by Scott Kacsmar
Say what you will about the 2018 NFL season, but it is good to see head coaches take more chances in regards to fourth downs and two-point conversions. Not all of the moves have worked, but hopefully good process continues to be studied and emulated with future successes on the way. Trying to "win the game" has been referenced this season by the likes of Frank Reich and Mike Vrabel, and we even had Pat Shurmur say that "we'd discussed internally the math" on going for two while down by eight. Those are new head coaches this year, and we still have some of the old guard moving things in the right direction as well. It is baby steps, but it at least looks to be progress.
It should also be noted that fourth-quarter comeback opportunities have been successful 34.1 percent of the time this season, which would be the highest success rate in the last six years.
Week 7 featured a couple of blowouts in prime time, but we still had seven games with a comeback opportunity. The three game-winning drives just happened to all come from the NFC South, with two of the finest road comebacks in years from New Orleans and Carolina leading the way.
Game of the Week
New Orleans Saints 24 at Baltimore Ravens 23
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (17-7)
Game Winning Chance Before: 33.1 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 60.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 27.3 percent
Head Coach: Sean Payton (27-45 at 4QC and 37-48 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (33-59 at 4QC and 48-66 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Aggressive Sean Payton is back, and he helped the Saints win what may have been their biggest road victory since the 2013 playoffs in Philadelphia. New Orleans opened the game with a 20-play drive that consumed 10:03 and featured four attempts on fourth down. According to ESPN Stats & Info, no other team since at least 2001 had even tried more than two fourth downs in the first quarter of a game. Unfortunately, the Saints failed to score after a fourth-and-1 pitch from gadget quarterback Taysom Hill to Alvin Kamara was bobbled and lost on a play that always looked doomed.
That drive took up one-sixth of the game; combined with efficient offense the rest of the way, it led to just 15 possessions between the two teams. The Saints couldn't waste any of their other possessions against Baltimore's No. 1 scoring defense, which had not surrendered a second-half touchdown all season. That's why things looked dire when the Ravens took a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Saints were only working on their fifth possession of the day. Kamara scored on a 2-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal, and the defense responded by forcing a three-and-out after Alex Okafor sacked Joe Flacco on third down.
Drew Brees threw his 500th touchdown pass in the first half, but was looking for 501 to be a game-winner. He had to overcome a sack by Terrell Suggs to start the drive. Eventually, the Saints went back to the Hill package on a key third down, but he was stopped short to bring up fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 18 with just over 7 minutes left. In a 17-14 game, most coaches are taking the game-tying field goal there, but Payton wanted to go for it. I liked the call, because the Saints are one of the smart teams about the quarterback sneak. Brees does a good job of extending the ball forward before pulling it back, and he did so here to get the conversion. Three plays later, Brees found Michael Thomas for a 5-yard touchdown to take a 21-17 lead with 4:58 left.
The Saints are only the second team in the last 18 seasons to go for a fourth down, trailing by a field goal in the last eight minutes, with the ball between the 10 and the 20. The only other time this happened was when Minnesota's Adrian Peterson scored on an 11-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 against Dallas in 2013.
Baltimore's response drive was aided by two defensive pass interference penalties, but eventually stalled at the New Orleans 36 after Flacco threw into a crowd on fourth-and-6. The Saints remained aggressive in the four-minute offense, but the execution could have been better. Twice they went out of bounds to stop the clock, and they were hit with a delay of game penalty despite having timeouts to avoid that. Brees also threw a pass away on third down to save another clock stoppage for the Ravens. At least the drive gained enough yards for Wil Lutz to make a 39-yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-17.
It's a good thing that kick was good, because the defense is still a real liability for New Orleans. Despite not blitzing, the Saints left receivers open and missed tackles. The closest the Saints ever got to Flacco the rest of the way was a facemask penalty on the drive's first play. He then hit six passes in a row, easily diagnosing the Saints' lack of a pass rush and soft coverage. With 28 seconds left, the Saints inexcusably rushed two defenders while dropping the other two linemen to cover crisp pockets of Baltimore air. A quick throw found John Brown, the Ravens' leading receiver this year, alone in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown after Marshon Lattimore expected safety help. That was all way too easy for Baltimore.
The only thing left before overtime was an extra point from Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the NFL. The FOX announcer barely finished his sentence on how Tucker had never missed an extra point in his career before the kick hooked wide right with 24 seconds left. The look on Tucker's face after his first ever missed extra point says it all about how shocking this was.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 22, 2018
Tucker had made the first 222 extra points of his regular-season career and all 23 extra points in the postseason, and he was also 78-for-78 on field goals from 33 yards and closer, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Even in college at Texas, Tucker was 71-for-71 on extra points and only missed two 31-yard field goals in the 2011 season. So it has been a long time since Tucker missed a kick this short, and he certainly has never missed a kick this important. It just goes to show that even the best players can have an off moment in a long career.
Since 2001, kickers had been 345-of-353 (97.7 percent) on game-tying extra points in the fourth quarter. Five of the missed kicks have happened on the 33-yard extra point since 2016. That doesn't include three other kicks that were aborted after a bad snap or hold. The following table shows all 11 of these failures, and Baltimore's is only the fifth to happen in the game's final minute.
|Botching the Game-Tying Extra Point (Since 2001)|
|Jason Hanson||DET||at DEN||9/28/2003||13:36||Short kick||L 20-16|
|John Carney||NO||at JAX||12/21/2003||0:00||Wide right (River City Relay)||L 20-19|
|Jason Hanson||DET||MIN||12/19/2004||0:08||Aborted kick||L 28-27|
|Ryan Longwell||MIN||DET||10/8/2006||13:12||Blocked kick||W 26-17|
|Shayne Graham||CIN||at DEN||12/24/2006||0:41||Aborted kick||L 24-23|
|Graham Gano||WAS||TB||12/12/2010||0:09||Aborted kick||L 17-16|
|Steven Hauschka||SEA||ATL||10/16/2016||4:43||Blocked kick||W 26-24|
|Graham Gano||CAR||at NO||10/16/2016||9:38||Wide right||L 41-38|
|Roberto Aguayo||TB||OAK||10/30/2016||14:55||Wide left||L 30-24 OT|
|Cairo Santos||LAR||at SEA||10/7/2018||14:54||Wide left||W 33-31|
|Justin Tucker||BAL||NO||10/21/2018||0:24||Wide right||L 24-23|
I think it's safe to say the Saints have now been involved in the two most famous misses on this list, including John Carney's miss after the River City Relay in 2003. As for the Ravens, this is only the second time since John Harbaugh was hired in 2008 that they lost a home game after leading by double digits in the fourth quarter. The first time was against the 2014 Chargers. Like they say, there's a first (or second) time for everything.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Carolina Panthers 21 at Philadelphia Eagles 17
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 17 (17-0)
Game Winning Chance Before: 16.7 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 91.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 74.3 percent
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (14-31-1 at 4QC and 17-34-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (14-30-1 at 4QC and 17-32-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
In the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era, Carolina had been 1-42 when trailing by more than four points in the fourth quarter (the win). For the second week in a row, Carolina trailed 17-0 on the road, but had to engineer the whole comeback in the fourth quarter this time. That's a tall task, but it's not like the Panthers were inept at moving the ball on their first five drives. The Eagles kept forcing huge losses on sacks and slow-developing runs that lost 5-plus yards. In fact, the Panthers had two drives where they ran a play on first or second down from the Philadelphia 26, but still punted on both drives after losing yardage. One time they passed on kicking a 49-yard field goal due to wind concerns after getting backed up 10 yards on consecutive false start penalties.
Carolina's offense has worked best late in games this season when Newton is always getting the ball in shotgun and making quick throws. He didn't take a sack after Carolina moved to that approach. Down 17-0, the Panthers had Newton pass or run on all but one of their last 29 plays. That one exception was a neat option to get the ball to Curtis Samuel for a 16-yard touchdown run. The Panthers were finally on the board, but Graham Gano missed an extra point to keep it at 17-6 with 10:41 left.
The criticism for head coach Doug Pederson seems to be that the Eagles blew a 17-point lead because they didn't run the ball in the fourth quarter. While it's true that the Eagles called 13 passes to one run in the fourth quarter, that was not the reason they lost the game. For starters, the offense never took the field with a lead larger than 11 points in the fourth quarter after the first Carolina score. Carson Wentz was having a good game, but he had a poor fourth quarter where his success rate was just 2-of-12 (plus one penalty drawn). Compare that to Newton's finish where he was 19-for-26 in success rate while leading three touchdown drives.
Wentz completed his first seven passes of the fourth quarter, so they were still burning clock like a running game would. The problem was that five of those passes were unsuccessful gains as the Eagles stuck to a dink-and-dunk approach. With 8:42 left, the Eagles had a first-and-10 at the Carolina 49. At that point, Carolina's Game Winning Chance was a game-low 0.9 percent according to EdjSports. Instead of delivering a knockout blow, the Eagles tried a jet sweep flip (a glorified running play) and Nelson Agholor lost a yard. Luke Kuechly sacked Wentz on second down and the Eagles eventually punted. Newton continued his success and led another 87-yard scoring march. He also completed a key two-point conversion pass to Jarius Wright to make it 17-14.
Once again, the Eagles came out with a screen for only a 2-yard gain. We'd criticize a coach if he ran on second-and-long there, so another pass was necessary. This time it was a running back screen and the Eagles were bottled up for a 2-yard loss, bringing up third-and-10. Wentz wasn't able to connect with Alshon Jeffery, and Newton had the ball back with 2:17 left. The Eagles could have won the game on defense, but Newton made an incredible play under pressure to find Torrey Smith for a 35-yard gain on fourth-and-10.
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) October 21, 2018
Newton converted two more third downs, including a play-action touchdown pass to Greg Olsen from the 1-yard line that the Eagles seemed totally unprepared for. This had to be the most impressive comeback of Newton's career. Not only did he hit all the throws to put the team in position to win, but he came through on the two-point conversion and the last two third downs -- plays at which teams often fail, leading to overtime or losing by a field goal.
Down 21-17, Wentz had to answer with a 70-yard touchdown drive in 1:17. He picked up 48 of those yards right away with a defensive pass interference penalty on James Bradberry, who played the receiver instead of the ball. On the next play, Wentz floated an awful pass that looked to be intercepted by newly acquired safety Eric Reid. The call on the field was an interception and there was no conclusive evidence that the ball ever touched the ground, but somehow the call was still overturned to an incompletion.
I still don't see how this passes the standard for conclusive evidence to return a call. pic.twitter.com/slHNBFkinb
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) October 23, 2018
Had the Eagles won, this might have gone down as the most controversial ruling of 2018.
After an 8-yard run by Wendell Smallwood, Wentz again got away with a dropped interception by Mike Adams in the end zone. These misses usually spell doom for the defense, but on fourth-and-2, Carolina's four-man rush converged on Wentz to force a strip-sack to seal the win.
This is the 45th time a team has won after trailing by at least 17 points in the fourth quarter in NFL history. It's the 17th time a road team has pulled it off.
NFL Road Teams: 17-Point Fourth Quarter Comebacks
|Team||Opp||Date||Final||Max Deficit||4Q Deficit||Winning QB|
|LARM||GB||10/12/1952||W 30-28||22||22||Bob Waterfield|
|SF||DET||10/16/1955||W 27-24||18||18||Y.A. Tittle|
|SLC||NO||9/29/1968||W 21-20||17||17||Charley Johnson|
|ATL||GB||9/13/1981||W 31-17||17||17||Steve Bartkowski|
|MIN||PHI||12/1/1985||W 28-23||23||23||Wade Wilson|
|SF||LARM||12/11/1989||W 30-27||17||17||Joe Montana|
|WAS||DET||11/4/1990||W 41-38 OT||21||17||Jeff Rutledge|
|NE||NYG||12/21/1996||W 23-22||22||19||Drew Bledsoe|
|DAL||WAS||9/12/1999||W 41-35 OT||21||21||Troy Aikman|
|IND||TB||10/6/2003||W 38-35 OT||21||21||Peyton Manning|
|KC||GB||10/12/2003||W 40-34 OT||17||17||Trent Green|
|STL||SEA||10/10/2004||W 33-27 OT||17||17||Marc Bulger|
|CIN||BAL||12/5/2004||W 27-26||17||17||Carson Palmer|
|NYG||PHI||9/17/2006||W 30-24 OT||17||17||Eli Manning|
|IND||HOU||10/5/2008||W 31-27||17||17||Peyton Manning|
|PHI||NYG||12/19/2010||W 38-31||21||21||Michael Vick|
|CAR||PHI||10/21/2018||W 21-17||17||17||Cam Newton|
Ultimately, this isn't the worst thing the Eagles have ever done with a big fourth-quarter lead at home. In 1985, the Eagles took a 23-0 lead into the fourth quarter before the Vikings scored four touchdowns in a 28-23 win. There have been lower moments than this, but so far in 2018, there haven't been any highs for Philadelphia that even begin to resemble 2017. The Eagles (3-4) sit at No. 11 in the NFC, but by virtue of the quality of the divisions these teams play in, don't be surprised if the Panthers have to come back to Philadelphia in January for a rematch.
Cleveland Browns 23 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26
Type: GWD (OT)
Game Winning Chance Before: 75.9 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 24.1 percent
Head Coach: Dirk Koetter (3-12 at 4QC and 7-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jameis Winston (5-16 at 4QC and 9-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It's hard to say we learned anything new about these teams even after another overtime contest. The 2018 Browns are the first team in NFL history to go to overtime four times in the first seven games of a season. They seem like a lock to break the single-season record of five overtime games set by the 1983 Packers. Meanwhile, we already knew the Buccaneers had problems with Jameis Winston's turnovers, a putrid defense, and kicking issues. This 26-23 overtime win at home did little to alleviate those flaws.
The defense, playing its first game since coordinator Mike Smith was fired, actually pitched a first-half shutout as Cleveland's only points came on a safety. The defense even stopped Baker Mayfield on two fourth-down runs, including a quarterback sneak at the 1-yard line with Tampa Bay leading 23-16 with 4:55 left. Unfortunately, the defense surrendered three second-half touchdowns, though two came on short fields. One was after Myles Garrett forced a strip-sack of Winston, and the other came after a big punt return by Jabrill Peppers to the Tampa Bay 16. Jarvis Landry only needed one play to roll into the end zone for a game-tying touchdown catch with 2:28 left.
Overtime looked unlikely after Winston drove the offense to the Cleveland 24 in the final minute, but that's when Dirk Koetter was content with lining up a field goal as time expired. Tampa Bay had all three timeouts to get closer, but settled on Chandler Catanzaro attempting a 40-yard field goal. That's not a difficult kick for modern NFL kickers, but it's not a lock either. Koetter should have known this, given Tampa Bay's recent history of clutch kicking. Catanzaro's kick was wide right and the game moved to overtime.
After a Cleveland punt, Winston threw an ugly interception to Jamie Collins that was returned to the Tampa Bay 45, but the Browns failed to capitalize and went three-and-out. Carl Nassib, who was cut by the Browns on Hard Knocks, reminded his former team of their lack of investment in him. He sacked Mayfield on third down on what turned out to be the Cleveland offense's final snap. It looked like Mayfield was going to get another chance, but Peppers fumbled on a punt return at midfield. Cleveland came into the week ranked 32nd on special teams, so the Buccaneers finally met a team inferior to them in that regard.
Winston took consecutive sacks to bring up a third-and-29, but at least he found DeSean Jackson for 14 yards to give Catanzaro a shot. Catanzaro redeemed himself with a 59-yard game-winning field goal, which is tied for the seventh-longest game-winning field goal in NFL history. All but one of those kicks has happened since the 2006 season. This also happens to be the longest field goal in overtime history.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Titans vs. Chargers: There Is a Slant That Never Goes Out
In London, Marcus Mariota threw the first red zone interception of his NFL career, but it's another pass in the end zone he didn't complete that may become the defining moment of Tennessee's 2018 season under rookie head coach Mike Vrabel. Let's set the stage for that two-point conversion that reeked of right decision, wrong play call.
Tennessee resumed its brand of close-finish football no matter how bad things looked early, such as when the Chargers were hitting explosive touchdown passes with Philip Rivers. But Mike Williams failed to come down with a touchdown in the fourth quarter, so a Los Angeles field goal left the Titans down just 20-13. Mariota cut his sacks from 11 last week against Baltimore to two this week, but a poor connection with Corey Davis (10 yards on seven targets) led to a key decision by Vrabel. I have to agree with a 51-yard field goal try on fourth-and-7, because this offense isn't reliable enough to finish the drive with a touchdown, and the Titans still needed to score twice to win regardless. Ryan Succop just needed to make the field goal, but he missed with 8:21 left.
The defense stopped the Chargers after one first down, and Mariota had 4:55 to drive his offense 89 yards for a touchdown. A beautiful 36-yard run by Dion Lewis that showed his New England-era elusiveness made overtime seem probable. On a third-and-goal at the 3, Mariota rushed for an apparent touchdown, but replay showed he was down just inches short of the end zone. On fourth-and-inches, the quarterback sneak where the quarterback reaches the ball out is almost unstoppable. As we noted a few weeks ago, the quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 in general has worked 95.7 percent of the time since 2016, but there were a couple of stops in Week 7. Still, if the Titans were to spread out the defense and let Mariota do that, it was likely going to work. Instead, the Titans went with a heavy formation and Mariota used play-action to throw a touchdown to tight end Luke Stocker. It was a good effort to come down with the catch, but that looked a lot harder than it needed to be.
With 31 seconds remaining, Vrabel motioned the offense to go for a two-point conversion and likely win. According to EdjSports, the Game Winning Chance with an extra point was 42.2 percent, but moved up to 44.0 percent if the Titans attempted a two-point conversion.
As the underdog with a shaky offense and a superior offense on Los Angeles' side, I liked this decision by Vrabel. Even though the Chargers had two timeouts left, it would have been difficult for Rivers to get into field goal range in 31 seconds, and we know all too well about the Chargers' clutch kicking history. Mariota threw incomplete after scrambling, but the Titans were given a reprieve after cornerback Casey Hayward was penalized for defensive holding. With that penalty moving the ball to the 1-yard line, the quarterback sneak again should have been the No. 1 option. Even a run with Lewis or Derrick Henry likely carried a better conversion rate than most passes in that spot.
So it was shocking to see the Titans try a slant in the back of the end zone to Taywan Taylor. Adrian Phillips tipped the pass, so Taylor never had a shot at it. Los Angeles recovered the ensuing onside kick and the game was over.
This was the 13th two-point conversion attempt in the final two minutes of a game since 1994. Let's call them two-or-die conversions from now on. It's only the fourth time someone tried one as early as Week 7. Note that the last time we ran this table in 2016, I included a 2016 game where the Titans went for two (Mariota passed incomplete again) against Kansas City, but 3:12 remained on that attempt. That's not really two-or-die, as the Titans got the ball back and won on a 53-yard field goal by Succop as time expired. So that game has been removed from this list and all of these attempts happened after the two-minute warning.
|Two-or-Die Conversion Attempts Since 1994|
|JAX||11/19/1995||at TB||12||0:37||S.Beuerlein pass incomplete to J.Smith (caught OOB)||Fail||L 17-16|
|CHI||10/12/1997||GB||7||1:54||E.Kramer pass incomplete to R.Harris||Fail||L 24-23|
|MIN||12/15/2002||at NO||15||0:05||D.Culpepper rush up the middle||Success||W 32-31|
|TB||11/13/2005||WAS||10||0:58||M.Alstott rush up the gut||Success||W 36-35|
|DEN||9/14/2008||SD||2||0:24||J.Cutler pass to E.Royal is complete||Success||W 39-38|
|KC||11/9/2008||at SD||10||0:23||T.Thigpen pass incomplete to T.Gonzalez||Fail||L 20-19|
|HOU||1/1/2012||TEN||17||0:14||J.Delhomme aborted (snap over his head)||Fail||L 23-22|
|WAS||12/15/2013||at ATL||15||0:18||K.Cousins pass incomplete to P.Garcon (defensed)||Fail||L 27-26|
|OAK||9/11/2016||at NO||1||0:47||De.Carr pass to M.Crabtree is complete||Success||W 35-34|
|PHI||12/18/2016||at BAL||15||0:04||C.Wentz pass incomplete to J.Matthews (tipped)||Fail||L 27-26|
|SF||12/24/2016||at LAR||16||0:31||C.Kaepernick rushes right end||Success||W 22-21|
|CAR||1/1/2017||at TB||17||0:17||C.Newton pass incomplete to G.Olsen (receiver slipped)||Fail||L 17-16|
|TEN||10/21/2018||LAC||7||0:31||M.Mariota pass incomplete to T.Taylor (tipped)||Fail||L 20-19|
For a change, the Chargers didn't add another crushing loss to their BINGO cards.
Patriots at Bears: Like 2006, But with Awful Chicago Special Teams
When these teams met in the 2006 season, that sloppy game featured nine turnovers, including three interceptions by Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman. He had one of his "Bad Rex" days, and on Sunday, Mitchell Trubisky tried his best to emulate that. While he threw two costly interceptions in the second half, it was Trubisky's terrible throws in the red zone that always made Chicago's leads feel tenuous at best. It was an odd game where Trubisky's scrambles -- he had a game-high 81 rushing yards -- were more effective than his passing. Once the Patriots stopped giving up short fields with fumbles, Chicago found it difficult to score. That's a big problem when the Bears allowed two touchdowns on special teams to help the Patriots out on a day when Rob Gronkowski was inactive and running back Sony Michel left after an early injury.
In fact, special teams did the Bears in as Kyle Van Noy's 29-yard return of a blocked punt in the third quarter was technically the game-winning score that put the Patriots ahead for good at 31-24. While trying to answer that score, Trubisky finally looked to be getting in a rhythm, but underthrew Anthony Miller for an interception to Jonathan Jones with 13:05 left. The Patriots were backed up at their own 4, but embarked on a 96-yard touchdown drive that was aided by a 55-yard completion from Tom Brady to Josh Gordon, who hit 100 receiving yards for the first time with the Patriots. I'd say that must really burn Cleveland fans, but they just dealt with watching LeBron James debut with the Lakers this week.
That likely would have led to a blowout at 38-24, but the Bears were able to deflect a ball for an interception, and Trubisky led another touchdown drive to make it 38-31 with 4:13 left. James White helped kill most of the clock with eight consecutive runs, which is a big deal for a receiving back who came into Week 7 with two career games with at least eight carries. That left the Bears with 24 seconds and 80 yards to go, but they almost pulled off a miracle touchdown drive. From his own 45, Trubisky's last gasp was a Hail Mary, and he completed it to Kevin White at the 1-yard line as time expired. White, who has spent almost his entire career injured, did all he could on the play given the ball was short of the end zone, but his forward progress was clearly stopped and the game ended.
KEVIN WHITE WAS A HALF YARD SHORT OF THE (ONLY) PLAY OF HIS CAREERpic.twitter.com/HMjTbXbvTA
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) October 21, 2018
That was shades of Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress catching a Hail Mary at the 1-yard line in overtime against Atlanta in a game that ended in a 34-34 tie. That game happened on November 10, 2002 -- the same afternoon that Brady led the first 21-point comeback of his career in his first game against Chicago. Time truly is a flat circle.
Cowboys at Redskins: NFC East for Sale
The surprising battle for first place in the NFC East was low on firepower with the lack of offensive punch in these teams. At least Washington can point to being without its top two wide receivers (Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson) and best receiving back (Chris Thompson). Dallas, despite the big effort against Jacksonville last week, was manhandled up front by Washington's defense. The Redskins came into this game ranked 32nd in creating stuffed runs, 30th against power runs, and 24th in adjusted sack rate. Ezekiel Elliott rushed 15 times for 33 yards and was stuffed four times. Dak Prescott suffered four sacks and fumbled on an early quarterback sneak, which as we know is extremely hard to stop.
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) October 22, 2018
Dallas' offensive line picked up multiple key penalties to stall drives as well. The problems converged with a little over five minutes left and Washington holding a 13-10 lead. Prescott thought he had converted a third down to Cole Beasley for 16 yards, but the play was called back for a holding penalty on struggling rookie left guard Connor Williams. That brought up third-and-14 at the Dallas 10. Prescott had a shot at a deep ball if he had seen it faster, but he tried to spin away from Ryan Kerrigan and coughed the ball up for a touchdown to give Washington a 20-10 lead with 4:55 left.
Despite that major setback, Prescott finished the game strong, even overcoming another holding penalty on his line to get the Cowboys in the end zone with a 1-yard dive of his own on a scramble with 1:37 left. That drive was managed well with no timeouts used, so Dallas was able to kick deep. Washington played right into the Cowboys' hands with two safe runs by Adrian Peterson before Alex Smith scrambled out of bounds on third down to stop the clock with 1:18 left. Prescott had 1:09 and a timeout left from his own 36 in a 20-17 game, a more than doable situation to force overtime.
Beasley came through with three more catches, and the last one gave Dallas a fresh set of downs at the Washington 31. After the play was reviewed to make sure the call of a completion stood, Dallas had 12 seconds and a timeout left. The offense was ready at the line, so at that point Prescott should have immediately spiked the ball to bring up second down with 11 seconds left. The downs weren't important anymore. That way the Cowboys could throw a pass anywhere and use their last timeout to set up a field goal, if not score an improbable touchdown. Instead, Jason Garrett had the Cowboys run the ball with Elliott, who we already said was terrible on the day, especially on first-down rushes where he had 11 carries for 29 yards. Elliott was stopped after a 2-yard gain and the Cowboys used their final timeout with three seconds left.
Garrett might have gotten away with that terrible strategy had his special teams not picked up one more costly penalty. Long snapper L.P. LaDouceur was penalized for an illegal snap infraction after Washington appeared to jump offsides. It was deemed that Ladouceur's ball movement was illegal in an attempt to get the defense to jump offsides. It's something that you almost never see called, and NBC's Tony Dungy heavily criticized the call. As NFL reporter Mike Garafolo pointed out, Ladouceur did not do anything out of his ordinary routine, but this time someone jumped, so a call was made.
In the end, kicker Brett Maher's 52-yard attempt bounced off the left upright, moving Washington (4-2) into sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Giants at Falcons: Poor Man's Peyton vs. Peyton's Poor Brother
On Monday night, the Giants treated us to another display of watching their offense, with all of its generational talent, struggling mightily to score 20 points on a porous Atlanta defense. The highlight (or lowlight) had to be the play call on third-and-2 when the Giants were down 13-6 early in the fourth quarter. They initially showed some promise to run from a spread formation in 11 personnel, but it was a designed swing pass to Saquon Barkley all the way. Three Falcons were ready to pounce on the rookie before he even caught the ball, and the play ended up losing 8 yards. That was Eli Manning's league-high 59th failed completion of 2018.
Atlanta wisely ran the ball on third-and-1 on its next drive, and Tevin Coleman added a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 20-6. I thought I could finish this recap there, but we know the Falcons can't hold onto a big lead with ease. Barkley scored on a 2-yard run, and after a change of heart following a break to review the touchdown, Pat Shurmur had his offense go for two just like Doug Pederson did against the Vikings in Week 5. It's only the fifth time a coach has done this since 1994, but it's the second time this month. Odell Beckham Jr. failed to hang onto the ball in the end zone, but like we looked at when the Eagles did it, this was a good decision with 4:47 left. The ESPN announcing crew did not get the call, but they're about the last group you'd want to explain this (or any other decision) anyway.
Simply put: no matter if the Giants had 12, 13, or 14 points after that drive, it was still a one-possession game, and the defense had to get a stop in timely fashion. Shurmur's decision became a moot point after the Falcons added another field goal to the lead to make it 23-12 with 1:55 left. Newly signed kicker Giorgio Tavecchio had a great debut in place of injured regular Matt Bryant as he made field goals of 50 and 56 yards in the fourth quarter. The Giants finished on a comedic drive that saw them spend 95 seconds to cover the last 14 yards on six plays in the red zone, including consecutive stops of Manning on quarterback sneaks. It's an awesome play, but you still have to put a little effort into it. Beckham caught a touchdown and Barkley ran for two more points, but it was just window dressing for a 23-20 loss after the Falcons easily recovered the onside kick.
With 379 yards, Matt Ryan moved ahead again of Drew Brees' record pace through 165 games with 44,131 passing yards. Meanwhile, Julio Jones is up to 812 receiving yards without a touchdown this season, the seventh most yards without a score in NFL history.
Fortunately, not many touchdowns are needed to beat the Giants these days.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 30
Game-winning drives: 34 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 61/107 (57.0 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 15
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.