Clutch Encounters: Week 4

Clutch Encounters: Week 4
Clutch Encounters: Week 4
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

The first quarter of the 2018 NFL season ended in dramatic fashion. Week 4 began with an impressive display by Jared Goff and the 4-0 Rams on Thursday and ended with the first fourth-quarter comeback win of Patrick Mahomes' career to move the Chiefs to 4-0 on Monday night. Mark your calendars for November 19 when those teams meet in prime time.

On Sunday, there were some real duds, such as Fitzmagic running out (partly because of how bad Tampa Bay's defense played in Chicago) or the egg Miami laid in New England. But there were also five games that were decided on the final snap. Two teams lost after leading in overtime -- something that had only happened four times since overtime rule changes in 2012. Overall, we had eight game-winning drives in 10 games with an opportunity this week, so let's get right to the action.

Game of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs 27 at Denver Broncos 23

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (23-13)
Game Winning Chance Before: 44.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 92.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 48.1 percent
Head Coach: Andy Reid (38-68-1 at 4QC and 53-76-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes (1-0 at 4QC and 2-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Another year, and another remake of A Star Is Born. But instead of casting Lady Gaga, they should have just gotten Patrick Mahomes. You try to temper your excitement given Andy Reid's past offensive wizardry, the current state of NFL defenses, the incredible cast of skill players around him, and the fact that the Chiefs looked like the best offense in the league this time last year too. But Mahomes keeps passing every test and looks as special as any young quarterback in the NFL in quite some time. He faced a talented defense in a hostile environment with first place in the division on the line. Things did not start well as Mahomes was 7-of-15 for 65 yards at halftime, but he rebounded to join Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards against Denver since 2015.

Kansas City's defense looked poor again, especially when it came to tackling as Bob Sutton's unit was shredded on the ground. This was the first time Mahomes trailed in the fourth quarter in his career, let alone by two scores as Denver led 23-13. All the ingredients were there for a letdown game, but Mahomes answered with a brilliant final quarter. He passed the offense down the field and connected on an easy 2-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. The Broncos probably should have tried to stick with the run more after a shaky night by Case Keenum, but they promptly went three-and-out.

The stage was set for Mahomes. With Von Miller chasing him down, he converted a third down with a left-handed toss to Tyreek Hill. It was a sign of things to come on the drive.

The offensive line wasn't doing Mahomes many favors, and pressure led to intentional grounding and holding penalties to bring up second-and-30. Mahomes used his legs and accurate arm to hit two big plays to get the Chiefs into the red zone. From there, Kareem Hunt finished off his best game of 2018 with a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Chiefs a 27-23 lead with 1:39 left. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mahomes had 192 yards out of the pocket, the most in a game in the last 10 seasons. He also still doesn't have a turnover this season.

There was still time for Keenum to answer against a defense that you wouldn't want to choose if your life depended on it. Keenum drove the offense to the Kansas City 28 but missed a golden opportunity deep down the right sideline to Demaryius Thomas. It makes no sense why defenses are playing Cover-2 against the top receiver on the field with the game on the line, but we'll get into that in the Atlanta recap.

John Elway didn't have to guarantee a quarterback $25 million to miss that throw.

On a fourth-and-10, Denver tried a very interesting hook-and-ladder play. Since Courtland Sutton's didn't do enough with the ball in his possession to get credit for a catch and his pitch back to Emmanuel Sanders was dropped, it goes down as an incomplete pass.

With that block on the edge, Sanders had a shot at the end zone, or at least would have been able to get out of bounds to have another play. With the time left in the game, this lateral was Denver's only hope of making that throw work, but it didn't even look like Sanders was expecting it.

The 2018 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 4-0 after allowing at least 23 points in each game. If Mahomes is still doing this after the Chiefs face Jacksonville and New England the next two weeks, then he might as well be a lock for MVP.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Houston Texans 37 at Indianapolis Colts 34

Largest Overtime Deficit: 3 (34-31)
Game Winning Chance Before: 55.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 44.4 percent
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (10-20 at 4QC and 10-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson (1-4 at 4QC and 1-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Can we appreciate for a second just how great this rivalry could become after this first meeting between Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson? Reports of Luck's demise may have been greatly exaggerated. He set career highs in attempts (62), completions (40), and passing yards (464) against Houston. A lot of fans may wish he had only thrown 61 passes instead, but we'll get to that shortly. For Luck, his air yards were back to a normal range of 8.5 yards per attempt, which was good for the offense's ability to score. Luck had two completions of 40-plus yards to Houston-killer T.Y. Hilton after not having a completion longer than 29 yards in the first three weeks.

It was almost like Luck had to get back into the old, familiar groove of trailing 28-10 in the third quarter to truly make his return. This was a putrid start for the Colts with a couple of bad fumbles to dig the hole this time. Luck is no stranger to 18-point comebacks, and he was looking vintage on four scoring drives in the second half. When the Colts trailed 31-23 late, Luck gained all 85 yards on the drive and completed the two-point conversion pass to tie the game. The defense almost gave up a 59-yard field goal to lose at the buzzer, but Ka'imi Fairbairn was wide right. Luck even came out with a second left to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone, but it fell incomplete.

In overtime, Luck was driving the offense again, but Marcus Johnson had a bad drop on third-and-2 that would have continued the drive. Adam Vinatieri, who had earlier set the record for most field goals in NFL history, came on for a 44-yard field goal with 6:00 left to give the Colts a 34-31 lead. It was up to the defense now, but they couldn't even force the Texans into a third down until the ball was at the Indianapolis 36. They eventually got off the field, but not before Houston tied the game at 34 with 1:50 left.

A game like this really showed some of the limitations of the move to a 10-minute overtime. When both offenses are able to drive for a field goal to continue the game, it makes it really hard to have a third productive drive. There should always be urgency to how you approach overtime, but with five extra minutes, the Colts could have marched methodically like they had been doing on recent drives in the game. Things quickly fell apart after a holding penalty and sack by Jadeveon Clowney brought up third-and-21. Luck completed a pass for 17 yards, but that brought up fourth-and-4 at the Colts' 43 with 27 seconds left.

The Colts did the lame act of trying to draw the opponent offsides before using their first timeout, but head coach Frank Reich really wanted to play for the win. "I'm not playing to tie" were his exact words. Luck's pass intended for Chester Rogers was just too low and the Colts shockingly turned the ball over. Watson only needed one 24-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins and a spike to set up Fairbairn for a 37-yard field goal to win the game. No tie this time as the kick was good.

Well, this one may haunt Reich during his Indianapolis tenure, or it'll be something that only some Colts fans bring up at Thanksgiving dinner. It's just too early in the season to get a good feel for how this one will impact the standings. A tie could look really useful in Week 15, but this was Week 4. With the Colts at 1-2 and a trip to New England looming this Thursday, I can see why Reich felt the need to go for the win instead of punting for almost a sure tie.

I will say I did not like the decision and would not support it in most cases, because even with a conversion, the Colts were still not in position to score yet. The risk of an incompletion in that field position made it too likely that Houston would have been able to kick a field goal for the win just like it did. Then there's the play call itself. A completion short of the 50 would have forced the Colts to burn their second timeout after Reich already wasted one playing fourth-down possum. There just wasn't enough benefit to that throw to justify it. According to EdjSports, Reich's Game Winning Chance by going for it was 48.3 percent, but 51.8 percent (+3.5%) if he would have just punted.

Finally, lost in the fourth-down craze, Houston (1-3) earned its first win after finally showing some offense in the first half of a game this season. This was also the first comeback and game-winning drive for Watson's NFL career.

Cincinnati Bengals 37 at Atlanta Falcons 36

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (36-31)
Game Winning Chance Before: 24.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 98.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 73.9 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (35-72-2 at 4QC and 46-74-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (17-28-2 at 4QC and 22-30-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Talk about déjà vu. The Falcons played stellar offense at home for four quarters, did not turn the ball over, and still lost 37-36 after being unable to stop a late touchdown drive. That's almost exactly what happened a week ago in the 43-37 loss to New Orleans, except this one didn't go to overtime. Atlanta's 1-3 start is truly historic stuff.

Since 1940, home teams not named the 2018 Falcons are 402-2 when scoring at least 36 points and having zero turnovers. The 2018 Falcons are 0-2 doing that, so they have a losing streak doing something that has only led to losses two other times since 1940. One of those two times was Pittsburgh in Week 2 against Kansas City, so this has been a wild offensive season, but this is still asinine for Dan Quinn's defense. The only time a team lost doing this before 2018 was Dallas against the great 1998 Vikings on Thanksgiving. Dallas trailed by double digits for most of that second half and got to 36 points on a garbage-time score.

Atlanta was also 11-of-15 (73 percent) on third down. Since 1991, offenses that converted at least 70 percent of their third downs with zero turnovers were 39-0. Make that 39-1 after these Falcons. Since 1991, home teams that converted at least 70 percent of their third downs and scored at least 25 points were 78-0. Make that 78-1 thanks to Atlanta.

This was another game where Atlanta played really well, but only on one side of the ball. Matt Ryan threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley to take a 33-28 lead with 14:25 left. The two-point conversion failed, which is one of the few things for which we can criticize the Atlanta offense at this point. Oh, a two-point try failed, and Ryan later missed a tough third-and-19 throw to Austin Hooper in the end zone that led to Matt Bryant kicking a 32-yard field goal. Still, Atlanta led 36-31 with 4:15 left and the defense just needed one more stop of Andy Dalton's offense.

Dalton had a very "fortunate" fourth quarter in this one. Vic Beasley thought he had a strip-sack in the red zone, but Dalton's knee was down before the ball was out. On the final drive with 1:30 left, Beasley again thought he had stripped Dalton to set up third-and-16, but replay intervened. Dalton was ruled to have control with his arm moving forward, making it an incomplete pass. Quarterback fumbles are high on the list of inconsistent calls in the NFL, but this wasn't that egregious with the way the rule is written. On the very next play, Dalton drilled Desmond Trufant with what should have been a game-ending pick, but Trufant dropped the ball. Trufant is one of the few big-name players still healthy on this defense, but he did not come through to clinch the win for his team.

Dalton converted a pair of fourth downs to Tyler Boyd before finding a sliding A.J. Green in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left. With tight end Tyler Eifert out of the game with a brutal leg injury, it's hard to see how the Falcons could not glue two defenders to Green with the game on the line. It's embarrassing to note that Isaiah Oliver was looking to cover the receiver in the flat when just seconds remained in the game and the Bengals were out of timeouts.

Obviously injuries have crippled the Atlanta defense this year, but this was just a combination of poor play and bad coaching. Ryan ended up completing a 49-yard bomb to Julio Jones, but time expired so it was a moot gain. All it did was push Ryan's passer rating to 134.5, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to lose back-to-back games with a rating over 125 (minimum 30 attempts).

The 2018 Falcons are a historical team for all the wrong reasons.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Tennessee Titans 26

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (17-10)
Game Winning Chance Before: 19.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 80.4 percent
Head Coach: Mike Vrabel (2-1 at 4QC and 3-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (9-14 at 4QC and 11-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Despite a head coaching change, for a solid year now the Titans have been playing this low-scoring, slug-it-out brand of football. Marcus Mariota has led seven game-winning drives over his last 16 games. To give you an idea of how rare that is, there have only been nine times when a quarterback was credited with seven game-winning drives in a 16-game regular season. This may have been Mariota's best yet, though some of the allure probably depends on just how good the 2018 Eagles turn out to be.

While I might say the Titans brought the Eagles down to their level, the fact is the Eagles haven't been blowing anyone's doors off this year either. Philadelphia has yet to surpass 23 points in a game, and the main thing keeping this team from a 0-4 start has been the red zone defense coming through against the Falcons and Colts. On Sunday, the Titans solved that red zone defense and rookie coach Mike Vrabel stole the fourth-down hero headlines from Doug Pederson.

After getting a Carson Wentz fumble in the fourth quarter, the Titans faced a fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 26 with 12:09 left. Down 17-10, past teams would have almost always kicked a field goal in this situation, but the Titans went for it and converted. The drive later stalled and still resulted in a field goal, but the attempt is appreciated.

The Titans later took a 20-17 lead after Mariota found Tajae Sharpe for an 11-yard touchdown with 5:01 left. Philadelphia's ensuing drive stalled and Pederson punted on fourth-and-4 from his own 42 with 2:59 left. There was no guarantee he could get the ball back to his offense, but the Titans bailed the Eagles out with a wonky bubble screen on third-and-3. A 42-yard punt return by the Eagles had the Titans concerned about giving up a game-winning touchdown with Wentz needing just 39 yards to do so, but the defense held and the Eagles settled for a field goal to go to overtime.

Philadelphia was driving again behind effective runs, but Wentz was nearly intercepted on third down by Will Compton. Jake Elliott kicked a 37-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 23-20 lead and enforce sudden death. The Titans had 6:19 left, but used almost all of it to get the winning touchdown. It was a wild march that saw Mariota overcome a fourth-and-15 with a big throw for 19 yards, as well as a fourth-and-4 with a pass interference penalty (sold well by Nick Williams). Mariota also scrambled on a third-and-19 to bring up fourth-and-2 at the Philadelphia 32 with 1:17 left. Ryan Succop could have probably made that 50-yard field goal to give the Titans a likely tie, but Vrabel pulled him off and put the offense back on the field to go for the win.

I liked this decision better than the one Frank Reich made around the same time in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. An extra point in this league is no longer a sure thing, let alone a 50-yard field goal that's just going to produce a tie. It was only fourth-and-2, so go for the win.

Mariota checked down to Dion Lewis for the conversion. Three snaps later, Corey Davis had really a fortunate drop on a short pass that was just going to burn time with the Titans out of timeouts. On third down with 10 seconds left, Mariota cashed in on his last chance to win the game with a touchdown pass to Davis, who beat rookie corner Avonte Maddox. That's not an ideal matchup for the Eagles. It was the first regular-season touchdown of Davis' career. It's hard to have one that will be more memorable.

Cleveland Browns 42 at Oakland Raiders 45

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (42-34)
Game Winning Chance Before: 56.2 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 43.8 percent
Head Coach: Jon Gruden (21-58 at 4QC and 29-62 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Derek Carr (14-21 at 4QC and 14-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Bad teams tend to lose a lot of close games, but Hue Jackson's Browns have been so bad that they rarely are in position to let a game slip away. This season has been different though, and the Browns quite arguably could be 4-0 right now with better game management. This wild 45-42 shootout filled with big plays and turnovers in Oakland had 15 possessions in the fourth quarter and overtime alone, so we'd be here forever to recap all of them. Instead, we'll highlight some of the key moments that swung this game in Oakland's favor for Jon Gruden's first win in a decade.

Baker Mayfield's first NFL start was a mixed bag. He threw an early pick-six after his receiver slipped and the pass was deflected. He still had Cleveland ahead 28-14 in the third quarter before he was late on what was supposed to be a quick throw, leading to a strip-sack. He had a botched exchange with his center, which led to another short-field touchdown for the Raiders. But even after falling behind 34-28 in the fourth quarter, Mayfield led the offense on a 77-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 59-yard catch and run by Antonio Callaway. Rookie running back Nick Chubb added another long touchdown run on a unique day where he finished with three carries for 105 yards and two scores.

There were two big officiating controversies in the fourth quarter that both went in Oakland's favor. First, Derek Carr coughed up the ball on a sack that could have been returned for a touchdown with just over 6:30 left, but an official quickly blew the play dead with no turnover. This play wasn't really that huge since Cleveland ended up getting a touchdown two minutes later. Later, Carlos Hyde appeared to ice the game with a 2-yard run on third-and-2, but replay called him short even though there didn't appear to be any conclusive evidence of that, and replay has been often sticking with the call on the field. Some have criticized Jackson for not trying a fourth-and-1 at his own 18 to end the game, but punting actually feels like the right call in this case. Getting a better punt outcome than putting Carr at his own 47 with 1:28 left would have been ideal.

Some have been mocking Jackson's answer about already "touching lady luck all day going for 2." But Jackson didn't go for two when he needed it the most, and that's what I think the biggest mistake was on Sunday. Up 41-34 with 4:20 left, that would have been a perfect time to go for a two-point conversion. This is something I have talked about for years, but it wasn't until Pete Carroll's Seahawks tried it against the Patriots in 2016 did we see a team actually go for it. At that late of a point in the game, going up nine points is a huge advantage, and if you believe two-point conversions are a 50/50 endeavor, then that certainly makes up for the difference between leading by seven or eight points. The defense's goal is never to "allow a touchdown, but don't allow a two-point conversion." The goal is to not allow a touchdown, period, and that's true whether it's a lead of seven, eight, or nine points.

I looked at drive data on ESPN Stats & Info for offenses since 2001 that started a drive with between 4:30 and 1:00 remaining in the game, and these were the results:

  • Teams down seven points posted a game record of 44-325-2 (.121).
  • Teams down eight points posted a game record of 15-115-1 (.118).
  • Teams down nine points posted a game record of 0-91 (.000).
  • Teams down nine to 16 points posted a game record of 16-1,025 (.015).

No one has won a game when starting with exactly a nine-point deficit, but 16 teams managed a victory after trailing by more. The following table shows those 16 wins with some notes on how the comeback materialized. "Time" is the amount of time the team had to start their comeback from a multi-score deficit. Seven of these games required an act of God, otherwise known as an onside kick recovery.

NFL Teams: Won After Trailing by 10+ Points in Final 4:30 (2001-2018)
Team Quarterback Opp Year Week Down Time Result Comeback Notes
CHI Shane Matthews CLE 2001 8 21-7 1:52 W 27-21 OT 80-yd TD drive + onside kick + TD pass + OT GW pick-six
CIN Jon Kitna PIT 2001 16 23-10 3:54 W 26-23 OT 32-yd TD drive + onside kick + TD pass/XP failed + OT GW FG
IND Peyton Manning at TB 2003 5 35-21 3:37 W 38-35 OT *Onside kick + 58-yd TD drive + 3-and-out + TD run + OT GW FG
BAL Anthony Wright SEA 2003 12 41-31 4:16 W 44-41 OT 71-yd TD drive + 4th down stop + FG + OT GW FG
STL Marc Bulger at SEA 2004 5 27-17 3:37 W 33-27 OT 41-yd TD drive + forced punt + FG + OT GW TD pass
DAL Vinny Testaverde at SEA 2004 13 39-29 2:46 W 43-39 64-yd TD drive + onside kick + GW TD run w/0:32 left
NO Aaron Brooks at TB 2004 15 17-7 3:44 W 21-17 4-yd TD drive + fumble + GW TD pass w/0:32 left
MIA A.J. Feeley NE 2004 15 28-17 3:59 W 29-28 68-yd TD drive + INT + GW TD pass w/1:23 left
DAL Drew Bledsoe at PHI 2005 10 20-7 3:44 W 21-20 72-yd TD drive + game-winning pick-six w/2:43 left
STL Ryan Fitzpatrick at HOU 2005 12 27-17 2:49 W 33-27 OT 76-yd TD drive + onside kick + FG + OT GW TD pass
NYG Eli Manning at PHI 2006 2 24-14 4:11 W 30-24 OT 33-yd TD drive + forced punt + FG + OT GW TD pass
IND Peyton Manning NE 2009 10 34-21 4:12 W 35-34 79-yd TD drive + 4th down stop + GW TD pass w/0:13 left
NYJ Mark Sanchez at DET 2010 9 20-10 4:26 W 23-20 OT 56-yd TD drive + 3-and-out + FG + OT GW FG
IND Andrew Luck at DET 2012 13 33-21 4:02 W 35-33 85-yd TD drive + forced punt + GW TD pass w/0:00 left
NE Tom Brady CLE 2013 14 26-14 2:39 W 27-26 82-yd TD drive + onside kick + GW TD pass w/0:31 left
SEA Russell Wilson GB 2014 NFC-CG 19-7 3:52 W 28-22 OT 69-yd TD drive + onside kick + go-ahead TD + OT GW TD pass
*Colts actually trailed 35-14 with 5:09 left. TD run w/3:37 left led to onside kick recovery.

The most frustrating part was that Cleveland had already tried three two-point conversions in the game, including situations when it was hardly wise to do it such as leading 9-7 and 15-7 in the first half. Yet in a situation where it would have been highly advantageous, Jackson went with the conservative option to make it 42-34. Maybe the offense showed all its tricks with the first three conversion attempts, but that's why you save your best for when it's needed the most.

After Oakland scored its last touchdown, the big two-point conversion call was a fade to Jordy Nelson, who beat T.J. Carrie in single coverage for the tying score. Mayfield had one more shot in regulation from the 49 with 14 seconds left but forced an interception on a deep ball to send the game to overtime, where Oakland was the better team. The Browns went three-and-out on their only possession. New Oakland kicker Matthew McCrane missed a 50-yard field goal on the first overtime drive, but redeemed himself with a 29-yard field goal to win the game with 1:46 left.

The loss makes Cleveland the only franchise since it came back into the league in 1999 to lose multiple games when scoring at least 42 points. The 2004 Browns lost 58-48 to the Bengals. This is something that has happened only 19 times since 1940. There was definitely a win here for the taking, but Jackson's Browns were too sloppy to take it.

Detroit Lions 24 at Dallas Cowboys 26

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (24-23)
Game Winning Chance Before: 30.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 69.4 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (25-36 at 4QC and 34-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (6-6 at 4QC and 10-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Over their previous 11 games, the Cowboys had scored more than 20 points twice and only surpassed 350 yards of offense once. It has been a huge letdown after the first season and a half of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas. For at least one afternoon, the offense got back on track with a career day from Elliott (240 scrimmage yards).

Elliott had horrible receiving metrics through his first three games. He caught 11-of-18 targets for just 37 yards. Against Detroit, Elliott took a screen pass 38 yards for a touchdown to surpass that total on one play. That helped Dallas take a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but as is often the case when the Cowboys face Matthew Stafford, the Lions came back. Leading 20-17, Dallas had a good chance to put the game away with a very long drive. After calling timeout with 6:02 left and facing a second-and-goal from the Detroit 4, Dallas proceeded to throw two incomplete passes and kicked a field goal to take a 23-17 lead. That was about the worst strategy possible. Dallas should have run the ball, either with Elliott or using Prescott on a quarterback draw, and considered the drive four-down territory to try going up 10 points. The passes stopped the clock, and it's not like there is a red zone receiving weapon in this offense right now.

Stafford took advantage of the opportunity with another huge drive from Golden Tate, who caught all eight of his targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns. About the only thing you could say is that Detroit scored too quickly after Tate's 38-yard touchdown gave the Lions a 24-23 lead with 2:17 left. The Cowboys had three clock stoppages and only needed a field goal. Two plays into the drive, Detroit rookie Da'Shawn Hand almost had his second sack of the quarter. He knocked the ball out of Prescott's hand, but a fortunate bounce allowed Prescott to pick up the ball and scramble before throwing it away.

Offensive play-calling has definitely been criticized in Dallas since last year, but the Cowboys dialed up an unorthodox play that basically won the game. Elliott lined up in the slot and ran a vertical route right at linebacker Jarrad Davis, beating him for a 34-yard gain on a deep throw.

In his career, Elliott had three catches when lined up in the slot. Regardless of where he lined up, Elliott never had a catch on a pass thrown more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, so this was certainly a first for the offense.

Dallas did not throw another pass and relied on new kicker Brett Maher to make a 38-yard field goal. Maher missed his first attempt this season, but has hit eight in a row since. His kick gave Dallas the 26-24 win on a day when the offense opened up a bit, but Elliott becoming a monster in the passing game may not be the most sustainable strategy going forward.

Seattle Seahawks 20 at Arizona Cardinals 17

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 61.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 38.2 percent
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (27-52-1 at 4QC and 35-57-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (18-27-1 at 4QC and 24-29-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

How did Josh Rosen's first start at quarterback go for the Cardinals? Let's just say he had 58 passing yards on the team's first nine drives, and Seattle won despite finishing 0-for-10 on third down. Since 1991, road teams that failed to convert a third down were 7-48 (.127), so it was a fortunate win for the Seahawks despite the running game producing 30 carries for 150 yards. Mike Davis was the latest random back to hit 100 yards on the ground for the Seahawks, and he scored both touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might love the round numbers from the run game, but it was hardly a performance worth celebrating with the struggles of the passing game. Russell Wilson threw the shortest passes of any Week 4 quarterback with an average depth of target of 5.0 yards. There were also some illogical calls such as when Seattle ran on third-and-22 and third-and-19 in Arizona territory on a shaky day for kicker Sebastian Janikowski. When the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-1 late in the first half, they tried to pass, but Wilson took a sack. Wilson also faced a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter with a 17-10 lead, and again the Seahawks tried to throw instead of running in a situation when it's actually smart to run. If Schottenheimer's brand is to run when you shouldn't and pass when you shouldn't, then he sold it well on Sunday. It also doesn't help when Wilson fails to pull the trigger right away like he did on that third-and-1.

That set the stage for Rosen's comeback. He immediately answered with three big completions for 83 yards, including his first touchdown pass, a 22-yard dart to Chad Williams. Rosen had just missed out on a touchdown to Williams earlier in the game, and J.J. Nelson let him down with a big drop too, so it was good to see Rosen rewarded with a low catch there. After a Seattle three-and-out, Rosen hoped to lead his first game-winning drive, but the Cardinals did the conservative strategy of running three times after barely getting into field goal range for veteran Phil Dawson. Both kickers missed multiple field goals, but Dawson's 45-yard miss with 1:50 left really hurt. Seattle mixed in the run with two short passes for 15 yards to set up Janikowski, who redeemed himself with a 52-yard field goal as time expired for the 20-17 win.

San Francisco 49ers 27 at Los Angeles Chargers 29

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (27-26)
Game Winning Chance Before: 58.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 63.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 4.7 percent
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn (3-5 at 4QC and 3-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (25-63 at 4QC and 29-68 overall 4QC/GWD record)

One of the closest games of the week was the only one with a double-digit spread. In their first game without Jimmy Garoppolo (torn ACL), the 10-point underdog 49ers jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a pick-six in the game's first minute. Behind C.J. Beathard, the offense even strung together a 21-play drive, but that only ended in a field goal. Once the Chargers avoided turnovers and missed kicks, they eventually took a 26-17 lead in the third quarter, but the 49ers still came back. Tight end George Kittle had the season's longest play from scrimmage with an 82-yard touchdown after safety Jahleel Addae took a bad angle in the open field.

Beathard took a hard hit (something he did often as a 2017 rookie) on a scramble that threatened the 49ers to turn to backup Nick Mullens. Thankfully it never came to that and the 49ers led 27-26 after a field goal. Philip Rivers pulled out the 25th fourth-quarter comeback of his career with a few safe throws and a 34-yard run by Melvin Gordon, the offense's longest play of the day. That led to a 21-yard field goal that not even Caleb Sturgis could miss with 7:41 left.

Leading 29-27, the Chargers got the ball back and faced a fourth-and-1 at the San Francisco 37 with 3:57 left. Head coach Anthony Lynn decided to punt, pinning the 49ers at their 7. On a Sunday with some huge fourth-down decisions, I hated this one as much as any of them. Why risk losing to a field goal when you can just go for the yard and keep the drive going to potentially run out the clock? If you fail, the goal is the same either way (don't give up a score), and if anything, you might save more time for Rivers if the 49ers don't have to drive as long since they have less field to cover.

Beathard only needed one play to get the ball out to the 27, but two plays later the defense bailed Lynn out by hitting the quarterback in motion to get an interception from defensive end Isaac Rochell. Rivers only needed one completion for a first down to run out the clock and avoid another big favorite falling in this crazy 2018 season.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Ravens at Steelers: The Big (Ben) Empty Half

Other than New England, no team grinds Pittsburgh's gears like its rivals from Baltimore. The Steelers staged dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks at Heinz Field the last two seasons to stun Baltimore, but this time they failed to score a point after halftime, only the fourth time the Steelers have done that at home since 2004. This is also the first time in the Ben Roethlisberger era that the Steelers were held scoreless in a second half in consecutive games after getting blanked in Tampa Bay on Monday night despite 30 points at halftime.

This has been a bad three-week trend for the offense without Le'Veon Bell. Excluding games he left injured, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 100 more yards in the first half than he did in the second half 40 times. The Steelers were 37-3 in those games, and we expect a great record since throwing for fewer yards after halftime is usually a reflection of playing with the lead.

However, two of the three losses have been this year's unusual home games against the Chiefs and Ravens. Roethlisberger looked great in leading the Steelers back from a 21-0 deficit against the Chiefs to tie the game before halftime, but couldn't keep up with Patrick Mahomes in the second half in a 42-37 loss. On Sunday night, Roethlisberger again erased a 14-0 deficit to tie the game before halftime, when he had 224 yards. But in the second half, Roethlisberger only passed for 50 yards against the Ravens. His success rate on third and fourth down was 0-for-7 in the second half. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco passed for 363 yards and practically got whatever he wanted from Pittsburgh's secondary.

The game was still close late after the Ravens had to settle on Justin Tucker's golden leg for field goals in the second half. Down 20-14 in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger kept missing Anthony Levine in coverage when trying to force the ball to Antonio Brown. The Ravens got the ball back and held it for almost seven minutes to add another big field goal to make it 23-14 with 3:37 left. That should have been enough for a win, but three plays later, Levine picked Roethlisberger on another bad throw intended for Brown to put the final nail in the coffin. It was one of the most deflating halves for the Pittsburgh offense in quite some time.

In these last three weeks, the Steelers have looked one-dimensional on offense, but Roethlisberger had strong first halves anyway. But in the second half, the offense failed to do much of anything, hence the lack of continued production on the scoreboard and for Roethlisberger. In this game, Pittsburgh only had 10 carries for 20 yards from the running game, but those throws to Brown really stood out the most. Brown did have one spectacular touchdown on the night, but he's averaging 9.4 yards per catch and a 54.7 percent catch rate in 2018, both career lows. Roethlisberger's passing DVOA is -33.7% on targets to Brown this season. When you look at the great, consistent numbers these two have always put up together, it's easy to see that this has been a huge decline for the offense.

Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown (2010-2018 Regular Seasons)
Year DYAR DVOA Passes Yards aDOT YAC
2010 84 69.0% 16 148 6.6 7.6
2011 497 58.3% 120 1,090 12.8 4.9
2012 335 42.3% 98 735 9.9 5.2
2013 667 50.0% 170 1,541 11.0 5.2
2014 939 67.9% 186 1,794 10.3 4.6
2015 751 57.7% 163 1,702 11.4 4.2
2016 594 49.1% 148 1,232 10.6 3.7
2017 668 49.1% 169 1,688 14.0 4.8
2018 -78 -33.7% 54 273 10.2 4.9

For as much talk as there is about which player isn't there for the offense, the attention needs to be on the two superstars who are there and not connecting right now. The Steelers get Atlanta next, so maybe that will cure the second-half slumps in a game that I have to imagine will be featured here next week.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 19
Game-winning drives: 21 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 39/63 (61.9 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 10

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.


5 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2018, 8:40pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 4

"With the time left in the game, this lateral was Denver's only hope of making that throw work, but it didn't even look like Sanders was expecting it."

I've been trying to figure out (and I still haven't found the answer) if this was the actual play call. As noted above, it didn't seem like Sanders was looking for the ball. Also, Keenum needed to throw the ball a little earlier so Sutton had some separation from the DB to make the pitch. On one hand, Booker got downfield and threw a block, which could suggest it was a set play. On the other hand, maybe he was just alert and trying to spring whoever caught the ball. If this was the play call, it seemed like it's one they called out of desperation without actually practicing it much. Too bad, because it could have worked.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 4

I believe it was indeed the call. Watch Sanders on the route before the play: he's looking at Sutton more than looking back at the QB. and seems to slow up on his route so he ends up in front of Sutton as the ball is caught. I don't know what happens after the pitch would have happened, maybe he wanted to get upfield because he thought Sutton was faking the toss and would peel the other way.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 4

Good gosh, you had to bring that 2014 NFC title game cluster**** by the Packers. All those other games were in the regular season. This one only happened to be for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 4

To be fair to Wilson there, the gif you posted clearly shows him looking down and then turning around at the same time Tyler Lockett got open briefly. The better question there is why they're throwing on 3 and 1 in the 4th quarter with the lead when they've been able to run pretty consistently all day.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 4

About those 16 miracle wins, there's actually a 17th game that should probably be on there. I wanted to look that one up Monday night, but forgot about it until now.

It's the 2008 Colts at Texans "Rosencopter" game. It didn't come up in my search because the Colts, down 27-17 with 4:04 left, tried an onside kick. The Texans recovered and that's when the Rosencopter happened for a fumble TD. Then he fumbled again and Manning threw the GW TD to Wayne. That one didn't come up because the Colts started the initial TD drive when they were down 27-10 with 8:11 left.

Teams are 2-1497 since 2001 when trailing by 17+ in the final 5 minutes. Only wins are this game and the Colts' comeback in Tampa Bay.