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18 Nov 2014

Clutch Encounters: Week 11

by Scott Kacsmar

It's always a little disappointing when the expected "Game of the Week" like Patriots-Colts fails to deliver. While we will not recap New England's 42-20 win, there was one interesting comeback-related note from this game. Trailing 35-20 and showing no ability to stop New England's offense, the Colts went for it on fourth-and-10 at their own 32 with 8:21 left. Failure would almost guarantee a three-score deficit, so the situation was unique. Since 1998, that's the earliest in the fourth quarter an offense has ever gone for it (aside from fake punts) when needing at least 5 yards and down by 9 to 16 points inside its own 40. The Colts failed to convert, but no one can say Chuck Pagano didn't at least realize his defense was hopeless on Sunday night.

As for the games that were close, we had eight comeback opportunities, with the Chiefs and Falcons coming through for the second week in a row. Seahawks-Chiefs was my second-most anticipated game of Week 11 and it actually lived up to the hype.

Game of the Week

Seattle Seahawks 20 at Kansas City Chiefs 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 0:17 left in third quarter): 0.39
Head Coach: Andy Reid (32-57-1 at 4QC and 44-65-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (14-20 at 4QC and 16-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Seahawks and Chiefs are two of the few good teams in the league content to feature their running backs as their best offensive players. Both quarterbacks are at the bottom of the league in getting the ball down the field this year, which is new territory for Russell Wilson, but old hat for Alex Smith. In a crazy season with so many unexpected outcomes, the rushing battle did not disappoint one bit. This was just the third NFL game since 1978 where both teams rushed for at least 190 yards and passed for under 170 yards. We don't need no stinkin' receivers. We have Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, who combined for 283 rushing yards.

Despite the defensive reputations on hand, this was a very offensive game with just 17 total possessions. The offenses combined to average 2.59 points and 40.6 yards per drive. A big fumble by Charles set the Seahawks up on a short field, which turned into a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. Charles atoned for his mistake with a dazzling 47-yard run against a Seattle defense missing Brandon Mebane (injured reserve) and Bobby Wagner. Knile Davis finished off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 13:41 to play and the Chiefs led 24-20.

Seattle's running game has also been historically great thanks in large part to Wilson's rushing efforts this season. He ran three times for 29 yards on the ensuing drive, but the Seahawks lost center Max Unger to injury in the red zone. With 7:11 left, the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. With that much time left, I would have kicked the field goal. Kansas City probably lucked out in this situation last week when Buffalo went for it on fourth-and-10. Fourth-and-2 is always tempting, but I think there was enough time to kick and get the ball back.

If I was going for it, I would give the ball to Lynch. On a weekend of regrettable play calls (see 49ers-Giants below), the Seahawks went for a fresh fade to Doug Baldwin. Yes, he was definitely bumped in the end zone and could have drawn a flag, but it wasn't a pushing motion and the pass wasn't really close enough to think this play was going to work. That's a bad decision by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and one has to wonder if he thought about the fact that the Chiefs have yet to allow a rushing touchdown in 2014. Sure, it's a cute stat and your starting center just went out, but the Chiefs are the only defense yet to face any runs from inside the 2-yard line this season. Every other team has faced at least two. The Chiefs have only faced two runs from the 3-yard line. Lynch had two runs from the 4-yard line and gained 2 and 3 yards on those carries. Feed him again.

Kansas City went three-and-out, so the Seahawks had great field position at the 45. After an inexcusable delay of game penalty, Wilson's slant for Jermaine Kearse was a yard short of the first down. Andy Reid actually had to challenge to get the correct spot, but there was conclusive evidence for a change. On fourth-and-1, Lynch got the ball this time, but out of the shotgun, and the Chiefs were able to stop him for no gain. Seattle's defense rose to the occasion by stopping Charles on third-and-1 to forcing a second straight three-and-out that did cost all three timeouts.

A great punt pinned Seattle at its own 4-yard line, meaning Wilson would need his best game-winning drive yet. A 23-yard pass to Baldwin at the two-minute warning gave the Seahawks great breathing room and an increase of 10 percentage points in win probability. Dontari Poe ran right by J.R. Sweezy for a huge sack to set up third-and-18 for a drop of 18 percentage points in win probability. Wilson threw behind his receiver in a very tight window. On fourth down, Tamba Hali applied pressure off the edge and Wilson had to force a pass to Paul Richardson that was too high in good coverage.

I would normally conclude by complimenting the Chiefs on their recent success, but with the general inconsistency in 2014, they could end up losing to winless Oakland on Thursday night. But this team does feel more dangerous than last year's group, while the opposite can be said of Seattle right now.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 at Tennessee Titans 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 11 (24-13)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 13:03 left): 0.36
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (16-34 at 4QC and 26-38 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (24-35 at 4QC and 35-40 overall 4QC/GWD record)

When the Steelers opened up a 10-0 lead in the first five minutes, you thought maybe this was a night they wouldn't play down to the competition against a 2-7 team they were expected to beat. By the time the Titans led 24-13 late in the third quarter with Zach Mettenberger outplaying Ben Roethlisberger, every sign started pointing to another disappointing 8-8 season.

Then the comeback happened. The Steelers had not won a game after trailing by more than 10 points in the fourth quarter since the 2002 Wild Card comeback against Cleveland. You have to go back 23 years to find the last time the Steelers pulled off a comeback like this on the road.

They needed this game and the red zone was a problem again. Le'Veon Bell made sure to fix that with a strong 5-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter. He barely broke the plane, but that was good enough. A lot of teams would have tried the two-point conversion here, but with so much time left, I can understand the extra point to make it 24-20. Since 1994, 171 touchdowns have been scored in the fourth quarter by a team trailing by 11 points. The Steelers are only the 18th team (10.5 percent) to kick the extra point, and those teams have gone 2-16 . Time is one factor I was not able to explore, but of these 18 teams, 15 were on the road. This situation came up with the Chiefs in Denver in Week 2, but Andy Reid kicked the extra point with only 7:11 left. I think Tomlin's decision is more defensible with 14:51 left against a worse opponent.

The Titans went three-and-out and Roethlisberger used a quick passing game to offset the pass rush that sacked him five times on the night. Given time, he made a great anticipation throw to Antonio Brown for a 12-yard touchdown with 9:01 left.

Mettenberger misfired on a screen pass to Kendall Wright and settled for a failed completion on third-and-9. Facing a fourth-and-4 at the Pittsburgh 48, why not go for it? The Titans had nothing to lose at 2-7, but Ken Whisenhunt punted anyway.

Pittsburgh had 6:58 to burn and put together one of the best game-ending drives in recent memory. Whisenhunt helped by wasting his second timeout on the second play of the drive. Bell dropped a pass in heavy traffic and the players fought over the ball while the referees continued to blow whistles to kill the play. Whisenhunt still elected to challenge even though the whistles were clearly blown before anything even resembling a clear recovery of the ball. That's just pissing away a timeout.

On third-and-4, Roethlisberger found Markus Wheaton for 6 yards and with the clock under six minutes, he turned the offense over to Bell. Coming into the game the Steelers had some very favorable matchups in Adjusted Line Yards, and Bell had an incredible performance with 204 rushing yards. In a league where most teams can't even pick up one first down with the running game in crunch time, what the Steelers did was excellent. Bell carried on seven consecutive plays for 10, 10, 8, 3, 8, 5 and minus-1 yards. That last carry was a joke, because it was first down and the Titans were out of timeouts with 1:54 left. Tomlin butchered the math again and failed to just take three knees.

So if we forget that last carry ever happened, Bell's rushing success rate went from 6-of-15 in the first half to 16-of-17 in the second half, and a perfect 11-of-11 in the fourth quarter. That's how teams should close games. Don't even give your defense a chance to blow the lead.

Atlanta Falcons 19 at Carolina Panthers 17

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 1:46 left): 0.43
Head Coach: Mike Smith (21-26 at 4QC and 28-26 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (20-25 at 4QC and 27-25 overall 4QC/GWD record)

With the Saints floundering at home against the Bengals, this turned into a battle for first place in one of the saddest division races I have ever watched. Atlanta took a 16-3 lead into the fourth quarter, but perhaps the Panthers did some scoreboard watching and realized the opportunity at hand. Cam Newton got hot after a pretty soft roughing the passer penalty and found Kelvin Benjamin for a 22-yard touchdown. It was hard to fault Desmond Trufant's coverage on a juggling catch in the end zone.

The Panthers forced a quick punt and Newton went back to work, hitting Jerricho Cotchery for 22 yards and launching a bomb off play action to Philly Brown for a 47-yard touchdown against Robert McClain. You can fault McClain's coverage. Carolina only needed 4:42 to erase the 13-point deficit.

Unfortunately, holding a one-point lead is about as hard as it gets in today's NFL, and the Falcons marched into field-goal range. Ron Rivera wasted his first timeout after a run by Steven Jackson with 2:16 left. He should have just let the clock run to the two-minute warning, with the Falcons still likely feeling compelled to throw on third-and-9. Matt Ryan threw a dangerous screen that Colin Jones nearly intercepted.

Matt Bryant is as reliable as they come, and he made the 44-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 19-17 lead. Matt Bosher, however, had a short kickoff, and the Panthers were able to start at their own 36. As soon as Carolina got to the Atlanta 32 the offense went conservative, refusing to put the ball in the air again. That includes a designed run by Newton for 4 yards, leading to Atlanta using its second timeout.

We can probably prepare a tombstone for Riverboat Ron, if he ever really existed in the first place. Making Atlanta use all of its timeouts to set up a 46-yard field goal with 1:26 left is a silly strategy. Does Rivera not remember Ryan beating the Panthers with less than a minute left in 2012? He has led drives like that five times in his career, more than anyone on record.

Also, Graham Gano is not one of the best kickers in the league. He's 33-of-44 (75.0 percent) from 40 to 49 yards in his career, but he's also 24-of-33 (72.7 percent) from 30 to 39 yards. There was some extra pressure on this kick, and Gano was wide left. Atlanta did the right thing by running three times, but the Panthers called their last two timeouts and had one more drive. Newton had 22 seconds left at his own 16, and three straight passes to Benjamin (with two neat laterals) made things interesting. Greg Olsen took the final lateral and was able to run out of bounds with one second left. That set up Gano for a 63-yard field-goal attempt, which is still a better chance than what teams usually get in this situation. The kick was blocked to end the game.

The outcome means every NFC South team has blown at least three fourth-quarter leads this season. The only other team to do so is Tennessee, which suffered its third on Monday night. That's how the Falcons end up leading the division with a 4-6 record through Week 11.

Ryan is the youngest quarterback in NFL history to record 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins, beating Ben Roethlisberger by 24 days. He has also done so in the second-fewest games (109) behind only Johnny Unitas.

Fewest Games to 20 Fourth-Quarter Comeback Wins
Rk Quarterback Games to 20th 4QC Age Date
1 Johnny Unitas 98 30-194 11/17/1963
2 Matt Ryan 109 29-183 11/16/2014
3 Ben Roethlisberger 115 29-207 9/25/2011
4 Tom Brady 126 30-148 12/29/2007
5 Eli Manning 131 31-019 1/22/2012
6 Randall Cunningham 136 34-275 12/27/1997
7 Tony Romo 140 33-245 12/22/2013
8 Peyton Manning 141 30-191 10/1/2006
9 Jake Plummer 142 31-328 11/12/2006
10 John Elway 144 31-190 1/4/1992
11 Dan Marino 146 31-012 9/27/1992
12 Y.A. Tittle 147 36-011 11/4/1962
13 Drew Bledsoe 152 31-233 10/5/2003
14 Joe Montana 154 33-098 9/17/1989
15 Warren Moon 159 37-353 11/6/1994
16 Fran Tarkenton 160 32-269 10/29/1972
17 Jim Kelly 164 36-200 9/1/1996
18 Drew Brees 168 33-266 10/7/2012
19 Dan Fouts 169 34-153 11/10/1985
20 Kerry Collins 173 35-280 10/5/2008
21 Joe Ferguson 178 36-207 11/16/1986
22 Dave Krieg 179 36-045 12/4/1994
23 Vinny Testaverde 182 37-335 10/14/2001
24 Brett Favre 222 35-042 11/21/2004

Ryan also moved past Steve Bartkowski to set the Falcons record for most fourth-quarter comeback wins. He's the ninth active quarterback to lead his franchise in fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Lions at Cardinals: Defense Prevails Again

This was the most predictably close game of the week, but did anyone expect to see the first scoreless second half in the NFL since the Rams and Packers in 2011? Drew Stanton had 186 passing yards after one play into the second quarter, but finished with 120 yards the rest of the way once the defenses settled down. The score was always 14-6 after halftime. Even FOX was prepared with a graphic for the fourth-quarter matchup.

I have seen some crazy FOX graphics in the past, but I have no idea where the 1994 Giants are coming from here. Dave Brown led three consecutive game-winning drives in December that season, but only had one comeback. Plenty of teams have had three consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks, with the 2009 Colts having an NFL-record five in a row.

Detroit needed a fourth comeback, but their offense was struggling. Special teams are one way to jumpstart things, and the Lions appeared to have a 49-yard punt return after Jeremy Ross picked up the ball from the Arizona players trying to down it inside the 5-yard line. It was a real heads-up play by Ross since the rules state that even if he had fumbled the return, Detroit would retain possession since the kicking team had touched the ball first. However, Bruce Arians challenged the call. Justin Bethel first caught the ball at the 1-yard line, then threw it back to his teammates, which isn't an uncommon action on punts. Jerome Boger determined that Bethel had possession before throwing the ball, rather batting the ball, so he reversed the call.

It's ludicrous that the battle for first place in the NFC was officiated by Boger's crew. The call was reversed, so Detroit had to start at the 1-yard line.

In slow motion you can see what Boger was thinking, but in live action it's hard to agree with the call. We see this so often that the same thing basically happened in Kansas City hours earlier, and that was not ruled to be possession of the ball. The reason we see this is because the player has to stay out of the end zone, so he moves the ball forward to prevent the touchback that will likely occur from his momentum. Detroit was hosed here, plain and simple.

Detroit was able to move to midfield thanks in part to a sweet hurdle by Joique Bell, but then faced a fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 47. An argument could be made for a punt, but the Lions were running out of chances, and fourth-and-2 is usually favorable to offenses. Matthew Stafford tried to hit Calvin Johnson in the flat, but Jerraud Powers defended it well and the pass fell harmlessly to the ground.

Arizona moved to the Detroit 34 and called two consecutive passes, losing a yard and stopping the clock with an incompletion. I would have liked to see some runs there to drain clock and allow for a field goal to go up 11. Arizona ended up punting from the 35, and Stafford had to drive 89 yards. Bell was really the lone bright spot on offense with 85 rushing yards on the day. He picked up the drive's only first down, then Stafford suffered his fourth sack of the game with Powers getting to him on the blitz. On third-and-12, shades of Super Bowl XLVIII's first play appeared as Stafford apparently tried to call an audible, then failed to handle the snap cleanly. He was fortunate to throw the ball away, but Detroit was basically forced to punt on fourth-and-12 from its own 22 with 2:42 left.

The Lions had two timeouts and used them right away. Stanton was penalized for a rare false start on the quarterback, setting up third-and-11. Of course Arians went for the dagger. Detroit rushed four and Stanton had a clean pocket to complete a strike to Larry Fitzgerald. If the yellow line on TV could be trusted, Fitzgerald should have been inches short, but he was given 11 yards and the game-clinching first down. With no timeouts left, Detroit could not challenge. This was the last play before the two-minute warning, so that's a real bummer.

Arizona's defense has faced 14 drives in the fourth quarter this season with the game tied or leading by 1 to 8 points. They allowed only one score on those drives, a field goal in a tie game against Philadelphia, but otherwise have prevented any other score. That's how you get to 9-1 with nine fourth-quarter stands.

Vikings at Bears: Time After Time

With the scoreboard clock not working properly, referees in this game had to keep time by hand for much of the second half. Chicago fans may have been counting down the time Marc Trestman has left as the Bears' head coach after Chicago had allowed 106 points in its last two games. But the Vikings are far from an offensive juggernaut and have lost 13 of their last 14 trips to Chicago. After several close drives, the Bears finally broke through with an insurance touchdown to take a 21-10 lead with 8:51 left.

Robbie Gould did not have the greatest kicking day in the snow flurries, and his kickoff sailed out of bounds to give Teddy Bridgewater better field position at the 40. Bridgewater kept the Vikings' hopes alive with a 24-yard pass on fourth-and-6 to Charles Johnson, but Minnesota eventually settled for a 26-yard field goal. The Bears allegedly had 3:59 to burn, but stayed conservative with a 21-13 lead and ran Matt Forte five times in a row, including a third-and-4 carry for no gain where a first down could have almost clinched the win.

Bridgewater had started 3-0 in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities by leading the Vikings to 26 points in four drives, but this was his toughest situation yet. The rookie had 2:03 left to drive 66 yards just to tie the game (win probability: 0.15). Willie Young nearly blew things up right away with a sack, but Bridgewater remained calm in the pocket and fired three straight completions for 42 yards. The drive was moving along nicely even if the Vikings were uncertain how much time was left, which had to be difficult on their decision-making.

Johnson was a favorite target late in the game, but from the 29-yard line Bridgewater did not see safety Ryan Mundy in the end zone. Mundy came down with the easy game-ending interception with 42 seconds left. Without any time shenanigans, that last drive might have been handled differently and the last pass might not have been so aggressive, but the fact remains that Minnesota managed just six first downs after the first quarter. That should give coach Mike Zimmer plenty to complain about beyond just the clock.

Bills at Dolphins: The Walt Coleman Show

Kyle Orton seemed unable to get the ball more than 5 yards down the field, but the Bills were also hurt by poor, one-sided officiating that was on full display last Thursday night. Walt Coleman has a long history of incompetence, including a pass interference call against Buffalo in 1998 that the team protested by refusing to defend an extra point.

The shadiness started late in the third quarter with Buffalo down 10-9. Orton threw a pass under pressure to Sammy Watkins, but the receiver broke inside while the throw landed on the sideline. Still, Watkins was somewhat in the area and it wasn't a blatant throwaway. Orton was flagged for intentional grounding, which was a safety since he was in the end zone. While I was charting Buffalo's previous game against the Chiefs, I found a similar play with Orton unloading a pass to Watkins from the pocket under pressure.

The pass in Miami actually landed closer to Watkins than the pass against the Chiefs did. So why was one called intentional grounding while the other wasn't? I'll put that squarely on the fact that Coleman was the official on Thursday night.

In a weird way, the call led to better field position for Buffalo when Jarvis Landry fumbled on the ensuing free kick. Now the Bills were at the Miami 39, but they were only able to gain 10 yards. On the second play of the fourth quarter, former Miami kicker Dan Carpenter was wide left on a 47-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied the game.

Miami's drive was helped by perhaps the worst call of the night: a 24-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Stephon Gilmore on second-and-6 for what looked like well-timed coverage on Mike Wallace. Two plays later we had a hat trick when Landry's touchdown was held up in review even though it appeared he was down before breaking the plane.

Down 19-9, Buffalo punted on fourth-and-6 from the Miami 47 with 9:42 left. It wasn't the worst decision to punt ever, but teams need to show a little more faith in those situations -- faith in their offense being able to convert, and if their offense fails, faith that their defense can hold Miami to a field goal (at worst). Miami burned off five minutes and the Bills had a pair of four-and-out drives to end the game, and likely any chance they had at making the playoffs.

Raiders at Chargers: 0-16

The Raiders have lost their last 16 games dating back to last year. Their only fourth-quarter lead this year came at home against San Diego in Week 6 in what was by far rookie Derek Carr's best game. The rematch was less than stellar, with Oakland barely hanging in there thanks in part to Philip Rivers toughing out a physical game. After some fears of a knee injury, reports came out after the game saying that Rivers has been playing through a severe rib injury.

Either way, the San Diego offense only managed 13 points, but still led 13-3 with just over six minutes to play. After eight consecutive punts, Oakland finally got the offense moving with Kenbrell Thompkins bouncing off a tackle for a 35-yard gain, but the Raiders still settled for a 25-yard field goal. Antonio Gates nearly dashed all of Oakland's hopes again with an incredible 15-yard catch that was nearly intercepted, but the Raiders still forced another third down. With Rivers ailing, the Chargers just ran the ball and punted, showing little fear of Oakland's offense.

Carr had to go 88 yards in 65 seconds without a timeout (win probability: 0.03), so why not play things conservatively if you're Mike McCoy? The defense was strong with a first-down sack, but James Jones came up with a 28-yard catch on fourth-and-9 to keep the drive alive. Carr spiked the ball, but then failed to step into his throw on a Hail Mary attempt, which needed nearly 65 yards to reach the end zone. The ball bounced incomplete with two seconds on the game clock, yet for some reason the clock kept running until it expired, ending the game. That's not right, but we see this from time to time with the home team getting some favorable adjustments from the clock operator. Even though Oakland needed a miracle, that does not change the fact the offense should have had one more play.

If there's any silver lining to Oakland's 0-10 start, it's that the Raiders have the fifth-best point differential (minus-113) among the 17 teams to start 0-10 since the 1970 merger. They are now 0-5 at 4QC opportunities.

49ers at Giants: Another Dark Chapter in The Book of Eli

Eli Manning threw five interceptions at home for the second time in his career. Only one other quarterback who started his career since 1978 has done that: Vinny Testaverde. Despite all the turnovers, San Francisco held on to just a 16-10 lead for the final 23 minutes and 18 seconds of the game, which reminded me of prior appearances by these two teams. There was a 2005 Giants game against Minnesota in which Manning threw four picks and still tied the game late before the Giants lost. In 2009, the 49ers intercepted Chicago's Jay Cutler five times with the decisive pick coming in the red zone, but still only won 10-6.

Manning suffered his fourth interception with 9:40 left and the ball at the San Francisco 32. With right tackle Justin Pugh out, Aaron Lynch had an easy path to the quarterback and his pressure was enough to force an inaccurate throw. However, give Manning enough chances, and he can shake off a bad day to deliver a winning drive. Pressured again, he threw a ball that would have been intentional grounding if the Kyle Orton standard applied, but there was no flag. Manning came back with a sideline throw to Odell Beckham, Jr., who has been very impressive this season. Beckham beat Perrish Cox, who seemingly has been the target in every significant fourth-quarter play this year, for a highlight-worthy 37-yard catch.

Somehow, some way, the Giants were just four yards away from the lead. That's when they forgot that offenses can call other plays in the red zone besides the low-percentage fade. Incredibly, Manning threw three fades in a row to three different receivers. None worked, though Larry Donnell had a great shot on third down, but lost control on the way to the ground. The Giants went for it on fourth down with 4:50 left, and thankfully the call was not another fade. It was, however, another interception, with Dontae Johnson making a great tip to teammate Chris Borland for probably the most fitting play of the day.

The 49ers had 4:43 to burn. Facing a third-and-7 that could have iced the game, the call was that famous quarterback sweep, but shockingly the 49ers went to the right this time instead of the left. Colin Kaepernick picked up 5 yards and the 49ers punted. Normally I would chastise a team for not trying a little harder to end the game in a position where they risked losing by one point, but this one just had that feeling that we would see a sixth interception. Following a great punt by Andy Lee for 59 yards, Manning had to go 85 yards in 69 seconds (win probability: 0.06). The drive was never a threat and ended after Antoine Bethea knocked away a fourth-down pass intended for a diving Beckham.

After tying single-season records with seven fourth-quarter comebacks and eight-game winning drives in 2011, Manning is just 5-for-13 (.278) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Sunday's performance just adds to the Eli enigma.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 41
Game-winning drives: 46
Games with 4QC opportunity: 87/161 (54.0 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 26

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced Football Analytics. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 18 Nov 2014

14 comments, Last at 19 Nov 2014, 12:29pm by Noah Arkadia


by Eddo :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 4:27pm

"Since 1994, 171 touchdowns have been scored in the fourth quarter by a team trailing by 11 points. The Steelers are only the 18th team (10.5 percent) to kick the extra point, and those teams have gone 2-16 ."

What's the record of the 153 teams that went for two?

by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 7:37pm

Total: 34-137 (.199)
Extra point: 2-16 (.111)
Two-point conversion: 32-121 (.209)
Failed two point-conversion: 25-57 (.305)
Successful two-point conversion: 7-64 (.099)
Two-point conversion rate: 71/153 (46.4%)

Well that's interesting how the teams who failed on the two (trailed by 5) won more often than those who cut it to three. I think that's more evidence of how teams get stuck being too conservative when they know a field goal is okay instead of trying to go for the winning touchdown.

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 5:45pm

The Bills-Fins game write up seems horrible (no offense, obviously fans and unbiased viewers can see things differently). Firstly, it looked to me like an obvious throwaway: Odrick in his face, tossed up a desperate pass that almost sailed vertically in the air landing out of bounds. Secondly, those two pictures don't look all that similar to me at all (are we really going to use where the ball lands and a compass to evaluate grounding?): in the Fins game, the Miami defender 5 yards closer couldn't make a play on it (he saw it sail in the air and breaks on it, Watkins is oblivious, probably running the called route, doesn't change the break to chase the ball until a moment later, Orton seemed to be targeting the yard marker but was inaccurate, the ball floats) as it dinks off the ground out-of-bounds — if you look at where the ball is in bounds and at a catchable height, Watkins is closer to 10 yards away and had just made his break away from the ball; the KC game pic it looks like the pass is much more on target and in the throwing lane but overthrown (that pass could easily be right online but 1 yard over an oblivious Watkin's head or it could have had more arc and been more off target vertically but definitely much more on target route-wise — but landing ten yards away tells me nothing). (But I'm missing a lot of necessary context for those stills — how badly was he overthrown? What was the trajectory? What did the pocket look like? I don't know. I do know that even though context like being in the end zone and the ball going out of bounds don't technically factor in a grounding call, certainly it does add context to the Miami scenario. Certainly, judging where the ball lands is not the best evidence and would be a horrible way to determine grounding.) Thirdly, I don't think anyone is ever doing officiating a service by saying: that was a bad call, look at these times where they (possibly) don't make the right call, the right call is to make the bad call. Fourth, absent the call, the Bills are two points closer but facing 4th and 24 from the 6 yard line and punting. Fifth, you concede that the grounding call/safety wasn't that big a hit and actually gave them better field position (after the ensuing mistake by Landry).

[Obviously, there are many who disagree with me on the safety, but even in that regard, the majority of those who think it was a bad call mostly seem to rely on the argument: it was a good call, but other people get away with it, it often doesn't get called — therefore it was bad.]

The DPI may have been a bad call but by this point the Dolphins O was moving (had been all game, just not getting into the end zone) and the Miami D was completely stuffing the Bill's O.

The Landry touchdown is a call that most officials would have made live (because officiating in general is biased towards scoring, refs give benefit of the doubt to the skill player reaching, easier to see plane than the knee, etc.) and the review wasn't made by Coleman. Even if it was "all Coleman's fault" and the right call was Landry down at the 2-inch line, first and goal... The outcome is unlikely to have changed. Anyone lingering on the Landry TD is just deluding themselves. Yes, you want the officials to call it right, but let's not claim it affected the game. It was the type of call that even if you could hypothetically challenge it and overturn it with 100% certainty, you may still elect to not challenge it because it likely would just cost you a challenge in the final tally.

The Bills were cautious to punt with 10 minutes left because, unlike Scott, they were aware that their offense was getting killed. Their best chance was a mistake by Miami's ST or O. (If my recollection is correct and it may not be, including the missed FG, the Bills ended up turning it over on downs 3 times in the 4th...)

For the first time in about 2.5 years, Miami was the net beneficiary — rather than the victim —of a couple of questionable calls, none of which were outcome determinative and only one was slightly beneficial to one drive that followed Buffalo's best chance to get on the board and back in the game (coming up empty on the fumble and missed FG). They still lost by 13 points. Conversely, I can point to about 4-6 games (of 10!) where Miami was the net loser on poor officiating this year alone, but I won't claim it cost them any games this year. In this game, Miami got a break, but in the end, even that hurts them because people like Scott overlook the fact that Miami took over the game in the second half, completely shutting Buffalo down and getting into the end zone twice.

by collapsing pocket :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 5:48pm

The grounding was a bad call, and what really made it awful was Carey coming on and saying that the thing that mattered is where the ball landed, as if that's ever taken into account when a QB chuck the ball 10 yards over a receiver's head into the 5th row in order to avoid a sack.

Conversely, I can point to about 4-6 games (of 10!) where Miami was the net loser on poor officiating this year alone, but I won't claim it cost them any games this year.

So you can point to about 50% of the time where (in your subjective view) Miami got the short end of the officiating stick in a game. That seems... statistically normal.

In this game, Miami got a break, but in the end, even that hurts them because people like Scott overlook the fact that Miami took over the game in the second half, completely shutting Buffalo down and getting into the end zone twice.

How does it hurt them? This isn't college, they don't vote on who's in the playoffs. Wins are all that matter, good or bad officiating be damned.

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 11/19/2014 - 12:00pm

I didn't think they would call the intentional grounding. I thought Orton definitely was throwing it away to avoid the sack but in such a clever way that the officials wouldn't be able to flag him for it. During the game I thought he had done a very good job. But they did flag him and I can't say it was a bad call, more like a gutsy one.

The other two were bad calls, but the TD was very likely irrelevant (the Dolphins would have had a 1st down inside the 1). That leaves us with the PI as the only bad call that hurt the Bills.

What is interesting is to think what would have happened with another crew. Maybe all three calls go the Bills' way. Maybe the new crew would have made new mistakes helping the Bills. Even so, it's a reach to say Buffalo would have won. They were completely outplayed in the second half.

Who, me?

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 6:25pm

"what really made it awful was Carey coming on and saying that the thing that mattered is where the ball landed"

How does someone who's not even employed by the NFL, never mind not actually officiating the game, make it a bad call? I assure you, I think most fans and commentators alike (whether or not they were formerly officials) are completely wrong and useless, but I don't think those opinions affect the game.

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 6:58pm

I meant for the above comment to be a reply... since I messed that up, I'll put my other replies here as well:

"So you can point to about 50% of the time where (in your subjective view) Miami got the short end of the officiating stick in a game. That seems... statistically normal."

No, admittedly in my subjective view, I don't rate officiating as "badly" as many. I don't think every game has a net advantage/disadvantage for either team even if there are some bad calls. I'd say a negative net effect on one team 50-60% of the time and no advantage to that one team over 2.5 seasons is not statistically normal — based on my subjective standard for officiating.

"How does it hurt them?"

Obviously I'm taking about perception. Scott is portraying the game as one stolen from the Bills by one inept official rather than a game in which the Bills had 20 minutes to overcome a 1 point deficit, 15+ minutes to overcome a 3 point deficit, were handed the ball with decent field position on a fumble, and had 4 drive opportunities resulting in a missed FG, a punt, and 2 4-and-outs — while allowing the Miami offense to burn 5+ minutes off the clock — to overcome a 10 point deficit. That's not a game determined by bad officiating.

by RickD :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 6:58pm

I don't see it as Scott saying that the game was "stolen" from the Bills. I think he's criticizing Coleman for bad officiating. One can do that without getting into the debate about whether the losing team "really should have won".

Or is that not possible?

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 7:19pm

One can comment on bad officiating, but it should be just that: there were a couple of bad calls that didn't affect the outcome of the game. I would still expect "Clutch Encounters" to analyze what Buffalo did while down to overcome (or not) that deficit to be the primary discussion. That a 1-point deficit with 17 minutes remaining in a half is itself being treated as a "Clutch Encounter" is poor analysis to start. To primarily discuss 3 calls with little true impact while barely discussing getting backed up to 4th-24 on the 6 yard line, missing a FG with good field position, allowing Miami to march down the field twice (one possibly debatably, one for 5 minutes of clock-chewing when it mattered), and then going 4-and-out twice — the real opportunities for and object of analysis appropriate to "Clutch Encounters" — is, yes, in my opinion, very poor analysis of what occurred in this game.

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 8:04pm

To put it another way, if I assume all 3 calls were horrible and affected the game but could somehow separate them out (including, generously, the TD on the drive with the DPI and Landry coming up 2 inches short).

Buffalo had 17 minutes to win a 10-9 game. The final score (revised) was 13-9 with Buffalo mustering a drive that went -14 yards and a punt (revised), a turnover on downs after a missed FG with good field position after a Miami fumble (I don't think any of the bad calls affected the game so I won't mention that the fumble recovery itself was also a questionable call), a stalled drive at midfield that ended in a punt, and two 4-and-outs with Miami doing little offensively but chewing up about 7 minutes of clock and gaining a FG.

I think it's fair to say that Scott neglected analyzing 99.9% of the above hypothetical game opportunities and just said "Because Refs."

by Tim F. :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 11:19pm

Oh another criticism of the Bills-Fins analysis (although tangentially related to calling a 1-pt deficit with 17 min remaining "Clutch" but worth pointing out): had Scott decided the "Clutch" moment occurred with 18 min remaining, it could be about Miami overcoming a 6-pt deficit.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 11/19/2014 - 3:17am

If Carpenter missed the FG late in the third quarter then I wouldn't have even included the game. Wouldn't qualify as a 4QC opportunity.

I'm not going to address your Miami fandom, but I'm just confused why you think the pass to Watkins against KC was overthrown. It's clearly underthrown since it lands well ahead of the receiver and there was certainly no chance of anyone making a play on the ball. And you can see from the top of the pic when the play was in the game if you want to go back and watch it yourself. Orton was under pressure and in the pocket.

Like I said on Thursday night, that Orton pass in Miami is your typical Tim Tebow incompletion. Shouldn't have been grounding.

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 11/19/2014 - 12:29pm

Just going from the still, what I can see about the play from the KC game is that the ball is underthrown but in the direction of the receiver, who is expecting it. That would make it an athletic short-coming -the typical Tebow bad throw. In the Miami game, the ball was thrown were the receiver wasn't headed. It wasn't an athletic Tebow kind of thing, but a mental decision to throw it there. The argument is that the receiver ran the wrong route. And, to be fair, there is a small chance that was the case, although it's very hard to believe. Just going by that game alone, in no other play did the QB throw the ball to an area when no receivers were there -for either team. That would place my degree of confidence that Orton was getting rid of it at about 98-99%.

That's why I think it was a gutsy call, but not wrong.

The Eli, play, meanwhile, is a tough one. Like so many of these, it could have been called or not. I think people suffer too much grief from whether the officials make the right calls at all times as if there were a Right and a Wrong when all you have at the end of the day is the subjective criteria/perception of the official at hand. The Detroit-Arizona call is another clear example of this.

This needs to be a mantra: when games are close, it can go either way. When plays are close, they can go either way. When a call is close, it can go either way.

Who, me?

by Sixknots :: Tue, 11/18/2014 - 6:30pm

"Sunday's performance just adds to the Eli enigma."

First time I read that I missed the "g" in enigma.