Clutch Encounters: Week 14
by Scott Kacsmar
It's rare to see four worthy candidates for Game of the Week, but Week 14 had some unbelievable finishes. A total of 10 games had a comeback opportunity, and seven of those featured game-winning drives.
One game we won't be covering is Indianapolis' 24-21 win in Houston, because using the hard count to draw the defense offsides actually worked. Andrew Luck caught Jadeveon Clowney on a third-and-1 at the two-minute warning, so the Colts got a first down and ran out the clock. No comeback opportunity for Deshaun Watson and the Texans, snapping their nine-game winning streak. Those very rare moments where drawing the defense offsides or icing the kicker works is why coaches will continue to do such things in the future.
It's also hopefully why we might see some more laterals in end-of-half situations, because there were some incredible plays there this week too.
Game of the Week
Baltimore Ravens 24 at Kansas City Chiefs 27
Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (24-17)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 65.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 69.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 3.5 percent
Head Coach: Andy Reid (39-69-1 at 4QC and 54-77-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes (2-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
There was a playoff atmosphere in Kansas City when the Ravens brought their different brand of football to push the Chiefs to the brink of their first home loss this season. Baltimore's approach of a run-heavy offense and pressure defense may be as good as any to slow down Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead. Mahomes had the highest pressure rate of any quarterback in Week 14 (57.9 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info. It was also his highest rate of 2018 as the Ravens were aggressive in blitzing Mahomes over 40 percent of the time, nearly double his season average (22.2 percent).
Mahomes still had a stellar first half, no-look pass included, in building a 17-10 lead. However, Baltimore's strategy worked early in the second half in stopping the offense three times in a row, including an interception while Mahomes was pressured. Lamar Jackson only threw 24 passes for Baltimore, but some were very timely, including a touchdown pass on fourth down to tie the game at 17 going into the fourth quarter.
Andy Reid had an interesting decision when the Chiefs gained 17 yards on a second-and-18 to the Baltimore 25. He chose to accept a defensive holding penalty for 5 yards and an automatic first down, but it cost him 12 yards of field position. I think he should have taken the play and used two runs to pick up the remaining yard. It ended up backfiring too, because the Chiefs didn't get past the Baltimore 35 and ended up punting.
Pressure continued to mount on Mahomes in the quarter and a third-down sack killed another drive quickly. Offsetting penalties on a punt led to a re-kick, which was bad news when the Ravens returned it 55 yards to the Kansas City 14. Three plays later, Jackson found John Brown for a 9-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a 24-17 lead with 4:04 left.
Mahomes had three timeouts, but the Chiefs used nearly half of the remaining time to move the ball just 14 yards with three runs by Spencer Ware. After some penalties and a poor swing pass decision on a third-and-3, the Chiefs faced a crucial fourth-and-9 at their own 40 with 1:29 left. That's when Mahomes made perhaps the play of his young career with a scramble to his right before firing back across the field deep for Tyreek Hill, who caught the ball for a 48-yard gain. Just an incredible play.
#SomethingSpecial We're all going to remember where we were on 4th and 9. Spectacular efforts from both Mahomes and Tyreek Hill to create an iconic moment in the new era of Chiefs football. pic.twitter.com/IvO9oePrNh
— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
Four plays later the Chiefs again were facing a fourth down, this time with 3 yards to go, but a good play design against the blitz saw running back Damien Williams sneak out of the backfield for an easy 5-yard touchdown catch with 53 seconds left. One could say the Chiefs may have left too much time, but three plays into Baltimore's drive, Justin Houston stripped Jackson of the ball to put Mahomes at the Baltimore 23 with 38 seconds left. When you have the odds-on favorite for MVP at your disposal, playing for a 40-plus-yard field goal seems a bit silly, but that's what the Chiefs did. Two runs lost a yard each and Harrison Butker came out for a 43-yard field goal. Maybe it was too much like a playoff setting, because Butker did what Kansas City kickers tend to do in these spots: he missed.
That sent the game to overtime, where the Chiefs won the toss and received. After driving into the red zone again, Mahomes had a fumble that was almost crucial, losing the ball while scrambling. Terrell Suggs had a great shot at the recovery, but left tackle Eric Fisher managed to get on top of it to prevent a disaster. Three plays later, Butker redeemed himself with a 35-yard field goal to take a 27-24 lead, meaning Mahomes has had a fourth-quarter or overtime lead in all 14 of his starts now (12-2 record).
Baltimore's offense could be very interesting in this rare scenario of four-down football with good time remaining (4:41). We saw it working until a holding penalty brought up second-and-18, a passing down. Worse, Jackson was sacked and injured on the play. Robert Griffin III had to enter the game in a tough third-and-22 spot, and he promptly threw a pass that Orlando Scandrick should have intercepted. You may recall it was Scandrick who failed to intercept Jared Goff late in that Week 11 showdown. On fourth-and-22, Griffin actually delivered a solid throw to Willie Snead, but Kendall Fuller got there a little early without any flag thrown. Even if the pass was caught it was very possible that Snead would have been inches short and the game would have ended too.
That's a great gut-check win for the Chiefs (11-2) at home gointg into the big rematch with the Chargers (10-3) this Thursday night. With the other three AFC division leaders all losing on Sunday, the win was even more valuable.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Dallas Cowboys 29
Type: GWD (OT)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 65.8 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 34.2 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (26-39 at 4QC and 37-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (7-9 at 4QC and 13-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
For a Christmas gift idea, I'll accept plates of crow for being wrong about the Amari Cooper trade. He has been exactly what Dallas has needed since they acquired him from Oakland, delivering his biggest performance in this de facto division title game. Cooper caught 10 balls for 217 yards and scored three touchdowns in the last 16 minutes. Setting the fading Washington (6-7) team and elaborate scenarios aside, in the simplest terms, as long as Dallas (8-5) doesn't lose out and the Eagles (6-7) don't win out, the division title is going to the Cowboys after a 29-23 overtime win.
The Cowboys would have been sick if they lost this one after besting Philadelphia by 320 yards of offense, the third-biggest differential of 2018 (Philadelphia also has the worst margin at -350 yards in New Orleans). Despite moving the ball all game long, Dallas only led 9-0 in the third quarter thanks to a missed field goal and multiple turnovers by Dak Prescott. By the fourth quarter, the Eagles tied the game at 9-all, setting up another wild finish like when these teams started exchanging touchdowns in Week 10.
With just over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cooper only had three catches. Prescott broke 40 pass attempts for only the third time in his career, finishing with a career-high 54 attempts. He passed for 455 yards, 123 yards more than his previous career high. He also completed 42 passes, which has only been done nine times in NFL history. A lot of this was dink-and-dunk early, but once Cooper got involved, the Dallas offense took off. Prescott hit a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cooper, who beat Sidney Jones, with 7:46 left.
Jones had a rough game, and Dallas almost took advantage of him more to put the game away with a 16-9 lead, but Cooper watched a second-down pass bounce off his chest. On third-and-14, Prescott missed an open Michael Gallup deep after he also beat Jones for what could have been an 83-yard touchdown. A weak punt gave the Eagles good field position at the Dallas 47 and Carson Wentz led a game-tying touchdown drive, throwing a 3-yard score to Dallas Goedert. The Cowboys answered immediately with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Cooper, who ran a go route instead of a stop route as initially expected. His post-game quote offers an interesting glimpse into some of the difficulties a coaching staff sometimes has at putting players in position to succeed. Attacking this injured secondary deep should have been a bigger part of the plan, but at least Dallas did it late to take a 23-16 lead.
Philadelphia almost answered immediately with its own 75-yard touchdown pass, but Goedert was penalized for offensive pass interference. It's one of the worst calls you'll ever see, so fortunately this did not decide the game. The Eagles still scored two plays later after Wentz finally hit a deep ball to Nelson Agholor for 42 yards, which is something the offense has been missing this year. Darren Sproles squeezed in for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left, and I agree with Doug Pederson's decision to tie the game with an extra point. Had he gone for two and a 24-23 lead, he would have just forced the Cowboys to go all-out for the game-winning field goal, which means four-down football with plenty of time and two timeouts left. It wasn't late enough in the game to really earn an advantage from going for it.
Dallas' last drive of regulation reached the Philadelphia 41, but a low snap burned the final timeout and basically killed the drive. Prescott took a sack and the game went to overtime, where the Cowboys won the coin toss and elected to receive. Cooper again helped the offense overcome a third-and-9 out of scoring range. Four plays later the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 19. This is such a typical spot for Jason Garrett to kick a field goal, but there's a need to be aggressive on the first drive of overtime where only a touchdown ends the game. He went for it this time, and Ezekiel Elliott delivered with a 1-yard run. Three plays later the game actually hit the two-minute warning, as overtime is just 10 minutes now, so a field goal and possibly getting a tie were all in the works here on a third-and-7. Prescott went back to Cooper on a quick throw. It was nearly intercepted by Rasul Douglas, but he deflected the ball right to Cooper for the game-winning touchdown.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 10, 2018
That could be the death knell to Philadelphia's season, though a wild-card berth is still possible. But it looks very likely that the NFL will go another year without a repeat Super Bowl champion. The NFC East also hasn't had the same winner since the Eagles (2001-04).
New England Patriots 33 at Miami Dolphins 34
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (33-28)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 0.4 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 99.6 percent
Head Coach: Adam Gase (11-8 at 4QC and 14-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (15-25 at 4QC and 17-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The only thing missing was the band on the field. Bill Belichick's Patriots are about the last team you would expect to lose to one of the most stunning walk-off touchdowns in NFL history. Adam Gase's Dolphins are probably one of the top choices for a team to pull off such a miracle win given their absurd record (now 14-9) in games with a game-winning drive opportunity since 2016.
Before we get to the last play, it's fair to say this one never felt quite right for New England. Not when former running back Brandon Bolden was rushing for a 54-yard touchdown (his first since 2015) against them in a surprising early shootout. This was the first matchup in the series where both teams scored at least three touchdowns before halftime. But late in the half, the game took a defensive swing when both quarterbacks started taking big sacks. One even momentarily knocked Ryan Tannehill out of the game, but he returned. Tom Brady took an uncharacteristic sack with no timeouts left in the red zone, ending the half without any more points. That hurt dearly, as did an uncharacteristically poor day from kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed an extra point and a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Things seemed to fall back to expectations in the fourth quarter after Kenny Stills cost his offense a first down by blowing a tire 1 yard short of the marker. He later dropped a third-down pass after the nine-point-favored Patriots had taken a 30-28 lead. Miami punted from its own 40 on fourth-and-4 with 4:34 left, a questionable decision with New England's offense having a good day with Brady over 350 yards again. The Dolphins struggled against the four-minute offense, even giving up 41 yards on a pass interference penalty with 1:50 left. With Miami down to one timeout, it's hard to argue with New England's strategy: three runs and a field goal to take a 33-28 lead with 16 seconds left. That's usually the percentage move in all of NFL history.
It is debatable if a short kickoff was a good idea, but at least it got Miami to use nine precious seconds to return it to the 31, leaving just seven seconds for the offense to go 69 yards. That's too long for a Hail Mary, and I think the same would be true even if Aaron Rodgers was the quarterback. The longest pass thrown in the NFL since 2006 was 67 yards by Michael Vick, and it was incomplete. Tannehill's longest career throw is 57 yards, and he just recently returned from a shoulder injury. So it was a big mistake by Belichick to defend this like a Hail Mary, which meant Rob Gronkowski was on defense and safety Devin McCourty was not. That's fine for a jump ball, but this was going to be a lateral all the way.
Tannehill threw to Stills at midfield, who lateraled to DeVante Parker, who pitched the ball back to Kenyan Drake. After Drake escaped a tackle, he recognized inside the 40 that he had a path and speed to get to the end zone and accelerated. Gronkowski was really the last man back, but he stumbled and failed to make the tackle. Drake scored and the walk-off shocker was completed. If you watch the play again, I think No. 27 (J.C. Jackson) could have made a much better effort to take Drake down near the 40, but the whole play just kind of lulled the Patriots to sleep.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 9, 2018
We have a lot of drive data going back to 1981, and this is only the eighth time a team won a game after scoring a touchdown on a drive that started in the final 30 seconds. Of the seven previous times, four were Hail Mary passes; one was an overtime game between the Jets and Browns in 2010; one saw the 49ers start only 25 yards away from the end zone in 1987 against the Bengals; and Stefon Diggs stunned the Saints in January. So this is the only score that was a lateral, and Elias confirmed it's the longest walk-off touchdown in regulation in the Super Bowl era.
|Winning Team Touchdown Drives Starting in Final 30 Seconds (Since 1981)|
|SF||Joe Montana||at CIN||9/20/1987||W 27-26||6||0:02||25||0:00||GW TD pass (J.Rice)|
|CLE||Tim Couch||at NO||10/31/1999||W 21-16||2||0:15||75||0:00||GW Hail Mary TD pass (K.Johnson)|
|CHI||Shane Matthews||CLE||11/4/2001||W 27-21 OT||7||0:24||47||0:00||Game-tying Hail Mary TD pass (J.Allen; deflected)|
|NYJ||Mark Sanchez||at CLE||11/14/2010||W 26-20 OT||0||0:24||37||0:16||OT: GW TD pass (S.Holmes)|
|JAX||David Garrard||HOU||11/14/2010||W 31-24||0||0:08||66||0:00||GW Hail Mary TD pass (M.Thomas; deflected)|
|GB||Aaron Rodgers||at DET||12/3/2015||W 27-23||2||0:23||79||0:00||GW Hail Mary TD pass (R.Rodgers)|
|MIN||Case Keenum||NO||1/14/2018||W 29-24||1||0:25||75||0:00||GW TD pass w/missed tackle (S.Diggs)|
|MIA||Ryan Tannehill||NE||12/9/2018||W 34-33||5||0:07||69||0:00||GW TD pass w/laterals (K.Drake)|
Since 2001, the Patriots had been 58-0 when scoring at least 31 points and having zero turnovers, but that streak is over. Brady is still 100-5 when scoring more than 31 points and 80-3 when his passer rating is above 112.0, so it almost takes a miracle to beat the Patriots in a high-scoring game when he's playing well. On Sunday, the Dolphins (7-6) pulled that miracle off, cementing Miami's status as a personal place of horrors for Belichick and Brady. Brady is now 7-10 as a starter against the Dolphins in Miami.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Oakland Raiders 24
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 15.2 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 97.6 percent
Win Probability Added: 82.4 percent
Head Coach: Jon Gruden (23-59 at 4QC and 31-63 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (16-22 at 4QC and 16-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)
We basically teased this as a trap game and an upset in the making in the last two weeks when going over the start of Pittsburgh's three-game losing streak. When the Steelers have had an off year and missed the playoffs in the Ben Roethlisberger era, they always lost to lousy Oakland teams (2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013). This is the first time they lost in Oakland as a double-digit favorite, but that has become the Mike Tomlin special. Since 2007, Tomlin's Steelers are just 6-4 (.600) straight-up as a double-digit road favorite. The rest of the NFL is 54-7 (.885) in that time.
This one might be a little different in that Roethlisberger suffered his annual injury (rib), but that also became the biggest story in the game. Roethlisberger was sacked late in the second quarter, which was the one time Oakland pressured him all day. He still returned to throw a touchdown to finish the half, but Josh Dobbs started the second half. Roethlisberger returned to the field with his helmet and medical clearance during Pittsburgh's second drive with Dobbs. He probably should have entered the game after the defense forced its first takeaway in three weeks by recovering a Derek Carr fumble, but Dobbs continued on for a costly third drive where he threw an interception.
Tomlin later said that Roethlisberger could have entered the game sooner, but they were in "the flow of the game." In the four drives with Dobbs, the Steelers punted twice, had an interception, and had a failed completion on a fourth down. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger threw four incompletions all day and put the Steelers in position for points on five of the six drives he ended up playing. If he could have gone sooner, he absolutely should have, because this was such an important game for the Steelers to win with the Patriots and Saints coming up.
Roethlisberger didn't re-enter the game until 5:20 remained after Carr led the Raiders on a go-ahead touchdown drive to take a 17-14 lead. Roethlisberger looked fine physically, and the Steelers threw on every play of the drive. With James Conner out, it was no surprise to see the Steelers fail to run the ball, producing 16 carries for 32 yards by his replacements. Roethlisberger threaded the needle on a 1-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 21-17 lead with 2:55 left.
One area where Carr has been adequate in his career is when he can win a game with one drive of four-down football. That was the case here, and he delivered his best pass of the game with a 39-yard strike to Seth Roberts to get to the Pittsburgh 7. Tomlin mismanaged his timeouts badly, letting the Raiders take their time with a run before throwing an incomplete pass with just 30 seconds left. By then Tomlin was basically put the game on the defense, which going back a calendar year has been terrible at preventing touchdowns in this situation. The Steelers oddly took a quick timeout before fourth down even though the clock was stopped, leaving them with one timeout. On the fateful fourth-and-goal from the 6, Derek Carrier undressed Mike Hilton for an easy touchdown with just 21 seconds left.
Pittsburgh still had time to set up a field goal for overtime, but it was going to be tough with one timeout. The play call was actually brilliant with the Raiders taking the bait on a "hook and ladder" to Smith-Schuster, who raced up the sideline before getting out of bounds with 5 seconds left. That's pretty good when you can gain 48 yards in 10 seconds without even using a timeout, but there really wasn't enough time to run one more play.
JUJU ON THE HOOK AND LADDER pic.twitter.com/ozTHGjv5wQ
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) December 10, 2018
Pittsburgh could have used a few more seconds too since kicker Chris Boswell's career has nosedived this year, starting with his game-winning miss in overtime in Week 1 in Cleveland that has seemingly broken him. Since then he has missed five more field goals and five extra points. He went from being perfect in the clutch to one of the team's biggest liabilities. So it wasn't a surprise when he slid on his latest attempt and blew the kick.
Sir, excuse me sir, have you ever kicked a field goal before? pic.twitter.com/ow74EiCzQm
— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) December 10, 2018
The Steelers (7-5-1) still have plenty to play for this season, but after the recent performances, it's hard to be optimistic about the playoffs with this upcoming schedule. At least there's no way they can overlook a home game with the Patriots, a nemesis they haven't beaten since 2011. By virtue of this losing streak, even a desired win against New England likely won't have the impact it would have in past years.
New Orleans 28 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (14-11)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 58.1 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 73.3 percent
Win Probability Added: 15.2 percent
Head Coach: Sean Payton (28-46 at 4QC and 39-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (34-60 at 4QC and 50-67 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The 28-14 final disguises another slow day for the New Orleans offense, which was held under 300 yards for the second game in a row. That has never happened before in the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. Tampa Bay even led 14-3 in the third quarter, but couldn't capitalize on the moment for a common reason: special teams. The Buccaneers missed two makeable field goals and had a punt blocked (by Taysom Hill, of all people) that really sparked the comeback. From that point, the Saints scored three consecutive touchdowns while shutting Jameis Winston and the offense out.
Believe it or not, I thought the Buccaneers should have gone for it on the fourth down when the blocked punt occurred, and that was before the block even happened. It was fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 41 with 7:23 left in the third quarter. I mentioned a similar scenario and thought in Audibles last week for Cleveland-Houston. The type of fourth down that no NFL coach wants a part of is the one where you're driving with a two-score lead near the middle of the field. When we know some of these offenses are so potent and can score in bunches, why would anyone think a 14-3 lead is going to hold up? At worst, you give up a short field and still lead 14-11, which is what happened anyway after the block. At best, the offense converts, chews up more time, and takes a 21-3 lead into the later stages of the game, almost ensuring victory barring a massive collapse. When you're 5-7 and set up on offense and defense like Tampa Bay is, it should have been an even easier decision.
It wasn't surprising to see New Orleans take control after the punt block. The game-winning touchdown ended up being Brees' fourth-down quarterback sneak with 11:46 left. This is his 50th career win with a comeback and/or game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Tampa Bay's passing offense has been prolific at moving the ball this year, but Winston didn't break 200 yards passing until the final drive, which reeked of garbage time with the Saints up two touchdowns. Winston also suffered four sacks, completed just 18-of-38 passes, and finished the game with an interception. Brees has really faded in the MVP race, but with the Saints back in control of the No. 1 seed and showing a stronger defense, they just may have the right stuff to get to the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers 20 at Cleveland Browns 26
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 34.9 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 55.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 20.9 percent
Head Coach: Gregg Williams (5-14 at 4QC and 8-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield (2-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It only took five games for interim head coach Gregg Williams (3-2) to match Hue Jackson's win total since 2016 (3-36-1 record). To be fair, the Browns dropped three really winnable games early this season, which is why they aren't leading the AFC North right now. Jackson also didn't last for the maturation of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who mixed in some brilliant throws on an efficient day (18-of-22 for 238 yards and no turnovers).
This was the first back-and-forth, close game under Williams, and a critical play was a 51-yard run by Jarvis Landry. It was a creative way to get Landry the ball -- faking the jet sweep to another player and getting Landry into the open field. That set up Nick Chubb for a 4-yard touchdown run with 13:05 left to give Cleveland a 23-20 lead. It should have been 24-20 after the successful extra point, but the play was blown dead and the Panthers were penalized for being offsides. From 5 yards closer, Greg Joseph hit the upright, which could have been huge even after the Browns later added a field goal for a 26-20 lead. The way the play was announced made it sound like the Browns voluntarily took the point off the board to move 5 yards closer to earn the same point, but it had to be a dead-ball foul, and it's listed as such in the play-by-play.
That would have been a real Browns moment to lose after that, but Cam Newton was not up to the task on Sunday in Carolina's fifth-straight loss. Maybe he's not healthy enough, but the overall numbers haven't been bad. He has just had some major fourth-quarter struggles, which happened again this week. After driving to the Cleveland 3, Newton misfired a rocket on third down and couldn't find the touch to Jarius Wright in the back of the end zone on fourth down.
Mayfield helped Cleveland gain some field position with one first down, but the Browns weren't able to run out the clock. Newton got the ball back at his own 35 with 1:04 left, but instead of taking the easy throws available, he badly missed a 20-yard throw and Damarious Randall made a game-ending interception.
New York Jets 27 at Buffalo Bills 23
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (20-13)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 18.6 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 97.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 79.2 percent
Head Coach: Todd Bowles (5-20 at 4QC and 7-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Sam Darnold (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Maybe this is the future of the AFC East, but on Sunday, it was a battle to stay out of last place. The Bills waxed the Jets 41-10 in Week 10, but Sam Darnold and Josh Allen both missed that one with injuries. This was the first meeting between the rookie quarterbacks; we'll just have to see how often this matchup happens over the years. The first three quarters were filled with mistakes and big special teams plays, but the two youngsters put on a show in the fourth quarter. Down 20-13, Darnold was looking for his first fourth-quarter comeback when he finished a drive with an incredible touchdown pass to Robby Anderson after a long scramble.
— NFL (@NFL) December 9, 2018
That tied the game at 20. Buffalo kicker Stephen Hauschka was wide right on a 54-yard field goal, but came through on a second chance from 36 yards away with 2:31 left. Darnold could now lead the first game-winning drive of his career, and he highlighted it with a 37-yard beauty to Anderson, who beat Tre'Davious White deep to the Buffalo 5. Darnold almost had another touchdown to Anderson, but the receiver couldn't get both feet in bounds with the catch. Darnold tried to lunge on a quarterback draw for the touchdown, but came up short at the 1. Let's give credit to Todd Bowles for going for it on fourth down when the typical call would have been to kick a field goal and tie the game. The Jets went for the go-ahead score, and after some lateral running, Elijah McGuire had enough power to get in for the second rushing touchdown of his career to take a 27-23 lead.
Allen, who also rushed for 101 yards, still had 1:11 from his own 22, but obviously needed to force things a bit. On the second play of the drive, he was studied all the way by Trumaine Johnson, who came down with the game-clinching interception with 59 seconds left. The Bills and Jets are both 4-9 with a season split now.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Vikings at Seahawks: Uh, Wild-Card Teams?
One night after the Rams and Bears exchanged turnovers to a 15-6 finish, the current wild-card teams in the NFC had a pillow fight in Seattle. There are a few games each season where the final score is really misleading as to how close and low-scoring the game actually was, and this 21-7 finish is a prime example. Seattle led 3-0 as these offenses could barely execute, especially in the passing game, for three quarters. Russell Wilson had one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see before halftime, which could have been costly in a game with so few scoring opportunities.
Seattle extended to a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter before Kirk Cousins finally hit a chunk play with a 48-yard pass to Stefon Diggs. Unfortunately, the drive stalled in the red zone and Cousins was unable to throw a touchdown on fourth down from the 1-yard line. After getting the ball back in great field position, Cousins again had passes defensed to end the threat. Mike Zimmer settled for a 47-yard field goal attempt from Dan Bailey with 5:38 left, but Bobby Wagner jumped over the line and blocked the kick. Initially a flag was thrown, but it was picked up and the Seahawks took over. A penalty for leverage would have resulted in 15 yards and a first down for the Vikings.
Bobby Wagner's field goal block pic.twitter.com/xZr24fWQw0
— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) December 11, 2018
There is new wording on this rule for 2018, and it sure looked like Wagner used his teammate to gain an advantage in making that block, so the penalty should have been called. It was a weird scene to see the officials pick the flag up, but we're used to officiating weirdness involving the Seahawks on Monday nights.
Wilson passed for a career-low 72 yards on 20 attempts, but his 40-yard scramble was a huge play to put Seattle in position for a two-score lead. Chris Carson finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown and Wilson threw a two-point conversion pass to Tyler Lockett for a 14-0 lead with 2:53 left.
Then Cousins had the kind of finish that he has become famous for. In a situation that already smelled like hopelessness, he coughed up a fumble for a touchdown to make it 21-0 before leading a meaningless 70-yard touchdown drive to make the stats look nicer and to get the 21-7 final. Three of the last four games have gone poorly for Cousins and the offense, which may outweigh how good he was early in the season in games the Vikings didn't win either (the tie in Green Bay and the loss to the Rams). Still, this team has a decent shot of winning the next two games (Dolphins and Lions) and making the playoffs at 8-7-1 -- or missing out by a game without any wins over teams that finish above .500. It's almost like Cousins never left Washington, but Minnesota was supposed to be better than this.
Bengals at Chargers: No BINGO Involving Jeff Driskel
It would have been very on brand for the Chargers to lose as a 16-point home favorite to a Cincinnati team without Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. However, this has not been a year of the same old Chargers, who have the second-best record in the AFC at 10-3. The Bengals put up a good fight and never trailed by more than 11 points, but it was the little moments where they kept failing to execute, such as closing out the half or converting on a fourth-and-1 run at their own 35. You know it's not your year when you jump offsides with a second to go in the half and the Chargers make you pay with a 59-yard field goal.
But the Bengals continued to stay close into the fourth quarter and forced the Chargers to attempt field goals in the red zone. With 7:39 left, Jeff Driskel and Joe Mixon continued to move the offense, trailing 23-15, into scoring territory. Mixon broke the 100-yard rushing mark for the day on the drive, finishing with a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:50 left. The Bengals had failed on an earlier two-point conversion, but needed this one to tie the game. Driskel held the ball long against a four-man rush and Darius Philon took him down for a sack. The Chargers recovered the onside kick, then had a questionable play call on third down with Philip Rivers keeping the ball on a designed run. He at least went down in bounds to keep the clock running, but that could have gone badly in multiple ways. Mike Badgley added a 45-yard field goal without anyone jumping offsides this week to take a 26-21 lead.
Driskel had 43 seconds left from his own 23, but a sack on the second snap killed the drive. The Bengals couldn't even get a fourth-down snap off in time to attempt a Miami-like play, but Sunday had enough miracles as it was.
Broncos at 49ers: Weak Ending Deja Vu
This game is only here by a total fluke. The 49ers took a surprising 20-0 lead into halftime behind a monster half by tight end George Kittle (210 yards) and proceeded to hang on for a 20-14 win. The offense somehow failed to get Kittle any catches in the second half, so he didn't break Shannon Sharpe's tight end record of 214 receiving yards in a game. Alas, Nick Mullens converted a third down to get to the two-minute warning with the Broncos out of timeouts, so it should have been game over with three kneeldowns. However, for some reason Mullens took the second-down snap with eight seconds left on the play clock at 1:24. So he already botched this, but then he did it again on fourth down with eight seconds left in the game. He could have run that thing down to two seconds, took a delayed knee, and ended the game. That's ridiculously bad awareness of the situation.
The officials were on top of this one and gave the Broncos one shot from their own 39 with five seconds left, or basically a situation like the Dolphins had succeeded in against the Patriots a few hours earlier. The Broncos didn't capitalize after the initial lateral bounced out of bounds to end the game. The first game since Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles didn't go well, and the 49ers actually bottled up running back Phillip Lindsay very well (14 carries for 30 yards). You may recall in Week 8 that the Broncos triggered a comeback opportunity in Kansas City with four seconds left while trailing 30-23. They needed to go 85 yards that day. At least this was only 61 yards, but it's safe to say the two cheapest failed comebacks of 2018 belong to Denver. This also goes to show these one-score losses weren't as close as the final scores suggest. The Broncos (6-7) saw their playoff chances take a major hit here.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 56
Game-winning drives: 70 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 121/208 (58.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 29
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.