By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
Now that’s more like it, NFL.
After a bizarre Week 10 featuring not a single fourth-quarter comeback win or game-winning drive, we had another eight games with an opportunity in Week 11, and five were successful, including three overtime games. Thankfully, there were no ties this time.
There were two teams struggling to get to 9-1, Houston and Atlanta, but they did so in very unusual ways. Matt Ryan led his fifth game-winning drive of the season, while Matt Schaub and the Texans faced just their first opportunity all year.
Nobody said it was easy.
Ask Carolina (0-6), San Diego (0-5), Miami (0-4) and Cleveland (1-6). They all failed to close again this week, and they have the four worst records in 2012 when it comes to comebacks and game-winning drives.
A few droughts were ended, as Matt Schaub had his first comeback since October 17, 2010. That ended a 0-9 streak. Josh Freeman ended his 0-7 streak in big fashion in Carolina.
Finally, presented without comment. Tony Romo’s comeback win gives him a record of 15-23 (.395) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. If that number sounds familiar, it is because that is the same record we have found for Dallas legend Roger Staubach.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 46
Game-winning drives: 54
Games with 4QC opportunity: 92/160 (57.5 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 28
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Winner: Houston (43-37 OT)
Largest Deficit: 14 (34-20)
Quarterback: Matt Schaub (8-21 at 4QC, 11-21 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The worst game on paper ends up being the most historic game of the week. That’s just how the NFL works sometimes.
But no one saw this coming. It did not matter that starter Blaine Gabbert was injured early and replaced by Chad Henne. No one still would have predicted the 80 points, the dueling 230-yard receivers, the big plays, and the overtime scoring.
The signs were there early with Jacksonville getting big plays and production in the first half, taking a 17-17 tie into the locker room. This was no pushover for Houston as was expected. After Arian Foster fumbled, Jacksonville took a 27-17 lead.
Trailing 27-20 in the fourth quarter, Houston returned a punt 71 yards down to the JAX 23. This was Houston’s first official fourth-quarter comeback opportunity of the season, but it started off poorly. Schaub threw an interception in the red zone to Paul Posluszny, who played a heck of a game.
Three plays later, Henne found Justin Blackmon for an 81-yard touchdown on 3rd and 21. At 34-20, Jacksonville was 12:33 away from the upset of the year.
Houston took their time coming down the field, only having one play net more than eight yards on the 14-play dive. Schaub threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Graham with 5:39 left. Schaub would hit 17 straight passes following that interception early in the quarter.
Jacksonville went three and out. Down to 3:52 left, Schaub led the offense on a 90-yard drive, capped off with a 5-yard touchdown to Graham with 1:34 left.
After another three and out by Jacksonville, Houston had 1:07 left to win it. Schaub hit Andre Johnson for 35 yards to the JAX 30, but they went conservative at that point instead of getting closer.
Shayne Graham made the field goal, but a false start negated the play. Of course Graham would choke badly on the 47-yard attempt as time expired. Headed to overtime.
Houston won the toss and went on a long drive, but after having first and goal, they had to settle for Graham’s 25-yard field goal. Jacksonville became the first team ever to have an overtime comeback opportunity in Week 1 in Minnesota. They failed that day, but this time Henne came through with a 15-yard gain to Blackmon on 4th and 10.
After a huge run down to the HOU 6, the Jaguars also stalled, resulting in Josh Scobee’s 33-yard field goal to tie the game 37-37 with 4:21 left.
For the first time ever, a NFL team was going to have to score twice in overtime, or else we would have another dreaded tie.
Schaub had a bad interception which looked to damage the hopes for Houston. But after quickly facing a 4th and 10 at the HOU 47, with a 1-8 record and nothing to lose, Mike Mularkey kept the offense on the field with 2:36 left. Good call.
Henne threw incomplete to Blackmon, and Houston took over in good field position. After a 5-yard pass to Kevin Walter, Schaub threw the bubble screen to Johnson, who had the blocks and speed to go 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Houston escapes with the 43-37 overtime victory by in fact becoming the first team to ever score twice in overtime.
Where to start on this one? For franchises that have not been around very long, it rewrote the franchise record books and some of the NFL record books as well.
Matt Schaub led one of the most prolific offensive performances in NFL history.
- Schaub completed 43 of 55 passes with five touchdowns. The 43 completions are tied with Rich Gannon for the second most in NFL history. Drew Bledsoe completed 45 of 70 passes against Minnesota in 1994.
- Schaub’s 78.2 completion percentage is the highest in NFL history for a game in which the quarterback attempted at least 50 passes.
- Schaub passed for 527 yards, tying Warren Moon for the second most in a game in NFL history. Norm Van Brocklin still holds the record with 554 yards.
- Schaub joins Boomer Esiason (1996), Ben Roethlisberger (2009) and Eli Manning (2012) as the only quarterbacks to ever pass for over 500 yards and lead a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive.
- Schaub is the first QB in NFL history to have two games with at least 460 yards passing and leading a fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive. He had 497 yards against Washington in 2010.
- Houston had a franchise-record 640 yards of offense. That is the 8th most by an offense since 1940.
- Houston’s offense had 39 first downs, which ties the NFL record set by the 1988 Jets (versus Dolphins) and 1990 Redskins (versus Lions). Only the Jets did not need overtime.
The big-name receivers and Chad Henne also made some waves.
- Andre Johnson (273 yards) and Justin Blackmon (236 yards) become the second pair of receivers to each have over 200 yards in a game. But in 2007, Roy Williams (204) and Kevin Curtis (221) only combined for 425 yards. Johnson and Blackmon had 509 yards.
- Blackmon had 250 yards in his first nine career games; 236 in this game.
- Chad Henne passed for 354 yards and 4 TD off the bench. Other quarterbacks to throw 4 TD off the bench in the past include Steve Young (1987 vs. Chicago), Don Strock (1981 playoffs vs. San Diego), and Fran Tarkenton (NFL debut in 1961 vs. Chicago).
- Henne becomes the first QB in NFL history to suffer a failed overtime comeback/game-winning drive that did not also include a failed fourth-quarter comeback. Let the semantics mess commence.
Schaub may still have the lousy comeback record (8-21), this was his first in over two years, but like his previous three, this was done in grand fashion.
Matt Schaub's Last 4 Fourth Quarter Comeback Wins
Schaub's 4Q/OT Drive Stats
7/10 for 85 yards, TD
W 30-27 OT
14/24 for 201 yards, TD
13/17 for 176 yards, TD
W 43-37 OT
25/30 for 298 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Totals: 78 Pts, 18 Drives, 4.33 Pts/Dr, 59/81 for 760 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 116.3 PR
It may have only been the Jaguars, but Houston’s defense was failing them, and Schaub stepped up with a historic performance to maintain that pace for the top seed in the AFC.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals
Winner: Atlanta (23-19)
Largest Deficit: 3 (19-16)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (14-12 at 4QC, 21-12 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
While Houston’s defense was a surprise, our other 9-1 team had a horrific performance from their offense. The Atlanta Falcons turned the ball over six times, Matt Ryan threw five interceptions, they were -5 in turnover differential, and still won the game.
This one had a lot to it. Arizona went up 13-0 in the first quarter thanks to 10 points off Ryan’s picks. But even with a 13-3 lead in the second quarter, Ken Whisenhunt pulled healthy starter John Skelton (2/7 for six yards), and replaced him with unproven rookie Ryan Lindley.
Though Atlanta had the six turnovers, Arizona’s lone turnover was a Lindley fumble returned for a huge touchdown. Ryan did what he does best on a drive in the final 0:32 of the half to tie the game 16-16.
A brilliant fumble recovery by Arizona stymied another Atlanta drive in the third quarter. Later, another Ryan interception set Lindley up in great field position, but the Cardinals had Jay Feely kick a 27-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 19-16 lead.
Fortunately with the Falcons, you did not expect that score to hold up. But after having to punt, Ryan came through on his second drive of the fourth quarter. He completed 4/5 passes for 64 yards, setting Michael Turner up for the 1-yard touchdown run with 6:40 left. Just like that, Atlanta led 23-19 despite all the turnover misery.
Arizona went three and out with John Abraham sacking Lindley on third down. But that’s when Ryan’s pass was tipped at the line, resulting in the fifth pick of the day and giving Lindley the ball at the ATL 32.
On 4th and 2 at the ATL 24, Lindley went to Larry Fitzgerald who made a spectacular catch, but he lost control of it after rolling over out of bounds. Atlanta kept it safe on the ground, and grinded out the one first down they needed to ice the game.
Ryan would finish 28 of 46 for 301 yards, 0 TD and 5 INT. However, with a few tipped balls, it was more like a three interception day for him, much like he already had this year against a bad Oakland defense.
But these types of performances will kill him in the MVP discussion, even though he still shook off the picks to throw for 301 yards and come through on the game-winning drive. The 16 offensive points on 15 drives are a season worst for the Falcons.
Arizona only finished with 41 net passing yards on 30 pass plays. There’s a recipe for not capitalizing on six takeaways. Just throwing it out there, but John Skelton has been awfully good at fourth-quarter wins in his career.
It just goes to show you that a lot of turnovers can still be overcome with enough of the other facets of the game going in your favor. Looking during the game at such stats, some of the numbers are startling.
- Teams who are -5 in turnover differential are 14-266-1 (.052) since 1970.
- Home teams who are -5 in turnover differential, have a winning record and are playing a team with a losing record are 8-10 (.444) since 1970.
- Teams with six turnovers are 37-328-1 (.102) since 1970.
- Teams with six turnovers who have a winning record against teams with a losing record are 21-53-1 (.287) since 1970.
- Home teams with six turnovers who have a winning record against teams with a losing record are 13-21 (.382).
Being a good team at home against a bad team obviously helps. The numbers were looking better if you had only five giveaways. In that case, the home team with the winning record was 37-26 (.587) against teams with losing records since 1970 (though only 4-8 since 2000).
No one’s going to be celebrating Matt Ryan after this one, but it was his fifth game-winning drive of the season. Ryan becomes the 14th quarterback since 1960 to lead multiple game-winning drives in a season where he threw at least three interceptions in the game. Daryle Lamonica (1969) and Brian Sipe (1979) did it in three games. Brian Griese (2008 Tampa Bay) was the last to do it. Ken Stabler did it twice in his career.
With one more game-winning drive in 2012, Ryan can join Dan Marino (1985, 1992), Peyton Manning (1999, 2008-09) and Eli Manning (2007, 2011) as the only quarterbacks to have multiple seasons with at least six game-winning drives.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Winner: Tampa Bay (27-21 OT)
Largest Deficit: 11 (21-10)
Quarterback: Josh Freeman (9-15 at 4QC, 10-15 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Early on it looked like Tampa Bay might roll to a season sweep of the Panthers, going up 10-0. But a bad pick six from Josh Freeman swung this one, and Carolina led 14-10 to start the fourth quarter.
Freeman scrambled on third down, setting up a 4th and 1 at the CAR 2. Making a good decision to go for it, the Buccaneers put the ball in the hands of rookie sensation Doug Martin. It appeared he broke the plane for a touchdown, then fumbled, but even after replay the referees went with fumble and a touchback.
Once you watch the play enough times from the different angles, you can see Martin does not lose control of the ball (a fumble) until after his forward motion is stopped. But that does not happen until he has already broken the plane with the ball, so this was a touchdown and the refs screwed it up.
Cam Newton did a lot more to try and close this week, and threw a 29-yard touchdown to Brandon LaFell for a 21-10 lead with 6:00 left.
The old Bucs would never win a game like this with their stagnant offense, but this 2012 offense is putting up points and Freeman has a history of comebacks. It just has not been a recent history, as he was 0-7 in his most recent attempts.
But he did not have Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark last season. They made three catches on the drive, and Mike Williams had a critical 10-yard grab on 4th and 5. Connor Barth kicked a 40-yard field goal with 4:03 left.
Newton picked up two first downs in the four-minute offense, including a 12-yard pass on 3rd and 11 to Louis Murphy. But on the next 3rd and 12, Newton came up a yard short (again), bringing up a 4th and 1.
Now Ron Rivera was in this position in Atlanta. Then he could have had a 4th and 1 at the ATL 45 with 1:09 left to ice the game, but took the delay of game and punted. This time he had 4th and 1 at the TB 49 with 1:09 left, and he again punted.
The one in Atlanta was justified, because Carolina only led by one point. You fail to convert, and it’s two first downs by Matt Ryan to beat you by a field goal. This time, you have the cushion of a touchdown lead, the added cushion of a two-point conversion Tampa Bay would have to convert, and never mind teams were converting 71.6 percent of their 4th-and-1 plays this season.
Why not go for this one yard to end the game right there? Instead they punt, and Freeman started at his own 20 with 1:02 left. On an 18-yard pass to Tiquan Underwood, a rough hit added on 15 more yards and stopped the clock. Martin got out of bounds after a 6-yard catch. Jackson came up with a 17-yard gain, and Freeman quickly spiked the ball.
At the CAR 24, Freeman threw a perfect pass in the back of the end zone to Jackson for the touchdown with 0:12 left. Jackson was also there for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
With 0:12 left, Newton took a knee, playing for overtime. He would not see the ball again. Technically, this would be a failed game-winning drive (not a comeback since they never trailed), though we may have to adjust the rules to eliminate these kneel-downs counting as opportunities.
Tampa Bay received, and Freeman led them right down the field. Actually Martin had five carries for 48 of the 80 yards on the drive. Freeman completed two passes for 17 yards, then in the red zone went to Clark for the 15-yard touchdown to win the game. Panthers blow another close one they should have won.
Of the 15 overtime games in 2012, this is only the second time a team took the opening drive right down the field for the game-winning touchdown (Indianapolis did it first in Tennessee).
Tampa Bay is a real sleeper team, while the Panthers continue to fall asleep with the game on the line.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns
Winner: Dallas (23-20 OT)
Largest Deficit: 10 (13-3)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (15-23 at 4QC, 16-25 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The Cleveland Browns have been a tough 2-8 team this season with a -45 scoring differential. But on Sunday, the Cowboys made them look even tougher than they really are. Tony Romo had to lead a comeback in the fourth quarter from a deficit of at least 10 points for the fourth time in his career.
Dallas slumped to a 13-0 deficit at halftime. They finally woke up in the second half, and trailed 13-3 as they were driving for the second time in the half. On the third play of the fourth quarter, Felix Jones scored a 2-yard touchdown run.
After Cleveland went three and out, Dallas converted a 4th and 1 at the CLE 44 with Romo’s pass to FB Lawrence Vickers. How’s that for a fourth-down attempt?
Romo was dinking and dunking down the field, but after a sack made it 2nd and 19, he went deep with a perfect pass to Dez Bryant in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown with 6:46 left. Dallas led 17-13.
Rookie Brandon Weeden has been for the most part terrible in these situations, and he took a sack from Anthony Spencer and fumbled the ball. But alas, with the ball at the CLE 28, Romo too fumbled on a sack.
Weeden hit four passes in a row, and the Browns had 1st and goal at the DAL 6. After Trent Richardson was held out of the end zone on three straight plays, the Browns went with the low-percentage fade pass, and it was incomplete. Bad call.
Dallas ran it three times and punted. Josh Cribbs made a nice return and picked up a few more yards for a horse collar tackle. Now at the DAL 17 with 1:10 left, Weeden immediately went for the score with the touchdown pass to Ben Watson. Cleveland led 20-17.
Perhaps playing for Jason Garrett’s job on the spot, Romo and the offense had 1:07 and a timeout left at their own 20. T.J. Ward was flagged 15 yards for a hard hit on Kevin Ogletree. Romo made a great play under pressure to a covered Miles Austin for 12 yards.
After that, a typical Cleveland disaster struck. Sheldon Brown was penalized 35 yards for pass interference, putting the ball at the CLE 14.
With a chance to win it, Romo scrambled for five yards and used his last timeout. His next pass was thrown far out of bounds, followed by a five-yard penalty for delay of game. On third down, Romo had the ball come awkwardly out of his hands for a harmless incompletion that could have dangerously been a fumble if the ball went backwards.
Dan Bailey made the 32-yard field goal with 0:02 left, and we had a third overtime game of the afternoon. Dallas received, and Romo dropped back on all eight plays of the drive. His quick slant on 3rd and 2 to Bryant was well defended and Dallas had to punt.
Cleveland went three and out after Weeden’s 3rd-and-10 pass only gained six yards. After a good return, Romo started at the CLE 48. Two catches to Austin for 17 yards, including a play in between that sort of looked like a fumble, put Dallas into field goal range. After two runs, Bailey came out, and made the 38-yard kick to end it. Dallas wins 23-20 to get to 5-5.
Romo was 35 of 50 for 313 yards and no interceptions. Romo started his career 3-0 when attempting 40+ passes in a game before hitting a 0-13 streak he only broke with this win. It is the 18th time since 1960 a quarterback had at least 50 attempts, no interceptions and led a fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive.
While not pretty, it is still an important win for Dallas as they look to possibly catch the Giants in the division. The Browns just cannot catch a break, dropping to 1-6 at comebacks this season.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Winner: Green Bay (24-20)
Largest Deficit: 6 (20-14)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (5-21 at 4QC, 8-23 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
If the Green Bay Packers are front-runners, then the Detroit Lions are procrastinators; usually trying to scramble at the end of the game to hurry up and score. They had more points this season in the fourth quarter and overtime than in the first three quarters combined.
Though Green Bay had not trailed after the first quarter of any game since their loss to the Colts in Week 5, they found themselves down at the end of each of the first three quarters in Detroit.
Mike McCarthy was 0-16 in his career when trailing a game like that, but Green Bay did not trail at the end of the fourth quarter this time, as the sixth fourth-quarter comeback win for the Packers since 2008 marks the third time they have done it against the Lions.
The last time Green Bay won after trailing through each of the first three quarters was December 11, 2005. Who was the opponent? You got it. Detroit again. Green Bay is 3-30 since their 2002 playoff loss against Atlanta when trailing after each of the first three quarters, and all three wins have come against the Detroit Lions.
Matthew Stafford sure helped with a shoddy, three-turnover performance, including a pick six in the third quarter. But Stafford did bounce back with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, and Detroit led 17-14 to start the fourth quarter.
The Packers looked to actually consider a 57-yard field goal attempt for troubled kicker Mason Crosby, but a false start ended that decision and the Packers punted. Detroit went three and out after Stafford was sacked on third down. The punt gave Green Bay great field position at the DET 44.
But after driving to the 20, Rodgers was wide on a pass and the Packers settled for the 38-yard field goal. The attempt, that is. Crosby was wide left, and he has a growing history of coming up small for the Packers.
Stafford was looking to put the game away with a touchdown after big completions for 27 and 24 yards, but conservative plays set up a 3rd and goal at the GB 9. Stafford threw for Titus Young in the end zone, but there was no flag for the contact. Detroit blew a great opportunity at a big win, and had to settle for Jason Hanson’s 27-yard field goal.
Reminded of how the Manning brothers always say they would rather be down and needing a touchdown to win instead of being down by three points, because teams get conservative when the field goal is a factor.
No field goal being an option was actually a great thing for the Packers given Crosby’s struggles. With 4:19 left, it only took three plays for a big gain to Jermichael Finley for 40 yards thanks to good receiver blocking and bad tackling by Detroit.
Three plays later, Randall Cobb was double covered in the end zone, adjusted well to the ball, while defender Jacob Lacey never did, and Cobb had the 22-yard touchdown with 1:55 left. Crosby actually made the extra point to take the lead, 21-20. This was Rodgers’ second game-winning touchdown pass of 2012 after having two in his career (2005-2011).
We have seen this before. At this point you expect Stafford to easily drive down the field for the game-winning field goal with no time left, but he was not on his game in a must-have drive.
In fact, it was one of the worst comeback attempts of his career. Starting at his own 25 with 1:48 left, his first pass hit at the feet of Tony Scheffler. After a false start, it was another low pass. The next pass was nearly intercepted by Casey Hayward on the sideline.
On 4th and 15, Stafford rolled to his right, threw a deep ball to Scheffler, but he was covered well and it was incomplete. What a dud of a drive. Green Bay handed off three times and kicked a field goal, which was surprisingly good.
Now down 24-20 with 0:15 left at his own 37, Stafford needed a miracle. At least the field position was decent after Green Bay’s dumb decision to do a squib kick.
After two incompletions, Calvin Johnson caught a pass, did a lateral at the GB 30 right into the hands of the Packers to end it.
Following two straight failed comebacks, the Lions sit at 4-6 and can kiss their hopes of a playoff repeat good bye. Green Bay has won five straight and technically lead the NFC North.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
Pittsburgh predictably failed in the clutch once again without Ben Roethlisberger when they faced the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan Tannehill failed to impress in his prime time debut in Buffalo. Philip Rivers picked up a “cheap loss” in an impossible situation this week, but the Captain still enjoyed the final snap anyway.
Laboring Leftwich should have been pulled
Steelers vs. Ravens follows a familiar script, even when Ben Roethlisberger is missing from the big AFC North showdown.
The game is ugly, low scoring, close, but in the end, the Steelers fail to make the big plays late, and Baltimore comes away with a win. That happened again for the fifth straight time in which these teams have met with the Steelers missing Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh looked to rewrite things early when Byron Leftwich threw a deep ball for a cheap 42 yards on pass interference to start the game, then had an incredible, improbable scramble for a 31-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead.
But brittle Byron blew his balance at the end of the play, and ended up fracturing his ribs. He never recovered physically, and was grimacing in pain all night, which only got worse as he took several big shots.
Coach Mike Tomlin should be criticized for not turning to Charlie Batch in what was a very winnable game. The Baltimore offense did not even score a touchdown, only getting six points as Joe Flacco had seven failed completions in the first half alone.
The play that decided the game was Jacoby Jones’ 63-yard punt return for a touchdown. The other big play was Mike Wallace fumbling, giving the Ravens a short field for three points.
That really was it in this one. The Steelers played very well on defense, but unlike Baltimore, they failed to make the big takeaway, which is an area they have struggled for a long time now.
It was 13-10 Baltimore in the fourth quarter, and when the Steelers crossed midfield, the drive stalled after Leftwich was exposed for a big hit on a sack by Haloti Ngata on 3rd and 9.
Leftwich has not led a fourth quarter comeback since November 6, 2005.
After the Ravens went three and out, another drive into Baltimore territory ended with a sack on third down. Leftwich’s pain was very evident at this point, but no quarterback change would come.
Trying to run out the clock, the Ravens faced a 3rd and 7. Pittsburgh called their final timeout at the 2:04 mark. While some have criticized this call, it was not that bad of a decision, as Tomlin had no idea his defense would jump offsides on the play, giving the Ravens the two-minute warning. Baltimore still tried a pass, but Flacco took the sack, and Baltimore ran the clock down to 1:12 before punting.
Blame the players for the stupid penalty.
Leftwich had 1:05 left at his own 16. Rashard Mendenhall took a short pass, but instead of getting out of bounds, stays in and wastes a lot of time to gain 12 yards. On second down, Leftwich threw a perfect pass to Jerricho Cotchery down the right sideline, but Bernard Pollard’s huge (legal) hit knocked the ball free, and Cotchery was hurt.
After fumbling the snap, Leftwich recovered, rolled to his right, and launched a bomb for a wide-open David Gilreath, but the pass was woefully short. Had Leftwich been healthy, this potentially could have won the game.
On 4th and 10, Leftwich threw the short pass to Wallace, who started the chain of laterals which just ended in another turnover. Pittsburgh had three giveaways to none for the Ravens.
Not sure how Roethlisberger keeps conveniently missing the Baltimore games for the Ravens’ sake, but this was the fifth time it happened, and Pittsburgh always loses. They will likely lose again in two weeks when the teams meet again and Roethlisberger still recovering from his rib and shoulder injuries.
But the AFC North was up for grabs this night, and Tomlin stuck with a quarterback who injured himself on the first drive of the game. Remember that one.
Miami’s offense is who we thought they were
Not long ago the Miami Dolphins were 4-3 and perhaps in shape for a Wild Card spot. But in the last 10 quarters against three very bad defenses (Indianapolis, Tennessee, Buffalo), the Miami offense has scored just 13 points. Now at 4-6, it looks like another missed postseason is on the way for the Dolphins.
The last two weeks have been especially crushing with just 10 points of offense against two horrific defenses like Tennessee and Buffalo. Rookie Ryan Tannehill has thrown one touchdown to five interceptions in those games.
For a while on Thursday, it did not look like the Miami offense would even score. Both teams got on the board with special teams returns. But Buffalo continued to kick field goals, and took a 19-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
Miami’s offense finally came to life with Tannehill converting a 3rd and 2 to Davone Bess, and then picking up 30 yards on a pass interference penalty. On 3rd and goal from the BUF 2, Tannehill found Bess in the end zone, and after a challenge, the officials correctly gave him the touchdown. Miami trailed 19-14.
Buffalo punted after two first downs. With 4:42 left, Tannehill had to start the drive from his own 1-yard line after a perfect punt by Shawn Powell. Moving rather slowly down the field, at the two-minute warning Tannehill’s deep ball was intercepted on an amazing catch by Jairus Byrd.
C.J. Spiller ran the ball three times, but could not convert on 3rd and 1, and Buffalo punted. Tannehill had 1:24 left at his own 16, and no timeouts.
After two nice completions for gains of 18 and 19, Tannehill had Brian Hartline on the sideline for a pass to the BUF 30. But just when you thought they might pull this off, Hartline was flagged for a weak call of offensive pass interference. Now with 1st and 20 at the MIA 43, Tannehill forced a pass over the middle, and it was intercepted by Bryan Scott to seal the game.
The NFL Network showed a great stat afterwards, noting the Dolphins have lost their last 48 games when trailing by 7+ points in the fourth quarter.
Since 2006, the Dolphins are 6-34 (.150) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. They are 9-36 (.200) overall at comeback/game-winning drive opportunities.
Tannehill is 0-4 at comeback opportunities, and is the only rookie (Week 1) starter to not lead one yet. His last two opportunities (this and in Indianapolis) have not been impressive at all. There has been nothing impressive about the Miami offense lately.
Philip Rivers prematurely celebrates another close defeat
We have mentioned in the past how you can get a cheap loss on your clutch record by actually playing well, but forcing yourself into an impossible situation late in the game.
That is kind of what happened in Week 11 with San Diego this time; though it is hard to call what Philip Rivers did “playing well.” He had two interceptions and three fumbles (lost one) while leading the offense to 14 points.
Looking for revenge against a Denver team who ruined San Diego’s season in Week 6, the Chargers were basically only in the game because of Denver’s early mistakes: a pick six off a tipped ball and a very rare safety of Peyton Manning on a sack in the end zone.
Rivers was just 9 of 17 for 60 yards and an interception in the first half. He had little help as the running game had 11 carries for 8 yards.
Denver took a 27-16 lead early in the fourth quarter. After a 38-yard pass to Malcom Floyd, Rivers missed his next two throws. San Diego failed to snap the ball in time, setting up a 4th and 14 at the DEN 46. Rivers forced one over the middle, and Denver did a bad job of intercepting the pass considering it was fourth down.
Denver added a field goal thanks to Manning’s big-time throw for 30 yards to Jacob Tamme on 3rd and 18. Manning (25 of 42 for 270 yards, 3 TD, INT) had his record streak of six consecutive games over 70 percent completions (min. 20 attempts) snapped, but still passed Dan Marino in touchdown passes (423) and tied John Elway in regular season wins (148).
Down 30-16 with 4:14 left, Rivers led an 80-yard touchdown drive. His 4th-and-1 pass to Danario Alexander was good for a 21-yard touchdown, even though it looked like the ball came loose on the ground. But who knows what a catch is these days? The Calvin Johnson rule stayed away, and the touchdown was good, keeping the game alive.
Denver recovered the onside kick, but San Diego had two timeouts, so they were able to get the ball back after three runs by Ronnie Hillman.
Rivers had just 0:23 at his own 13, down 30-23. This is the impossible situation we talked about. In the 15 previous failed attempts Rivers has had since 2010, he always had at least 60 seconds left for at least one drive to try and come back or win the game.
After just a 4-yard pass, Rivers was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was easy to predict actually. Elvis Dumervil finished him off.
Though even with nine seconds on the clock, Rivers calmly stood up, ball in hand, threw it back to the ref, and started walking off the field, congratulating Denver players in the process. It was a very bizarre ending that you normally do not see in a one-score game. While getting another play off was likely hopeless, the nonchalant attitude at which Rivers threw in the towel could not go over well with San Diego fans.
Think Rivers is still happy Manning is in the AFC West? With the first sweep of San Diego by Denver since 2005, the AFC West will belong to Denver this season.
It is Thanksgiving, so here is a look back at last year’s special Captain Comeback on the close Thanksgiving games in NFL history. Last season Dallas and Baltimore both had game-winning drives.
Not sure we can get another close game between the Jets and Patriots like in Week 7, but we will see. Bills at Colts might be more interesting than it sounds on paper. Falcons at Buccaneers sounds like a great fourth quarter in the making. The competitive Browns will likely push the Charlie Batch-led Steelers. The 49ers and Saints had one of the most classic finishes in NFL history in the playoffs last year, and even the 2010 regular season meeting wasn’t bad. Packers at Giants closes out what could be a dramatic Sunday.
Good stuff coming as the playoff races heat up. Now is not the time to choke games away in these tight battles for the 12 spots. But that’s why most of the teams that have already done so are no longer in the playoff picture.
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 email@example.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.