Clutch Encounters: Week 7
by Scott Kacsmar
Week 7 really peaked early with a thrilling game on Thursday night between the Raiders and Chiefs. Not only did the other prime-time games turn out to be duds, but Sunday was barely competitive, with just five games featuring a comeback opportunity in the fourth quarter.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter noted, seven teams failed to score an offensive touchdown on Sunday, the most on a single day since seven teams did so on December 16, 2001. Three teams (Colts, Cardinals, and Broncos) were shut out on the same day for the first time in nearly five years. Atlanta came embarrassingly close to making it four shutouts in New England on Sunday night, but scored a late, meaningless touchdown in the Super Bowl rematch.
At the very least, we did get the biggest fourth-quarter comeback of the season, a 14-point rally in Miami, the site of many improbable comebacks these days. NFL teams are just 1-56 when trailing by 14-plus points in the fourth quarter this season. Since I started doing this column in 2013, there have only been 12 such comeback wins in the NFL, and Miami is the fifth team to win in regulation.
Game of the Week
New York Jets 28 at Miami Dolphins 31
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 14 (28-14)
Game Winning Chance Before: 82.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After:97.6 percent
Win Probability Added: 15.2 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (7-3 at 4QC and 10-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Moore (5-7 at 4QC and 7-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The Jets (3-4) have to be kicking themselves after blowing 14-point leads in consecutive weeks to division rivals. This team could be in first place at 5-2, an inconceivable idea heading into the 2017 season. Remember the offense that was never going to score? The Jets have more offensive touchdowns (15) than the Steelers (13) through seven games this year.
This one will sting, because the Jets were in control with a 28-14 lead and possession of the ball in the fourth quarter. Miami's Game Winning Chance dipped as low as 5.2 percent at that point, according to EdjFootball. Matt Moore had to take over for an injured Jay Cutler (cracked ribs) at quarterback in the third quarter. Moore probably should have been the starter all along after Ryan Tannehill was lost for the year, but he got off to an inauspicious start on his first full drive on Sunday, throwing an interception. In the fourth quarter, Moore found his inner Don Strock and got into a groove to lead the Dolphins back. He fired a 28-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills. On the next drive, Jets cornerback Buster Skrine picked up two defensive holding penalties, upping his penalty count to six this season, tied with a few players for the league lead on defense. Stills then beat Skrine to a ball in the end zone that required a one-handed catch for a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game with 6:19 left.
Josh McCown was really having a banner day for the Jets through three quarters, but in the fourth quarter, his success rate was 0-for-8 with two third-down sacks and a crushing interception. With 47 seconds left at his own 15, McCown tried to get a drive started, but lofted a lazy pass in the general direction of Jermaine Kearse. Bobby McCain jumped the route for an easy interception, putting the ball at the New York 27 with 39 seconds left.
LETS GOOOOOOO!!!! pic.twitter.com/ykXzjjfcDU
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) October 22, 2017
From there, Miami just needed three runs and a 39-yard field goal by Cody Parkey to take a 31-28 lead. The Jets tried a series of laterals, but fumbled the ball to end the game and take a demoralizing slide into last place in the AFC East. When Ryan Fitzpatrick was quarterback of the Jets, I often brought up his terrible track record at comeback opportunities (9-39) and the bevy of game-ending interceptions. McCown is really the same way in his career, as his record has slipped to 5-31 (.139). The ironic part is that both Fitzpatrick (2005 Rams vs. Texans) and McCown (2003 Cardinals vs. Vikings) put their names on the map in this league by leading crazy comebacks for their first wins, but both have been as unreliable as it gets since then.
While McCown can't buy a clutch win, Miami head coach Adam Gase is continuing a run of good fortune that you'd love to visit Vegas with. The Dolphins lead the NFL with four game-winning drives this season. This comes on the heels of a 2016 season in which Miami scored the game-winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime in seven games, so Gase's Dolphins have pulled this off 11 times in their last 21 games. Only a handful of teams in NFL history have sustained this type of success in a two-period span, and it's not like the Dolphins have a Joe Montana (1989-1990 49ers), Troy Aikman (1990-1991 Cowboys), Peyton Manning (2008-2009 Colts), or Drew Brees (2009-2010 Saints) at quarterback.
Yet, Gase's record when the Dolphins need a comeback or game-winning drive is a remarkable 10-3 (.769) so far. That does not include the win over the Jets last year that was won on a kick return touchdown. The following table shows the records for all 32 active head coaches. The first record is for fourth-quarter comeback opportunities only, which are games where the coach's offense had possession in the fourth quarter (or overtime) with a one-score deficit. The second set of records is the overall record at game-winning drive opportunities, which includes games where the score was tied. Playoff games are included.
|Coach||4QC Oppt.||4QC/GWD Oppt.|
|Jack Del Rio||31||54||0||0.365||11||41||54||0||0.432||11|
Gase easily has the best comeback record at 7-3. Bruce Arians (16-15) is the only other coach above .500 right now, and we have seen his success start to slip in these games since 2016. Arians (24-15-1) is also the only other coach besides Gase with a winning record in all clutch games. In Gase's case, it sure helps when you have three opponents miss game-winning field goals, including the Chargers in Week 2 this year. It also helps when the defense gets a tipped interception off Matt Ryan in crunch time in Week 6, or a gift-wrapped present from McCown to essentially lock Sunday's game up.
For now, Gase holds a 14-8 regular-season record despite the fact that his Dolphins have been outscored by 37 points. We have already seen regression for 2016's other "clutch teams" in the Raiders, Giants, and Lions this year, but Miami keeps on winning ugly. Unless Moore replacing Cutler improves the quality of play, it is hard to imagine the Dolphins will continue winning games like this. They are just getting to the meat of the schedule too, with games coming up against the Raiders, Panthers, and Patriots (twice).
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 at Buffalo Bills 30
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (27-20)
Game Winning Chance Before: 78.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After:98.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 19.9 percent
Head Coach: Sean McDermott (1-2 at 4QC and 2-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor (3-13 at 4QC and 5-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)
In the Tyrod Taylor era (since 2015), the Bills had always lost this type of game. They were 0-15 when trailing by at least 7 points in the fourth quarter. Taylor was 0-12 as a starter when the Bills allowed more than 21 points in a game. But few games this season have seen as many fourth-quarter swings as this one. Buffalo went from a 20-13 lead to a 27-20 deficit, back to a 30-27 win. The defense let down in allowing back-to-back touchdown drives to Jameis Winston and his big receivers, and LeSean McCoy didn't help matters with a lost fumble in between those scores.
With 3:14 left, Taylor began his game-tying march with something he does best: stepping up and throwing deep. We haven't seen it as much in 2017 since the offense lost its starting wide receivers, but at least there's always Deonte Thompson. Wait, what? A wide receiver who wasn't good enough to hang around in Chicago this year, and who was only signed on Tuesday, stepped up with four catches for 107 yards. He was left wide open down the field for a 44-yard catch, and took a helmet-to-helmet shot for 15 more yards. That's pretty good for a Tuesday signing. Rookie Zay Jones only has 83 yards on 32 targets this season. Thompson already surpassed his production in one game. Jones did make a rare catch on the next play, and McCoy finished off the three-play drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
It looked like we were going to have another overtime game, but things quickly turned sour on Tampa Bay's next play from scrimmage. TreDavious White has been involved in some big takeaways for the Bills this year, and he flashed again to punch the ball out of Adam Humphries' hands on a screen. The Bills took over at the Tampa Bay 33 with 2:20 left, so their Game Winning Chance was already very high at 78.5 percent. A huge third-and-9 loomed at the two-minute warning. Taylor went with a little jet-sweep flip to Taiwan Jones, and the Buccaneers really should have been able to tackle that play short of the sticks, but Jones made some excellent moves to gain 11 yards and a first down.
That's a great run by Jones, but it's also awful tackling with the game basically on the line. Instead of getting the ball back with plenty of time or forcing a longer field goal, the Buccaneers were stuck watching Buffalo set up a late 30-yard field goal. The Bills surprisingly passed again on third-and-long, but it was another easy throw to McCoy that almost converted again. Finally, Steven Hauschka delivered on the game-winning field goal with 14 seconds left. On their last gasp, the Buccaneers may have set a record for the longest play in NFL history in terms of duration (43 seconds). The video is worth the watch, but in the end, Tampa Bay's wild series of laterals actually lost 2 yards.
The Bills are 4-2, just like they were last year before finishing 7-9, so let's not get too excited yet. But at the very least, Sunday's win was different from the norm in Buffalo, and it is always a good thing to break those unwanted "0-for" streaks.
New Orleans Saints 26 at Green Bay Packers 17
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Game Winning Chance Before: 52.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After:65.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 13.0 percent
Head Coach: Sean Payton (23-42 at 4QC and 33-45 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (29-56 at 4QC and 44-63 overall 4QC/GWD record)
When Green Bay fans are so used to Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks like Brett Favre (1992-2007) and Aaron Rodgers (2008-present) suiting up every week for 25 years, it has to be a shock to the system to see Brett Hundley make his first start. Behind Hundley, the Packers only had 79 net passing yards, which was only the sixth time since 1992 that they were held under 80 net passing yards. It did happen twice in the 2015 season with Rodgers, but you don't expect this type of production against a New Orleans defense, even if it has been playing better in recent weeks.
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Drew Brees was the one future Hall of Fame passer still playing in this game, and he shook off two early interceptions to lead the Saints to a 16-14 lead after three quarters. But the Packers were driving again with a heavy emphasis on the running game with rookie Aaron Jones, who rushed for 131 yards on the day. However, 70 of those yards were on the game's opening drive when the Packers took a 7-0 lead. It was really downhill from there offensively with a limited passing plan in place for Hundley's first start. On a third-and-10 to start the fourth quarter, Hundley threw deep for Davante Adams, but it was a bad throw and Adams failed to make a wild one-handed catch. Mason Crosby had to make a 46-yard field goal to regain a 17-16 lead, but Brees had practically a whole quarter to answer.
Entering Week 7, the Saints were the only offense this season to not have a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity, but they made sure to make this first attempt count. Brees was playing Green Bay for the seventh time (4-3 record) in his career, and he has thrown for over 300 yards in all seven games, a feat that's never been done before against a single opponent. He completed his first three passes of the drive before things eventually stalled, setting up Wil Lutz for a 44-yard field goal with 10:21 left.
Down 19-17, Green Bay continued to play things safely, but two ineffective runs put Hundley in a third-and-9. The Saints blitzed and Hundley got rid of the ball quickly for just a 5-yard gain, and the Packers had to punt. Brees started with great field position at his own 45, and Mark Ingram netted 37 yards on one run thanks in part to a penalty for a horse-collar tackle. Brees finished off the drive with a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line where he took advantage of the "just break the plane" rules by lunging forward before pulling the ball back. It's hardly the first time we have seen him do that, but that play gave the Saints a pretty strong 26-17 lead with 4:55 left.
The Packers went to a pass-happy attack out of necessity, but on the third play of the drive, Hundley forced a deep ball that Kenny Vaccaro caught for an easy interception. That was Green Bay's only turnover of the game. The Saints were able to run out the final 4:20 on the clock.
I thought the Packers would stand up at home and play a strong team game to help Hundley out. That was true early with the runs by Jones and the two takeaways, but the Saints continued to move the ball while the Packers only managed a field goal on their last six possessions. Life without Rodgers is going to be awfully difficult for the Packers this year, especially if Hundley keeps falling behind in down-and-distance situations and facing pressure like he did on Sunday.
Tennessee Titans 12 at Cleveland Browns 9
Type: GWD (OT)
Game Winning Chance Before: 75.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 24.3 percent
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey (7-25 at 4QC and 8-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (5-11 at 4QC and 6-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
We are just about at that point of the season where losing to a winless team feels extra embarrassing. Expectations were for the Titans to cruise past the Browns, which would make Cleveland just the ninth 0-7 team since 2010. However, the Titans had already lost to two of those teams, dropping a game in 2011 to the 0-13 Colts and a home game in 2013 to the 0-8 Jaguars. That was a much different regime for Tennessee, and expectations are supposed to be higher now for the Marcus Mariota era. Mariota led a good comeback win over the Colts on Monday night, but engaged in a battle of field goals with Cleveland's quarterback carousel.
Coming into the week, Cleveland's biggest (and maybe only) strength was its run defense, ranked third in DVOA. That helped keep things close as Mariota handed off 31 times for just 72 yards to his two talented backs, including 13 yards on 13 carries by Derrick Henry, who was coming off a career-high 131 rushing yards. At one point in the third quarter, the Browns stopped three runs at the 1-yard line with Tennessee turning the ball over on downs.
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The shocking part was really the lack of production from Mariota against the No. 32 pass defense. In particular, Eric Decker followed his most productive game of the season with no catches on two targets. Delanie Walker lost a fumble and just missed a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter after Christian Kirksey's arm deflected the ball away. Ryan Succop's 46-yard field goal broke the 6-6 tie, the first fourth-quarter tie of the season for the Browns.
Two interceptions thrown by starter DeShone Kizer to safety Kevin Byard led to the season debut of Cody Kessler in the third quarter. Kessler didn't prove to be much more effective, and even tossed a third pick to Byard in the fourth quarter. Kessler was playing without left tackle Joe Thomas, who unfortunately tore his triceps after one of the greatest ironman streaks in NFL history. Thomas played the first 10,363 snaps of his career.
Still, this was the best shot at a Cleveland win yet this year. Down 9-6 in the final two minutes, Kessler had the offense inside the Tennessee 40, but played it safe with short throws, which was his style last year too. On a third-and-8, he skipped a short throw to Isaiah Crowell, who made a move for what appeared to be a first down, but that play was correctly reversed to an incompletion. Kicker Zane Gonzalez came through with a 54-yard field goal with 47 seconds left, which eventually sent the game to overtime.
The Browns won the overtime coin toss and opted to receive. If ever there was a game where you would choose to go on defense first in overtime, this was one of them. It was a 9-9 slugfest with neither offense able to find the end zone. Did the Browns really think Kessler was going to suddenly lead a 75-yard touchdown drive to put this one away? Naturally, the Browns went three-and-out, and the Titans had solid field position at their own 36, only needing a field goal to win. A holding penalty sidetracked the drive and led to a punt, but the Titans soon had the ball back after another Cleveland three-and-out. Pressure from both edges chased Kessler into a big sack that led to Cleveland punting from its own 10. Tack on a penalty for a player being out of bounds on the kick, and the Titans were already at the Cleveland 49. Mariota only had to convert one third-and-3 to Rishard Matthews for 8 yards, and the Titans ran three times before setting up Succop after the two-minute warning. Hue Jackson tried to ice the kicker, and Succop did miss on the practice kick, though his attempt looked casual. On the one that counted, Succop drilled the kick right down the middle for the 12-9 win.
The 2016-17 Browns join the 1976-77 Buccaneers, 1983-84 Oilers, and 1993-94 Bengals as the only teams since the merger to start 0-7 in consecutive seasons. With a 2-32 record in their last 34 games, the Browns are in historically bad company.
The Browns are now 2-32 in their last 34 games. Only two other teams have ever done that: the Lions and WW II Cards https://t.co/Q4s1SVr8Cb
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 22, 2017
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Seahawks at Giants: Wideouts and Wide Right
While the statistics look as lopsided in Seattle's favor as the 24-7 final, this game was played within a one-score window for the first 50 minutes. The Giants even led 7-3 at halftime when Eli Manning had just 17 yards passing, thanks to a 17-yard touchdown drive that followed a Thomas Rawls fumble. New York also had a chance to tie the game at 10 on the second play of the fourth quarter, but green kicker Aldrick Rosas was wide right on a 47-yard field goal.
When Manning got a second chance at a game-winning drive, Seattle's pass rush stepped up. Jarran Reed (1.5 career sacks entering Sunday) beat center Brett Jones for a strip-sack. With the ball at the New York 38, the Seahawks pulled out a little trick with a toss to J.D. McKissic, who then threw backwards to Russell Wilson, who threw deep for Paul Richardson in the end zone. Safety Landon Collins did his best to stay with the play, but Richardson added yet another impressive catch to his resume for a big touchdown that was a little reminiscent of the famed "Fail Mary" play from 2012 for Seattle.
— Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) October 22, 2017
Collins will tell you he had an interception, but there is no proof or rule that would support that outcome.
Richardson clearly caught the ball first before losing control, but regained control, and landed simultaneously on the ground with Collins, who was also now tugging at the ball. After he went down, Richardson also tapped two feet in the end zone and didn't step out of bounds until he was well into a second act with Collins wrestling him for the ball. At worst, that is simultaneous possession, which still goes to the offense anyway. I don't see anything controversial about this touchdown ruling, which all but wrapped up the game for Seattle. Jimmy Graham added a 1-yard touchdown later for the 24-7 final.
In the end, Seattle's receiving depth was too much for the Giants, while the Giants lack of healthy receivers was too much to overcome against a strong defense. Travis Rudolph, an undrafted rookie promoted from the practice squad, had the first three catches of his career on Sunday. He had 17 of his 32 yards on the (hopeless) final drive of the game when the Giants were down 24-7. All told, the Giants had 45 receiving yards from their wide receivers after 22 yards in Denver last week. That's 67 yards in two weeks, or only 6 more yards than what Richardson, arguably the fourth-best option in this offense, had for Seattle on Sunday.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 20
Game-winning drives: 35
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 58/106 (54.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 12
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.