Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Four Downs: AFC West

There's a serious need for defensive help in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In Denver, meanwhile, the Broncos must determine whether or not Case Keenum can really be a long-term solution at quarterback.

07 Oct 2014

Clutch Encounters: Week 5

by Scott Kacsmar

After a dull Week 4 with only five close games, almost every team tried to make a comeback in Week 5, including a couple of teams that trailed by four possessions. We had a season-high six fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives. A total of 12 games featured a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity for at least one of the teams. We even saw history made by one of the least likely sources in the league.

Game of the Week

Cleveland Browns 29 at Tennessee Titans 28

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 15 (28-13)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 3:03 left): 0.32
Head Coach: Mike Pettine (2-1 at 4QC and 2-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer (3-2 at 4QC and 3-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

If you told me a game between Cleveland and anybody resulted in a 25-point comeback, I would have guessed Cleveland was on the losing side. Why not? The history says it all with the absurd amount of heartbreak the Browns have gone through since their golden era ended in the 1950s.

But maybe the aimless Titans are the new Browns, and Sunday was one of their biggest disasters yet. This is only the sixth time in NFL history a team lost after leading by at least 25 points. Usually the home team makes the comeback, but the Browns have set the record for the biggest comeback by a road team. They nearly tied the record in Week 1 when erasing a 27-3 deficit in Pittsburgh before losing.

The Kardiac Kids are back in Cleveland after another thriller. No one expected Tennessee to jump out to a 28-3 lead using Jake Locker (injured again) and Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. This was no fluke either. The Titans were executing, but the Browns were right back in it after pulling off the rare "double score" to close and start the halves. Brian Hoyer led a crucial 90-yard touchdown drive just before halftime, and the Browns took the opening drive of the second half down the field for a field goal. A 28-13 score is a lot more manageable, and that essentially happened with the Tennessee offense not running any plays. The defense has to take the blame for the first half of the comeback.

Whisenhunt's play-calling in the second half was criticized with Whitehurst, the backup, passing repeatedly, but there's nothing that can legitimately be argued in the third quarter. Blame left guard Andy Levitre for short-circuiting both drives with bad penalties, including a 15-yard flag for unnecessary roughness (which set up a second-and-23) and a false start that turned third-and-2 into third-and-7 (a definite passing down).

Starting the fourth quarter down 28-13, Hoyer failed on a fourth-and-3 pass for the second time in the second half. The Titans were giving up yards, but would settle for that so long as time was melting away and points were not being added. The problem with getting the red-zone stop was the offense was backed up at its own 4. Two Shonn Greene runs only produced a yard, but it's hard to argue with two runs when you're that backed up and have a shaky backup quarterback. Whitehurst's third-down pass didn't gain enough yards to convert.

Add a big special teams miscue. Brett Kern's punt was blocked out of the end zone for a safety. The game got rather heated with some big penalties, but the Browns overcame them with another touchdown drive, pulling within six points at 28-22.

This seems to be where the Tennessee play-calling became questionable, with 6:49 to play. I'm a big believer that offenses should almost treat these situations as if they're trailing and run a normal offense, but use up nearly the whole play clock. That's a fine strategy if you have Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but this was just Charlie Whitehurst. He dropped back on all three downs, but was too slow at getting rid of the ball, leading to three failed plays and a quick three-and-out.

The defense did its job when Michael Griffin picked off Hoyer's overthrown pass with 4:55 left. Once again Whitehurst came out throwing on all three downs, but this time he converted the third-and-10 to Delanie Walker. However, he threw two incompletions first, saving a lot of time for Cleveland. Tennessee wised up and went to the ground twice, but that set up a third-and-6. You have to pass there, but Walker did not run the route to the proper depth and came up a yard short at Tennessee's own 42 with 3:09 left.

Whisenhunt decided to go for it, but Whitehurst was stopped on the quarterback sneak. I can't possibly bash this decision. The quarterback sneak is the most high-percentage play in the offensive playbook, and we always talk about teams needing to go for it more on fourth-and-1. I'm also always complaining about the dangers of the six-point lead, and if the Titans failed, maybe they would still have time to answer since Cleveland had a shorter field. If the Titans punted, Hoyer may have just driven the Browns 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown with seconds remaining. That's the worst outcome, right? The Titans went with the percentage play, but the quick snap failed and the line didn't get any push.

So Hoyer only needed 42 yards, and Miles Austin quickly picked up 23 of them. Three snaps later Travis Benjamin made the high catch in the end zone for his second touchdown of the quarter. Cleveland was on top, 29-28, but hold on. Teams have come back from a 25-point deficit only to lose the game before. Whitehurst still had 1:09 and one timeout to set up a game-winning field goal.

Whitehurst only connected on two passes for 23 yards, taking up 45 seconds in the process, but there was still hope. That faded when a delayed rush from K'Waun Williams led to a sack, forcing the Titans to use their final timeout with 19 seconds left. It was a brilliant call from Mike Pettine given the way Whitehurst was holding onto the ball. Whitehurst threw deep for Kendall Wright near the 10-yard line, but even if he caught the ball, the clock likely would have ran out barring the most ridiculous tackling attempt in history by the Browns. That wasn't a smart play and it cost the Titans nine seconds. If that wasn't smart, then throwing over the middle to Wright for 16 yards was really stupid. He was tackled instantly, not even allowing the Titans to try a lateral-filled miracle.

Cleveland did it. There wasn't a 98-yard drive by Whitehurst. Ben Tate didn't fumble on his way to the end zone. Karlos Dansby didn't rip his helmet off in celebration before the final play was over. There wasn't a review of a fourth-down after a spike to incite bottle throwing. The spawn of Shanahan didn't call "Red Right 88" in the red zone. Insert any other Cleveland-style calamity here, and it didn't happen on Sunday.

For once, the Browns enjoyed victory at the expense of another team's devastation.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 at New Orleans Saints 37

Type: 4QC/GWD (OT)
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 11 (31-20)
Win Probability (GWD starting with 15:00 left in overtime): 0.53
Head Coach: Sean Payton (18-28 at 4QC and 24-30 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (24-43 at 4QC and 35-49 overall 4QC/GWD record)

New Orleans came awfully close to heading into the bye week in disgust and irrelevancy with a 1-4 record, but the largest fourth-quarter comeback of Drew Brees' career saved the season, momentarily at least.

The Saints are perfect at home, right? A 13-0 lead looked par for the course, but Tampa Bay soon led 17-13 in the second half and 24-13 after a terrible pick-six thrown by Brees. Mike Glennon threw his second touchdown of the game to start the fourth quarter, putting Tampa Bay ahead 31-20. Believe it or not, Brees had never led a fourth-quarter comeback win of more than 10 points in his career, but he needed one here. Pierre Thomas helped with a 27-yard touchdown run, but the two-point conversion pass failed to convert.

Tampa Bay began to self-destruct again with three penalties and a bad snap, putting the ball at its own 1-yard line. Junior Galette buried Glennon in the end zone for a safety, and the Saints were only down 31-28. Brees went to the running back screen one time too many and Lavonte David buried Thomas for an 8-yard loss. Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal tied the game with 2:30 remaining. A holding penalty on Logan Mankins hurt the Buccaneers, who punted back with 1:05 left.

Brees had all three timeouts, but no Jimmy Graham after an injury sidelined him for the day. Thomas was effective again, gaining 20 yards on two catches. At the Tampa Bay 49, Marques Colston appeared to have fumbled a catch inside the 40, but it was a bang-bang play ruled incomplete. On third down, Brees underthrew Robert Meachem and Alterraun Verner made the interception. All three of Brees' interceptions on the day were pretty bad throws and/or decisions. With only 16 seconds left, Tampa Bay ran Doug Martin for 16 meaningless yards.

In overtime, the Saints won the coin toss and of course elected to receive. They can't trust the defense, but this was hardly the offense's sharpest day either. The drive nearly stalled after four plays, but Johnthan Banks was penalized for illegal use of hands on third-and-10. So much for Tampa Bay's best shot to stop the Saints in overtime. Brees later converted on third-and-9 with a strike to Ben Watson for 11 yards. Khiry Robinson took over from there with four runs. The last was an 18-yard romp into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. No chance for Tampa Bay to answer.

Brees is the eighth quarterback in NFL history with at least 35 game-winning drives. The Saints did not have a fourth-quarter comeback of more than 10 points since the 2002 season. We'll have to remember this one if the Saints manage to turn things around.

Chicago Bears 24 at Carolina Panthers 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (24-21)
Win Probability (GWD starting with 4:18 left): 0.79
Head Coach: Ron Rivera (7-17 at 4QC and 7-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (7-17 at 4QC and 7-18 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The box score for this one is frighteningly close, with the Bears committing more penalties and having one extra turnover. A big advantage for the Panthers was the fluky punt return touchdown to start the scoring. It was a sloppy game by inconsistent teams, both of which you could certainly accuse of underachieving this season.

Chicago could have taken a 24-7 lead late in the second quarter, but the usually reliable Robbie Gould missed a 35-yard field goal. Cam Newton led a touchdown drive and this was a one-score game in the second half. Every week I put a lot of attention on how an offense performs with the one-score lead in the fourth quarter. The Bears did not help their defense with costly mistakes. Leading 24-21, Jay Cutler threw a terrible interception to Thomas DeCoud, setting up Newton at the Chicago 32. Carolina was able to tie the game without even earning a first down after Graham Gano's 44-yard field goal. Now tied and needing a game-winning drive, the Bears turned it over again when Matt Forte fumbled on the drive's first play. That set up the Panthers at the Chicago 23, practically giving away the comeback and game-winning drive.

The Panthers needed to burn some clock here, starting the drive with 4:18 left. Greg Olsen converted a third down, but unfortunately went out of bounds to stop the clock. Carolina remained aggressive with a pass on second down, but it was the third-down throw to Olsen that scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:18 left.

Cutler needed to engineer an 85-yard drive, but there was plenty of time for this offense. Alshon Jeffery started things with a 20-yard gain to get to the two-minute warning. The Bears would only pick up one more first down. Carolina rushed four and Cutler could not escape the heat after the offensive line crumbled in front of him. A four-man rush should not get after the quarterback this cleanly.

That put the Bears in a third-and-21 predicament. Cutler went deep for Santonio Holmes, but Melvin White dropped the interception. Carolina only rushed four on fourth down, but Kawann Short got there for an easy sack and stripped Cutler of the ball. Game over.

Cutler finished with some solid numbers (28-of-36 passing and three total touchdowns), but only a 4-of-14 success rate (28.6 percent) in the fourth quarter. Carolina survived the Blunder Bowl, but I'm not sure the Panthers are who we thought they were. This was only the third time in the Rivera/Newton era that Carolina won after allowing at least 24 points (3-19 record), so there's a positive.

Houston Texans 17 at Dallas Cowboys 20

Type: GWD (OT)
Win Probability (GWD starting with 12:55 left): 0.36
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (14-17 at 4QC and 18-19 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (21-30 at 4QC and 25-32 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Cowboys mixed the good with the bad, but avoided the ugly in a fourth-consecutive win. Tony Romo was good and lucky for a change, showing some major faith in his receivers on risky passes. After evading a sack by J.J. Watt, Romo threw up a prayer for Terrance Williams, who caught the 43-yard touchdown after Kendrick Lewis fell down in the end zone. Dallas never trailed after that point, but did make things interesting again.

Lewis got some payback with a fourth-quarter interception on Romo's worst pass of the day with Dallas at the Houston 20. However, Dallas responded on both sides of the ball and built a 17-7 lead with 9:44 to play. Houston embarked on a field-goal drive that consumed nearly half the quarter, but down two scores, the 29-yard field goal was the only real choice with 2:27 left. Dallas helped the Texans' cause with another bad four-minute offense drive. The Cowboys were penalized for a delay of game and Romo was hit with intentional grounding after throwing away a third-down pass under pressure. That saved Houston's final timeout and pushed Dallas back 10 yards, so it might have been better to just take a sack when Romo had to know there wasn't a receiver anywhere near where he threw the ball.

A decent punt return meant that Ryan Fitzpatrick only needed to drive 45 yards for the game-tying touchdown. He got nearly half of that on one play with a 20-yard screen to Andre Johnson. Arian Foster, who had a huge day with 157 rushing yards, capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Romo has had two successful one-minute drills in his career, but he was down to 36 seconds here and three timeouts. DeMarco Murray became a valuable checkdown option with three catches for 38 yards, but Romo didn't get the big play to make the field goal easy. The attempt was 53 yards for Dan Bailey, who had made 30 consecutive field goals. Here he was wide left as the clock expired. Bailey has only missed 10 field goals in his career (99-of-109), but four of them are clutch kicks in the range of 47 to 53 yards.

In overtime, Houston won the coin toss and chose to receive. This one's debatable without a high-powered offense and in a low-scoring game. The running game was working, but on third-and-2 the Texans went with an empty backfield. Fitzpatrick initially had great protection, but soon had to throw the ball away under pressure. Houston punted.

Romo soon faced a critical third-and-8 at his own 32. Safety D.J. Swearinger rushed him, but Romo went full Brett Favre (his idol) with the throw. This thing looked like the "punt pass" Favre threw to Brian Dawkins in a 2003 playoff loss in Philadelphia. Dez Bryant was there, but he had to make an incredible catch over Johnathan Joseph.

It's hard to fault Joseph on that coverage. That put the ball at Houston's 31, but that's still not great range. Two carries by Murray gained nothing, but Dallas should have run another play on third down. Worrying about a bad snap or hold is nonsensical. Bailey made the 49-yard kick, the longest game-winning field goal of his career (previous long: 40).

Bailey bailed out his coach and Bryant bailed out his quarterback. The Cowboys are winning as a team and Jerry Jones is getting his glory hole (for now).

Buffalo Bills 17 at Detroit Lions 14

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 8 (14-6)
Win Probability (4QC starting with 13:19 left): 0.16
Win Probability (GWD starting with 0:21 left): 0.60
Head Coach: Doug Marrone (3-6 at 4QC and 5-7 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Kyle Orton (7-20 at 4QC and 8-21 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Every NFL season will feature a couple of games that were largely decided by kickers. This was one of those games, and if you have been following along this year, Detroit being on the losing end of one of these should come as no surprise. In an era where seemingly every team has a kicker making at least 85 percent of his kicks, the Lions are just 4-of-12 in 2014.

Buffalo's Dan Carpenter had one miss in this game, but he nailed the game-winner. Alex Henery, now unemployed, missed three makeable kicks, including a probable game-winner. This isn't to excuse the Detroit offense, struggling with an injured Calvin Johnson, for only mustering seven points. This isn't to excuse the Detroit defense for allowing Kyle Orton to drive 74 yards for a game-tying touchdown pass and two-point conversion run by Fred Jackson with 9:23 left. But the kicking game definitely put Detroit at a disadvantage again.

With the game tied at 14, both offenses struggled to seize opportunities against what have become two of the better defenses so far this season. There were actually seven possessions in the final 9:23. Matthew Stafford had the ball at his own 11 with 1:02 left. He whipped a great throw to Golden Tate, who picked up a lot of YAC for a 55-yard gain. However, Detroit only gained two more yards on the next three plays. With a timeout in hand, maybe a draw would have been smarter to mix in there instead of three pass plays. Still, Henery had a 50-yard attempt to potentially win the game. He was wide left with 21 seconds left.

The extra damage that miss did was to put Buffalo at its own 40 with one timeout. Detroit rushed five, but Orton found Sammy Watkins, who bobbled the ball before reeling it in, for a 20-yard gain. Orton threw his next pass away, and with Buffalo out of timeouts, Carpenter had to come on for the long attempt. Indoors or not, this was still a difficult 58-yard field goal, but Carpenter crushed it right down the middle. This is only the 13th game-winning drive since 1981 that started in the final 21 seconds of the fourth quarter. It's the longest field goal out of those games.

Detroit only had time for a lateral play that never went anywhere. If the ending wasn't rotten enough for the Lions, the cherry on top came when Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was carried off the field.

Orton finished with 308 passing yards, giving him one more 300-yard game in Buffalo than EJ Manuel (zero) has had in 14 starts. Detroit allowed its 30th game-winning drive since 2007, only trailing the Washington defense (31) for the most in that time.

Is Jason Hanson, 44, sure he enjoys retirement? Morten Andersen was 47 in his final season, so there's old man precedent for the position. Hell, today's 54-year-old Andersen might kick better than what Detroit has had this season.

Kansas City Chiefs 17 at San Francisco 49ers 22

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 0:37 left in third quarter): 0.47
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (11-9-1 at 4QC and 13-12-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick (5-6-1 at 4QC and 7-8-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)

In 1994 the Steve Young-led 49ers traveled to Kansas City to take on legendary quarterback Joe Montana. The Chiefs won 24-17 after Young's comeback attempt ended with a John Taylor fumble with 2:23 to play. Twenty years later, Sunday's game was kind of close to that one, but this time the 49ers prevailed over their former quarterback.

Then again, it's not like anyone ever confused Alex Smith for Joe Montana. Smith was getting the best of the matchup early, but his more dynamic replacement, Colin Kaepernick, took a 13-10 lead into the half. However, the 49ers trailed 17-16 to start the fourth quarter and Frank Gore was stuffed on a third-and-1 run. What looked like a three-and-out became a game-winning drive thanks to a fake punt at San Francisco's own 29. Down by only a point, this was a great call and Craig Dahl converted with a 3-yard run. On third-and-10, Kaepernick floated one deep under pressure and Brandon Lloyd did what he often does: make the spectacular catch for 29 yards. He's not a great receiver overall, but his career highlight reel would be one of the best to watch from this era.

That's pretty damn good at the point of the catch. The 49ers ended up settling for a 27-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, bypassing a fourth-and-1 opportunity, but they led 19-17 with 8:42 left. Smith had his third-down pass batted down at the line for a three-and-out. San Francisco was going to settle for a tough 54-yard field goal, but the Chiefs had 12 men on the field, giving the 49ers a first down. That's a killer. Ultimately the unforgivable mistake cost the Chiefs two minutes on the clock, a much shorter field goal for Dawson (30 yards) and the usage of all three timeouts.

What the penalty also did was set the stage for Smith to have a most memorable career moment: 2:12 left, 80 yards to go and down 22-17 against the team that traded him. What quarterback wouldn't dream of this opportunity?

The problem with Smith's dream is that when he wakes up, he's still Alex Smith. After getting away with one dangerous pass, he wasn't as lucky on a second and Perrish Cox made the game-clinching interception on the overthrow. Cox actually took a knee to give himself up with 2:02 left, but the clock operator was very favorable by letting the clock hit 2:00, effectively ending the game right there. The Chiefs probably should have been able to get the ball back with about 20 seconds left. Either way, Cox has had a decisive pick in back-to-back weeks.

Atlanta Falcons 20 at New York Giants 30

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 0:24 left in third quarter): 0.41
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (42-78 at 4QC and 51-81 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (26-32 at 4QC and 31-34 overall 4QC/GWD record)

At some point we need to do a close inspection of what happens to the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan Falcons when they're not in the Georgia Dome. Sunday was Ryan's 99th regular-season start and he now has a record of 38-10 (.792) at home and 24-27 (.471) on the road, with considerable declines in his passing statistics as well. That's too severe of a split.

Atlanta seemed to take control of this game in the third quarter after Antone Smith broke another big play (a 74-yard touchdown reception) for a 20-10 lead. Smith has 25 touches from scrimmage in his career and has gone at least 38 yards on seven of them (17.2 yards per touch).

But the Falcons never scored again. By the fourth quarter the Giants were already within three points and Eli Manning was driving once more. He operated from the no-huddle offense and finally had the services of rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. That paid off with Beckham making two catches on the drive, including the 15-yard game-winning touchdown with 10:02 left. Robert Alford never had a chance in coverage.

The Falcons used to be very reliable in the fourth quarter. From 2008 to 2012, the Falcons allowed a league-low three fourth-quarter comebacks. Part of that was due to the efficiency of the offense winning games late. Since the 2012 NFC Championship loss to San Francisco, the Falcons have allowed six fourth-quarter comebacks in 22 games.

Ryan had a chance to answer, but he was pressured on third down and the Falcons went three-and-out. The Giants added a big 50-yard field goal from Josh Brown to take a 27-20 lead. After Devin Hester came up a yard short of a first down, Smith had a big decision to make on fourth-and-1 at his own 29. Does that sound familiar? This wasn't in overtime, but a failure to convert would be almost as crucial with 4:40 remaining. Atlanta had all three timeouts too, so I don't think it was necessary to go for it yet. Putting Ryan in the shotgun instead of doing a quarterback sneak -- a tactic that shockingly failed twice in a certain playoff game in this building -- wasn't a high-percentage move either. Neither was having every receiver run more than two yards past the 1-yard marker. Against New York's standard four-man rush, Ryan was sacked by Johnathan Hankins, putting the Giants at the Atlanta 19.

After making the Falcons use all their timeouts, the Giants kicked a field goal to take a 30-20 lead. Ryan used the final 2:08 to lead a penalty-plagued drive that only crossed midfield on a worthless 24-yard run by Devonta Freeman to end another outdoor disappointment for Atlanta.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Cardinals at Broncos: Milestones at Mile High

On a day when Peyton Manning threw his 500th touchdown pass and set a career-high with 479 passing yards, you might be wondering what Denver's 41-20 win is doing here. Lest we forget, the Cardinals did just enough to be within one score heading into the fourth quarter. Even after third-string rookie quarterback Logan Thomas had to replace the concussed Drew Stanton, the Cardinals made things interesting. Thomas had a brilliant throw to Andre Ellington for an 81-yard touchdown to pull within four points.

Denver rushed for 90 yards in the second half after having four at halftime and losing Montee Ball to injury. A drive stalled and the Broncos added a 41-yard field goal for a 27-20 lead. This was Thomas' answer drive, but the Arizona receivers really let down their quarterbacks with at least eight dropped passes on the day. On third-and-3, Thomas delivered a catchable ball to Ted Ginn, but Ginn failed to secure it. Arizona punted and Manning continued the onslaught with back-to-back touchdown drives to produce the 41-20 final. Thomas finished 1-of-8 passing, only connecting on the touchdown.

The Cardinals fought tough for three quarters, but in the end there was too much offense for Denver and not enough experience at quarterback for Arizona. Demaryius Thomas shook off a bad start to the season with a franchise-record 226 receiving yards and two touchdowns. It could have been even more if not for a blocking penalty on Denver. Manning has played 267 NFL games (including playoffs), and this certainly did not look like a candidate for a career-high yardage game, but that's the kind of milestone day it was at Mile High.

Ravens at Colts: Andrew the Giant, Son of Andre

Admittedly, I thought this would be a great game between two of the AFC's most reliable teams with their offenses coming in hot. However, it quickly turned into your usual Ravens-Colts game, which means a bunch of turnovers (seven here) and not many points.

The Colts really hurt themselves with two turnovers in the red zone, and Griff Whalen fumbled a punt return on the second play of the fourth quarter. Baltimore only turned that latter mistake into a field goal, but still trailed 13-6. Andrew Luck was forced into many short completions on the day, but answered with some of his biggest gains to his tight ends. He capped off the drive with an impressive 13-yard scramble for a touchdown and the Colts led 20-6 with 8:56 to play.

Joe Flacco was making his third start in Lucas Oil Stadium. To this point he led the Ravens to zero touchdowns on 32 drives in this building (12 points in total). The 33rd time was the charm, but only after an interception was negated by pass interference on Vontae Davis. Justin Forsett finished the 80-yard drive with a touchdown run and the Colts needed to answer again.

They did with another time-consuming drive keyed by Luck completions, but Ahmad Bradshaw had his number called in scoring range to put the game away. With the Ravens down to two timeouts and 1:56 left, Bradshaw got a fourth consecutive carry on second-and-goal from the 10. He fumbled the frickin' football, as Bob Lamey would say, and the Ravens had a shot: down 20-13 and 89 yards to go (win probability: 0.11).

The drive started in disastrous fashion with backup rookie left tackle James Hurst dominated by Bjoern Werner for a sack. Werner had 2.5 sacks in 17 career games, but finished with a pair as the Ravens greatly missed the injured Eugene Monroe. The sack cost the Ravens a timeout, but not the game. Flacco made a great throw on fourth-and-3 to Owen Daniels for 18 yards as the clock moved under a minute. That's where things stalled. The Colts rushed five and forced Flacco to scramble. He tried to recreate his Denver playoff moment with another bomb, but he missed an open Marlon Brown at the 10-yard line. After a 7-yard gain to Torrey Smith, the game came down to a fourth-and-3.

Flacco went back to Smith in single coverage with Greg Toler, but the deep ball hung in the air long enough for Toler to help force an incompletion. The "happy ending" audio from CBS' Rich Gannon on this play is worth your time. The rest of the game? Not so much, but this could be a fun rematch in the playoffs.

Steelers at Jaguars: Obviously, Bortles Isn't Roethlisberger Yet

After last week's debacle, we knew the Steelers were more than capable of having a letdown in Jacksonville too. Blake Bortles has received a lot of comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, and while some are definitely justified, he's still just a rookie in his second start. Some of that inexperience proved costly in what became a very winnable game in the fourth quarter for the winless Jaguars.

Pittsburgh only led 10-9 to start the fourth quarter, but was driving into the red zone. Roethlisberger even made a bit of a rookie mistake by not securing the ball as he tried to scramble on a third down. Abry Jones notched the sack and forced the fumble, recovered by the Jaguars for their first takeaway since the first half of Week 1 in Philadelphia.

Instead of blowing another fourth-quarter lead, Pittsburgh's defense turned the game around. Cornerback Brice McCain was a low-key signing in free agency after allowing eight red-zone touchdowns in Houston last year. With the injury to Ike Taylor, McCain is getting playing time, and he made the most of it on the second play of Jacksonville's drive. Bortles had a clean pocket, but he was not on time with his receiver, allowing McCain to jump the route for a huge pick-six with 11:32 left.

Still technically a one-score game at 17-9, Jacksonville quickly punted after Allen Hurns was stopped a yard short of a first down. Pittsburgh also came up a yard short on its drive, even losing out on a spot challenge before punting. Brett Keisel made his impact felt with a batted ball on third down to force a three-and-out.

With 4:05 left, the Steelers were once again staring at a four-minute offense situation to ice the game. Unlike last week, Roethlisberger had the full freedom to throw a pass on third down, and Heath Miller was not even covered in the slot on third-and-2 for an easy 13-yard gain.

Pittsburgh had a first down at the two-minute warning with Jacksonville out of timeouts, which should be an automatic "three knees to victory" situation for every NFL team. However, the Steelers lined up Antonio Brown in the backfield and threw him a short pass which he turned into a 16-yard gain by breaking a tackle. Why would any team risk a throw there? Well, Brown has this 21-game record streak going of games with at least five catches (and 50-plus receiving yards), and he only had four to that point (on 11 targets). For a team that's allegedly not into stats, this is hard to justify. So it's OK to risk the throw for a meaningless record, but not when the Buccaneers game can be won with one pass?

Food for thought: when leading in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger's career numbers are now 41-of-49 for 559 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those numbers are really as good as it gets in this era in those situations.

Rams at Eagles: Fire Walk with Philly

The Eagles can't stay out of Clutch Encounters after another wild finish in a game with multiple return touchdowns and a huge offensive showing from Austin Davis. I know Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer always gets credit for his teams having a lot of return touchdowns, but was that on Chip Kelly's resume at Oregon? The Eagles already have seven return scores in five games, and that's a big reason they led 34-7 with 2:15 left in the third quarter on Sunday.

However, this nearly ended up being the biggest road comeback in NFL history on the same day Cleveland set that mark. Davis got hot and Nick Foles helped with a fumble on a scramble in the fourth quarter. Davis led three straight touchdown drives and the Eagles only led 34-28 with 4:41 left.

Darren Sproles converted one third down with a 25-yard run, but the Eagles went surprisingly conservative on the next set of downs, running Sproles all three times. The third-and-6 run with 2:06 left was especially egregious and Sproles lost a yard. Philadelphia relied on its defense to prevent Davis from driving 93 yards in 1:47 with one timeout. Crazier things have happened.

Davis needed one play to get to the 50 after Brian Quick's great effort on a 43-yard grab. Quick has really stepped up his game this season, but Austin Pettis clearly has not. Pettis had a huge drop without contact near the 25-yard line, setting up third-and-8. Davis went back to him for a tougher catch, but Pettis again failed to make the play near the 30 after Brandon Boykin helped defense the ball free. Inexplicably, the Rams were hit with a delay of game penalty despite the fact they still had a timeout to use too. FOX wasn't ready to give another Pennsylvania team a premature victory via graphic, but they did offer this fact:

With 42 seconds left on fourth-and-13, Davis went for all the glory against a seven-man blitz, but his pass sailed more than five yards beyond the closest Rams receiver. The Eagles survived another scare. The chic thing to say this week will be that the Eagles and Cowboys lead the NFC at 4-1, but does anyone think this sloppy style of play will sustain itself for Philadelphia? I'll take Dallas for now.

Seahawks at Redskins: Catch Me If You Can

This looked like another prime-time blowout with Seattle leading 17-0 in the first half, but Kirk Cousins picked up the slack against the league's most respected defense. Russell Wilson ran all over a bad Washington defense to the tune of 122 rushing yards, but a stingier performance in the second half kept this a close game.

Washington actually trailed 17-10 with possession to start the fourth quarter, but went three-and-out after Cousins was unable to connect with DeSean Jackson, who had a huge night with 157 receiving yards and a touchdown. Maybe the key to beating Seattle's secondary is the quick, smaller receiver down the field like Jackson, T.Y. Hilton or, dare I say, Titus Young.

What will be remembered most about this game was the way Seattle put things away in the fourth quarter. Wilson appeared to have a 41-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Percy Harvin, but an absurd penalty was called on James Carpenter for "unnecessarily" hitting a player on the ground, according to referee Jeff "Gomer Pyle" Triplette. Shazam! That just meant more running around for Wilson, who even stepped over the line of scrimmage and retreated back to complete a 19-yard pass. (The play was reviewed and actually deemed a legal pass because Wilson's entire body did not cross the line of scrimmage.) Pete Carroll made his mark with a fake field goal right out of Madden: direct snap to the holder for five yards. Wilson finally capped off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marshawn Lynch, who trucked Perry Riley on his way to the end zone. Riley had an awful drive. His defensive holding penalty on third down negated a quick three-and-out, allowing this epic drive that consumed half the quarter (7:33 to be exact) and put Seattle ahead 24-10.

Cousins did not have a running game on the night (15 carries for 28 yards), but he did not turn the ball over and led another solid touchdown drive with 3:35 remaining. One more stop could have made this interesting at the end, but the night belonged to Wilson's scrambling. On third-and-4 at the 50, he escaped major pressure and flipped the ball to an open Lynch for 30 yards. That practically iced this one. The Seahawks added a field goal with 21 seconds left to win by double-digits, but the 1-4 Redskins put up a respectable fight against the defending champs.

Season Summary
Fourth-quarter comebacks: 19
Game-winning drives: 23
Games with 4QC opportunity: 45/76 (59.2 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 16

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 07 Oct 2014

10 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2014, 9:31am by tballgame


by LyleNM :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 3:49pm

Don't forget the bizarre Max Unger "head bob" penalty. Has any other team in NFL history been called for a "head bob"?

by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 4:02pm

I've seen quarterbacks hit for false starts for a head bob before.

by LyleNM :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 4:11pm

Sure. Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg....any non-Seahawks?

by tballgame :: Wed, 10/08/2014 - 9:31am

Tom Brady was called for a head bob false start against the Dolphins in week 1. Part of the Patriots' new emphasis on picking up 100+ penalty yards each game.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 4:14pm

I've also seen centers get called for slightly moving the ball, but never for head bobs.

The thing is, the center bobbing his head is an extremely visible action. If it is a penalty, then call it every time, as it should be very easy to spot.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 5:35pm

I've seen it called on a few Packers centers in the past going as far back as Frank Winters and Mike Flanagan and one on Deitrich-Smith as well. I recall reading that o-line movement, and head bobs in particular, were also supposed to be a point of emphasis this year too, though I never saw it enforced in the preseason like with some of the other points of emphasis.

by Lell87 :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 8:58pm

Post error

by Pen :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 4:28pm

Seattle's defense has not been the league leading defense of the past two years. So I had to chuckle when the author tacitly acknowledged this fact by referring to them as the leagues "most respected" defense. Lol.

As for the refs, they were obviously told to not affect the outcome, but keep it close. The NFL doesn't want anymore prime time blowouts.

by Jerry :: Tue, 10/07/2014 - 9:05pm

From http://dkonpittsburghsports.com/2014/10/06/steelers-pats-jumped-route-le...

Yes, that quick flick to Heath Miller on third down of the final drive was exactly the pass the Steelers had hoped to run the previous week on the fateful third-and-5. I confirmed that with Roethlisberger, who added that the only difference this time was, “Heath was uncovered.”

by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 10/08/2014 - 2:54am

There's definitely some controversy over what was called in the Tampa Bay game. Regardless, they should have been viewing that as a pass all the way. Someone on Twitter brought up a good point about the Steelers having two timeouts there. Should have called one if they didn't like the defensive look. Not like they were going to need that timeout later.