by Scott Kacsmar
Week 12 wasn't filled with close games like Week 11 was. This time there were only four games decided by fewer than seven points and seven games with a comeback opportunity, including Chicago's win on Thanksgiving.
This was, however, a memorable week for chunk plays. The average yards per play was 5.96 in Week 12, the highest week in the NFL since Week 9 of the 2013 season (5.98). That was boosted by a 97-yard touchdown pass and a 97-yard touchdown run, making Week 12 the first in NFL history where two offensive touchdowns of at least 95 yards were scored. Incredibly enough, they were done by the same players involved with the most recent long scores. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw a 97-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for the second season in a row. Houston running back Lamar Miller rushed for a 97-yard touchdown on Monday night, the league's first since he went 97 yards against the Jets in 2014.
Speaking of Miller, it's hard to believe one of the games we're not covering is Houston's 34-17 win over Tennessee on Monday night. Marcus Mariota completed 22-of-23 passes for 303 yards and the offense's only turnover came with 19 seconds left. Yet the Titans lost by 17 points. Since 1950, no team had completed 85 percent of its passes and lost by more than six points, with a 90-5 overall record. The Chargers smashed Arizona 45-10 on Sunday after Philip Rivers completed 28-of-29 passes before backup Geno Smith finished 0-of-3. Mariota finished at 95.7 percent. Since 1950, teams completing at least 90 percent of their passes had been 19-1, with the only loss coming by Oakland in Denver earlier this year (20-19). Oddly enough, the smallest margin of victory in one of those 20 games also came in 2018 when the Giants beat Tampa Bay 38-35 last week.
We just referenced four 2018 games, reminding us once again that the biggest story this season has been the historic passing efficiency around the league. Whether it's 500 yards of offense, scoring 40 points, or having a 100.0 passer rating, the game has really changed this year, and those numbers aren't quite as valuable to winning as they used to be.
Game of the Week
Pittsburgh Steelers 17 at Denver Broncos 24
Game-Winning Chance Before: 53.8 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 84.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 30.7 percent
Head Coach: Vance Joseph (3-6 at 4QC and 4-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (7-13 at 4QC and 11-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)
We have yet to do our annual "Mike Tomlin's Steelers come up small in small game" recap this season. We'll get into the reasons why Denver may not necessarily qualify, but with Pittsburgh's only remaining road trips in Oakland (a definitive trap game before New England) and at juggernaut New Orleans, now is as good a time as any to update some past research. As we have said before, we can run the same Pittsburgh essay every year in Football Outsiders Almanac and still be right on the money. To prove that point, I'm just going to update a couple of paragraphs I wrote for FOA 2016, which can be found on page 185 if you have a copy.
For the Steelers to turn a good season with 10 or 11 wins into a great season with 12 or 13 wins, they have to stop coming up small in the "small games." Under Tomlin, the Steelers have built up a deserving reputation as a team that plays up or down to the competition, underperforming in games against lesser teams they were expected to beat. Since 2007, the Steelers lead the NFL with 19 losses in games pitting a winning team against a non-winning team (based on final record). Their overall record is 70-19-1 (.783) in those games, which is a little below the NFL average (.798).
The final record is obviously still pending for 2018 games, but Denver (5-6) qualifies for now. With such a favorable remaining schedule, Denver could finish 9-7 or 10-6 and have a real shot at the playoffs. However, the way these upset wins over the Chargers and Steelers happened the last two weeks should give fans some pause. Denver was outgained by 150 yards in each game, but still won both games late in the fourth quarter. The rest of the NFL is 8-32 (.200) this season when being outgained by 150 yards. Since 2011, teams still win 79.4 percent of their games when they outgain an opponent by at least 100 yards. Pittsburgh actually outgained Denver by 219 yards, but lost the turnover battle 4-0. That's what makes this another classic Pittsburgh loss.
Fans often complain that "we beat ourselves more than the opponent did," but Steelers fans have the best statistical evidence for this claim. Since 2004, the Steelers are the only team to actually outgain their opponents in yardage (+709) in games lost. But they've shot themselves in the foot with the worst turnover differential per game (-1.5) in losses since 2004. Pittsburgh's margin of defeat (8.9 points per game) is the second-smallest, and a league-high 72.9 percent of the Steelers' losses since 2004 still saw the offense have an opportunity for a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. The rest of the NFL's average is 56.3 percent.
It's also fitting that Denver just beat the Chargers, Pittsburgh's next opponent, because the Chargers are the only team with a smaller margin of defeat (7.9 points) than Pittsburgh since 2004. But it's nearly impossible to win a game when you turn the ball over like the Steelers did at Mile High. Teams with exactly four giveaways and zero takeaways have lost 50 games in a row and are just 21-365 (.054) since the 1970 merger. On 11 possessions, turning the ball over four times and having a field goal blocked means you have to be almost perfect on the other six drives, and Pittsburgh wasn't sharp enough on the road again for that to happen.
This was the third time the Steelers have been a road favorite in 2018, and it just so happens those are the three games where the offense has turned the ball over at least three times. They had a tie in Cleveland in Week 1, then came back for an incredible win in Jacksonville last week, but were not as fortunate this time in Denver, historically a tough place to win. Big turnovers have doomed Pittsburgh in Denver for decades, but we'll just mention the last two trips. The Steelers lost there 31-19 in 2012 (Peyton Manning's Denver debut) after Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter to Tracy Porter with 1:58 left. In the last meeting between these teams in the 2015 AFC divisional round, backup running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had a huge fumble in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were driving with a 13-12 lead. Manning then led Denver to a game-winning touchdown in a 23-16 final.
On Sunday, it was a mixture of both outcomes. Roethlisberger threw a game-ending interception in the end zone, but not before James Conner lost a fumble at the Denver 23 on the final play of the third quarter with the game tied at 17. Phillip Lindsay and Emmanuel Sanders had good days for Denver, and Lindsay's 2-yard touchdown run with 9:17 left was the game-winning score to put Denver up 24-17.
Roethlisberger started his final march with 4:26 left, and his 12-yard scramble set the Steelers up at the 3-yard line at the two-minute warning. That's when things took a poor turn with bad play-calling and execution. First down was a low-percentage fade. Second down was a 1-yard run with Conner that CBS' Tony Romo said was a bad idea even before the snap. On third down, the Steelers tried a rare RPO that turned out to be a disaster. Center Maurkice Pouncey's snap was bad, which threw off the timing with Roethlisberger and Conner at the mesh point. Maybe that bad snap sped up Roethlisberger's mental clock, but he got rid of the ball very quickly over the middle on a pass intended for Antonio Brown, who was being undercut by Bradley Roby. Pouncey's block on Shelby Harris ended up pushing the lineman back to intercept the pass with 1:03 left to seal the win. If Harris had not make the pick, Roby likely would have anyway. There was just nothing there.
— Michael Coover (@MichaelCoover) November 26, 2018
For the second year in a row, the Steelers may have severely damaged their playoff seed after Roethlisberger rushed a throw for an interception in the end zone. The fake spike against New England last year failed miserably after the Jesse James touchdown was overturned, but this play looked even uglier. Maybe there was extra motivation to keep Brown's streak of games with a touchdown going to nine, but that play should be burned right off the call sheet.
Speaking of play-calling, it became the big talking point when some interesting quotes were shared after the game. Denver head coach Vance Joseph basically said that stopping Brown was their first priority, and that they would handle JuJu Smith-Schuster best they could while stopping the run. He also had to add that the plan worked because they got the victory.
Thought this postgame quote from Vance Joseph was significant. JuJu Smith-Schuster putting up huge yardage once again, but defenses place Antonio Brown No. 1 on the scouting report. pic.twitter.com/0rYKl6r5vZ
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) November 26, 2018
NFL analyst Bucky Brooks shared similar thoughts from defensive coordinators that they would take away Brown and Smith-Schuster, forcing other Steelers to beat them. The oddest part of this was the wording that coordinators only thought this was a good idea after Le'Veon Bell was officially out for the year. That happened two weeks ago.
This is great and it matches what defensive coordinators told me would happen when No.26 officially didn't report to the @Steelers . Teams are gonna dare No.30 and the TEs to beat them going forward. Take away No.19 & No.84 and live w/anyone else making plays. Simple as that https://t.co/9xqg7GyARS
There was never any game this season where Bell was expected to play. It has been Conner, who has had some stellar games, since Week 1. So shame on any coordinator for not recognizing that this would be an ideal strategy since September instead of just now. It's also not a strategy that has worked well. Ask Tampa Bay safety Chris Conte if someone like tight end Vance McDonald has stepped up big time for the Steelers. Smith-Schuster is still having a fine sophomore season (10th in DYAR before Week 12), and he even took off for another 97-yard touchdown in this game as he finished with 13 catches for 189 yards. That's shutting someone down?
It's one thing to say you want to limit an offense's best weapon, but what about guarding the other players? If they're in the NFL, they can probably play too. Look at David Tyree's Helmet Catch (he also caught a touchdown in that quarter) in Super Bowl XLII. Ask Brett Favre and Peyton Manning if they regret throwing in the territory of the aforementioned Tracy Porter in the 2009 playoffs. Samson Ebukam was the unsung hero in Chiefs-Rams last week. Every week is filled with unknown names making big contributions to wins.
Joseph justifying his scheme working by pointing to the win is a perfect example of trusting outcome over process, which is bad if you want future success. If these teams met a number of times and used the same approach on offense and defense, Pittsburgh would almost undoubtedly win the majority of those matchups. Pittsburgh's offensive approach against Denver has been pass-happier than most, but it has also worked to move the ball. Roethlisberger has three of the four highest games in passing yards against Denver since 2015, including 380 yards in a win (2015) and 462 yards in this loss. The Steelers racked up 527 yards this week, but again, four turnovers and a blocked field goal are hard to overcome. Pittsburgh protected well against Von Miller and company. The offense overcame the only two sacks the Broncos produced on 62 pass plays.
One doesn't scheme for Xavier Grimble, a backup tight end who rarely touches the ball, deciding he wanted to run through someone at the 1-yard line instead of scoring an easy touchdown after he was left wide open. Grimble fumbled and lost the ball through the end zone, giving Denver the ball on perhaps the game's worst rule. Rookie wide receiver James Washington killed two Pittsburgh drives in the third quarter, including a bad drop he didn't need to dive for on a deep ball. Washington has been terrible this year, but leaving receivers wide open deep down the field is asking for trouble, even if they are the second coming of Limas Sweed.
Limas Washington with the unnecessary dive. Seriously, why did he dive? The pass was in bounds. pic.twitter.com/5yAzr919Dc
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 27, 2018
Of course, the mistakes of Grimble, Washington, and Conner lend some credence to Pittsburgh's supporting cast letting the team down on Sunday. McDonald also dropped a touchdown before halftime, but the Steelers made up for that one by pantsing Denver with a fake field goal touchdown pass to left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. When an offense gains 527 yards and doesn't even score 20 points (done five times in NFL history), that's not the cue to celebrate your scheme. That's a time to be thankful for dominating the turnover battle.
Denver's schedule has been really tough, making the next four games look like a cakewalk. However, any team that needed a 12-point comeback at home against Oakland and lost by 18 points to the Jets can't be trusted to run the table. Odds are that Joseph and the Broncos slip up once or twice before the Week 17 showdown with the Chargers. As for Pittsburgh (7-3-1), this puts a huge damper on any hope of home-field advantage, but things are still in line with past seasons. Can this team beat New England? A drop to the fourth seed could actually help in January because it would give someone else a chance to take care of the Patriots first, but with the way the Steelers play so undisciplined at times, they could lose to anyone in what could be the deepest AFC playoff field since 2010.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Miami Dolphins 24 at Indianapolis Colts 27
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (24-14)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 81.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 98.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 16.5 percent
Head Coach: Frank Reich (2-3 at 4QC and 2-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (16-16 at 4QC and 20-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
This did not look like it was meant to be the Colts' day in a big home game against a 5-5 Miami team they needed to leapfrog in the standings. The Colts allowed a game-opening touchdown drive to a Miami offense that had the longest drought in the NFL (20 games) without one. Indianapolis turned the ball over three times in the first half, including two interceptions by Andrew Luck in plays that were snapped 14 seconds apart. The defense allowed an inexplicable 74-yard touchdown pass that should have been intercepted before halftime to tie the game. Luck took his first sack since Week 5, and it was nearly a fourth giveaway. Adam Vinatieri missed a 48-yard game-tying field goal late in the third quarter. Finally, the Dolphins used Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake to pound away to a 24-14 lead with 13:36 left in the game.
If you didn't know any better, it looked like Chuck Pagano was still coaching the Colts. Except that's Frank Reich's job now, but this is not a review of the job he's done so far, or even on the role he had in Sunday's latest comeback, the 20th engineered by Luck in his career. This was about the moments in which Luck has so often shined, and the moments that Miami head coach Adam Gase shied away from this time around.
The one thing I would highlight to Reich's credit is the very beginning of the comeback. In the Pagano days, the Colts would come out down double-digits in the fourth quarter and just have Luck throw every play. Maybe he would force an interception, and maybe that 24-14 deficit would quickly grow to 13 or 17 points. In this one, the Colts came out with a shotgun-spread look, but still ran the ball with Marlon Mack for gains of 10 and 25 yards to get into Miami territory quickly. Luck can get antsy early in drives, so that was a great way to start this drive. It still ended with a 46-yard field goal by Vinatieri, but it was a 24-17 game now.
Miami came out throwing with Ryan Tannehill, but he threw two incompletions while pressured. On third-and-10, maybe the Dolphins thought they could trick the Colts with a run, but Drake was buried for a 5-yard loss for a three-and-out. Luck made quick work of Miami's defense on an 89-yard drive that looked all too easy, ending with a 12-yard touchdown to Eric Ebron to tie the game with 4:25 left.
Miami was then backed up at its own 6 after a penalty on a kickoff. Tannehill was limited to a screen on second down before handing off again to Drake on third-and-10. Drake only gained 4 yards and the Dolphins had to punt. Luck was already at his own 42, only needing a field goal with 2:38 left. Gase should have known better that he had to be more aggressive than that.
Miami was a third-and-9 away from stopping the Colts at the two-minute warning, but Luck ducked through pressure to find Chester Rogers wide open for a huge 34-yard gain. You almost knew Miami was doomed the second CBS' Trent Green referenced zone coverage and that the corners "were softening up." In a game that's usually decided more by pressure than coverage, I don't know why a team wouldn't risk a blitz in that situation. Good quarterbacks will eat this coverage alive. Miami's best hope was a Rogers drop, but that didn't happen.
— ⁶ Mal PopovichLuck (@Mali_Mal) November 26, 2018
All that was left was for the Colts to set up Vinatieri for the final snap of the game. He delivered on a 32-yard field goal and the Colts won their fifth in a row since a 1-5 start.
Seattle Seahawks 30 at Carolina Panthers 27
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (27-20)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 54.1 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 45.9 percent
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (29-54-1 at 4QC and 37-59-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (20-30-1 at 4QC and 26-32-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Seattle has won many big games since 2012, but this one had to feel really good as far as regular-season games go. One thing Seattle has struggled with in the Russell Wilson era is winning high-scoring games. Since 2012, Seattle was 2-23 when allowing at least 27 points, and that includes a mark of 0-15 on the road. Only Buffalo (0-20) has also been winless on the road in such games. This was also a "body clock" game with a 1 p.m. kickoff on the East Coast, and Seattle has often started very slowly in such games over the years.
Carolina took the lead five different times on the day, but Seattle kept fighting back. Even when Christian McCaffrey supplied all 75 yards on a go-ahead touchdown drive to lead 27-20 with 6:57 left, the Seahawks marched right back to a tie. It took a gutsy call on fourth-and-3 at the Carolina 35 this time. Most teams aren't going to throw deep there, and statistically, a short throw is more likely to convert than a long bomb. But when you think you can take a shot with a quarterback able to drop those bucket passes like Wilson has in his career, then it's worth the risk. Carolina blitzed, but by only sending three receivers down the field, the Seahawks had enough blockers to protect Wilson. He had David Moore in single coverage with Corn Elder, and the rookie cornerback never located the ball. Moore came down with the catch in the end zone and the Seahawks were tied again.
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) November 25, 2018
Cam Newton was able to drive Carolina to the Seattle 40 at the two-minute warning, but the drive bogged down from there thanks to pressure from the Seahawks. Graham Gano came on for a 52-yard field goal with 1:45 left, but he was wide right this time, giving Wilson excellent field position at his own 42. Even though Gano made that 63-yard field goal to beat the Giants in Week 5, he has not been a good clutch kicker in his career. Gano is 20-of-29 (69.0 percent) on clutch field goals, defined as attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime with the game tied or Gano's team down by one to three points. He's one of only four kickers under 70 percent since 2001 (minimum 20 clutch attempts). He has also botched several clutch extra points in his career, including one last week in Detroit that would have given Carolina a 14-13 lead.
The Seahawks almost went three-and-out, but Wilson had time on third-and-5 to find Tyler Lockett open down the field. Captain Munnerlyn tried to pick Lockett up in coverage, but he was too late and the play was good for 43 yards. From there, Seattle just had to use kneeldowns and a spike to make the field goal the last play of regulation. Sebastian Janikowski had no problem with the 31-yard field goal for the high-scoring 30-27 road win. Wilson tied Matt Ryan for the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (20) in a quarterback's first seven seasons in NFL history.
Now the Seahawks (6-5) hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers (6-5) with five games to go for two teams clearly playing for wild-card spots in divisions with the Rams and Saints. Carolina has lost three in a row after a 6-2 start.
New York Giants 22 at Philadelphia Eagles 25
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (19-14)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 61.4 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 99.1 percent
Win Probability Added: 37.7 percent
Head Coach: Doug Pederson (7-12 at 4QC and 8-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Carson Wentz (4-10 at 4QC and 4-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Things move so quickly in the NFL. Twelve games ago, the Eagles were beating the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. On Sunday, they were down 19-3 at home to the lowly Giants, who were looking to drag the Eagles with them to the bottom of the division at 4-7. The New York offense was clicking for the third week in a row, which led to some sarcastically predicting that the Giants are going to bring Eli Manning back as their starter next season too. Hey, even the division title was still up for grabs. Maybe it was the holiday spirit, but things were suddenly looking rosy for the Giants.
Alas, it only took a few more quarters for reality to set in. The short-lived offensive improvement is what happens when an offense with talented players faces Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and an Eagles team that is decimated at cornerback. Manning's Captain Checkdown status is still a big problem, and he reverted exactly into that after a terrible interception before halftime when the Giants could have added to their lead. Head coach Pat Shurmur also might have a case to be a one-and-done coach. Saquon Barkley had a dazzling 51-yard touchdown run put the Giants up 19-3, but then received only four carries the rest of the game, and the Eagles outscored New York 22-3.
Philadelphia's title defense would be unfathomably poor without the Giants. The only two games this season where the Eagles scored more than 24 points have been against New York. Last year in Week 15, the Giants blew a 13-point lead against the Eagles. Doug Pederson is 2-14 in his career when the Eagles trail by at least eight points at any time in the game, and both wins are against the Giants.
The Eagles were still down 19-14 in the fourth quarter. Their running backs, who were not drafted No. 2 overall, took over entirely on a 61-yard touchdown drive highlighted by Corey Clement's 23-yard gain on a screen pass. Josh Adams ran in a two-point conversion and the Eagles led 22-19. The Giants answered, but Odell Beckham Jr. was unable to draw a flag for a grabbing of his jersey on a third down in the end zone. The Giants settled for a 29-yard field goal to tie the game with 5:49 left.
That left plenty of time for the Eagles, but there was another Shurmur screw-up just before the critical play of the game. Adams was stopped on a third-and-1 run to bring up fourth down, but Shurmur waited more than 15 seconds to call his timeout at 2:39. If he had called his timeout immediately around 2:55, and then the Eagles had been successful on fourth-and-1, Philadelphia still would have had to run their next play before the two-minute warning. By waiting so long, the Giants watched the Eagles convert fourth-and-1, then run their next play after the two-minute warning, costing them another 40 seconds for a response drive. The only counter argument I could think of would be that Shurmur waited to see if the Eagles were going for it on fourth down, but I still think calling timeout immediately to save the most time would have been the smart move. A timeout and the two-minute warning would have been plenty for Manning to work with.
On the fateful fourth-and-1, Philadelphia picked up New York's four-man rush and Carson Wentz was able to find Nelson Agholor in a hole over the middle for 12 yards. From there, the Eagles just ran Adams three times to set up Jake Elliott for a 43-yard field goal. He made it, leaving the Giants just 16 seconds on the clock after a kick return to their own 34. On the final play, the Giants opted for a designed lateral, but Beckham was knocked down quickly to end that.
Jacksonville Jaguars 21 at Buffalo Bills 24
Game-Winning Chance Before: 56.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 83.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 26.5 percent
Head Coach: Sean McDermott (2-5 at 4QC and 5-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Allen (1-0 at 4QC and 2-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen rushed for more yards (99) than Leonard Fournette (95), who was ejected for getting into a fight with Shaq Lawson. That's a juicy headline from a rematch of last January's playoff game, but the game immediately peaked at that moment. It turned out to be a real disaster for the Jaguars, who thought they had a 30-yard touchdown pass to break a 14-14 tie, but saw it overturned to a completion down at the 1. That's when Fournette and Lawson really got into it, and the best way to break this tie would have been to put those two in the Octagon to settle their differences.
As for the football part, the Jaguars managed to turn first-and-goal from the 1 into a missed 42-yard field goal by Josh Lambo. That almost sounds impossible, but it was accomplished with a stuffed run by Carlos Hyde, a false start, a touchdown negated by offensive holding, a 1-yard scramble by Blake Bortles, and a third-down sack. That's unbelievable game mismanagement. You have to go back to the 2002 Steelers against the Patriots to find the last time a team turned first-and-goal at the 1 into a missed field goal of more than 30 yards, and that was a 39-yard attempt by Pittsburgh.
Allen only completed 8-of-19 passes in his return start, but at least he made the completions count this week for 160 yards. The Jaguars enhanced his next two completions with penalties for 15 yards on each. Allen had the ball at the Jacksonville 14 to start the fourth quarter, and he ran a quarterback draw for a touchdown that looked all too easy. Myles Jack was especially slow to react to the draw, and Buffalo led 21-14.
Bortles had three drives to answer, but the third quickly ended after his pass went right through the hands of James O'Shaughnessy for an interception returned to the Jacksonville 18. Buffalo didn't bother to pass and was able to add a 22-yard field goal to take a 24-14 lead with 3:06 left. To his credit, Bortles led a late touchdown drive after fitting a nice pass into Dede Westbrook for a 13-yard score with 1:20 left. It was just too little, too late as the Bills were able to recover an onside kick to end the game.
On Monday, the Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched Bortles for Cody Kessler. From the overturned touchdown to the missed field goal to the tipped pick and his final throw, Bortles probably played his best football on Sunday in the last 18 minutes of the game. The problem was the Jaguars tried to willingly hide him for the first 42 minutes, and that's no way to run an NFL team in 2018. The Bills will just have to hope they don't fall into the same boat with Allen. At least on Sunday, he efficiently produced yardage (261 yards on 30 plays excluding kneeldowns) without a sack or turnover.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Patriots at Jets: Rope an AFC East Dope
For 41 minutes, the Jets hung in tough with the Patriots, even knotting the game at 13 in the third quarter. From there, the Patriots made short work of their division rivals after another series of chunk plays. The Patriots had 10 plays of 20-plus yards on a day where they finally had their full cast of offensive players around Tom Brady for the first time all season: all five starting linemen, running back Sony Michel, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon at wide receiver. Edelman's 21-yard touchdown put the Patriots up 20-13 going into the fourth quarter.
Josh McCown started for an injured Sam Darnold for the Jets, but he still has one of the worst records (6-35) on fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in NFL history. The Patriots amped up the pressure on the veteran in the second half, sacking him on a third-and-14 to end one game-tying opportunity. Brady was not sacked on the day as the Patriots controlled the trenches well. Michel returned from a brutal looking tackle earlier in the game to rip off a 33-yard run. He soon followed with a short touchdown run to put the game away at 27-13 with 8:54 left. Jermaine Kearse was unable to hang onto a pass in the end zone on fourth down just after the two-minute warning, so the Jets failed to cover the two-touchdown spread too.
In those final 19 minutes, the Patriots had four rushes gain at least 24 yards, including two by James White. New England is only the fifth offense since 2001 to have at least four 24-yard rushes in the second half of a game (no one has had five). It's the first time during this run (since 2001) that the Patriots had this many rushes of 24 yards in a single game.
It was just another status quo day in the AFC East for the Jets (3-8) and Patriots (8-3).
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 47
Game-winning drives: 58 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 99/176 (56.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 25
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.