Clutch Encounters: Week 10
by Scott Kacsmar
The good news from Week 10: the Chargers still know how to lose in incredible fashion, Pittsburgh still flirts with disaster in games when they're supposed to cruise, and Miami's three-week run in prime time is over. As for the bad news, the last five games of Week 10 were all duds, including some pretty poor performances from the Cowboys and Broncos.
We only had six games with a comeback opportunity this week, after only five in Week 9. There hasn't been a two-week dry spell like that since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2014 season, when there were also 11 comeback opportunities in two weeks. It also happened three weeks in a row in Weeks 8 to 10 of that 2014 season, which was apparently less competitive than I remember. Still, even when compared to that year, close games and successful comebacks are down through 10 weeks.
The following table looks at where we stood through Week 10 in each season with fourth-quarter comeback wins, game-winning drives, games with a comeback opportunity, and total games.
|4QC/GWD Opportunities Thru Week 10|
In the previous five seasons, there were about 10 more games with an opportunity at this point, or one per week. There were also an average of 41 fourth-quarter comeback wins, but we've only had 27 so far this season. That's 10 fewer than any of these seasons listed. Maybe things will pick up for the stretch run, but offensive execution in crunch time has left a lot to be desired this season.
That's actually a perfect segue into what happened in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Game of the Week
Los Angeles Chargers 17 at Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Game Winning Chance Before: 95.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 5.0 percent
Head Coach: Doug Marrone (5-12 at 4QC and 7-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Blake Bortles (6-20 at 4QC and 7-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)
It was Week 10 last season when we introduced "Chargers BINGO" for all the crazy losses San Diego had in the Philip Rivers era. Now that the team has moved to Los Angeles, there have already been a few new entries to add to the card from this season. But nothing can top what happened on Sunday in Jacksonville. The Chargers gave us no fewer than three ideas for soul-crushing ways to lose a game.
Before we get to that part, it's not a classic Chargers loss if there wasn't a part where they did something right to make you believe they were going to win first. Rivers found some cracks in that stingy defense via an unexpected weapon in undrafted rookie running back Austin Ekeler, who had five catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Ekeler had a 14-yard catch that set up Nick Novak for a 50-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter.
The teams exchanged a series of punts before one of the wildest fourth-quarter finishes in NFL history. Blake Bortles took over with 2:40 left at his own 29. With 21 handoffs for 45 yards, Bortles didn't have any running game to speak of to support him. Jacksonville's best runs were a 56-yard touchdown on a fake punt and Bortles' own scrambles for 34 yards. The game was on his shoulders now, which has rarely been the case this season with Jacksonville blowing teams out. After Bortles moved the offense to midfield for the two-minute warning, the game took an absurd turn.
There were three turnovers in the next 36 seconds. First, Bortles forced a pass that was tipped to Tre Boston for an interception. At that point, Jacksonville's Game Winning Chance was at its lowest at 6.0 percent, according to EdjFootball. The Jaguars had all three timeouts, so it wasn't game over, but the Chargers made sure hilarity ensued. After a delay of game penalty, Ekeler got the first-down carry and fumbled. Tashaun Gipson recovered the ball and returned it for a 35-yard touchdown. Even though he did not appear to be touched down by a conclusive replay, the official reversed the call to Gipson being down by contact. With 1:48 left, Bortles had a second chance, but a taunting penalty by Marqise Lee set up a tough third-and-25 at the Los Angeles 37. Bortles again badly forced a ball for Lee that was easily intercepted by Boston with 1:24 left. Again, the Jaguars still had three timeouts left, so three runs by Melvin Gordon enabled the Jaguars to get the ball back. I don't get why Rivers wasn't allowed to throw on third-and-8 to ice the game. The Jaguars were going to stop the clock with their final timeout. Gordon was unlikely to convert with a run in that spot. The field position was bad, so it would have been ideal to not give Bortles a third shot. Alas, the Chargers punted and Bortles had 58 seconds left from his own 48.
This was already remarkable stuff. It is the only game in the NFL since 1999 where an offense started three drives in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter while trailing by 1 to 8 points. You're just not supposed to get this many chances to come back late, but this is Chargers BINGO. Even for Bortles the third time was the charm, but only after a roughing the passer penalty on Joey Bosa made the field goal probable. Bosa needlessly threw Bortles down at the end of the play. Josh Lambo was good on the 34-yard field goal to force overtime.
Jacksonville punted on its first possession. On third-and-9, Rivers threw up a deep ball for Travis Benjamin, but A.J. Bouye ripped the ball away from the receiver. That may not have been too damaging, but Bouye was able to make a great 51-yard return to the 2-yard line. Another taunting penalty on the Jaguars pushed the ball back to the 17. The Game Winning Chance was already 95.0 percent at this point, so the Jaguars stopped fooling around and just ran twice before centering the ball for Lambo.
But the Chargers weren't done fooling around. They were flagged 5 yards for delay of game for barking out signals, which is illegal. That yardage may seem inconsequential on such a short kick, but little did we know the Chargers would partially block the kick, only to see it still pass through to win the game. That shorter distance helped Lambo, who just so happened to be the Chargers' kicker last season. Only the Chargers could block a game-winning field goal that still becomes a game-winning field goal.
What a brutal way to lose a game, but this is what the Chargers specialize in. We're also about to start making a BINGO card for sloppy game-winning drives by Bortles. If he's not setting up a SICO (self-inflicted comeback opportunity) with a pick-six in London, he's falling on the ground on fourth down with no time left against the 2015 Ravens. Now add this masterpiece of escapism.
Bortles threw two interceptions after the two-minute warning with his team trailing … and his team still won the game. That truly might be a first in the NFL's 98-year history. Going back to 1994, there have only been three other times where a quarterback threw even one interception in the final two minutes while trailing and still won the game.
- 2002 Browns at Jaguars: Down 17-14, Cleveland's Tim Couch was intercepted by Jacksonville with 1:25 left. Jacksonville added a field goal to take a 20-14 lead, leaving Couch 47 seconds to answer. He threw a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Quincy Morgan with no time left for a 21-20 win.
- 2010 Falcons vs. 49ers: Down 14-13, Matt Ryan threw an interception to Nate Clements, who was chased down and stripped of the ball by Roddy White with 1:22 left. The Falcons recovered at their own 7, giving Ryan a second chance. He led a 68-yard drive that ended with Matt Bryant's 43-yard game-winning field goal with two seconds left in a 16-14 win.
- 2015 Steelers at Bengals (AFC wild card): Down 16-15, backup Landry Jones was in the game for an injured Ben Roethlisberger. He was immediately intercepted by Vontaze Burfict with 1:36 left. The Steelers had three timeouts left, but Jeremy Hill fumbled on first down and Pittsburgh had a second chance. Roethlisberger returned for the drive and set up Chris Boswell for a 35-yard game-winning field goal after the Bengals racked up 30 yards in penalties in the final seconds. Pittsburgh won 18-16.
It's unlikely that any other pairing of NFL teams could have produced an ending as farcical as what the Jaguars and Chargers did here. In what should go down as a return-to-the-playoffs season for Jacksonville, this one won't be forgotten any time soon.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at Indianapolis Colts 17
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (17-9)
Game Winning Chance Before: 62.1 percent
Game Winning Chance After:100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 37.9 percent
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (24-43 at 4QC and 35-48 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (30-42 at 4QC and 41-47 overall 4QC/GWD record)
When the No. 2 team in DVOA is coming off a bye to visit the No. 30 team and all its turmoil, a comfortable win is expected. But when the Steelers are a 10.5-point road favorite, the safest bet in the league is that Pittsburgh will make their fans completely uncomfortable for the next three-plus hours. We had the stats on this in Football Outsiders Almanac 2016, and I have updated the table for how the Steelers have done in the Mike Tomlin era (2007-2017) relative to the rest of the NFL when favored by at least 7 or 10 points, split by road games and all games. Spread data is from Pro Football Reference.
|Steelers: Playing Small in Small Games (2007-2017)|
|Favored by||Split||Straight Up||vs. Spread|
|PIT||Pct.||Rk||Rest of NFL||Pct.||PIT||Pct.||Rest of NFL||Pct.|
|10-plus||All||20-4||0.833||22 of 32||278-41-1||0.870||10-14||0.417||148-166-6||0.472|
|10-plus||Road||6-3||0.667||16 of 18||47-5||0.904||1-8||0.111||21-31||0.404|
|7-plus||All||38-11||0.776||22 of 32||666-162-3||0.803||24-25||0.490||395-421-15||0.484|
|7-plus||Road||12-7||0.632||22 of 28||135-41-1||0.766||5-14||0.263||82-93-2||0.469|
On the road, Pittsburgh is near the bottom of the league as a big favorite straight up, and an awful 1-8 against the spread. The only cover was the 2015 finale in Cleveland. Only the Patriots have been favored like this on the road as often as Pittsburgh since 2007. Since 2007, the Steelers are 17-19 (.472) in road games against teams that finished the year with a winning record (Note: 2017 wins in Kansas City and Detroit are included for now). Only New England (16-17) has a better record in that time. Pittsburgh has continued this odd behavior all season. The Steelers, as a 10-point favorite, only won 21-18 in Cleveland in Week 1, thanks largely to a blocked punt return for a touchdown to start the game. Pittsburgh then lost as a 7-point favorite in Chicago with the now-benched Mike Glennon at quarterback for the Bears, but still found a way to knock off the Chiefs when Kansas City was 5-0 in Arrowhead in Week 6.
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Sunday had all the makings of a classic Pittsburgh letdown game. Ben Roethlisberger had shredded the Colts in each of the last three seasons, with 13 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and zero sacks in those games. He didn't make it out of the first quarter without a pick and a sack this time. Le'Veon Bell was largely bottled up, Antonio Brown alligator-armed a deep ball and did little damage against a secondary that cut Vontae Davis this week. Jacoby Brissett beat the defense for two touchdown passes of 60-plus yards, and T.Y. Hilton wasn't even the target of either one.
Pittsburgh's Game Winning Chance fell as low as 23.1 percent in the second half when the Colts led 17-3. The offense finally started to show some life once JuJu Smith -Schuster got involved with a big catch and a touchdown, but Pittsburgh still trailed 17-9 in the fourth quarter. Some of the excitement over Brissett's play has been warranted, but he has also delivered some real fourth-quarter duds and back-breaking interceptions this season. However, his interception deep in his own end was not his fault this time. First, it wasn't a smart play call for third-and-8, but Jack Doyle botched the short catch and the ball went right to Ryan Shazier for a huge interception. The Steelers only had to drive 10 yards for a touchdown, and after an eternity of protection (against a three-man rush), Roethlisberger found Vance McDonald wide open for the score. The Steelers called a timeout before the two-point conversion, but were still out of sorts and took a delay of game penalty. That's pretty inexcusable in any situation, but especially before a game-tying play with 11:52 left. The extra space may have actually helped though, as Roethlisberger found the reactivated Martavis Bryant for the conversion to tie the game at 17.
As Colts fans have grown accustomed to this season, the offense went into the tank the rest of the way. Back-to-back sacks of Brissett forced a three-and-out. Chris Boswell was set up for a 37-yard field goal with 6:21 left, but the usually reliable kicker hit the right upright. A holding penalty sunk the Colts' next drive, and the Steelers had the ball back with 3:10 left at their own 15. Pittsburgh had gone 3-of-11 on third down to this point, but Eli Rogers converted a third-and-2 by an inch (if that) on the jet-sweep flip that's becoming more and more popular around the league. Roethlisberger left the next third down to less chance with a conversion to Bryant to get to the 50. He then pulled off the type of play he has made for years: move around and make a throw with someone holding onto his jersey for a big play.
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) November 12, 2017
Brown's 32-yard gain was all that was needed for Boswell to redeem himself with a 33-yard field goal to win the game with no time left. The Steelers completed the close 20-17 call, not much unlike the 23-20 comeback win in Indianapolis against 2011 when Curtis Painter was at quarterback for the Colts.
This was Roethlisberger's 30th fourth-quarter comeback win and 40th game-winning drive, putting him in more exclusive company in NFL history.
|Fewest Games to Reach 30 Fourth-Quarter Comeback Wins (Includes Playoffs)|
|Rk||Quarterback||Total 4QC||Date of 30th 4QC||Age||Season||Game No.|
Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Tennessee Titans 24
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Game Winning Chance Before: 31.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After:94.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 63.1 percent
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey (8-25 at 4QC and 8-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (6-11 at 4QC and 7-11 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Tennessee's fourth win in a row was capped off by a third game-winning drive engineered by Marcus Mariota in the last month. This one was one of the most impressive of his brief career. While the 6-3 Titans still have a very unimpressive -8 scoring differential on the season, this was a game that Tennessee deserved to win at home. They kept the Bengals around with plenty of mistakes. While Mariota never throws interceptions in the red zone, he threw one in his own territory that set up the Bengals for a 3-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Ryan Succop missed a 48-yard field goal, ending his NFL-record streak of 56 consecutive makes inside of 50 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Corey Davis lost control of the ball through the end zone for a turnover to start the fourth quarter when the Titans could have taken a commanding 24-13 lead.
It was the slew of mistakes you may expect from a young team that, frankly, has not played great football this year despite its winning record. Meanwhile, Cincinnati really struggled to sustain offense (1-of-10 on third downs) and missed an extra point that came back to haunt them in the end. However, for one brief moment, everything clicked for the Bengals. Andy Dalton was on the money to A.J. Green, who broke a tackle and was off to the races for a 70-yard touchdown to put the Bengals ahead 20-17 with 5:03 left.
Mariota had plenty of time to answer and plenty of time to throw thanks to good protection, making good decisions on a precise march down the field. While a lot of offenses would have ended up with a game-tying field goal and overtime, the Titans pushed for the win after getting a first-and-goal at the 7. They almost had to make due of the situation without Mariota, who took a hard slam to the ground on a scramble. The Titans used their second timeout and Mariota stayed in the game, so make of that what you will from a controversy standpoint, with the concussion protocol that doesn't seem to be enforced strongly in big moments. After two misfires, Mariota threw short of the goal line to DeMarco Murray, who broke Darqueze Dennard's tackle to break the plane with 36 seconds left.
Since the Bengals missed that extra point earlier, Dalton needed to drive 75 yards for a touchdown with two timeouts and 36 seconds left. Had it been a 24-21 deficit, then a field goal to force overtime would still have been with reason. The game's final drive was a mess, but at least the Bengals got to their own 45 for a shot at a Hail Mary. Dalton's pass was just way too short, falling incomplete around the 10-yard line.
Cleveland Browns 24 at Detroit Lions 38
Game Winning Chance Before: 77.2 percent
Game Winning Chance After:92.7 percent
Win Probability Added: 15.5 percent
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (24-30 at 4QC and 28-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (26-38 at 4QC and 30-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Matthew Stafford is the first quarterback in NFL history to reach 30 game-winning drives before his 30th birthday. He had his first game-winning drive as a rookie in 2009 in an all-time classic shootout with the Browns and Brady Quinn. If Sunday's game with Cleveland is to be remembered at all, it could be for "that time when the Lions almost stopped the Browns from joining them as the only franchises in the 0-16 club."
Despite leads of 10-0 and later 24-17 in the third quarter, the Browns still managed to lose by two touchdowns after another terrible finish. Cleveland (0-9) doesn't have a fourth-quarter lead yet this season. With the game tied, Stafford didn't have a third-down conversion through three quarters, but hit three in a row to start the fourth quarter. The middle one required a broken tackle by Dwayne Washington to keep the drive alive. Tight end Eric Ebron lined up on safety Derrick Kindred out wide and beat him at the line for a 29-yard touchdown on a strong throw from Stafford with 10:46 left.
Cody Kessler was in the game for an injured DeShone Kizer. Kessler held the ball too long and an 11-yard sack on first down killed the drive for the Browns. On a second drive, Kessler badly overthrew a wide-open Bryce Treggs before taking a third-down sack against the blitz. Cleveland could have gotten the ball back for a third try, but an offsides penalty on Myles Garrett wiped out a third-down sack of Stafford. Instead, Golden Tate followed his blockers on a bubble screen for a 40-yard touchdown to put Detroit up 38-24 with 4:28 left. Kizer returned and converted three fourth downs in a row before tossing a first-down interception on a terrible fade from the 4-yard line with 1:19 left to ensure that the Browns wouldn't even beat the double-digit spread despite the early double-digit lead.
The game-winning drive came in Stafford's 121st game (including playoffs), which puts him three games behind Matt Ryan (118) for the fastest in NFL history to 30 game-winning drives. He is the 20th quarterback to hit 30 game-winning drives.
|Fewest Games to Reach 30 Game-Winning Drives (Includes Playoffs)|
|Rk||Quarterback||Total GWD||Date of 30th GWD||Age||Season||Game No.|
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Packers at Bears: Look, They're Throwing
The Packers had lost three games in a row, all by multiple scores, since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Minnesota in Week 6. Perhaps the most disappointing part of those performances was just how timid Mike McCarthy's offense was with Brett Hundley at quarterback. When McCarthy first had to use an inexperienced Matt Flynn (2010) or Scott Tolzien (2013) in place of Rodgers years ago, he still tried to run a normal passing offense that made use of Green Bay's deep receiving corps. With so many other Green Bay players injured right now, the wide receivers have at least stayed healthy, but we did not see much at all from the passing game in the last three weeks.
In Chicago, the Packers still largely dinked and dunked, but Hundley's pass protection and third-down efficiency were better. The Packers got back to scoring points, and Hundley even did several Rodgers-esque things in the fourth quarter. He scrambled for 17 yards and a first down on a third-and-2, and then rolled out to find Davante Adams on a back-shoulder throw for a 19-yard touchdown. That gave the Packers a 23-13 lead with 5:29 left, but the Bears still got a field goal to make it a one-score game again. On a big third-and-10 with 2:12 left, Hundley threw a perfect deep ball to Adams for 42 yards. The only complaint was that Adams was pushed out of bounds with 2:04 left, but the quarterback was perfect on the play.
BRETT HUNDLEY ARE YOU KIDDING ME YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS WITH THIS THROW pic.twitter.com/m5kuOnuxUw
— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) November 14, 2017
That should have been a game-ending dagger. The only reason we had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity here was because kicker Mason Crosby pulled a Gary Anderson, missing a 35-yard field goal with 1:03 left that would have given the Packers a 26-16 lead. Instead, Mitchell Trubisky had time to drive 75 yards for an improbable game-tying touchdown.
Oh yeah, Trubisky was also doing things differently this week. He passed for 297 yards after not surpassing more than 164 yards in his first four starts. It obviously wasn't a very productive scoring day, but it's not Trubisky's fault when John Fox challenged a spot out of bounds call that turned into a Benny Cunningham fumble through the end zone that cost the Bears points in the second quarter.
Trubisky had a shot at some glory, but he and his receivers didn't take advantage of solid pass protection against Green Bay's four-man rush. On second down, Trubisky missed an open Josh Bellamy (who caught a 46-yard touchdown earlier in the quarter) and Dontrelle Inman (who had a bad drop at midfield on third down). On fourth-and-ballgame, the pass rush finally got there, forcing Trubisky to dump off to Cunningham, who at least had the awareness to try a lateral to his center Hroniss Grasu. Grasu lunged forward for 2 yards to end the game.
Jets at Buccaneers: Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Clean-Shaven
Quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown, as well as tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, have all played for the Jets and Buccaneers in their careers, so this was the ultimate revenge game. In the end, it was more of a three-hour punishment for anyone expecting quality football. The Jets followed their impressive win over Buffalo with a road dud. McCown, who had been playing much better than this performance showed, took six sacks, and the one on the final play of the third quarter led to a quick three-and-out in the fourth quarter while the Jets only trailed 9-3.
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Fitzpatrick, sans beard, managed to start a game for the 10th year in a row after Jameis Winston had to sit for the first time in his career with a shoulder injury. Fitzpatrick didn't have Mike Evans (suspended for last week's fighting ruckus), but he had Charles Sims picking up 21 yards on a simple toss play on third-and-15. That was the key play in a 15-play, 81-yard drive that Sims finished with a 6-yard touchdown catch to put Tampa Bay ahead 15-3. Fitzpatrick also led a 17-play drive for a field goal in the first quarter. He wasn't great, but some quality third-down conversions on long scoring drives were enough with Tampa Bay's maligned defense putting on its best showing since the Week 2 win over Chicago.
Robby Anderson caught a 38-yard touchdown for the Jets with 28 seconds left. That was the game's only play that gained 30-plus yards, but it was too little, too late with the score at 15-10. The Buccaneers recovered the onside kick to end the game. Fitzpatrick (12-40-1) and McCown (6-36) still own the two worst records among active quarterbacks at game-winning drive opportunities. How many more opportunities will they get to start NFL games at all? They both always seem to find a way.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 27
Game-winning drives: 42 (plus one non-offensive game-winning score)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 77/146 (52.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 15
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjFootball.