Clutch Encounters
A look at Sunday's fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drive opportunities

Clutch Encounters: CHI-DET

Clutch Encounters: CHI-DET
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

After such an incredible Week 11, Thanksgiving kicked off Week 12 with a couple of turkeys. The Cowboys used Amari Cooper's two touchdowns to cruise past the Redskins for what may be control of the NFC East through the end of the season. The Falcons stumbled badly in New Orleans, coughing the ball up three times in the red zone in a 31-17 loss. As one of the few staff members to pick the Falcons for a home Super Bowl this year, I'm officially sticking the fork in that one with Atlanta at 4-7.

At least the first game of the day provided some drama as the Lions fell 23-16 to Chicago. It was the first time the Bears won a game after trailing by more than a point in the fourth quarter since November 9, 2015.

Game of the Day

Chicago Bears 23 at Detroit Lions 16

Type: 4QC + non-offensive game-winning score
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (13-9)
Head Coach: Matt Nagy (2-2 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Chase Daniel (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

It was always going to be hard for the NFL's next game to please fans after the Monday night spectacle in Los Angeles. It didn't help that the Bears were playing without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, or that they may have had the shortest turnaround time in NFL history after playing on Sunday night and having to be ready for Thursday's 12:30 P.M. kickoff. We touched on Detroit's bizarre season earlier this week, and the offense definitely missed having Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson available against one of the tougher defenses in the league this year.

With all that said, this game had an uglier start than most this year with eight failed completions in the first quarter, and 19 of the first 28 offensive plays were considered failed plays. CBS had the nerve to use a green checkmark for passes that gained 0 and -3 yards for the Bears. You know a game is in trouble when the biggest play of the first quarter was a 15-yard flag for a hit on a sliding quarterback, but drawing three of those 15-yard flags was something Chase Daniel did really well yesterday.

Yes, the well-rested backup earned his paycheck on the holiday. He's made over a staggering $28 million in his career despite the fact that coming into the week, Daniel had 78 career pass attempts. This was his third start, and his first two were both low-drama Week 17 affairs in 2013 and 2014 when he was with the Chiefs. His quarterbacks coach there was Matt Nagy, so there is a familiarity between the two. Daniel executed the offense about as well as you could hope from a backup on a short week. He missed a couple of touchdown throws, but he at least avoided turnovers and dipped out of a few more sacks. Surprisingly, Nagy didn't bother to give him much run support as the Bears handed off just 11 times for 34 yards while Daniel had 45 action plays.

This also just adds to the bizarre season the Lions have had. They beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but lost at home to the likes of Sam Darnold (Jets) and now Daniel. But to Daniel's credit, he came through on a fourth-quarter drive when the Bears were down 13-9. He actually caught a pass for 8 yards on a trick play, but that play netted 22 yards after Daniel was tackled by his facemask. Two plays later, Tarik Cohen made a nice adjustment on Daniel's pass for a 14-yard touchdown and Chicago led 16-13.

Matthew Stafford was the veteran quarterback in this matchup, but he had a shaky game full of dinking and dunking himself. He even converted a fourth down with a wild, deflected pass that led to the game's first points. The short throws have been a staple of Detroit's offense since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator during the 2015 season, but things were especially conservative on Thursday. Stafford's average pass traveled 3.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, his third-lowest aDOT in a game since 2015. Oddly enough, his highest aDOT in a game under Cooter was last November in Chicago (11.3), a 27-24 Detroit win. So where were all the big throws to take advantage of Stafford's big arm this time?

Now one could argue the Bears didn't have Khalil Mack and this pass rush a year ago, which is true. However, when these teams met just 11 days ago, Stafford's aDOT was 8.3, his third-highest game this season. That came on the heels of a game against Minnesota where Stafford was sacked 10 times, so there should have been a concern to get the ball out quicker and shorter that day. But on Thursday, the Lions didn't even look interested in running plays with receiving options that were beyond the sticks.

Pick plays were kind to both offenses on the day. The Lions designed a legal pick well to free up Kenny Golladay for a 23-yard gain. That drive eventually led to a third-and-1 at the Chicago 2. Stafford hit Michael Roberts in the head with a pass after the tight end was falling in the end zone. The Lions kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie the game with 7:44 left. I think they should have gone for the touchdown there. LeGarrette Blount is not a great short-yardage runner, but he had two aggressive touchdown runs already in the game. They could have thrown again as well, or possibly did the quarterback sneak since the Lions could have made a first down at the 1-yard line. If your defense can't prevent Chase Daniel from leading a 98-yard touchdown drive, you don't deserve to win anyway. That would have been a good spot to go and try to get a 20-16 lead late in the game.

The Bears went three-and-out and Stafford had great field position at his own 41. He tried to hit Roberts to start the drive, but Eddie Jackson jumped the route for a 41-yard pick-six with 6:00 left that concluded the scoring for the day. Jackson has five defensive touchdowns since his rookie debut last year, including a pick-six off Kirk Cousins in the fourth quarter last week. He's basically playing the Mike Brown (2001 season) role for the Bears this year.

It should be noted that Roberts only had 12 targets on the year, but did catch three touchdowns on them, and the Lions have liked his potential. He likely wouldn't have been so involved if Jones and Johnson were active, and if the team didn't recently trade away Golden Tate to Philadelphia. Stafford was definitely lacking in the weapons department even compared to what he had in Chicago just two weeks ago.

Still, given his rich contract, more is expected of Stafford to elevate the talent around him. He definitely didn't do that on a day where his running game was actually solid without Johnson with 24 carries for 111 yards. Blount ripped off a 27-yard run that put the Lions in business on a potential game-tying drive to force overtime. Detroit was wise to take its time, but soon it was third-and-9 at the Chicago 11 with 1:11 left. Stafford again trusted Roberts, but with cornerback Kyle Fuller in coverage, that's not a great matchup for Detroit to try exploiting. Fuller gave Roberts a bit of a shove, and the tight end didn't recover while Fuller read the ball well and drifted back to make a crucial interception in the end zone. That's a career-high fifth interception for Fuller.

You have to think if that was a Calvin Johnson on that play, he might draw the defensive pass interference call. When Roberts gives a weak effort like that, it's not surprising to see the refs swallow the whistle in crunch time. Detroit still could have got one more possession for Stafford since it had all three timeouts left, but Cohen put an end to that hope with an impressive 10-yard run on third-and-9 to seal the win.

The double-interception ending is really a case of regression to the mean clashing for both teams. In 2016, the Lions made history by having eight fourth-quarter comeback wins. The eighth was actually against the Bears in Week 14. However, since that last win, the Lions are 1-11 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, including 0-3 this season under Matt Patricia. It's been fairly common for Stafford to lead multiple comeback wins each season, but the well has almost dried up entirely there.

As for the Bears, Vic Fangio's defense now has 20 interceptions in 11 games. This defense had a league-worst 24 interceptions total from 2015 through 2017 (eight each year). It's not just about pressure either. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Bears have 14 interceptions when a quarterback wasn't pressured, five more than any other team. We kept predicting this offseason that regression would be coming to Chicago in regards to takeaways (and fewer injuries), but it's come in a major way for these Bears this season. No defense has had 20 interceptions in the first 11 games of the season since the 2012 Bears did it. It's hard to claim this unit is as good as that one, but we'll get a great sense of where the Bears stand in the NFC this year when they host the Rams in Week 14. As is often the case, the Lions were merely an appetizer.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 44
Game-winning drives: 53 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 93/164 (56.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 21

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 EdjSports.


3 comments, Last at 24 Nov 2018, 4:22pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: CHI-DET

"If your defense can't prevent Chase Daniel from leading a 98-yard touchdown drive, you don't deserve to win anyway."

I agree the Lions should have gone for it down 16-13 (and as a Bears fan, was happy they kicked), but this logic does not apply. If the Lions had failed, Daniel wouldn't have needed to lead a "98-yard touchdown drive", as the Bears would have already had a lead.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: CHI-DET

What I'm saying is the only way you're in a bad spot there is if Chicago gets a TD to go up 23-13. They're more likely to punt, so DET still gets it back down 16-13. Even if CHI gets a FG, it's still only a 19-13 game. The only thing the defense needed to do was get the ball back without allowing a TD. Technically, I guess we should mention the Bears could have ran out the final 7:44 on the clock, but with four clock stoppages, that's almost impossible to do in this game.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: CHI-DET

So, yeah, that was DPI, and gee, I never knew that the referees were allowed to grade player effort when deciding to throw a flag. Guess Roberts should have flopped like a soccer player.