Clutch Encounters: Week 5
by Scott Kacsmar
After a week loaded with history and streaks, let's jump right into the 10 games with a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity, including the game of the year in Dallas.
Game of the Week
Denver Broncos 51 at Dallas Cowboys 48
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (48-41)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.84
Head Coach: John Fox (30-42 at 4QC and 39-47 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (39-44 at 4QC and 51-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Taking one of the greatest displays of offensive football in NFL history and boiling it down to one play would be a disgraceful thing to do. Oh, we'll get to that play, but let's back up and appreciate one of the most historic games we will ever witness.
Dallas started the offensive fireworks with a pair of touchdown drives to take a 14-0 lead as Tony Romo did whatever he wanted to the Denver defense. In between, the Broncos had their obligatory fumble (Eric Decker), putting Peyton Manning in a hole before he made a single mistake. Still, it was evident from that first drive that this was going to be a huge offensive day. Dallas could not get any real pressure on Manning, who was not sacked on 42 attempts.
Once Manning started getting the ball, the touchdowns came in a flurry. A fumble by Dez Bryant allowed Manning to put Denver ahead with his third scoring toss of the first half. He now has 20 touchdown passes in five games, more than John Elway had in entire seasons when he went to his first three Super Bowls.
Manning even brought out the naked bootleg (without telling his teammates) for his first rushing touchdown since 2008. He now has as many career rushing scores (18) as his father Archie. The play fooled everyone even if we've seen it a few times before. Denver fans may wish Manning would save the trick for a big third down in a playoff game, but it was probably the highlight of the day.
Denver misplayed the situation before the end of the half (sound familiar?) as rookie Terrance Williams made a 38-yard catch. The field goal was good and Dallas trailed 28-20 at halftime.
Manning started the second half by putting together Denver's fifth-consecutive touchdown drive to take a 35-20 lead. At this point Romo, who quietly was having one of his best games ever in Manning's shadow, could have yielded to the dominance of Denver and gone on to lose a 49-31 type of game with nowhere near as much blame for the defeat.
Instead Romo found Williams, who broke away from Tony Carter and went 82 yards for the touchdown. We still had a game. Manning surprisingly stayed conservative with a running play on third-and-7 on the next drive, forcing Denver's first field goal of the day. Denver led 38-27.
Romo again drove the Cowboys 80 yards, finishing with a two-yard touchdown pass to Bryant, but he could not run in the two-point conversion. With nine seconds left in the third quarter, Manning lobbed up his worst pass of the day for his first interception of the season.
Romo soon had another touchdown and a two-point pass to Williams for a 41-38 lead with 13:38 left. At this point, one could very much say Romo was the best quarterback on the field on this day.
It's been some time since Denver has been in this situation, but Manning has a record 38 fourth-quarter comeback wins, so it's really nothing new here. The Dallas pass rush started to get closer, but Manning still found Knowshon Moreno for 11 yards on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive. It did stall after Manning threw an inaccurate pass on third down after a little bit of pressure. Matt Prater was successful on the 50-yard field goal to tie the game at 41.
Romo faced a third-and-6 at his own 17-yard line, but the lack of pass rush from a banged-up Denver defense allowed him to find Bryant at midfield for a 79-yard gain. Cole Beasley easily scored on a four-yard screen to take a 48-41 lead.
With 7:14 left, this one was far from over. While Manning's four receivers are deadly, the running backs coming out of the backfield can also make easy catches. Manning started the drive with a couple of those before going to Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, who both were held under 60 yards despite the 414 yards from Manning.
Manning overcame a holding penalty with a 16-yard pass to Welker on second-and-17, setting up a third-and-1 from the 1-yard line. Not trying to push for a record down the road, Manning went with the high-percentage play as Moreno scored on the ground to tie the game.
Romo now needed a third go-ahead drive in the quarter. He had 506 yards and five touchdowns, so 49 more yards would have broken Norm Van Brocklin's record of 554 yards set in 1951. He had 2:39 left at his own 20-yard line and the rest of this almost writes itself, doesn't it?
Shaun Philips came in with a big sack (75th of his career) on first down. Denver then rushed only three, but Romo felt a little uneasiness in the pocket and forced a terrible pass over the middle to rookie tight end Gavin Escobar. Danny Trevathan came away with the interception and a great disturbance was felt among all social media.
Manning came out throwing with a 13-yard pass to Thomas. Soon after, with a third-and-1 at the Dallas 2-yard line, Manning allegedly told Moreno to get the first down without the touchdown, which really is the optimal strategy. Hard to do, and Dallas should have tried to let him score, but it worked out exactly as planned. Manning did three ugly slides that really were not necessary, then Prater made the 28-yard field goal as time expired for one of the wildest wins in NFL history, 51-48.
It was the 50th game-winning drive of Manning's career, which still puts him one behind Dan Marino (51) for that record. Overall he is 51-49 (.510) at game-winning drive opportunities in his career. The 2013 Broncos join the 2000 Rams as the only teams to start 5-0 despite allowing at least 20 points in every game.
Dallas averaged 9.7 yards per play and lost. That's the third-highest average by a losing team since 1950. Denver's defense was exposed badly, but few teams have the firepower to attack them and Von Miller and Champ Bailey (among others) will return.
While there's so much to talk about from this one, such as the juggernaut that is the Denver offense, we have to go over the Romo interception once again.
The Tony Romo Saga: Deluxe Edition
This is not a criticism, but Sunday will go down as the signature game of Tony Romo's career.
As you may be aware, I have written quite a bit about Romo in the clutch. Contrary to popular belief, he does not always choke with bad turnovers in these situations. Sunday's interception was the 12th turnover of his career in the fourth quarter or overtime when tied or trailing by one score. That's not that bad. Philip Rivers recently had 13 in less than two seasons. It's just that so many have come in big games watched by many people, which was the case again with only one other game on Sunday (on a different network too).
Romo's problem is that he's too good to not give Dallas a chance to win games and make the playoffs. He could have wilted when Dallas was 3-5 last year, but he raised his game, led five comebacks and made that Week 17 game against Washington matter. Then he went and lost it with bad plays.
On Sunday, he could have folded again early in the third quarter when Manning looked unstoppable. Instead Romo played the best game of his career for 58 minutes, dragging an overmatched Dallas team to the brink of victory over the best team in the NFL. A lesser quarterback would have been blown out.
Then Romo threw the interception that set up the loss and that's all most people will want to remember. It's just like that other historic loss at home against the 2011 Giants. Romo again had the game of his life, but some only want to remember the third-down pass he did not complete to Miles Austin.
The similarities between the two games are absolutely stunning when put into a historical context.
Against the 2011 Giants, Romo was 21 of 31 (two spikes even) for 321 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 141.3 passer rating. This week against Denver he was 25 of 36 for 506 yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 140.0 passer rating.
Now we know passer rating is a flawed stat, but we all can admit anyone putting up a 140.0+ on a full game of attempts played a hell of a game. Yet, look at where Romo's games stand historically:
- Since 1960, all other quarterbacks are 159-0-1 when throwing at least four touchdowns with a 140.0+ rating. Romo is 1-2.
- Romo is the only quarterback since 1960 to have a 140.0+ rating on at least 30 attempts and lose the game, which he's done twice now (both losses to the Manning brothers).
The only other quarterback with more than 25 attempts to lose with a 140.0+ rating was David Carr (26 attempts) in 2006. His opponent? Peyton Manning. Carr lit it up in garbage time. Romo's numbers all meant something in his games.
Romo had the kind of performance that wins the game almost every single time, but instead he comes away with two losses.
One of my Twitter followers, @jesusmhdz, made a great comparison with the 1990 game where Derrick Thomas had seven sacks, but failed to bring down Seattle's Dave Krieg for an eighth time on the final play of the game. Krieg threw the game-winning touchdown instead and Kansas City lost 17-16. However, Thomas was just a linebacker, so we remember the record number of sacks but not his failure with the game on the line. Romo is the quarterback of America's Team, so any mistake gets the ultimate magnification.
On a day where Romo needed to (and almost did) score 51-55 points and throw for the most yards in NFL history to beat the league's best team, some people are only going to care about one play.
That's why this one will always be signature Romo. The undrafted underdog who was not even supposed to be here did all he could to put Dallas in a position to win, but when he had to do just a little more at the end, he fell apart.
Sadly, after eight years, it seems the only role Romo knows how to play is to go from near glory to back in the hole. I'm not sure that's what Jerry Jones wanted, but it's what he will continue to get without putting a better team around his top-10 quarterback.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Seattle Seahawks 28 at Indianapolis Colts 34
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (28-23)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.26
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (2-3 at 4QC and 3-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (6-4 at 4QC and 9-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
These two teams may be more than just the "future" of the NFL. They may be the present, with arguably the two best young quarterbacks on contracts cheap enough to build up the team around them. This battle lived up to the hype but it was certainly not pretty at the start for Indianapolis.
The Colts backed up three straight three-and-out drives with a blocked punt that resulted in a safety (nearly a touchdown) and a 12-0 Seattle lead. Pete Carroll could have gone for the curb stomp early, but he punted on fourth-and-1 at the Colts' 48-yard line. Maybe LenDale White has scarred him for life.
Richard Sherman looked confused as T.Y. Hilton exposed Seattle's secondary for a 73-yard touchdown catch. Seattle attempted a field goal, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Just like that the Colts led 14-12. From there the big plays would settle down, but scoring drives were consistently strung together.
Indianapolis trailed 28-23 to start the fourth quarter, but that's nothing unusual for this team. Hilton (140 yards) continued his career day with a masterful catch after Luck evaded pressure in the pocket for a 12-yard gain on third-and-8.
Luck went to old reliable, Reggie Wayne, on his next two passes and Donald Brown finished the drive off with a three-yard touchdown. Wayne was also there after another Luck scramble for the two-point catch to take a 31-28 lead as Seattle burned its final timeout with 8:55 left.
A game with Luck and Russell Wilson trading scores late? Sign me up for that every season, but this time the Seahawks were not successful down the stretch. The Colts forced a three-and-out after Jerrell Freeman made an incredible tackle of Wilson for no gain. Wilson's scrambling was very effective, but this was a zone-read run and Freeman tracked him down perfectly.
The Colts used Trent "3.0" Richardson to burn clock. Now for much of the day it was more like Trent 0.6, but he did have a great 10-yard run with a broken tackle to convert a third-and-5. After that play it was just three more runs and a big 49-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. I would have liked to see Luck get a chance to clinch the game with a first down, but Chuck Pagano kept it safe.
Wilson had 1:55 to go 80 yards to likely win the game. He started with a 22-yard scramble, giving him 102 yards on the ground to go along with 210 through the air. When he stayed in the pocket, the Colts failed to rush Wilson, but Darius Butler and Greg Toler played tight coverage and caused two incompletions to set up a fourth-and-15.
This time the pressure did come (Freeman again) and Wilson had to force a desperation pass that was intercepted by Butler to clinch the game.
Yes, the same Indianapolis defense that has been dreadful the last few years and nearly lost to Terrelle Pryor in Week 1 has now done a very respectable job against Colin Kaepernick and Wilson in two games most people have had circled as Indianapolis losses since April.
Luck played very well against the league's No. 1 pass defense. Scoring 27 points on this Seattle defense is no easy task. The game-winning drive gives Luck his ninth in just 22 games. That's the fastest to nine ever, which I said would easily happen back in Week 1.
There's no denying how different the Seahawks are on the road, but this game says more about the legitimacy of the 2013 Colts than anything else. Last season this might have been a Seattle blowout after the 12-0 start. This year the Colts look more capable of being able to hang with anyone.
We get Denver at Indianapolis in Week 7, which should be the ultimate test of that theory.
New York Jets 30 at Atlanta Falcons 28
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (28-27)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.33
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (13-18 at 4QC and 16-19 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Geno Smith (2-1 at 4QC and 3-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
This one could be the death blow for the 2013 Falcons, who drop to 1-4 and an astonishing 0-4 at comebacks (tied with Steelers for worst in the league).
The Jets scored 17 points on their first three drives, which may be all that needs to be said about this battered Atlanta defense. It may also be the reason the Falcons panicked and went for it at the end of the second quarter instead of kicking the field goal in a 17-7 game. When you have a two-score deficit and a drive that takes nearly half the quarter, scoring zero points is completely unacceptable.
With the way the Falcons play red-zone offense lately, it almost seems inevitable too. Jacquizz Rodgers was tackled for no gain at the 1-yard line to end the half.
Atlanta trailed 20-14 in the fourth quarter and had to punt after a deep ball to Julio Jones was incomplete. After a big punt return and horse collar tackle, the Jets only had to go 23 yards for another touchdown.
With 12 minutes left, the right call is to go for two. We've seen Chuck Pagano botch this in San Francisco and the Browns did as well against Buffalo. Rex Ryan kicked the extra point to take a 27-14 lead. Whoopty-do.
Of course the Falcons would rally after nearly making a 17-point comeback last week against the Patriots. Rodgers capped off the 80-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown run. Right on cue, the Atlanta defense came alive with a sack by Osi Umenyiora and the Jets went three-and-out. The Falcons had 5:40 left.
After getting called for a cheap offensive pass interference penalty, Jones made a beautiful one-handed catch for 46 yards with Antonio Cromartie in coverage. Tony Gonzalez converted a fourth-and-1 with a four-yard catch. On a fourth-and-3, Ryan threw incomplete, but the Falcons got a very favorable call on defensive holding for a first down. It was just last week I mentioned the only team Ryan ever came through in the red zone when needing a late touchdown was the Jets in 2009. Two plays later Ryan threw to Levine Toilolo and this week he held on for the go-ahead touchdown and 28-27 lead.
However, in today's NFL it's entirely too easy, with three timeouts and nearly two minutes, to get into field goal range, even if you have a rookie quarterback. Smith completed 16-of-20 passes on the night with little resistance from the defense. He carefully guided the Jets down the field thanks to some shoddy tackling from Atlanta. Bilal Powell steamed ahead for six yards to convert a third-and-3 when it looked like he would be tackled in the backfield. That was the final push Nick Folk needed to have a 43-yard attempt, which he nailed with no time remaining for the 30-28 win.
Smith has three game-winning drives in his first five games. He becomes the first rookie in NFL history to lead three game-winning drives in his team's first five games. Virgil Carter (1968 Bears) had a game-winning drive in each of his first three starts, which concluded his first five game appearances.
Here's the updated list of all true rookie quarterbacks since 1950 with at least three game-winning drives (playoffs included):
|Most GWDs, Rookie Season (Playoffs Included)|
Note: Otto Graham had four on the 1950 Browns, but had prior pro experience (AAFC). Sam Etcheverry had three on the 1961 Cardinals, but had prior pro experience (CFL).
Losing a game after leading in the fourth quarter used to be a rarity for Mike Smith's Falcons. In his first 84 games, the Falcons allowed three fourth-quarter comebacks. In the last six games, starting with the 2012 NFC Championship, the Falcons have allowed three fourth-quarter comebacks.
That's how you blow your shot at the Super Bowl and then start 1-4 the following season.
Kansas City Chiefs 26 at Tennessee Titans 17
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (17-13)
Win Probability (GWD): 0.35
Head Coach: Andy Reid (29-51-1 at 4QC and 41-59-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (11-15 at 4QC and 13-16 overall 4QC/GWD record)
I had the Chiefs pegged as an 8-8 team all offseason, but a 4-0 start was surprising. Maybe the only bigger surprise in the AFC was Tennessee at 3-1 with a tough overtime loss in Houston. With two of the top defenses (so far) this year, this game's potential was dealt a blow with the injury to Jake Locker last week. Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a known turnover machine.
However, he actually avoided the big mistakes early and even finished as his team's leading rusher (50 yards and a score) with Chris Johnson (10 carries for 17 yards) bottled up.
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It was all Kansas City early, even getting a fluke touchdown on a muffed punt. That fortunate score did expose the struggles this offense would have as it could only manage two field goals through three quarters. On a third-and-9 to start the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick scrambled for the go-ahead touchdown. Down 17-13, the Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
Smith nearly fumbled on third down before Kansas City punted. Two low passes by Fitzpatrick were ruled incomplete, bringing up a quick three-and-out for Tennessee. The Chiefs have had a lengthy drive in the fourth quarter of the last three games and this one was the most important yet. Dwayne Bowe got it started with a 17-yard catch, but it would have ended prematurely without a personal foul on Moise Fokou for this late hit out of bounds:
That's a terrible call. Smith was not fully out yet and how can you expect the linebacker to slow up at that point? Jamaal Charles finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to take a 20-17 lead with 6:23 left.
As we have seen far too often in his career, which actually began with a mind-blowing comeback, Fitzpatrick botched this attempt. A tightly contested pass to Nate Washington was intercepted by Marcus Cooper on the drive's first play. Tennessee held after batting down Smith's third-down pass. The Chiefs added a field goal for a 23-17 lead.
Fitzpatrick nearly did the exact same thing, but no pick for Cooper this time. But three plays later it was Quintin Demps making the big interception after the inaccurate pass was deflected by receiver Kendall Wright. The Chiefs went three-and-out, but the 48-yard field goal was the dagger to make it 26-17. The game ended in embarrassment as Rob Bironas couldn't even connect on the irrelevant 32-yard kick.
Among active quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick's 5-24 (.172) record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities is tied with Aaron Rodgers (also 5-24) for the second worst in the league ahead of only Cam Newton (2-17). The difference is, as Bills fans can attest to, Fitzpatrick's losses usually end with interceptions.
Baltimore Ravens 26 at Miami Dolphins 23
Win Probability (GWD): 0.65
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (10-19 at 4QC and 16-22 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (10-18 at 4QC and 16-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)
This was a solid, if unspectacular, game between two AFC teams trying to find their way in 2013. Baltimore made sure to get Ray Rice more involved (33 touches) after last week's debacle in Buffalo. Rice capped off a 94-yard drive to extend the lead to 23-13 in the fourth quarter.
Miami has not won after trailing by more than seven points in the fourth quarter since the Chris Chambers game in 2005. Even smaller deficits have been a problem as the Dolphins are just 8-36 (.182) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities since 2006.
A 45-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Charles Clay set up Caleb Sturgis for a 48-yard field goal. After a five-pick parade in Buffalo, Flacco avoided the turnovers all day until a third-and-22 with pressure led to a floater that was intercepted by safety Reshad Jones and returned for the tying touchdown. This season has been unbelievable for the number of game-tying or go-ahead touchdowns on returns in the fourth quarter. This was the fifth. There were seven in all of 2012.
Fortunately the Ravens were able to recuperate after the blow. However, Flacco had another third-down pass deflected at the line for an incompletion. Miami went three-and-out with Terrell Suggs picking up two sacks. Tannehill is on pace for nearly 77 sacks, which is known as the David Carr zone.
Flacco got the ball back at his own 40-yard line and only had to complete one pass (14-yard gain to Torrey Smith) as the running game did the work. Bernard Pierce was stopped on a third-and-2 run, bringing out Justin Tucker. He was good on the 44-yard field goal with 1:42 left.
Tannehill started at his own 20-yard line. Mike Wallace had 99 yards at halftime, but only six yards in the second half. He was the target of two incompletions (one drop) and soon it was fourth-and-10.
Game on the line, Tannehill escaped the pressure, moved to his left and found Brandon Gibson down the field for a 46-yard bomb. With the big play, Tannehill hurried the offense to spike the ball. Hardly an indefensible strategy, but that loss of down would hurt as Elvis Dumervil sacked Tannehill on the next play.
Clay dropped a short pass on third-and-15, but even a catch would have at least made the field goal easier. Sturgis had to attempt a 57-yard field goal and the kick was a few yards wide left with 33 seconds remaining. It was the rookie kicker's first miss after hitting his first 10, but it's hard to trash him for that one.
The offense had to do better, which has been a theme in Miami ever since Dan Marino hung them up. For the Ravens, they have only allowed three offensive touchdowns in four games after giving up seven on opening night. They are one of three teams at 3-2 in the AFC North.
Buffalo Bills 24 at Cleveland Browns 37
Win Probability (GWD): 0.63
Head Coach: Rob Chudzinski (1-2 at 4QC and 2-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Brandon Weeden (1-8 at 4QC and 2-8 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Even in a Thursday game between two suspect teams who both lost their starting quarterback (among other key injuries), this was fairly entertaining with big plays on display from C.J. Spiller, Josh Gordon and return specialist Travis Benjamin.
It only took seven snaps before budding starter Brian Hoyer tore his ACL on a nasty slide and hit when scrambling. Brandon Weeden was welcomed with a chorus of boos after some bad early throws, but he settled in nicely to a game for which he could not possibly have prepared much.
Perhaps the more troubling injury was in the third quarter when EJ Manuel scrambled and sprained his LCL. For all of Weeden's faults, he is better than undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who could not get anything going on his six full drives. He brought out the Doug Marrone struggle face after one drive.
The game was tied at 24 to start the fourth quarter. Weeden contributed a quarterback sneak for a first down on third-and-1, but the Browns settled for Billy Cundiff's 24-yard field goal with 12:31 left. After some punts, the Browns had it again with 7:00 left. Weeden found Gordon for 18 yards on third-and-18. That drive too ended with a Cundiff field goal.
Tuel had 2:19 left in a 30-24 game to drive 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Manuel pulled off something similar against Carolina, but this was Tuel time. It took four plays before safety T.J. Ward clinched the win with a 44-yard interception return. Buffalo then turned it over on downs and the game was over with a much unexpected Weeden getting just his second game-winning drive.
Guess we shouldn't judge a game on the teams' recent history.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Once again the Patriots were involved with the best failed comeback of the week, but they were on the opposite end this time thanks to yet another jinx by this writer. This was also a good week to chastise Jay Cutler, Cam Newton and Eli Manning.
Patriots at Bengals: The Streaks End Here
Few gave the Bengals much of a chance, at home nonetheless, to beat the Packers and Patriots because "Andy Dalton can't possibly outscore Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady." He couldn't even outplay Brian Hoyer last week. Okay, but Dalton plays with, not against the Cincinnati defense. Mike Zimmer's group has been on a tear as no offense has scored more than 24 points on this defense in the last 16 games.
Brady was coming off his best game of 2013 and got Danny Amendola back in the lineup, but the Bengals are not the Falcons and that was evident from the first drop back when Geno Atkins dumped Brady for the first of four Cincinnati sacks on the day.
Dalton is not the liability some make him out to be. He's an average quarterback with whom, when paired with a top defense, you can win games against elite quarterbacks. Dalton's red-zone interception was actually the first of his career to go along with 37 touchdowns. It was also the best scoring chance in a 3-3 half.
Late in the third quarter Dalton stepped up on a third-and-15 and dropped the ball in between two defenders for 28 yards to Marvin Jones. Giovani Bernard followed that with a 28-yard run and the Bengals were driving. They faced a fourth-and-1 at the one-yard line.
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So often in these situations in the past Bill Belichick's defense would rise to the occasion to keep it a 6-3 game, or the opposing coach would play conservatively -- hello, Mike McCarthy -- and kick the field goal, giving Brady a chance at the lead. You need touchdowns to beat this team, so the Bengals went for it and BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on his former team. The Bengals led 13-3 with 9:21 left.
The only problem was that now Brady would be quick and aggressive. Two plays later he found rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, who made a great run after the catch, but fumbled in the red zone. The Patriots recovered -- for the day, they fumbled four times but only lost one. Brady hit Amendola at the one-yard line on the next play. LeGarrette Blount was stopped for no gain, then Brady tried to use play action to find eligible tackle Nate Solder, but he's no Mike Vrabel.
On third-and-goal, Brady under pressure got a pass to Julian Edelman in the end zone, but Adam Jones did just enough to cause an incompletion. With 6:30 left, Belichick kicked the field goal to make it 13-6. I think that was the right strategy given this matchup. The New England offense just did not have it on Sunday.
The Bengals were moving the ball well, but Bernard fumbled on a good hit by Devin McCourty. Brady had the ball at the Cincinnati 44-yard line, but it was a quick three-and-out with a sack on third down. Brady fumbled as he went down, but New England recovered and punted. Not surprisingly, Marvin Lewis had his offense stay conservative with three runs and a punt.
Brady had 1:48, one timeout and 65 yards to go. This was setting up as a classic drive with some history on the line. Brady has had plenty of comebacks and game-winning drives, but how has he done in this situation: down 4-8 points on a drive starting in the final five minutes? He's engineered seven touchdown drives (leading to six wins) and has 11 drives that did not end with points. So this would have been one of his best had he pulled it off.
There was also a 52-game "streak" of Brady throwing a touchdown, though I strongly contend the real record is 60 games for Drew Brees, followed by 49 for Johnny Unitas when you include playoffs. Brady's streak really should have ended at 35 in the 2011 AFC Championship when Baltimore did not allow any scoring tosses.
In a wild turn of events, rain engulfed the stadium after clear skies all day. Brady started with a short throw to Brandon Bolden that was better off dropped, which it was. The same thing happened on second down with a pass to Edelman. A failed third down made the Patriots 1-of-12 on third down in the game, but they converted on fourth down thanks to the Bengals jumping offsides.
The rain only intensified as Brady once again threw a short pass that was rightfully dropped. It was almost like he was managing a three-point deficit instead of seven. A surprise handoff to Bolden and a broken tackle produced a 12-yard gain. New England used the final timeout with 36 seconds left and 42 yards to go.
The rain eased up a little during the timeout, but Brady and Dobson were on the wrong page for a deep ball which sailed harmlessly incomplete. The Bengals were flagged for roughing the passer on the next play. If that was roughing and the hit to Andrew Luck's head in the Seattle game was not, then add roughing the passer to the list of things officials are painfully inconsistent on.
Now at the 27-yard line with the monsoon downgraded to a drizzle, Brady went deep again, but Adam Jones bobbled and caught the ball to clinch the win. The touchdown streak ends (again) and the Bengals are one game behind the Patriots in the AFC.
This was the type of defensive slugfest the 2001-06 Patriots thrived at, but the 2007-present teams have little experience in low-scoring games. The 13-6 loss also ended another historic streak: Tom Brady was 72-0 as a starter when the Patriots allowed 0-15 points.
This is the latest in what could be seen as a trio of jinxes I put on this team in 2013.
In previewing the 2012 AFC Championship against Baltimore, I pointed out the Patriots were 71-0 at home since 2001 when leading at halftime. Sure enough, just three days later the Patriots led 13-7 at halftime before losing 28-13, making the mark 71-1.
Before this season I wrote that Brady is the best short-yardage runner ever with 56 straight conversions in the regular season. Part of his greatness was never having a botched snap with the center. He botched a snap against Buffalo in Week 1, and again in Atlanta last week.
A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, I noted Brady, Peyton Manning (73-0), Drew Brees (39-0) and Matt Schaub (24-0) were undefeated as starters when their teams allowed 0-15 points. Enter the Bengals in Week 5 and goodbye streak.
New England had three streaks with sample sizes of 56, 71 and 72 and all three came to an end 3-to-16 days after I wrote about them for the first time. There's one more New England streak I've long been aware of that was in jeopardy on Sunday, but it has continued. I will save it for later this season to see if I really am the Bernard Pollard of NFL writers.
Of course my jinx or any "announcer graphic jinx" is more or less noticing a wild trend and waiting for regression to take place, but it's always fun when it happens so swiftly.
Panthers at Cardinals: No Progression from Superman's Origin Story
The beginning of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era in Carolina got off to a rousing start in 2011 when Newton passed for 422 yards in his debut in Arizona. On the final drive he came up short in the red zone (a la Steve McNair to Kevin Dyson) in a 28-21 loss, but the future appeared bright.
On Sunday, Newton and Rivera returned to Arizona, and for the 18th time in 36 games, they failed to pull out a late victory with a game-winning drive. The defense kept the score manageable as Carolina only trailed 12-6 to start the fourth quarter with Newton driving into the red zone.
Just like 35 games ago, the drive stalled. This time Newton, not under pressure, did not see linebacker Daryl Washington and the pass was intercepted. Washington ended the next Carolina drive too as he brought down a scrambling Newton for a third-down sack.
With 10:01 left, Arizona worked on the clock and Jay Feely made a 50-yard field goal. Down 15-6 with 3:29 left, this one looked bleak. Newton lost a fumble on a sack, allowing Carson Palmer, now 3-9 when throwing at least three interceptions, to pad the stats on an otherwise subpar day with a touchdown pass. Arizona won 22-6, and believe it or not only trails Seattle by one game in the NFC West.
At 1-3, Carolina looks rather irrelevant again as Newton was sacked seven times (once for a safety) and had four turnovers.
In a way, it's been all downhill for Carolina ever since that 2011 opener. The offense continues to decay without any significant talent added in the last two seasons, which is wasting the improved performances by the defense.
When the Panthers get off to a good start like against the Giants (38-0), things look fine. When they play a better team or get into a game that's actually competitive, they lose at a historic rate, dropping to 2-18 at game-winning drive opportunities since 2011.
Superman had his Kryptonite. The Panthers have it in the form of close games.
Saints at Bears: Jay Cutler Gets a Cheap Loss (Packers Fans Rejoice)
Jay Cutler entered Week 5 with the fourth-best documented record at game-winning drive opportunities (19-18). However, as I have been arguing recently in the wake of the Aaron Rodgers record (9-26), Cutler's a quarterback who inflates his record by not keeping games close enough late to have an opportunity to come back. Consider him the anti-Romo if you want.
Take last week when he turned it over four times in a 40-32 loss in Detroit. That game did not count against him. On Sunday, it was looking like another such game, despite Cutler finishing with a 128.1 passer rating.
You may have heard Cutler's now 26-2 (.929) when his rating is over 100.0 with this being his highest in a loss. He finished with strong numbers (24 of 33 for 358 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions), so you may ask why only 18 points and always playing from behind? Let's look at some of the hidden factors behind those stats:
- Cutler lost a fumble on a sack in the first quarter. This led directly to a field goal by New Orleans.
- Cutler had a meaningless 50 yards on three completions to end the first half as Chicago ran out of time.
- Cutler three threw incompletions on goal-to-go plays at the New Orleans 9-yard line when he trailed 23-7 in the third quarter. Chicago settled for a field goal.
- Cutler was 3-of-9 on third down and failed on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter (Earl Bennett dropped the ball) when it was 23-10 New Orleans.
- Cutler had six failed completions, including three on third down.
There was hollowness to his stats while Drew Brees turned in another strong game for the undefeated Saints, who led 23-10 to start the fourth quarter. After the failed drive with the Bennett drop, Brees took 5:39 off the clock by adding a field goal to the lead.
Down 26-10, Cutler could have lobbed a pick and avoided the GWD loss, but he threw for 80 yards on three passes to Alshon Jeffery, who exploded for a franchise-record 218 receiving yards. A touchdown to Brandon Marshall and two-point conversion run by Matt Forte made it 26-18.
The Saints recovered the onside kick, ran the ball three times and punted. Cutler had just 21 seconds left and 80 yards to go. It's a nearly impossible (win probability: 0.01) situation, but technically it counts as an opportunity since you are one score or one play (two counting the conversion) away. All Cutler could do was throw one to Jeffery for 21 yards in the middle of the field and, after the tackle, the game was over.
It's the 19th failed game-winning drive for Cutler, it's a cheap one, but frankly for a player with 44 career losses, he should have more losses on his GWD record anyway.
Eagles at Giants: Mr. October One Step Closer to Playoff Elimination
Like how Jay Cutler pads his GWD record by not keeping it close enough more, Eli Manning looks to have made sure his 8-3 playoff record stays intact as he will likely miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years. The Giants are 0-5 for the first time since 1987. At least that team could blame three losses on replacement games. What's this team's excuse?
The defense had another miserable performance while Manning matched his three interceptions (all in the fourth quarter) with three intentional grounding penalties. According to ESPN, no quarterback's been called for grounding more than twice in one game since 2001.
Normally we see the Giants go on a winning streak in October. The fall comes next month, but they got it out of the way early this season. This was another game that was very much in reach with Philadelphia leading 22-21 to start the fourth quarter. One of those pesky grounding penalties ended the first go-ahead drive attempt.
On the next, pressure on Manning forced a funky throw that was easily intercepted. It only took one play for backup Nick Foles -- as you may have already expected, Michael Vick is hurt again -- to find Brent Celek for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Still a 29-21 game, Manning threw three more incompletions (28 on the day) with the last being wrestled away from Victor Cruz by Brandon Boykin for an interception. Foles added to the lead with a touchdown to DeSean Jackson.
Manning threw one more interception, because every 2013 Giants game comes with at least three giveaways and he leads the league with 12 interceptions. This makes Manning the first quarterback since Daunte Culpepper in 2005 to have at least 12 interceptions through five games.
At least the young Manning will not throw any critical picks in the playoffs. You don't have to worry about that if you do it enough in September and October.
The Eagles (2-3) are alive and kicking in the NFC East while the Giants bring their carnival show to Chicago on Thursday night.
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 25
Game-winning drives: 28
Games with 4QC opportunity: 51/77 (66.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 13
Through Week 5 we have had 29 total games won by a decisive score in the fourth quarter or overtime. That compares very favorably to 27 in 2012 and 30 in 2011, but not many weeks will have the caliber of games this Week 5 brought us.