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16 Dec 2014

Clutch Encounters: Week 15

by Scott Kacsmar

After several weeks of close-game drought, Week 15 featured 10 games with fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. However, the only two successes came from overcoming one-point deficits. Sunday was highlighted by failure, especially from a few playoff contenders.

This season has had a lot of erratic play, right? So far, 51.8 percent of all games have featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. That's down from 61.0 percent last season, which was the highest in the last four years. The rates in 2012 and 2011 were 55.8 percent and 59.2 percent, respectively.

Game of the Week

Minnesota Vikings 14 at Detroit Lions 16

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (14-13)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 7:43 left): 0.44
Head Coach: Jim Caldwell (12-17 at 4QC and 14-17 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (14-25 at 4QC and 16-25 overall 4QC/GWD record)

In much the same way that the Dallas Cowboys have reinvented themselves this season, the Detroit Lions are succeeding in games in which they would have usually folded in the past. The defense-heavy Lions (10-4) have allowed the fewest points in the league and gutted out four comebacks and game-winning drives to lead the NFC North through 14 games.

For the third time this season the Lions won after trailing by at least 14 points. The formula was familiar, with the offense starting slowly again, but the defense tightened up after the Vikings took a 14-0 lead. Minnesota failed to score on its last six drives.

The Vikings' most promising drive of the game consumed 11:02 off the clock, but resulted in no points after Blair Walsh's 26-yard field goal was blocked with 7:43 left. According to Pro-Football-Reference, that's only the sixth drive since 1998 that lasted over 11 minutes without a score. Three others ended with a missed field goal, while the Patriots consumed 12:12 before turning the ball over on downs against Jacksonville with a big lead in 2009. The longest drive I have ever found in my research was the Giants running out the final 12:53 against Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship.

Minnesota's big failure was not scoring a touchdown. The missed field goal actually helped the Vikings in some respects, because it left the Lions with the option of a go-ahead field goal instead of forcing them to go for a touchdown. Matthew Stafford is usually game for these moments and had no problem getting into the red zone. Minnesota's defense stiffened and Stafford couldn't connect with Jeremy Ross on third down. Matt Prater made the 33-yard field goal to put the Lions up 16-14 and calm the nerves of Detroit fans, given this season's kicking adventures.

Minnesota was in fine shape with plenty of time to get the game-winning field goal. Cordarrelle Patterson gave the offense a huge boost with a 51-yard kick return to the Minnesota 49, giving the Vikings a win probability of 0.49 to start the drive. However, one holding penalty quickly soured things and gave the Vikings a first-and-20. Soon the Vikings had a fourth-and-4 with 2:01 left, and with only two timeouts in hand they were forced to go for it. Detroit rushed five and Teddy Bridgewater threw a bit flat-footed and overthrew Patterson, who ended up on the ground. For some reason FOX did not deem this worthy of a replay, so it's hard to tell if Patterson flopped or if James Ihedigbo knocked him down with the ball in the air. There wasn't a huge protest from the Vikings on the field.

Detroit was pretty conservative with three runs and a punt. With a two-point lead and an opponent with a great kicker, you would like to see a little more risk to secure the win. A 27-yard punt did not help matters, and the Vikings got the ball at their own 30 with 45 seconds left. We saw the Vikings drive 40 yards in 13 seconds last week against the Jets, so this was doable.

Bridgewater missed Jarius Wright on first down with another high throw. Wright was open and could have gone out of bounds at the Minnesota 45. Getting one first down proved to be a struggle, and the Vikings were down to six seconds. They were expecting the referees to reset the play clock, but were hit with a delay of game penalty, which is pretty inexcusable in this situation. That's a big 5 yards too, because Bridgewater was able to complete an 11-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph, who got out of bounds with one second left.

How big were those 5 yards? Well, there have been five field goals from 63 yards or more in the history of the NFL. From the 50, most teams would try the Hail Mary, but Mike Zimmer gave Walsh a chance at the 68-yard field goal. That sounds like another block waiting to happen, but given the distance, I'll say Walsh gave it a decent attempt. He was still too short and wide left though, and the Lions had their 10th win in the books.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

New York Jets 16 at Tennessee Titans 11

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (11-10)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 8:20 left): 0.45
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (14-26 at 4QC and 19-27 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Geno Smith (3-9 at 4QC and 6-9 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This battle of two-win teams in Nashville was missing Marcus Mariota suspended in a cage over the field. We could have used the added excitement, because I can't think of a blander AFC matchup this century than Jets vs. Titans. In a game where the winner may actually be the loser in regards to the draft, the score fittingly looked like a baseball game for three quarters. Entering the week, the Jets, Titans, and Texans were the only teams yet to have a game-winning drive in 2014.

The second 11-10 final in NFL history was looking likely when the Jets failed to convert on third-and-15, but Wesley Woodyard was penalized 15 yards for…something on the sideline. He went up to Eric Decker after the play, but Decker even reportedly said Woodyard did not say anything to him and did nothing to warrant a penalty. Decker even was the one to push Woodyard, so it was a strange penalty to say the least.

The Jets, 0-for-7 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, used that and a direct snap to Chris Johnson for 37 yards against his former team to reach the red zone. New York struggled to score from there, but a series of penalties extended the drive and milked more time. Eventually, Chris Ivory scored a 1-yard touchdown run. There has never been an 18-11 final in the NFL, nor would we have one here after Geno Smith's two-point conversion pass failed. However, 16-11 is a unique score too.

Tennessee had 3:03 to answer with Charlie Whitehurst in at quarterback for the injured Jake Locker, which is really the normal-state Jake Locker. It's only news if he's healthy anymore. Whitehurst hit Delanie Walker for two big pass plays to the Jets' 22 at the two-minute warning. A first-down sack by Quinton Coples short-circuited the drive and Whitehurst threw three straight incompletions. Instead of trying to get chunks of yards to make things easier, Whitehurst tried to gain the 17 yards needed for a first down on all three passes.

Thanks to two timeouts the Titans were able to get another possession, but only had 21 seconds left at their own 19. Whitehurst found Nate Washington for 23 yards and spiked the ball with six seconds left. His next pass was too high down the middle of the field and appeared to end the game, but the clock operator was put to task this week as one second should have remained. That was corrected and the Titans nearly pulled off another miracle in Music City. The series of laterals got interesting when Whitehurst may have illegally pitched the ball forward to Walker, who had a path down the sideline, but Walker needed to do one more lateral (perhaps back to Clipboard Jesus) to pull off the score. You can't just go out of bounds to end the game, unless you're thinking of playing in Tennessee next year and would like to have a better quarterback.

Sly move there, Mr. Walker.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Packers at Bills: The Neckbeard Cometh

History often repeats itself in the NFL. In Week 15 of the 2011 season, a hot Green Bay team was the talk of the league at 13-0, having won 19 consecutive games without trailing in the fourth quarter. A middling Kansas City team with Kyle Orton at quarterback was able to stun the Packers in a 19-14 upset. The pass rush got to Aaron Rodgers and the defensive backs were stingy in their coverage. I thought some of the same elements in that game could be on display in Buffalo on Sunday, but I didn't think Orton would be efficient enough to pull off another upset.

Truthfully, Orton wasn't good enough, but a punt return touchdown sure helped, as did a defensive performance that exceeded what those Chiefs did to Green Bay three years ago. If a team doesn't punch the Packers in the mouth early, they stand to get blown out. The offense is too good and the defense is consistently great at creating turnovers. But if you can make an early stand, then the Packers are not great at grinding out wins.

The teams Green Bay has struggled with usually have a strong defensive line and can get pressure without blitzing, allowing for more coverage. That fits Buffalo well, but it was really the tight coverage more than the rush that frustrated Green Bay into a sloppy afternoon. Still, Orton did his best to waste the defensive performance. Late in the third quarter, Rodgers was intercepted, but the offense turned first-and-10 at the Green Bay 29 into a punt after Orton was sacked on third down. Symbolic of Green Bay's bad day, Jordy Nelson dropped a potential 94-yard touchdown. The drive continued into the fourth quarter with the Packers down 16-10, but Rodgers was intercepted again by Bacarri Rambo after more tight coverage caused a tipped ball. A screen pass to Fred Jackson helped set up a field goal, and Buffalo led 19-10 with 9:23 left.

With Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers are 0-23 when trailing by at least nine points in the second half of games, so he was going to need a career-best comeback. Eddie Lacy should have been a bigger part of the offense given Buffalo's defense, but he never carried the ball again after a 21-yard run was wiped out for holding. Buffalo's coverage also limited Green Bay's yards after the catch. A quarter of their YAC came on two plays on this drive, which stalled in the red zone. Mason Crosby's 34-yard field goal made it 19-13 with 4:51 left.

It was crucial for Buffalo to burn clock, and the Bills were able to gain two first downs. After the Packers used their last timeout, Orton had a third-and-5 to win the game with 2:12 left. Jackson was wide-open on the slant thanks to Sammy Watkins' route creating a natural pick, but Orton threw deep to Watkins and missed him.

That's a poor decision. Rodgers had one more chance with 1:58 left from his own 10. Expecting a great finish, we kind of got the shaft when Mario Williams immediately beat J.C. Tretter, Bryan Bulaga's injury replacement, and swiped the ball out of Rodgers' hand. Lacy was the only Green Bay player with a good eye for the ball and he recovered in the end zone. Inside of two minutes, only the fumbler can advance a recovered ball, so the play was dead in the end zone for a safety. Buffalo recovered the onside free kick and the game was over. Thank the Holy Roller for this finish.

Rodgers has actually fumbled on both of his game-winning drive attempts this season, but the Packers recovered at midfield in Miami. He fumbled on three of his first 37 game-winning drive opportunities and now sports an 11-28 (.282) record. The blueprint to beat Green Bay hasn't changed over the years, but only a few teams are capable of pulling it off. Buffalo continues to show how dangerous this team could be with better quarterback play.

If you would like to read more about this game, check out Any Given Sunday.

Cowboys at Eagles: The Road Warriors

In a season where the contenders have often clung to home-field advantage in big games, the Cowboys are an outlier. They are 7-0 on the road (everyone else has multiple road losses), and this big win in Philadelphia was certainly the best road triumph for the team since the win at Seattle in Week 6. The Cowboys were dominated at home on Thanksgiving by the Eagles, but those short-rest games are rarely a true indicator of a team's caliber. Dallas was every bit as dominant on Sunday night, taking a 21-0 lead before the Eagles got hot and managed their own 24-0 run.

It was around that time that naysayers expected Tony Romo and Dallas to lock up, but not this season. Romo guided the Cowboys right down the field and came within 39 seconds of adding another fourth-quarter comeback. Mark Sanchez threw an interception to end the third quarter and Romo answered with his third touchdown pass of the night to Dez Bryant, who inexplicably was left in single coverage too often. Dallas led 35-24.

Philadelphia was able to add a field goal and get the ball back, but bad luck struck Brent Celek on a catch challenged by Jason Garrett for an apparent fumble. Celek landed on the defender and lost the ball, so that was actually a fumble. Dan Bailey saved the offense's 3-yard drive with a 49-yard field goal to extend the lead back to 11 points with 4:37 left.

Sanchez suffered back-to-back sacks, giving Chip Kelly a tough decision on fourth-and-25 at his own 15 with 3:17 and two timeouts left. He punted, of course. Now, I am not sure anyone would have expected Kelly to go for it there, but if he won't, then no one coaching right now will. It's a tough call since there isn't an optimal play for this down and distance. You're basically hoping for a cheap penalty. If the Eagles had failed to convert, Dallas was nearly guaranteed another three points, but that wasn't a huge deal. By punting, you almost guarantee you'll need an onside kick later, though with the Eagles staring a win probability of 0.01 in the face even before the punt, the whole thing is a longwinded way of saying the Eagles were pretty ****ed after those sacks.

Sanchez got the ball back with 2:02 left and threw an interception two plays later. This was the first of his six starts with the Eagles that featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity for either team, but turnovers marred any shot at a win. Turnovers were one of the big advantages the 2013 Eagles enjoyed, but they have a league-high 34 giveaways this year. Funny how that happens so often in the NFL.

Texans at Colts: Macho Man Savage vs. Andrew the Giant

Houston fell to 0-13 in Indianapolis, which clinched the AFC South in the process. Outscoring the Colts on the road has been a tough task for Houston when the closest thing to a quarterback advantage the club has had was T.J. Yates over Dan Orlovsky in 2011, and even that proved to swing in Indianapolis' favor.

On Sunday, Andrew Luck was far from his best, throwing a pick-six to a Houston team that otherwise scored three points. Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg, giving way to fourth-round rookie Tom Savage's true NFL debut. When he wasn't fumbling snaps and handoffs, or facing heavy pressure, he looked OK given the situation. His first attempt at a quarterback sneak came up short to start the fourth quarter, but teams rarely ever run the sneak on third-and-2. On fourth-and-1, Arian Foster appeared to have the game-tying touchdown run from 25 yards away, but DeVier Posey was penalized for holding. Randy Bullock was good on the field goal from 53 yards away to cut the Colts' lead to 14-10.

Houston embarked on another march, but despite having time to throw, Savage failed to connect with his receiver on back-to-back plays, turning the ball over on fourth-and-4 at the Indianapolis 42. Still, it was good to see Bill O'Brien go for it there, acknowledging the Colts offense was not a major threat in this game.

That's when the Colts changed things offensively and put the ball in the hands of Dan Herron on five consecutive runs, targeting the interior of Houston's line out of the shotgun and pistol. Herron gained 35 yards on those plays and the Colts were in scoring range. Trent Richardson failed to convert a second-and-1 run. Luck tried a bootleg run, which was easily snuffed out by the Texans for a 5-yard loss. Based on my short-yardage study, quarterback bootleg runs worked on 11 of 12 plays from 2009-2013 on third-and-1, so major credit to Houston for stopping one. Adam Vinatieri made the 29-yard field goal and the Colts led 17-10.

The Texans were 80 yards away with one timeout and 2:11 left, which isn't an ideal situation for your rookie quarterback's debut, though, success would have immediately endeared him to the fans. Savage was able to convert one third down and came within inches of another with a big throw down the field to DeAndre Hopkins, who beat Vontae Davis. Safety Sergio Brown was able to get there in time to break up the pass, but this would have gained around 40 yards.

That's not a bad throw. The next play, however, was, and Davis picked off Savage to clinch the win. The Texans are 0-5 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in Indianapolis. The 17-10 final snapped a streak of 20 consecutive games with at least 20 points for the Colts, so another one bites the dust. The longest active streak now belongs to New England (10 games).

Most Consecutive Games Scoring 20+ Points (Including Playoffs)
Rk Team Years Games Record PPG From To Ended By Points
1 Saints 2010-2012 25 16-9 33.4 1/8/2011 10/21/2012 at Broncos 14
2 Redskins 1982-1983 24 22-2 32.5 12/26/1982 1/8/1984 Raiders (SB) 9
2 Dolphins 1983-1984 24 21-3 32.2 11/20/1983 1/6/1985 49ers (SB) 16
2 Patriots 2006-2007 24 23-1 35.0 12/17/2006 1/20/2008 Giants (SB) 14
2 Broncos 2012-2013 24 20-4 35.6 12/2/2012 1/19/2014 Seahawks (SB) 8
6 Rams 1952-1954 23 17-4-2 32.2 10/26/1952 10/3/1954 at Lions 3
6 Raiders 1983-1984 23 19-4 28.5 9/4/1983 9/24/1984 at Broncos 13
8 Saints 2008-2009 22 18-4 34.1 10/26/2008 12/13/2009 Cowboys 17
8 Chargers 2008-2009 22 18-4 29.5 12/4/2008 1/3/2010 Jets (AFC-DIV) 14
10 Vikings 1997-1998 21 18-3 33.7 12/21/1997 1/17/1999 at Falcons 17
10 Eagles 2013-2014 21 16-5 31.7 11/3/2013 11/27/2014 Seahawks 14
12 Colts 2013-2014 20 14-6 30.1 12/1/2013 12/7/2014 Texans 17

Redskins at Giants: Jay Gruden Raised the White Flag

Even if it took a neck injury to Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III was back as Washington's quarterback. He appeared to give the Redskins a two-score lead before halftime, but on review, his would-be first rushing touchdown since 2012 was overturned to a lost fumble, ending the half without points. It has been that kind of year for Griffin, who came off the bench to mix a strong passing game with seven sacks.

He caught one break in the fourth quarter when Odell Beckham Jr. was denied another touchdown thanks to a holding penalty on Justin Pugh. The Giants tried a strange end-around on fourth-and-1 with Beckham. If there's anything the Washington defense does well, it's defending the run. Beckham was stopped for no gain and the Giants led 17-13.

Griffin launched a deep ball over 60 yards for DeSean Jackson, but that's simply too far even for the speedster, not to mention the two defenders in coverage. On third-and-4, Griffin scrambled to avoid another sack and the Redskins went three-and-out.

Eli Manning has plenty of reasons to love Beckham, his new toy. He threw seven passes on the ensuing drive to the rookie, who caught 12 balls for 143 yards and three scores on the day. The last connection was a 6-yard touchdown in front of David Amerson. Before this season Manning had one game with multiple touchdown passes in 17 meetings with Washington. This year he threw seven touchdowns against the Redskins (four in the first game, three in the second). That says a lot about the current state of Jim Haslett's defense.

Down 24-13, Griffin was sacked on third down and the NFC East had another "we basically have to punt" situation (see Cowboys-Eagles) on fourth-and-29. After getting the ball back, Griffin endured his seventh sack and was slow to get up. With over a minute left in an 11-point game, we basically watched Jay Gruden raise the white flag at his own 34. A running play on third-and-8 reeks of surrender, as does letting the clock run out to take a delay of game penalty and punt.

Gruden is the third coach since 1998 to punt in the final minute of the fourth quarter while trailing by 1 to 16 points. We haven't seen that since Steve Spurrier did it with Washington in 2002 against Philadelphia, which did it in 1999 as a young Andy Reid was just as bad at clock management as the elder version. NFC East, you frustrate me.

Gruden even further botched the end-game strategy when Beckham muffed the punt and the Redskins had nine seconds left at the Giants 29. This is where you immediately send out the kicking unit for the 47-yard field goal, do the onside kick and throw a Hail Mary. What did Gruden do? He put the offense on the field -- apparently the quarterback's health wasn't a huge concern now -- and called a screen pass for Jackson for three yards to run out the clock.

That's the kind of spineless coaching that will turn a fan base sour and perhaps get a coach fired.

Steelers at Falcons: Not Quite a Shootout

The potential for a shootout was high, and both offenses were clicking to the tune of 46.2 yards per drive on Sunday. However, Julio Jones' hip injury and a surprisingly contained Le'Veon Bell led to only 40 combined offensive points. Matt Ryan's early pick-six had the Falcons in catch-up mode all day, including a 27-13 deficit to start the fourth quarter. Ryan still had plenty of success with Harry Douglas and Devin Hester stepping up in Jones' absence, but it was Roddy White, old reliable, cashing in with a 4-yard touchdown catch with 10:21 left. White's 62nd career score broke Michael Turner's franchise record for touchdowns.

Ben Roethlisberger accounted for 88.3 percent of Pittsburgh's offense with the passing game, but just missed Lance Moore on a third-and-9 down the field. Ryan had his chance and threw to Douglas on three straight plays. Vince Williams read the third-down play well and tackled Douglas 2 yards short of the first down. Atlanta punted from its own 25 with 4:34 left, which you really can't fault with four clock stoppages remaining.

Pittsburgh caught a break when Desmond Trufant was penalized on third down for illegal contact for holding onto Antonio Brown well after the five-yard zone. He probably didn't even need to do it since Roethlisberger was not going there with the throw. Brown picked up another first down with his 10th catch of the day, joining Wes Welker (2009) as the only receivers since 1998 to have multiple games in a season with a perfect catch rate (minimum 10 targets). Brown caught all 10 of his targets against both Carolina and Atlanta this season.

The Steelers had two chances to gain 6 yards to ice the game and continued to be aggressive with the pass. After the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger used a bootleg on third-and-1 to find Heath Miller open for a 25-yard dagger. The Steelers (9-5) are guaranteed a winning record, while the Falcons keep their battles alive for the No. 7 pick in the draft or a home playoff game.

Jaguars at Ravens: Progress?

Baltimore has feasted on some lesser competition this year, so it was a surprise to see Jacksonville hang around within one score for the entire 60 minutes. Imagine where the Jaguars could have been in this one without a blocked punt for a touchdown and a missed 42-yard field goal. This might have been a bigger upset than Jacksonville's win over the Ravens in 2011. At least that was on the road.

Jacksonville trailed 17-12 to start the fourth quarter, but the first snap was a sign of things to come. Blake Bortles suffered the first of four sacks in the final 15 minutes (eight for the game). Justin Tucker proved his mortality by missing a 54-yard field goal, but Bortles failed to capitalize on the good field position with back-to-back sacks forcing a three-and-out. It's usually hard to tell from the television broadcast if there were open receivers or not, but these weren't the quickest sacks and Bortles was holding onto the ball trying to make something happen.

Bortles ended up getting great field position again at the 50 after a punt, but Jacksonville picked an awful time to run the ball on third-and-6. Jordan Todman never had a chance after a blown blocking assignment and lost 3 yards. On fourth-and-9, Baltimore blitzed and Bortles' pass never gave Cecil Shorts a chance to make the catch in bounds.

Speaking of that boundary line, Baltimore made things more interesting than they should have been. On third-and-5 with 3:10 left and the Jaguars out of timeouts, Joe Flacco ran a quarterback sweep to the right for 10 yards, but he went out of bounds to stop the clock. That was Baltimore's longest run of the day, but Bernard Pierce topped it on the next snap with a 28-yard gallop. However, he too allowed himself to be tackled out of bounds. The game would have been over if Flacco and Pierce had stayed in bounds on their runs. Instead there were three more runs and a 33-yard field goal from Tucker to make it 20-12.

Bortles needed to drive 80 yards in 71 seconds. Any hope of that basically ended three plays later after the eighth sack of the day. On fourth-and-19, Bortles' desperation pass was intercepted like it was a punt by Jeromy Miles to end the game and mini-scare.

Cardinals at Rams: Shudder To Think What the Lindley Benchmark Is

If the Drew Stanton benchmark is "Arizona is fine as long as the opponent does not score more than 14 points," then what will the mark be for Ryan Lindley? Three points? Arizona completed the season sweep of St. Louis last Thursday night, but not before losing another starting quarterback to injury against this defense. Fortunately, the lead was already 9-3 and Lindley was competent enough to hit an open receiver to help extend that to a 12-3 lead in the fourth quarter.

Shaun Hill drove St. Louis to the 1-yard line, but a terribly designed play-action pass with no immediate receiver led to a decision with 6:10 left. A lot of people will say they should have gone for it there, but I think this bad offense needed the sure points to make it a one-score game. Teams in this fourth-down situation only convert about 48 percent of the time, and this was a below-average offense against a great defense. If there were 10 or 12 minutes left in the game, then I think the Rams should have gone for it, but I didn't mind the field goal at this point.

As is often the case late in the game, Arizona only gained one first down and punted. Hill had to drive 80 yards for the winning touchdown, but 2:52 was plenty of time with two timeouts. The Rams were already at the 50 at the two-minute warning, but then Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles dialed up the pressure again. A rushing cornerback on third-and-3 forced a poor pass from Hill. Stedman Bailey was wide-open for the first down, but could not come down with the high throw. On fourth-and-3, Jerraud Powers again rushed the passer and knocked down Hill's quick throw. St. Louis was able to use its timeouts to get one more possession with 18 seconds left, but that ended with a Hill interception full of desperation.

I am not sure there has ever been another 11-win team that successfully held a one-score lead in the fourth quarter of every win like the 2014 Cardinals. With Stanton out a month and a remaining schedule featuring the Seahawks and 49ers, we'll see if the Cardinals have any more leads to protect this season.

Buccaneers at Panthers: Clark Kent Wins Again

A few years ago any rational person would have predicted this series would feature a good share of duels between Cam Newton and Josh Freeman. We ended up getting three of those, which is only one more than this year's double dose of Derek Anderson vs. Josh McCown. I think this just adds to the sideshow allure of the 2014 NFC South. Anderson started the season by carving up the Buccaneers, and after Newton's car accident, he returned to produce similar results.

Tampa Bay put up a better fight this time, but McCown still committed costly turnovers, even if the referees failed to notice initially. Ron Rivera challenged a McCown incompletion on the first play of the fourth quarter and was rewarded with a fumble. Even though the ball traveled well down the field after contact, McCown lost control of the ball and then pushed it forward, so the challenge was good. Carolina used that drive to extend their lead to 19-10 with 8:31 left.

McCown found Vincent Jackson four times on the ensuing drive and capped it off with a 16-yard touchdown scramble to make it 19-17 with 3:11 left. Jonathan Stewart nearly fumbled the ball back to Tampa Bay, but was able to recover. Ron Rivera has a history of being very conservative in the four-minute offense, but Anderson paced the drive with throws on first and second down to Kelvin Benjamin for two key first downs. Those were enough for Carolina to run three more plays to use up most of the remaining clock, but the Buccaneers did get the ball back at their own 10 with 23 seconds left. That was only enough time for McCown to force a desperation pick to Luke Kuechly.

Tampa Bay is 1-9 at game-winning drive opportunities this season. The nine losses tie 1983 and 2004 for the most in franchise history.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 54
Game-winning drives: 60
Games with 4QC opportunity: 116/224 (51.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 38

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 16 Dec 2014

7 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2014, 7:36pm by BengalFaninIN


by Travis :: Tue, 12/16/2014 - 5:46pm

The longest drive I have ever found in my research was the Giants running out the final 12:53 against Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship.

On Thanksgiving 1997, the then-Tennessee Oilers had a 13:27 drive for a field goal against the Cowboys. I'm almost positive this is the longest drive by time since 1986.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 12/16/2014 - 6:06pm

Nice one. I just downloaded the gamebook. It appears the first play from scrimmage came with 8:02 left and the drive ended with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter. So it was actually 13:18, but that's the first I've seen over 13 minutes.

Steve McNair stopped on the quarterback sneak at the 1-yard line.

by Travis :: Tue, 12/16/2014 - 9:55pm

The first play from scrimmage came with 8:02 left, but the kickoff came at 8:11. By NFL scoring convention, all 9 of those seconds are considered the receiving team's possession and part of the drive. (The drive chart on page 6 of the gamebook correctly gives the drive time as 13:27; the summary line under the drive incorrectly gives it as 13:18.)

by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:39pm

Good call. I guess I'm so used to logging the time of the first play from scrimmage, that I never noticed the drive summary (usually) uses the time from kickoff as the entire length.

by RickD :: Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:50pm

Not a huge Jay Gruden fan, but the demands you make on him are ridiculous. The Redskins are a 3-win team. They're not going anywhere. Telling them they shouldn't punt down 11 points because they have "more than a minute left"...why?

And you really think that Redskins could kick a FG, recover an onside kick, and score a TD all in less than 9 seconds? Or, the be more accurate, that they could kick a FG and recover an onside kick in 8 seconds?

Sometimes it's OK to give up on a game. Redskins fans are angry about a lot of things, but not trying for a miracle finish isn't one of them. (I live in the DC area and trust me, this is not something that's being talked about on sports radio.)

"Gruden is the third coach since 1998 to punt in the final minute of the fourth quarter while trailing by 1 to 16 points. "

That's a hell of an interval there. Punting down 1 and punting down 16 are entirely different decisions.

Edit: my language seems more argumentative than I intended.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 12/17/2014 - 2:24pm

Well anyone punting down one score would be crucified, but consider the 1-16 shorthand for "no more than a two-score margin."

So it's ridiculous to expect him to play out the game the way practically every single coach would? Show me examples of teams mailing it in like that, letting the clock run all the way down to take a delay of game penalty and punt. It doesn't happen. There's only two other examples since 1998 of teams punting in the final minute and they were down 13 and 14 points. 11's a little closer and it's not like they were buried inside their own 10.

We can stretch things out to final 2:00, down 9-16 and only 8 teams have punted since 1998. None of them did it in the final 40 seconds and none from beyond their own 20. If not for the delay of game, Washington would have also had the shortest distance to convert (4th-and-9) as well. What the hell do you have to lose at that point? All the Giants are going to do is take a knee to end the game. You have to finish the game and at least look like you're trying to win.

Let's stick with 9-16 deficit, final minute and the ball in your own territory. We have 3 punts and 58 plays from scrimmage. What does that tell you? Even Alex Smith ran out of bounds on 4th-and-19 vs. Denver a few weeks ago, down 29-16.

And you really think that Redskins could kick a FG, recover an onside kick, and score a TD all in less than 9 seconds? Or, the be more accurate, that they could kick a FG and recover an onside kick in 8 seconds?

That's the optimal strategy. The field goal should only take 5-6 seconds max, and it usually doesn't take much time to recover an onside kick. In Super Bowl 44 the Saints used one second to get that onside kick to start the second half. The clock doesn't start until the ball is touched. So yes, you can recover an onside kick in 1-3 seconds. Just enough time for a Hail Mary and we know Griffin can get the ball 60+ yards.

I don't care if it's a miracle finish. That was flat out giving up on the game and that's not what NFL coaches do in those situations.

by BengalFaninIN :: Thu, 12/18/2014 - 7:36pm

You don't give up on those situations. For one thing,
1: This is the only real way to 'practice' that sort of thing
2: The miracle wins never materialize if you don't get the first step, the field goal in this case.

He is, not in fact being paid to coach a pro football team and optimize it's winning percentage over the length of his tenure.

He is being paid to coach a pro football team, in order to entertain the fans, primarily of that team.Boring play is bad, boring play leads to lack of interest and loss of fan base. Bad for the league, the consumer, all the owners etc.

Throwing away that opportunity stinks of tanking, tanking has ruined the NBA, once poised to unseat the NFL as the top sport in this country. Now less popular than Fantasy Football, probably less a part of the national discussion than the NFL draft.