Clutch Encounters

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

Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by Scott Kacsmar

The number 13 is historically associated with bad luck. In Week 13, several of the NFL's high-profile quarterbacks had some of the roughest outings of their careers, and teams suffered losses in ways that had never happened to them before. We even started the week that way when the Saints lost in Dallas with 176 yards of offense, the lowest output in the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. Just three days later, the rival Falcons had 131 yards of offense against Baltimore, the lowest output in the Matt Ryan era.

There were 11 games with a comeback opportunity this week, and we'll highlight how the losses were most unusual for the careers of Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton. Defense was very impressive this week even though the Chiefs returned to action with a 40-33 win over Oakland. That game won't make the cut here since Patrick Mahomes iced it with another four-touchdown day and the Raiders failed to recover a late onside kick, but one team finally did recover one of those this week.

Before we get started, there was something to highlight in Philadelphia's 28-13 win over Washington on Monday night. That game won't be covered here because the Eagles started the fourth quarter by going for a two-point conversion while already up by seven points. I bring this up a lot, but this is the first time someone has done it in the fourth quarter since Pete Carroll first did it with Seattle against the 2016 Patriots. I'm not sure it's as beneficial with 14:10 left in the game, but when Mark Sanchez is the other team's quarterback after Colt McCoy broke his leg, why not make it a two-possession game? The Eagles did, Sanchez threw an ugly interception, and the game was no longer competitive. Good job, Doug Pederson.

Game of the Week

Los Angeles Chargers 33 at Pittsburgh Steelers 30

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (23-15)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 59.8 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 40.2 percent
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn (4-6 at 4QC and 4-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (26-64 at 4QC and 30-69 overall 4QC/GWD record)

On Sunday night, the Chargers capped off one of their biggest wins this decade by ending one of the NFL's most unbelievable streaks. The Steelers have been playing since 1933, and they had never blown a lead of at least 14 points at home. Their record was 220-0-2 with that kind of lead, but in this offensively charged 2018 season, even Pittsburgh finally broke down and blew a big lead at home. Every other team in the NFL has lost at least one such game since 2001. The Steelers actually have the league's most recent tie (vs. 2002 Falcons) after leading by 14-plus at home, so it's not like there haven't been close calls over the years. It's amazing the streak lasted as long as it did.

We just had the recap last week from the Denver game showing that the Steelers and Chargers are really in competition for being the league's top team at losing games they should have won. It usually doesn't happen in this fashion for Pittsburgh, but this is definitely a loss to feel sick over in a hotly contested AFC.

Pittsburgh didn't play a perfect first half, but still led 23-7 and got the ball first in the third quarter. The Chargers' only points had come on a 46-yard touchdown pass after an absurdly blatant false start was missed on the right tackle. While the Chargers made second-half adjustments, the Steelers apparently did not. That includes one very peculiar strategy of repeatedly covering Keenan Allen, clearly L.A.'s best receiver, with linebackers. According to Next Gen Stats, Allen was targeted nine times when the nearest defender was a linebacker, the most such targets by any wideout in a game since 2016. When Philip Rivers was asked about Pittsburgh's adjustments, he basically hit on the "we do what we do" mantra that has kept Pittsburgh vulnerable against certain offenses for Mike Tomlin's whole tenure. "That is what this team does, they stick with what they do and they do it very well," Rivers said.

They didn't do it well this time. In the second half, the Chargers scored 18 points on three drives. That's not counting a two-point conversion following a punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Only twice in the second half did the Steelers force the Chargers into consecutive unsuccessful plays. Both times, Rivers made the defense pay on third down. In the third quarter, he converted a third-and-14 with an 18-yard pass to Mike Williams. That drive, which took 8:07 as the Chargers oddly bled the clock, ended with a touchdown to Allen on what was really the biggest play of the game. Joe Haden had an interception in the end zone, but his own teammate, safety Sean Davis, drilled him and knocked the ball loose. The ball deflected to Allen for an 11-yard touchdown and the Chargers added a two-point conversion pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates to make it 23-15.

If the Steelers get that interception, then they're still leading by 16 going into the fourth quarter, a huge change from what happened. While the officiating was brutal, the costliest play of the night was one Pittsburgh player drilling another here.

The offense's second drive of the half was ruined by their second holding penalty in the half. Desmond King returned the ensuing punt 73 yards for a touchdown, but the officials appeared to miss an illegal block in the back right in the center of the play. It's one thing to miss one call, but that comes on the heels of the false start missed on an earlier touchdown, and there was a really ticky-tack holding call on the Steelers in the third quarter that negated a James Conner run to the Los Angeles 26. Home-field advantage should never mean biased officiating, but it shouldn't be this bad against the home team either.

The game was tied after another two-point conversion to Allen, and Pittsburgh's offense was still sputtering. Meanwhile, the Chargers began marching with ease. Their other adjustment was to run Justin Jackson out of shotgun formations. With Melvin Gordon out, the Chargers had no running game in the first half as Austin Ekeler had 8 carries for 1 yard. Jackson is a seventh-round rookie, but he had 57 yards a week ago against Arizona. He looked really good on the night with a few big runs, including an 18-yard touchdown run to give the Chargers their first lead at 30-23.

With 8:04 left, Ben Roethlisberger needed to get a drive going. JuJu Smith-Schuster was ruled a yard short on a third-and-9, setting up fourth-and-1. Pittsburgh should have just hurried up and quarterback sneaked for a first down, but Tomlin challenged the spot, which is a challenge type that's notoriously hard to win. He lost the challenge, his ninth lost challenge in a row, and the Steelers lost a timeout. Conner ended up converting on the ground, but later left the drive after an injury that's not expected to be serious. Roethlisberger finished off the drive by throwing underneath to Conner's replacement, rookie Jaylen Samuels, who scored on a 10-yard touchdown catch with 4:10 left to tie the game at 30.

From his own 25, Rivers made sure to take his time on the drive. The Steelers eventually forced him into a tough third-and-4 at the Pittsburgh 34. Under pressure, Rivers still delivered an accurate pass to Allen, who was matched up with Jon Bostic, a linebacker. It was the gift that kept on giving for the Chargers all night. Allen finished with 14 catches on 19 targets for 148 yards.

That set up new kicker Mike Badgley for a 39-yard field goal to win the game. His first attempt was wide left, but Haden was penalized for being offsides even though it was hard to see that call. From 34 yards out, Artie Burns actually blocked the field goal, but Pittsburgh again was ruled offsides. From 29 yards out, Burns was offsides yet again, but it didn't matter -- Badgley finally hit the kick and the Chargers won 33-30. After the game, there was some controversy that the Chargers' long snapper was simulating the snap to draw the Steelers offsides, which is something he allegedly always does according to Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert. This stuff is rarely ever penalized, though it did cost the Cowboys dearly against Washington in Week 7. That's far down the list of gripes for the Steelers to have over how this one played out.

This was the 30th game-winning drive of Rivers' career. The Chargers improved to 9-3 and still have an outside shot of beating out the Chiefs (10-2) for the division and possibly a bye. The better odds are that the Chargers return to Pittsburgh for a wild-card rematch in January, and they could join the Jaguars (2007 and 2017 editions) as the only teams to sweep the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Gordon should be back before then too.

As for the Steelers (7-4-1), they are only a half-game ahead of Baltimore (7-5) for the AFC North now. They have two really tough games coming up against the Patriots and Saints. Unless Baltimore stumbles badly, Pittsburgh may need help to make the playoffs, so not overlooking Oakland next week is paramount. The Steelers have missed the playoffs four times in Roethlisberger's career (2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013). In each of those seasons, they lost a game against a dreadful Raiders team. History could be repeating itself, so the Steelers better make some adjustments in a hurry.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Chicago Bears 27 at New York Giants 30

Type: GWD
Game-Winning Chance Before: 51.6 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 66.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 15.1 percent
Head Coach: Pat Shurmur (3-19 at 4QC and 6-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (31-61 at 4QC and 42-63 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This turned out to be a very fun game where both teams had a non-quarterback throw a touchdown pass, a defensive lineman had a rushing touchdown, and the offenses combined to go 6-of-7 on fourth down. Chase Daniel was starting his second game for an injured Mitchell Trubisky, and he had to overcome a rough start with a pick-six. Aside from ball security issues, Daniel performed as you would hope from a backup in that he gave the offense a chance to win the game.

That chance looked to end quickly after Taylor Gabriel fumbled with 2:19 left, leading to an easy field goal by the Giants to extend to a 27-17 lead. The game had to be over, right? With 1:49 and one timeout left, the best Chicago could do was get a quick score, recover a (hopeless) onside kick, and score again to maybe force overtime or win on a Hail Mary. That's asking for a lot.

Since 2001, only two NFL teams have been able to erase a two-score deficit entirely after the two-minute warning. In 2012, Detroit only needed 76 seconds to score two touchdowns in Tennessee after Shaun Hill threw a touchdown to Calvin Johnson, the Lions recovered an onside kick, and then Hill threw a Hail Mary touchdown to Titus Young. That one gets forgotten since the Titans still won 44-41 in overtime. The only team to win a game since 2001 after trailing by multiple scores in the last two minutes was the 2001 Bears, who pulled off a stunner against Cleveland. We've brought this game up a number of times, and it's only fitting to do it again during a good Chicago season. Shane Matthews threw two late touchdowns with the Bears recovering an onside kick in between before Mike Brown won it in overtime with a pick-six thrown by Tim Couch.

The onside kick is always the key here, and that's what Chicago was going to need regardless of what the first score was. It was almost a touchdown after a brilliant throw under pressure from Daniel found its way to Tarik Cohen for 32 yards, plus 8 more yards for a roughing the passer penalty. That set the Bears up at the 8 with 1:28 left, but the drive stalled and they settled for the field goal with 1:13 left. Onside kicks are just 4-of-42 (9.5 percent) this season, but the Bears made that fourth recovery after Odell Beckham Jr. was pretty nonchalant about going for the ball.

Chicago was back in business and Daniel again found Cohen with a great throw for 23 yards down the right sideline. Cohen got out of bounds too, or else the clock would have expired. After a pass interference penalty put the ball at the 1, the Bears had time for one more play. Daniel handed the ball to tight end Trey Burton, who lateraled to Cohen, who threw to rookie Anthony Miller for the touchdown pass on a well-executed trick play.

The Bears were an extra point away from overtime, but given the shakiness of kicker Cody Parkey this year, should Matt Nagy have gone for two and the win? The Bears have gone for two three times in the last two games, and here they were on the road with their backup quarterback. I think they would have had a good argument to go for the win, and a better argument than the other coaches that have made similar calls this season. According to EdjSports, the Bears made the right move with the extra point, but it was basically viewed as a coin flip either way. The Game-Winning Chance with the extra point was 50.1 percent compared to 49.9 percent if going for two.

Parkey made the kick and the game went to overtime. The Giants won the coin toss and elected to receive. Saquon Barkley immediately answered with his longest run of the day (29 yards). Eli Manning did not have a great game, but he almost threw a game-winning touchdown pass. Sterling Shepard was unable to make a diving catch in the end zone, so the Giants kicked a 44-yard go-ahead field goal by Aldrick Rosas.

The Bears had to answer one more time to extend the game, but had a shaky final drive with three fumbles. They actually recovered all three, but this was not going to be another classic Chicago victory. On fourth-and-8 from the Chicago 40, the Giants blitzed Daniel to force a quick throw. He threw one up for Gabriel deep, but Janoris Jenkins was there to knock the ball away to seal the win.

It's good to know the onside kick isn't entirely dead yet, but like the 2012 Lions-Titans game, this comeback effort will likely get lost in the annals of history.

Arizona Cardinals 17 at Green Bay Packers 20

Type: GWD
Game-Winning Chance Before: 38.0 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 90.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 52.4 percent
Head Coach: Steve Wilks (1-4 at 4QC and 2-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Rosen (1-4 at 4QC and 2-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Let's start with the not surprising part: the final game of Mike McCarthy's Green Bay tenure ended with the Packers not closing in the fourth quarter. The offense eventually crafted a game-tying touchdown drive behind Aaron Rodgers, but then the defense promptly gave up a go-ahead field goal, and kicker Mason Crosby was unable to send the game to overtime. We've seen this many times before with the Packers going back to McCarthy's rookie year of 2006, but one thing we've never seen was McCarthy's Packers lose as a two-touchdown home favorite to a team that was 2-9.

This was the week where Rodgers was supposed to take more chances. Randall Cobb said that Rodgers was "getting ready to light everybody up this week." The truth is Green Bay probably didn't deserve to be that big of a favorite, but Arizona has already been massacred 45-10 (twice) and 34-0 this season. The offense had still been lifeless under new coordinator Byron Leftwich, but Arizona hit on some chunk plays in the second half. Arizona's six longest plays (all 23-plus yards) all came in the final 23 minutes. Even after Rodgers put together a 95-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 17 with 5:26 left, Arizona didn't blink on the road. Josh Rosen followed up one of his worst plays (a dropped interception by Eddie Pleasant) with his very best when he converted a third-and-23 with an incredible 32-yard diving catch by Larry Fitzgerald.

That led to a 44-yard field goal by new kicker Zane Gonzalez after the Packers got a third-down stop.

Rodgers had 1:41 and a timeout to work with at his own 25. It took 40 seconds for the Packers to get the initial first down of the drive, and it took 82 seconds to get into Arizona territory. At that point, it was basically about getting a field goal for overtime. With no timeouts left, Rodgers took one shot to the end zone, but was unable to connect from the Arizona 31. Crosby has been good in recent years on clutch kicks, but this time he was wide right from 49 yards away to end McCarthy's tenure as coach. This is the seventh loss or tie (0-6-1 record) where Crosby missed a game-tying or game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Rodgers finished with 233 passing yards on 50 attempts; the 4.66 yards per attempt is his third-lowest in a game in his career (minimum 20 attempts). At least he only took one sack this time. Green Bay didn't even turn the ball over, but Arizona still won on the road. Since 1970, double-digit home favorites are 202-9-1 (.955) when they don't turn the ball over. It's not really in the conversation for Rodgers' worst individual game ever, but given the opponent and stakes at home, you could definitely say this is the lowest point of his NFL career as the Packers are 4-7-1. It also happened on his 35th birthday.

With a loss that bad, it made sense to pull the plug on McCarthy now, when it's the inevitable move, rather than wait a month. McCarthy finishes his Green Bay career with a record of 31-54-2 (.368) in games with a comeback or game-winning drive opportunity. That's just under the league average (.370) since 2006, which isn't good enough when the expectations were so much higher in Green Bay given the caliber of quarterbacks McCarthy had to work with all these years.

New York Jets 22 at Tennessee Titans 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 9 (22-13)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 5.1 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 95.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 90.6 percent
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel (3-3 at 4QC and 4-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (10-16 at 4QC and 12-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Titans have been an incredibly streaky team this season. Tennessee had a three-game winning streak, with every win by a field goal. They followed that up with a three-game losing streak, with two one-point losses. They had impressive double-digit wins over Dallas (28-14) and New England (34-10) before getting blown out in Indianapolis (38-10) and Houston (34-17). A 16-point comeback win at home against the lowly Jets isn't going to convert many skeptics of this team, and 6-6 is a fair record for this mediocrity.

Marcus Mariota didn't do the team many favors with an early pick-six to fall into a 10-0 hole that grew to 16-0 before the Titans got on the board. The Jets did not do well in the red zone and settled for too many field goals, but still led 22-13 going into the fourth quarter. The Titans mimicked that with some field goals of their own to trail 22-19, but the Jets could have put this one away on offense. They faced a third-and-5 at the two-minute warning but did not dare to let Josh McCown throw for the first. Instead they tried some trickery and it ended up being a run by Trenton Cannon for no gain. That was pretty silly since the Titans still had two timeouts and got the ball back with 1:46 left. McCown only passed for 128 yards on 30 attempts in the game.

Mariota had a 25-yard scramble and recovered his own fumble at the end of it, but any turnover would have been negated by a facemask penalty on the Jets anyway. Four plays later, the Titans faced third-and-7 at the 11. Tennessee was 0-for-10 on third down, but finally came through on the biggest snap of the game. Mariota found Corey Davis in between defenders and the receiver was able to finish the play off for an 11-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left. Tennessee had its first and only lead of the game at 26-22.

After a 20-yard completion to the 45, McCown forced a deep throw that never had a chance and was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to seal the win. Based on the way they've played this season, you should not expect the Titans to win out and finish 10-6. However, based on the remaining schedule and the way they've played at times this season, you can't count out the Titans from finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills 17 at Miami Dolphins 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 35.3 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 76.3 percent
Win Probability Added: 41.0 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (10-8 at 4QC and 13-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (14-25 at 4QC and 16-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Josh Allen really is the 2018 version of athletic Chicago quarterback Bobby Douglass, who has the lowest passing yards per attempt (5.51) in NFL history for anyone with at least 1,000 passes. Douglass and Michael Vick are the only quarterbacks to average more yards per rush than they did yards per pass. After rushing for 135 yards on Sunday (and 99 yards last week), Allen is doing the same so far: 6.4 yards per pass, 6.8 yards per rush. Like more recent mobile quarterbacks with accuracy issues -- Vince Young and Tim Tebow come to mind -- Allen can still be dangerous late in games provided his defense has played well enough to keep it close.

Allen almost pulled off a dramatic comeback in Miami, which would have given him a 3-0 record at game-winning drive opportunities this season. He actually threw an impressive 25-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion to Zay Jones to take a 17-14 lead, but the defense was unable to make that stand. The defense had an interception opportunity in the end zone, but Ryan Tannehill's pass somehow found its way to Kenny Stills for a 13-yard touchdown with 8:42 left.

Allen's scrambling makes him very exciting to watch, like when he took off on consecutive plays for gains of 25 and 26 yards. However, his pocket presence is still very much a work in progress, as evident by the back-to-back sacks he took to bring up fourth-and-23. Buffalo had to kick a field goal there, but Stephen Hauschka was wide left on a 55-yard attempt with 3:34 left. After Miami went three-and-out, Allen had 2:33 to drive 90 yards for the win. He hit four passes in a row before pressure made him throw one away. He then appeared to make a back-shoulder throw to Jones for 24 yards to the Miami 6, but Jones dropped the ball. On fourth-and-11 from the Miami 30, Allen scrambled all the way back to the 50 at one point before firing a pass across the field to Charles Clay, who was wide open in the end zone. In trying to keep up with the scramble drill, Clay's feet failed him, and so did his hands on a diving attempt. Buffalo turned the ball over on downs for a loss.

A touchdown through a defender's hands, a long missed field goal, and two huge drops to secure a Miami win? Yeah, that sounds like an Adam Gase-coached Miami victory. With a better supporting cast and improvement from Allen, the Bills could be an interesting watch again. It's just the roughness of his game right now is going to make it hard for Buffalo to win any game where the defense isn't stellar.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Colts at Jaguars: Zero, Zip, Zilch, Nada

Forgive me as I continue to deal with a level of disbelief that the Colts lost a game 6-0 in the Year 2018. This could have made some sense if it was 1992 Colts vs. Patriots, but not in this era. Not when the Colts had Andrew Luck healthy for the whole game. Not when Indianapolis had scored at least 24 points in eight straight games. Jacksonville's offensive struggles make sense since Leonard Fournette was suspended and Cody Kessler started for the benched Blake Bortles, but for the Colts to not score any points … that is just astonishing.

Since the salary cap era started in 1994, there have only been three other NFL games where the teams combined for fewer than seven points. Last season, the Cowboys beat Philadelphia 6-0 after the Eagles rested many key players in a meaningless Week 17 game. In 2007, the Steelers beat Miami 3-0 on a soaked field that was not suitable for football. In 2003, the Jets beat Pittsburgh 6-0 in a heavy snow game. This just doesn't happen in the NFL anymore unless there are unusual circumstances, and those were not present in this one, where the weather was fine and the Colts really needed the win. Again, the fact that this happened to Indianapolis of all teams was very shocking. Luck led the Colts to at least seven points in each of his first 87 starts. He had been 28-0 when the Colts allowed fewer than 19 points before this loss.

It wasn't even a turnover fest. Luck threw an early interception and Eric Ebron fumbled on a fourth-and-1 where he was blown up behind the line, so it would have been Jacksonville's ball either way. Still, that's two turnovers on 11 drives. It wasn't a sack festival either, as Luck went down three times. That's more than usual for him this season, but his pressure rate (22.8 percent) was still the fifth lowest of Week 13, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It wasn't like Adam Vinatieri had an all-time bad kicking performance to keep the Colts scoreless. In fact, Vinatieri did not officially attempt a field goal in the game. Oh, the Colts did put points on the board with a 29-yard field goal in the second quarter, but Frank Reich decided to take them off after a penalty on Jacksonville set up a first-and-goal at the 5. That was definitely the right move, but the drive came up empty after Luck tried a shovel pass on fourth-and-1 to Jordan Wilkins that was short of the end zone. The Colts finished 0-for-3 on fourth down, so those are some "hidden turnovers" that hurt.

Luck completed 33 passes for 248 yards (see the Vikings-Patriots recap below for how bad that is). That is the most pass completions in a game in NFL history by a team that was shut out. The previous record belonged to the 2001 Lions when Ty Detmer completed 31 passes in a 24-0 loss to the Bears.

Trailing 6-0, Luck had three opportunities in the fourth quarter to drive for the win as he so often has done in his career. The best chance came on the second drive. The Colts faced a third-and-7 at the Jacksonville 25 with 3:15 left. Pressure forced a quick throw from Luck to Eric Ebron, but the tight end only gained 6 yards to bring up fourth-and-1. Going for it was the right call, but Frank Reich waited over 30 seconds before using his first timeout. That's a rough spot to be in since you want to convert, use time, and score the go-ahead touchdown as late as possible. However, you have to be conscious of failing and needing as much time as possible to get the ball back. The Colts could have kept one timeout for after the two-minute warning without the long delay to call their first.

The play call was even worse, with the Colts lined up in an I-formation. Luck looked like he wanted to throw a pass into the flat to H-back Ryan Hewitt, but he never even had a chance after taking a sack instead. That was pretty nonsensical to think about putting the game in the hands of a guy without a catch this year, but even if Luck had thrown the pass, the Colts were penalized for holding.

Luck got the ball back at his own 15 with 1:53 left. The drive was going well until Ebron was taken down in bounds on a 4-yard gain to the Jacksonville 29. That play took up so much time that it put Luck in a real bind. He threw one pass towards the end zone, but it was overthrown. With nine seconds left, I think Luck needed to take two more shots at the end zone. Instead he went for another short throw, but Erik Swoope was hit hard by Jalen Ramsey at the Jacksonville 25 and eventually landed out of bounds, but the official signaled that forward progress had been stopped in bounds and the game ended.

That's a very damaging loss for the Colts (6-6) with Houston and Dallas up next. There's a reason teams that start 1-5 don't really go on super-long winning streaks. The Colts still have their share of flaws, but a 6-0 loss was unfathomable here.

Rams at Lions: The Defensive MVP

The Lions actually won the last time they were a double-digit underdog (at Green Bay in 2015), but knocking off the 10-1 Rams would have been a monumental upset. They had a good shot after only trailing 16-13 in the fourth quarter. Jared Goff had a very uneven game, and even had a six-play stretch in the fourth quarter where he threw five incompletions and took a third-down sack. Matthew Stafford was unable to capitalize after his running game showed up for a few productive plays. However, the interior of the line was not able to block Aaron Donald, who blew up two drives with sacks. The second sack was a great dive at Stafford to knock the ball free, and the Rams recovered at the Detroit 24. Three plays later, Todd Gurley glided untouched into the end zone for a 13-yard score that looked way too easy. Donald, who is up to 16.5 sacks, should easily win Defensive Player of the Year at this point.

The Lions were in trouble down 23-13, but still did not play with much urgency. They even had two runs stuffed in the red zone, including an ill-advised attempt on second-and-11 by Theo Riddick. Kenny Golladay couldn't get his feet down in bounds on a third-down target, so the Lions settled for a 35-yard field goal with 2:54 left.

The Rams recovered Detroit's onside kick attempt. On third-and-3, Gurley broke through a hole and another tackle with only the end zone in his sight. Instead of scoring, he slowed down and allowed himself to be tackled at the Detroit 2 with 2:32 left. The Lions had one timeout left and the two-minute warning. I'm all for players going down when the game is in hand, but this was one where I think he should have just taken the guaranteed score. Something like a false start changes the whole complexion of that drive in terms of getting a touchdown versus a field goal. While it made the Lions use their last two clock stoppages before Gurley scored anyway with 1:54 left, I think that's still one that Sean McVay should be telling Gurley to score on in the future.

About the only thing Detroit had left to play for was the spread, which it didn't cover after Stafford threw an ugly red zone interception to end the game. That puts Detroit at 1-12 in their last 13 fourth-quarter comeback opportunities.

Vikings at Patriots: That's Your $84 Million Man?

Kirk Cousins received rightful praise for his performance in a win over Green Bay last week, but playing in New England is a different beast and litmus test. The offense failed this one miserably, with Cousins having one of the emptiest stat lines you'll ever see. He completed 32 passes, but for only 201 yards, the fewest yards in NFL history for a game with at least 32 completions. He tied the record for most failed completions (16) in a game since 1989. The defense actually did not do a bad job in limiting the Patriots to 24 points. Dalvin Cook had nine rushes for 84 yards, but the Vikings should have used him more as a runner than a receiver where he had a pitiful 22 yards on 10 targets.

The dink-and-dunk did not work, and the Vikings were just 3-of-12 on third down. The offense scored 10 points to tie the game late in the third quarter, but that's when the Patriots decided to get Josh Gordon involved, and he had two catches for 48 yards and a go-ahead touchdown. That had Cousins facing a 17-10 deficit in the fourth quarter, when he was sacked by Trey Flowers on third down for a three-and-out. After a good punt return and a pass interference penalty on the Vikings, the Patriots were already at the Minnesota 30. They finished the drive off with James Develin's second touchdown run of the day to take a 24-10 lead with 10:54 left.

Latavius Murray picked up a fourth-and-1 run on what looked like a favorable spot, and Bill Belichick's challenge didn't work since there wasn't a good angle to overturn it. The Vikings failed to capitalize on that break with a series that epitomized their day. Cousins threw a 4-yard completion on second-and-20, a 5-yard gain on third-and-16, and the coup de grace was a 4-yard slant on fourth-and-11 where Laquon Treadwell was expected to break a bunch of tackles. That was pathetic, and for anyone still thinking that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is a hot head coaching candidate, remember this game, and much of the 2018 Vikings' season for that matter.

The fact that Tom Brady threw an interception two plays later didn't even seem to matter with the defeatist game plan the Vikings operated with all day. It only took three plays before Cousins threw a pick right back to Duron Harmon in the end zone with 4:41 left. The Patriots ran out most of the clock, but left Cousins enough time to throw a second interception before he could break the failed completions record.

Another day, perhaps, because this is the direction the game is heading. Earlier this season against Buffalo, Cousins became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 40 passes for fewer than 300 yards. Just before Cousins' game started on Sunday, Andrew Luck in Jacksonville had the fewest passing yards (248) in a game with exactly 33 completions in NFL history. For reference, we've compiled a table of the fewest passing yards for an exact number of completions from 25 to 40 since 1950. Notice how seven of the 10 games with more than 30 completions have happened since 2017, and that the only two wins in the list were both overtime games.

Fewest Passing Yards by Number of Completions (1950-2018)
Cmp Player Date Team Opp Result Att Pct. Yds YPA TD INT PR
25 Joe Montana 12/21/1980 SF BUF L 18-13 36 69.4% 163 4.53 1 0 88.1
26 Charlie Frye 10/8/2006 CLE at CAR L 20-12 43 60.5% 173 4.02 0 2 49.9
27 Sonny Jurgensen 11/20/1966 WAS at CLE L 14-3 38 71.1% 178 4.68 0 2 58.9
28 Keith Null 12/13/2009 STL at TEN L 47-7 44 63.6% 165 3.75 1 5 38.7
29 Steve Bono 9/10/1995 KC NYG W 20-17 OT 47 61.7% 183 3.89 1 1 68.0
30 Joe Flacco 12/29/2013 BAL at CIN L 34-17 50 60.0% 192 3.84 1 3 49.7
Derek Carr 11/9/2014 OAK DEN L 41-17 47 63.8% 192 4.09 2 2 68.8
31 Nathan Peterman 11/4/2018 BUF CHI L 41-9 49 63.3% 188 3.84 0 3 45.3
32 Kirk Cousins 12/2/2018 MIN at NE L 24-10 44 72.7% 201 4.57 1 2 70.4
33 Andrew Luck 12/2/2018 IND at JAX L 6-0 52 63.5% 248 4.77 0 1 66.8
34 Joe Flacco 11/5/2017 BAL at TEN L 23-20 52 65.4% 261 5.02 2 2 74.3
35 Brett Hundley 12/10/2017 GB at CLE W 27-21 OT 46 76.1% 265 5.76 3 0 111.2
36 Chris Weinke 12/30/2001 CAR ARI L 30-7 63 57.1% 223 3.54 1 1 63.1
37 Joe Montana 10/9/1994 KC at SD L 20-6 55 67.3% 310 5.64 0 1 74.1
38 Matt Ryan 11/11/2018 ATL at CLE L 28-16 52 73.1% 330 6.35 2 0 102.2
39 Billy Volek 10/3/2004 TEN at SD L 38-17 58 67.2% 279 4.81 2 0 89.7
40 Kirk Cousins 9/23/2018 MIN BUF L 27-6 55 72.7% 296 5.38 1 1 83.6

Ravens at Falcons: If It Ain't Broke…

Through three quarters, the Atlanta offense had only mustered a field goal at home, falling behind 16-10 to Baltimore. The team's only touchdown was a fumble return by Vic Beasley in the second quarter. Regardless of which quarterback the Ravens use, that old-school formula of running the ball and playing great defense still works well for them, but it has never involved this much running from the quarterback himself. Lamar Jackson had 17 carries for 75 yards in his third start (3-0). He did momentarily leave the game for a concussion check, but returned in the fourth quarter to lead another run-heavy, time-consuming drive to increase Baltimore's lead to 19-10 with a Justin Tucker field goal.

Matt Ryan had a stellar start to this season, but this four-game losing streak has seen the offense score fewer than 20 points each week. Ryan finished with 131 passing yards, the lowest full game of his career. It's even worse when you factor in the 34 yards lost on three sacks, including a strip-sack returned for a touchdown by Tavon Young with 7:16 left. Ryan then led the offense's only touchdown drive of the day, but more hope was lost after he was unable to connect on a two-point conversion pass to make it a one-possession game. At 26-16, the Ravens were able to run out the final 4:14 without even putting the ball in the air.

Baltimore (7-5) is very much back in the playoff picture, and it provides a different flavor from most of the field this season. If the Ravens show they can beat a contender on the road such as Kansas City (Week 14) or the Chargers (Week 16), then they have to be taken seriously again come January.

Panthers at Buccaneers: The Spider-Man Meme Game

There are a lot of reasons to still compare Cam Newton and Jameis Winston as quarterbacks. Both love the deep ball, though not so much for Newton in 2018 as he ranks 26th in aDOT (7.2) according to ESPN Stats & Info. Both can be very erratic with the accuracy of their passes, though not so much for Newton in 2018 as he ranks sixth in off-target pass rate (13.5 percent) according to ESPN Stats & Info. Both can be effective runners as Winston led his team in rushing (48 yards) on the day.

Winston has actually been great at moving the chains as a passer in his career, but Newton has done a better job of protecting the ball. On Sunday, those roles reversed. Newton entered Week 13 with his lowest-ever interception rate (1.9 percent), but he tossed a four-pick parade for just the second time in his career. This was not the opponent you would have expected that to come against, as Tampa Bay's bottom-ranked pass defense had just three interceptions all season coming into the game. Andrew Adams, a backup safety with zero starts this year, had three of the picks, including two in the fourth quarter in Tampa Bay territory. Pressure on Newton helped Adams to the picks.

The Panthers trailed 24-17 the entire fourth quarter, but Newton was unable to get the equalizer in four possessions. After the two picks, Newton had Devin Funchess wide open on a fourth-and-9 at the Tampa Bay 48, but he overthrew the pass with 2:21 left. Carolina's final opportunity came with 65 seconds and 74 yards to go. All the short passes were taking way too much time, forcing Newton to try a Hail Mary from his 44. The pass was well short of the end zone, but the Buccaneers were offsides, giving Carolina one more untimed down. Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke came in given the state of Newton's shoulder. His Hail Mary was deeper, but still knocked down to end the game.

The 5-7 Buccaneers are only one game behind the 6-6 Panthers, who have lost four in a row. Given the 63-yard field goal against the Giants and the 17-point fourth-quarter comeback in Philadelphia, the Panthers' 6-2 start appears to be the best fool's gold of the first half of the season.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 50
Game-winning drives: 63 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 111/192 (57.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 27

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.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2018, 10:12pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by Sixknots // Dec 04, 2018 - 10:39pm

Interesting that in the "fewest passing yards by number of completions" table, the W-L is 2-15. I would think that the losses should be more than the wins, but by that much?

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2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by andrew // Dec 05, 2018 - 11:11am

"That was pathetic, and for anyone still thinking that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is a hot head coaching candidate, remember this game"

I've been saying that for weeks, yet they keep trotting him out as a "hot" candidate....

I thought it odd that he left Philadelphia to be offensive coordinator in Minnesota when the offensive coordinator gig was open in Philadelphia with Frank Reich's departure. Now, I know there was a timing issue, but still he had to have some idea. Philadelphia's offense definitely seems lesser than what it was last year, but that's looking more like Reich leaving had more influence than DeFilippo. Whatever the reason you never had sequences like this with Shurmur calling plays last year.

I suppose its possible Flippo is giving Cousins options and he is taking the worst one?

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5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by Will Allen // Dec 06, 2018 - 10:12pm

Absent some remarkable turnaround by the offense, I think The Flipper is gone. If Zimmer loses confidence in an assistant, he doesn't hesitate. I wouldn't be surprised if he pursued McCarthy. I don't know what to think about that.

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3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by PirateFreedom // Dec 05, 2018 - 11:48am

Nathan Peterman on an all time list with Joe Montana , way to go Nate!

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4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 13

by Anon Ymous // Dec 05, 2018 - 5:06pm

Bill Belichick's challenge didn't work since there wasn't a good angle to overturn it.

By this I assume you mean that there is some possible universe where the laws of physics allow for the ball to have magically reached the first down marker, and our subjective limitations create an inability to rule out that this possible universe does exist as some part of a larger reality.

If we are limiting it to just where the ball traveled in this universe, that is was short was clear in pretty much every angle. And even during the live broadcast. And even to the Vikings themselves. Now that I know the refs need replays to demonstrate logical impossibilities as well as physical ones, I'll be sure to adapt expectations in the future.

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