by Scott Kacsmar
It took a while to find any real drama on Sunday, but the late afternoon slate delivered with Week 8's three fourth-quarter comeback wins. Overall, there were eight games with a comeback opportunity, though you know it was a light week when Denver's opportunity started with four seconds left and the Bills still lost by 19 points to New England.
Game of the Week
Green Bay Packers 27 at Los Angeles Rams 29
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (27-26)
Game Winning Chance Before: 72.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 78.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 5.8 percent
Head Coach: Sean McVay (3-4 at 4QC and 3-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jared Goff (3-6 at 4QC and 3-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Facing a "home" crowd that was wildly pro-Green Bay, the Rams improved to 8-0 with their toughest win of the season. The Packers did well in sacking Jared Goff five times, but Aaron Rodgers and the offense struggled on third down (2-for-9) and were unable to build a big enough lead before the Rams finally got things moving.
Some defenses have been afraid to blitz Goff this season, but with slot receiver Cooper Kupp still out, that might be the best way to attack this offense right now. The three defenses that blitzed Goff the most in 2018 (Cardinals, Packers, Seahawks) were also the three that pressured him the highest percentage of time. The Packers made Goff hold the ball longer and throw deeper passes (aDOT: 10.4) than he had in any game this season. For Green Bay, it worked early as the Rams had to punt on six of their first seven possessions.
The Rams began to turn things around when Todd Gurley scored on an all-too-easy 30-yard touchdown after catching the ball in a lot of open space. The Rams also got two touchdowns from Josh Reynolds, who did his best Kupp impersonation. The Packers lived and died by chunk plays, including a 33-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones and three completions of 40-plus yards from Rodgers. Down 26-20, Rodgers found rookie wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who smoked Troy Hill in coverage for a 40-yard touchdown with 8:50 left.
Down 27-26, the Rams saw their drive collapse after a busted play led to third-and-14. Clay Matthews then sacked Goff, and Matthews seems to have gotten back on track on hitting the quarterback without drawing a flag. The Packers had a quick three-and-out when Rodgers was sacked by Aaron Donald on third down. All three of Rodgers' sacks came on third down. Little did Green Bay know that their offense would never touch the ball again after punting with 5:20 left. It was a lousy 25-yard punt too, setting the Rams up at the Green Bay 40 with only a field goal needed. According to EdjSports, Los Angeles' Game-Winning Chance was already 72.6 percent to start the drive.
Goff threw one risky incomplete pass on the drive, but the Rams were able to catch the Packers off guard on a third-and-6 run with Gurley for 23 yards. That was really the play of the drive since a holding penalty on Rodger Saffold led to a couple of conservative runs by Gurley to set up a field goal. This wasn't Sean McVay's best day, but it was about to get a lot more troublesome for Mike McCarthy. McCarthy could have called his last timeout to get the Packers the ball back with over 2:40 left, but he held onto it. Greg Zuerlein made a 34-yard field goal and the Rams led 29-27 with 2:05 left.
That was cutting things close to losing out on the two-minute warning, but most kickoffs are touchbacks these days anyway, right? Sure enough, Ty Montgomery caught the kickoff just on the edge of the end zone, but there was enough space to take a knee and get Rodgers on the field at the 25 with 2:05 left. Montgomery was even instructed by his coaches to take a knee. However, Montgomery decided to run the kick out, and he ended up fumbling and giving the Rams the ball back at the Green Bay 21 with 1:56 left. So he not only lost the ball, but he blew the two-minute warning as well. The disastrous fumble dropped Green Bay's Game-Winning Chance from 21.6 percent to 0.03 percent at that point.
— theScore (@theScore) October 29, 2018
Worse, Montgomery reportedly threw a tantrum on the sideline before the play to express his frustration with not being on the field. Despite being ordered to take a touchback, Montgomery apparently went rogue and wanted to show his team what they were missing. Now the team will be missing Montgomery, who has been traded to Baltimore.
On a third-and-10, Gurley took off again and could have scored a touchdown if he wanted to, but the smart play was to go down and end the game. He did just that at the Green Bay 4, to the dismay of fantasy football players and those backing the Rams to cover the spread. But the Rams didn't cover on a day the Packers gave them all they could handle. Los Angeles will have to play much better in New Orleans next week to remain the top seed in the NFC. With games against Seattle and Kansas City also looming, the Rams may not be unbeaten for much longer, but their record remains perfect halfway through the season even if some cracks are starting to show.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Indianapolis Colts 42 at Oakland Raiders 28
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (28-21)
Game Winning Chance Before: 61.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 86.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 24.7 percent
Head Coach: Frank Reich (1-3 at 4QC and 1-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (15-16 at 4QC and 19-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
These teams have both blown three fourth-quarter leads (tied for NFL high) this season, so it wasn't too surprising to see the game turn out this way. We haven't covered Oakland here in a month, but the story hasn't really changed. There's still no pass rush without Khalil Mack, but at least there was a passing offense, even without Amari Cooper (traded to Dallas during the week). It's just that this was a game where Andrew Luck had his most complete offense of the season around him with left tackle Anthony Castonzo, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Jack Doyle, and running back Marlon Mack all active.
Hilton only caught one of his five targets, but it was a 34-yard strike to overcome a first-and-20 in the fourth quarter with the Colts down 28-21. That led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Mack on third down to tie the game at 28. That was a fortunate score, and it has nothing to do with being a rare third-down run or that it was only the second time Luck handed off for a rushing touchdown this season. It was fortunate because on second down, Luck got away with what should have been an interception in the end zone after the defender dropped the ball. Oakland has just two takeaways in the team's six losses this season (four in the lone win over Cleveland).
Oakland went three-and-out after Derek Carr snapped his streak of 17 straight completions. Doyle had not been active since Week 2, but he returned to the Colts with a huge effort on the game-winning drive. Doyle caught four passes for 52 yards and muscled his way in for a 10-yard touchdown with 5:28 left. Luck threw a touchdown to three different tight ends on the day, a franchise first. The Colts led 35-28.
On the next play from scrimmage, Doug Martin fumbled on a hit by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. The Colts stuck with Mack on five straight runs and he rewarded them with another touchdown to put the game out of reach at 42-28 with 2:55 left. The Colts have rushed for at least 220 yards in consecutive games after not doing so once since 2007.
Mack's 132 rushing yards were the most by an Indianapolis running back since Donald Brown had 161 yards in 2011. He may have been able to add a few more yards to that, but Jon Gruden didn't even bother to use his final two timeouts in the last two minutes to get the ball back. Down 14, that looks unusual when he could have gotten the ball back with almost a minute left. While the loss was a foregone conclusion, that is still a situation where teams are supposed to at least look like they are trying to win.
While Oakland may be on a predetermined path to 1-15, the Colts (3-5) have a bye and a remaining schedule of eight very winnable games. This is just the first high-scoring comeback win of the Frank Reich era.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34 at Cincinnati Bengals 37
Game Winning Chance Before: 55.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 45.0 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (36-73-2 at 4QC and 48-75-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (17-29-2 at 4QC and 24-31-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
In Week 3, Ryan Fitzpatrick almost led a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Steelers. In Week 4, Fitzpatrick was benched for Jameis Winston. Three games later, Winston returned the favor by getting benched after his fourth interception in Cincinnati, which was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter. This time, Fitzpatrick fully erased a 34-16 deficit in the fourth quarter, but Tampa Bay's utter lack of a defense still led to the Bengals winning 37-34 on a last-second field goal.
With Fitzpatrick back as the starter, this may have been the last straw for Winston in Tampa Bay. Then again, he could be back starting in Week 12 should the Fitzmagic run out as it usually does after a few games. Either way, the Buccaneers have a major long-term problem at quarterback, and in the short term they are wasting what could be a prolific offense if not for so many turnovers and negative plays. This was Tampa Bay's fifth game this season with at least 380 net passing yards. That ties the NFL's single-season record by the 2013 Broncos, and the Buccaneers still have nine games left. Tampa Bay's 2,634 net passing yards through seven games is just 3 yards behind the record set by the 2000 Rams.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's offense put together four straight touchdown drives in the first half, but punted five times in a row in the second half, including four straight three-and-out drives. That helped the Buccaneers fight back behind Fitzpatrick, who led an 88-yard touchdown drive in the final 3:12 to tie the game. The Bengals just weren't getting any pressure on Fitzpatrick after Winston took five sacks. Finally, a blitz brought Fitzpatrick down after the two-minute warning, and the Bengals could have iced the game on a fourth-and-3. However, Fitzpatrick threw a good pass over the middle to O.J. Howard for an 18-yard touchdown. He threw an even better pass after some pressure to Chris Godwin for the two-point conversion to tie with 1:05 left.
Andy Dalton had to get the offense going after a poor half, and A.J. Green is usually the best way to accomplish that. Green easily worked from the slot to catch two passes for 34 yards to get the Bengals into field goal range. A defensive delay of game penalty added 5 more yards, and Dalton fell on the ball to get it on the proper hash mark before the Bengals called their final timeout. Randy Bullock came on and delivered a 44-yard field goal to win the game as time expired, making this a one-minute drill since it started with 58 seconds left.
San Francisco 49ers 15 at Arizona Cardinals 18
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 12 (15-3)
Game Winning Chance Before: 12.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 95.8 percent
Win Probability Added: 83.8 percent
Head Coach: Steve Wilks (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Josh Rosen (1-2 at 4QC and 1-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Arizona completed a season sweep of the 49ers after erasing a 15-3 deficit in the fourth quarter. It's hard to say the first game for new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was a smashing success after the offense only managed a field goal on its first eight possessions. Josh Rosen also was called for grounding in the end zone for a safety and threw an interception that led directly to a field goal for the 49ers. Nearly a third of David Johnson's runs were up the middle on second-and-long, which was one of the loudest criticisms of Mike McCoy's play-calling tendencies before he was fired last week. Johnson also had just four of Rosen's 40 targets on the day.
The difference in the fourth quarter was a vintage performance by Larry Fitzgerald, who had 81 receiving yards on the two touchdown drives, including a 13-yard score. In between the scores, Jermaine Gresham fumbled on a reception, but the 49ers were unable to run out the clock against an Arizona defense that played well at home.
With 2:16 left, Rosen started the offense's 73-yard march to victory. After Fitzgerald's two catches got the team into San Francisco territory, the drive slowed down for Rosen to a first-and-goal at the 8. Soon it was third down, but the Cardinals picked on reserve safety Tyvis Powell, who had earlier allowed a Fitzgerald touchdown. The defenders switched on the two outside receivers to the left, but Powell was too slow to react to a fine route by Christian Kirk for a touchdown. On a critical two-point conversion, K'Waun Williams took a poor angle against Fitzgerald and was run over on the way to an 18-15 lead for the Cardinals with 34 seconds left.
Christian Kirk touchdown! pic.twitter.com/OkHflz5PxB
— Matt '15 #BTHOauburn (@Aggie_Matt15) October 28, 2018
The 49ers still had two timeouts to set up a game-tying field goal, but that chance died after a bad snap went over C.J. Beathard's head from the Arizona 45. Time expired with his desperation throw, completing the first 12-point fourth-quarter comeback for the Cardinals since 1999.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Eagles vs. Jaguars: Some Bortles Games Are Bigger than Others
A London matchup of teams who almost met in Super Bowl LII was not expected to be a battle of 3-4 disappointments. Carson Wentz had two more turnovers than Blake Bortles (zero), but the Eagles still found offensive production easier to come by than one-dimensional Jacksonville. Bortles actually led his team in rushing with 43 yards on a day where the Jaguars had eight handoffs for 18 yards from its backs.
It wasn't until Philadelphia took a 17-6 lead in the third quarter that Jacksonville started to move the ball with any consistency. After an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook, Bortles wasn't able to connect with him again on a two-point conversion, keeping it at 17-12 with 4:33 left in the third. As always, some thought this was too early for the two-point try, and further criticism came after the Eagles extended their lead to 24-15 (two possessions) in the fourth quarter with another touchdown pass from Wentz.
I think it's about time we stop putting so much focus on tying the game and going to overtime, and shift to looking at what it takes to win the game. Whether Jacksonville was down 17-13 or 17-12, the goal was still to prevent a touchdown and then score again on offense. The same was true whether it was 17-16 or 17-15 in the fourth quarter after the Jaguars added a 33-yard field goal. But the defense failed to make that stop, and Jacksonville settled for another field goal to make it 24-18.
Through eight games last year, Jacksonville was 5-3 and had not allowed more than nine points in any of the wins. The defense also had 16 takeaways. This year, the Jaguars have not been dominant on defense and only have seven takeaways. They almost had their eighth takeaway against the Eagles, but Josh Adams' fumble was overturned after there was evidence that he got a cheek down while still possessing the ball. That would have been a huge swing in field position, but alas, Bortles had to drive 73 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the final 5:08.
Jacksonville's abandonment of the run without Leonard Fournette in the lineup is one of the bigger problems with this team right now. While Carlos Hyde was making his team debut after a trade and T.J. Yeldon was struggling with a good Philadelphia front, it's absurd that the Jaguars passed on three straight plays when they only needed 2 yards for a first down. Time was never an issue either. Bortles was never close on any of the throws, and Philadelphia took over with 3:36 left. The Eagles avoided the screen passes this week and Wentz delivered a first down to Jordan Matthews. Wendell Smallwood finished the Jaguars off with a 10-yard run.
Both teams go into the bye now, but Jacksonville (3-5) only has three home games the rest of the season. It's starting to look like the 2017 Jaguars were one of the league's great one-year wonders.
Broncos at Chiefs: I, Robo QB
It's one thing to blow a late lead and be stuck with no real time to answer. It's harder to recall another team that triggered a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity so late in the game in an utterly hopeless situation like Denver did in Kansas City. The Broncos got the ball back, down 30-23, with only four seconds left at their own 15. That just left time for a series of laterals, which ended with Emmanuel Sanders throwing a backwards pass out of bounds.
This was far from the Chiefs' dramatic comeback win in Denver in Week 4, but the Broncos had other chances to avoid the sweep. Trailing 30-14 to start the fourth quarter, Case Keenum threw a touchdown on fourth-and-4, but the Broncos were unable to run in the two-point conversion with Phillip Lindsay, keeping it a 30-20 game. Patrick Mahomes then forced one big mistake with an interception, but Keenum turned the ball over on consecutive drives. Vance Joseph also had the Broncos punt on a fourth-and-4 from their own 18 with 5:15 left, which felt like the wrong move with Denver still down two scores to such a potent offense. But the Chiefs were stopped on four drives in a row before Denver's last field goal led to a recovered onside kick. From there the Chiefs just ran the ball three times and punted, setting up the hopeless laterals.
Kansas City has won seven games in a row against Denver, scoring at least 27 points in every contest. The 2018 Chiefs have scored at least 27 points in all eight games, the fifth team to ever start a season like that. This has Mahomes halfway through what is looking like an MVP season as he continues to make big passing numbers look routine. Mahomes has thrown for over 300 yards with four touchdown passes in three straight games and four times overall this season. While passing numbers are wild in 2018, let's put that in perspective with some of his contemporaries. For example, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Russell Wilson all have four career games with at least 300 yards and four touchdown passes; Mahomes has matched that in just his ninth game. Mahomes has also already passed Alex Smith (three), Cam Newton (three), Joe Flacco (two), and Andy Dalton (two) in such games.
It has been a historic, fun start for Mahomes, and the second half is only about to get started with more records in sight.
Redskins at Giants: Eli Manning Dressed as Hollow Man
Washington (5-2) maintained its lead in the NFC East with a humdrum 20-13 win over the Giants (1-7). The game wasn't even that close -- New York only found the end zone with 17 seconds remaining on a touchdown pass to Evan Engram before an onside kick failed to end the game. The best hope of tying the game came early in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-3 at the Washington 32, but Eli Manning's pass went right through the mitts of Engram. Go figure that Engram held on to what proved to be a meaningless touchdown, but missed that early opportunity. Manning suffered seven sacks for the only fourth time in his career.
Defensively, the Giants had no answers for generational talent Adrian Peterson late in the game. The 33-year-old back had 107 of his 149 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, including a 64-yard touchdown run that gave Washington a 20-6 lead with 3:06 left. That set the stage for New York's final, pointless march. If games were 56 minutes long, the Giants would only average 12.9 points and still be 1-7. As it is, they lead the league with 47 points scored in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, but it has largely been hollow stat-padding such as last week's ugly finish in Atlanta.
Manning passed for over 300 yards for the 48th time in his regular-season career, but this was only the second time he failed to lead the Giants to at least 14 points in the process. Ironically enough, the Giants could have scored 14 points with a late two-point conversion that would have put them in position for a 21-20 win at the buzzer, but head coach Pat Shurmur eschewed that decision this week. After all, when your 1-7 team's goal is to recover an onside kick and throw a Hail Mary touchdown, why let the game come down to a two-point conversion when you can extend your miracle to overtime?
Mercifully, we'll get a break from the Giants next week (bye), but they'll be back in prime time to host the lowly 49ers in Week 10.
Patriots at Bills: The Close Blowout, A Buffalo Specialty
On Monday night, the Bills pulled off one of their specialties: give fans hope for three quarters, but lose by three scores to the Patriots. In addition to 4QC and GWD, we've introduced LC (lost comeback), SICO (self-imposed comeback opportunity), and NGBB (never got ball back) losses in the past. Let's add another to the lexicon with the close blowout, or CBO.
A CBO is a game where the offense has a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity (down by one score with possession), but still goes on to lose by at least three scores (17-plus points). These are rare; this was the NFL's 91st CBO since 2001. It was also the 10th time Buffalo has done it, the most losses in the league. The next closest teams are the Rams (seven) and Redskins (six). As you might imagine, the Patriots have been on the winning end of the most CBOs with nine -- the next closest team is Kansas City (six).
This is the fourth time New England has had a CBO against Buffalo. There was one in the last meeting between the teams in Week 16 last year, a 37-16 win by the Patriots. This time, things went sour right from the first snap of the fourth quarter. Derek Anderson nearly threw an interception on third down at midfield with Buffalo only down 12-6. The defense had done a great job of making the Patriots kick five field goals (one missed) on their first eight possessions, but finally wilted in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady finished with the second-most passing yards in a game in his career without a touchdown pass (324), but the Bills were unable to stop two key third-down plays. James White turned a short throw into a first down on third-and-8, and Brady completed a pass to Chris Hogan that led to White's 1-yard touchdown run with 9:58 left. Buffalo intercepted the two-point conversion try, but still trailed 18-6.
Anderson thought he got a great one-handed touchdown catch from tight end Jason Croom, but the ball clearly hit the ground. After a false start, the inevitable happened. Anderson was picked off by Devin McCourty, who returned the pass 84 yards for a touchdown to produce the fourth 25-6 final score in NFL history. Much like Buffalo's 22-0 loss to Green Bay in Week 4, the defense made a future Hall of Fame quarterback struggle, but the league's worst offense was unable to capitalize. The Bills never even ran a play in the red zone on Monday night.
That's a good way to end up with a close blowout.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 33
Game-winning drives: 38 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 69/121 (57.0 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 17
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.