Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Clutch Encounters: Week 1

by Scott Kacsmar

We started the 2018 NFL season with the Falcons and Eagles taking us back to a January repeat of red zone misery. We finished Week 1 with Jon Gruden taking the game back to 1998 on Monday night. It kind of worked for a half, but the Rams eventually steamrolled the Raiders, dropping new coaches to collective 0-7, the worst debut by a new group in NFL history.

Meanwhile, quarterbacks starting on new teams finished 4-1-1, but this was not a good week for quarterback play unless you just watched the 48-40 shootout in New Orleans. There were five performances where a quarterback threw at least three interceptions, including three members of the "highest-paid player in NFL history" list. That's the most three-interception games in Week 1 since the 2012 season had six.

At least things were mostly close with 11 games featuring a comeback opportunity. We'll start with the largest fourth-quarter comeback since Super Bowl LI.

Game of the Week

Chicago Bears 23 at Green Bay Packers 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 17 (20-3)
Game Winning Chance Before: 8.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 61.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 53.1 percent
Head Coach: Mike McCarthy (21-48-1 at 4QC and 30-50-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (13-35 at 4QC and 20-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Since 1992, Green Bay is now 40-14 against Chicago. For the better part of 26 years, games between these rivals have not been much fun due to a big gap in quarterback play. The Packers have usually had Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers while the Bears are always searching. Well, the first game between Rodgers' Packers and the Bears with Matt Nagy, Mitchell Trubisky, and Khalil Mack went down as an instant classic in the NFL's oldest rivalry.

This game was really unlike any other in Rodgers' career. Not from a performance standpoint, because he has had many better games than this, but from the way things played out. In the first half, Rodgers' success rate was 0-for-10. He suffered what looked like a potential season-ending injury and was carted off the field. He returned in the second half with the Packers down 20-0. Without much mobility at all, he led four scoring drives in a row, including three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback.

Now there were some signs that the Bears were in trouble here. The offense that started the game so well with 10 points on two drives stalled and only scored two field goals on its final eight possessions. The big splash plays that Mack produced in the first half (strip-sack and pick-six) came when backup DeShone Kizer, a turnover machine last year, was in the game. Mack's conditioning was also going to be an issue after sitting out the offseason, but he did play 70 percent of the snaps. But there was almost no pass rush on Rodgers in the second half after the Packers went to a quick passing game. The Bears did not even bother to blitz, which was probably smart.

There weren't many smart things done by Nagy and his staff after going up 20-0. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, Nagy hit on a lot of the usual criticisms of Reid's career, from game mismanagement to abandoning the run to being too cute for his own good.

The comeback was clearly on for Green Bay once Rodgers hit this beautiful 39-yard touchdown to Geronimo Allison with 13:59 left to make it 20-10.

Chicago had a good chance to silence the crowd with a third-and-1 conversion, but the Bears went play-action and Trubisky threw a pass short of the line to gain to tight end Dion Sims. Trubisky was dead last in third-down ALEX last year, and that was an area where I did not think Nagy would be a great asset to him given his work in Kansas City. The Bears really needed that conversion, because Rodgers followed with another touchdown pass to make it 20-17.

From there, the Bears actually seemed to be putting together an epic drive that could have consumed the final 9:01 and never given Rodgers a chance at the win. But after converting three times on third down, the Bears were faced with a huge third-and-2. Green Bay had just used its final timeout with 2:47 left. A first down (and staying in bounds) would have iced the game. That's why I could not believe that the Bears turned away from their running back duo to let Trubisky throw. Worse, he still threw short of the sticks to rookie Anthony Miller. That incompletion stopped the clock. Nagy compounded this failure by calling for a 32-yard field goal to take a 23-17 lead. The third down should have been a run, and if they didn't get that, I think you run the ball again to win the game. It would have been different if the quarterback on the other side had been Blaine Gabbert, but why would any coach willingly give a Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees a chance to beat them with a touchdown?

By going up 23-17, the Bears were giving Rodgers more than two minutes to use four-down football to get the go-ahead touchdown. At least in a 20-17 game, you keep the advantage that the opponent will likely get conservative in field goal range knowing that the tie is a possibility. If Chicago couldn't gain 2 yards on two running plays, then maybe it didn't deserve to win anyway. I just think Nagy had a chance to do something great in his debut, but he took the safe approach that the Bears could have hired anyone to do.

Instead, Rodgers had the moment for glory and plenty of time. He needed just 26 seconds, but not before leaving Chicago fans with an even stronger argument of what might have been. On the first play of the drive, Davante Adams was bumped into on his route and Rodgers' pass sailed right to Kyle Fuller, who dropped what would have been a game-deciding interception.

Every time I wrote about Chicago's defense this offseason, I had to mention the lack of interceptions (a league-low 25) in Vic Fangio's defense since 2015. No Chicago defender has had more than two picks in a season for him, and Fuller in particular has just four interceptions since 2015. He has to make that play, because as we looked at last year with dropped interceptions and game-winning drives, you can't give a quarterback like Rodgers or Brady a second chance and expect to survive.

Two plays later, Rodgers moved just enough to find Randall Cobb open and there wasn't a defender deep enough to make the tackle. Cobb raced 64 yards after the catch for a go-ahead touchdown to further stun the Bears and give the Packers their first lead of the season.

After all of that, Trubisky had his moment to lead a drive for a field goal to wipe out what Rodgers did, but he did not look good on the big stage. The drive nearly went four-and-out, but Clay Matthews bailed out the Bears with a dumb penalty for roughing the passer. After one more first down, Trubisky faced another fourth down and was strip-sacked with 58 seconds to go. The Packers ran out the clock with Rodgers launching his fourth-down pass out of bounds to cap off the stunning night.

We had not seen a team blow a lead this big in the fourth quarter since Atlanta blew a 19-point lead in Super Bowl LI to New England. This is the 44th time that a team won after trailing by at least 17 points in the fourth quarter in NFL history (see the first 40 here, and add the 2015 Bengals over Seattle, 2016 Chiefs over Chargers, and Super Bowl LI).

For the Packers especially, comebacks like this just don't grow on trees. We had the table last year where Rodgers was once 1-35 in his career when trailing by multiple scores in the second half. Since that point, he has led Green Bay to a 3-1 record in such games with wins over the Bengals, Cowboys, and now the Bears. Rodgers also put an end to another streak. The Packers had been 0-31 with him when trailing by double-digits in the fourth quarter. This was Rodgers' 20th game-winning drive and the sixth in his last 16 appearances. That even includes the Minnesota game when he left early with a broken collarbone last year, so this has been a stretch of close wins unlike anything else in his career.

Once the NFL's best front-running team, Green Bay's makeover to a club that has to scrap for wins has been several years in the making as the roster around Rodgers has declined. It's not clear how far he can take this team in this fashion, but one thing's for certain: the Bears are tired of seeing him do it to them. This was Rodgers' sixth game-winning drive against Chicago, his most against any team. Until Nagy and Trubisky prove they're ready to slay the dragon, this rivalry should continue going in Green Bay's favor.

Clutch Encounters of the Tying Kind

Before we can get to the other game-winning drives this week, there was a rare tie in Cleveland, which beats another loss.

Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Cleveland Browns 21

Type: 4QC tie
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 14 (21-7)
Head Coach: Hue Jackson (1-17-1 at 4QC and 2-18-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor (3-15-1 at 4QC and 5-15-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Leave it to Cleveland 2.0 to end a historic losing streak with a tie. Leave it to Mike Tomlin's Steelers to go on the road and play down to the competition. Pittsburgh was only a 4-point favorite without Le'Veon Bell, but his absence was not the story here, not when James Conner piled up 192 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in his place. Pittsburgh had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and did not win the game. That has only happened two other times to the Steelers since the 1970 merger: a loss to the 1976 Raiders and a tie with the 2002 Falcons.

Lest we forget, Pittsburgh only won 21-18 in Cleveland in Week 1 last season. Add some roster upgrades to the Browns and rainy weather that exacerbated the sloppiness of the game, and you end up with a tie between two rivals. The fact that Pittsburgh was -5 in turnover differential and still led 21-7 halfway through the fourth quarter says a lot about how close these teams really are.

The Steelers' tendency to play down to the competition and the rain are what make it so difficult to look at this game at face value and think that Pittsburgh has declined or that Cleveland has really gotten any better. The Steelers punted on a fourth-and-6 at the Cleveland 34 when they could have gone for the kill up 21-7. Cleveland appeared to touch a punt that Pittsburgh recovered, but the replay was oddly not 100 percent conclusive even though you can see the ball change trajectory. Despite five turnovers from Ben Roethlisberger, the only giveaway that led to any points for Cleveland was the fumble Conner had midway in the fourth quarter. That led to a 1-yard touchdown drive by the Browns to make it 21-14. Pittsburgh's Game Winning Chance peaked at 99.1 percent just before the Conner fumble.

Tyrod Taylor only completed 15-of-40 passes and took seven sacks. He threw an interception in the last minute of regulation when the Browns were close to winning on a field goal. Josh Gordon's lone catch was a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game with 1:58 left. But it's not like Hue Jackson demonstrated any real rhyme or reason to his new-look offense under coordinator Todd Haley. In fact, Jackson reportedly was upset that Gordon started the game by accident.

It's hard to believe this is the first tie in Week 1 in the NFL since Denver and Miami in 1971 (before overtime existed). The rule change last year to make overtime a 10-minute period did not lead to a single tie in 2017, but I have to believe it had a big impact on this one. Both teams could have used the extra time to move closer for their game-winning field goal attempt. Chris Boswell had been great on clutch kicks for the Steelers in his career, but he had his first major miss on a 42-yard field goal in overtime with 1:44 left. Roethlisberger later coughed up the ball, giving Cleveland possession at the Pittsburgh 24 with 36 seconds left. It was then Zane Gonzalez's turn for the Browns, but his 43-yard attempt was blocked by T.J. Watt. The Steelers had time for one incompletion before the game ended in a 21-21 tie.

Among the 23 ties in overtime history, 21 of them have featured at least one kicker missing a game-winning field goal. This was the 10th time both teams missed a game-winning field goal in overtime. The following table shows these 23 games.

NFL History: 23 Overtime Ties and the Field Goals That Would Have Prevented Them
Home Road Year Date Result Kicker Team DIST Time Left Miss Type
CLE PIT 2018 9/9/2018 T 21-21 Chris Boswell PIT 42 1:44 Wide Left
Zane Gonzalez CLE 43 0:09 Blocked
CIN WAS 2016 10/30/2016 T 27-27 Dustin Hopkins WAS 34 2:09 Wide Left
ARI SEA 2016 10/23/2016 T 6-6 Chandler Catanzaro ARI 24 3:19 Left Upright
Steven Hauschka SEA 28 0:07 Wide Left
CIN CAR 2014 10/12/2014 T 37-37 Mike Nugent CIN 36 0:00 Wide Right
GB MIN 2013 11/24/2013 T 26-26 - - - - -
SF STL 2012 11/11/2012 T 24-24 David Akers SF 41 8:07 Wide Left
Greg Zuerlein STL 58 2:42 Wide Right
CIN PHI 2008 11/16/2008 T 13-13 Shayne Graham CIN 47 0:07 Wide Right
PIT ATL 2002 11/10/2002 T 34-34 Todd Peterson PIT 48 10:58 Blocked
Jay Feely ATL 56 0:01 Blocked
WAS NYG 1997 11/23/1997 T 7-7 Brad Daluiso NYG 54 3:18 Wide Left
Scott Blanton WAS 54 0:02 Short
BAL PHI 1997 11/16/1997 T 10-10 Matt Stover BAL 53 2:21 Wide Right
Chris Boniol PHI 40 0:00 Wide Left
CLE KC 1989 11/19/1989 T 10-10 Nick Lowery KC 47 0:03 Short
NYJ KC 1988 10/2/1988 T 17-17 Pat Leahy NYJ 44 5:09 Wide Right
Home Road Year Date Result Kicker Team DIST Time Left Miss Type
GB DEN 1987 9/20/1987 T 17-17 Al Del Greco GB 47 10:58 Short
Rich Karlis DEN 40 0:09 Wide Left
PHI STLC 1986 12/7/1986 T 10-10 Eric Schubert STLC 40 10:55 Blocked
Paul McFadden PHI 43 1:33 Wide Left
Eric Schubert STLC 37 0:05 Wide Right
ATL SF 1986 10/19/1986 T 10-10 - - - - -
DET PHI 1984 11/4/1984 T 23-23 Eddie Murray DET 21 10:16 Right Upright
STLC NYG 1983 10/24/1983 T 20-20 Neil O'Donoghue STLC 44 8:50 Wide Left
Neil O'Donoghue STLC 19 1:03 Wide Right
Neil O'Donoghue STLC 42 0:20 Wide Right
BALC GB 1982 12/19/1982 T 20-20 Dan Miller BALC 44 10:54 Blocked
Jan Stenerud GB 47 1:56 Wide Right
MIA NYJ 1981 10/4/1981 T 28-28 Pat Leahy NYJ 48 0:00 Wide Right
TB GB 1980 10/12/1980 T 14-14 Tom Birney GB 36 0:00 Wide Right
GB MIN 1978 11/26/1978 T 10-10 Rick Danmeier MIN 21 4:00 Wide Right
Chester Marcol GB 40 0:17 Wide Left
MIN LARM 1976 9/19/1976 T 10-10 Tom Dempsey LARM 30 7:55 Blocked
DEN PIT 1974 9/22/1974 T 35-35 Jim Turner DEN 41 3:13 Wide Right

Jackson's only win as Cleveland's coach was in 2016 when San Diego missed a 45-yard field goal that would have forced overtime. Maybe it's fitting that his first tie only came after an opponent missed a 42-yard field goal in overtime.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Seattle Seahawks 24 at Denver Broncos 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (24-20)
Game Winning Chance Before: 31.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 68.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 36.3 percent
Head Coach: Vance Joseph (1-3 at 4QC and 1-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (5-10 at 4QC and 8-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)

There is no more Legion of Boom or No-Fly Zone for these defenses. Overall, these teams are a far cry from the ones that were going to Super Bowls in the 2013-2015 seasons. At the very least, they still have Russell Wilson and Von Miller. That matchup wasn't good for Seattle on Sunday as Miller collected half of the 6.0 sacks Wilson suffered. Seattle didn't go run-heavy as some predicted under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But the running game still wasn't effective with 14 handoffs for 59 yards, bloated by a 24-yard run by Chris Carson.

Wilson still has his fingerprints all over the offense, and to his credit, he delivered a 51-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett to take a 24-20 lead with 14:46 left in the game. As for two stories we often cover, the Seattle defense is still prone to blowing fourth-quarter leads, and the Denver offense has been searching for years for a third receiver and tight end to step up in this offense. Those worlds collided on the ensuing drive when rookie wideout Courtland Sutton made a 25-yard catch and tight end Jake Butt delivered a 22-yard catch to bring up first-and-goal. Denver might have something with those players, but it was veteran Demaryius Thomas with a 4-yard touchdown to put Denver ahead for good with 11:11 left. It's honestly hard to tell if Thomas got either foot in bounds with control, let alone both. After a council on the field, the call on the field was changed to a touchdown and replay said the call stood. Here we go again.

Seattle had three chances to get another score, but twice Wilson was sacked on third down. On the final attempt, Seattle was down to 1:01 and no timeouts. The drive was submarined after two plays when Wilson simply dropped a good snap and had to eat the ball. Between that and an ensuing false start and 10-second runoff, the game ended with Wilson forcing an interception on a pass that didn't even cross his own 40.

Seattle drops to 1-5 in road games in Week 1 under Pete Carroll, so the slow starts have been common. Also, this was the eighth season in a row where Denver opened up at home in Week 1. The Broncos have won seven season openers in a row. Getting off to a good start hasn't been an issue for Denver, but sustaining it has been hard the last two years. At least Keenum provides more hope than Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch did.

Cincinnati Bengals 34 at Indianapolis Colts 23

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (23-17)
Game Winning Chance Before: 23.2 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 49.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 26.3 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (34-71-2 at 4QC and 45-73-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (16-27-2 at 4QC and 21-29-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Andrew Luck made his long-awaited return to begin a new era with rookie head coach Frank Reich. Despite the changes, in many ways this looked like another game from the 2017 Colts. Behind a limited roster, the Colts were very competitive and led 16-10 at halftime. Last year, the Colts lost seven games with a halftime lead, the second-highest total in NFL history. They also led the league with five blown fourth-quarter leads.

This time, the Colts led 23-10 in the third quarter, but the secondary was no match for A.J. Green, who caught a 38-yard touchdown. Indianapolis had a chance to extend to a two-score lead again going into the fourth quarter, but called a conservative wide receiver screen to new running back Nyheim Hines on third-and-14. The pass skipped and Adam Vinatieri missed a 55-yard field goal, setting the Bengals up with nice field position.

That's a very conservative call for what had been one of the most aggressive passers in the league each year. I'm not ready to buy that left tackle Anthony Castonzo being out made that much of a difference in what the Colts wanted to do the whole game. While it was only one game, Luck's average depth of target (5.53) on Sunday was the fourth lowest of his 77-game career, according to ESPN Stats & Info. His yards per completion (8.18) was his third-lowest game on a day when he set a career-high with 39 completions. There was concern in the preseason about his lack of throwing down the field. Was it by Reich's design to change Luck's playing style? Was it related to rust from missing a year and not wanting to stress his arm in meaningless games? Was it just random preseason noise like those gaudy Nathan Peterman stats we saw in Buffalo? We'll have to follow this as the season goes, but it was a different Luck on Sunday.

The Colts killed themselves with penalties (defensive pass interference and a horse-collar tackle) in the fourth quarter on the way to Joe Mixon's 1-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 24-23 lead. Later, the Colts had a chance to recover a second fumble by Green, but the Bengals recovered and kicked a field goal to go up 27-23.

Luck had 3:57 left (an eternity of time) to drive 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown. This is one area where you couldn't knock Luck for taking a conservative approach, because ideally the Colts would score the touchdown in the final minute. Things were moving well until after the two-minute warning, when Luck started to hone in on Hines. The third of four straight targets to Hines was an ill-advised screen that lost 5 yards. The Colts lost nearly a minute while moving 6 yards on the Hines part of the drive. On third-and-15, Luck was down to 40 seconds at the Cincinnati 30, but still had three timeouts. He delivered a good throw to Jack Doyle that would have converted at the 15, but safety Clayton Fejedelem made the play of his career with a forced fumble that he returned 83 yards for a game-clinching touchdown to make it 34-23 with 24 seconds left.

Last year the Colts lost to the Bengals after a pick-six thrown by Jacoby Brissett did them in. This time it was another giveaway returned for a touchdown to spoil Luck's latest comeback bid. But at least he's back.

Tennessee Titans 20 at Miami Dolphins 27

Type: Non-offensive game-winning score
Game Winning Chance Before: 58.1 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 87.2 percent
Win Probability Added: 29.1 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (7-7 at 4QC and 10-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (12-24 at 4QC and 14-24 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When these teams met last year, it only felt like a seven-hour game with the way Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel played. When they met on Sunday with the proper quarterbacks and two lightning delays, it really did take seven hours and eight minutes to finish this one, the longest game in NFL history. It was a costly loss for Tennessee after injuries to Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan, and Delaine Walker. The delays also had to make it hard to get into a rhythm, but the fourth quarter was wild with each team scoring 17 points. That has only been done 16 times since the merger, but 10 times since 2012.

Just when the Titans tied things up at 10 behind backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the Dolphins immediately responded with a 102-yard kick return touchdown by Jakeem Grant. Miami also had a game-winning kickoff return touchdown against the Jets in 2016. Miami seemed to put things away at 24-10 with a perfect 75-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills, but Tennessee came right back with a 94-yard kick return touchdown by Darius Jennings. There haven't been more than seven kick return touchdowns in a season since there were 13 in 2012. We'll see if the new kickoff rules have an impact this year or if this was just a one-game fluke.

Tannehill and Gabbert then exchanged interceptions, but Miami turned Gabbert's into a field goal on a 0-yard scoring drive. That basically put things away at 27-17. The Titans added a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with 11 seconds left, but did not recover the onside kick.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Jaguars at Giants: Pass Defense Wins Again

In a game featuring highly-drafted running backs Leonard Fournette and Saquon Barkley, the leading rusher for the first 49 minutes was quarterback Blake Bortles (44 yards). Fournette left with an injury, but the Jaguars scored their only offensive touchdown of the day with T.J. Yeldon in his place. Despite the addition of Barkley and return of Odell Beckham, the Giants were stuck in a 13-9 dogfight with last year's best defense. Things seemed to bottom out when Eli Manning wanted to force a checkdown to Barkley, only for the pass to get tipped to Myles Jack for a 32-yard touchdown with 11:24 left.

To that point, Barkley had 21 plays (carries and targets) for 55 yards and the Giants trailed 20-9. However, Barkley's next touch was the kind of highlight-reel play that led to him being drafted No. 2 overall over quarterback Sam Darnold (among others). He broke several tackles and had the speed to outrace the Jaguars for a 68-yard touchdown run.

That was a great play, but no back hits home runs all the time. Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson are tied for the NFL record with eight touchdown runs of 65-plus yards in their careers. (If you were curious, Barry Sanders had seven and Jim Brown had six. No other back had more than five.) Time will tell if the Giants can get better at blocking (read: send Ereck Flowers to Canada) to get more consistent production from Barkley, but this wasn't much of a debut to write home about save for that play. The Jaguars stopped Barkley on the ensuing two-point conversion to keep it at 20-15.

Manning drove the Giants to the Jacksonville 36 at the two-minute warning, but could not connect on fourth-and-6 to Sterling Shepard. D.J. Hayden did not get his head turned around, but he did a good enough job to not restrict Shepard's ability to catch the ball. The Giants were going to get one more crack at an improbable drive, but muffed the punt with 45 seconds left to end the game.

Cowboys at Panthers: Mirror Images, But Carolina Is Sharper

Carolina (2015) and Dallas (2016) were recent No. 1 seeds in the NFC, but both have fallen off dramatically in the offensive production department. Dallas' plan isn't really clear other than to keep Tyron Smith healthy and Ezekiel Elliott out of trouble, but the Cowboys have scored 26 points in the last three games combined since Elliott returned from his 2017 suspension. No one in Week 1 stepped up to replace the losses of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant either; only mainstay Cole Beasley (73 yards) had more than 27 receiving yards for Dallas. The offense scored once on 10 drives, though new kicker Brett Maher missed a 47-yard field goal.

This game may not have been as close if Carolina kicker Graham Gano didn't miss an extra point with 14:12 left in the fourth quarter. The Panthers led 16-0, which was technically a two-possession game. This was the first game for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but it was hardly an impressive showing. Cam Newton ran the ball 10 times for 64 yards and a score before his three kneeldowns ended the game, but he only threw for 161 yards and took three sacks. Tight end Greg Olsen left with an injury again, so the Panthers just had to hang on while Dallas started to make a few plays in the fourth quarter after letting Prescott work more in the no-huddle offense.

A key Prescott scramble on third down set up Elliott for a touchdown, and Prescott added a two-point conversion on a quarterback draw that the Panthers should have seen coming. That cut the lead in half to 16-8, but Prescott was sacked three times in the final five minutes of the game (that only happened three times to quarterbacks in all of 2017). The final sack, which stripped Prescott of the ball, came at the Dallas 23 with 1:27 left. Carolina was able to run out the clock.

Prescott had Beasley open briefly, but tried to do too much on this play. On the previous sacks, the best I can say is that it doesn't look like the loss of All-Pro center Travis Frederick had anything to do with them. Unfortunately, second-round rookie guard Connor Williams looked overwhelmed in his first major game.

Dallas had been 16-1 under Prescott when allowing fewer than 20 points, but if the offense keeps playing like this, then it won't matter if the defense is actually respectable like it was on Sunday.

49ers at Vikings: Handsomely Paid Either Way

In the last year, Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins have each briefly held the distinction of being the highest-paid player in NFL history. Neither started this game as such, but both still have high expectations for 2018. Garoppolo had been 7-0 as a starter since 2016 with very impressive metrics during those games. For as much skepticism as Cousins can create, he is still more of a proven commodity than these younger quarterbacks with his last three years of solid play in Washington. His 2018 debut went much more smoothly than Garoppolo's, but Garoppolo was the one playing Mike Zimmer's loaded defense on the road.

One of the things we focused on with Minnesota's defense was that it only ranked 22nd in takeaways per drive last year. The Vikings never had more than three takeaways in a game in 2017, but remedied that immediately with four big ones against the 49ers. That included a fumble at the 1-yard line by Alfred Morris, but it was a pick-six by Mike Hughes in the third quarter when Garoppolo's receiver fell down that really turned this game around. That opened up a 17-3 lead for the Vikings, which grew as high as 24-6 before Garoppolo tried to mount a comeback.

Overloaded blitzes were a problem for the 49ers. That was the strategy on the pick-six, and it also led to a big sack by Harrison Smith on a third-and-5 in the fourth quarter with 6:32 left. Garoppolo should have had more time on his last drive, but the 49ers' defense actually bit on a hard count on fourth-and-1 when Cousins was unlikely to snap the ball for real. That cost San Francisco about 55 seconds, but Garoppolo still had 1:49 and one timeout to drive the offense 89 yards in a 24-16 game.

The attempt was short-lived. On the second play of the drive, newcomer Sheldon Richardson hit Garoppolo as he threw and the pass was intercepted by Smith. Minnesota did not help its red zone DVOA with an ensuing four-and-out, but that was fine as the only point of that drive was to run out the final 95 seconds on the clock to get the win. I can see myself removing Cousins' fourth-down throw into the stands on the game's final play in a future analysis of his red zone effectiveness, a point of contempt from his Washington days.

For now, the Vikings are 1-0 and travel to Green Bay next week in the marquee matchup of the season's first two weeks.

Texans at Patriots: Close, But Not Worthy of a Cigar

When these teams met in Week 3 last season, it was one of the most exciting shootouts of the year with New England winning 36-33. It was a breakout game for Deshaun Watson as a dual-threat rookie quarterback before he tore his ACL last November. In his return game, expectations were high for scoring; this was the only Week 1 game with a Vegas-projected total above 50. While the teams came close to that total in a 27-20 finish, this was far from an offensive gem, with each team needing the help of a takeaway leading to a touchdown drive that started in the red zone.

It was especially disappointing for Watson, who finished with only 176 passing yards and a pair of giveaways. It didn't even look like the Texans would make it interesting after falling behind 24-6 late in the third quarter. Since 2001, the Patriots are 117-0 at home when leading by at least seven points in the second half (including playoffs). Every other NFL team has at least four losses in that situation in that time.

A move to the no-huddle offense helped the Texans pick up the pace, but they still trailed 27-13 in the fourth quarter. It felt absurd when Bill O'Brien decided to punt on fourth-and-8 from his own 36 with 4:41 left, but the Texans got a huge break when the Patriots muffed the punt. However, it took Houston 2:24 to drive just 16 yards for a touchdown after a series of penalties, missed throws, and scrambles, and a telegraphed quarterback draw by Watson that drained the clock.

Since 2:08 remained, the onside kick was a possibility, but I think with four clock stoppages left, the Texans were right to kick it deep. Ideally, Houston would get the ball back with a timeout or maybe even two if the Patriots threw an incomplete pass. But the Patriots did not go three-and-out after Tom Brady found fullback James Develin for a first down on a scramble drill. The Patriots could have put the game away with a third-and-2 conversion, but kept it safe by again running Rex Burkhead , who was stuffed for no gain. That dropped the clock under a minute, and Ryan Allen dropped a perfect punt with one bounce that was downed at the 1-yard line.

Watson was left with the unenviable task of leading a 99-yard touchdown drive with 43 seconds and no timeouts left. DeAndre Hopkins had a pass in his hands past the 40, but was dropping it before getting hit in the head, which drew a 15-yard penalty. That was actually Houston's longest gain on the drive, which reached the Houston 43 with 5 seconds left. That's asking a lot for a Hail Mary, and Wilson's attempt didn't even break the 10-yard line as it was knocked away harmlessly to end the game.

After having the highest pressure rate in our database since 2010 last year, Watson had the highest pressure rate among Week 1 quarterbacks too (53.7 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info. On the bright side, Houston's next five games all look very winnable, and there's arguably not another road test of this caliber until Week 16 in Philadelphia.

Rams at Raiders: Child's Play

The final score (33-13) looks like a blowout, but the Raiders gave the Rams a tough half on Monday night. Oakland even led 13-10 at halftime, but was shut out 23-0 in the second half. Jared Goff shook off a slow start to lead the offense to a productive night while Derek Carr continued to show some of his shortcomings under Jon Gruden. While Jared Cook did his best Rob Gronkowski impersonation with 180 receiving yards, the Oakland wide receivers had just 43 yards on the night. Amari Cooper had 9 yards, his sixth game with single-digit receiving yards since the start of 2017.

In the fourth quarter, the Rams extended their lead to 23-13 with an impressive 55-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein from the infield dirt. Carr responded by blindly throwing his second interception of the night, which led to another field goal with 3:15 left. At that point Carr had to press and Marcus Peters capitalized with a 50-yard pick-six to put the cherry on top.

This was only the second time in Carr's career that he finished with zero touchdown passes and multiple interceptions. The first time was also against the Rams, a 52-0 loss as a rookie in 2014. The Rams that came out of the locker room in the second half looked capable of hanging that scoring differential on these Raiders too, but Sean McVay can settle for the 20-point road win to kick off a season of high expectations.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 4
Game-winning drives: 4 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 11/16 (68.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 2

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.


9 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2018, 9:57am

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

...this was not a good week for quarterback play...

11 QBs had 100+ DYAR this week. (See Quick Reads)

That happened exactly ZERO times last year. The average was six QBs breaking 100 DYAR each week. One week had nine and one week had ten. Two weeks had just three. The other thirteen weeks fell in the 4-8 range for QBs 100+ DYAR.

I don't think it happened the previous season, either. I got bored before I could check the 2015 season. Suffice it to say, this was one of the best weeks for solid (100+) DYAR QB play in recent memory.

You guys could probably do a quick search to find weeks with more 100+ QB performances. Is this really the best week ever (by that measure) or were the last two seasons flukes?

9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

True. But since no stat is opponent adjusted this time of year, I don't think it's terribly important. Even FO calls it DYAR, knowing full well that it is really YAR. I was just following their practice.

If you want to say those 100+ YAR QBs were mirages caused by unusually bad defenses, then we can amend things to say some like this:

There were an unusually high number of QBs who "got results as if they were breaking 100 DYAR".

Regardless, there was no shortage of good QB play, as far as we can see from the results, using FO's own flagship stats.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

This game may not have been as close if Carolina kicker Graham Gano didn't miss an extra point with 14:12 left in the fourth quarter.

Don't blame Gano; the snap deflected off the right guard's foot (I've never seen this before) and the kick was never attempted.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

"This was the first game for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but it was hardly an impressive showing"

The offense may not have been impressive in terms of overall statistical output, but for an offensive line that is completely reshuffled against a very good defensive front, it was very solid.

8 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 1

"Both teams could have used the extra time to move closer for their game-winning field goal attempt."

We all know that standard NFL coaching is to stop trying after you reach field goal range. Run once up the middle to see if a miracle happens, run to put the ball on the kicker's preferred hashmark, kick on third down.