By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
The Captain is all over Peyton Manning’s record-setting 37th comeback win, and while we do cover it here, you can read specifically about Manning and the record right here.
But it wasn't the only newsmaker in Week 6.
Mix in another close win for undefeated Atlanta, and Matt Ryan’s 19-11 (.633) record in clutch fourth quarter/overtime games momentarily moves him past Tom Brady (37-23; .617) for the best record in NFL history (min. 30 opportunities).
The 2012 NFL season has been loaded with as much inconsistent play as any season since 2002.
Just when you expect to crown a team as a favorite, they lay an egg. A week full of upsets and great comebacks again tell us to expect the unexpected.
Seen as a one-team division, the AFC East is all tied up at 3-3 after stunning wins and another New England letdown
Sunday’s two marquee games (NY Giants at San Francisco, Green Bay at Houston) ended up being huge duds after the two home teams – who have been Super Bowl favorites – suffered embarrassing routs. Eli Manning is now 25-5 as a starter in the month of October, while Alex Smith is 2-25 as a starter when San Francisco allows at least 24 points.
Houston allowed 40+ points for the second time in the Wade Phillips era (since 2011). Not a good sign when you allow 40 (2011 Saints) and 42 points (2012 Packers) to the two best offenses you have faced.
Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub are both 9-1 in their last 10 starts, but both stretches have three things in common: they were injured in their team’s 10th game last year, they have only one win over a team who currently has a winning record, and they both lost to the Packers.
Green Bay is right back in it after a Minnesota loss in which Robert Griffin III took matters into his own hands (and legs) in the four-minute offense, scoring a 76-yard touchdown run to put away the Vikings.
See, when warranted the Captain says nice things about the Packers, who still have the best A-game in the business, and that was on display Sunday night.
Week 6 featured nine comeback opportunities. Through six weeks we have credited 35 comebacks and/or game-winning drives, which is one more than the total (34) at this point in 2011.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 29
Game-winning drives: 34
Games with 4QC opportunity: 53/91 (58.2 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 16
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Winner: Denver (35-24)
Largest Deficit: 10 (24-14)
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (37-44 at 4QC, 49-48 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Did that really just happen? Even if the Captain predicted it not once, but twice last week, no one could have imagined San Diego would turn a 24-0 halftime lead into a 35-0 rout in the second half.
It was the 18th comeback win in NFL history (including playoffs) for a team after trailing by at least 24 points, and the largest margin of victory (11) we have ever seen in such a game. The average margin of victory had been just 3.53 points, so San Diego really blew this one.
The “MaxDef” is the largest deficit the winning team faced, and the “HT Margin” is what they trailed by at halftime.
W 41-38 OT
W 38-35 OT
Norm Van Brocklin
W 30-27 OT
W 30-27 OT
You can see the Broncos are just the sixth team to trail by 24+ at halftime and come back to win, and the fourth road team to do so.
It is the largest comeback win of Peyton Manning’s career, topping the 21-point comeback in Tampa Bay in 2003, which was also a Monday Night Football game. Manning has been close a few times with such large deficits, but this time he closed it out in dramatic fashion with a lot of help from Philip Rivers.
After a first half filled with Denver errors – fumbles on special teams, penalties, Eric Decker tripping on a sure touchdown, Matt Willis missing the hot read and causing a pick six – Manning was fit to be tied. You can just see it in his face as San Diego led 24-0.
In the second half Denver had the ball first and looked like a whole new offense. Moving quickly, Manning’s teammates matched his intensity. He completed all six passes on the drive, which ended with a great 29-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas. It was 24-7, and perhaps another Denver comeback was brewing.
San Diego looked to silence that with a long drive into Denver territory, but fumbled the ball on third down. Instead of Denver recovering, the Chargers did and even made the first down.
Just when it was time to point out Denver’s incredibly bad fumble luck – the Broncos have lost all nine of their fumbles this season – they came up with a huge sack/fumble on Rivers with Elvis Dumervil forcing the issue. Tony Carter scooped up the ball and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
San Diego went three and out, and Manning had the ball back in the fourth quarter with a manageable 24-14 deficit and history in sight. He converted a 3rd and 16 with a 25-yard pass to Jacob Tamme. Four plays later Decker caught a 7-yard touchdown.
Manning has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 12 of his last 13 games – only had one score in Atlanta this year – dating back to 2010. The NFL record is 13 consecutive games, which Manning was the first to set in 2004. Not a bad stretch for someone so “washed up” and “not as good as Tebow”, if you believe parts of the Twitterverse.
After another Rivers interception by Carter, Manning had the ball at the 50 and his historic opportunity. Fitting that Brandon Stokley would make three catches on the drive, including a highlight-worthy 21-yard touchdown with 9:03 left to give Denver their first lead.
It was Stokley in 2004 catching Manning’s record-breaking 49th touchdown pass of the season in the fourth quarter during a comeback drive against San Diego.
Last week we looked at Rivers’ pitiful record and stats in the clutch since 2010, and it continued in a big way this time. Rivers was intercepted by Chris Harris on a throw wide of the mark to Eddie Royal.
Manning went for the kill with a 28-yard pass to Decker at the SD 20, but Jeff “Gomer Pyle” Triplette took it away with one of the worst offensive pass interference calls ever. The Broncos would punt, giving Rivers another chance.
But children shiver when watching Rivers in the clutch these days, and it was only six plays later that the final nail was driven with a pick six down the left sideline by Harris with 2:05 left. Denver led 35-24.
Dumervil made sure this replaced Rivers’ worst night ever with a sack/fumble on 4th and 16, giving Rivers six turnovers (four interceptions, two lost fumbles, two returns for touchdowns) on the night.
Manning took two knees, and he is the new comeback king with his 37th fourth quarter comeback victory. Few have ever been this wild or impressive. Manning completed his first 13 passes in the second half for 167 yards and three scores.
San Diego had a great path to first place in the AFC West with each team heading into their bye, but they finished the game with these drive charts: fumble-six, three and out (lost four yards), interception, interception, pick six, and lost fumble.
Rivers is now 2-13 in comeback/game-winning drive opportunities since 2010, and the turnovers keep coming. His defense may have allowed three straight touchdown drives, but he handed over a very winnable game to the Broncos with five second-half turnovers.
It was the second time this year Manning threw a game-winning touchdown to a former teammate, and the defense put the game away with a pick six. That is a fine winning formula, though this comeback was anything but textbook.
As historic it was for Manning and Denver, it was that big of a disaster for Rivers and San Diego.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots
Winner: Seattle (24-23)
Largest Deficit: 13 (23-10)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (2-2 at 4QC, 2-2 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Seattle’s young, stud cornerback Richard Sherman, who more than challenged Tom Brady this week, is right. The pundits were drooling too much over the New England offense the last two weeks, and specifically over their running game.
One must learn that career-best performances are not meant to be taken as the new norm, but as outliers unlikely to sustain themselves. The Patriots were coming off the two most prolific rushing performances in Tom Brady’s first 186 career starts, against suspect competition, and even they must have known it would not continue in Seattle.
New England may have discredited their own running game too much though, as there was no valid reason for Tom Brady to have 59 drop backs against that tough Seattle pass defense without a full stable of healthy receivers. New England only ran it 26 times for 87 yards this week despite leading for much of the game.
Brady may have had some monster numbers (36/58 for 395 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT), but it was not an efficient performance. He threw two bad interceptions in the second half, including one in the red zone. He had two intentional grounding penalties, including one before halftime with the ball at the SEA 3 that cost the Patriots a field goal. He had eight failed completions as well (all in the last three quarters).
Down 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Seattle’s quiet offense behind rookie Russell Wilson hit a pass to Zach Miller, but he fumbled at the NE 30. The Patriots added a field goal, and led 23-10 with 9:21 left.
Wilson immediately went deep and found Golden Tate for a huge 51-yard gain on a jump ball. On a 4th and 3, Braylon Edwards proved he still exists and caught a 10-yard touchdown to make things interesting.
Each team punted, including a quick three and out from Seattle. The Patriots took over in the four-minute offense, having to knock out 3:02 on the clock. But after two runs, it was 3rd and 8 and Brady’s pass fell incomplete to a diving Deion Branch, who would have been a few yards short of the first down. But it stopped the clock.
Leon Washington returned the punt 25 yards. With 2:38 left, Wilson had to go 57 yards. Seattle started with a designed run, and Wilson gained nine yards. He overthrew Sidney Rice, but Marshawn Lynch converted the yard with a short run.
As the clock ticked down to 1:27, Wilson went play action and threw it deep down the middle to Rice for the 46-yard touchdown. The double move by Rice badly fooled rookie safety Tavon Wilson. Seattle led 24-23.
Brady was down to 1:14 and no timeouts at his own 20. As we have seen this season, that can be an eternity of time. But Brady’s deep ball is not the most accurate, and his pass to Brandon Lloyd was too wide of the playing field, and Lloyd landed hard on the white, injuring himself in the process.
Brady was sacked on second down, and Hernandez had a pass go through his hands on what would have been a medium gain. Just like that it was 4th and 17, and Brady’s pass to Wes Welker could only gain 15 of the necessary yards. Seattle clinched the upset.
Russell Wilson is the sixth rookie quarterback since 1960 to lead a pair of comebacks/game-winning drives in the first six games of the season. Others include Andy Dalton (2011), Bruce Gradkowski (2006), Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Dennis Shaw (1970), and Sam Etcheverry (1961).
Wilson is the fourth rookie quarterback to beat the Bill Belichick Patriots, joining Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009) and Colt McCoy (2010). Wilson finished 16 of 27 for 293 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 133.7 passer rating.
It has been rare to see the Patriots lose a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, though this was the third time since 2009. Overall, the Patriots have lost six games with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter since 1991.
Patriots: Largest 4th Quarter Collapses (Since 1991)
at NY Jets
Throw in a few more road games in recent seasons (2009 games in Miami and Denver; 2011 Buffalo), and we have seen a tendency to play well early in games, but fall apart late.
It is a bad mix to have an offense that cannot close and a defense showing little resistance on the final drive these days. If the Patriots cannot blow the opponent out, they are far from a safe bet in any close game.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Oakland Raiders
Winner: Atlanta (23-20)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (13-11 at 4QC, 19-11 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The Atlanta Falcons may be winning close the last three games, but they remain the league’s last unbeaten team, and it is hardly a fluke.
Matt Ryan now has 19 game-winning drives, which are the most for a quarterback in their first five seasons, breaking his tie with Ben Roethlisberger (18). The three in a row have happened quickly, and this one was yet another one-minute drill. Ryan has four of those, tying Dan Marino and Mark Sanchez for the most since 1981.
Ryan’s not in high school anymore. Can we dump the ridiculous “Matty Ice” for “The Iceman” or something more mature? Sure, Mafia hit man Richard Kuklinski already had that nickname, but Ryan has been deadly himself in the clutch.
Accolades aside, it actually was not a banner day for Ryan. He threw three interceptions for only the second time in his career, and the worst part was that they came against an Oakland pass defense that had no picks coming into the game.
Carson Palmer played another “double-agent” game, helping Oakland to a lead, but giving it up after a John Abraham sack-strip-fumble late in the third quarter put the ball at the 2-yard line. But Oakland held at the goal line and Atlanta had to kick the field goal to tie the game 13-13.
After a series of fourth-quarter punts, the Raiders seemed to have a go-ahead drive in progress after Mike Goodson’s 43-yard run. But with a 3rd and 6 at the ATL 28 and 2:55 left, Palmer, in field goal range, learned what made Asante Samuel a star in New England. Samuel jumped the route and intercepted the pass, returning it 79 yards for a touchdown with 2:40 left.
But Palmer actually did respond with a strong drive, completing 5-of-6 passes for 85 yards. Darren McFadden scored the 2-yard rushing touchdown, and the game was tied 20-20.
Unfortunately, that is still too much time for Atlanta. Down to 0:40, two timeouts and the ball at their own 20, Ryan went to work on a day he did not bring his best stuff.
Starting the drive with a 7-yard gain on the screen, Atlanta called a timeout. Jacquizz Rodgers caught another short pass after a play-action, and this time he stepped out of bounds after a 9-yard gain. Harry Douglas would get out of bounds on a 4-yard pass, Ryan missed Tony Gonzalez, but came back to him on third down for 10 yards and stepping of bounds at the 50.
Now with 0:12 left, one more pass to Gonzalez over the middle for 13 yards did the trick, and Atlanta used their final timeout. Oakland tried to ice the kicker, but the underrated Matt Bryant nailed the 55-yard field goal with a second remaining for the 23-20 win.
Palmer created the comeback opportunity, so it is hard to feel bad for him never getting the ball back. Oakland is buried in the AFC at 1-4 now.
Between the three interceptions and running game producing 14 carries for 30 yards, it was not pretty, but it’s still another win for Atlanta. You would like to see the defense shut down the Raiders and win 20-13 after the pick six, but when you have such a great closing offense and kicker, you can trust them on that final drive.
The Falcons are used to winning these types of games, which is why they outdo their expected win totals each season. That consistency is the value of a franchise quarterback defined, and Atlanta certainly has that with Ryan.
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
Winner: Detroit (26-23 OT)
Largest Deficit: 10 (23-13)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (7-8 at 4QC, 8-8 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
This was a game right out of the 2011 season. Detroit was sluggish early, but Matthew Stafford led another exciting comeback. The Eagles killed themselves with turnovers and blew yet another fourth-quarter lead. Yep, just like the 2011 versions of these teams indeed.
Philadelphia looked to be taking control of this one after their third straight field goal of the second half gave them a 16-6 lead with 13:39 left in the quarter. But Stafford finally found Calvin Johnson on big plays, and led an 80-yard touchdown drive. Stafford scored on a 1-yard bootleg/scramble, which may have been by design, and even did the LaDainian Tomlinson celebration afterwards.
Michael Vick came right back with a deep ball off play action, but under threw the ball and it was intercepted by Chris Houston. Detroit punted, and on a 3rd and 4, this time Vick came through against a seven-man rush with a perfect pass to a wide open Jeremy Maclin, and he went 70 yards for the touchdown.
Philadelphia led 23-13 with 5:18 left, which usually is a safe lead. Not with this team though.
Stafford, working the no-huddle and shotgun, hit four straight passes, including a 57-yard pass to Tony Scheffler on a scramble and deep ball. On 3rd and 15, Stafford found Nate Burleson for a 17-yard touchdown with 3:32 left.
The Eagles went three and out after Vick’s 3rd-and-4 pass was batted down at the line by Ndamukong Suh. Stafford had 2:27 and two timeouts left at his own 32. After a brilliant sideline catch for 16 yards by Johnson, which was only awarded after the booth review, the Lions should have been thinking touchdown.
Detroit would get 1st and goal at the 1-yard line after a pass interference penalty in the end zone, but Stafford threw incomplete twice. With 0:05 left, Jason Hanson kicked the 19-yard field goal to force overtime.
We will see how long it takes for a coach to go on defense first a la the college game with the new overtime rules. Philadelphia won the coin toss and went on offense. Vick was sacked twice, bringing up a 3rd and 31, in which he just threw the ball away.
Detroit then had great field position at the 50 after the punt, and completions of 16 yards to Scheffler and 17 yards to Johnson put them in range. Two plays later, Hanson made the 45-yard game-winning field goal. Both of Detroit’s wins this year have been Stafford-led comebacks.
Even if it was not by their choice, Detroit showed the perfect model of how to handle the new overtime rules. As long as you feel confident your defense will not give up what will likely be an 80+ yard touchdown drive, then go on defense first.
Force the punt (or a takeaway), and now you hopefully will have better field position than your opponent did, and only need to get a field goal to win the game. That’s what Detroit did.
If you give up a field goal to start overtime, now you have a chance to play four-down offense and answer, so that also is an advantage in some ways. The team who takes the ball first is confined by standard, conservative three-down football.
In time, the smart coaches (which ones are they again?) will come to realize with the current rules that most kickoffs result in touchbacks (or worse), and going 80 yards for a touchdown is not easy regardless of what Tim Tebow did in the playoffs last year.
So why not go on defense first?
Philadelphia may have feared Detroit’s strong, late-game offense, but they may have shown too much faith in their sack-prone, turnover-prone offense to win the game for them with a long touchdown drive right away.
Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: Tennessee (26-23)
Largest Deficit: 7 (23-16)
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck (15-29 at 4QC, 24-33 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
If the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot win on the road in Oakland and Tennessee, where can they win this year? It was another disappointing road performance for Mike Tomlin’s crew, who become more unrecognizable by the week either through play or injuries.
Out of pure macabre, you want to see what would happen if a defensive lineman was forced to play on the offensive line, and the Steelers were one more injury away from having to do so after another rash of linemen going down.
But even with all the injuries, including the top two running backs lost during the game and two of their best defensive players (Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley) missing the game entirely, the Steelers had their chances to win this one.
Down 16-13 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers looked to running backs Baron Batch and Chris Rainey for offense, and Batch scored a 1-yard touchdown with 13:34 left. Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted by Lawrence Timmons, and Shaun Suisham made a career-long 52-yard field goal to take a 23-16 lead.
With the chance to make an impact play, the Pittsburgh defense failed several times. Keenan Lewis dropped an interception, Kendall Wright was wide open for 35 yards on a 3rd and 8, Ike Taylor was flagged for defensive holding on 3rd and 10, and finally Kenny Britt caught a 5-yard touchdown on third down to tie the game. It was yet another 80-yard touchdown drive allowed by the vaunted Pittsburgh defense in the clutch.
Like clockwork, the Steelers’ game-winning drive attempt was pushed back 10 yards to their own 11 because of a holding penalty. Ben Roethlisberger, on a night where he became the team’s all-time leader in passing yards, completed three passes before scrambling for 14 yards on a 3rd and 5.
But after a 4-yard pass and loss of a yard on a Batch run, the Steelers faced a big 3rd and 7. Roethlisberger scrambled to his right, but cut back and threw a tough pass over the middle, which was incomplete.
Roethlisberger needed to scramble for as much as he could get here, because it would set up a 54-yard field goal. Suisham had just made his career long of 52 yards, and looked very good doing it. But while Mike Tomlin saw that as a positive to go for it, the fact is he just put a bet on his kicker to make his career-best field goal twice in the same quarter. That’s a no-no. If Tomlin punts, this game likely goes to overtime with the newer, fairer rules.
Suisham was on target, but came up a few yards short. Now with 0:49 left, Hasselbeck had great field position at his own 45, which is the risk of the long attempt. Facing a 3rd and 5 at the 50, Dick LeBeau rushed five, but it was easily picked up, and James Harrison had no chance in covering Jared Cook, who went 25 yards to set up the field goal.
It was similar to the blitz in Oakland that sunk them on the last drive. The blitz is easily picked up and a receiver is running free across the middle of the field for an easy gain into field goal range.
Rob Bironas was good from 40 yards away, and for the second time this season, the Steelers lost at the gun. The defense has given up the lead in the fourth quarter in four of the five games this season, and this trend has been going on for years now.
Dick LeBeau’s retirement party cannot come any sooner. It’s time for a change, because this defense gets next to no pressure, which is part of the struggle in creating takeaways.
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Winner: Cleveland (34-24)
Largest Deficit: 1 (14-13)
Quarterback: Brandon Weeden (1-3 at 4QC, 1-3 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
On his 29th birthday, rookie Brandon Weeden led his first comeback/game-winning drive to end Cleveland’s 11-game losing streak dating back to last season.
Yes, it technically was a drive in which the Browns had the ball at the 1-yard line to start the fourth quarter, and Montario Hardesty scored with 14:56 left. But it was still a good drive for Weeden: 4-of-4 for 43 yards and a 2-yard run on 3rd and 1 in the third quarter portion of it.
Nearly just as important is that Weeden helped Cleveland close. Holding onto a 20-14 lead, Andy Dalton, who cooled down a lot in the second half, led his team on a 34-yard field goal drive to make it 20-17.
Weeden would complete all three of his passes for 40 yards on the ensuing drive, finishing with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson for a 27-17 lead with 8:00 left. Dalton was immediately picked by Sheldon Brown, who returned it for a touchdown.
Dalton would come back with a 57-yard touchdown to A.J. Green on a 3rd and 17, but it would complete the scoring in a 34-24 defeat. Cincinnati’s last two drives ended with a Dalton fumble on a sack, and a Dalton interception on a Hail Mary with 0:06 left.
The Bengals (3-3) were looking good after a three-game winning streak, but they have dropped two straight winnable games and now must beat Pittsburgh in prime time.
Cleveland is in the win column, meaning every team has at least one win after Week 6. That’s the first time that’s happened since 1990.
Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals
Winner: Buffalo (19-16 OT)
Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick (5-19 at 4QC, 7-20-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
This game was more about what Arizona did to lose than what Buffalo did to win it. It’s the Cardinals, so of course it was a close game in the fourth quarter.
After lowering the bar for defensive performances the last two weeks, Buffalo found smoother sailings against the minor inconvenience known as the Arizona offensive line.
With Kevin Kolb driving, the Cardinals self-destructed with a delay of game for Reagan Maui’a spiking the ball. This set off coach Ken Whisenhunt to a very audible “God d*****, what the f*** are you doing!?” on the sideline.
After that, Arizona had a false start and another sack allowed on Kolb (22 sacks in the last three games). Kolb would throw a pick on his next drive, but Buffalo gave it right back after Brad Smith lined up at quarterback and Patrick Peterson made the interception on the deep ball at the goal line.
Now with 3:07 left, Kolb took over. Like the reverse of what happened in Week 1 when Kolb relieved injured starter John Skelton on a game-winning drive, Kolb would be the one injured this time, and Skelton had to come off the bench with 2:01 left.
We know Skelton has that absurd record in these situations, and after two “warm-up” throws, he delivered a strike on 4th and 11 to Larry Fitzgerald for 17 yards. Here we go again.
But Skelton’s next three passes were incomplete, and instead of going for another 4th and 10, Whisenhunt decided to give 36-year-old Jay Feely (career long: 55 yards) a shot at a 61-yard field goal. The Cardinals’ run defies all logic anyway, so why not?
With 1:09 left, Feely drilled the 61-yard field goal, and the game was tied. Buffalo would run a pathetic series of plays, starting with a sack and two give-up runs. Arizona used all three timeouts, and had the ball back with 0:50 and a chance to win it.
After a defensive holding penalty, it only took one Skelton pass to Fitzgerald for 28 yards to set up the field goal. Skelton spiked the ball, and Feely could put away another improbable win with a 38-yard field goal.
Except, the field goal hit the left upright with no time left. Overtime again.
Football Lore: Just as this doink-job was happening, Robert Griffin III was burning Minnesota for a 76-yard touchdown run, and Russell Wilson hooked up with Sidney Rice on the 46-yard touchdown pass. The triple box for NFL RedZone captured this incredible moment of football.
In overtime Buffalo would punt again, but Skelton was intercepted by Jairus Byrd, who returned the ball to the 6-yard line. Hoping Chan Gailey would just send the field goal unit out to get it over with, he put his offense out there so Ryan Fitzpatrick can fall on the ball and lose a yard to center it.
Thanks, Chan. You just gave Fitzpatrick the cheapest game-winning drive of the season.
Rian Lindell had no problem making the 25-yard field goal, and Arizona failed to put away a close one. Jay Feely went from hero to goat in a hurry, and the unflappable Skelton finally showed he is only human and not a cyborg designed to only convert plays in the fourth quarter in big moments.
Maybe the most shocking part is that neither one of these teams has a losing record right now.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
Kickers were obviously crucial this week, and our two failures came down to poor game management and a missed kick at the end.
Cowboys almost repeat 2007 Buffalo finish
Oh, Dallas. You just knew the first comeback opportunity of the season for Tony Romo would bring out some fervor, though not all of it has been directed towards the polarizing quarterback this time.
With a winnable game on the road to a Baltimore team reeling on run defense – they allowed a franchise-worst 227 yards on 42 carries – and losing Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis in the game, the Cowboys let one slip away again.
Dallas ran the ball, controlled it for 40:03 time of possession, only had one giveaway, but still lost after some killer mistakes on special teams and game management.
There were some of the usual struggles with Romo trying to direct everyone on offense with seconds ticking down on the play clock (how does this keep happening every week/year?). The Cowboys had 13 penalties for 82 yards.
Still, Dallas trailed 24-20 after three quarters, and DeMarcus Ware forced a three-and-out by sacking Joe Flacco. With the ball now, Dallas stayed on the ground, though had to come out of it after an illegal shift penalty. Haloti Ngata sacked Romo on third down, and Dan Bailey kicked a 34-yard field goal.
Baltimore went on the attack with the no-huddle offense, and two big catches by Anquan Boldin put the ball in the red zone. Ray Rice scored on a 1-yard touchdown, and Baltimore only kicked the extra point for a 31-23 lead.
With 4:41 left, Romo had his chance again. The drive, which seemingly took forever, would feature four Dallas penalties, the Ray Lewis injury, and a pair of 4th-and-10 plays. But Dallas overcame it all.
Romo went to Jason Witten on both 4th-and-10 plays, and Dez Bryant also had some key catches. Bryant caught his second touchdown of the game (and season), a 4-yard pass with 0:32 left, and Dallas could tie with the conversion.
But after catching a career-best 13 of his 15 targets on the day, Bryant dropped the two-point conversion.
Not all was lost yet, as Dallas could try the onside kick, which they did in fact recover. This was similar to a Monday night game in Buffalo in 2007 when they failed on the two-point conversion, but recovered the onside kick and Nick Folk won the game with a 53-yard field goal. That was a glory-hole day for Jerry Jones.
But that was five years ago. This time, the Cowboys gained 20 yards right away on a defensive pass interference call on Baltimore. Romo threw a slant to Bryant, but it only gained one yard, and the Cowboys wasted time to huddle up. They eventually used their last timeout with six seconds left, only leaving them with the 51-yard field goal attempt.
Most teams would have been able to run another play and get closer, but Garrett’s bunch botched this finish. Everything from the play itself to the aftermath was poorly done.
Still, kicker Dan Bailey, who was 8-for-8 this season, could make it all go away with a 51-yard field goal in a season where we have seen rookie kickers and old veterans make critical kicks from longer distances.
Bailey was wide left with 0:02 left, and Baltimore held on to go to 5-1. Last season Bailey failed on two critical kicks late in the year at Arizona and against the Giants. Even though Bailey is 40-of-46 (87.0 percent) in his career, these three straight misses in the clutch can haunt a kicker.
The Cowboys are left with yet another game they let slip away, and only have themselves to blame for it. This seems to be the common theme in the NFC East for teams not named the Giants.
Rams just miss historic field goal
Holding onto a 17-6 lead, the Miami Dolphins tried to stop Sam Bradford’s bid for his third career comeback win in the fourth quarter.
Bradford converted a 4th-and-2 situation with an 8-yard pass to Brandon Gibson, then later converted 4th and goal at the MIA 1 with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Bradford just barely extended the ball out to break the plane with 8:30 remaining.
Steven Jackson made the catch on the two-point conversion, and it was a 17-14 game.
Miami converted one first down, then coach Joe Philbin showed some guts with a fake punt on 4th and 1 at his own 40. Chris Clemons converted with a 3-yard run. Reggie Bush was stopped on the third different 3rd-and-1 run of the drive.
Bradford had 1:41 and a timeout left at his own 3-yard line. After some short passes, Bradford found Gibson for gains of 22 and six yards. Steven Jackson gained no yards on another pass, but went of bounds. Bradford took a bad sack, bringing up a 4th and 7 at the MIA 48.
Rather than try to get closer, Jeff Fisher just let the clock run down, called their final timeout, and rookie sensation Greg Zuerlein would attempt a record-setting 66-yard field goal.
Now this kicker has a real cannon, but the conditions were not perfect, and he was wide left for the first two misses (distances: 52, 37) of his career in the second quarter. The longest field goal in history is 63 yards, so this was a full three yards beyond that.
This kick would also go wide left, but you can see he did have the distance.
It is not clear whether Jeff Fisher was trying to truly win the game, or just have his kicker make what would be the greatest regular season field goal in NFL history. Chances are we will see Zuerlein have more opportunities from a distance like this in the future.
The Rams are not good enough offensively for him not to get such attempts. Despite outgaining Miami 462 to 192 in yards, the Rams only scored 14 points, though that was partially due to Zuerlein’s misses.
The 270-yard advantage in a loss is tied for the 16th highest since 1940. The most recent game also involved Miami when they beat the New York Jets in 2009 despite being outgained by 274 yards.
Miami may not be flashy, but they have played solid football for five straight games now, and sit at 3-3 after their first winning streak of the Philbin/Ryan Tannehill era.
CBS 1, FOX 0
Even though the Captain would rather watch another Seth MacFarlane iteration than any of the slop CBS calls a series – always making sure they tell us how it’s the “most watched” thing ever in the process – the truth is CBS usually beats FOX in the semantics battle over close wins.
They did it again on Sunday, though both networks still had some interesting hiccups. First it was FOX, flashing this graphic during the Dallas game:
Romo has 14 game-winning drives, and the only thing that possibly stands to make any sense is they did not include the 12/3/2006 win over the Giants. As you can see it is the only game on the list to not also feature a comeback, though that should be irrelevant for the number of game-winning drives.
Later on CBS, Tom Brady was getting ready for his final drive in Seattle, and CBS quickly flashed this one:
This one is interesting, because while it says “game winning drives”, all they did was count every single game possible for both Brady (37) and Peyton Manning (48). If it was really just game-winning drives, then it would be 36 for Brady and 47 (Monday night edit: 48) for Manning.
How long until we can get a graphic that says “25 fourth quarter comebacks and 36 game-winning drives” instead of something inaccurate? Hopefully soon.
Just flashing the appropriate one would be a good start, as it is impossible to lead a game-winning drive when you trail 31-23 like Dallas did. Even Jason Garrett and Dez Bryant can understand that one.
We might actually have an interesting Thursday night game with Seattle at San Francisco. Dallas at Carolina is a battle of one quarterback who constantly is criticized in the fourth quarter and the other who actually deserves it. Ravens at Texans is big time for a 1 p.m. start. Shame on CBS for not going with it instead of over-hyped Jets/Patriots. Steelers, who might not be able to beat Alabama on the road right now, are in must-win mode at Cincinnati.
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.