an interception and appeared to fumble from the one across the goal-line, and that one was ruled out at the one, presumably because that was the initial ruling and there was not conclusive evidence. What's wrong with this rule is that tiny variances in ball bounce can have an enormous impact on field position and score in a manner that has nothing to do with the players themselves.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

He was a runner. He briefly lost control of the ball but regained it before hitting the pylon. I don't see how it could be called anything but a TD. And it especially should not have been overturned after a TD was ruled on the field.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

He appeared to lose control of the ball as he went to the ground, with the ball still moving in his hands as he crossed the pylon, at which point he clearly recovered control once he was down.

As Pereira and Blandino discuss, there is a lot to look at in this kind of play. Did he possess the ball sufficient to rule it a catch? Yes. Did he lose control? Yes. Was his knee down in bounds before he crossed the pylon? Seemingly not. Did he recover control of the ball before going out of bounds? Maybe, but as he hit the ground, the ball appears to jostle, which is often enough to rule a pass incomplete these days, so probably not. It's the last jostle as he rolls over that is damning.

All of that said, what seems wrong here is the reversal. If it had been ruled touchback on the field and then upheld, it would make a lot more sense. There does not seem to be overwhelming evidence to support either side of the argument over whether he regained possession before hitting the ground out of bounds. My intuition says touchback, but the ruling nevertheless was quite a surprise...

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

FWIW, he definitely got a knee down in bounds with the ball in his hands. But, as PF said below, none of that matters. Most everything people complain about are red herrings, once the "going to the ground" rule is triggered the only relevant questions are

1) Did ASJ lose control after hitting the ground?
2) Did the review footage answer #1 conclusively?

So long as you answer yes to both of these, it is a touchback regardless of all the peripherals.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Problem is that he lost control of it while he was in the air. According to the rules, that means the same "going to the ground" rules that apply to a catch when going to the ground apply to this[*]. So regaining before hitting the pylon (which I disagree happened, BTW) is irrelevant. He needs to possess it to and through contact with the ground.

[*] In fact there's no separate rule. There's a single rule that applies to all gaining possession of a loose ball situations -- catch, INT, or fumble recovery.

11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

There really is no rule that says a bobble is a fumble or a loss of control (whatever that means) is a fumble. It does not exist (as far as I call tell -- always open to new info). Nor is there a rule that says a runner who bobbles the ball is subject to the "going to the ground" rules. It all comes down to whether a bobble that is quickly re-secured (which happens on a non trivial number of plays every week that are not scored fumbles) is an act that results in "a loss of player possession." Because a fumble is defined (again, as far as I can tell), in circular fashion, as "any act, other than a pass or kick, which results in a loss of player possession." See Section 7 here: No rule says a transient loss of control, lasting less than a second, visible only in frame by frame slow mo, is "an act . . . that results in a loss of player possession." Normal english usage and standard treatment of bobbled snaps, handoffs, etc., everywhere else on the field suggests the opposite.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Terrific weekly recap chock full of informative and unique statistics and look backs at NFL history. Scott continues to be about the best young NFL writer in the business.

7 simple way to understand the Butler-Jenkins play

Watch the video of the play and freeze it with the ball floating in the air in front of him, untouched. Now imagine he's trying to make a reception on a pass and watch the rest of the play. Would you see that as a completed catch for a TD? Of course not. But since this is a fumble, it's not an incomplete pass, but a fumble through the end zone, which is a touchback.

The only reason this is a "controversial" play is Dan Fouts is a bad and lazy color commentator--luved ya in Air Coryell, Dan! If someone who knew the rules (enter Jeff Saturday) had been commenting and explained the situation clearly, no one would have gotten worked up.

Now, the fact some sports writers can't understand--or willfully try not to understand--such a clear and incontrovertible call. Well, that's just embarrassing.

8 simple way to understand the Butler-Jenkins play

Watch the video of the play and freeze it with the ball floating in the air in front of him, untouched. Now imagine he's trying to make a reception on a pass and watch the rest of the play. Would you see that as a completed catch for a TD? Of course not. But since this is a fumble, it's not an incomplete pass, but a fumble through the end zone, which is a touchback.

The only reason this is a "controversial" play is Dan Fouts is a bad and lazy color commentator--luved ya in Air Coryell, Dan! If someone who knew the rules (enter Jeff Saturday) had been commenting and explained the situation clearly, no one would have gotten worked up.

Now, the fact some sports writers can't understand--or willfully try not to understand--such a clear and incontrovertible call. Well, that's just embarrassing.

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

Garcon was penalized for offensive pass interference, apparently for setting an illegal pick. I really think this looked more like defensive pass interference....

Plus--add in that it's impossible to be setting a pick play if you're the TARGET of the pass. AUUGGGH.

I might have mentioned this a time or two elsewhere, but here it is Wednesday and I still find myself saying AUUGGGH every time I read about this penalty.

12 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 6

"Garcon was penalized for offensive pass interference, apparently for setting an illegal pick. I really think this looked more like defensive pass interference by linebacker Zach Brown, who even admitted he wanted to run into Garcon to draw a penalty."

Receivers initiate contact all the time to draw a flag. Why can't a defender make sure the ref sees that he's being interfered with? The defender certainly leaned in but he couldn't have avoided contact completely without going underneath the receiver and leaving his man wide open. There's no constitutional right to run rub routes.