Clutch Encounters

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

Clutch Encounters: Week 15

by Scott Kacsmar

Nobody really expected that the 54-51 classic in Week 11 between the Chiefs and Rams would end up breaking football, but there have been some unexpected low-scoring affairs in the last month. Things really bottomed out in Week 15 as teams averaged 19.3 points, the sixth-lowest week in the NFL since 2008. While you might expect a game with Josh Johnson and Cody Kessler at quarterback would hurt the numbers, that game still produced two more points than the Patriots and Steelers.

The lower scores helped us to 11 games with a comeback opportunity and eight game-winning drives. The first happened on Thursday night when the Chargers shocked Kansas City. That would have been perfect for Game of the Week, but we already covered it on Friday. Instead, we'll kick off Week 15 with a game that stunk, but at least it's still fresh.

Game of the Week

New Orleans Saints 12 at Carolina Panthers 9

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (7-6)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 50.4 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 61.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 11.4 percent
Head Coach: Sean Payton (29-46 at 4QC and 40-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (35-60 at 4QC and 51-67 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Saints struggled offensively on the road for the third game in a row, but "struggled" would be a compliment for what Carolina did last night. The lone highlight was a 50-yard touchdown pass by running back Christian McCaffrey on a neat deception play on fourth-and-2. Carolina's only other threatening drives both ended with giveaways in Saints' territory, yet the Panthers still held a 7-6 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Drew Brees found passing for 200 yards to be a struggle for the fourth game in a row, but it was an 18-yard pass interference penalty that helped the Saints overcome a second-and-18 on their game-winning drive. The running game took care of the final 40 yards as Alvin Kamara scored from 16 yards out with 12:12 left. That put them up 12-7, so going for two was definitely the right decision, but Brees forced a poor pass that was intercepted and returned for a score by speedy rookie Donte Jackson. It's just the second "pick-two" in NFL history after Kansas City's Eric Berry made the first off a Matt Ryan pass in 2016, which was actually the game-winning score. It had to be a little bittersweet because of the two points, but this goes down as Brees' 35th fourth-quarter comeback win, which moves him into sole possession of fourth place in NFL history.

Now the Panthers only trailed 12-9, but Cam Newton just did not look right all night. A holding penalty hurt Carolina's ensuing drive, and Newton was sacked on third down. The Saints took over with 8:51 left and Brees finally made a big throw on third down to prevent a quick punt. Later, Kamara converted a fourth-and-1 with a 3-yard run to get to the two-minute warning. A third-and-4 at the Carolina 5 was the only thing standing between the Saints and a first down (or touchdown) to ice the game. I would have called a pass, and if Brees didn't have someone open, he could just taken a sack to keep the clock running. Sean Payton dialed up an inside handoff to Tommylee Lewis, who tried his best to get around the corner and score. Unfortunately, his lunge for the end zone put the ball at risk and the contact jarred it free. The ball went through the end zone to trigger one of the worst rules in football: possession to the other team despite no recovery.

This could have been a disaster for the Saints, who were fighting to hang on to the No. 1 seed. Not only did they lose possession, but the Panthers took over at the 20 with 1:44 left, so New Orleans lost out on the field position and clock advantages too. This was doable for Newton, but he wasted a down with a spike with 1:04 left. Unless stopping the clock is the top priority, the spike is probably always the wrong move. The Panthers didn't recover as a short gain set up fourth-and-5 with the clock running. Pressure forced a quick, off-target throw from Newton, ending the game. Newton's 131 passing yards were the fourth-lowest of his career.

Carolina leads the NFL with seven failed game-winning drives this season. Newton and Ron Rivera had previously been 20-1 when the Panthers allowed fewer than 13 points in a game. This was a very disappointing way for the Panthers to lose their sixth game in a row, which all but eliminates them from the playoffs.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Green Bay Packers 17 at Chicago Bears 24

Type: GWD
Game-Winning Chance Before: 72.3 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 88.1 percent
Win Probability Added: 15.8 percent
Head Coach: Matt Nagy (3-3 at 4QC and 3-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky (1-6 at 4QC and 3-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Chicago (10-4) is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after winning the NFC North on Sunday. The Bears did it in the best fashion possible: snapping Aaron Rodgers' record interception-less streak (402 attempts) and ending Green Bay's season in the process. The Packers could have made things interesting with a win here, and Rodgers has been a career nemesis for Chicago. He had been 17-4 as a starter against the Bears, and even pulled off a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 against them. This was a necessary hurdle to get over.

Fortunately, "Good Mitch" showed up this week for the Bears, because we are playing that Rex Grossman game again where Mitchell Trubisky is either really good or really bad without much middle ground. He didn't have any turnovers and was generally efficient this week with 235 passing yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't just a scrambling-aided performance like some of his outings this year. With the game tied at 14, Trubisky threw a 13-yard touchdown to Trey Burton with 10:16 left.

Chicago's defense really frustrated Rodgers in the fourth quarter. Over a stretch of six snaps, Rodgers threw four incompletions and suffered two sacks. He overthrew open receivers deep, Randall Cobb had one drop, and the Bears almost deflected and intercepted an ill-fated screen on third-and-15. After Tarik Cohen had a 44-yard punt return, the Bears were in business in the red zone, but Cohen stepped out of bounds on a third-down catch to bring up fourth-and-1. Matt Nagy was originally going to have the offense go for it, but I think the 24-yard field goal was the right call. Chicago led 24-14 with 6:43 left.

Rodgers was going to need another miracle, but that's when Chicago's defense stepped up in the red zone. Rodgers held the ball long before essentially throwing two passes away. He took a chance on third down, but Roquan Smith had a good play on the pass to Jimmy Graham, and the ball was deflected to Eddie Jackson for an interception to end Rodgers' streak at 402 attempts. The Bears just ran the ball three times and punted after the Packers used all of their timeouts. Green Bay spent a lot of time trying to get the touchdown, but an 18-yard sack in the red zone brought out Mason Crosby for a 45-yard field goal. He made it to cut the lead to 24-17 with 11 seconds left, but the onside kick failed and the Bears were division champions again.

With the way the Rams have looked lately, the Bears may be looking at a deeper run than just one home game in January. If Good Mitch shows up on the road with this defense, then look out for the Bears, who are ahead of schedule on this path back to prominence.

Houston Texans 29 at New York Jets 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (22-19)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 35.9 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 89.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 53.6 percent
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (14-20 at 4QC and 15-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson (5-4 at 4QC and 6-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Even after falling behind 16-3, the Jets gave the Texans all they could handle on Saturday. Sam Darnold was having the best game of his rookie season after he led a go-ahead touchdown drive with five minutes left. Unfortunately, the defense wasn't able to hold on, but the coaching staff falling asleep on reviews didn't help either. On the previous drive the Jets could have challenged a third-and-1 run that was ruled short, but left things up to a fourth down they were fortunate to convert. This time, Deshaun Watson threw a 7-yard pass on second-and-7 to DeAndre Hopkins, who didn't look like he ever got the ball to the marker. The Jets let the play go, and Watson threw a 14-yard go-ahead touchdown pass on the next snap to take a 26-22 lead with 2:15 left.

Darnold was having a great game until the ending. He immediately threw a deep ball under pressure that was fortunately broken up by his receiver (Robby Anderson) instead of being intercepted by Johnathan Joseph. After getting sacked by J.J. Watt, Darnold did his best on a fourth-and-14 pass, but Anderson wasn't able to come down with it. The Texans took over at the New York 21 and ran three times before adding a 40-yard field goal to take a 29-22 lead. Darnold still had 54 seconds left from his own 25, but this drive too went four-and-out after a pointless checkdown on fourth-and-18 netted 16 yards.

Houston (10-4) has been playing with fire all season, but will have to win in Philadelphia to keep control of the No. 2 seed, or else the Texans will be hoping that the Darnold from this game's first 58 minutes can upset the Patriots at home in Week 17.

Seattle Seahawks 23 at San Francisco 49ers 26

Type: GWD (OT)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 64.3 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 35.7 percent
Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (2-10 at 4QC and 3-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Nick Mullens (0-1 at 4QC and 1-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

After 30 games, we have solid evidence that Kyle Shanahan can design an offense that moves the ball well despite some shortcomings at the skill positions, especially at quarterback. It's those shortcomings that tend to prevent the team from scoring more points or finishing close games, but a 26-23 overtime win over Seattle is definitely the high point of a disappointing 2018 season for San Francisco (4-10).

The Seahawks just waxed the 49ers 43-16 in Week 13, but the road is often a different story for Seattle. Even though Doug Baldwin returned to catch two touchdowns and Chris Carson rushed for 119 yards, there were too many holding penalties that hurt Seattle. Russell Wilson had to first lead a game-tying touchdown drive, which saw Carson score on fourth down from 1 yard out to tie the game at 20 with 13:51 left. Nick Mullens played well for the 49ers, but they stayed conservative with a run on third-and-7 before Robbie Gould's 45-yard field goal gave them another lead at 23-20. The Seahawks looked to move into the red zone, but J.R. Sweezy was penalized for holding. Wilson took a third-down sack and Sebastian Janikowski had to tie the game with a 48-yard field goal with 5:21 left.

After the 49ers went three-and-out, the Seahawks had a second chance for a game-winning drive, but it was penalty machine Germain Ifedi's turn for a holding flag that negated a third-down conversion. Wilson missed Baldwin and the Seahawks punted. On a third drive, Mike Davis ripped off a 19-yard run into San Francisco territory, but that was called back for a hold on Ethan Pocic, the third Seahawks lineman to get called for a hold in the final half of the fourth quarter. Seattle couldn't overcome any of those mistakes and the game went to overtime.

Believe it or not, Seattle started overtime with a fourth crucial holding penalty. This one was on Pocic again, wiping out a 32-yard pass out to midfield. Wilson checked down on third-and-14 and the offense never saw the ball again. That's four offensive holding penalties in the same game while a team was trying to engineer a game-winning drive. If that sounds rare, it's because it is. The only other time an offense has done this since 2001 was -- wait for it -- the Seahawks against Arizona in that 6-6 tie in 2016. Way to go, Seattle.

Mullens only attempted one pass in overtime, but it drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Shaquill Griffin. This was not a good call, but we'll have to remember that for the checks and balances of the bad calls that have gone against the 49ers in the Shanahan era. That call also pushed Seattle to a franchise-record 148 penalty yards on 14 penalties. After the penalty, Jeff Wilson broke a 16-yard run and that about did it. Gould was good on a 36-yard field goal to clinch a 26-23 win. Seattle is still in solid shape for the postseason, but this was a step backwards with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs coming up next.

Cleveland Browns 17 at Denver Broncos 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (13-10)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 39.6 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 63.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 23.8 percent
Head Coach: Gregg Williams (6-14 at 4QC and 9-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield (3-2 at 4QC and 4-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Saturday action was very competitive, but this turned into a sloppy game in Denver. Baker Mayfield eventually threw a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway with 11:44 left, but the ending just showed why both of these teams should be looking for new head coaches in 2019.

First, the Broncos had a sustained drive that reached the Cleveland 6 before Phillip Lindsay was stuffed to bring up fourth-and-1. Lindsay has 28 carries for 54 yards in the last two weeks after averaging 6.1 yards per carry to start the season. Still, that play shouldn't have even counted as Denver clearly did not beat the play clock, but the officials badly missed the delay of game. It seemed like an obvious spot to go for it, down 17-13 with under five minutes left, but Vance Joseph wanted points. He trusted his defense, and he wanted a 29-yard field goal. It's certainly in the conversation for the most ludicrous decision of 2018. According to EdjSports, the field goal decision decreased Denver's Game-Winning Chance by 33.1 percent, the largest drop in any game since 2011. That's a huge chunk for a team fighting for its playoff life.

The defense responded poorly too by immediately allowing a 40-yard run to Nick Chubb. The Browns looked like they might just run the clock out, but faced a fourth-and-1 at the Denver 10 with 1:53 left. Interim coach Gregg Williams wanted the offense to go for it, which was the right call if the right play was used. Cleveland started by trying to draw the Broncos offsides with a hard count, and Denver actually took the bait and jumped. Unfortunately, Williams called a timeout for no logical reason at all to blow the play dead, so the game continued. Instead of using the quarterback sneak to end the game, the Browns ran up the gut in a heavy formation and Chubb was stuffed for a loss.

Suddenly, Case Keenum was in a reasonable position to drive for the win from his own 13 with 1:49 left. He had been shaky all night, but got the ball to the 50. That's when he made a big mistake by spiking the ball and wasting a down when there was still 52 seconds left. That's plenty of time to have a play called. Williams continued to dial up pressure and Keenum never found another receiver. On fourth-and-10, Jabrill Peppers sacked Keenum to end the game and end Denver's playoff hopes.

Detroit Lions 13 at Buffalo Bills 14

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 6 (13-7)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 33.5 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 62.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 29.2 percent
Head Coach: Sean McDermott (3-7 at 4QC and 6-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Allen (2-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A bad snap on an extra point came back to haunt the Lions, who led 13-7 in the fourth quarter. Buffalo continued to hang around despite having its top four running backs injured at one point. Josh Allen has been on a tear as a running quarterback, but this time he only finished with 16 rushing yards (and another touchdown). He had to use his arm for a play this time, and that play turned out to be a 42-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster, an undrafted rookie free agent who has hit 94 receiving yards four times in the last five games. That gave the Bills a 14-13 lead with 10:26 left.

While we used to talk about Matthew Stafford as a comeback king, this was yet another failed attempt for an offense that is now 0-5 at comeback opportunities this season. Detroit went with a wide receiver screen on third-and-8, which led to settling for a 48-yard field goal attempt by Matt Prater. He's usually a clutch kicker, but he was wide right this time with 5:50 left. Stafford later checked down to bring up a fourth-and-7 at the Detroit 33 with 2:56 left. Even though Matt Patricia had three clock stoppages left, I think that was a good spot to go for it. The defense would have to get a quick stop either way, but if the organization trusted Stafford enough to give him the contract it did, he should be trusted there to convert and drive into field goal range. Instead, the Lions punted, and the Bills ran out the final 2:50 on the clock by gaining two first downs. The Bills were forced into a fourth-and-1 at the Detroit 41 with 1:50 left, but the call to go for it there with a quarterback sneak was a calculated move. It may have even been beneficial that the running back depth was so bad. They dialed up the most unstoppable play in the game and Allen leaped forward to seal the win.

Washington Redskins 16 at Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (13-6)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 64.7 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 35.3 percent
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (8-20-1 at 4QC and 15-21-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Johnson (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If Josh Johnson would have ran a quarterback sneak for a yard instead of kneeling down on the final play from scrimmage, he would have led his team in rushing just like Cody Kessler did in a game that is still hard to believe took place in the 2018 NFL season. This is what happens when you have multiple quarterbacks break their legs, but Johnson finally won his first NFL start after being drafted in 2008. He had been 0-10 in games in which he had thrown at least three passes. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has shown that while Blake Bortles was a big problem, Kessler was never going to be a solution. He finished the game with 20 net passing yards on 17 passes and six sacks, which is hard to fathom in this passing environment.

For comparison, Johnson hit a 33-yard completion on a third-and-15 to Jamison Crowder in the fourth quarter. That helped erase a 13-6 deficit as Johnson finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Sprinkle with 5:47 left. Jacksonville did its best to hide the quarterback, but on third-and-16, Kessler's deep pass was deflected and intercepted by Fabian Moreau with 2:31 left. Johnson only passed one more time, gaining 7 yards to Adrian Peterson, who carried the drive with five runs for 31 yards. That allowed Washington to set up the field goal as the final play, and Dustin Hopkins was successful from 36 yards away to earn the 16-13 win. Washington (7-7) is still alive in the division too after Dallas was shut out 23-0 in Indianapolis.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Patriots at Steelers: The Seven-Year Wait, But Now What?

A year ago, these teams met in Week 15 in a classic game that ultimately decided the No. 1 seed in the AFC. A year later, the Steelers got their long-awaited first win over the Patriots in seven years, but Pittsburgh still might not even make the playoffs. It's an odd season where the Patriots (9-5) are also in danger of not getting a first-round bye for the first time since 2009. Normally we wouldn't do an in-depth recap of this game since we would expect these teams to meet again in January where we can analyze this game for a playoff preview, but that looks very unlikely at this point. Even if the Steelers win the AFC North, there hasn't been a matchup between the No. 3 and No. 4 seed in the AFC Championship Game since 2006 (Patriots at Colts).

As for the game itself, it's still hard to figure out how these teams produced such an uncharacteristic 17-10 final. Rob Gronkowski (21 yards) didn't catch a pass until the fourth quarter, and James Washington, a hugely disappointing rookie, led the Steelers with 65 receiving yards. Tom Brady started the game with a 63-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan, who had 19.2 yards of separation on the play, the most wide-open catch in the NFL since 2017 according to Next Gen Stats. After how confused the Steelers looked on that first drive, no one ever would have believed they would go on to hold the Patriots to a field goal on the final eight drives in what was a limited-possession game.

It certainly wasn't all stifling defense. The Patriots had 14 penalties, including several holds and pre-snap penalties. Julian Edelman also had some bad drops while the Patriots were surprisingly content with runs on second-and-long despite years of spreading and shredding Pittsburgh's defense. Let's give Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh's coaching staff credit for some new wrinkles in this one. When Tomlin first faced the Patriots in 2007, his defense blitzed Brady 72.3 percent of the time and was picked apart by that historic offense. The Steelers have backed off in recent years and were down to 21.6 percent blitzes in this one, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Steelers generated marginal pressure and only got one sack, but what they did well was force Brady to hold the ball for the longest on average he has against Pittsburgh in the last seven matchups.

On offense, it's a good thing the Steelers hid two All-Pro running backs behind Le'Veon Bell. With James Conner out, Jaylen Samuels stepped in and rushed 19 times for 142 yards behind great blocking, proving once again how replaceable players at that position can be. Next Gen Stats tweeted during the game that Pittsburgh had used five wide receivers on 13 snaps after doing so zero times this season. According to Football Outsiders' game charting, there were 28 plays with five wideouts in all of 2017 (none by Pittsburgh). You rarely see this in the NFL, but it's another wrinkle Pittsburgh used in this one after getting slot receiver Eli Rogers back for the first time all year.

New England was better at getting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, who has been the least-pressured quarterback in 2018. Leading 14-7 in the third quarter, Roethlisberger escaped a third sack by throwing a pass away in the red zone, but that was intentional grounding. That led to a missed 32-yard field goal by Chris Boswell, who might have been cut on the spot if the Steelers had another kicker available. That led to a critical sequence where the Patriots possessed the ball for over 14 minutes on two drives, but came away with just a field goal. After calling seven runs in a row, the Patriots went with a third-and-4 screen to Edelman, which came up a yard short. Bill Belichick settled for a 33-yard field goal instead of continuing to drive for a tying touchdown.

Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the game after the Steelers tried to force a play into traffic at midfield, and Duron Harmon continued his legacy of coming up with huge fourth-quarter picks. Just like that, the Patriots were in position to drive for a go-ahead touchdown. Gronkowski finally made his first (and only) two catches of the game, and the Patriots had a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 5. A big holding penalty on Marcus Cannon changed everything. On second-and-16, Brady tried to throw a pass out of bounds under pressure, but it was poorly done and Joe Haden came down with an interception at the 4 with 7:43 left.

Roethlisberger converted a couple of tough third downs, but he needed one more on a third-and-6 to put the game away. It actually may have been wise to run the ball, see what happens with the clock going to the two-minute warning, and possibly gone for a fourth down to end the game. Instead, Roethlisberger threw deep to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a possible touchdown, but J.C. Jackson made a great play to knock the ball loose. It looked bleak, but Boswell bought himself at least another week by nailing a 48-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 17-10 lead with 2:30 left.

Still, the defense was going to have to come through in a spot in which it has failed too many times the last year, including last week against Derek Carr in Oakland. Brady drove the offense as deep as the Pittsburgh 11, but that's when another holding penalty changed things. Facing a second-and-15 from the Pittsburgh 21, Brady hung in there against the four-man rush, but overshot consecutive passes out of the end zone for Gronkowski. That brought up fourth-and-15 with 20 seconds left. Brady faded away on the pass, but that one was too tall for Edelman in front of the goal line, clinching a Pittsburgh win.

Pittsburgh (8-5-1) clinched a non-losing season for the 15th year in a row, but still has a tough matchup at New Orleans next week. Perhaps this could be the kind of win that propels the team back on track in time for an improbable playoff run and revenge tour against the Chargers and Chiefs. The Patriots still have a great shot to finish 11-5, but this team has gone 3-5 on the road with too many poor performances. The age of the offensive stars has been showing. It looks like the Patriots will have to go on the road to beat a worthy opponent in January, but even with the loss here, any rematch with the Steelers is still likely to happen in New England.

Eagles at Rams: Déjà vu?

Sean McVay and Jared Goff had not lost consecutive starts together with the Rams, but it may have been premature to pencil them in for an easy win over the Eagles following a dreadful 15-6 loss in Chicago last week. While the Rams were back home as 13-point favorites in nice weather, the Eagles still posed a threat with only one loss by more than a touchdown this season (48-7 in New Orleans). Carson Wentz was out, but plugging in Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles still might be the best backup plan in the league. Since Foles had to enter the Los Angeles game last year when Wentz injured his knee, the Eagles are now 8-1 in games that he has finished.

The third quarter ended up being one of the most shocking of the season as the Eagles turned a 13-13 tie into a 30-13 lead. That's only the second time this season the Eagles scored 30 points. Foles hit a deep ball on a great night for Alshon Jeffery (160 yards), and the defense got a bad fumble by Goff to set up great field position. It didn't even look like we'd get a comeback opportunity by the Rams, who have struggled mightily on offense since the bye week. However, a red zone interception by Foles helped spark a comeback attempt. Goff missed a touchdown throw, so the Rams settled for a field goal first before finally getting into the end zone with 4:06 left to make it 30-23.

Just when it looked like the offense was going to have an opportunity to tie or win on a two-point conversion, JoJo Natson fumbled on a punt return with 2:51 left. The Eagles settled for a 53-yard field goal attempt, but Jake Elliott was wide right with 1:08 left. Goff finally had his shot with 57 yards to go. He managed the drive well, but his receivers did not. Gerald Everett and Todd Gurley both had chances to get out of bounds to stop the clock, but both tried to make a move in bounds, burning precious time for marginal yardage. Gurley's mistake was especially costly as Goff had to spike the ball with four seconds left at the Philadelphia 18, leaving time for just one more play.

It was an interesting play too. The Rams ran all five of their receivers vertically while the Eagles rushed six to make sure Goff threw it quickly. He picked Josh Reynolds as his target in the end zone, but the pass was overthrown and the game was over. The Eagles (7-7) are still alive and could have a big impact on the playoff field in both conferences with a home game against Houston next week. Given the team's success with Foles, this could be the start of a run that would be even more improbable than what the Eagles did last year.

Buccaneers at Ravens: Back in Time to Move Forward

The first game since Joe Flacco was officially benched for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was a fitting one in the rain. The dink-and-dunk passing game has been replaced by one of the run-heaviest approaches in decades as the Ravens piled up 49 more carries for 242 yards. Baltimore is the first offense since the 1976 Steelers to rush for at least 190 yards in five consecutive games, which includes all of Jackson's starts (4-1 record). Baltimore's defense also did its best impression of the 1976 Steelers by holding Tampa Bay to 156 net passing yards, the second week in a row the Buccaneers set a season low in that category after a historic start to 2018.

Jameis Winston only turned the ball over once this week, but it was an interception in the fourth quarter with the Buccaneers down 20-12. Marlon Humphrey made the pick for only the third interception of his career. Humphrey also defensed a fourth-and-4 throw by Winston at the Baltimore 33 with 7:08 left. With two clock stoppages left, Tampa Bay was unable to get the ball back. The Ravens used their backs on nine runs in a row, with Gus Edwards putting the game to bed with a 26-yard run.

Baltimore (8-6) is still very much in the playoff picture, but a tough matchup against the Chargers (11-3) awaits this Saturday. If Week 15 is any indication, then you really can't be surprised by any team winning in any venue this season.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 62
Game-winning drives: 78 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 132/224 (58.9 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 30

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

3 comments, Last at 20 Dec 2018, 1:01pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 15

by Mike B. In Va // Dec 19, 2018 - 10:40am

So is Baltimore an outlier or a harbinger? Do we see some teams finding success by going run-heavy and minimizing mistakes.

Login or Register to post comments

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 15

by Scott Kacsmar // Dec 19, 2018 - 5:01pm

One thing about that is Jackson needs to protect the ball better. He has 9 fumbles (3 lost) this year.

Login or Register to post comments

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 15

by Pat // Dec 20, 2018 - 1:01pm

" Next Gen Stats tweeted during the game that Pittsburgh had used five wide receivers on 13 snaps after doing so zero times this season."

I really wonder if this (combined with the change in defense noted) really is stressing that Pittsburgh "come up small in small games" problem is really related to the fact that Tomlin (and staff) just doesn't dedicate enough time to those games to present looks that haven't already been seen by those teams. He's actually pretty much already admitted that yeah, in fact, he does treat these games a little different - and while most people would say "he's just admitting what every coach in the NFL does"... maybe that's not correct.

Login or Register to post comments