Clutch Encounters

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

Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Scott Kacsmar

We started Week 5 with Tom Brady throwing his 500th touchdown pass, and ended it with Drew Brees becoming the NFL's new passing king. Neither of those games produced much fourth-quarter drama, but we did have eight games with a comeback opportunity on Sunday, including some interesting decisions with two-point conversions and fourth downs.

Game of the Week

Los Angeles Rams 33 at Seattle Seahawks 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (31-24)
Game Winning Chance Before: 57.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 63.3 percent
Win Probability Added: 5.7 percent
Head Coach: Sean McVay (2-4 at 4QC and 2-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jared Goff (2-6 at 4QC and 2-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Despite four go-ahead touchdown drives by Seattle on the day, the Rams moved to 5-0 and may have dealt the Seahawks (2-3) an early deathblow in the NFC West race. This was the most offensive-oriented game the Seahawks have played against the Rams in the Russell Wilson era, but at the same time it was not that much about Wilson. He only attempted 21 passes, took two sacks, and did not register a rush for the first time in his 113-game career (including playoffs). Of course, the talk is about the final rush that Jared Goff had, but we'll get to that shortly.

Down 31-24, the Rams first needed a fourth-quarter comeback, which is something they have only done once under Sean McVay so far. They almost got it taken care of before the third quarter ended after starting the drive with one of those jet sweep runs for a 56-yard gain by Robert Woods. That led to Woods drawing a pass interference flag on Shaquill Griffin on a fourth-and-2 after the defender bumped him too early. Todd Gurley then scored a 5-yard touchdown, but new kicker Cairo Santos missed the extra point, keeping Seattle ahead 31-30. If there's a flaw with the Rams right now, it's that normal kicker Greg Zuerlein is still out with an injury.

After Ndamukong Suh sacked Wilson on a third down, the Rams quickly marched again. They settled for runs inside scoring range before Santos was good on a 39-yard field goal with 6:05 left to take a 33-31 lead. Wilson extended a play and struck deep to Tyler Lockett for 44 yards to instantly put the Seahawks in range for a go-ahead field goal, but that attempt never came. Two penalties on offensive linemen brought up a second-and-23, and Wilson had to eat the ball twice with a batted pass and a throwaway to bring out the punting unit.

The Rams had 3:28 and two Seattle timeouts to burn through. Despite the three rushing touchdowns, Gurley had been mostly held in check with 22 carries for 77 yards. Then he had some impressive runs late to put the Rams in position to win the game with one more yard. I thought Pete Carroll botched his timeout usage, saving them for after the two-minute warning. If he had used them after first and second down, the Rams (assuming their runs had stayed in bounds) should have had a third down with about 2:30 left. Would they have thrown it to ice the game, or just run the ball to take the clock down to 2:00 if they did not convert? Since Seattle did not call timeout, the Rams did the smart thing and ran on third-and-1, but Gurley was stopped.

Facing fourth-and-1 at his own 42 with 1:39 left, McVay's initial decision was to punt. I have to say I agree with that call. If it had been a 34-31 lead, then by all means go for the win with a run. But in a 33-31 game, a stop would basically have left the Rams a few yards away from losing to a last-second field goal. Make Wilson drive the field with a limited receiving corps on a day where they tried to establish the run instead. According to EdjSports, the Rams' Game Winning Chance by punting was 94.6 percent, but dropped to 90.9 percent by going for it.

However, what if the Rams were to run the most efficient scrimmage play in the game: the quarterback sneak? That would get me on board to go for it, but it wasn't until Carroll called his final timeout with 1:39 left that McVay decided to put the offense back on the field. Goff plowed ahead on the quarterback sneak and showed some rare emotion in celebrating the play after securing the win on the conversion. Wilson never got the ball back and the Rams remain undefeated thanks to their coach going with the smartest play call in that situation.

Quarterback runs in general are the best short-yardage strategy to convert in the NFL, but the quarterback sneak is especially great. We've compiled the data on all fourth-and-1 runs by quarterbacks since 2011. Broken plays include aborted snaps and botched handoffs.

Quarterbacks: Fourth-and-1 Runs Since 2011
Type of run Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
QB Sneak 197 165 83.8%
Scramble 14 14 100.0%
QB Bootleg 10 10 100.0%
Option/zone-read 8 7 87.5%
Broken play 8 1 12.5%
QB Dive 7 7 100.0%
QB Sweep 4 2 50.0%
QB Draw 2 2 100.0%
Total 250 208 83.2%

Since 2011, quarterback runs on fourth-and-1 have converted 83.2 percent of the time. The quarterback sneak worked 83.8 percent of the time. Since 2016, the quarterback sneak is 67-of-70 (95.7 percent). The only miss so far in 2018 was actually Goff on a sneak against the Cardinals in Week 2, but no one remembers that because the Rams were up 27-0 in the fourth quarter. This was a huge spot, but with numbers like this, do you really think Goff was going to get stopped again? It was just the smart, percentage call by McVay, even if it took a Carroll timeout to bring him around to it.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

New York Giants 31 at Carolina Panthers 33

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (31-30)
Game Winning Chance Before: 13.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 99.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 86.1 percent
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (13-30-1 at 4QC and 16-33-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (13-29-1 at 4QC and 16-31-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

What a tough loss for the Giants (1-4). New York finally scored 30 points for the first time in 37 games, but lost after one of the greatest field goals in NFL history by Graham Gano. If anyone can hold their head high after this one, it's Gano, who also made all his extra points and a pair of 47-yard field goals too.

Let's be extra cautious in saying that the Giants offense is on track. Saquon Barkley had runs of 30 and 20 yards, but his other 13 carries combined to lose 2 yards. His biggest gain was catching a 57-yard touchdown from Odell Beckham Jr. on a trick play that they probably can't go back to the rest of the year.

Things weren't all stellar for Beckham. He touched a punt that the Panthers were able to recover for a touchdown in the second quarter, keeping New York in catchup mode all day. The offense was still 0-for-7 on third downs and Eli Manning threw two bad interceptions. The second looked to make this a dull finish at 27-16 in the fourth quarter, but then Cam Newton threw his second pick. That led to a great 33-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Beckham and a two-point conversion to make it 27-24, Panthers.

A lot of blame would have gone around had Carolina lost this game with all the breakdowns from various areas in the final quarter. The offense had a good drive going with the lead, but things eventually bogged down in the red zone and another field goal was kicked to take a 30-24 lead with 2:16 left. The Giants thought they had a quick strike with a 55-yard touchdown pass, but Russell Shepard was touched down after 40 yards. That was actually a good thing since the Giants wouldn't want to score too early, but they got the touchdown on the next play after Manning found Barkley for a 15-yard catch where he leaped into the end zone.

Newton had 1:08 and one timeout left from his own 25 to answer. He delivered a couple of rockets, but calmed down and moved the offense to a third-and-1 at the New York 46. The Panthers used their final timeout with 30 seconds left, which is why it was so surprising to see a run called with Christian McCaffrey. Honestly, it didn't even look like McCaffrey picked up the first down, so it was strange to see the Panthers get away with spiking the ball on what appeared to have been fourth down. The game was not stopped for a review of the spot, so the Panthers dodged one there.

With 11 seconds left, Newton threw a pass out of bounds. Before you knew it, Gano was coming out for an extremely long field goal. With six seconds left, it seemed like there was enough time to try one more sideline pass to get a little closer, but that wasn't Carolina's strategy. This drive was poorly executed, but Gano made it irrelevant with an incredible kick. We would rarely ever show a kick here, but this one is totally worth it with the Spanish broadcast audio.

That only left time for the Giants to try some laterals on a kick return, which was fumbled out of bounds as the Panthers escaped with the win.

Gano's 63-yard field goal is tied for the second longest in NFL history. Matt Prater hit a 64-yard field goal at Denver in 2013, but that didn't win the game. The only other kicker to hit a 63-yard game-winning field goal was Tom Dempsey for the 1970 Saints at Tulane Stadium. If you're a Giants fan, you won't like the next table. It shows that two of the five longest game-winning field goals in NFL history have come against your team since 2017. Jake Elliott won a game for the Eagles last year with a 61-yard field goal against the Giants.

Longest Game-Winning Field Goals in NFL History
Kicker Date Team Opp Score Final Time Left Distance
Tom Dempsey 11/8/1970 NO DET Down 17-16 W 19-17 0:00 63
Graham Gano 10/7/2018 CAR NYG Down 31-30 W 33-31 0:01 63
Matt Bryant 10/22/2006 TB PHI Down 21-20 W 23-21 0:00 62
Justin Tucker 12/16/2013 BAL at DET Down 16-15 W 18-16 0:38 61
Jake Elliott 9/24/2017 PHI NYG Tied 24-24 W 27-24 0:00 61
Rob Bironas 12/3/2006 TEN IND Tied 17-17 W 20-17 0:07 60
Josh Scobee 10/3/2010 JAX IND Tied 28-28 W 31-28 0:00 59

Miami Dolphins 17 at Cincinnati Bengals 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 14 (17-3)
Game Winning Chance Before: 68.4 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 78.9 percent
Win Probability Added: 10.5 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (36-72-2 at 4QC and 47-74-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (17-28-2 at 4QC and 23-30-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Barring a tie, one of these teams was unexpectedly going to start 4-1. Cincinnati bungled its way into a 17-0 hole after a tipped interception in the red zone, a blocked 37-yard field goal, and a 71-yard Jakeem Grant punt return for a touchdown before halftime. After the Bengals stopped the bleeding, they finished on a major high note. In fact, the Bengals are just the fourth team in NFL history to win a game by double digits after trailing by at least 14 points going into the fourth quarter.

The turning point came late in the third quarter when Miami safety T.J. McDonald hit C.J. Uzomah from behind after he was reaching for a high pass. That 15-yard penalty erased a third-down stop, and the Bengals kept driving to start the final quarter. Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill are no strangers to games heavily decided by non-offensive scores. In the 2013 matchup between Miami and Cincinnati, Cameron Wake ended things in overtime with a rare walk-off safety. Wake was inactive on Sunday, but Dalton was still under heavy pressure when he found Joe Mixon for an 18-yard touchdown pass on a deep throw to make it 17-10.

Tannehill, staying on brand, was not as effective under pressure in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins lost left tackle Laremy Tunsil in this game. His backup was beat on a play, but Tannehill stepped away from that rush and tried to get rid of the ball. His pass bounced off his own lineman and ended up in Michael Johnson's hands for a 22-yard pick-six to tie the game at 17.

A holding penalty on Miami's other starting tackle, Ja'Wuan James, blew up the next drive too. Three big runs for 50 yards by Mixon led to a 20-yard field goal by Randy Bullock to give the Bengals their first lead (20-17) with 3:30 left.

Miami had plenty of time, but the Dolphins had a horrible drive. Kenyan Drake lost 2 yards on a pass into the flat. A false start and misfire quickly brought up third-and-17. Tannehill was going to launch a bomb, but James pushed Carlos Dunlap into his quarterback as he was about to release to cause a fumble, which was picked up by Sam Hubbard for another defensive touchdown. The Bengals led 27-17, and then Tannehill threw another interception out of desperation.

After starting 3-0, Miami's offense has scored 17 points in New England and Cincinnati while giving up a pair of defensive touchdowns.

Dallas Cowboys 16 at Houston Texans 19

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 54.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 46.0 percent
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (10-20 at 4QC and 11-20 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson (1-4 at 4QC and 2-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Houston needed a lengthy overtime again to take care of Dallas on Sunday night. The Texans scored just one touchdown on six trips in the red zone. A couple of those goal-line stands were the main reason why they couldn't shake a competitive Dallas team that was missing a lot of key players.

When you watch what Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff are doing with great offensive coaching and talent around them, you feel a bit bad for Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson. Both are talented quarterbacks, and it was a miracle this game only featured three sacks after all of the times they had to escape pressure to make something happen. Prescott evading J.J. Watt to make this big play in the fourth quarter was shades of what Tony Romo did to Watt when these teams met in 2014.

Prescott's escape only led to a game-tying field goal. But there were other moments where one of these quarterbacks would make a play, only to see a receiver fail to make the catch, or a coach make a decision that was head scratching at best. In overtime, Dallas had the first possession and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Houston 42. Head coach Jason Garrett punted, which was bad enough in that it triggered a sudden death situation, but his explanation after the game was even worse. Garrett cited that it was a "long" yard to go, and he thought his defense was playing well.

A "long" fourth-and-1 is still a singular yard, and when your team boasts about having a franchise running back and great offensive line, then you should be expected to get that yard in crunch time.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Also…

As for the defense, that's an absurd statement to make in the context of what sudden death overtime means. The Cowboys did a great job of keeping Houston out of the end zone, but they weren't stopping them short of scoring territory that well. The Texans already had 390 yards on 11 regulation drives, and six of those drives traveled into field goal range. The last drive of regulation may have been the seventh to get there, but Watson was intercepted after trying too hard to make a play in the final 20 seconds. If Watson had had more time -- like he would after Garrett punted back to him in overtime -- then that drive too may have set up for a winning field goal.

On the fourth play of Houston's overtime drive, Watson found DeAndre Hopkins, who showed off some uncharacteristic YAC skills for a huge 49-yard gain.

After three runs, Ka'imi Fairbairn came out for the 36-yard field goal to win the game. He nailed it to avoid the Texas Forever Tie, and Watson quickly had a second game-winning drive in the books. Good things usually happen when a team puts the ball in the hands of its best players rather than the punter in overtime.

Baltimore Ravens 9 at Cleveland Browns 12

Type: GWD (OT)
Game Winning Chance Before: 42.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 57.2 percent
Head Coach: Hue Jackson (2-19-1 at 4QC and 4-20-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield (1-1 at 4QC and 2-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

It's pretty amusing to see a team go from 0-16 to experiencing every type of possible outcome in the following season's first five games. The 2-2-1 Browns have won (Jets) and lost (Saints) in regulation, won (Ravens) and lost (Raiders) in overtime, and started the year with that overtime tie (Steelers). Even better: this team might have a quarterback on a rookie contract and a top-tier defense. The 12-9 final isn't too surprising with two defenses ranked in the top four in DVOA coming into Week 5, but Baker Mayfield worked through some more growing pains to post his first 300-yard passing game and a second game-winning drive this season.

The Browns almost didn't get to overtime this week. Joe Flacco welcomed Cleveland's three-man rush on third-and-10 to deliver a pass to Michael Crabtree, but the receiver did not come down with what would have been a nice touchdown catch in the final minute. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to tie the game at 9.

In the closing seconds of regulation, Mayfield was moving the offense again, but Jarvis Landry made a huge mistake on a 17-yard reception. Landry could have easily ducked out of bounds just inside the 40 with about 30 seconds left, but he cut back into the field and was tackled in bounds. That led to a spike with 16 seconds left, costing the Browns precious time and a down. Cleveland could have then called any play with one timeout left, but Mayfield threw two incomplete passes to bring up fourth down. New kicker Greg Joseph has not been tested much from beyond 35 yards, and he had already missed an extra point in this game. He gave the game-winning field goal a shot from 55 yards away, but was wide left.

The game went to overtime, where the defenses tightened up (to put it lightly). On Cleveland's second possession of overtime, Mayfield threw incomplete to Landry on a fourth-and-5 at the Baltimore 39. On the play, Brandon Carr just leveled Landry with the ball in the air, but there was no flag for pass interference. I think citing "uncatchable" is incredibly underutilized by officials, but it's hard to say that for a pass thrown in bounds when the defensive back just knocks a receiver to the ground. Maybe the pass would have looked catchable by normal standards without that hit.

The Ravens went three-and-out, and Mayfield had 2:57 left to avoid a second Cleveland tie. With the refs basically swallowing their whistles, Mayfield used his legs for a 13-yard scramble and a 39-yard catch-and-run by someone named Derrick Willies. (If you're a fan of The IT Crowd, then it's all but impossible to hear the announcer say "Willies off to the races!" and not burst into laughter.) Four plays later, Joseph was back out for another game-winning attempt with six seconds left. This one was from only 37 yards away, but we came very close to another tie after one of the ugliest game-winning field goals you will ever see had just enough to get through for a 12-9 win.

This game set some obscure history. The 54 combined pass completions are the most in NFL history in a game with fewer than 23 combined points. The 21 combined points are the second fewest in NFL history in a game with at least 100 combined pass attempts. The Redskins and 49ers had 20 points in a game with 100 passes thrown in 1986.

Tennessee Titans 12 at Buffalo Bills 13

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 2 (12-10)
Game Winning Chance Before: 35.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 64.2 percent
Head Coach: Sean McDermott (2-4 at 4QC and 4-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Allen (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Coming into Week 5, Buffalo was the only team in the NFL to not have played in a close game this season. That's a bad thing when your record is 1-3, but the Titans are always there to help a team slug things out for 60 minutes. Marcus Mariota thought he was working on an eighth game-winning drive in his last 17 outings, but Nick Williams had a horrific touchdown drop on a third down with 10:34 left to play.

That led to a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Succop and the Titans still trailed 10-9. The Titans got the ball back when Adoree' Jackson played good coverage on Andre Holmes and was able to tip a pass to himself for an interception. Mariota was later stripped of the ball by Jerry Hughes, but the Titans were fortunate to have the ball knocked out of bounds to bring up fourth down. Succop hit a 50-yard field goal to give Tennessee a 12-10 lead with 4:43 left.

The first fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive opportunity of Josh Allen's career went about as expected. Buffalo leaned on the run all day, and it was no different late with only a field goal needed for the win. To avoid a three-and-out, Allen threw short of the sticks on third-and-3, but LeSean McCoy dodged at least four tackles to create a 13-yard gain, Allen's longest completion of the game. The Bills only threw one more pass, which was a screen for 7 yards that burned Tennessee's last timeout with 1:37 left. On a third down, Allen slid to "center the ball" as coaches like to say, but that play actually lost 3 yards and wasn't really necessary with Buffalo having three timeouts left. The Bills called their first with four seconds left to set up Steven Hauschka for a 46-yard field goal. The kick was good and the Bills had their second win of the season.

According to Pro Football Reference, Buffalo is the 26th team since the merger to win two games as a 6-point underdog or worse in the season's first five weeks. The last team to do so was the 2014 Bills, a team that finished 9-7.

Allen finished the game with 82 passing yards on 10-of-19 passing. He's just the 15th quarterback since 1986 to get credit for playing a full game with a fourth-quarter comeback and a game-winning drive without passing for 100 yards.


Quarterbacks: Credited with Full Game, 4QC/GWD, and Fewer Than 100 Passing Yards (Since 1986)

Player Date Team Opp Result Cmp Att. Pct. Yds TD INT PR Sk Yds Runs Yds TD Net Yds
Josh Allen 10/7/2018 BUF TEN W 13-12 10 19 52.6% 82 0 1 42.0 1 3 4 19 1 98
Brett Hundley 12/3/2017 GB TB W 26-20 13 22 59.1% 84 0 1 48.3 2 7 7 66 0 143
Mike McMahon 12/18/2005 PHI at STL W 17-16 15 28 53.6% 97 1 3 33.5 4 21 7 17 0 93
Mike McMahon 11/27/2005 PHI GB W 19-14 12 28 42.9% 91 0 0 51.3 0 0 6 22 0 113
Jim Miller 12/23/2001 CHI at WAS W 20-15 13 26 50.0% 98 0 0 59.5 0 0 3 0 0 98
Jon Kitna 11/5/2000 SEA SD W 17-15 11 19 57.9% 85 2 1 82.1 1 7 0 0 0 78
Donovan McNabb 11/14/1999 PHI WAS W 35-28 8 21 38.1% 60 0 0 46.3 3 22 9 49 0 87
Bobby Hoying 11/8/1998 PHI DET W 10-9 15 21 71.4% 97 0 0 80.9 5 27 2 -4 0 66
Rich Gannon 11/16/1997 KC DEN W 24-22 11 21 52.4% 98 1 1 61.2 1 2 6 20 0 116
Kordell Stewart 9/7/1997 PIT WAS W 14-13 8 17 47.1% 82 0 1 36.9 1 9 10 70 1 143
Jim Harbaugh 11/21/1993 CHI at KC W 19-17 13 20 65.0% 98 0 2 37.1 1 2 8 56 0 152
Jim Harbaugh 10/27/1991 CHI at NO W 20-17 5 22 22.7% 61 1 2 16.9 3 25 5 24 0 60
Steve DeBerg 11/4/1990 KC LARD W 9-7 10 21 47.6% 59 0 0 54.3 2 14 3 -3 0 42
Jim McMahon 11/12/1989 SD LARD W 14-12 9 20 45.0% 88 0 1 37.1 3 22 5 21 0 87
Mark Malone 12/6/1987 PIT SEA W 13-9 11 18 61.1% 99 0 0 75.9 0 0 4 31 0 130

Some of these quarterbacks had good rushing days, and Allen did run for another touchdown, but he only had 98 net yards (passing + rushing - sacks) on the day. It takes a lot for this Buffalo team to win in spite of the offense.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Vikings at Eagles: Maybe Not This Year's NFC Championship Game

It won't make up for the embarrassing loss in January's NFC Championship Game, but the Vikings did their part to hopefully avoid making another trip to Philadelphia this season with a win that was more convincing than the 23-21 final would suggest. If you consider that the Eagles were resting starters in last season's Week 17 loss to Dallas, the 2-3 Eagles have already lost more meaningful games this year than in 2017 (two). This was the first time the Eagles lost a home game they fully tried to win since Week 14 of the 2016 season against Washington. Kirk Cousins was also the opposing quarterback that day and the Vikings should be glad to have him on their side now.

Cousins paced the Vikings to a 20-3 lead in the third quarter, and that was even after veteran kicker Dan Bailey missed two makeable field goals. Down 20-6, the Eagles tried to rally in the fourth quarter after Carson Wentz threw a 12-yard touchdown to Wendell Smallwood that probably wouldn't have been a touchdown under the Calvin Johnson rule, but the NFL has finally changed that this year.

Change in other areas in the NFL is harder to come by. Expecting an extra point to make it 20-13, spectators had to be surprised to see Doug Pederson pull the very unconventional move of going for a two-point conversion. Since the advent of the two-point conversion to the NFL in 1994, there have been 371 touchdowns scored by a team trailing by exactly 14 points in the fourth quarter (including playoffs). Those teams kicked the extra point 367 times. Only Bill Belichick (1994 Browns), Jimmy Johnson (1998 Dolphins on a direct snap to the kicker), and Brian Billick (2001 Ravens) had attempted the two-point conversion before Pederson joined that exclusive club. This is something I've wanted to see, but it's been almost 17 years since a coach even tried.

I think it was a smart move and should become the standard strategy in the fourth quarter. Simply put: 14-point comebacks like this are really hard. Since 2001, teams down exactly 14 points with possession of the ball in the fourth quarter have only gone on to win 5.4 percent of the time (record of 32-570-1), according to ESPN Stats & Info. According to EdjSports, Pederson increased the Eagles' Game Winning Chance by 1.2 percent (up to 15.6 percent) by deciding to go for two. Those numbers feel right, because for the aforementioned 371 teams that were fortunate to get the first touchdown, they still produced a game record of 42-328-1 (.115).

If a coach realizes the fact that his team is unlikely to win this game, then he should strategize in a way that makes the unlikely a little more likely. By going for two, it opens up the possibility of winning in regulation. Even if the play (roughly a 50/50 proposition) failed, then Pederson was still in a 20-12 game with a chance to tie after the next touchdown. The only possible downside to this would be if the Vikings defense had returned the attempt for two points (impossible until recent rule changes), but that's so unlikely that it shouldn't even really be factored into the process. Missing the extra point now that it's from 33 yards away is more realistic than giving a team two points the other way. Case in point: since 2015 kickers are 59-of-62 (95.2 percent) on the longer extra point in this specific situation as opposed to 297-of-305 (97.4 percent) when the extra point was shorter.

Since 2016, Pederson has gone for two 17 times, the most attempts in the league. The Eagles have converted 12 times. This was another success with Smallwood taking the toss right in for the score to make it 20-14. Fate seemed to be smiling on the Eagles after that call. On the very next possession, Cousins threw a backwards pass to rookie back Roc Thomas, but Thomas dropped the live ball and the Eagles recovered for a fumble. Philadelphia was just 30 yards away from taking the lead and a comeback win no longer looked improbable. But Danielle Hunter blew the drive up by forcing Wentz into an intentional grounding penalty. The Eagles actually ended up losing 15 yards on the drive after taking a delay of game penalty and punting.

Cousins managed the pressure well and found Kyle Rudolph on a key third-and-1 for 17 yards to move into scoring territory. That led to a 52-yard field goal by Bailey and the Vikings led 23-14 with 2:47 left. At least Bailey made the big one.

The Vikings played very soft defense on Philadelphia's last drive, giving up a touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 1:09 left, but it all came down to recovering an onside kick. Adam Thielen continued to set history by becoming the first player with 100 receiving yards in each of his team's first five games. He had some real trouble recovering the onside kick after bobbling the ball, but got on top of it to end the game and notch a big win for the 2-2-1 Vikings.

Cardinals at 49ers: The Battle for Last Place

The 49ers (30th) and Cardinals (31st) entered Week 5 with the worst DVOA among NFC teams, and this was essentially a battle to stay out of last place in the conference. With the Cardinals getting the first win of the Steve Wilks-Josh Rosen era, it probably is safe to say that the 49ers, minus Jimmy Garoppolo, are the bottom of the NFC this year. Much like in last year's 1-10 start before Garoppolo took over, Kyle Shanahan's team competed, but couldn't pull the game out late.

This was a 14-6 lead by Arizona for quite some time. Robbie Gould missed a 45-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. He had made 49 of his first 51 kicks with the team. In making his second start this season, C.J. Beathard drove the offense 83 yards for a touchdown, but was unable to connect on a two-point conversion -- a bubble screen that was batted away -- that would have tied the game at 14 with 6:51 left. After getting the ball back, Beathard had the ball knocked out of his hand by a blitzing Haason Reddick, who beat backup back Alfred Morris in pass protection. Josh Bynes recovered the fumble for a 23-yard touchdown to make it 21-12. Reddick had been reportedly on the trade block, so hopefully this will let the Cardinals give the second-year player and former first-round pick more time to develop.

On a fourth-and-19, Beathard was intercepted on a desperation throw that the Cardinals returned to the San Francisco 26 to net a yard of field position. That led to a 6-yard touchdown run by David Johnson to put this one away for sure at 28-12. A late touchdown run by Beathard produced the 28-18 final. Rosen didn't have to do much after an early 75-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Christian Kirk, but it was a good day for a lot of high Arizona draft picks to finally get the team in the win column.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 23
Game-winning drives: 27 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 47/78 (60.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 11

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

13 comments, Last at 11 Oct 2018, 11:35am

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Oct 09, 2018 - 5:21pm

It's weird that of the 7 longest game-winning kicks, the Lions, Colts, and Giants have all lost two apiece.

The Giants and Lions both share a wealth of walkoff special teams plays.

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6 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by ChrisS // Oct 10, 2018 - 11:28am

Seeing Tom Dempsey's name up there gives me flashbacks to my first remembered heart-break administered by the Lions.

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2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by johonny // Oct 09, 2018 - 5:36pm

This might be Tannehill's last season in Miami. They wouldn't carry 4 qbs if they were satisfied with Tannehill. A lot of Miami's press was all over the usually untouchable Tannehill. It's more than oline problems going on if you believe the Miami writers.

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3 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Oct 09, 2018 - 5:52pm

When discussing going for two when down two scores, I immediately thought of this game:
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199911140crd.htm

Detroit trailed Arizona 23-7 in the 4th quarter. TD cuts it to 23-13. Going for two to try to make it an 8 point game makes sense, but it failed. Detroit scored another TD to make it 23-19 with around 5 mins left. Instead of opting for the PAT to make it a 3 point game, Bobby Ross decided to go for two again (of course it failed). The Lions got the ball back and drove into field goal range, but ended up having to go for it on 4th and short (since they no longer had the option of kicking the tying field goal), and lost the game. Of course, Ross was excoriated by the media afterwards.

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7 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by ChrisS // Oct 10, 2018 - 11:35am

Despite having basically a 500 record with the Lions, my impression is that Ross was a lousy coach. Probably influenced by being the cause of Sanders retirement.

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10 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Oct 10, 2018 - 3:22pm

In retrospect, I think the Ross did pretty good job in 1999 and the first half of 2000 (before he resigned in the middle of the season). Once Sanders retired and Herman Moore got hurt, those Lions teams had 5-11 talent, so going 13-12 over 1.5 seasons with them is pretty impressive. This was confirmed when the same group of players went 2-14 and 3-13 in consecutive years with a new coaching staff.

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11 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Oct 10, 2018 - 4:47pm

Ross was a pretty good tactical coach who wasn't real popular in the locker room. He followed a relatively popular, relatively successful minority coach who had worn out his welcome with management. In the end, the team couldn't stand his bullshit and he couldn't stand theirs.

There are a lot of similarities between Patricia and Ross and Fontes and Caldwell.

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4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by bravehoptoad // Oct 09, 2018 - 7:39pm

That 49ers-Cardinals game featured something like a 3:1 advantage for the 49ers in first downs, a 2:1 advantage in yards, and a 2:1 advantage in time of possession. Also the 49ers turned the ball over 5 times to 0 for the Cardinals.

Crazy game.

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5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Mike B. In Va // Oct 10, 2018 - 9:18am

Man, there are a lot of Chicago QBs that have GWD with under 100 yards passing.

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9 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Eddo // Oct 10, 2018 - 2:27pm

The best part of the Jim Miller game listed in the article is that the game-winning touchdown catch was a throw from punter/holder Brad Maynard to some rookie linebacker named Brian Urlacher on a fake field goal.

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8 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by AnonyRuss // Oct 10, 2018 - 1:00pm

"I thought Pete Carroll botched his timeout usage, saving them for after the two-minute warning."

This. This. And this again. I was in the stands practically beside myself when he did that. It made no sense to me then and I'm so glad someone else said it too. Instead of all the focus being on the last time out that led to the QB sneak, the best play possible, it should be on why he didn't use those time outs earlier. So frustrating because it felt like the Seahawks had a great shot to pull of the comeback.

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13 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Joe Pancake // Oct 11, 2018 - 11:35am

This is another example of what I call "The Fallacy of Saving Timeouts. "

So often coaches let the clock run under the apparent rationale that they will need their timeout(s) later. The fallacy, of course, is that by letting the clock run you are *guaranteeing* the thing you don't want to happen in the future (time running off the clock) will happen now -- 40 seconds off the clock is 40 seconds off the clock, whether there are three minutes left or one.

Once it becomes clear a team needs to preserve the clock, the optimal strategy is to call timeout immediately if a significant portion of the clock will run down otherwise. Repeat, until you have no more timeouts.

In the Seahawks case, Pete should have called timeout early because the clock might have stopped on its own later. The Rams could've thrown an incompletion or gotten a penalty or an injury (and the two-minute warning was coming).

We saw this in the Browns game too where Hue Jackson didn't call timeout after the Browns got a big play, even though it meant running a lot of time off the clock (because players had to run a long way to line up for the next play). It forced him to settle for a long field goal attempt, never even calling the timeout at all.

Bring on clock management coaches!

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12 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by andrew // Oct 11, 2018 - 8:52am

on the spanish broadcast of Gano's kick, they kept repeating "¡Gano lo gano!".

"gano" in spanish means "won". So they were saying "Gano won it", but the name works perfectly in this case, so "¡Gano lo gano!" indeed.

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