Tipping Points: Week 13
Three courses of underwhelming Thanksgiving football games left fans hungry for some close fourth quarters on Sunday. And even though the Rams and Chiefs did their best to sabotage the late afternoon trio of games, the Chargers and Broncos delivered on their season-foreshadowed crazy last-minute ending.
Game of the Week
Chargers at Broncos
The Chargers' back-to-back losses to the division rival Raiders and Chiefs in Weeks 10 and 11 before their bye did more than extinguish their playoff hopes. They also raised the question of whether 37-year-old franchise quarterback Philip Rivers might be approaching the end of his career. In the former game, Rivers missed every throw in the team's two-minute drill when just a field goal would have earned them the win. And in the latter game, Rivers threw four interceptions for just the third time in his career.
It looked like things might spiral for Rivers early on Sunday after he threw a screen pass straight to defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones. That interception set rookie Broncos quarterback Drew Lock up for a short touchdown drive, his second on the first two drives in his NFL debut. But in a 14-0 hole, the Chargers defense buckled down, holding Lock and the Broncos to just a field goal in the second and third quarters, and only allowing that after Troymaine Pope had muffed a punt. All-Pro safety Derwin James returned from injured reserve to play 98% of the team's defensive snaps. Without him over the first two-thirds of the season, the Chargers defense declined from eighth in DVOA in 2018 to 25th. With him, they looked more like last year's unit.
Meanwhile, the Broncos' pass defense made a handful of dramatic mistakes that helped Rivers find his form. In the final minute of the first half, Rivers completed 52- and 30-yard passes to wide-open receivers Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler for a touchdown. On the Williams catch, defensive backs Justin Simmons and Isaac Yiadom actually ran into each other, leaving Williams with a 10-yard cushion in every direction. And at the start of the fourth quarter, Rivers hit an uncovered Keenan Allen on the left sideline, and Allen helicoptered over the only defender with a chance to stop him for a score. That tied the game at 17-17 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining.
After his first two touchdowns, Lock struggled to move the ball against a reinforced Chargers defense. He suffered three three-and-outs in the second and third quarters. But he hadn't made a major mistake before his first attempt of the fourth quarter. There, on a second-and-9 from his own 26-yard line, Lock stared down his intended receiver Tim Patrick for two full seconds. His pass had zip on it, but his telegraph made it easy for linebacker Denzel Perryman to undercut it for an interception. That set the Chargers offense up on a short field. And even after Rivers took a third-down sack that cost the team 5 yards, kicker Michael Badgley was left with a makeable 55-yard field goal attempt. Badgley's kick had plenty of distance in the thin Denver air, but his small pull was exacerbated by the length of the attempt. The ball hit the left upright squarely and fell back toward the field of play.
Lock had earned a reprieve from his interception, and the Broncos took advantage with their running game. After offsetting penalties, Phillip Lindsay escaped a Joey Bosa backfield collision and scampered for 12 yards. He followed that with a 4-yard carry on a nice cut upfield before fellow running back Royce Freeman took a cross-body checkdown for 4 more yards. On the resulting third-and-2, Lock threw confidently to tight end Jeff Heuerman, completing the pass as Heuerman cut out toward the left sidelines a yard ahead of the line to gain.
After another Lindsay carry and Freeman reception lost the team yards, Lock was faced with a difficult third-and-12, but he should have thrown a touchdown. A blitz and a blown coverage left slot receiver DaeSean Hamilton wide open in the middle of the field with no defenders between him and the end zone 25 yards in front of him. Lock unloaded the ball quickly and hit Hamilton in stride in his chest, but Hamilton failed to make the easy catch. That left the Broncos with their own 50-plus-yard field goal try, but Brandon McManus split the uprights, earning his team a 20-17 advantage with just under four and a half minutes left in the quarter.
That was plenty of time for Rivers and the Chargers to answer, but that looked unlikely after linebacker Alexander Johnson diagnosed a screen pass and tackled Ekeler for a 5-yard loss, setting up a third-and-11 on the Chargers' 24-yard line. But there, Rivers floated a pass that Williams fought back to secure within a yard of the first-down marker before his momentum carried him back and out of bounds. Head coach Anthony Lynn strangely waited 40 seconds to call a timeout, but he made the right decision to go for the fourth-and-1 with his offense, improving the Chargers' Game-Winning Chance (GWC) by 20.5% over a punt. That GWC advantage fell to just 10.9% after consecutive false starts backed the Chargers into a fourth-and-11, but Lynn astutely remained aggressive. And Rivers delivered a beautiful deep ball that Williams skied to catch over the cornerback Yiadom.
Those 38 yards advanced the Chargers all the way to the Broncos' 38-yard line at the two-minute warning. Lynn should likely have continued his aggressive push toward the end zone, but instead he had Rivers hand off to Ekeler for a 4-yard carry up the middle, ticking another 30 seconds off the clock. Rivers hit tight end Hunter Henry in the middle of the field to create a third-and-1 with 1:04 remaining, but a quick pass to Allen had him tackled just short of a new first down by the safety Simmons. That tackle came with one minute left on the clock, and had Lynn called timeout just then, he could have improved his team's odds from 33.0% with a field goal attempt to 37.1% with a fourth-down carry and continued push for a touchdown or shorter field goal. Instead, Lynn let the clock drain to 0:19 before calling a timeout. At that point, a kick was his only option, and Badgley drained the clutch 46-yarder to tie the game at 20-20 and presumably force overtime.
But it turns out that overtime would not be necessary. Showing more aggressiveness than his counterpart, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio let his rookie quarterback drop back for a deep pass with nine seconds left on his own 28-yard line. The odds of a completion in that spot are likely less than a disastrous turnover, but there is also the chance of a defensive pass interference penalty whose spot foul could vault the Broncos into field goal range. And that's exactly what happened. Despite safety help to the inside, cornerback Casey Hayward inexplicably cut in and crashed into Courtland Sutton, drawing an immediate and justifiable yellow flag from the nearby official.
With an icing timeout, Lynn erased a bizarre McManus make on a snap for which he wasn't even ready. But McManus made good on his encore, once again splitting the uprights from more than 50 yards away.
Broncos fans are likely wondering where this late-game magic has been all season since this last-minute fourth win of the year is almost certainly too late to make a difference for their playoff hopes. They cling to just a 0.1% chance at the second AFC wild card. Lock's successful debut is much more important. He made a handful of excellent throws on Sunday and should have another month to learn on the job and, hopefully for the Broncos, showcase the potential to be the long-term solution at the position they have been trying to find since Peyton Manning retired.
For the Chargers, this is just another in what has seemingly been an entire career of unbelievable losses in Rivers' tenure. In this one, they held the Broncos to a -73.5% offensive DVOA in the fourth quarter even with the big boost from the defensive pass interference penalty. But that wasn't enough, and this loss drops them to the same 4-8 record the Broncos have and similarly eliminates them from any hope of a playoff berth -- not that they had much beforehand. They may use their final month to plan for a future without Rivers, from whom they may move on whether or not he's ready to retire.
The Best of the Rest
49ers at Ravens
The on-paper game of the day between the 49ers and Ravens didn't have the late-game fireworks of Chargers-Broncos, but it definitely lived up to the hype for the fans who can appreciate a close game between the NFL's second- and third-best pass defense DVOAs. Even without that abundance of defensive talent, it would have been difficult for an offense to air it out in Baltimore on Sunday with a 40-degree Fahrenheit kickoff temperature; sustained winds of 13 miles per hour; and constant, heavy rain. Jimmy Garoppolo was the passing medalist with just 165 yards on 21 attempts, and he earned 63 of those yards on the 49ers' opening touchdown drive with a 30-yard completion to Kendrick Bourne (with most of that yardage coming after contact) and a 33-yard touchdown to Deebo Samuel, thanks to a Marcus Peters head-scratching defensive lapse.
The Ravens answered that opening 49ers touchdown with a strip-sack of Garoppolo and a touchdown on the resulting short field. And even though Lamar Jackson did little else through the air besides his 20-yard touchdown strike to Mark Andrews on that drive, he excelled with his legs, leading his team with 101 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries. That was about all the Ravens offense managed to do against the 49ers' stiff defense on Sunday. And fittingly, this game was tied at 17-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Garoppolo escaped a dangerous first-and-15 from the 49ers' 14-yard line with an 18-yard strike to Emmanuel Sanders, but then a run for a loss and a delay of game penalty created another long yardage down-and-distance. Bourne spun past a defender to gain 8 yards on second-and-18, but even if Garoppolo hadn't underthrown his third-and-10 pass to George Kittle, offensive holding would have erased the completion. As it was, Mitch Wishnowsky was forced to punt, and long-time Chiefs returner De'Anthony Thomas broke a tackle and shot up the middle for 18 yards to put the Ravens in excellent field position at their 41-yard line.
Jackson took a zone read to the left sideline and a 2-yard gain on first down, and then after rolling right to pass on second down, he squeezed a sidearm toss to Willie Snead for 12 yards along the right sidelines. That created a new first down in 49ers territory, but the Ravens couldn't make anything of it. After a Mark Ingram power run for 3 yards, fullback Patrick Ricard couldn't escape linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair's grip of his ankle. He gained just 2 yards on second down, and then Jackson threw behind and incomplete to a crossing Seth Roberts. The always-aggressive Jon Harbaugh -- the No. 1 play-caller in EdjSports' NFL Coach Rankings -- went for it on the resulting fourth-and-5, but Jackson couldn't fit an intentionally low throw past linebacker Fred Warner, who deflected the pass a foot in front of a sliding Andrews. The incompletion returned the ball to the 49ers offense on downs with 9:38 remaining.
Replacing an injured Matt Breida, running back Raheem Mostert enjoyed a career day of 146 rushing yards and a touchdown. He just struggled to find holes in the fourth quarter. He took four carries on the 49ers' subsequent drive, and all four of them went for exactly 3 yards. Kittle laid out for a 13-yard reception to produce one new first down, but Mostert's final carry of the drive left the 49ers in a fourth-and-1 at the Ravens' 35-yard line. Fellow top-five play-caller Kyle Shanahan followed Harbaugh's lead and went for it on offense, boosting his team's GWC from 38.4% with the punt to 48.7% with the pass attempt. But defensive end Chris Wormley batted it down at the line, ending the 49ers drive as it started it, with a turnover on downs.
It didn't take long for another a critical fourth down to materialize. Roberts was hit as he caught a second-down pass just short of the sticks at the Ravens' 44-yard line. That set up a third-and-1, which became a fourth-and-1 when Gus Edwards was hit in the backfield. The Ravens were still on their side of the field, but Harbaugh continued to make the smart, aggressive decision. Running the ball there increased the Ravens' GWC by 19.7% over a punt, and Harbaugh used tempo, having Jackson snap the ball quickly and dive forward for an unexpected sneak and conversion.
With both coaches putting on a master class of decision-making, that successful execution proved to be the difference. Jackson took advantage of the Ravens' extended life, finding Andrews for a 12-yard sliding catch to advance into 49ers' territory and then fellow tight end Hayden Hurst on a throw across his body back to the middle of the field for 10 yards. That second catch took the 49ers' final timeout, and then a 4-yard Ingram carry took the game to the two-minute warning. Now in a third-and-1 at the 49ers' 30-yard line, Jackson kept it himself, shooting forward past Nick Bosa's and Marcell Harris' attempted tackles in the backfield. The new first down ensured the Ravens could hold the ball for the game-winning field goal attempt. They lost 3 yards on first and second down, making a third-down field goal try much longer at 49 yards than you would want in that cold and rain. But Justin Tucker is the best in the business.
The Ravens' defense (which dropped the 49ers from a 25.4% offensive DVOA in the first three quarters to -51.6% with just two first downs in the fourth quarter) and special teams earned them this victory and may have clued America into Baltimore's completeness as a team. They are the only team in the top five in DVOA in all three phases of the game. This win and a Sunday night Patriots loss also vaulted the Ravens into first place in the AFC -- they own the tiebreaker over New England thanks to their head-to-head win against them in Week 9. They draw their fourth consecutive difficult opponent in the Bills in Buffalo in Week 14, but the Ravens still own a 64.7% chance to win the top seed, more than double that of the Patriots (31.5%).
The 49ers are mired in their own difficult stretch of games, losing here and to the Seahawks in Week 10 and smashing the Packers last week. They travel to New Orleans to face the Saints in Week 14 in a game with major NFC top seed and bye implications. A last-second, three-point loss to the No. 2 DVOA Ravens in their building is hardly a knock, but circumstances have still backed the No. 3 DVOA 49ers into a difficult spot. Despite their half-game lead pending Monday night's result, the 49ers own a slightly smaller chance to win the NFC West (49.1%) than their rival Seahawks (50.8%). The 49ers could easily end the regular season with the NFC's best DVOA and still be forced to travel to Dallas or Philadelphia on wild-card weekend.
Titans at Colts
For the first half of the year, the similarly heated AFC South race looked like it had two contenders in the Texans and Colts. But then the Titans benched Marcus Mariota, and Ryan Tannehill won four of five starts and produced a 26.7% passing DVOA, on par with the league leaders. A win on Sunday would more or less bury the injured-ravaged Colts and make the pair of Titans-Texans matchups in Weeks 15 and 17 the frontrunners for Tipping Points' Games of the Week.
The Titans still had to win this week, and that looked like it might not happen early. Second-half monster Derrick Henry and Tannehill both lost fumbles in the first quarter. The former led to a Colts touchdown and 7-0 lead, but the latter did not result in any points after Adam Vinatieri had his 53-yard field goal attempt blocked, his second "miss" in as many attempts. Tannehill led one extended drive for a touchdown to cut his team's halftime deficit to 10-7, and then a third-quarter Jacoby Brissett overthrow led to an interception and Titans field goal to make the score 17-17 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Brissett couldn't connect with Marcus Johnson in the middle of the field on either second- or third-and-10, and so the Colts punted the ball to the Titans at their own 20-yard line. Tannehill faked to Henry on a run to the right and bootlegged left, finding plenty of space to scramble for a first down before cornerback Pierre Desir forced him out of bounds. Two plays later, Tannehill hit his rookie receiver A.J. Brown just before his momentum carried him into the left out of bounds. That completion advanced the Titans to midfield, where Brown secured another first-down catch but then fumbled. The referees initially ruled the play an incompletion, and although they stated that the replay showed that Brown had in fact caught the pass and fumbled after a Colts challenge, they let their call of an incompletion stand since Colts safety Clayton Geathers did not conclusively recover the fumble in bounds. As weird as it sounds, that was the correct administration of Rule 5, Section 3, Article 2 -- at the top of page 69 -- of the NFL Rulebook, which states:
When a ruling of incomplete is changed to a catch and fumble, the ball will be awarded at the spot of recovery to the team that recovers the ball in the immediate continuing action. If there is no clear recovery, the ruling on the field stands even if the ball clearly was caught.
Somehow, I don't think that knowledge will placate Colts head coach Frank Reich, who lost a timeout on the non-overturn.
Reich's silver lining was that the Titans were not awarded the catch yardage, and they gained just 3 more yards on the drive before punting the ball back to the Colts offense. That left Brissett just over 11 minutes to try to break the 17-17 tie, and he made major headway in that effort when he converted a third-and-3 with a 6-yard strike to Zach Pascal, which netted 15 extra yards because of a late hit from linebacker Rashaan Evans. The next play, Pascal caught a soft toss from Brissett and turned it upfield, squirting through a pair of Titans defenders to gain 19 yards and advanced the Colts into Titans territory.
Running back Jordan Wilkins put the team in field goal range with a left end carry for 11 yards, but then Quenton Nelson backed them up with an offensive holding penalty. Receiving back Nyheim Hines regained the penalty yardage plus one on a first-and-20 checkdown, but the Colts still landed in a fourth-and-10 that prompted a 46-yard field goal try. Vinatieri was closer there than he had been on his two first-half "misses," but he couldn't have converted a 25-yard kick against the Titans' special teams jailbreak. An unblocked Dane Cruikshank was standing in front of the holder by the time Vinatieri put a foot on the ball. The kick deflected off of Cruikshank's chest and right into the hands of fellow Titans special teamer Tye Smith, who took the recovery for 63 yards and a Titans touchdown.
The 10-point swing from expectations created a massive 41.7% GWC swing in the Titans' favor. Now with an 83.6% chance to win, the Titans never looked back. They picked off a Brissett overthrow two plays into the Colts' next drive, setting their offense up with a short field. Three plays later, Tannehill found Kalif Raymond over the top for a 40-yard touchdown.
In just two minutes of game time, the Titans jumped from a likely loss to an almost-assured victory with a 99.4% GWC. Brissett completed some short and intermediate passes to Johnson, Hines, and Jack Doyle to quickly move his offense into Titans' territory on their next drive. But just before the two-minute warning, new Colts' tight end Ross Travis fumbled away a 25-yard reception. After the Titans recovered and earned one first down on a Henry run and Colts neutral zone infraction, Tannehill ended the game with a trio of kneels.
The Titans played their best offense in the fourth quarter, increasing a prior -14.6% DVOA to 39.4% in the final frame. That split matches their seasonal split of -5.5% offensive DVOA in the first three quarters and 24.1% offensive DVOA in the fourth quarter. And it may well prove to be an analogy for their season. Surrounded by faltering AFC wild-card contenders like the Raiders, Colts, and Browns, the Titans jumped past a 50% postseason chance for the first time this year. But as mentioned at the top, the Titans' clearest path to playoffs goes through the Texans in their division. The Titans continue to trail their AFC South rivals by a game after the Texans' upset win over the Patriots on Sunday night -- and be sure to read Rivers McCown's recap of that tomorrow in Any Given Sunday -- but they will have a pair of head-to-head chances to erase that deficit.
Injuries are likely the biggest culprit of the Colts' dwindling 11.2% postseason chance, but don't overlook their poor special teams play. Vinatieri was more directly responsible for the team's Week 1, 2, and 9 losses to the Chargers, Vikings, and Steelers. But he hardly had a chance this week. And after this disastrous full-unit effort, the Colts' special teams is down to No. 29 in DVOA for the season.
Browns at Steelers
This Browns-Steelers game stole headlines as a rematch of the Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph fight from two weeks ago -- never mind that neither Garrett nor Rudolph played in this game -- but it had real intrigue for its playoff implications. I wouldn't have guessed it when both teams entered their Week 7 byes with 2-4 records, but the Browns had won three straight and just needed a win on Sunday to return to .500, and the Steelers were already over .500, having just the first Browns matchup in their loss column in the past two months.
The Browns took a commanding 10-0 lead on a pair of 10-plus-play first-half drives, the former of which ended in a 31-yard Austin Seibert field goal and the latter of which ended in a 15-yard Kareem Hunt catch-and-run touchdown. But the Browns defense hemorrhaged that lead by halftime, and Baker Mayfield injured his wrist on a 70-yard failed Hail Mary attempt at the end of the second quarter when his hand smashed into Bud Dupree's face mask on his follow-through. Mayfield returned to the field in the second half and wore a glove for the rest of the afternoon. The statistics don't paint a clear picture of the effect of the injury -- Mayfield fell short of a 60% completion rate in both halves -- but post-game X-rays were negative, and Mayfield has indicated he expects to play in Week 14. It seems likely that Mayfield and the Browns offense simply struggled against the Steelers' No. 3-ranked DVOA defense. That was especially the case in the fourth quarter, which the Browns started on offense down 20-10 with 13:42 to close the gap.
On second-and-7, Mayfield put a bit too much air under a rainbow pass to tight end Demetrius Harris. But even with a catch, Harris was unlikely to gain more than a yard with rookie linebacker Devin Bush close on his heels. And then on third down, Mayfield did well to escape an initial outside bull rush from Dupree and take only a 1-yard sack from T.J. Watt at the front of the pocket. The Steelers recorded five sacks and seven quarterback hits on the day, victimizing the Browns overmatched pass protection with their top-10 pressure defense, according to Sports Info Solutions charting (subscription required).
The Browns defense quickly handed their offense another chance, forcing a Steelers three-and-out that only took two minutes of clock. And Mayfield looked like he would take immediate advantage, completing the first three passes of his next drive for 19 yards to Odell Beckham, 21 yards to Nick Chubb, and 23 yards to Harris. The first pass was particularly pretty, thrown perfectly to Beckham's back shoulder along the right sideline. Those three chunk plays advanced the Browns into the red zone, but they made it no further. Pressure forced a first-down throwaway and a third-down sack. In between, Mayfield hit Harris in his outstretched fingertips in the end zone, but a hard fall to the ground jarred loose the ball and cost the team a badly needed touchdown.
The field goal make only improved the Browns' GWC to 10.7%, but that number nearly tripled to 27.8% when Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges overthrew the first pass of the next drive right into the hands of cornerback Terrance Mitchell. Wideout Diontae Johnson could have made a better effort to at least tackle Mitchell before his 28-yard return, but either way, Hodges would have handed the Browns a short field needing just a touchdown to tie the game.
Mayfield nearly started this drive with the same flare as his previous, dropping a deep pass right into Jarvis Landry's hands just short of the goal line. Cornerback Mike Hilton made a great play before Landry could secure the catch. And from there, the Steelers defense continued to make plays. Terrell Edmunds dropped Hunt on a reception for no gain, and then defensive tackle Javon Hargrave sacked Mayfield for an 8-yard loss, pushing the Browns back to the edge of Seibert's field goal range. Seibert lined up for a field goal try, but he punted it instead, and Browns special teamer Stephen Carlson just barely kept the punt in play with a dive near the goal line. The Steelers challenged that Carlson went into the end zone for a touchback, but the original ruling was upheld, forcing Hodges to start his next drive from the 1-yard line.
The Browns could really have used a third consecutive defensive stand. But instead, Benny Snell took the Steelers' first-down carry for 11 yards up the middle. And after he and Jaylen Samuels added 5 more yards on first- and second-down runs, Hodges found an open Johnson for a 14-yard gain that advanced the Steelers to their 31-yard line with 3:33 left on the clock. The Browns used their first timeout prior to a Steelers' third-and-6, but Hodges connected with tight end Vance McDonald, who pushed his way through the smaller T.J. Carrie to earn a first down after contact. Two more runs used up the last of the Browns' timeouts as well as the two-minute warning. Hodges could have ended the game with another third-and-6 conversion. But this time, Hodges never saw a wide open James Washington down the left sideline and further cost the Steelers by throwing the ball away out of bounds, stopping the clock so Mayfield would have a manageable 1:45 to lead a game-tying final drive.
Mayfield made some progress in that effort courtesy a questionable Dupree roughing the passer penalty. But two plays later, Mayfield threw wide to his intended target Landry, and long-time Browns cornerback Joe Haden enjoyed some revenge with a game-sealing interception.
It was a defensive-minded fourth quarter, with both the Browns and the Steelers declining from positive offensive DVOA in the first three quarters, the former to -62.1% and the latter to -121.9% in the final frame. But that recipe worked for a Steelers team with a lead, and it has consistently worked in their streak of six wins in their last seven games. This victory jumped the Steelers to 40.3% playoff chance. They currently own the six seed tiebreaker over the also-7-5 Titans thanks to a better conference record, but unlike the Titans, they do not have a realistic path to winning their division. They trail the Ravens by three games, so their division will almost certainly be decided before their Week 17 rematch with Baltimore.
The Browns haven't completely lost all playoff hopes with a 4.8% chance of a wild card, but the Steelers are one of a bunch of AFC teams that would have to do them favors. The likelier scenario is an elimination by mid-December that can return the spotlight to their head coach's job security, a time-honored Cleveland Browns tradition.
Eagles at Dolphins
The Cowboys' Thanksgiving-day beat down by the Bills handed the Eagles a golden opportunity to pull even in an underwhelming NFC East. All they needed to do was beat the Dolphins, owners of the worst DVOA in football. That looked like a forgone conclusion when linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill ran into and uncleated DeVante Parker on the first play of the game, allowing Ronald Darby to make an easy interception and somehow avoiding a defensive penalty. The Eagles needed just three plays from the Dolphins' 18-yard line to score a touchdown and go up 7-0. But as he has been in the latter half of the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick was resilient. He completed a 43-yard jump ball to Parker for a first-quarter touchdown pass and then led a 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter than ended in a brilliant fake field goal that fanned all the linemen and skill players toward the left and right sidelines, allowing punter Matt Haack to take a shotgun snap in the face of just two pass-rushers and flip the ball to kicker Jason Sanders in the end zone. That gave the Dolphins a temporary lead of 14-13 that became a 21-14 deficit at the half. But Fitzpatrick led two more touchdown drives in the third quarter to pull within two points at 28-26, and he got the ball again after an Eagles punt with 14:42 left in the game.
Pinned back to his 4-yard line, Fitzpatrick quickly escaped the bad field position with 8- and 21-yard completions to Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. Myles Gaskin -- playing extended snaps after a second-quarter Kalen Ballage injury -- made a nice diving catch for 6 yards on the ensuing first down. On third-and-4, Fitzpatrick tried another jump ball to Parker, this one down the right sideline. Parker couldn't elevate for this one, but he earned a first down the new-fashioned way, drawing a defensive pass interference penalty that advanced the Dolphins to midfield. There, Fitzpatrick and Parker did connect on a 34-air-yard strike that Parker acrobatically twisted in the air to catch. That was likely Parker's best highlight on a day of highlights that added up to seven catches, 159 yards, and two touchdowns.
Suddenly in the red zone, the Dolphins turned to their other backup running back. Patrick Laird broke a couple of tackles to turn a checkdown pass into an 11-yard first down, and then powered his way up the middle for a 4-yard score. He even caught the two-point conversion attempt for good measure, and on a pass that was thrown a bit far in front of him. That stretched the Dolphins' new lead from four points to six, odd totals to wrap your head around. But GWC supported the decision to go for two, boosting the Dolphins' odds by 1.2% over an extra-point kick.
The Eagles still had 11:06 to answer the Dolphins' offensive barrage, but they quickly went three-and-out after a third-and-4 overthrow drew an offensive pass interference penalty on Nelson Agholor, not a defensive pass interference penalty on Ken Crawley. Meanwhile, the Eagles' No. 7 DVOA defense just couldn't slow down Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins offense. Miami started the next drive with 12- and 6-yard completions to Gesicki and Laird. Linebacker Nigel Bradham had a chance to pick off Fitzpatrick's subsequent first-down pass to Gesicki, but he couldn't haul in the throw off of his right hand. And Fitzpatrick rolled left and hit Albert Wilson just shy of the left sideline to convert on third-and-10.
That dropped the clock to 7:29, and it fell further to 5:26 on a subsequent third-and-1. Clive Walford couldn't win a jump-ball pass to convert the first down, but head coach Brian Flores went for the fourth down, increasing his team's GWC by 0.8% in the process. The football gods rewarded that aggressiveness with an 8-yard contested Parker catch. An offensive holding penalty stalled the drive on the next sequence, but that second conversion helped the Dolphins waste two of the Eagles' three timeouts and dropped the clock to 3:42. And, crucially, Sanders drilled his 51-yard field goal attempt, increasing his team's lead to nine points, requiring the Eagles to answer with multiple scores.
Carson Wentz came back out on offense firing, hitting Alshon Jeffery for 27 and then 11 yards and then Agholor for 24 yards, hard-earned on a challenge overturn of an initial rolling of an incompletion down the left sideline. That advanced the Eagles into the red zone, but a second-and-10 sack backed them into a third-and-16 at the Dolphins' 19-yard line. Wentz just got off that snap before the two-minute warning but couldn't connect with Jeffery in the back-right corner of the end zone. That incompletion forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal and left them needing an onside kick recovery, a near-impossible feat with the new kickoff rules. They had a real chance at it after Jake Elliott's knuckling kick bounced off of Raekwon McMillan. But Marcus Sherels was able to jump on it before the Eagles special teamers could reach it nearly 30 yards downfield.
Three Dolphins carries came close to running out the clock, but the Eagles still had eight seconds when their offense started its last series on their own 31-yard line. Wentz's Hail Mary pass made it to the end zone and bounced up in the air off its first contact with a pair of Dolphins. But Miami cornerback Chris Lammons was able to secure an interception just before Jeffery could reach a potential season-saving miracle catch.
At 5-7 and coming off a terrible loss to the last-place Dolphins, the Eagles have no business being in the playoff mix. But they definitely are, still just a game back of the Cowboys in the worst division in football. Their 23.4% chance to win the division is motivated as much by their weaker DVOA total as their one-game deficit to their division rival. But things don't get much easier than their remaining games against the Giants twice and the Redskins. A Week 16 rematch with the Cowboys in Dallas may well decide the fourth seed in the NFC.
The Dolphins' third win under Fitzpatrick has dropped their odds of winning the first pick in the draft to just 8.5%, even with the Bengals winning on Sunday and still on Miami's schedule in Week 16. The Dolphins front office did yeoman's work to try to tank this season, but that didn't stop Fitzpatrick from playing hard or Flores from doing everything he could to win games. Their fans will have to take solace in a 68.3% chance at a top-five pick and a plethora of other draft capital in both 2020 and 2021.