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

Clutch Encounters: Week 11

by Scott Kacsmar

There's a lot to be thankful for this week. We just witnessed one of the wildest games in NFL history Monday night in Los Angeles, and that was a perfect way to finish a week that was historic for close games. Week 11 featured 11 games that were decided by five points or fewer, the most in any week since the 1970 merger. The only games that weren't close were the Colts beating the Titans 38-10 and the Saints handing the Eagles the worst loss ever (48-7) for a defending Super Bowl champion.

Starting with Packers-Seahawks on Thursday night, we had 11 games with a comeback opportunity, seven fourth-quarter comebacks, and nine game-winning drives. It takes 22 weeks to complete an NFL season through the Super Bowl, and at the halfway mark now, this amazing week is leading into what should be an excellent finish.

We are going to start with a non-traditional recap of last night's game, because going through all the scores would take too long. There were 28 legitimate possessions in the game and 21 of them ended with a score or turnover. We should accept that this is what big NFL games look like now.

Game of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs 51 at Los Angeles Rams 54

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (51-47)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 14.2 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 80.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 66.3 percent
Head Coach: Sean McVay (5-5 at 4QC and 5-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jared Goff (5-7 at 4QC and 5-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When fans list the greatest games in NFL history, they almost exclusively stick to playoff games for obvious reasons. It's hard to equate that importance in a regular-season game. However, what happens when a game like Monday night -- "Super Bowl 52.5" works just fine -- actually lives up to and exceeds the hype? In search of the best regular-season game in the NFL's first 99 seasons, we have a real contender from last night, and this is not recency bias. Last night was truly a spectacle.

For starters, what should give this game's legacy real lasting power is that it was important, or as important as any game between two teams from different conferences could be before Thanksgiving. The Chiefs and Rams were both 9-1 juggernauts vying for the top seed in their conferences. This is exactly the kind of matchup you'd expect to see in a Super Bowl on a neutral field, and the NFL actually had that in mind with Mexico City as the chosen venue, but of course it was moved back to Los Angeles due to the field conditions. You'd probably have to go back to 2007 to find regular-season games with more hype than this, such as when the 8-0 Patriots met the 7-0 Colts, or when the Packers and Cowboys met as 10-1 teams on a Thursday night in what became the first extended look at Aaron Rodgers in the NFL. This game was better than both.

This game also had major star power. Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald have all been having seasons worthy of major awards at season's end. Gurley's marginal performance (94 total yards and no touchdowns) aside, they did not disappoint. The NFL actually appointed an "all-star" officiating crew for this game, but they were a major detriment early with way too many flags thrown. Once that cooled down, the game was highly enjoyable to watch.

Super Bowl 52.5 is also historic for its over/under of 63, reportedly the highest on record in the gambling books. That record might not last long should the Chiefs and Saints meet up in February. The Chiefs and Rams easily hit the over with 105 combined points, the third-highest scoring game in league history. It's the first NFL game ever where both teams cracked 50 points. This is the 40th time since 1940 that a team scored at least 40 points and lost a game. Unfortunately for Kansas City, the 2018 Chiefs join the 1966 Giants as the only two teams to lose multiple games after scoring 40 points in the same season.

The game was simply a thrill to watch with big plays galore from all four main units. The quarterbacks lost two fumbles apiece, including a return touchdown against each. Both kickers missed an extra point to help produce the first 23-23 halftime score in NFL history. Not even Jason Witten's commentary could put a damper on the night. You like hearing about Joe Montana pointing out John Candy in the crowd before he beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII? That's cool, but we didn't hear about that story until after the game. Last night, we actually saw Reid fuming at referees before giving Goff some choice words too. That was awesome. So was just about every route and catch by Tyreek Hill on his 215-yard night. Despite the scoring and 1,001 yards allowed, the defenses racked up eight sacks, four fumbles, three interceptions, and three return touchdowns.

This was actually a great example of how defense is meant to be played in 2018 with games involving incredible offenses. It's no longer about holding someone under 300 yards or 21 points; it's about making the big takeaways that flip field position or directly put points on the board, and just making a few stops here and there that lead to field goals and punts. The blueprint for this could be seen in Super Bowl LII in February, a game that featured a record 1,151 yards of offense. There wasn't much defense until Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady late, and that was all Philadelphia really needed from its defense to win the game. This season, the games between Chiefs-Patriots (43-40), Rams-Saints (45-35), and now Chiefs-Rams (54-51) have all looked similar, but one could argue the defense was at its strongest in this matchup last night.

Samson Ebukam was an unexpected hero for the Rams. He scored on a fumble return after Aaron Donald stripped Mahomes in the second quarter, then added a pick-six after jumping Mahomes' RPO in the third. Ebukam also delivered arguably the play of the game in the fourth quarter. With 1:28 left, Mahomes had the Chiefs at the Los Angeles 48, down 54-51. Ebukam hit Mahomes while he tried to throw, which caused the pass to flutter right to former Chief Marcus Peters for a huge interception. The Rams ended up botching the offense with three passes (one incompletion), but that still took the go-ahead touchdown out of things for Kansas City. Mahomes got the ball back with 50 seconds left and was really just hoping to hit some big plays to set up a field goal for overtime. However, the drive was not well executed, and from his own 26, Mahomes' deep heave was intercepted by Lamarcus Joyner to end the game.

I think one more bomb to Hill to set up a 54-54 overtime would have instantly put this in everyone's "best game ever" conversation, but it was not meant to be. Still, it's hard to understand how anyone could criticize this game for not having defense when three touchdowns were directly scored by the defenses. Seven takeaways is a huge number too, and it was interceptions that ended this game. You just had to feel sick as a Chiefs fan, though, when Orlando Scandrick failed to make this interception of Goff with 2:13 left on what became the game-winning drive.

Four plays later, Goff threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Everett. One quarterback threw a game-winning touchdown after a dropped interception. The other threw a game-altering interception after he was hit in motion. The margin between winning and losing was that thin, and we will be lucky if Super Bowl LIII turns out to be half as good as this game was on Monday night. But since this is the product the NFL wants to sell, don't be surprised if we are recapping a similar game with greater importance with one or both of these teams in a couple of months.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (16-6)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 12.2 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 97.6 percent
Win Probability Added: 85.4 percent
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (28-46 at 4QC and 40-51-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (34-45 at 4QC and 46-50-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This game was flexed out of Sunday Night Football for good reason, with the Jaguars falling out of contention with a five-game losing streak. However, it would have been quite the dramatic show if NBC had stuck with this one and it played out exactly like it did on Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville. You really had to see the struggles the Steelers had on offense for so much of the game to appreciate just how absurd this comeback was. According to EdjSports, Pittsburgh's Game-Winning Chance bottomed out at 1.4 percent in the final five minutes.

Of course, Jacksonville always gives the Steelers a rough time. The Jaguars swept this team in Pittsburgh last season, and Jalen Ramsey sure seemed determine to silence any trade rumors by getting two interceptions with superb coverage on Antonio Brown. Ben Roethlisberger infamously threw five interceptions against this defense last October, which led to him sarcastically (or not) pondering if he maybe "doesn't have it anymore." Judging a quarterback's worst game by interception count is a poor way of doing it, especially in a game that featured multiple tipped picks and one where a receiver slipped on a route. That 30-9 loss was one of Roethlisberger's worst games, but not the worst.

For nearly three quarters on Sunday, this one was definitely in contention for Roethlisberger's worst game ever. With 2:04 left in the third quarter, Roethlisberger was 10-of-23 for 60 yards and three interceptions. He even started the game by getting stopped on a quarterback sneak, and had an interception taken away on a shaky roughing the passer penalty on a drive that still ended with Ramsey's end zone interception. The only game that Roethlisberger had through three quarters that could really compare was a 2006 trip, almost 12 years to the date, to Cleveland. In that game, he was 7-of-15 for 48 yards and three interceptions through three quarters. I haven't seen the game in 12 years, but I recall at least one of those passes getting tipped off his receiver; still, it was an ugly start. Oddly enough, he rebounded that day to lead three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter for a 24-20 win.

But that was a lowly Cleveland team. The Jaguars looked in 2017 form on defense, and the offense was feeding Leonard Fournette to play keep away from the Steelers (and from Blake Bortles). A 16-0 deficit looked dire, but all it took was a little confusion in the secondary for Roethlisberger to find Brown wide open for a 78-yard touchdown pass. The rest of the plays weren't as easy, and Roethlisberger was even stopped on a two-point conversion to keep it 16-6 going into the fourth quarter.

Jacksonville's "hide the quarterback" offensive strategy failed miserably on Sunday. Bortles had a rough outing. He completed 10-of-18 passes for 104 yards, but still managed to take six sacks as Pittsburgh's relentless pass rush helped make this comeback possible. Bortles only had 26 dropbacks compared to 41 handoffs. While Fournette looked strong early, the Steelers eventually stonewalled him after seeing no reason to fear the passing game. On Jacksonville's last five drives, Fournette had eight runs, all up the middle, and seven of those plays were failures, gaining 2 yards or worse. Bortles' fourth-quarter success rate was 0-for-5 with three sacks. It was an abject failure on offense.

Down 16-6, the Steelers had some margin for error in the fourth quarter with Jacksonville unable to add to the lead. It's not that Jacksonville's defense suddenly fell apart late. Roethlisberger was sacked twice in the quarter, and he has been one of the hardest quarterbacks to take down this year. A lot of the coverage was still good, but Roethlisberger's ball placement got sharper and smarter, not risking as many 50-50 balls to his star receiver. On a fourth-and-6 at the Jacksonville 43, James Conner dropped what should have been a first down with 6:47 left. That could have been a killer, but Jacksonville fortunately had a quick three-and-out. Roethlisberger quickly led an 80-yard touchdown drive, fitting in some nice throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster before Vance McDonald scored an 11-yard touchdown with 2:28 left.

After another Jacksonville three-and-out where the Jaguars didn't even dare let Bortles throw on third down, Roethlisberger had 1:42 left from his own 32, down 16-13. On the second play of the drive, he took a shot deep for Smith-Schuster, who beat A.J. Bouye for a 35-yard gain. Two plays later, Conner again had a bad drop on what would have been a 27-yard touchdown. He just took his eyes off the ball. That again could have been huge with the Steelers facing third-and-10, and kicker Chris Boswell has been shaky this season. Fortunately, the Steelers ran a slight pick play to free up Brown against Ramsey for a 25-yard gain to the 2. Roethlisberger erroneously spiked the ball with 22 seconds left when he should have just called a play. He then seemed to have thrown another game-ending interception in the end zone, but this one was called back after D.J. Hayden pulled Ryan Switzer down by the facemask before making the pick.

Pittsburgh was way too in love with the shotgun and throwing this close to the end zone, especially with one timeout left. After another penalty on Hayden, the Steelers finally ran the ball with 8 seconds left, but that too didn't look to be by design. Roethlisberger wanted to throw a shovel pass to his tight end, but after that was covered, he just kept the ball and ran for the score, barely breaking the plane before his knees were down. With 5 seconds left, Bortles was strip-sacked for his only turnover, but the damage was already done.

After such an abysmal start, Roethlisberger passed for 254 yards in the game's final 17 minutes. His 34th fourth-quarter comeback win ties him with Johnny Unitas and John Elway for the fourth most in NFL history. Prime time or not, this will be one of the most memorable games of those 34.

Carolina Panthers 19 at Detroit Lions 20

Type: GWD
Game-Winning Chance Before: 51.2 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 80.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 29.5 percent
Head Coach: Matt Patricia (0-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (26-42 at 4QC and 33-42 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Rookie head coach Matt Patricia is definitely having an impact on the Lions in what has been a bizarre season for the team. Detroit has found a running back (Kerryon Johnson) who actually has multiple 100-yard rushing games, and he may have had another against Carolina had he not been injured. It's also weird that Matthew Stafford didn't have a game-winning drive until Sunday, but it's even weirder that Detroit lost three games in a row by double-digits coming into this one. The Lions had not had a losing streak like that under Stafford, who usually keeps it closer. We'll shrug off the good posture and practicing in the cold for a stretch of four indoor games, but that's just some of what Patricia has been up to this year.

The focus with Detroit is usually on the fact that this franchise doesn't beat good teams. In the Stafford era (2009-2017), the Lions are 6-52 (.103) with him as their starter in games against teams that finished the season with a winning record. This season, the Lions have already defeated the Patriots (7-3) and now the Panthers (6-4). They also have wins over the Packers (4-5-1) and Dolphins (5-5). Maybe this says more about how flawed those teams really are this season, but it's likely the Lions will add a few wins to that 6-52 eyesore.

Playing poorly for a fourth game in a row would have turned up the heat on Patricia's seat, so this win was much needed. The Lions no doubt caught some breaks along the way against the favored Panthers. In the third quarter, Graham Gano missed a 34-yard field goal, which wasted an 82-yard catch-and-run effort by D.J. Moore. Cam Newton missed one play due to injury, but it was a failed third down that ended another drive. After Newton returned to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, Gano was wide left on the extra point, keeping the game tied at 13.

That was when Kenny Golladay bailed out Stafford with a couple of great receptions on third-and-long, including a diving effort on a 19-yard touchdown with 5:13 left. After getting a second drive opportunity, Newton moved the offense 75 yards for another touchdown. The Lions couldn't get a rush on Newton, and he found Moore for an 8-yard catch in the back of the end zone.

The clock read 1:07, but Ron Rivera apparently wanted to live up to his Riverboat Ron nickname by going for two to make it 21-20. Rivera cited being the road team in his decision to go for it, but was mum about Gano, who had already missed two kicks of a similar, short distance. This wasn't the worst decision of 2018, but I really did not like this move. We covered two-or-die conversions with the Titans in Week 7, and this was only the second time someone ever attempted it with more than 60 seconds remaining. You like to do this when there's very little time left so that it makes the win almost a sure thing. You also like to do this when you're the underdog, which the Panthers were not.

But the main reasons I'm not doing it are that the Lions still had 1:07 and all three timeouts, a quarterback on pace for the most game-winning drives ever, and a strong-legged kicker in Matt Prater. By going up 21-20, Rivera would trigger four-down football, win-the-game mode for Detroit. If it's 20-20, the Lions are likely to be a bit conservative and play for overtime. I do not think the benefit of maybe converting outweighed the risk of putting Stafford in aggressive mode with that much time. The numbers by EdjSports are not overwhelming either way, but they do agree with my gut. Carolina's Game-Winning Chance was 45.9 percent by going for two, but it was 47.2 percent by kicking the extra point.

On the fateful play, Newton again had forever and a day to throw, but missed an open Jarius Wright in the end zone. The Panthers were forced to try the onside kick, which has only worked 9.1 percent (3-of-33) of the time in 2018. Detroit recovered and the game was over. Now we'll see if the Bizarro Lions can knock off the 7-3 Bears on Thanksgiving.

Houston Texans 23 at Washington Redskins 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 47.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 59.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 12.2 percent
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (13-20 at 4QC and 14-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson (4-4 at 4QC and 5-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

By now, you've probably seen some of the stunning coincidences between the broken leg injury Alex Smith suffered on Sunday and the one that Joe Theismann, who was in attendance, famously suffered on the same date in 1985. The fact that both games ended 23-21, and that the only three-time Defensive Player of the Year winners (Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt) were involved in the hits, is downright eerie. If we could somehow tie in how the 2018 Redskins were the first team to go nine games without a lead change since the 1954 Redskins, then this starts to look like some time-traveling adventure where Doc Brown and Marty McFly have to set things right with Washington.

A Back to the Future reference is needed to spruce up these two teams, because despite the 6-3 records, no one but their fans really believes they're that good so far. This game likely didn't do much to change that perception. The biggest play was when Justin Reid returned a Smith interception 101 yards for a touchdown, but backup Colt McCoy led a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to give Washington a 21-20 lead. Finally, we had a lead change for the 2018 Redskins.

Unfortunately, a one-point lead doesn't take a team far these days, and Deshaun Watson was able to gain enough yards to set up Ka'imi Fairbairn for a 54-yard field goal halfway through the quarter for a 23-21 lead. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney sacked McCoy to end one drive. Fairbairn missed a 45-yard field goal with 52 seconds left to give Washington some hope, but McCoy wasn't able to hit a final completion to give his kicker a better shot. Jay Gruden initially was going to try a fourth-and-10 play with just a few seconds left, but put kicker Dustin Hopkins out there for a 63-yard field goal instead. Hopkins' kick was straight enough, but just too short from that distance.

Now the Redskins are without their quarterback for the rest of the season and have to play in Dallas in a first-place battle on Thanksgiving.

Dallas Cowboys 22 at Atlanta Falcons 19

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (9-6)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 60.3 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 39.7 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (26-39 at 4QC and 36-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (7-9 at 4QC and 12-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

In a matchup of 4-5 teams in the NFC, Atlanta should have had the edge at home with its offense ranked No. 6 in DVOA. The only games this season where Atlanta did not score at least 23 points and gain over 400 yards were on the road. That's why it was so surprising to see Atlanta barely clinging to a 9-6 lead going into the fourth quarter, but third-down sacks of Matt Ryan in opponent territory (a familiar tune) led to punts.

Dak Prescott didn't throw a touchdown for the first time since Week 1, but he scored on a zone-read keeper from 4 yards out to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead. Brett Maher was wide left on the extra point. Ryan had a pass intercepted at midfield by Leighton Vander Esch after it bounced off of Calvin Ridley's hands -- no doubt karma for those who wanted the Cowboys to draft Ridley over Vander Esch in the first round. Ezekiel Elliott had another monster game (201 yards from scrimmage) and ripped off a 23-yard touchdown run to put Dallas ahead 19-9 with 12:26 left.

Ryan was able to lead the offense to 10 points on the next two possessions, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal on the first drive after Vander Esch was all over Austin Hooper on a third down. The Falcons could have gone for it on fourth-and-2 at the Dallas 3, but down 10, I think the easy field goal was the right call. A failure there and the Falcons may have been left with only four minutes left in a 19-9 game. Ryan had the offense driving at the two-minute warning and took a deep shot to Julio Jones. Chidobe Awuzie didn't play bad coverage, but Jones made a great catch for a 34-yard touchdown to tie the game with 1:52 left.

With this Atlanta defense, that's unfortunately too much time. Dallas could have been stopped on a three-and-out, but on third-and-5, Dan Quinn only rushed three. Keeping a spy on the mobile Prescott is reasonable, but the Falcons had two defenders so close together after the snap that they may as well have been playing with 10 guys. Prescott had enough time to hit Michael Gallup on a comeback route for 10 yards. The biggest gain of the drive was 19 yards after a great route by Cole Beasley. That put the ball at the Atlanta 30 where Jason Garrett got away with three runs to set up a 42-yard field goal. At least the runs by Elliott each gained 2 yards, but one more throw there to get closer would have been nice for Maher considering he already missed an extra point. With three seconds left, Maher was just able to squeeze the ball inside the right upright for the win.

It was a fantastic day for Dallas (5-5) after Washington lost (and lost Alex Smith for the year) and Philadelphia was pummeled. A division title is more realistic than ever this season. For Atlanta, 4-6 with a trip to New Orleans on Thanksgiving looks like a season-ending situation. The offense only scoring 35 combined points in Cleveland and against Dallas the last two weeks was very disappointing, but this team's biggest flaw has been blowing leads. The Falcons have blown 12 fourth-quarter leads under Dan Quinn since 2015, including … you know. They only had three blown leads in Mike Smith's first four seasons (2008-2011). Whether it's the hole in the Cover-2 getting exploited, the lack of pass pressure, or the offense trying to pass when it shouldn't, this team loses more games it should win than just about anyone.

Eventually that's going to fall on the head coach.

Denver Broncos 23 at Los Angeles Chargers 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (19-14)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 5.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 94.5 percent
Head Coach: Vance Joseph (3-6 at 4QC and 3-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (7-13 at 4QC and 10-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Leave it up to a division rival to ground the Chargers, who were riding high at 7-2 with no blown leads and anticipating Joey Bosa's 2018 debut. Just when it looked like the Chargers would add to their 19-7 lead, and on a day where the offense wasn't reliant on chunk plays, things took a bad turn on a third-and-9 screen. That's when Von Miller intercepted Philip Rivers and returned the ball to the Los Angeles 18. Three plays later, the Broncos were in the end zone and the comeback was on. The Chargers only converted one of their last five third downs. Denver's running game was working well, and out of the Wildcat, Phillip Lindsay scored another 2-yard touchdown run. Case Keenum appeared to score on a two-point conversion, but was marked short with (surprisingly) no review. Maybe things were still going the Chargers' way, albeit they were down 20-19.

The Chargers did not manage the rest of the game well. After coming up a yard short on a third-and-15, the offense stayed on the field, but only to try to draw the defense offsides. That's always a tiring act to watch, but it's even worse when the team burns a timeout with the ball at the Denver 12. Just take a delay of game penalty, as the 5 yards shouldn't impact the field goal from that short distance. The timeout is more important in such a close game. Regardless, Mike Badgley's field goal was good and the Chargers led 22-20.

Denver narrowly avoided a couple of turnovers, but still had to punt the ball back with 3:45 left. The Chargers had a strong start to the four-minute offense after Rivers found Antonio Gates for a 25-yard gain on third-and-6. After Melvin Gordon rushed for 7 yards, things looked bleak with 2:39 left and Denver out of timeouts, facing a second-and-3. According to EdjSports, Denver's Game-Winning Chance was at 1.2 percent. It would seem unfathomable that Rivers and Gordon could not be on the same page after a timeout on such a crucial play that could end the game, but that's what happened. Rivers went to hand off to a back who wasn't there, and he had to eat the ball for a huge 4-yard loss. The Chargers could have run the ball again at the two-minute warning to leave Keenum with less time, but big-money quarterbacks are paid to deliver on third-and-7. It's extra important when you're only up 22-20 instead of 23-20.

What did the Chargers do? They apparently didn't call a real pass play. It looked like another third-and-long screen, and instead of just eating a short loss that would have run clock (or taking a sack), Rivers threw the ball into the dirt, stopping the clock after one second. That baffling two-play sequence cost this team dearly.

Now Denver had its chance from its own 8 with 1:51 left. With the pass rush not getting there, Keenum worked the left side of the field for two huge gains. The first was a 38-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders, and the second was a 30-yard gain to Courtland Sutton. There was enough time for Keenum to spike the ball with three seconds left. Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn tried to ice the kicker, but Brandon McManus was good enough from 34 yards away for the win.

This was the fourth game in a row where the Chargers failed to score more than 22 offensive points. We need to see more before we can reasonably put this team on the same level with the Chiefs, Steelers, and Patriots. Those teams have a better track record, and unfortunately, this type of loss is the track record of the Chargers.

Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Baltimore Ravens 24

Type: GWD
Game-Winning Chance Before: 70.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 73.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 3.2 percent
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (19-50 at 4QC and 27-53 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson (0-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson only needed one start to make history and pick up his first game-winning drive. Jackson had 27 runs, breaking Tim Tebow's record of 22 carries by a quarterback in an NFL game. If we exclude his three kneeldowns to end the game, Jackson had 24 runs for 120 yards for an effective day. Only three of the runs were listed in the play-by-play as scrambles, so there were a lot of read-option and quarterback draws designed for Jackson to run. He added to the rushing by completing 13-of-19 passes for 150 yards and one ugly interception, but you can say he had some success through the air with his sidearm delivery on display. It was a very unorthodox performance for an NFL quarterback, and given the type of hits he took throughout the game, it doesn't seem like it will be sustainable without serious injury taking place.

But for one afternoon, Jackson paced an offense to a productive day against a Cincinnati defense that had allowed over 500 yards in three straight games coming into this one. Still, the offense looked strong at times with Jackson and Gus Edwards (the newest crusader for Running Backs Don't Matter) having their way with Cincinnati. Even after the Bengals took a 21-13 lead, the Ravens largely used the running game to tie things up going into the fourth quarter. Tied at 21, Jackson hit a big 19-yard completion to keep the drive going, and Edwards topped 100 rushing yards on a third-and-5 run. That led to a 24-yard field goal by Justin Tucker for a 24-21 lead with 8:12 left.

Andy Dalton had a respectable, turnover-free game with A.J. Green out, but the Bengals had zero running game with 14 handoffs for 19 yards. Dalton led the team with 29 rushing yards on two scrambles. The loss of Green really showed up in the fourth quarter when the Bengals needed plays. They settled for a 52-yard field goal attempt to tie the game, but Randy Bullock was wide right with 3:59 left. John Harbaugh was willing to go for a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 49 with 3:07 left, but the play was negated by an illegal formation, so the Ravens just punted back to Dalton for his last chance.

Dalton had the Bengals facing a second-and-3 at their own 37 at the two-minute warning, but the drive stalled from there. On fourth-and-3, Cody Core was the target, but the young receiver was unable to catch the ball after fighting with Marlon Humphrey. With the Bengals out of timeouts, the game was over.

Oakland Raiders 23 at Arizona Cardinals 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (21-20)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 16.4 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 83.6 percent
Head Coach: Jon Gruden (22-59 at 4QC and 30-63 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (15-22 at 4QC and 15-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Oakland's willingness to win this game was mostly dishwater warm, and certainly not as hot as Jon Gruden appeared in arguing with Derek Carr on the sidelines. One of the last spats came after Gruden sent in the punt team on a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 38 with the Raiders up 20-14 halfway through the fourth quarter. It's absurd they wouldn't go for it there in an attempt to take a two-score lead and put this one away. So at least they were on brand for bringing back 1998 football. I guess that makes Josh Rosen a young Jake Plummer, who had his share of magic in those days.

Rosen had an interesting afternoon himself. He became the fifth quarterback in the last 25 years to throw at least three touchdowns and two interceptions on no more than 20 pass attempts. The Cardinals looked like they were going to make Gruden pay for punting. David Johnson ripped off a 53-yard run and Larry Fitzgerald caught his second touchdown pass from Rosen on a sharp throw. Arizona led 21-20 with 5:02 left.

From there, both offenses managed to go three-and-out twice. Arizona badly botched the four-minute offense after getting the ball back with 2:39 left and with Oakland down to one timeout. After a predictable first-down run, the Cardinals ran it again, but tight end Jermaine Gresham was penalized 15 yards for shoving a player well after the whistle. That foolish mistake stopped the clock at 2:23 and turned third-and-8 into third-and-23. That actually saved Oakland about 45 seconds from when Arizona should have been punting (around 1:15) compared to when they did punt (2:00). Johnson then ripped off a 57-yard touchdown run, for which I would be crucifying him and Steve Wilks' coaching staff if it had held up, because they probably would have kicked the extra point to keep it a one-possession game at 28-20. That would be giving Carr nearly two minutes to answer instead of having Johnson go down short of the goal line and ending the game. However, the score didn't count because of a holding penalty, so Arizona ran again on third-and-26 and punted.

Oakland's wide receivers were very limited with Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson inactive, Brandon LaFell tearing his Achilles, and Amari Cooper catching passes in Dallas. Enter Marcell Ateman, who made the play of the game in his NFL debut with a 32-yard grab on a deep ball to the Arizona 37. From there, the Arizona defense was giving up way too much cushion in a spot where Oakland was just looking for yards for a field goal. Seth Roberts took a screen 20 yards and Carr was able to spike the ball to set up his kicker for the final play. Daniel Carlson was good on a 35-yard field goal to win as time expired.

The Raiders are now 2-8 after beating the 2-8 Cardinals, who have only managed to sweep the 2-8 49ers, who have a win in hand over Oakland. Now that these teams have no more games against each other, we'll see if any of them can win another game this season. The tie-breaker for the draft will be strength of schedule.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Vikings at Bears: The Jackson Six

In a season where defense has mostly been optional, Sunday night may have been to your liking in a first-place battle in the NFC North. Both defenses allowed just 4.3 yards per play and had three takeaways. The difference was that Minnesota scored just two field goals after turnovers on another shaky night for Matt Nagy's young offense. NBC had a great graphic that noted that the 2018 Bears are the first team since the 1987 Saints (strike year) to not start a player in his thirties through 10 games.

Mitchell Trubisky didn't throw the ball well against Mike Zimmer's defense, but he showed great scrambling ability again with 46 yards on seven runs (kneeldowns excluded). Kirk Cousins may have been wise to use his legs a bit more, but he's not as fast or elusive as Trubisky. The defense really kept Minnesota alive after trailing 14-0. Two straight turnovers gave Cousins great field position, but he only moved the ball a combined 24 yards to get two field goals to make it 14-6.

After finally getting a chance in a one-possession game with 8:38 left, Cousins threw his worst pass of the night into triple coverage for a pick-six by Eddie Jackson.

The Bears were wise to go for two and make it 22-6 after Trubisky completed the throw.

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the team down 16 points started to freely move the ball down the field in the no-huddle and then scored a touchdown. At least Trubisky made a couple of plays in the four-minute offense to deny Cousins a second chance in an eight-point game, but I'm not sure why the Bears passed (incomplete) on third-and-4 when they were content on a field goal. That saved Minnesota some time and a timeout, but kicker Cody Parkey redeemed himself for last week in a big way with a 48-yard field goal to make it 25-14. From there Cousins added another low-pressure, 75-yard touchdown drive to the stat sheet to make it 25-20, but the onside kick failed to make it moot.

That fourth quarter sums up Cousins' problems with perception well. On a national stage, people will remember him for the pick-six when the game was within reach, and those same people are unlikely to care about the two touchdowns he threw after that point. On a night where he was bad and his defense kept him in the contest, that's a fair assessment for this particular game.

Buccaneers at Giants: The Tampa Bay Template

Even if you completely miss a Tampa Bay game this season, you can probably predict with reasonable accuracy how it played out. The defense was dreadful, the quarterback hit a lot of big plays to amass crazy yardage, but the high number of interceptions may have sent him to the bench before the other quarterback's final rally came up short.

That's basically how it happened again on Sunday in New York. Ryan Fitzpatrick (three interceptions) was benched for Jameis Winston, who did his best to make up for a 31-14 deficit in the fourth quarter. After getting it to 31-28 with 5:11 left, Tampa Bay needed the defense to answer, which it of course didn't. On a day where he completed 17 of his 18 passes for 231 yards, Eli Manning's last throw was a 54-yard gain to Evan Engram, which set up Saquon Barkley's third touchdown. Winston threw a 41-yard touchdown to Mike Evans to make it 38-35, but the Giants did the logical strategy of running the ball three times and punting after recovering an onside kick. Winston's actual game-winning drive attempt came with 23 seconds left from his own 20, so this is a cheap loss to take and a penalty for playing well to get it this close. He was immediately intercepted on a deep ball by B.W. Webb.

Through 10 games, here are the 2018 Buccaneers in a nutshell:

  • Fitzpatrick and Winston have combined to throw 23 interceptions, the most by any offense through 10 games since the 1988 Buccaneers had 25.
  • Tampa Bay's offense has 3,610 net passing yards, the most through 10 games in NFL history (2000 Rams had old record at 3,586 yards).
  • Tampa Bay has allowed 329 points, the most points allowed through 10 games since the 1981 Colts (339).

The 2018 Buccaneers basically exist as a fantasy football experiment as the streak of seasons without the playoffs should hit 11 in Tampa Bay.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 43
Game-winning drives: 53 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 92/161 (57.1 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.


6 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2018, 2:37pm

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 11

About the Vikings-Bears game. I remember someone said (I think it was Scott himself) that Cousins missed a deep pass to Diggs that would be a TD, and someone should write that up. If that pass hits Diggs, that game could have gone differently.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 11

Also, funny how 2 teams had somewhat similar days, but with different results. Roethlisberger had 40 minutes of pathetic play (General ineffectiveness, 3 turnovers), followed by 20 minutes of previous weeks' Roethlisberger. He put the team in that situation, the D kept them on it, and Ben delivered. Cousins had a decent day, but buried his team with the picks (The back breaker was the triple coverage one. He got fooled by the Cover 2), and couldn't pull them back out despite the defense keeping the game within reach. He put the team in that situation, the D kept them on it, but Kirk failed to pull them back out. (Although 20 minutes to score 3 times is easier than 8 minutes to score twice).