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30 Dec 2014

Clutch Encounters: Season Review/Week 17

by Scott Kacsmar

Another regular season bites the dust. We had double-digit games with comeback opportunities for the third consecutive week, but any real late-game drama was hard to come by with 20 teams cashing their final game checks in 2014. So we are taking a more general look at some of Sunday's winners and losers along with a season summary of the close-game results.

Game of the Week

Cleveland Browns 10 at Baltimore Ravens 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (10-3)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 8:23 left): 0.31
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (14-27 at 4QC and 21-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (14-26 at 4QC and 21-29 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Game of the Week involves the Ravens needing a comeback at home against Browns rookie quarterback Connor Shaw. You remember how mad Joe Pesci got with that Irishman in Casino for protecting Charlie M? That's how I feel about the Ravens needing this comeback at home with the playoffs on the line. Connor Shaw? CONNOR SHAW? You dumb mother…

For a while there this was shaping up to be one of the all-time late-season collapses with the way Baltimore has been playing in recent weeks, but a 17-point fourth quarter saved the day. The only other Baltimore game-winning drive this season was against Cleveland in Week 3. That day Steve Smith burned Joe Haden for a 32-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal. This time Torrey Smith made a great 53-yard catch against Haden on a bomb from Joe Flacco. On the next play Smith beat Buster Skrine in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and the Ravens led 13-10. Last season Skrine allowed a league-high eight touchdowns in the red zone. He allowed two in the fourth quarter on Sunday with Kamar Aiken catching another for a 20-10 lead. Shaw forced an interception to Lardarius Webb and the Ravens punched their ticket to another postseason.

Mike Pettine's 7-4 start ended with a five-game losing streak. Earlier this season I thought the Browns had flipped the script on us by having a good offense and a struggling defense. But by season's end this team performed as expected: 24th on offense, 12th on defense in DVOA, and a bevy of quarterback issues. Whether it's a little or a lot of Josh Gordon, Cleveland finished 28th in offensive points per drive for the second year in a row.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

St. Louis Rams 6 at Seattle Seahawks 20

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD starting with 14:51 left): 0.58
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (17-37 at 4QC and 25-41 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (9-12 at 4QC and 14-13 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Seattle's defense was not going to blow this game with the No. 1 seed on the line, and the Rams scored just six points on 11 drives, including a 0-yard field goal drive. Shaun Hill had a chance to put the Rams ahead to start the fourth quarter in a 6-6 tie, but he threw an interception to 303-pound defensive tackle Jordan Hill that was a good candidate for worst pick of the year. Another blown coverage in the St. Louis secondary led to an easy 31-yard completion from Russell Wilson to Kevin Norwood. Marshawn Lynch finished off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run, and the Seahawks had the lead for good.

Hill's blunder was bad, but he was incredibly unlucky the rest of the way. Bobby Wagner knocked the ball out of Lance Kendricks' hands, turning a sure completion into a pick-six by Bruce Irvin. Later, Benny Cunningham tried diving for a touchdown on third-and-goal, but Earl Thomas forced him to lose possession of the ball short of the end zone for a fumble and touchback.

The Rams did a great job this season in beating Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver, but there are lingering issues with quarterback play and the secondary that keep Jeff Fisher's team under .500.

St. Louis had seven failed game-winning drive opportunities in 2014. Incredibly, nine of the 11 drives ended with an interception, including four picks returned for touchdowns.

St. Louis Rams: 2014 Failed 4QC/GWD Opportunities
Quarterback Date Opp Final Down Drive Result
Austin Davis 9/21/2014 DAL L 34-31 3 Pick-6 returned 25 yards w/5:58 left (B.Carter)
3 INT at STL 26 w/1:02 left (M.Claiborne)
Austin Davis 10/5/2014 at PHI L 34-28 6 Incomplete on 4th-and-13 at STL 47 w/0:37 left
Austin Davis 10/13/2014 SF L 24-14 7 Pick-6 returned 20 yards w/0:53 left (D.Johnson)
Austin Davis 11/9/2014 at ARI L 31-14 3 INT w/7:24 left (P.Peterson)
3 Pick-6 returned 30 yards w/5:13 left (P.Peterson)
Shaun Hill 11/23/2014 at SD L 27-24 3 INT at SD 4 w/0:55 left (M.Gilchrist)
Shaun Hill 12/11/2014 ARI L 12-6 6 Incomplete on 4th-and-3 at ARI 43 w/1:23 left
6 INT at STL 25 w/0:00 left (P.Peterson)
Shaun Hill 12/28/2014 SEA L 20-6 0 INT at SEA 34 w/14:51 left (J.Hill)
7 Pick-6 returned 49 yards w/9:50 left (B.Irvin)

Wilson's 14th game-winning drive surpasses Matt Ryan (13) for the most through three seasons in NFL history. You might be extra impressed by that if you are a St. Louis fan. To get 14 game-winning drives for the Rams, you have to go all the way back to November 27, 2005 -- the day Ryan Fitzpatrick introduced himself to the NFL world.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at Houston Texans 23

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (17-14)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 4:45 left in third quarter): 0.37
Head Coach: Bill O'Brien (1-4 at 4QC and 1-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Case Keenum (1-5 at 4QC and 1-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Dating back to last season, the Texans had a 0-for-14 streak at game-winning drive opportunities, including 0-for-5 with Case Keenum at quarterback. That finally came to an end thanks to a few of Houston's best players. Keenum drilled a strike to Andre Johnson for an 8-yard touchdown and J.J. Watt took advantage of Blake Bortles' bad pocket presence for a sack and a safety. That sack made Watt the first player with multiple 20-sack seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. I think his MVP case is total bunk, but he is certainly Houston's MVP and the best defensive player of his era.

Bortles had a chance to end his season on a high note with an 85-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:51 to win the game. He looked like he might have done it with an 18-yard pass on fourth-and-10 followed by a 34-yard scramble to the Houston 10, but things stalled from there. Houston blitzed on fourth-and-5 and Bortles was unable to deliver a ball that Cecil Shorts could catch in bounds. Jacksonville finished dead last with a brutal 11.3% Adjusted Sack Rate -- worst since the 2006 Lions (12.3%). That has to improve or Bortles won't last long.

Meanwhile, Houston needs to find a better quarterback. Ironically enough, despite the Watt-for-MVP discussion, no team's season may have said more about the value of the quarterback position. The Texans (9-7) lost to these quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck (twice), Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Foles/Mark Sanchez, and Andy Dalton. The Texans beat these quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III (benched), Derek Carr (rookie in second start), EJ Manuel (benched), Zach Mettenberger twice (rookie in his first and fifth starts), Brian Hoyer (benched), Joe Flacco, and Blake Bortles twice. Except for Flacco, every quarterback Houston beat was either a rookie, or soon lost his starting job. Next year's schedule should not be as kind.

New York Jets 37 at Miami Dolphins 24

Type: GWD
Win Probability (GWD starting with 4:20 left in third quarter): 0.51
Head Coach: Rex Ryan (14-27 at 4QC and 20-28 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Geno Smith (3-10 at 4QC and 7-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Do you want the perfect example of whacky turnarounds in divisional rematches this year? In Week 13 the Jets hid Geno Smith against Miami as if he was Tim Tebow, with only 13 pass attempts. On Sunday, Rex Ryan coached his final game with the Jets and watched Smith finish with a perfect 158.3 passer rating on 25 attempts. Eric Decker amassed 23.0 percent of his season's receiving total with 221 yards against a Miami defense that imploded down the stretch.

The game-winning drive was nothing to write home about. Nick Folk broke a 24-24 tie with a 23-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter. Caleb Sturgis failed to answer from 53 yards, Ryan Tannehill took a couple of sacks and the Jets fooled the Dolphins with a beautiful fake punt that led to an insurance touchdown. When it's Week 17 and you know you're getting fired on Monday, why the hell not pull out a gadget?

The Ryan era ends after four straight disappointing seasons, but he built clout with those AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two years. Take note, Joe Philbin. After three seasons of being stuck in NFL purgatory, we could be talking about the last game of the Philbin era come this time next year.

New Orleans Saints 23 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 13 (20-7)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 5:20 left): 0.26
Head Coach: Sean Payton (19-31 at 4QC and 25-33 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (25-46 at 4QC and 36-52 overall 4QC/GWD record)

This season finale was a fitting conclusion for two of the year's most disappointing teams. Drew Brees threw plenty of costly interceptions this season, but only the Tampa Bay defense succeeded in bulk, with a pair of three-pick games against the 35-year-old quarterback. Tampa Bay was also the only team Brees led a fourth-quarter comeback against, and both times he had to do it from a deficit of more than 10 points -- something he never did once in his career before 2014.

It helps when Tavarres King tips a pass to Keenan Lewis for an interception at the 50 with 5:20 to play. Brees found Marques Colston for a 36-yard touchdown. The Saints defense then took advantage of an oblivious Josh McCown for back-to-back sacks, including one in the end zone for a safety with 1:05 left.

The NFC South blew 16 fourth-quarter leads this year (17 if you count Carolina's tie with Cincinnati), which is more than a quarter of the league total for 2014.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Bengals at Steelers: Sunday Brown and Green

The title is a Camber song, but when it's the Steelers and Bengals we are obviously talking about their star receivers, Antonio Brown and A.J. Green. Not to get too philosophical, but Sunday night's showdown for the AFC North title was really symbolic of the direction these two franchises have taken.

Brown capped off his incredible season with two touchdowns, including his third career punt return score, which have all come against the Bengals. Just a sixth-round pick, Brown has flourished as Ben Roethlisberger's No. 1 target and caught 129 passes this year, the second most in NFL history behind only Marvin Harrison's 143 in 2002. (Read more about this great season in Quick Reads from today.) Green cost the Bengals the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft with the idea he would help Andy Dalton progress faster. Yet four seasons into their tenure, we still see the same problems with Dalton missing the 6-foot-4 receiver with overthrown passes, leading to tipped interceptions and other mistakes. Roethlisberger and Brown helped each other to career years for the most potent offense in franchise history. The Dalton-to-Green connection is still very much a work in progress.

Both receivers needed to deliver a big game, but Pittsburgh's duo seized the opportunity. We knew the Steelers would not repeat their rushing success from Week 14 when Le'Veon Bell had 26 carries for 185 yards. On Sunday night, the Steelers rushed 14 times for 26 yards. Bell was lost with a hyperextended knee, while Jeremy Hill paced the Bengals with a 100-yard rushing game.

After the Bengals cut Pittsburgh's lead to 20-17 in the fourth quarter, Mike Tomlin nearly gave the game away by tipping his hat on a fake punt that was executed horribly. At that point, it was as if Tomlin's strategy was to ask Roethlisberger if he would rather face the Colts or the Ravens in the wild-card round, possibly without Bell. That might have been a tough question for Roethlisberger to answer -- he has already strafed both of those defenses for six touchdowns in a single game this season – but apparently he would rather play the Colts, because punter Brad Wing's interception put the Bengals at their own 41 with a chance to take the late lead.

Green appeared to have a catch that moved the Bengals into scoring range, but Antwon Blake showed off his impressive tackling abilities again and forced and recovered a fumble with 3:51 left. While Dalton did himself no favors in prime time again, he was not terrible in this game, and that crucial mistake was clearly all on Green.

Without Bell, the options for a four-minute offense were pretty limited, but on third-and-8 Roethlisberger was on the same page with Brown for the division clincher. Brown got behind Dre Kirkpatrick and shook George Iloka for a 63-yard touchdown with 2:50 left.

Cincinnati's next drive ended with Dalton checking down on fourth-and-19 for a failed completion to Giovani Bernard. Tomlin still does not understand when to take kneeldowns to end games and Roethlisberger nearly fumbled the ball back to Cincinnati before finally taking a knee.

The 2014 Steelers set a franchise record with 436 points scored. Brown leads the league with 1,698 receiving yards. For the first time ever there was a tie for the passing title with Roethlisberger and Drew Brees both throwing for 4,952 yards (Roethlisberger did it on 51 fewer attempts.) This is a pass-driven team, yet in old Pittsburgh fashion, the team MVP was still Bell, a running back, and all the attention will be on his availability this week. He is a huge part of the success, but this is an offense capable of succeeding without a strong running game. The improvements on the offensive line and transition away from a deep threat like Mike Wallace to a quick-passing game that features Brown has led the Steelers back to the top of the AFC North.

Lions at Packers: Predictable Ending, Unpredictable Path

Matthew Stafford tossed three touchdown passes and Aaron Rodgers missed part of the game with a calf injury. Detroit's defense held Green Bay to 21 points on 10 drives, a respectable outing for a defense playing in Lambeau this year. That sounds like the recipe for a Lions upset, but it's all very misleading. After mentioning all the things Detroit failed to do, it's easy to see why Green Bay won the NFC North with a 30-20 win.

Rodgers played well after returning from the injury and Detroit did little to make him move off the spot as he went to a quick passing game. Stafford missed several open throws all game long and only completed 20-of-41 passes for 217 yards. Green Bay had secondary scoring with a punt return touchdown and a safety in the fourth quarter when Stafford was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Even when the Lions looked to have caught a break by blocking a 52-yard field goal down 21-14, they immediately gave the ball back after Joique Bell was unable to secure the handoff from Stafford, who is now 3-31 against teams with a winning record.

Green Bay used that short field to add another touchdown, which came after a curious decision to use Rodgers on the quarterback sneak on second down. Even when the Lions recovered an "onside free kick" after the safety and scored a touchdown, Bell was ruled short of the end zone on the two-point conversion, producing the final 30-20 score. Detroit nearly recovered another onside kick, but Green Bay secured the ball to end any potential late drama.

Then again, when the Lions are involved in a game like this, why should we expect a different ending? The Lions have not won a playoff game or any game in Lambeau since the 1991 season. Since 1992, the Lions are 11-76 (.126) on the road against playoff teams. They will have another shot next week in Dallas for that signature win.

Bills at Patriots: Not a Repeatable Winning Strategy

Tom Brady was 23-2 in his career against the Bills, with the losses coming in the same fashion: a pair of pick parades (four interceptions) in Buffalo. Buffalo finally found a winning strategy in Foxborough, but it apparently involves a Week 17 game that's so meaningless that Brady plays only for the first half and a superstar such as Rob Gronkowski does not play at all. That is an unusual strategy for Bill Belichick, but not unheard of. The Patriots already had the AFC's No. 1 seed clinched, but at least the Bills did not wilt against a team of backups this time with a chance to finish with a winning record.

Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished the game for Brady, but was unable to overcome a 17-9 deficit in the fourth quarter. He displayed some impressive "escapability" that Brady and Drew Bledsoe never brought to the table over the last 20 years, but the inexperience also flashed, like when Garoppolo held the ball too long and took a 15-yard sack after trying to scramble. The rookie's last chance started at his own 25 with 1:50 left, but a four-and-out showed that there is plenty of learning to do in Garoppolo's future.

The loss guaranteed the first season since 2002 where every team lost at least four games, which back in October was something I thought could happen.

Cardinals at 49ers: Captain Comeback's Last Hurrah

All season Arizona has hung on to small leads in the fourth quarter, but could Bruce Arians get Ryan Lindley playing well enough to even have another fourth-quarter lead in 2014? It took 229 pass attempts, but at least Lindley threw his first NFL touchdown pass. He even threw a second and had a 300-yard game, so that is encouraging for the playoffs, but the fourth quarter belonged to San Francisco even though neither team scored. The 49ers had a chance to add to their 20-17 lead or run out the clock, but knocked themselves out of field-goal range. At least Jim Harbaugh, coaching his last game with the 49ers, let Colin Kaepernick throw on third down this time, even if it was on third-and-16. The 49ers punted with two minutes left.

Lindley only needed to drive Arizona to a field goal, but quickly suffered a sack and threw a game-ending interception to someone other than Perrish Cox, who seemingly was involved in every big fourth-quarter play this year. Craig Dahl came away with the pick and the 49ers sent Harbaugh off with a win, albeit to close a very frustrating 8-8 season.

Harbaugh (15-14-1) and Arians (14-6) are -- or were, in Harbaugh's case -- the only active coaches with a winning record when their teams had a game-winning drive opportunity (minimum 10 games). So this "Captain Comeback" lived up to his reputation in San Francisco, but unfortunately it's the same one he built as a player in Indianapolis in 1995; a reputation which also involves coming up just short of a Super Bowl.

Eagles at Giants: Got Targets?

This season finale basically served as the Giants trying to add to the incredible stats for Odell Beckham Jr. in his memorable rookie campaign. He had 12 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown, but needed 21 targets against the Eagles. The last seven players to get at least 21 targets in a game all lost that game. I would still rank Randy Moss' 1998 rookie season ahead of Beckham's, but Beckham is certainly in the mix for the second-best rookie year by a wideout. Honorable mentions include Harlon Hill (1954), Billy Howton (1952), Bill Groman (1960), John Jefferson (1978) and Anquan Boldin (2003).

Eli Manning threw 53 passes without suffering a sack, which is a career-best mark, but struggled to finish drives with touchdowns. I laughed at the Giants' preseason goal of getting Manning to 70 percent in completions, so how did he do? After his seventh-career game with at least 25 incompletions, Manning finished at 63.1 percent, or just a hair above his career high from 2010. Still, this could be argued as one of Manning's very best seasons despite the fact that the Giants as a team were not successful.

Down 34-26 with 3:10 left, Manning's final pass of 2014 was just a vintage mistake on a forced deep ball picked off by Nate Allen, who returned the ball to New York's 18-yard line. Three runs by Chris Polk led to a first down, and the Giants were unable to stop the clock again. The 2014 Eagles are now part of a list of 11 teams with double-digit wins that failed to make the playoffs since 1990. The 2010 Giants know the feeling, as they are one of the five teams from the last five seasons on the list.

Bears at Vikings: Opposite Directions

"Jay, remember, you are my number one guy."

We can all dream that scene was reenacted over Christmas in Chicago. Jay Cutler's benching was short-lived after Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion in last week's loss to Detroit. Cutler's return, of course, did nothing to spark the offense, which managed just nine points on nine drives, including two field-goal drives that covered a grand total of 20 yards.

I have praised Mike Zimmer for a few aggressive moves in the last month of the season, but we will have to see if he continues this strategy next year when the Vikings are not out of playoff contention. I like that he let the offense go for the kill shot with a 13-9 lead and fourth-and-1 at the Chicago 3 with just under three minutes left. Many defensive-minded coaches would be expected to kick the field goal in that situation for a seven-point lead. Matt Asiata did not make the first down, but Chicago's struggling offense still needed to drive 93 yards for a touchdown in 2:53.

The Bears managed to set a record in painful fashion: Matt Forte caught eight passes for 23 yards to break Larry Centers' single-season record of most receptions by a running back (101). Forte finished with 102 catches, but the record was achieved by throwing short passes on second-and-20 and third-and-19 with the game on the line on the final drive. Forte had nine games in his career with at least eight catches, and he gained at least 60 yards in all of those games. Even with the game not in garbage time, the 2014 Bears still reeked of hollow stat-padding. On fourth-and-9, Cutler threw under pressure to Martellus Bennett, but the route was too shallow and he only gained 8 yards to end the drive.

In 2015 the Bears will be favorites to bring up the rear in the NFC North, while the improving Vikings are a good offseason away from being a chic dark horse.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 63
Game-winning drives: 71
Games with 4QC opportunity: 137/256 (53.5 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 43

We still have the playoffs, but this year's regular season produced the fewest game-winning drives since 1998. There were more blowouts, especially with some of the grueling prime-time games. (Grueling to watch, not necessarily to play in -- for the winning teams, at least.) This season's average margin of victory was 12.7 points, which is the second largest since 2001 according to ESPN's data.

The following table shows a summary of offensive success at fourth-quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winning drives (GWD) this season. A 4QC is any game where the offense had possession of the ball in the fourth quarter (or overtime with today's rules) with a one-score deficit. GWD additionally includes games where the score was tied. I did not track defenses the way I wanted to this year, so hopefully that can be straightened out for next year, or even before this season's officially over. Also included is the number of games the team lost after having a fourth-quarter lead. The final section includes all close games for the team where at least one side of the ball faced a comeback or game-winning drive opportunity. Playoff teams are shaded.

NFL 2014 Regular Season Close Game Summary (4Q/OT)
Team Record 4QC Pct. 4QC/GWD Pct. Games W-L Pct. CG%
PIT 11-5 2-1 0.667 3-1 0.750 1 8 7-1 0.875 50.0%
ARI 11-5 3-2 0.600 3-2 0.600 0 13 11-2 0.846 81.3%
GB 12-4 1-1 0.500 1-1 0.500 0 5 4-1 0.800 31.3%
DAL 12-4 3-2 0.600 4-2 0.667 0 8 6-2 0.750 50.0%
DEN 12-4 1-2 0.333 1-2 0.333 1 7 5-2 0.714 43.8%
CAR 7-8-1 2-2-1 0.500 2-2-1 0.500 2 8 5-2-1 0.688 50.0%
CIN 10-5-1 3-2-1 0.583 3-2-1 0.583 1 8 5-2-1 0.688 50.0%
SD 9-7 3-3 0.500 3-3 0.500 3 9 6-3 0.667 56.3%
SF 8-8 3-3 0.500 3-4 0.429 2 11 7-4 0.636 68.8%
DET 11-5 5-4 0.556 5-4 0.556 1 10 6-4 0.600 62.5%
IND 11-5 1-2 0.333 1-3 0.250 1 7 4-3 0.571 43.8%
NE 12-4 2-3 0.400 2-3 0.400 0 7 4-3 0.571 43.8%
BUF 9-7 2-4 0.333 3-4 0.429 1 9 5-4 0.556 56.3%
MIN 7-9 3-3 0.500 4-3 0.571 3 9 5-4 0.556 56.3%
PHI 10-6 2-4 0.333 3-4 0.429 1 9 5-4 0.556 56.3%
SEA 12-4 1-4 0.200 4-4 0.500 2 9 5-4 0.556 56.3%
BAL 10-6 2-4 0.333 2-4 0.333 3 8 4-4 0.500 50.0%
CHI 5-11 1-4 0.200 1-4 0.200 2 8 4-4 0.500 50.0%
KC 9-7 3-4 0.429 3-4 0.429 2 8 4-4 0.500 50.0%
ATL 6-10 3-4 0.429 3-4 0.429 4 9 4-5 0.444 56.3%
HOU 9-7 1-4 0.200 1-4 0.200 0 7 3-4 0.429 43.8%
CLE 7-9 4-5 0.444 4-5 0.444 4 10 4-6 0.400 62.5%
MIA 8-8 2-6 0.250 2-6 0.250 3 10 4-6 0.400 62.5%
JAC 3-13 1-5 0.167 1-5 0.167 2 8 3-5 0.375 50.0%
STL 6-10 1-7 0.125 2-7 0.222 2 10 3-7 0.300 62.5%
WAS 4-12 1-7 0.125 3-7 0.300 2 10 3-7 0.300 62.5%
NO 7-9 2-5 0.286 2-5 0.286 4 7 2-5 0.286 43.8%
OAK 3-13 1-5 0.167 1-5 0.167 1 7 2-5 0.286 43.8%
NYJ 4-12 1-8 0.111 2-8 0.200 2 11 3-8 0.273 68.8%
NYG 6-10 1-7 0.125 1-7 0.125 3 9 2-7 0.222 56.3%
TEN 2-14 0-5 0.000 0-5 0.000 4 6 1-5 0.167 37.5%
TB 2-14 1-9 0.100 1-10 0.091 6 11 1-10 0.091 68.8%

It's not as if defenses were stingier in crunch time in 2014. In 2013, offenses were 69-148-2 (.320) at 4QC opportunities and 89-156-2 (.364) at overall GWD opportunities. This season offenses were 62-131-2 (.323) at 4QC opportunities and 74-134-2 (.357) at overall GWD opportunities.

Tampa Bay, which holds the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, had two horrific losses against Atlanta and Baltimore, but otherwise played teams much closer than they were given credit for. Not many teams can say (nor would they want to) that they blew six fourth-quarter leads in a season. The Titans, picking second, are the only 2014 team not to register a 4QC or GWD. Detroit had the most with five.

Arizona played the most close games with 13, including a defensive stand with a one-score lead in all 11 wins. The only losses were when the Cardinals failed to rally in Denver and in San Francisco on Sunday. It's not surprising to see Green Bay play the fewest close games (five) with so many home blowouts this year, but the difference this time is three bad losses on the road (Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans) that weren't close enough to qualify.

After going a league-best 7-2 in close games in 2013, the Jets struggled mightily this year, even starting 0-7 at 4QC opportunities. Washington, Oakland, and Tampa Bay all sustained last year's struggles, while the Steelers (3-7 in 2013) made a huge jump to the top of the league in win percentage in close games.

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 30 Dec 2014

3 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2014, 12:35am by brugg


by Perfundle :: Tue, 12/30/2014 - 6:04pm

I wouldn't call the pass to Norwood a blown coverage. It looked like they took a gamble that Wilson would throw a quick pass to Baldwin as his primary read and double teamed Baldwin and lost the gamble.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 12/30/2014 - 8:38pm

I just realized the team with the best record in close games (Steelers, 7-1) had their only loss serve as the only win for the team with the worst record (Buccaneers, 1-10).

by brugg :: Wed, 12/31/2014 - 12:35am

This is the second time I've seen FO regard the Hill to Hill interception as just a poor throw and not mention what an incredibly athletic pick from a 300+ lbs DT. The throw is the same kind of throw away QBs make all the time; throwing at the feet of the lineman at the LOS. In this case DT Hill dives at a throw thrown by the QB just 6 yards away. When I saw it live I thought Hill was just lying on the ground and the pass went right to him but upon review I saw that the big man actually displayed cat like reflexes to dive out and secure the ball. Crazy play.