By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
Remember when people thought rookie quarterbacks had to sit on the bench and learn for a few years?
It even happened with Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, though under some unusual circumstances – those being Drew Brees and Brett Favre – a few years back.
No more. You get drafted, first round or not, and you start, often in Week 1 these days. The game has changed, and Week 14 was another shining example of this youth movement, as four rookies had to combine for three comeback wins of a historic nature.
According to the NFL, Nick Foles joins Russell Wilson (Green Bay) and Andrew Luck (at Detroit) as the third rookie this season to throw a game-winning touchdown pass with 0:00 left.
From 1970 to 2011, a rookie quarterback had done that only two times total. Tim Couch did it in 1999 on a Hail Mary to beat New Orleans, and Matthew Stafford did it in 2009 against Cleveland on an untimed down.
Luck set a new regular season rookie record with his sixth game-winning drive. Robert Griffin III did not make it to the game-winning drive, but he started a comeback that was finished off by backup rookie Kirk Cousins.
These dual-QB clutch wins are rare – recall we had one in Week 1 with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton – and a pain in the Captain’s side to dish out credit for. But this is the first time two rookies were getting it done together.
Rookie quarterbacks have been getting it done all season in the NFL.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 64
Game-winning drives: 73
Games with 4QC opportunity: 120/208 (57.7 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 36
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Washington Redskins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Largest Deficit: 8 (28-20)
Quarterbacks: Kirk Cousins (1-1 at 4QC, 1-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table), Robert Griffin III (3-4 at 4QC, 3-4 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
It was the game that was the last straw for Cam Cameron in Baltimore. He was fired on Monday even after his offense scored 28 points on the road.
It was the game where Kirk “The New Don Strock” Cousins carved out some Washington lore for himself. His first comeback attempt against Atlanta (Week 5) did not go so well, so this was big for him.
It was the game that could change each team’s season, with a nearly dangerous – though apparently minor – injury to Robert Griffin III’s knee, and Baltimore’s tough schedule having them stare down the possibility of not winning another game in 2012.
This game was certainly there for the taking for the Ravens. They led 21-17 in the second half, even after Joe Flacco lost a fumble and then threw a red zone interception on the next drive. Baltimore took a 21-20 lead into the fourth quarter.
A sack led to each team going three and out. Starting in Washington territory, Baltimore went three and out again after Flacco’s 3-yard pass on 3rd and 6. But the Redskins responded with another three and out, and the Ravens were finally able to finish a drive, going 62 yards for a touchdown. Ray Rice scored from seven yards out.
But this is the point of the game where coaches need to be smarter. Check out the situation.
You just scored a touchdown to take a 27-20 lead with 4:47 to play. If you kick the extra point, it is still a one-score game at 28-20. If you go for the two-point conversion and get it, then it is 29-20 and the other team will need to score twice. That is very hard to do. If you go for two and fail, then it is still a 27-20 game, and the defense’s job is exactly the same. The only difference is they do not have to defend a two-point conversion.
With that much time left, why not give the two a try? You risk little, but gain a lot.
Since 1994, a total of 87 touchdowns have been scored when a team led by one point in the fourth quarter. All 87 times they kicked the extra point.
4th Quarter TD, Ahead by 1-2 Points (1994-2012)
4th QT Touchdowns
72 (3 failed)
Now the winning percentages (which may include games where a team scored multiple touchdowns in this situation) are practically identical, though we would need to further study the time factor, which is obviously such a big part of it.
Kicking the extra point did barely work out for the Ravens earlier this season when they played Dallas. Dan Bailey missed the game-winning field goal late. But this time, going up by eight did not hold up against the depleted defense.
Griffin got the ball back at his own 15 with 4:39 to play. He rifled a pass on 3rd and 6 to Leonard Hankerson for six yards and a first down. After taking a sack, the fateful play came after the two-minute warning.
Scrambling on a called pass play, Griffin picked up 13 yards, but awkwardly went down, injuring his knee in the process. Washington had to use their first timeout, and Cousins was warming up. He had already replaced Griffin once this year against Atlanta, so any experience is valuable.
On 3rd and 6, Cousins threw incomplete to Pierre Garcon, but Baltimore was flagged for pass interference. A bit of irony for Washington to convert by penalty here on third down, as it is the down Griffin has struggled with this season.
But Griffin came right back into the game, stayed in the pocket, and found Santana Moss for 15 yards. His next pass was off target, but he came back to Garcon for a 22-yard gain. Limping down the field, Griffin then picked up a quick snap and just threw it out of the end zone, which resulted in an intentional grounding penalty. At this point, Griffin had to leave the game, getting helped off the field.
Cousins returned and faced a very difficult 2nd-and-20 situation at the BAL 26 with 0:45 to play. Many of the names may have been missing for the Baltimore defense, Cousins had three plays to get the 20 yards, but this still should have been a favorable situation to win the game for the Ravens.
Instead, Cousins made three plays in a row. First it was a 15-yard pass to Hankerson, who was very much open. Then on 3rd and 5, Cousins moved a bit to his right and lobbed one into the end zone for Garcon and a 11-yard touchdown with 0:29 play.
Coming down to the two-point conversion, Mike Shanahan kept a very Griffin-like play as the call, and Cousins had no problem scoring on the quarterback draw to tie the game at 28-28.
Griffin started it, and Cousins finished it, but the game was still not won. Flacco took a knee with 0:24 left, which is fine. Not like you want to see a quarterback who plays with the least urgency of anyone in the league scramble to do something with one timeout left.
In overtime, we have yet another coaching decision that is going to need rectified in the future. A coach cannot be afraid to alienate his team by being smart and realistic. The Ravens won the coin toss.
Now do you trust Joe Flacco to drive 80 yards for a game-winning touchdown, or would you rather have your defense come out against the backup rookie quarterback, and see if you can get the ball back, then only needing a field goal to win? An opening-drive field goal no longer beats you, by the way.
Unless you really love your offense or hate your defense, why not kick off under the new rule?
Instead, Baltimore took over at their own 25 and quickly went three and out. Flacco was well off on a pass to Dennis Pitta down the field. Rice gained four yards on the ground. Flacco could scramble for only three yards on 3rd and 6. Not too surprising.
Worse, Washington’s Richard Crawford returned the punt 64 yards down to the BAL 24. It was practically game over at that point. Cousins remained at quarterback, but he just handed it off twice to Alfred Morris for three yards before Shanahan brought the kicker out.
His name is Kai Forbath, and he’s now a perfect 14/14 this season, including this 34-yard game-winner in overtime. Redskins survive 31-28.
Cousins gets the fourth quarter comeback and the game-winning drive. Griffin gets only the fourth quarter comeback. Though even a hobbled Griffin could have handed off in overtime.
It was not meant to be though, as Cousins had to prove his worth again by coming off the bench in a big spot and delivering. Never have we seen two rookie quarterbacks combine for such a comeback, but there’s a first for just about everything.
What’s not a first is the Baltimore defense laying down late in the game with a long field to protect the lead. Under John Harbaugh (2008-12), the Ravens have surrendered 16 game-winning drives, and several have been late in the game.
Baltimore's 4th Quarter Touchdown Letdowns on Defense (2008-12)
L 31-28 OT
Kirk Cousins/Robert Griffin III
This is a list where the defense allowed a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter while leading that became a loss. Notice how six of the drives are 80+ yards, and seven saw the points scored in the final three minutes.
You can handle a Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady doing it to you, but in back-to-back weeks the Ravens have been beaten late by the oldest quarterback in the league, third-stringer Charlie Batch, and now two of the youngest from Washington.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans
Winner: Indianapolis (27-23)
Largest Deficit: 2 (23-21)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (4-1 at 4QC, 6-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
After going 1-7 in their opportunities for comebacks/game-winning drives in 2011, the Colts with Andrew Luck sure have it back down to a Peyton Manning-type science this year. While still with a way to go before Luck’s overall game resembles Manning’s efficiency, he has definitely proven he can get it done in crunch time.
It was not a pretty first half for the Colts, made worse by a replay error that incorrectly turned a sack of Luck into a pick six. Tennessee’s Jake Locker was carving the defense apart – he was 15/20 for 213 yards and a touchdown at halftime – and the Titans led 20-7.
Since 1950, teams trailing by 13 points at halftime are just 45-348-1 (.115). But in a season of improbable comebacks, the Colts were ready to stage another.
The offense got it together out of the half for an 80-yard touchdown drive, then Locker made a big mistake with a pick six from his own 1-yard line, cashed in by Cassius Vaughn. The Colts led 21-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Titans were in the middle of a very long drive, which eventually stalled in the red zone after Vontae Davis defended the pass on 3rd and goal. Rob Bironas kicked a 25-yard field goal, and the Titans led 23-21 with 10:28 left.
Luck started at his own 20. On 3rd and 2, he used the hard count to draw the Titans off, but fumbled the snap. Fortunately the free play negated the turnover. Luck then completed an 18-yard pass to Donnie Avery to convert a 2nd and 15. After a 14-yard run by Vick Ballard, Luck had trouble with the snap again and recovered for a 3-yard loss.
Two plays later the Colts faced a 3rd and 5 at the TEN 35. Luck scrambled to his right and threw a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone, but Avery misplayed the ball and failed to make the catch. Instead the Colts would settle for the long field goal, but you know Adam Vinatieri is pretty reliable here. He curved the 53-yard attempt almost right down the middle for a 24-23 lead with 6:23 to play.
It is the 30th game-winning field goal of Vinatieri’s career, and the second one this season from 53 yards away (also done vs. Minnesota in Week 2).
Locker is still looking for that first comeback win, but he instead found Darius Butler for another interception. The Colts have finally cracked double-digits in takeaways this season (10). They had 12 at this point last year when they were 0-13. A bit better this year at 9-4.
Vinatieri added a 40-yard field goal for a 27-23 lead, and Tennessee needed a touchdown with 3:48 left to start their next chance. After a run by Chris Johnson, the Titans apparently thought they were short and hurried to the line for a sneak. Locker gained no yards. That’s not something you see every week.
It wasted a down, and Locker wasted two more with bad throws. With all their timeouts, the Titans had to punt.
With 2:42 left, the Colts could put it out of reach in the four-minute offense. Vick Ballard broke off a 13-yard run on 2nd and 9. After a carry for no gain, Tennessee used their final timeout with 2:25 left. One first down and staying in bounds would end the game right here.
The Colts went against tradition and called a pass play. Dwayne Allen made the catch over the middle for 10 yards, and it was just a matter of three knees for another close victory and season sweep of the Titans. Both wins were comebacks.
Indianapolis has been unusually great at winning the close games despite having such a young team. They are now 8-1 in games decided by 1-7 points. That is tied for the second best record ever (min. 8 games in a season). This year’s Falcons are close too.
Best Records in Games Decided by 1-7 Points (Min. 8 Games)
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
New York Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
Los Angeles Raiders
The Colts from 2008 to 2009 went 15-1 in such games, but this year’s team hardly resembles those rosters. With so many young players, they should just get better in 2013, not needing as many close wins. Like with Manning, it starts with the quarterback again for the Colts.
Luck sets the new regular season rookie record with his sixth game-winning drive. Ben Roethlisberger had five in the regular season and one more in the playoffs in 2004.
It was also Luck’s fourth comeback win in the fourth quarter, which ties the regular season record set by Roethlisberger (2004), Vince Young (2006) and Andy Dalton (4). Roethlisberger had a fifth in the playoffs.
Just 13 games into his career, Luck (3) has already led as many wins from a 12+ point deficit as Super Bowl-winning, future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Kurt Warner (1) and Ben Roethlisberger (2) combined.
It was also in Week 14 last year when we figured out that Tim Tebow was the fastest to six comebacks and game-winning drives, doing it in 11 starts. Luck’s not far behind the pace.
Indianapolis will probably need a close victory to take at least one from Houston this year, so we may not have seen the last of these comebacks and game-winning drives from Luck’s rookie season. It may not be as wild as The Tebow Zone or even Arizona from last year, but the Colts are definitely this season’s cardiac team.
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals
Winner: Dallas (20-19)
Largest Deficit: 9 (19-10)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (17-23 at 4QC, 18-25 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Is this the one to start changing the Dallas narrative? Probably not, but the Cowboys sure did overcome a ton of adversity in Cincinnati to get this much-needed win.
Just a day following the news of the death of teammate Jerry Brown in a drunk-driving accident, which was caused by nose tackle Josh Brent, the Cowboys had to play a game in Cincinnati to keep up their playoff hopes.
Just as important of a game for the Bengals, it was understandable if Dallas came out a bit flat. They did not, taking a 3-0 lead on an opening-drive field goal, but the Bengals would score as well, and later led 19-10 to start the fourth quarter.
Sacks would set back each team’s first drive of the quarter. With 9:47 left, Tony Romo took over at his own 32. After some dinking and dunking, a holding penalty forced a 1st and 20. Romo found Kevin Ogletree open over the middle for a 23-yard gain.
Three plays later, Romo converted on 3rd and 10 when Miles Austin also was open for a 15-yard gain. Right after that Romo found Dez Bryant for a 27-yard touchdown with 6:35 left. Now it was a 19-17 game.
The Bengals stayed pass happy, with Andy Dalton dropping back all five times on the drive. They picked up one first down, but Dalton was sacked on 3rd and 4.
Now with 3:44 left, Romo had plenty of time at his own 28. Dallas came out with the running game, and DeMarco Murray would be the featured player on the drive. A 3rd and 5 was converted with Romo’s 9-yard pass to Jason Witten. Moving into Cincinnati territory, Murray touched the ball on four straight plays, including a 3-yard run on 3rd and 1.
On a 3rd and 5, Murray took the handoff and kept his balance for a 6-yard run. The drive lasted 12 plays, and Murray either carried or was the target of a pass on nine of the plays. He gained 32 of the 50 yards.
Content with running the clock down, Dallas gave Murray one more run for two yards before bringing out Dan Bailey with 0:04 to play.
Bailey made the 40-yard field goal with no time left, and Dallas had a stunning comeback, similar to the one Houston put on the Bengals last season in Week 14. It was even the same deficit (19-10) and final score (20-19).
Cincinnati has a history of losing such games, but the Cowboys do not have the history of winning such games. However, as we have looked at many times with Dallas, these wins happen. They just don’t happen when everyone is watching, and the next loss is always going to take precedent.
But with many eyes on Dallas for the tragedy this weekend, they came through with a very clutch comeback win to help their season’s prospects.
With the win, Tony Romo now has the Dallas Cowboys’ record for most fourth-quarter comeback wins with 17. That’s one more than Troy Aikman (16) and two more than Roger Staubach (15).
This is the second year in a row Romo has led four game-winning drives and comebacks, and his total of eight comebacks since 2011 ranks second only to Eli Manning (10) in that time span.
Most 4th Quarter Comeback Wins, 2011-12
Not bad for a supposed choker. But that’s why we have facts.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winner: Philadelphia (23-21)
Largest Deficit: 11 (21-10)
Quarterback: Nick Foles (1-3 at 4QC, 1-3 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Last week we talked about “The Todd Bowles Movement” for the Eagles, and the historically bad pass defense that brought. Seemed like a great opportunity for Josh Freeman and his weapons to continue the movement and Philadelphia’s eight-game losing streak, no?
Early on, it was all Philadelphia and rookie Nick Foles. They led 10-0 at halftime while Freeman was just 5/16 for 61 yards (44.0 passer rating) against a defense who had allowed a 142.4 rating over the last six games.
It took a muffed punt in the third quarter for the Buccaneers to finally get on the board. They were driving again as the fourth quarter started. Vincent Jackson caught a 13-yard touchdown, and Tampa Bay led 14-10 with 14:26 to play.
Foles threw incomplete twice, and the Eagles were three and out. Tampa Bay converted on third down three times, and Doug Martin scored a 4-yard touchdown with 7:21 left. It was now 21-10, and looked like another loss for Andy Reid.
But that may be when a young quarterback had his first big moment. Not that Tampa Bay has been much better on pass defense this year, Foles took over the game. Philadelphia would only run the ball one more time, and lose four yards in the process. They had just 13 carries for two yards in the game. Foles, with three runs for 27 yards, led the team in rushing.
Despite the lack of a running game, the six sacks, Foles completed 32 of 51 passes for 381 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT and a 98.6 passer rating. He saved his best for the last two drives.
Favoring Jeremy Maclin, Foles completed 6-of-7 passes on the drive (one throwaway) for 76 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Clay Harbor with 3:55 left. Under pressure, Foles could not get the two-point conversion pass to Dion Lewis. It was 21-16.
Tampa Bay tried to run out the clock with Martin, but a holding penalty set the drive back. The Buccaneers punted, giving Foles a chance with 2:44 left, no timeouts and 64 yards to go.
A sack threatened to end it early, but on 3rd and 14 Foles stepped up and found Maclin wide open for 23 yards. Later on a 3rd and 10 he went back to Maclin on a screen for nine yards, then scrambled ahead for five yards on 4th and 1.
Danny Gorrer had the win in his hands, but dropped the interception. On the very next play, a 4th and 5, Foles had Jason Avant open over the middle for 22 yards down to the TB 1. Foles hurried up and spiked the ball with two seconds left.
Down to one play, Reid dialed up a West Coast staple, the sprint-right option, and Maclin had the touchdown in the end zone with no time left. After a lengthy review, the call stood, and the Eagles had a thrilling 23-21 comeback win.
In addition to being the fifth rookie since the merger to throw a game-winning touchdown pass with 0:00 left, Foles also joins Luck as the only rookie quarterbacks to ever win a game with 50+ pass attempts. Luck’s done it twice this season. It is safe to say they don’t make rookie quarterbacks like they used to.
Is Foles the future in Philadelphia? At the very least, he deserves to have the opportunity to be the starter next year.
St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills
Winner: St. Louis (15-12)
Largest Deficit: 5 (12-7)
Quarterback: Sam Bradford (4-9-1 at 4QC, 4-10-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The Bills and Rams exist in the 2012 season, but neither team is really going anywhere, even if the Rams are now oh-so-close to being in that Wild Card hunt.
The game was close all the way, and that was even true despite Ryan Fitzpatrick (17/21 for 169 yards) having a much bigger first half than Sam Bradford (5/13 for 37 yards, INT).
But, it was only a 6-0 lead for the Bills at home. Part of that could be seven failed completions for Fitzpatrick in the first half alone, plus a fumble by Fred Jackson in the red zone.
Each offense came out in the second half with a touchdown drive, but the Bills had a botched snap on their extra point attempt, resulting in a 12-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
The quarter began with a bobbled punt by John Hekker, and he was only able to get off a 0-yard punt. Despite the field position, Buffalo went to settle for a 52-yard field goal, then called a timeout to change their mind and punt. Wow, wasting a timeout to get conservative? That’s a double dose of failure.
The next four drives were all punts as well, with Buffalo going three and out twice. With 4:55 to play, Bradford took over at his own 16.
After two runs by Steven Jackson for 16 yards, Brandon Gibson ran a double move but could not hold onto the ball. A 22-yard pass to Lance Kendricks moved the ball into Buffalo territory.
FOX threw up one of their usual graphics at this point for Bradford.
However, this is one case where the use of “tying” actually factors in. Remember the tie in San Francisco? That means Bradford actually has four winning or tying drives at the time, so their number was wrong again.
On that play, George Wilson nearly intercepted Bradford, setting up a 4th and 1. Austin Pettis made a huge catch for nine yards to convert. After an overthrow in the end zone, Wilson had another hand on a Bradford pass. On 3rd and 10, Bradford had time to find Gibson on the sideline for 15 yards.
Though Marcell Dareus batted a pass at the line, Bradford went to Gibson in the back of the end zone for the 13-yard touchdown with 0:48 left. Deep threat Chris Givens was there for the two-point conversion, and a 15-12 lead.
Fitzpatrick still had two timeouts, 0:42 and the ball at his own 23. It started well with a 19-yard pass to Scott Chandler. At this point FOX’s Ron Pitts said Fitzpatrick has “six career fourth-quarter game-winning comebacks.” Okay. Five or seven would have been closer, but whatever.
After missing deep, Fitzpatrick was buried for a 9-yard sack by Robert Quinn. Out of timeouts, Fitzpatrick was pressured again and his pass floated to Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the game-ending interception.
Fitzpatrick falls to 5-23 (.179) in career fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. Seems so long ago when his first win was off the bench for the Rams.
Bradford may not be wowing anyone this season like a No. 1 overall pick in his third season should be doing, but he is turning in a solid year for a team that is surprisingly 6-6-1.
The key to the jump in wins? The Rams are finally closing some games out in the fourth quarter.
St. Louis Rams' Clutch Wins (2007-2012)
4 (one tie)
More comebacks and just as many game-winning drives this season as the last five combined says it all.
Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions
Winner: Green Bay (27-20)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (5-21 at 4QC, 9-23 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
For all the Green Bay fans crying foul about Aaron Rodgers’ record in the close games, here was an early Christmas present for you, courtesy of the Detroit Lions.
Rodgers picked up his ninth game-winning drive, and career-high third in one season, and this time he did not have to do anything but hand the ball off.
It was that kind of night with the snow and elements at Lambeau. Detroit looked amazing to start the game, but we have seen this story repeated the last month. It does not end well.
The 14-0 lead Detroit raced to was similar to Atlanta’s early domination of the Packers last year, but Green Bay came back to win that one 25-14 with a brilliant performance from Rodgers. If he was to earn his second career win from a 14-point deficit this week, it was going to come a bit differently than in the cozy settings of the Georgia Dome.
The game turned with Detroit driving, ahead 14-3, and Matthew Stafford losing control of the ball, Green Bay’s Mike Daniels picking it up and returning it 43 yards for a touchdown. Stafford killed the Lions with turnovers against the Packers in Week 11, and that was the case again.
Eventually the teams would be locked at 17-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Jason Hanson had a 51-yard field goal come up just short with 14:49 to play.
That was when Mike McCarthy did something that he may have never done before: he dialed up seven straight running plays without a single drop back from Rodgers. First it was Alex Green, then it was Ryan Grant – yes, that Ryan Grant – before DuJuan Harris (who?) finished the 59-yard drive off with a 14-yard touchdown run with 10:45 left.
It was not long ago we talked up Stafford’s great job in the fourth quarter, but that has not been evident as of late. With poor mechanics on display such as his random sidearm delivery, fading away on his throws, he threw two incompletions at midfield and Detroit punted.
After all their running success, Green Bay came out throwing deep, and would face a 3rd and 11. The Lions only rushed three, and Rodgers made plenty of time to find Randall Cobb for a big 38-yard gain. Last week Detroit rushed four on 44 straight plays against Andrew Luck, but for some reason thought the prevent would work here.
Green Bay added a field goal, and the teams went through motions. Detroit turned it over on downs, the Packers went three and out, Detroit kicked a field goal with 0:07 left, and their onside kick went out of bounds to end it. But it’s another one-score loss for the Lions.
Rodgers just barely kept alive his obscure record streak of 30 straight regular season games with a passer rating of at least 80.0, posting an 80.7 on a night where he passed for 173 yards and no touchdowns.
But it was the running game for a change making headlines for the Packers, and especially on that game-winning drive. The Packers have had a game-winning drive in three straight games against the Lions.
Since 1977, Green Bay now has five game-winning drives in which the quarterback did not attempt a pass. The first four were all field goals, two of them saw the quarterback rush once, and no drive was longer than six yards.
This would be a most unusual game-winning drive for any team, but especially for the quarterback-centric Packers.
For the Lions, it was all a familiar scene, losing at Lambeau Field for the 21st straight season.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
For the second straight week the games that did not show up here are probably more interesting than the ones that did. The Chargers actually found a lead too big to blow in Pittsburgh, and it helps when Mike Tomlin shows no math knowledge, kicking an extra point when he trailed by 18 points late.
Minnesota’s defense looked like Chicago’s with a pick six of Jay Cutler providing the winning margin. Not even Matt Ryan could dig Atlanta out of a 23-0 hole in Carolina, while Drew Brees was still too picky, losing by 25 points in New Jersey to the Giants.
Instead, we have the state of Florida completing the 0-3 record in comeback opportunities on Sunday. At least they had a chance unlike Arizona, who managed a 58-0 shutout loss to Seattle.
Miami cannot Kaep off the comeback
Were the San Francisco fans ready to panic when they trailed 3-0 in the second quarter? No, they were just slow starters again this week. Eventually Jim Harbaugh’s team took a 20-6 lead in the fourth quarter, and with the historic inability of Miami to overcome large deficits, this one seemed like a sure thing.
But as we have often seen, offenses like to finally wake up when they are down two scores late in the game. Miami went on a 75-yard touchdown drive led by Ryan Tannehill. Reggie Bush made two big plays to convert on third down, and on a 4th and goal at the SF 3, Miami went empty backfield and Tannehill threw it up for Anthony Fasano. He got his knee down in bounds, making a highlight-reel touchdown with 7:55 left.
Colin Kaepernick had no turnovers this week, but the 49ers went three and out after his pass to Michael Crabtree came up two yards short on third down.
The Dolphins were aided by a roughing the passer penalty. With the ball at the SF 35, Tannehill overshot the deep ball. He then had to throw a pass out of bounds due to pressure, before missing Davone Bess deep. On 4th and 10, Tannehill was again off the mark to Marlon Moore.
Miami used all of their timeouts, then Kaepernick used up the Miami defense, taking the read-option play for a 50-yard touchdown run. He could have just slid and ended the game right there, but he gets the score, the 27-13 lead, and Aldon Smith picked up another sack on the season as Miami went four and out.
Ever since they were thinking playoffs at 4-3, the Dolphins are just 1-6 ever since. After some promising attempts earlier this year, Tannehill is just 1-5 at comeback opportunities this season. The only rookie with a worse record is Brandon Weeden (1-6).
The Dolphins are mostly losing close save for the bizarre Tennessee blowout, but the general theme is they do not find enough plays offensively in the end. This team could really use some playmakers.
Jets are alive in playoff race (honestly)
It may be a season with offensive numbers off the charts, but leave it to the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars to sit on the left edge of our bell curve. For the second week in a row, the Jets trailed 3-0 at halftime.
That makes the Jets the 20th team since 1940 to trail 3-0 at halftime in at least two games in a season.
The good news is the Jets join the 2007 San Diego Chargers and 1945 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 2-0 in those games. Mark Sanchez was less of a turnover machine this week, but still largely ineffective.
New York would get on the board twice to take a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter. They made it 17-3 after Bilal Powell carried seven straight plays for all 46 yards of the touchdown drive.
Jacksonville was toast, right? Not so fast. The margin inspired Chad Henne to lead an 86-yard touchdown drive, with Montell Owens rushing for a 32-yard touchdown with 7:06 left.
The Jets went three and out, and Jacksonville had their chance. It would be short-lived. After two runs by Owens, Kevin Elliott dropped the 3rd-and-6 pass (his third drop of the day). Jacksonville punted.
Sanchez converted a 3rd and 8 with a 37-yard pass over the middle to Jeff Cumberland. Though they would punt after three runs by Powell, it did change field position. Henne had to drive 80 yards in 1:43 without a timeout. Of course the Jaguars went 80 yards in one play to beat the Colts earlier this season, but that was then.
The drive started with Justin Blackmon’s 14-yard catch. After some misfires and a penalty for an illegal touching of the pass, Henne had to convert 4th and 15. He did so with a frozen rope to Jordan Shipley for 28 yards. Henne spiked the ball, then went back to Shipley for an 8-yard gain. He would convert the 4th and 2 with a 7-yard pass to Elliott, who hung on this time and got out of bounds with 0:27 left.
But with the ball at the NYJ 28, Elliott fell down on his cut. On the very next play, Henne just threw it up with a rusher coming in his face, Elliott broke off his route short, and the pass sailed to Ellis Lankster for the game-ending interception.
The loss dropped Henne to 3-14 (.176) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, putting him in the bottom two of the league with only Cam Newton (2-14) lower.
Sanchez only threw for 111 yards on 12-of-19 passing, but it apparently is enough to keep your job in this offense.
It is an offense for a Jets team, which at 6-7 still has a chance to make the playoffs if you can believe it.
The week should begin (Bengals/Eagles) and end (Jets/Titans) on sour notes, but we have a wonderful Sunday lined up. The 1 p.m. schedule is as good as ever with Broncos/Ravens, Colts/Texans, Giants/Falcons and Packers/Bears. Pittsburgh at Dallas will be an interesting and hard to predict game. Finally, we will top things off with San Francisco at New England, which hopefully will be a bit more competitive than what Houston did there on Monday night.
But this season has been downright dreadful for prime time games, and especially when it has been a marquee matchup. Here’s to hoping, because there are no major marquee games in Weeks 16 and 17.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.