Patriots Lead NFL in Goal-Line Stands Under Bill Belichick
The ending to Super Bowl XLIX instantly became part of NFL lore with Malcolm Butler's interception of an ill-advised slant pass from the run-based Seahawks. I already said my piece on the call. My strategy was for Seattle to commit to four Marshawn Lynch runs with 1:06 and one timeout remaining, snapping the ball from the no-huddle on second down anytime under 40 seconds to ensure three more plays (if necessary).
Seattle quickly turned a situation with a win probability of 0.88 into essentially a guaranteed loss in the span of two plays. How often does the defense hold up in these dire situations? My research on comebacks and game-winning drives is still largely in drive format, so I used the Play Finder at Pro-Football-Reference to search plays from 1998 to 2014 (playoffs included).
Looking for situations similar to Seattle's drive, I looked at offenses that had a first down at the opponent 5-yard line (or better) in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, trailing by 1-8 points. A total of 93 teams won the game in this situation, including 57 teams that trailed by 4-8 points and had to score a touchdown.
I was more interested in the 67 teams that lost the game, producing an overall record of 93-67 (.581) and 57-55 (.509) when trailing by 4-8 points. Of those 67 offenses, 34 achieved the goal of scoring a touchdown. However, eight of those teams failed to connect on the game-tying two-point conversion and two more botched the extra point attempt, making Joey Harrington quite sad in the process. The other 24 teams lost due to a game-winning drive by the opponent, either in the fourth quarter or in overtime. Well, technically Matt Schaub (2010) and Matt Hasselbeck (this again?) lost in overtime thanks to a pick-six, but you get the point.
Six more teams settled for a game-tying field goal thanks to being down by three points. They all lost in overtime.
That leaves 27 teams that failed to score, including one team that was only down three points. In Week 9 this season, Colin Kaepernick fumbled a quarterback sneak at the 1-yard line in the final seconds after a clusterfudge of officiating probably cost the 49ers a win against the Rams.
Here is the table of the 27 stops, sorted by ascending time left when the team had a first down. The LOS is where the team had the ball on first down.
|Goal-Line Stands: Facing a First Down Inside the 5-Yard Line in Final Two Minutes|
|Date||OFF||DEF||Time||LOS||Trail by||End Result||Type of Stop|
|9/8/2011||NO||GB||0:00||1||8||Stuffed at GB 1 w/0:00 left (untimed down)||Run stuff/clock|
|11/12/2000||JAC||SEA||0:00||1||7||Incomplete on 1st-and-1 w/0:00 left (untimed down)||Incomplete/clock|
|10/25/1999||ATL||PIT||0:02||5||4||Incomplete on 2nd-and-5 w/0:00 left||Incomplete/clock|
|12/11/2011||TEN||NO||0:07||5||5||Sacked on 3rd-and-5 w/0:00 left||Sack/clock|
|10/9/2011||HOU||OAK||0:08||5||5||INT on 2nd-and-5 w/0:00 left||INT|
|12/11/2011||MIN||DET||0:09||1||6||Sack/fumble w/0:00 left||Fumble|
|12/23/2012||PHI||WAS||0:11||5||7||Intentional grounding on 2nd-and-5 ends game||Incomplete/clock|
|11/20/2011||JAC||CLE||0:13||2||4||Incomplete on 3rd-and-1 w/0:00 left||Incomplete/clock|
|11/10/2008||SF||ARI||0:21||1||5||1-yd run on 3rd-and-2 w/0:00 left||Run stuff/clock|
|9/18/2005||ARI||STL||0:27||5||5||10-second runoff for false start ends game||10-second runoff|
|11/30/2003||IND||NE||0:40||2||4||1-yd loss on 4th-and-1 run w/0:11 left||Run stuff|
|11/2/2014||SF||STL||0:42||2||3||Fumble at 1-yd line on quarterback sneak w/0:02 left||Fumble|
|11/27/2011||IND||CAR||0:43||3||8||INT on 2nd-and-3 w/0:35 left||INT|
|12/22/2013||GB||PIT||0:43||5||7||False start; Incomplete on 2nd-and-6 w/0:00 left||Incomplete/clock|
|11/5/2000||NYJ||DEN||0:49||2||7||Incomplete on 4th-and-2 w/0:31 left||Incomplete/downs|
|9/7/2008||KC||NE||0:53||5||7||Incomplete on 4th-and-5 w/0:37 left||Incomplete/downs|
|11/13/2005||MIA||NE||0:58||5||7||Incomplete on 4th-and-10 w/0:36 left||Incomplete/downs|
|9/23/2007||WAS||NYG||0:58||1||7||2-yd loss on 4th-and-1 run w/0:20 left||Run stuff|
|11/24/2002||CIN||PIT||0:59||5||8||Incomplete on 4th-and-5 w/0:42 left||Incomplete/downs|
|11/25/2007||STL||SEA||1:03||4||5||Botched snap on 4th-and-1; tackled at opp 5 w/0:27 left||Botched snap/downs|
|2/1/2015||SEA||NE||1:06||5||4||INT on 2nd-and-1 w/0:20 left||INT|
|9/13/2010||SD||KC||1:14||4||7||Incomplete on 4th-and-6 w/0:33 left||Incomplete/downs|
|12/29/2002||ATL||CLE||1:23||4||8||No gain on 4th-and-1 run w/0:23 left||Run stuff/downs|
|11/7/2004||CLE||BAL||1:24||5||7||Pick-six on 2nd-and-5 w/0:26 left||INT|
|1/2/2005||OAK||JAC||1:24||3||7||Botched snap on 4th-and-2; tackled at opp 7 w/0:08 left||Botched snap/downs|
|11/6/2005||NYJ||SD||1:40||3||5||Incomplete on 4th-and-3 w/0:53 left||Incomplete/downs|
|10/7/2007||ATL||TEN||2:00||1||7||Sacked on 4th-and-4 w/1:00 left||Sack/downs|
The first thing that stands out is the Patriots have had four of these stops, the most of any team. The first was very memorable with Willie McGinest accused of faking an injury in Indianapolis only to return for the game-winning stuff of Edgerrin James on fourth down. That really started a rivalry and helped the 2003 Patriots earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They also stopped pass-heavy Miami in 2005, Kansas City's Damon Huard in 2008 in the game Tom Brady was injured and of course the Super Bowl stop. So Bill Belichick has seen his defense rise to the occasion more than any other defense has since 1998.
New England accounts for four of the 17 stops where the opponent had at least 40 seconds to work with. The other 10 teams had fewer than 30 seconds, which really limits the options in play-calling. We even saw two untimed downs serve as the offenses' only shot, including the Saints in the 2011 season opener at Green Bay. Mark Ingram was stuffed at the 1-yard line. Eight of the 10 offenses with fewer than 30 seconds saw the clock play a direct factor in stopping them. Just ask the 2013 Packers about how tough the clock can get. Against the Steelers, a false start with 22 seconds left led to a running clock that resulted in Matt Flynn not getting the second-down play off until three seconds left, making it a final-ditch effort.
Russell Wilson joins Curtis Painter, Matt Schaub and Jeff Garcia as the only four quarterbacks to throw an interception. You might recall Ed Reed returning Garcia's pick for a 106-yard touchdown in 2004. Joe Webb (sacked) joins Kaepernick as the only players to lose a fumble.
The Jets appear twice, largely ignoring Curtis Martin on the ground in both situations despite having enough time to use him. That's more acceptable when Vinny Testaverde is the quarterback compared to Brooks Bollinger. But one of the bigger blunders on this list was Byron Leftwich fumbling the ball on first down at the 1-yard line, setting up a second-and-9 situation in 2007. Some help from the offense is always welcomed by the defense in these desperate moments.
I just wonder if Pete Carroll let the 2012 Falcons beat him twice. One of the aforementioned 34 games where the offense scored the touchdown and lost was Seattle in the 2012 playoffs. Lynch scored on first down from two yards away with 31 seconds left to take a 28-27 lead, but Matt Ryan led a game-winning drive. Maybe Carroll let that change his future strategy. This was different though since the Patriots likely would have just played for overtime where the Seahawks have been impressive with Wilson.
We observed that over 75 percent of the time, the offense in need of a touchdown in this goal-line situation scores the touchdown. Given the time Seattle had left and the presence of Lynch, that just makes this particular Super Bowl-winning goal-line stand that more extraordinary.