Clutch Encounters: Week 1

Clutch Encounters: Week 1
Clutch Encounters: Week 1
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

This is my third season covering the NFL's close games on a weekly basis. While the calendar may read 2013, I can quote a lot of reusable material from the 2011-12 archives to review Week 1.

Most of the teams which have struggled to win games with late scoring drives over the last few years lost again on Sunday. That would include Green Bay, which is now 9-25 (.265) at game-winning drive opportunities under Aaron Rodgers. The Panthers blew their ninth fourth-quarter lead of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era. Cleveland is 4-16 (.200) at game-winning drive opportunities since 2011. Remember when Josh Freeman led all those comebacks against bad teams in 2010? Tampa Bay is 3-11 (.214) ever since.

The week finished in fitting fashion as the San Diego Chargers blew a 28-7 lead in the second half to Houston. Philip Rivers went from a brilliant start to another embarrassing finish, throwing a game-tying pick-six to Brian Cushing. You will not even believe the record he has in these situations over the last four seasons.

As for the records, if you are not familiar with my work on fourth-quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winning drives (GWD), which has been available at Pro-Football-Reference since 2009, then here is a brief description of what we will be looking at each week in this column.

  • Fourth-quarter comeback opportunity: The offense has the ball at any time in the fourth quarter, trailing by 1-8 points.
  • Game-winning drive opportunity: Very similar, but this also includes drives where the game was tied and includes overtime. Technically, a team can now trail in overtime as well under the modified rules.

As a new addition this season I will include the Win Probability as found at Advanced NFL Stats for the game-winning drive (not the whole comeback). It will be for the start of the drive, which is how I used it in our recent game-winning drive study.

In the 2011 regular season there were 66 fourth-quarter comebacks and 83 game-winning drives. In 2012, there were 66 fourth-quarter comebacks and 81 game-winning drives. In 2011, 151-of-256 games (59.0 percent) featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. Last year it was 141-of-256 games (55.1 percent). These numbers are expected to be similar in 2013, but Week 1 was especially tight.

In Week 1 we had 13 games with a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. Only Baltimore vs. Denver (, which was historic in its own right), Kansas City vs. Jacksonville (the first 28-2 game ever), and Philadelphia vs. Washington (needed an onside kick recovery) did not have one.

Eight teams won this week after trailing in the fourth quarter. That sets a record for the most fourth-quarter comeback wins in Week 1. Week 1 of the 1979 season had seven.

Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers 28 at San Francisco 49ers 34

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 4 (28-24)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.27
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick (2-1-1 at 4QC and 3-2-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

While some games were lacking in quality this week, Green Bay at San Francisco was premium content for a potential playoff preview. Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick put on a passing clinic with Jordy Nelson and Anquan Boldin leading the way for each team. After a 13-1 stretch of dominance the Packers had held against the 49ers, they have now lost three straight since last year.

It was also another close loss for the Packers, which should be all too common to fans by now.

Neither team could get a running game going, which is never surprising for Green Bay (17 carries for 50 yards), but a bit of a surprise for San Francisco (27 carries for 68 yards). The passing duel was won by Kaepernick, who threw for a career-high 412 yards after his prolific 181-yard rushing game in the playoffs. His potential is unbelievable.

The game was tied after each of the first three quarters. Phil Dawson kicked a 27-yard field goal to give San Francisco a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. Green Bay could only go three-and-out with Rodgers' third-down pass broken up. Sam Shields had just enough coverage on Kyle Williams to prevent a bomb for the 49ers and force a punt.

Now the Packers responded, highlighted by an incredible 37-yard catch by Nelson, who laid out at the sideline to make the catch. There's no defense for that one. Rookie Eddie Lacy finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Green Bay led 28-24 with 8:26 to play. It was their first lead of the game.

Boldin made another big catch for 43 yards, cutting over the middle of the field and into Green Bay territory. Kendall Hunter exploded for a 23-yard run. Frank Gore finished off the drive with the one-yard touchdown run. The 49ers were back on top, 31-28, with 5:47 left.

Backed up at his own nine, Rodgers' first pass was batted down at the line. He took a hard hit after a seven-yard scramble. He tried Nelson on third down, but came up incomplete. It was another three-and-out drive.

The 49ers had 4:52 to burn. Each team was out of timeouts at the three-minute mark with the 49ers facing a fourth-and-2 at the Green Bay 36. How refreshing it was to see Jim Harbaugh stay aggressive and go for it here. Of course Boldin came free (after Kaepernick moved around) and made the catch for 15 yards.

Boldin caught 13-of-17 targets on the day for 208 yards and a touchdown. The guy sure knows how to make a debut. He had 10 catches for 217 yards and two scores in his 2003 rookie debut with Arizona. In his first game with Baltimore (2010), he had seven catches for 110 yards. This may have been his best debut yet given the magnitude of the game and opponent. This was not Cardinals at Lions in a battle for the fast track to 5-11.

After the conversion the 49ers were able to keep it on the ground and add a field goal for a 34-28 lead. Rodgers only had 26 seconds left at his own 20. He completed a 38-yard pass to Randall Cobb, but the Packers could not get out of bounds. After a spike we were expecting a Hail Mary finish, but Rodgers could not even get that bomb off as a short, incomplete pass over the middle ended this one.

San Francisco had zero turnovers. Mike McCarthy is 1-14 as Green Bay's coach when not getting a takeaway. That's the third-worst winning percentage in the league since 2006.

For as exciting as the game was, it was predictably won by San Francisco in the end. This is just not the kind of game Green Bay has shown it can win on a consistent basis, especially against a good opponent on the road. Remember, Rodgers is 0-18 at comeback opportunities against teams .500 or better. That will probably go to 0-19 given the quality of this San Francisco team.

One look at this updated table of active quarterback records in fourth-quarter comebacks and overall game-winning drive opportunities shows us something is rotten in the state of Wisconsin.

Career Records in 4th Quarter Comeback/Game-Winning Drive Opportunities
Quarterback 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. 4Q/OT Wins 4Q/OT Losses Pct.
Andrew Luck 5 3 0.625 8 3 0.727
Tom Brady 27 23 0.540 39 25 0.609
Matt Ryan 16 15 0.516 23 15 0.605
Peyton Manning 38 44 0.463 50 49 0.505
Jay Cutler 14 17 0.452 18 18 0.500
Russell Wilson 5 5 0.500 6 6 0.500
Eli Manning 24 27 0.471 28 29 0.491
Ben Roethlisberger 22 28 0.440 30 33 0.476
Alex Smith 10 15 0.400 12 16 0.429
Joe Flacco 10 17 0.370 15 20 0.429
Matt Hasselbeck 16 29 0.356 25 34 0.424
Drew Brees 20 37 0.351 31 43 0.419
Tony Romo 18 25 0.419 19 27 0.413
Mark Sanchez 10 17 0.370 12 18 0.400
Quarterback 4QC Wins 4QC Losses Pct. 4Q/OT Wins 4Q/OT Losses Pct.
Matthew Stafford 8 14 0.364 9 14 0.391
Andy Dalton 5 11 0.313 7 11 0.389
Michael Vick 12.5 24.5 0.338 16.5 27.5 0.375
Matt Schaub 10 22 0.313 13 22 0.371
Matt Cassel 6 16 0.273 9 16 0.360
Josh Freeman 9 18 0.333 10 18 0.357
Rex Grossman 7 19 0.269 10 19 0.345
Carson Palmer 13 41 0.241 20 41 0.328
Sam Bradford 5.5 10.5 0.344 5.5 11.5 0.324
Philip Rivers 13 34 0.277 16 37 0.302
Jason Campbell 7 24 0.226 10 25 0.286
Aaron Rodgers 5 23 0.179 9 25 0.265
Cam Newton 2 15 0.118 2 16 0.111

When bringing up Rodgers' 9-25 record, there's always a response about how many times he put Green Bay ahead only for the defense to lose the lead. Yes, that happened on Sunday and it was the seventh time it's happened in Rodgers' career. It's also happened seven times to Peyton Manning, five times to Joe Flacco and 10 times to Drew Brees. Those quarterbacks still have a lot of wins to hang their hats on as well.

Taking the lead one time is rarely the full responsibility of the offense. Just in this game alone Kaepernick had to put the 49ers ahead twice in the fourth quarter before getting the win. He also had to make plays to burn the clock late so that Rodgers did not have a good chance to regain the lead.

There's also the fact that these games are about more than just the Packers. They have an opponent and an opposing quarterback too. On several occasions, that other quarterback just played better than Rodgers and was more deserving of the win.

Matt Schaub had a 414-yard passing day in Green Bay in 2008. In 2009, Rodgers was outplayed by Brett Favre (twice), Ben Roethlisberger and then Kurt Warner in the playoffs. Eli Manning and Kaepernick were better than Rodgers in the playoffs the last two years. Kaepernick was better on Sunday.

These are games where the "best quarterback in the league" was not the best quarterback on the field. From the offense to Dom Capers' defense to kicker Mason Crosby, McCarthy's Packers rarely put it all together on a day where the opponent is playing well too. That's why they will continue to be the league's best front-running team and a liability when the game is close like it was on Sunday.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Houston Texans 31 at San Diego Chargers 28

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 14 (28-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.66
Quarterback: Matt Schaub (10-22 at 4QC and 13-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Well, we can keep Norv Turner out of this one. At 21 points, it is the largest comeback win in Texans history. Of course, it had to come at the expense of the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. It was just last season San Diego blew a 24-0 halftime lead to Denver. This one should not sting as badly, but it's right up there.

Philip Rivers seemed to have a bounce-back game with four touchdown passes to put San Diego ahead 28-7 with 10:42 left in the third quarter. Matt Schaub, who had an interception off a tipped ball to start the game, was quietly playing well and led a 70-yard touchdown drive to get the comeback started.

Early in the fourth quarter, the game swung on a pathetic call. Settling for a 37-yard field goal and 28-17 deficit, Houston got a gift when Cam Thomas was penalized for contacting the center on the field goal. Supposedly that's a "defenseless player" and you cannot touch them or something silly like that. With an automatic first down, Schaub threw a touchdown to Owen Daniels to make it 28-21. Suddenly we had a one-score game again.

Assuming San Diego starts at its own 20 after a score, the swing in win probability was 0.90 with the field goal and 0.81 after the penalty and touchdown.

Maybe it would not have mattered given the way Rivers lost his touch. San Diego went three-and-out. Houston showed some courage with a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from its own 36, but the drive stalled. Then the "bad" Rivers showed up. Starting at his own 13, he tried to hit Danny Woodhead over the middle but linebacker Brian Cushing made a great play on the ball for an interception. He returned it for the tying touchdown with 9:30 left.

How many times are we going to see this with Rivers? Of course San Diego went three-and-out again. Rivers threw two bad passes before Eddie Royal dropped a third-down catch that would have extended the drive. The next drive would not be any better with Rivers missing badly on a third-and-2 throw.

With 3:53 left at his own 39, Schaub went to work in a tied game. Andre Johnson was the man of the night with three catches on the drive to set up the field goal. He finished with 12 catches for 146 yards. Kicker Randy Bullock was good on the 41-yard attempt as time expired, giving Houston its only lead for the stunning 31-28 win.

Yet is it really all that stunning? While Houston's not a team you would pick to make this comeback, the Chargers are the team you would pick to suffer this choke job.

After his four-touchdown start, Rivers finished 1-of-9 for eight yards and an interception. He is the Jekyll & Hyde of NFL quarterbacks, but we can always count on the bad one to show up in crunch time.

Rivers is now 2-20 (.091) at game-winning drive opportunities dating back to his 2009 playoff loss against the Jets. His turnover forced the tied situation this time. Rivers is right to argue he does not need to be "fixed" as a quarterback, but he and this team may need some sports psychology sessions. The consistency at which leads are blown in San Diego with Rivers gifting turnovers is uncanny.

You can change head coaches, but this fell right in line with the last three seasons. For Houston, it's a sigh of relief to get the win, but the Texans must realize the top teams in the AFC will not give away a game like the Chargers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 at New York Jets 18

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 2 (17-15)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.08
Quarterback: Geno Smith (1-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Well, "Geno" kind of rhymes with "Tebow," right? A year after expecting a different signal caller than Mark Sanchez in New York, Geno Smith did start the Jets' opener against a revamped Tampa Bay defense featuring Darrelle Revis.

Given what he was working with -- Santonio Holmes learning to walk again and a soldier at tight end -- you have to be fairly impressed with the debut. Smith even led the Jets in rushing (47 yards) as they had just 23 runs for 43 yards. It was the last scramble that will be most memorable, but let's back up a second.

There were rookie mistakes, but we did not expect so many from a fifth-year veteran in Josh Freeman. Smith had an interception and lost a fumble in the first half. The overall level of play was sloppy, but that was probably expected. A scoreless third quarter paved the way for a lead-changing fourth quarter.

Down 14-12, Smith took over at his own 23 with 11:25 left. He engineered a 14-play drive, handling pressure packages well for a rookie, for 65 yards and a go-ahead field goal with 5:05 left. Freeman was flustered on a three-and-out drive. New York had a chance to burn the clock, but Smith was sacked on third down.

Freeman had another opportunity and needed to capitalize after the struggles of the last two seasons. He started at his own 20 with 2:14 left. Doug Martin, who was mostly kept under wraps throughout the game by the Jets defense, had a 17-yard run to kick things off. On a big third-and-10, Freeman found Vincent Jackson at the marker and he broke a tackle for a 37-yard gain. Greg Schiano kept things conservative with three runs as the Jets burned all of their timeouts to bring up fourth down. Veteran kicker Rian Lindell was true on the 37-yard kick. The clock management deserves criticism, but the offense did put the team ahead late.

So with the ball at his own 20, no timeouts and 0:34 left, the expectations were not high for Smith. The win probability was just 8.0 percent. We are seeing offenses have more success on these one-minute drills, but surely this is too much to ask of a rookie in his first start, right?

Kellen Winslow failed to catch the first pass, but was good on the second over the middle for a 25-yard gain. The Jets quickly spiked it as 0:15 remained. Then came the big scramble. Trying to get out of bounds, Smith was pushed down by linebacker Lavonte David on the white part of the sideline, drawing a 15-yard flag that put the ball at the Tampa Bay 30. An incredible error, this greatly aided the Jets as just 0:07 remained.

Nick Folk was good on the 48-yard field goal and the Jets stunningly led 18-17. Tampa Bay did have time for a lateral attempt and it was a very good one, but it was finally stopped at the New York 30.

Smith becomes the sixth true rookie quarterback to lead a game-winning drive in Week 1 since 1960. The random list includes David Carr (2002), Ryan Leaf (1998), Jerry Golsteyn (1977), Archie Manning (1971) and Bob Griese (1967). Jets fans will hope Smith's more like the last two names than the more recent ones.

Did Smith catch a lucky break? Absolutely, but let's not forget it was Rex Ryan's vaunted defense who blew a third-and-10 and allowed Tampa Bay to regain the lead in the first place. Unlike some of the recent comebacks with a high degree of awful quarterback play attached to them for the Jets, Smith's effort was very respectable given the circumstances.

Tampa Bay falls to 1-10 against the Jets, and this could be the start of another long season.

Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Chicago Bears 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.32
Quarterback: Jay Cutler (14-17 at 4QC and 18-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This was a hard game to get a read on. Neither team really got the running game going in what no one will be renaming the "Cedric Benson Bowl" any time soon.

One predictable aspect was that both of these teams would be led by their star receivers. A.J. Green (nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns) and Brandon Marshall (eight receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown) did not disappoint even though Green did cause one of Andy Dalton's two interceptions with a drop.

Cincinnati seemed to be in control of things with a 21-10 lead in the third quarter after a strong drive to start the half. Cutler and the Bears did answer, making it 21-17 as the game went into the fourth quarter. But after improvising on a 24-yard pass to Matt Forte, Cutler threw an awful interception right to Vontaze Burfict. Rather than build on the lead, Cincinnati receiver Mohamed Sanu was stripped of the ball at the Chicago 17.

Cutler went to Marshall three times for 63 yards on the ensuing drive, including a 19-yard touchdown with 7:58 left. Cutler even had an 18-yard scramble on second-and-20 on the drive. The Bengals could only go three-and-out as Dalton was nearly intercepted on third down.

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With 6:38 left, the Bears did something I love to see: they ran out the clock. That's a lot of time to burn, but it's the best strategy to close a game with a one-score lead. Cutler delivered a strike to a diving Martellus Bennett to convert third-and-8. Michael Bush used three carries to gain 10 yards and another first down. Bush got another third-down carry with 1:15 left, and was stopped well short, but nstead of getting the ball back with a few seconds to spare, linebacker Rey Maualuga drew a 15-yard flag for throwing down a Chicago player well away from the play. That ended the game.

The heat on Maualuga should not be that strong given it would have been a nearly impossible situation for Cincinnati to do anything, but it was a sour ending to a day that could have gone much differently for the Bengals.

For the Bears, Cutler now shockingly has the fifth-best record at game-winning drive opportunities among active starters at 18-18. Part of his secret to success has been failing to keep it close more often than he should, but when the games have been close, he's been solid. He proved it again on Sunday with his 12th game-winning touchdown pass.

Oakland Raiders 17 at Indianapolis Colts 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.35
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (5-3 at 4QC and 8-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)

So I predicted the Raiders to be the worst team in the NFL this year. Either I should temper that prediction after this competitive showing, or the Indianapolis Colts are just a deeply flawed team, without an offensive line or pass rush, elevated by Andrew Luck's amazing talent.

The game started as planned. Luck led the Colts to a 14-0 lead and completed his first 11 passes (career high). In a game with long drives and limited possessions -- just like the old Colts -- Terrelle Pryor did surprise for the Raiders with 19-of-29 passing for 217 yards. He even rushed for 112 yards on 13 carries behind a makeshift offensive line.

Pryor converted a pair of third-and-10 passes for first downs and capped off his drive with a five-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore. Just like that the Raiders scored 17 unanswered to take a 17-14 lead with 11:09 to play.

But the Colts still had Luck, who had arguably the most efficient game of his brief career. He converted a third-and-8 to T.Y. Hilton for 12 yards to prevent the Colts from going three and out again. He converted another third down to Reggie Wayne, who caught all eight of his targets on the day. Why not finish the drive with a third-down conversion? A hole opened up and Luck scrambled for a 19-yard game-winning touchdown with 5:20 left. That ties the longest run of his career.

Now it was up to the defense. On third-and-1, Pryor used play action to find tight end Jeron Mastrud completely wide open for a 41-yard gain. Had he been any faster, he would have scored. The Colts forced a fourth-and-9, but that just meant another chance for Pryor to convert to Moore for 21 yards.

Defensive end Robert Mathis will probably never get any Hall of Fame love, but his 92.5th sack was a game saver. Pryor lost 16 yards. Two plays later, the other veteran defender, safety Antoine Bethea, put the game away with an interception. The Colts survived what would have been an embarrassing loss, or so it seems in Week 1. Oakland gave them real trouble.

The Colts only had seven offensive drives, so the 21 points look better than they sound. For Luck, that makes it eight game-winning drives in 18 games. By my research, that's the fastest anyone has reached it (including playoffs). Jake Plummer had his ninth in his 26th game. With the way the Colts play football -- nine of the last 10 home games for the Colts have been decided by one score -- this should be easy to get.

Fewest Games (Playoffs Included) to Eight Game-Winning Drives
Quarterback Games to 8th GWD Age Date Games to 9th GWD
Andrew Luck 18 23-361 9/8/2013 TBD
Ben Roethlisberger 22 23-243 10/31/2005 40
Jake Delhomme 24 29-000 1/10/2004 28
Jay Schroeder 25 25-176 12/21/1986 30
Jake Plummer 25 24-001 12/20/1998 26
Bernie Kosar 26 23-005 11/30/1986 30
Marc Bulger 28 27-188 10/10/2004 29
Josh Freeman 28 23-248 9/18/2011 30
Peyton Manning 31 23-277 12/26/1999 34
Johnny Unitas 32 25-207 11/30/1958 35
Don Majkowski 33 25-281 12/3/1989 39
Troy Aikman 33 24-326 10/13/1991 52
Matt Ryan 34 25-132 9/26/2010 35
Aaron Brooks 35 26-231 11/10/2002 51
Tom Brady 35 25-148 12/29/2002 40
Pat Haden 36 25-300 11/12/1978 37
Doug Williams 36 25-078 10/26/1980 41
Carson Palmer 36 26-299 10/22/2006 40

The ease at which Luck operates in these situations should not be taken for granted. It's not always going to work out, and this near loss may speak to a potential problem with the team moving forward.

This was just coach Chuck Pagano's sixth game on the sideline for the Colts. It was the third time he's led by 11-14 points and lost that lead, relying on Luck to come through late:

  • Week 2 vs. Minnesota: Colts led 20-6 in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings tied it up late. Luck led his first game-winning drive in the last 0:31 for a 23-20 win.
  • Week 3 vs. Jacksonville: The very next week, Colts led 14-3 in the third quarter before Jacksonville took the lead. Even after regaining it, Cecil Shorts scored an 80-yard touchdown in a 22-17 Jacksonville win.

The Colts only lost one two-score lead (at Kansas City) in three chances with Bruce Arians coaching the team. Coming from a defensive background with an emphasis on the ground game, Pagano may not be coaching aggressively enough once he gets a decent lead. This may be nothing more than a (very) small sample coincidence, but it's something to keep an eye on moving forward. The Colts are not a great team yet, but they should not need late stops against teams like Jacksonville and Oakland at home.

Seattle Seahawks 12 at Carolina Panthers 7

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 1 (7-6)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.49
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (5-5 at 4QC and 6-6 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Last season this was a 16-12 game where the Panthers had a great chance to take a late lead, but Cam Newton short-hopped a terrible pass in the end zone. This year the score was even lower, but like clockwork, the Panthers froze up in the fourth quarter.

Football Outsiders projected the Panthers to have an elite defense this season and we got glimpses of that in this game. Seattle scored just three points in the first half after Russell Wilson was sacked and fumbled in the red zone right before halftime. The running game was stifled all day as Marshawn Lynch had just 17 carries for 43 yards.

Carolina hung on to a 7-6 lead as the fourth quarter began. This team has notoriously blown eight fourth-quarter leads since 2011 (four each year). However, it is hard to put it on any defense for not holding up a one-point lead for an entire quarter. The offense needed to help out, and that never happened. Newton scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-12, but that just brought up another punt.

Wilson went to work, converting a third-and-5 to Golden Tate for 11 yards. Stephen Williams could not hang onto a deep ball, but Wilson used play action and went right back to deep right with a 43-yard touchdown to Jermaine Kearse. Pretty nice play for the fifth catch of your career. That's already Wilson's fourth game-winning touchdown pass. We expected this receiving corps to feature Tate, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Zach Miller. On Sunday it was guys like Kearse and Doug Baldwin stepping up.

Down 12-7, the Panthers maintained possession after a personal foul on Michael Bennett converted a third-and-7. Bennett was going for the sack but accidentally ended up with a face mask. On the next play, DeAngelo Williams ran for 10 yards, but safety Kam Chancellor was penalized 15 yards for a late hit. The Seahawks had the No. 1 scoring defense last year, but they too struggled in these situations, especially on the road against lowly opponents. This was looking like another of those games.

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Carolina was driving just fine, but Williams fumbled the ball at the Seattle 8 after a big run. Earl Thomas forced it and the Seahawks emerged from the pile with the ball. With 5:25 left, Seattle did what the Bears did to Cincinnati: bleed the clock. The best defense late in the game is a time-consuming drive from the offense, but few ever capitalize on this. Wilson made four key throws, all gaining at least 11 yards on the drive. After Carolina used its final timeout, Lynch iced the game with a 14-yard run to take things to the two-minute warning. From there it's just knees to victory.

The loss drops Carolina to 2-16 (.111) at game-winning drive opportunities in the Ron Rivera era. This is one fourth-quarter failure that you cannot blame Newton for, but the overall lack of production from the offense was again concerning. The defense had a rough fourth quarter after holding strong early.

New England Patriots 23 at Buffalo Bills 21

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 4 (21-17)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.54
Quarterback: Tom Brady (27-23 at 4QC and 39-25 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Apparently the only proven formula for Buffalo to beat Tom Brady is to intercept him four times. He's 21-2 against the Bills now and has six game-winning drives, which does not include this comeback from the 2006 opener. This was not an easy win by any means, but in the end a familiar outcome, as Buffalo just was not able to close out the Patriots.

The elite offense was not on display with the Patriots taking advantage of Buffalo mistakes to score 17 points on three drives that went just 68 combined yards. Kenbrell Thompkins was a preseason standout, but caught just 4-of-14 targets for 42 yards. Tight end Zach Sudfeld botched his only target into an interception for Brady, who relied on his two Wes Welker clones, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, to the tune of 17 completions for 183 yards and two scores.

The running game was strong as usual with 30 handoffs for 162 yards, but Brady was 29-of-52 for 288 yards (5.54 yards per attempt). Shane Vereen was the only running back to go over 100 yards (101) on Sunday, but he broke his wrist and will be out several weeks.

Buffalo certainly made a game of it in the debut for rookies EJ Manuel and coach Doug Marrone. They came out of halftime and went 80 yards for a touchdown to take a 21-17 lead. The problem was Buffalo never scored again.

New England looked poise to immediately take the lead back, but something incredible happened: Brady failed on a fourth-and-1 run at the goal line. Of course something unusual had to happen, which it did with Brady botching the snap from the center. Brady's now 88 of 92 (95.7 percent) on short-yardage runs on third and fourth down in the regular season. This ends a streak of 56 straight conversions dating back to 2005.

Did I jinx him?

In the fourth quarter Brady was sacked on third-and-5, forcing a 33-yard field goal and 21-20 deficit. Buffalo really had a chance to extend the lead again, but Manuel threw incomplete on a third-and-1 at midfield. Stevie Johnson was wide open, but the pass was just wide and he could not make the catch. You have to make those plays to beat good teams. While the defense held Brady one more time, the offense failed again with a quick three-and-out drive.

So Brady had 4:31 left at his own 34, needing only a field goal. He could do this blindfolded if he knew his receivers better, but it's uncanny how much Amendola already looks like Welker in this offense. Like Welker, Amendola came up with some big catches on the drive, including a pair of third-down beauties. Not bad for a receiver who hobbled off earlier in the game with a groin injury.

After Vereen was nearly tackled in the backfield, he turned it into a 15-yard gain down to the Buffalo 14. That was enough for New England. Brady took two knees to kill the clock and set up Stephen Gostkowski for the 35-yard game-winning field goal. He nailed it. Manuel would get the ball back, but only had five seconds left. The lateral attempt went nine yards before coming to a quick end.

The Bills drop to 1-10 at game-winning drive opportunities against New England since 2001. The key to turning that around will likely include the retirements of Brady and Bill Belichick.

Arizona Cardinals 24 at St. Louis Rams 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 11 (24-13)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.59
Quarterback: Sam Bradford (5-10-1 at 4QC and 5-11-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Rams now have as many fourth-quarter comeback wins since 2012 (four) as they had in 2006-11 combined. This was a big moment for Sam Bradford as he starts a make-or-break fourth season. In his career Bradford was just 2-21-1 (.104) when the Rams allowed more than 17 points in a game. The Rams trailed 24-13 to start the fourth quarter following a third quarter in which Bradford threw a pick-six and Larry Fitzgerald reminded us he's alive with a beautiful touchdown from Carson Palmer. Given past history, things did not look good for the Rams at home.

But this would be the Jared Cook show as he shined in his Rams debut with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He did fumble in the red zone earlier, but his 36-yard catch to end the third quarter put the Rams in position for a comeback. Bradford threw a one-yard touchdown to Cook and ran in the two-point conversion himself on a quarterback draw.

Robert Quinn had a big day with 3.0 sacks, which may force Bruce Arians to rethink just how elite Levi Brown really is. None of the sacks were bigger than the next one, as Quinn forced Palmer to fumble. The Rams had great field position at the Arizona 22, but could not get a first down. Greg Zuerlein made the 38-yard field goal to tie the game. The offenses would continue to stall with Palmer missing badly on a third-and-2 pass at the two-minute warning.

The stage was set for Bradford at his own 20 with 1:45 to play. Once again Cook made the key play with a 25-yard catch. However, the Rams ran a toss play on third-and-1 -- you know, instead of the quarterback sneak that likely would have converted and allowed the Rams to run down the clock -- and lost two yards. Zuerlein came through with the 48-yard field goal with 0:40 to play.

Palmer was out of timeouts at his own 20, but a 15-yard pass to Andre Roberts to start the drive was promising. Then, a familiar scene for an Arians' offense: a jailbreak on the quarterback for the sack. With time ticking away, a harmless completion to the Arizona 43 ended the game.

As is often the case, Palmer finished with some solid numbers (26-of-40 for 327 yards), but struggled to generate offense on the final four drives. It's not as easy to overcome protection issues when the quarterback is not Andrew Luck.

For the Rams, it's their first Week 1 win since 2006 when the team finished 8-8. It was the first time they came back from a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter since a 14-point comeback against Houston in 2005. This game really does nothing to alter season expectations, but it was a good effort from a young team not used to such wins.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

This year's version of "Eli Does Dallas" has a twist ending no one seen coming. The Lions and Saints actually get big stops from their defenses. Cleveland's offense looks lousy again, but no team may have been as bad as Pittsburgh at home against the Titans.

Giants at Cowboys: If Tony Romo Did What Eli Manning Did...

Games between the Giants and Cowboys are used to being close and exciting. This one had some differences, namely six turnovers by the Giants to a Dallas defense with 16 takeaways in all of 2012. Yet somehow Dallas could not put the Giants away until the final minutes as Eli Manning and Victor Cruz (three touchdowns) did their part in making sure this story had a new chapter. The question is: how many people will remember how this one ended?

Dallas survived an injury scare to Tony Romo in the first half and built a 27-10 lead with just under 20 minutes remaining. Manning led the New York offense to touchdown drives of 80 and 90 yards to pull within 30-24. Romo suffered his first two sacks of the night, and just like that everyone expected Manning to do it again to the Cowboys in the clutch.

Manning has already led three game-winning drives in "Jerry's House" since 2009 and this was only the fifth time he's played here. Instead, the Giants went three-and-out. Dallas had a good chance to convert on a third-and-4, but Romo's pass to Dez Bryant came too late and too short of the chains. Dallas punted and it was all set up for Manning again: down by six, 2:41 left at his own 17, one timeout and a national audience just expecting a magical drive. It may not have been the magnitude of Super Bowl XLII, but it was pretty big for an opener. Keep in mind the Giants lost to Dallas in a close one to start last season and missed the playoffs by a game.

It looked to go sour in a hurry with a quick third-and-5 situation, but Manning delivered one of his "he's so unlikely to make that throw in the first quarter" types of play for 26 yards to Rueben Randle. Just 52 yards away from a probable win, something went wrong for our hero out of the two-minute warning. Manning anticipated running back Da'Rel Scott to turn for the ball, throwing it well before Scott was looking. By the time he turned the pass could only deflect off his one hand and went right to cornerback Brandon Carr for the clinching pick six.

NBC's Cris Collinsworth was very hard on the running back with no blame on Manning for the throw. It's hard to imagine Romo ever would have been given the same benefit of doubt had the roles been reversed here. The miscommunication allowed for tight end Brandon Myers to do what Brandon Myers does: catch four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown against a soft defense. At 36-31, this one finally ended after the Giants just missed at recovering the onside kick.

Manning finished with 450 yards, but has thrown three interceptions in his three-highest passing games. Romo finished 36-of-49 for 263 yards, which gives him only 7.31 yards per completion. That's the third-lowest average for a quarterback with at least 35 completions since 1960. Chris Weinke (6.19) had the worst game.

Romo will take those stats over another big turnover in a prime-time game. It's about time the Giants are the ones making those mistakes in this rivalry.

Falcons at Saints: Another Red-Zone Failure

Last season the Falcons started 8-0, but lost in New Orleans (31-27) despite running seven plays inside the 10-yard line in the fourth quarter. Matt Ryan threw incomplete on fourth-and-2. In the NFC Championship, Atlanta blew a 17-0 lead and again was facing a red-zone opportunity with a four-point deficit. This time Ryan was incomplete on fourth-and-4 at the San Francisco 10.

Flash forward to Sunday and it was more of the same for Atlanta. Things started well with a 10-0 lead, but it would soon turn into the back-and-forth affair we are used to seeing with these teams, especially with Sean Payton back to run the offense. New Orleans led 20-17 to start the fourth quarter, but there would be only one more score in the game.

A big holding call on Sam Baker thwarted one Atlanta drive, negating a conversion on third-and-8. After Atlanta punted, Drew Brees engineered a drive for a field goal. Ryan had 3:12 left and 80 yards to go in a 23-17 game. One of the best in the game in these situations, this was shaping up to be another classic finish.

Under pressure for most of the game, Ryan had a clean pocket on this drive. Five straight completions quickly moved the ball 73 yards to the Saints 7, but that's where things would stall. Ryan was too high for Harry Douglas on first down. A short pass to Roddy White, who only had two catches for 19 yards as he nursed a high ankle sprain, moved the ball four yards closer.

After handling a low snap, Ryan fired a pass to Steven Jackson in the front-middle of the end zone, but the running back dropped the ball. Michael Turner could have done that for free. On "fourth-and-game" Ryan had one more chance. He went for Tony Gonzalez in the end zone, but the pass was just tipped by rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro and intercepted by Roman Harper. Even with the tip the ball still grazed Gonzalez's hands.

Literally a game of inches, but another game where the Falcons came up short in the red zone. Ryan still has the gaudy 23-15 record at game-winning drive opportunities, but he may not get the respect he deserves until he finishes some more of these drives where only a touchdown will do.

Vikings at Lions: Did Reggie Bush Outplay Adrian Peterson?

This game could have went south in a hurry for Detroit after botching the snap on a field goal and watching Adrian Peterson shred the defense for a 78-yard touchdown run on his first touch of the season. Then something strange happened: Peterson only gained 15 yards on his final 17 carries while Reggie Bush had a better success rate with 21 carries for 90 yards. He was the more effective rusher and chipped in with four catches for 101 yards and a 77-yard touchdown. We already expected Matthew Stafford to be a better quarterback than Christian Ponder, but when these teams meet, there's usually a strong imbalance on the ground that makes Detroit a one-dimensional attack. That was not the case this time with Bush's strong debut.

Detroit dominated the game statistically, but this one remained close until Bush's long touchdown, reminiscent of his USC days, opened up a 27-17 lead for the Lions. Ponder did answer with one of his best drives of the day, throwing a touchdown to Peterson who scored three times.

But down 27-24 in the fourth quarter, an unforced error proved costly. Ponder stumbled on a handoff to Peterson, tripping over his own lineman's feet, which threw off the play and Peterson could not secure the ball. Detroit recovered at the Minnesota 39 and was aided heavily by a roughing the passer penalty on third-and-18. Stafford finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown to Joseph Fauria for a 34-24 lead with 6:47 to play. Unable to lean on Peterson this late in the game, Ponder failed to put the Vikings in scoring position again. His last pass was his third interception of the game.

Last year Detroit was often losing this kind of game, so it was good to see a defense rebound after a shocking early touchdown to contain Peterson and force the Vikings into the one dimension they are not prepared to excel at. When Detroit can out-pass its opponent and get contributions on the ground, this is a difficult team to beat instead of the pass-happy loser Lions we have grown used to.

Dolphins at Browns: Cleveland Loses Ninth Straight Opener

Not only did the Browns lose their ninth consecutive season opener, but they were held under 21 points for the 11th straight time in Week 1. Last season rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was trapped by the pre-game flag, threw four interceptions, and still somehow nearly beat the Eagles. This year was supposed to be different. Instead, Weeden threw three picks in the first half, but Cleveland still led 7-6 at halftime. That may say more about the Dolphins, who got one catch for 15 yards out of big-money receiver Mike Wallace in his team debut.

Miami would salvage the second half, but the Browns once again found themselves in a tight one. Down 13-10, a drive stalled at midfield after a pump fake by Weeden led to a sack by Derrick Shelby. An awful attempt at a screen pass to Trent Richardson -- held to 47 yards on 13 carries behind an offensive line who allowed six sacks -- was followed by a failed completion on third-and-19. Miami proceeded to put the game away with Ryan Tannehill passing for 78 yards on an 85-yard touchdown drive. Miami led 20-10 with 6:48 to play. A quick four-and-out drive with Cameron Wake sacking Weeden on fourth-and-2 all but ended this one. Miami added a field goal while Weeden could only add some hollow passing stats before failing on another fourth down.

Last season the Browns were 1-7 at game-winning drive opportunities and they are off to a bad start in 2013. That's the hallmark sign of a team good enough to play competitively, but bad enough to find a way to lose in the end. Miami's the better team and had a fuller complement of players, but it did not exactly shine this day with 18 handoffs for 17 yards. As expected, unless you fall for the trap that is preseason football, the offense remains the problem in Cleveland.

For that matter, it's the same story in Miami.

Titans at Steelers: Pittsburgh Unleashes Hell in September

In the 94-year history of the NFL, Darius Reynaud produced one of the dumbest plays ever to start a team's season. After stepping out of the end zone on the opening kickoff and going back in for a touchback, he committed a self-inflicted safety and gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Little did we know the Steelers would actually be the biggest embarrassments of Week 1. While Pittsburgh took the ball and was driving, disaster struck when guard David DeCastro cut down his own teammate, center Maurkice Pouncey, who will now miss the season with a torn ACL and MCL. The injury deflated the team as four plays later Isaac Redman fumbled on a critical third-and-1 at the six-yard line.

From there things just got worse as this was one of the most lifeless performances in the Ben Roethlisberger era, which started Year 10 in pathetic fashion. At one point Roethlisberger threw for 37 yards and was sacked three times on seven drives. It took until the fourth quarter for Pittsburgh to score some points on its own. Roethlisberger was sacked five times and he never targeted a tight end once (unless you count fullback David Johnson). The running game produced just 15 carries for 32 yards.

Tennessee had little going offensively as well. Jake Locker only completed four passes in the first half, but at least he did convert on a third-and-13 and a third-and-15 in the third quarter to build a 10-2 lead. Despite Troy Polamalu having another one of his perfect-timing plays against the Titans, it was a forgettable day all around.

Even though the crowd began departing Heinz Field, there was a chance to come back in the fourth quarter, still down 10-2. Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 20-yard gain as the Steelers went with the no-huddle. However, tight coverage on the wide receivers downfield forced two incompletions and a punt. Tennessee proceeded to put the game away with a 62-yard drive for a field goal and 13-2 lead with 6:01 left. A third-down sack of Roethlisberger produced another three-and-out, and Tennessee added a field goal on another short field. Only then did the Steelers drive 75 yards for a touchdown, but it was too little too late as the Titans recovered the onside kick to ice the game with an unexpected 16-9 victory.

Roethlisberger started his career 40-0 at home when the Steelers allowed 0-17 points. He lost to the Bengals 13-10 in Week 16 last year. With this game, he's 41-2. Depleted cast and all, when the Steelers cannot reliably score 17 points at home, it makes you wonder where this team is headed. Larry Foote and LaRod Stephens-Howling will join Pouncey on injured reserve.

If "the standard is the standard" for Mike Tomlin, then how can he not realize just how far that standard has fallen?

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 8
Game-winning drives: 8
Games with 4QC opportunity: 13/16 (81.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 4

After so many close games, we should expect more blowouts in Week 2. The whole AFC North lost, but half of it will start 0-2 as the teams play each other this week. We can only hope to be talking about the (last?) Manning Bowl and standout NFC games like Washington at Green Bay and San Francisco at Seattle in this column next week. Hopefully the Toilet Bowl, Jacksonville at Oakland, is not competitive enough to make the cut.


65 comments, Last at 14 Sep 2013, 2:38am

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 10, 2013 - 3:46pm

"Rodgers is 0-18 at comeback opportunities against teams .500 or better."

That's not true, even within the context of this game. He had three 4th quarter "comeback opportunities" and fulfilled one of them.

Points: 0

#3 by Ryan D. // Sep 10, 2013 - 3:50pm

If I understand the definitions correctly (not a given), only the final comeback attempt counts. You either drive to win the game, or you don't. Taking a lead and losing the game does not qualify as a fourth-quarter comeback.

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#20 by Michael Procton (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 9:15pm

This is correct. He succeeded on a "Go-Ahead Drive," if you want to call it that, but it wasn't a GWD or comeback drive.

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#25 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 11:57pm

This seems like a pretty faulty way to do analysis. I'd like to see Scott lay out exactly what his criteria for a failed opportunity is, as so far it looks like he's dinging QBs for situations where they put their teams ahead and then their D loses the game. With Rodgers, he specifically mentioned a game where the the Packers went up 6 after a TD and 2-point conversion, then the Steelers marched right back down the field and scored a TD literally as time expired. How that's on Rodgers is beyond me, but here Scott is referencing it as part of the case he's making. It makes me wonder how many other entries on that chart might be similarly... questionable.

Points: 0

#37 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 11, 2013 - 9:42am

My point is that Rodgers is actually pretty good at comebacks. His team is just really bad at holding onto them.

Your argument basically consists of asserting that in 2012, Cliff Lee was a bad pitcher. I'm not saying your wrong, I'm just saying you might want to avoid Santa Claus costumes.

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#41 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 11:44am

He's pretty good if you want a game-tying drive. Game-winning drive? Not so much...

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#42 by BiMonSciFiCon (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:08pm

Because it takes a different skill set to come from behind as opposed to taking the lead when the game is tied?

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#45 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:29pm

For the most part, no. But like I've always said, if I am down 4-6 points and need a TD, give me a Manning brother. If it's tied or down 1-2 points, give me Tom Brady, because he's just going to patiently take what's open and dink-and-dunk his way down the field to set up the field goal. That is one area I think Rodgers could afford to approve on in these situations. He's a vertical passer by nature, but getting the ball out quickly could help him avoid some of the pressure from trying to hit the big plays.

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#26 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:02am

It's wrong regardless of the definition. Rodgers had a 'GWD' to beat the 6-5 New York Giants by 3 points in 2011. Really sloppy stuff from Scott.

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#27 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:51am

Not all comebacks are GWDs. Not all GWDs are comebacks. In that 2011 NYG game, it was tied 35-35 and the Packers never trailed in the 4th quarter. That's not a comeback. That's how the Broncos created a record for John Elway by counting such games as comebacks when they weren't. Two different stats.

So it's absolutely right to say Rodgers is 0-18 at comeback attempts against teams .500+. We technically shouldn't add the SF game from Sunday yet because it is based on final record.

As for what counts as a failed attempt, well you can't have two winners in one game. There can only be one (or two in the rare case of a tie with back-and-forth scoring). Roethlisberger and Rodgers can't both get a 4QC/GWD in 2009, even if both technically did their job. The QB who does get the credit got the win in the end, and in that specific case, Ben was the more deserving QB anyway. In reply to an earlier comment, I shouldn't have to explain why that's so. The traditional stats speak for themselves as does the win probability of the situations. The DYAR that week was heavily in Roethlisberger's favor. Green Bay definitely had a better defense (no Troy Polamalu for the Steelers that day). Roethlisberger's final drive was much tougher. He had to go 86 yards for a TD in 2:01. Rodgers started at the PIT 39 with nearly 4:00 left, down 30-28, because Tomlin didn't trust his defense and tried an onside kick.

If you want to count that as a game Rodgers should have won as the defense let him down at the end, then that's fine with me. That's what happened. Just acknowledge that Roethlisberger had the better game and deserved that win more.

Points: 0

#32 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 4:16am

I don't really get you being upset at being asked to explain where you're coming from given the site you're writing on, but thanks either way. Ok, Roethlisberger was the better QB that day then. Fair enough, but I still can't figure out how you feel comfortable shining a spotlight on this game in the middle of an "Aaron Rodgers has trouble coming from behind" article given the way it played out. I get that someone has to get the stat and so forth, but it's up to you what points you choose when building your case. What I'm trying to say, and what seems to be getting bogged down in the finer details, is that the choice of that game as an example of Rodgers having a come-from-behind problem is fundamentally flawed. You define that game as a failed attempt - what did Rodgers fail at, exactly? He scored 8 points the last time he touched the ball. Maybe I'm just biased but this seems to be bordering on QB-Win level analysis.

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#33 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 4:19am

And just in case I'm still being unclear: shouldn't a QB at least have a final chance to touch the ball in order to be regarded as having failed to score?

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#36 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 9:31am

But is this really an Aaron Rodgers article, or is it the latest update to my ongoing coverage about how the Packers -- yes, especially with Rodgers at QB -- continue to lose these games with amazing frequency?

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#38 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 11, 2013 - 9:44am

"There's also the fact that these games are about more than just the Packers. They have an opponent and an opposing quarterback too. On several occasions, that other quarterback just played better than Rodgers and was more deserving of the win."

You tell us.

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#62 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 14, 2013 - 2:29am

You know, I saw that mistake shortly after I posted it and thought about clarifying but I didn't want to respond to myself a second time. Since you jumped at the chance to get semantic, the answer to that question is, "Neither. This is an article about close games with a section on the Packers." But within that section, yes, it's quite plain that you're focused on Rodgers.

"When bringing up Rodgers' 9-25 record"

"Rodgers was outplayed by" ... etc.

"Rodgers is 0-18 at comeback opportunities against teams .500 or better"

"Rodgers could not even get that bomb off"

"These are games where the 'best quarterback in the league' was not the best quarterback on the field."

What's with that last one, by the way? First off, most of the games you listed happened before the meme of Rodgers as the #1 QB had taken hold. It wasn't until after the Super Bowl that I heard anyone call him that at all, and it didn't become common wisdom until after the 2011 regular season. Secondly, who thinks that being the #1 QB in the league means you outplay the rival QB every single time? I'm not sure who the audience for, or what the point of that statement is supposed to be. So yes, sometimes quarterbacks used to be worse than they are now. Sometimes good quarterbacks get outplayed. This isn't particularly insightful stuff.

I think I've gotten as much clarity out of this as I'm going to. You think it's reasonable to see the result of a game where a QB scores 8 points and takes the lead on his final drive as a failure that can be assigned to him, and I think any stat that works that way is irredeemably flawed. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, but I want to amend my earlier statement: this isn't on the level of QB Wins, this is literally QB Wins. It's disappointing, but oh well.

Points: 0

#63 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 14, 2013 - 2:31am

"I'm not sure who the audience for" = "I'm not sure who the audience for that one is for"

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#64 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 14, 2013 - 2:33am

Ugh I give up. I'm Englishing at sub-replacement level at the moment, obviously.

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#39 by coremill // Sep 11, 2013 - 10:53am

"Roethlisberger and Rodgers can't both get a 4QC/GWD in 2009, even if both technically did their job."

Why not? I realize only one team actually won the game, but so what? If the goal is to isolate QB performance in certain situations, doesn't including irrelevant factors (like how well the QB's defense plays) cloud the analysis?

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#40 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 11:42am

This is why utilizing Win Probability is the next step here. I believe Rodgers' go-ahead drive put the Packers somewhere in the low-mid 80 percent range. Roethlisberger's drive obviously put the Steelers at 1.00 since it was the last play of the game. So the WP stats would be able to acknowledge that difference.

Why am I not already using WP more here? Because I think we need to build our own updated model. Offenses are going downfield quickly with more success than we've seen in the past. The game's changed.

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#46 by markus (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:34pm

In terms of statistical analysis, I don't see why there couldn't be two "winners." Isn't this supposed to be measuring a QB's late game ability minus factors beyond his control? True, only one actually wins the game, but the defense or special teams giving away a game isn't the QB's fault. This is pretty sloppy analysis.

Points: 0

#47 by Anonymous GB Fan (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:48pm

Except Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter wasn't the better QB that day. Maybe he was the better QB the entire game, but not in the fourth. I went back and pulled up the play by play. If you're going to fault Rodgers for leading FG scoring drives instead of TD scoring drives, have to do the same with other QBs right? Here's what happened in that game straight from the play by play.

Early in the 4th quarter, Rodgers leads a TD drive to put Packers down by only three. Roethlisberger then leads a FG scoring drive and the score is now 21-27. Rodgers then leads another TD drive and the Packers are now winning by one. Roethlisberger then leads another FG scoring drive and now the score is 28-30. Rodgers leads another TD drive and the score is 34-30. Two point conversion succeeds. Score is now 36-30. Roethlisberger gets the ball back with 2:01 on the clock. He leads TD scoring drive with only 3 seconds left on the clock and Rodgers doesn’t get the ball back.

So Roethlisberger leads 3 scoring drives, 2 of which are FG drives. Rodgers leads THREE touchdown scoring drives and still loses this game and that's with the 2 point conversion succeeding.

Points: 0

#48 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 1:16pm

GB trailed by 10, 6 and 2 points on their scoring drives in the 4th quarter. Pittsburgh led by 3, trailed by 1, trailed by 6 on their drives. Wouldn't it be logical for GB to be more aggressive on those drives?

And Rodgers threw for 96 yards in the quarter. Roethlisberger threw for 93 on the final drive alone and 198 in the quarter, so I don't know how you can say he wasn't the better QB.

Points: 0

#49 by Anonymous GB Fan (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 1:40pm

Why does the points they were trailing by matter? And they were obviously as aggressive as they possibly could have been as every single drive that quarter led to a TD and they converted a two-point conversion. I don't know how you can say GB should have been more aggressive on those drives.

And I didn't say Rodgers was the better QB that game. I said in the fourth IF we're going to use the premise that TD scoring drives > FG drives.

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#51 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 11, 2013 - 2:07pm

I said GB more aggressive than Pittsburgh. And you're basically holding it against Roethlisberger that his scramble on 3rd-and-10 was called back after a holding penalty. There's your second FG instead of a TD. And again, basing it all on FG vs. TD while ignoring stuff like field position or actual QB performance (198 yards vs. 96 is a huge difference) doesn't make sense.

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#65 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 14, 2013 - 2:38am

"And you're basically holding it against Roethlisberger that his scramble on 3rd-and-10 was called back after a holding penalty."

Other QBs have plays called back for holding too, if you want to say that means Ben "deserved" a TD, irony, etc etc.

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#50 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 11, 2013 - 1:51pm

No, actually it wouldn't.

Each had two drives where a FG served their need, and one where they needed a TD.

Either a TD or a FG converts a 10-pt deficit into a one-score game. Neither makes it all up.

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#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 10, 2013 - 3:50pm

"There's also the fact that these games are about more than just the Packers. They have an opponent and an opposing quarterback too. On several occasions, that other quarterback just played better than Rodgers and was more deserving of the win."

See, this is where I expect more from FO writers. This is Simms-level analysis. This isn't 7-on-7. Rodgers isn't playing against the GB defense -- he's playing against the other team. This is why there is a "D" in DVOA.

You can be the better player and still lose, because your defense sucks and theirs doesn't. Even Jaws doesn't think the QB is the only player who matters.

Points: 0

#4 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 10, 2013 - 3:57pm

In 2009 and 2010 Rodgers had the No. 2 defense (DVOA) both years. If you want to argue Eli and Kap have had better defenses the last two years, I won't disagree. But to suggest Rodgers was losing some of these games by having the inferior defense, well that's just not true.

When you look at the scores of those games, especially in 2009, it's not like the other team's defense was dominating.

Points: 0

#12 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:58pm

You just did it again. It isn't useful to discuss whose defense was "superior" in cases like the 09 Steelers game, which you're dinging Rodgers for. Regardless of which defense was "superior" overall, it is a concrete fact that Rodgers put the Packers up by 6 and then the defense gave up the losing TD with no time left. You talk about how this demonstrates Rodgers was outplayed by Roethlisberger, but how is that the case? Is there some kind of intangible, motivational quality Rodgers is lacking that would have forced there to be time left on the clock? Should he have convinced Mike McCarthy to try for a 3-point conversion after the Packers' final TD so the score would have been tied? You can wave your hands about season-long DVOA or "superiority" all you want, but this isn't a good look for an FO Writer.

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#58 by Mr Shush // Sep 13, 2013 - 6:06am

He could have scored slower and left the Steelers less time to come back. Peyton, in particular, is unbelievably good at timing his late scoring drives. Not perfect, of course - no one could be - but it's a real skill.

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#5 by coremill // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:07pm

It's ironic that FO know has a column devoted to drawing conclusions from the outcomes of close games when nobody has done more than FO to hammer home the concept that outcomes in close games are not predictive.

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#6 by RoninX (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:13pm

Drawing conclusions from the final score of close games is one thing, examining the processes that went into determining the final score is something else entirely. To me this article did an excellent job of addressing the latter... which seems to be a worthwhile objective.

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#14 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 5:06pm

I was troubled when I read that FO had hired a CHFF writer. This column does not alleviate my concerns.

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#24 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 10, 2013 - 9:59pm

Re: coremill

I'm not familiar with anyone who has done the same work I've done, so there's really no basis for comparison. I do not use final scores because you end up ignoring a game like Super Bowl 44 (31-17) and adding a game like Washington/Philly (33-27) from last night.

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#7 by Kearby (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:21pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you have the Texans' largest deficit being 28-14. Wasn't the largest deficit in the 3rd 28-7?

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#8 by Kearby (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:28pm

Edit: It is initially stated that the largest deficit was 28-14, the article itself says 28-7.

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#10 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:42pm

Technically the largest deficit line is always based on the 4th quarter. You're right that the largest deficit for the game was 28-7. That's a fair point and something I will clarify better next time.

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#11 by Kearby (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:46pm

Ok, that makes sense. I'm new here, and I regret not visiting sooner.

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#9 by DA (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 4:40pm

Yeah the Rodgers 4th Quarter drive stats are pretty lacking for FO standards. I have seen a game by game analysis of each game in question and in a large % of these games either:

1)Rodgers leads a scoring drive only for the Defense to give it up

2)Rodgers sets up the team for a game winning FG and then Crosby shanks it.

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#21 by Michael Procton (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 9:20pm

The most accurate kicker of all time (Vanderjagt) only hit 86%. Only way to make sure the kicker doesn't miss is to put it in the endzone yourself.

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#29 by Bobman // Sep 11, 2013 - 2:51am

My God, is Vandy STILL #1? I thought a couple guys had passed him (especially as his time with Dallas was horrid) since he left the game. When he left he was on top, and for a few years before that, sure.

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#34 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 4:24am

Depends on how many attempts you want. There are two guys ahead of him but they've only been in the league since 2011. I seem to remember Kaeding had passed him for awhile as well, but... y'know.

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#35 by Anonymoises Alou (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 4:25am


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#13 by BiMonSciFiCon (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 5:01pm

Remember when Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones in 2010 in the fourth quarter against the Bears, only to see Jones fumble it around midfield and have the bears go down and kick a field goal? Kaep would have willed Jones to hold on.

Remember, that same year, when he completed a 4th and 11 to Jordy Nelson with like 30 seconds left in the game, only to see the Falcons return the kick almost to field goal range? Never woulda happened to Tebow.

Remember, in 2009, when the Packers were down 31-10 against the Cardinals, and then he threw a bunch of TDs to send the game to overtime? NOT CLUTCH (yes I remember the fumble).

Remember the back and forth game against the Steelers where the Steelers scored as time expired, after Rodgers had given the Packers the lead? Maybe if Rodgers played DB he'd be "the best quarterback in the league."

The Packers have won many close games with Rodgers at the helm. In the last two years alone they've beaten NO by 1, DET by 4, NYG by 3 and MIN by 6. This also doesn't count the games that were close in the third quarter only to see the Packers pull away.

Finally, I'll close with this: "This is just not the kind of game Green Bay has shown it can win on a consistent basis, especially against a good opponent on the road." How many home games did the Packers have in the 2010 playoffs?

*All of this is qualified by the fact that I am a Packers fan and while I try to be unbiased, I know that's impossible. And, I hate it when people tear apart someone's work in the comment threads. I know I personally could not produce something as good as this on my own, but I disagreed with the Pack/Niners section so much so that I couldn't resist.

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#15 by DA (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 5:07pm

A Clutch QB would have played DB too to preserve his comeback drive last year on the road @SEA.

Sadly, Rodgers was slacking on the sideline while Golden Tate "caught" the ball.

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#19 by mehllageman56 (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 8:29pm

A Clutch QB would have played DB too to preserve his comeback drive last year on the road @SEA.

That's the exact reason Geno Smith was not worthy of a first round draft pick. His run defense is terrible.

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#18 by TacticalSledgehammer // Sep 10, 2013 - 6:34pm

Hear hear. This is not the kind of writing I'm used to from FO. So much sample selection bias.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

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#22 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 10, 2013 - 9:40pm

Re: BiMonSciFiCon

Always the Packers fans... Look, I'll just assume that you and anyone else commenting has never seen the various pieces I've done on Green Bay in the past. There's probably 15,000 words out there on the topic already. This article was over 8,300 itself. What more can I do in a general Week 1 review? We had 12 other games and 25 other teams to talk about too. This was not a Green Bay article.

I may have to do a separate one at some point to disprove this idea that Rodgers is the only QB who gets screwed over in some close games. The elite guy who should be getting that distinction is Drew Brees, but I guess he doesn't need it since his record isn't so bad to look at.

There was a 2000 Colts/Jets game where the Colts trailed 20-17 and Jeff Saturday fumbled the snap to Manning on the first play of the drive. Jets went 20 yards for a TD to lead 27-17 and Manning had only 3:00 left. There's a loss, and one that took a few years for me to add to the database, which is sorted by teams and not QBs.

Speaking of which, 2007 Patriots at Cowboys. Dallas trailed 31-24. On the first play of the 4th quarter Marion Barber gained 6 yards on 4th-and-1, but alas, the Cowboys were flagged for holding. It's one of those weird ones where the hold came late so the play counts statistically, but it turned into a 4th-and-9 situation. Dallas punted and the Patriots opened up a 38-24 lead. It took about 4 years for me to realize this one counted as a loss for Romo and Dallas.

Those are more egregious than any of the failed 4QC/GWDs against Rodgers. The point is these things happen to QBs, especially if you play long enough. Your kicker's going to choke, your defense is going to blow it and you'll likely have your own miscues to be remembered (or forgotten if you were a "winner" early like how Eli takes less heat for Sunday night than if Romo did that).

I've said many times this is a Green Bay problem more than a Rodgers problem. It's just magnified with Rodgers because of his caliber, and the fact that Green Bay actually did come back to win a high-scoring shootout against the 2011 Lions with Matt Flynn at QB.

Any time I do drive stats, I put in a disclaimer that "Aaron Rodgers really means Rodgers and the Packers." That's assumed. But with the 9-25 record, isn't the common link in all 34 games that Rodgers was the QB and Mike McCarthy was the head coach? Maybe Crosby was the kicker and maybe James Jones & AJ Hawk played in every game, but I don't think much else has stayed constant from 2007-13 in GB. So in that sense it's fair to put that record in with his name.

When I look at the 25 losses, I see maybe six games where he "deserved" the win, but deserved is a tricky word in sports. Is taking a 1-point lead with nearly a full quarter to play deserving of the win? Is setting up a 52-yard field goal a great job by the offense? I don't really think so.

The Packers have had serious issues with closing tied or one-score games. How anyone can continue to overlook that is beyond me.

Now there is a third stat I would like to add to that first table that would make Rodgers look better, Brady/Cutler worse and the same goes for anyone else with an abnormal distribution of close games/routs in their career, but that's a harder calculation that reeks of offseason work. I know full well Rodgers has been better than the 9-25 record, but at the same time I know Green Bay as a team has not been.

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#30 by Bobman // Sep 11, 2013 - 3:13am

Scott, As long as you're on Manning/Colts, there was a game in 2009 or thereabouts when Indy was trailing and Manning led them to a TD with about 2 minutes left to take the lead, only to have the ensuing KO returned for six. He got the ball, trailing once more with less than two minutes left and had to lead ANOTHER GW drive.

Shouldn't that count for two come from behind 4Q wins? ;-)

And since the Rodgers contingent is bringing up games in which a nascent GWD is turned upside down by teammates (it takes a team, after all, to win OR lose), I suspect Manning has had more than his fair share of last second knives in the back from teammates after staking them a lead in the 4Q. The 2010 playoff loss comes to mind--he puts them ahead of the Jets with 53 seconds left and Mark Sanchez on the other end of the field--guaranteed win, right? Wrong. Manning's fault. And how many times did Indy lose to the Titans or Jags because Scobee or Bironas hit a 50+ yard FG as time expired? One might even have been 60 yards. Manning's ability to allow 50+ yard FGs as the clock expires is appalling.

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#54 by Cythammer (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 10:21pm

That Jets-Colts game was in 2011, not 2010. In 2010 the Colts beat the Jets fairly handily in the AFC Championship Game.

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#55 by BaronFoobarstein // Sep 12, 2013 - 12:39am

That was the Steelers over the Colts in the AFC Championship. The Colts was the year prior.

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#43 by BiMonSciFiCon (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:16pm

I am disagreeing with your premise. Luck in close losses matters a great deal. Over the next 34 games, the Packers could go 25-9 in close games.

I would like to see a study of whether future performance in close games is predictable with any certainty based on past performance. I would guess the answer is "no", but I would also guess it'd be hard to get a sample size big enough or control for the right variables to get any useful results.

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#28 by Chef Ray Kwan (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 2:08am

As a Niner fan and Cal alum who's been miserable over getting Alex Smith instead of Rodgers (*until last year*), this article was fascinating for getting at something I've never been able to put my finger on--which is Rodgers's incredibly freaky snakebittenness in the 4th quarter. I have so many weird memories of games in which, though it wasn't his fault, either Cal or GB came up short at the end. Like the final drive of the 2004 USC game, which would've finally put them into a Rose Bowl if not the title game, and in which he had the crazy completion streak and was clearly the best player on a field with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. On third down his pass goes through the receiver's hands in the end zone, on fourth down his intended receiver fell down making his break, and that was ballgame. Couldn't stop thinking about that game after that crazy wildcard game with Arizona. These other games are examples of the same kind of weirdness, where he plays well and his team still loses. Not a real FO-ish observation, but strange...

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#31 by Chef Ray Kwan (not verified) // Sep 11, 2013 - 3:17am

Okay, I got obsessed and went to Wikipedia and Google to recover some of those Cal memories. Most of these say more about the overall talent level at Cal than about Rodgers, but they're in the same freaky pattern. His first game (also Alex Smith's first college start) he comes in against Utah down two touchdowns, actually brings Cal back to a 24-21 lead, but they don't get anything done in the 4th and Utah comes back to win. In the wacky UCLA game he gets them to overtime with a touchdown and 2-point conversion, UCLA opens overtime with a field goal, and Cal's answering field goal bounces off the upright. And the signature win during his two seasons at Cal was the 3-overtime upset over USC in 2003--but that's a game he left with a concussion in the second half and Reggie Robertson finished...

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#16 by AnonymousSEA (not verified) // Sep 10, 2013 - 5:25pm

Regarding Matt Ryan, "... game of inches ... he may not get the respect he deserves until he finishes some more of these drives where only a touchdown will do."

The above seems a bit reluctant to stand by the research you've done that has shown him to be of the best at GWD/4th QC.

Or is the point that since he plays in ATL, no one cares/believes that he has been the best?

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#23 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 10, 2013 - 9:54pm

Ryan is one of the best, but as an obsessed Flacco fan continues to email me, many of his best drives ended with a FG. Of course, there was little time for Ryan to do anything but set up a FG in many of those cases, which was all Atlanta needed.

But if you're talking about the do-or-die TD situation, then yeah, Ryan probably doesn't have anything signature in that area yet. He doesn't have a lot of close playoff wins like Brady and Eli had to overcome his critics yet. But I think he'll get there.

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#17 by widderslainte // Sep 10, 2013 - 6:28pm

But these close wins/losses are just a matter of luck, right?

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#44 by Ferguson1015 // Sep 11, 2013 - 12:28pm

What is Rivers record in game winning opportunities across his career? It felt like he was pretty consistent with those early in his career.

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#52 by Eddo // Sep 11, 2013 - 3:55pm

I'm hesitant to get into this whole Aaron Rodgers discussion (I think a bunch of commenters are reading way too much into Scott's data).

That said, Scott, it would be cool to ALSO see success and opportunity numbers for individual drives, with multiple allowed per game.

That is, if a QB faces two separate four-point, fourth quarter deficits in a single game, but only scores a touchdown on the first one, he would show up as "1 success, 1 failure" for that game. That would serve to take the quality of his own defense and the quality of the opposing offense out of the question.

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#53 by LionInAZ // Sep 11, 2013 - 10:10pm

I will probably get trashed for this, but maybe the problem is that Rodgers, McCarthy and Thompson don't inspire all-out performances in crunch situations from most plsyers.

For example, Rodgers is notorious for holding the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks, but it is rare to hear him accept responsibility for them, although it is not so rare to see him giving his teammates the razz when he gets pressured.

Beyond that, one has to wonder about the team's policy of dumping star players with little regard to actual value (e.g., Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, and now Woodson and Jennings. A smart player could say that Ted Thompson.didn't value the players that got him a Super Bowl win enough to grant them a dignified exit, so why should I put out more than necessary to get a better contract with another squad?

Meanwhile, the Psckers squirm along with a bunch of barely tested new guys. Except for Rodgers, they might as well be the Lions.

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#56 by silm // Sep 12, 2013 - 1:59am

Seriously, so much has been written on this already. Go look up Kacsmar's archives and control+F the articles with Green Bay and read them.

Rodgers has been no more "unlucky" than many other QBs. The data is out there and the analysis has been done. And it compellingly shows that McCarthy and Rodgers are a great team when they get out to an early lead, and one of the worst if they get behind.

Give it a rest, no one cares about your feelings being hurt because Green Bay gets criticized, the data proves you wrong.

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#57 by Andrew Carroll (not verified) // Sep 13, 2013 - 5:10am

Scott, you must feel like Copernicus or something. You're introducing some pretty basic stats (GWD and 4CQ) to a new audience and people here are oddly confused and being ridiculous about it.

I've followed your work since CHFF (nice job escaping there, by the way), and it's nice to have you on board at a legitimate state site like FO. This piece was fantastic and I look forward to the next one.

I would, however, like to comment on something. I think there needs to be a new stat that is not dependent on game outcome but only drive outcome.

In baseball, for example, a 2-out single that scores the go-ahead run from second in the top of the 9th is a "clutch" hit. It's not the batter's fault if the home team scores two runs in the bottom of the 9th in a walk-off win.

Similarly, while GWD and 4CQ stats are incredibly useful -- so are the efficiency stats of how often a passer starts a drive with a deficit and how often he erases it.

Shouldn't there be a third stat, perhaps, that says, "On X amount of drives in the 4th quarter, with a deficit of 1 - 8, Quarterback A succeeded in erasing the deficit and/or taking the lead Y times."

Then the question of what his defense did AFTERWARDS would be irrelevant (to this new particular stat, at least).

Just a thought. Glad to see you have the success rate records to give context to the clutch. Awesome stuff.

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#59 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 13, 2013 - 10:58am

Thanks Andrew. I know what you mean with that stat, and I obviously do keep track of each drive, but the only reason I haven't created more is I'm still in the process of putting it all together in a database. I started with two files that included random active QBs. That turned into files with a sheet for all 32 teams. Since I've been writing so much I don't usually have the time to work on that research, but I'm hoping that will change in the offseason.

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#61 by Andrew Carroll (not verified) // Sep 13, 2013 - 4:46pm

If you want help with the research, I would be glad to lend a hand. Let me know. We have actually exchanged e-mails before when I was using your work to talk about how Alex Smith was the second quarterback in history to lead 3 4th quarter comebacks on the road in a 4 game span. Should I send you an e-mail?

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