Clutch Encounters: Wild Card
by Scott Kacsmar
It wasn't exactly a wild weekend of playoff action, but three of the finishes were close thanks to a lack of scoring. No one surpassed 24 points this weekend, and Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky was the only 300-yard passer. Even turnovers weren't too decisive in these four games as two teams (Seahawks and Bears) lost despite not having any. Only Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (three giveaways) coughed it up more than twice.
The only game we're not covering is Colts-Texans since Indianapolis led 21-0 before halftime and held on for a comfortable 21-7 win. It's the first time since high school that Deshaun Watson started and finished a game and lost by multiple scores. That was the start of a disappointing slate for the playoff debuts of Watson, Jackson, and Trubisky. It helped to have experience at quarterback, though kickers were also a sore spot for the weekend's losing teams.
Game of the Week
Philadelphia Eagles 16 at Chicago Bears 15
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 5 (15-10)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 28.4 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 90.2 percent
Win Probability Added: 61.8 percent
Head Coach: Doug Pederson (9-13 at 4QC and 10-14 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Nick Foles (10-12 at 4QC and 12-12 overall 4QC/GWD record)
For the 11th time in the Super Bowl era, a kicker missed a do-or-die field goal in the final minute of a playoff game. Cody Parkey, once a Pro Bowl kicker for the Eagles, joins a memorable list of kickers who did not come through when they were needed the most. He joins Blair Walsh (2015 Vikings) and Billy Cundiff (2011 Ravens) as the kickers to do this in a decade where social media reaction is so swift and harsh. It will be a tough kick for Parkey to overcome after a season of struggles.
|NFL Playoffs: Do-or-Die Field Goals Missed in Super Bowl Era|
|Mike Michel||12/24/1978||PHI||at ATL||NFC-WC||Down 14-13||0:13||34||Wide right|
|Eddie Murray||12/31/1983||DET||at SF||NFC-DIV||Down 24-23||0:11||43||Wide right|
|Nick Lowery||1/5/1991||KC||at MIA||AFC-WC||Down 17-16||0:56||52||Short|
|Scott Norwood||1/27/1991||BUF||NYG||SB||Down 20-19||0:08||47||Wide right|
|Pete Stoyanovich||1/8/1995||MIA||at SD||AFC-DIV||Down 22-21||0:06||48||Wide right|
|Lin Elliott||1/7/1996||KC||IND||AFC-DIV||Down 10-7||0:42||42||Wide left|
|Mike Vanderjagt||1/15/2006||IND||PIT||AFC-DIV||Down 21-18||0:21||46||Wide right|
|Nate Kaeding||1/14/2007||SD||NE||AFC-DIV||Down 24-21||0:08||54||Short|
|Billy Cundiff||1/22/2012||BAL||at NE||AFC-CG||Down 23-20||0:15||32||Wide left|
|Blair Walsh||1/10/2016||MIN||SEA||NFC-WC||Down 10-9||0:26||27||Wide left|
|Cody Parkey||1/6/2019||CHI||PHI||NFC-WC||Down 16-15||0:10||43||Left UR|
While the field goal would have won the game for the Bears, there were of course other plays that led to this outcome. In fact, playing Philadelphia at all was something Chicago had some control over. Not to be accused of hindsight, but I said before Week 17 that Chicago should have blown off the season finale against Minnesota to get the Vikings instead of the Eagles in this matchup. Minnesota has some turmoil going on and their offense struggles with this Bears defense. Letting the defending champions back in the tournament with reigning Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles was a gamble that did not pay off for Matt Nagy and company.
After last season's run, Foles was four attempts shy of qualifying for the highest passing DVOA in the playoffs (56.6%) since 1986. He'll be featured more prominently in our next update of the playoff stats, but Foles added to his hard-to-believe resume with another playoff game-winning drive. Foles is the fourth active quarterback to have at least a .500 record (12-12) at game-winning drive opportunities. Consider the playoff DVOA, the two championship games last year, the franchise-record 471 passing yards in Week 16, and the 25 consecutive completions (tied the single-game record) in Week 17, and Foles is making history in a Doug Pederson offense in which he only has 12 relevant appearances. Foles has also been the quarterback the last three times the Eagles have won a game after trailing by at least four points in the final five minutes, but this was the first time it happened since 2014 against the Colts.
Both quarterbacks were fairly impressive on a day where the running games never found any traction. After Mitchell Trubisky threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson to give the Bears a 15-10 lead, the two-point conversion was going to be a big one. Nagy gave it a lot of window dressing with pre-snap shifts and motion, but in the end it was a jet-sweep flip to Taylor Gabriel that was short of the end zone. The Bears also got the ball back with 7:02 left and went three-and-out, setting the stage for Foles again.
There weren't many YAC opportunities for the Eagles, but the receivers made some good plays on the following 60-yard march. The longest play of the drive was actually the first, a 15-yard completion to former Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery. He also made perhaps the most critical play of the drive (besides the score itself) after gaining 11 yards on third-and-9 to set up first-and-goal at the 2. That was another nice play design with Jeffery coming out of the backfield and the Bears not matching up quickly enough with him before he got the first down. The drive had three failed runs, but they at least helped burn some clock since the Eagles didn't want to score too quickly.
A year ago, the Eagles had to hold off the Falcons in the red zone, winning 15-10 to start their playoff run. Atlanta ran an ill-fated sprint right option on fourth down. Now the Eagles were in the same position on Sunday, but on offense. Facing a critical fourth-and-2, Foles also got the call for a sprint right option, but the receiver was there and the throw to Golden Tate was perfect for a go-ahead touchdown with 56 seconds left.
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) January 7, 2019
Much like the Bears earlier in the quarter, the Eagles failed on a big two-point conversion after Wendell Smallwood came up short on a run.
Philadelphia's 16-15 lead only began to look flimsy after Tarik Cohen returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the Chicago 42 with 48 seconds left. Trubisky only needed two plays before finding Robinson for another big gain of 25 yards to hit the outer edges of field goal range. After an 8-yard completion to Robinson, I didn't like that Trubisky looked to be in the dark on what the strategy was for second-and-2. That should have been planned better, but the spike came late, with 15 seconds left. From there a deep ball was one of the few good options, but that pass was overthrown to bring up fourth down. This is where you wish a quick draw to Cohen on that second-and-2 followed by a spike would have been the strategy instead of relying on a shaky kicker from over 40 yards away in sub-40-degree Chicago weather.
Parkey had already missed a game-winning field goal in the team's overtime loss in Miami this season. He has also had a handful of kicks hit the upright at home this season. Pederson iced the kicker with his final timeout and Parkey made the warm-up kick. In one of the more memorable cases of icing the kicker actually working, Parkey hit the left upright and the crossbar on the real attempt, ending Chicago's season after the ball didn't bounce the right way. That was Parkey's eighth missed field goal of 2018. (For those keeping score, kicker Robbie Gould has hit 82 of his 85 field goals since the Bears let him go in 2016.)
In Parkey's defense on this one, there is some evidence of a partial block from the Eagles.
— Nick Shook (@TheNickShook) January 7, 2019
The Eagles, once left for dead at 6-7, will continue their improbable run in New Orleans next week. If Foles can help them pull that one out in the Superdome, that might be his greatest achievement yet on a resume that keeps filling up with impressive feats. As for the Bears, a new kicker is likely in order, but at least Trubisky played respectably in his playoff debut. The Bears (12-5) lost five games by a combined 15 points in Nagy's first year. It's just disappointing that this was the first time all season Chicago lost after allowing fewer than 24 points.
Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind
Seattle Seahawks 22 at Dallas Cowboys 24
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (14-10)
Game-Winning Chance Before: 31.3 percent
Game-Winning Chance After: 57.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 25.7 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (28-39 at 4QC and 39-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (9-9 at 4QC and 15-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)
The first one-and-done postseason for Pete Carroll in Seattle was a sobering experience. On a weekend where the teams with the more experienced quarterback went 3-1, the Seahawks lost after apparently forgetting just how good Russell Wilson is. A lot of the blame should go to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for what could best be described as coaching malpractice. Wilson averaged 8.1 yards per pass while the running backs averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Perhaps growing up a Schottenheimer has made Brian fear the month of January as a time where everything that could go wrong will go wrong, but one doesn't need to be close to the game of football for decades to know that your best player should touch the ball on first and second down too.
It would be misleading to suggest this was an approach that was stark in contrast to how Seattle conducted its offense for much of 2018. The Seahawks finished 32nd in passes and second in rushing attempts as Wilson only passed for 215.5 yards per game, his lowest rate since 2013. The offense had a league-low 11 turnovers (zero in this game too) and Seattle was actually the 27th team to score at least 17 points in all 16 games of a regular season. For the most part, Schottenheimer's offense worked, with high rankings in DVOA for the run and the pass and a No. 7 ranking in points per drive. However, the third-highest rate of three-and-out drives was an issue, and that was evident in the first quarter, when the Seahawks went three-and-out three times. Wilson's first quarter success rate was 0-for-4. That includes a screen pass that blew up one drive with an 8-yard loss and three failed plays on third down. Meanwhile, Dallas let Dak Prescott throw four times on first or second down on the game's opening drive alone.
The reason this failed so spectacularly for Seattle was that Schottenheimer showed no real acknowledgement of the opponent or any adjustments as the game wore on. Dallas was fifth against the run, but 16th in DVOA against the pass this season. Seattle's running backs finished with 21 carries for 59 yards, and that includes a 28-yard run by Rashaad Penny. That means the other 20 carries gained just 31 yards. Seattle didn't even get anything out of that 28-yard run since Penny lost 7 yards on the next snap, setting up one of the most absurd third-and-17 plays you'll ever see with Nick Vannett catching a flat pass with no blockers ahead of the slow tight end.
Seattle's running game hadn't been bottled up like this since the first two weeks of the season. Dallas in particular has a history of stifling the Wilson-led offense. There are eight games in Wilson's career where Seattle had fewer than 12 plays that gained at least 8 yards, and Dallas was the opposing defense for four of them. In the rare events that Wilson was allowed to throw deep on early downs in the first half, the Seahawks were able to produce two field goals. Sebastian Janikowski pulled up lame on a long field goal attempt before halftime, but the kicker's injury actually helped the Seahawks get more aggressive in the second half.
The first 40 minutes were a tough watch, but things got interesting with 4:55 left in the third quarter. The Seahawks went for a fourth-and-5 and Wilson delivered with a 22-yard gain to Doug Baldwin. Wilson finished the drive off with a 4-yard keeper run and Mike Davis scored on a two-point conversion that typically would have been an extra point if not for the Janikowski injury. Seattle led 14-10 going into the fourth quarter, so this was technically the third blown fourth-quarter lead in the playoffs in the Carroll era.
It also became the 15th game-winning drive for Prescott, tying Wilson for the most by a quarterback in his first three seasons in NFL history. The Dallas offense wasn't incredible or anything, but at least Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 137 yards and Amari Cooper had 106 receiving yards. The stars were allowed to shine. Elliott had a 44-yard run, and even if you take that away, his other 25 carries gained 93 yards so it wasn't slamming into a brick wall over and over like the Seattle running game. Cooper was left wide open on a 34-yard gain that set up Elliott for a 1-yard touchdown run to give Dallas a 17-14 lead with 12:28 left.
After Tavon Austin returned a punt 51 yards, Dallas had a chance to take a two-score lead. However, K.J. Wright got away with some pass interference in the red zone on an interception with 9:34 left for the game's only turnover.
Now was the time to unleash Wilson as the Seahawks usually do in the fourth quarter, but another alarming trend this year has been offensive penalties late in the game. The Seahawks picked up two flags in a row, including a foolish one after the whistle by D.J. Fluker that set up second-and-22. The Seahawks went three-and-out with 7:20 left. On the ensuing drive, the referees might have been eager for a make-up call from the missed interference on the pick; the Cowboys were able to convert two third downs via pass interference penalties on Seattle. At least the first one on Wright was clear.
Still, Seattle's defense just needed to stop a third-and-14 to keep this a one-score game and give Wilson a shot to win it, but Prescott made an incredible 16-yard run right up the middle of the field.
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2019
Prescott finished the drive with a 1-yard sneak to give Dallas a 24-14 lead with 2:08 left.
Tyler Lockett was left way too open on a 53-yard catch as Dallas allowed a quick touchdown drive and two-point conversion to leave some drama in a 24-22 game. It's too bad the onside kick has died this year, but Seattle had a shot at recovering one and getting a game-winning field goal. However, punter Michael Dickson tried to drop-kick the ball and it went 33 yards on a play where Cole Beasley could have called fair catch if he wanted to. It was a pointless endeavor, much like a lot of the calls the Seahawks made on the night.
The Cowboys will head to Los Angeles to face the Rams in what could feel like a home game for Dallas.
Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind
Chargers at Ravens: Turtles in a Three-Quarter Shell
When I wrote the preview for this game, I wanted to convey the idea that the Ravens were a good bet to win, but it had to be done in a specific manner. They couldn't be their own worst enemy and have a bad start, but that's exactly what they did with two early turnovers to fall behind 12-0 at halftime. The defense was still impressive against Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense. Rivers completed 22-of-32 passes, but for only 160 yards. He did avoid turnovers and only had one sack. While the Chargers scored 23 points, none of their six scoring drives, including five field goals, gained more than 60 yards. True to form for the season when the Chargers blitzed the least and the Ravens blitzed the most, Rivers was the most blitzed quarterback of the weekend while Lamar Jackson was the least blitzed. They were also the most pressured quarterbacks of the weekend in a defensive slugfest.
Baltimore didn't do anything to open up the offense until very little time remained in the fourth quarter. Even after getting a Virgil Green fumble in the third quarter, all Baltimore could do was run three times and kick a field goal. The Chargers came prepared to stop this running attack. They held the Ravens to 36 yards on 14 carries by the running backs; none of those handoffs gained more than 5 yards. Part of this was accomplished by putting more speed on the field. According to Next Gen Stats, the Chargers used seven defensive backs on 58 of 59 snaps after doing so for 50 snaps in the entire season. No other team used seven defensive backs more than 18 times in any game. That was an impressive wrinkle. The best runs for Baltimore were Jackson scrambles, but his passing accuracy was woeful through three quarters.
With Baltimore needing to score multiple touchdowns, it wasn't unreasonable to suggest that Joe Flacco should have entered the game to run a pass-heavy offense. The Ravens stayed with Jackson, even after the Chargers took a 23-3 lead with 9:09 left, but he at least rewarded them with an impressive rally. After completing two passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, this was suddenly a game again. The Chargers went three-and-out and Jackson needed to run a hurry-up offense to score before the two-minute warning to give Baltimore a real shot at a stunning comeback. It was an unorthodox drive with Jackson, facing his biggest deficits of his brief NFL career, even doing a spike at midfield with 3:22 left. But he came through with a big play via backyard football for a 39-yard gain that made this realistic again. The Ravens just missed out on saving the two-minute warning, but Michael Crabtree broke the plane on his second touchdown of the quarter to make it 23-17 with 1:59 left.
Given how impossible the onside kick has become in the NFL, the Ravens kicked deep, which likely helped Jackson with field position too for a final drive. The Chargers were predictable with two runs while Baltimore used its final two timeouts, but it looked like a great play call on third-and-6 when Melvin Gordon broke off an 11-yard run. However, Russell Okung was called for a pretty weak holding penalty that he didn't even need to make, wiping out the first downs and making it third-and-16. Rivers threw a risky pass over the middle for 9 yards that was never going to convert, and he's fortunate it wasn't knocked out to stop the clock.
By the time Jackson got the ball back, he needed 66 yards in 45 seconds. Dire odds, but we've seen stranger things this season (hello, Miami), and the Chargers have a documented history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After a completion to midfield and a spike, the Chargers ended the drama in fitting fashion. Second-round rookie Uchenna Nwosu strip-sacked Jackson (his seventh sack taken in the game) and Melvin Ingram recovered to end the threat. Jackson had three fumbles on the day after leading the NFL with 12 fumbles this season despite only starting seven games. That's 15 fumbles in not even 400 plays this season, so ball security is something Jackson really needs to work on.
There is plenty of room for Jackson to grow as a passer. Some opponents may try to emulate what the Chargers did and use more defensive backs to slow this team down next year, but not every defense has players such as Derwin James and Desmond King. In the end, Baltimore just did not do enough to get easier throws to backs and tight ends and looks off play-action for Jackson to shine in this game. He at least salvaged what was one of the most impotent quarterback performances in playoff history for the first 51 minutes with a respectable finish. As for the Chargers, the offense will have to perform better than it has in recent weeks, but at least Rivers is heading to New England with a defense and his ACL still intact to keep this revenge tour going.
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 71
Game-winning drives: 90 (plus three non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 150/260 (57.7 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 34
Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game-Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjSports.