By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback King

Week 12 featured a whopping 13 games with a fourth quarter comeback opportunity, which ties Week 3 as the season-high. Only the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints had comfortable wins, which didn’t jive with last week’s mention of Matthew Stafford’s 4-6 record (now 4-7) when trailing by 17+ points, or how 41.9% of Vince Young’s wins have resulted from a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. None of that came to fruition this time.
The road dominance shown by the Packers and Patriots probably changes things back to “these two teams will meet in the Super Bowl.” What didn’t change Sunday were the late-game rallies by the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, the latter coming in more record-setting, unorthodox fashion. Their quarterbacks have only started 20 games between them, but they already have four comeback wins a piece.
The surprise success of those AFC teams is matched by the sudden fall from grace by former conference elites. San Diego and Indianapolis met in the playoffs for the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and claimed the top seeds in 2009. But this year they are a combined 4-18 and continuously failing to win in the fourth quarter has been a culprit.
Before diving in, feel free to relieve yourself first. We have a lot to go over.

Drive of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Winner: Cincinnati (23-20)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (20-17)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (4 4QC, 4 GWD – table)
For all the hype Cam Newton gets, Andy Dalton is having the most effective season by a rookie quarterback this year.
After Cleveland scored late to go up 17-7 at halftime, Dalton led three straight scoring drives to eventually tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter. With the game tied, each team would go through a pair of three and out drives.
Cleveland set up for a 55-yard field goal, but Phil Dawson’s recent kicking odyssey continued and he missed the long attempt. That risk led to great field position for the Bengals with 1:51 left.
It appeared the drive wouldn’t last long with a 3rd and 8 quickly coming up, but that’s when Dalton made a big-time play by standing in against the blitz and finding A.J. Green for a tall catch and 51-yard gain down to the 3-yard line. With five games left, you can probably crown them as the best rookie QB/WR duo in NFL history.
Mike Nugent would boot the 26-yard game-winning field goal, and Cleveland’s final attempt was a quick four and out. The win moved the Bengals to 7-4, and they are very much in control for a playoff spot despite playing in the same division with Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Record-Setting Rookie

Granted, the Browns proved they aren’t the Steelers or Ravens, but it was a very efficient performance by Dalton, and one that led to rewriting some record books.
  • The 2011 Bengals have won a team record 5 games with a fourth quarter comeback
  • Andy Dalton’s 4th comeback win in the fourth quarter gives him the single-season Bengals’ record
  • Dalton ties Ben Roethlisberger and Vince Young for the most fourth quarter comebacks (4) in the regular season by a rookie (Roethlisberger has the record with 5 when including playoffs)
  • The 2011 Bengals become the 5th team in NFL history to win 3 games after trailing by 10+ points at halftime (1980 Chiefs, 1984 Patriots, 1986 Colts, 2011 Lions)
For that last one, that’s a rather random collection of teams. But the Bengals are right in there, and have been competitive in every game this season. That’s a lot like their 2010 season, except this year they are winning more than they lose, and the rookie combination of Dalton to Green has been a big factor. It says something about effort and teamwork when you get better results with unsung guys rather than Carson Palmer, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
The Bengals get another crack at the Steelers this week.

The Other Paths to Victory

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Winner: Denver (16-13 OT)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (13-10)
Quarterback: Tim Tebow (4 4QC, 4 GWD – table)
On New Year’s Eve, the Sci-Fi channel (or the abominably renamed “SyFy” channel) airs a marathon of The Twilight Zone. This year, the NFL Network should air a marathon of The Tebow Zone: nothing but the fourth quarters and overtimes in Tebow’s career.
Has there ever been another player better made for fourth quarter action? Tebow detests the early parts of games so much that he waits until the second half to complete his first pass of the game. You literally aren’t missing anything by skipping over towards the fourth quarter.
His first completion took about 26 minutes this time. With San Diego leading 10-0, this might have been the week the Tebow offense didn’t work. But with 1:27 left in the half, he once again started playing like a NFL quarterback, and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass after looking off the defense.
San Diego still led 13-10 to start the fourth quarter (what else would you expect by now?). Nick Novak, who would have a very interesting day, missed a 48-yard field goal.
Tebow rushed for 12 yards to convert a third down, but a holding penalty wiped it out and Denver was forced to punt. Too early for the winning drive, we suppose.
He would get the ball back with 5:27 left, and you knew what was coming. The Chargers did as well, forcing a 3rd and 11 right away. Tebow remained in the pocket, no different than how Tom Brady would do it, and finally threw the ball into good coverage to Eric Decker. He made the catch for a huge 39 yard gain.
Tebow found Dante Rosario, a player Chargers fans will remember as the guy that caught the game-winning touchdown on the last play in the 2008 opener against Carolina, for a 23-yard gain. With the ball at the 12, San Diego fans had to be worried.
The Chargers would stop Tebow, forcing the game-tying field goal. San Diego didn’t play aggressively on their last drive, practically settling for overtime. Philip Rivers avoided the turnovers this week, but was unproductive, finishing with 188 yards on 19/36 passing.
The game went to overtime, and each team opened with a 16-yard run, but both had to punt. Denver went three and out, and San Diego got close enough for a game-winning field goal try.
Late in the fourth quarter, Nick Novak decided to urinate on the sideline, which truthfully is not such a rare event in a NFL game. The CBS cameraman must just be a weirdo, as he decided to focus in on the act long enough to bring about embarrassment. That’s what you get with a CBS cameraman.
We prefer the pervy NBC cameramen that always get the up-close cleavage shots of cheerleaders in San Diego games. Don’t act like you don’t know what the Captain is talking about. If the Chargers are still hosting Baltimore on NBC’s Sunday Night Football on December 18, just wait for the obligatory walk down the aisle of San Diego cheerleaders with the camera pointed chest-high.
Anyways, after doing #1 on the sideline, Novak did #2 on the field as he failed on the 53-yard kick.
Just when you were thinking tie, Tebow rushed twice for 16 yards, then it was Willis McGahee ripping off a 24-yard run up the middle to set up Matt Prater for the 37-yard game-winning field goal.
Tebow finished with 22 carries for 67 yards and 14 pass attempts. Those 22 carries are the most by a quarterback since at least 1950, and possibly ever.
Another fourth quarter comeback. Another game-winning drive. Another 10-point comeback for the game. Another unorthodox offensive performance. Another Tebow miracle.
Actually, the story on Tebow is just wrong. It’s not about winning, it’s not about his religion or Tebowing. The story should be how if you cover up his flaws and keep the game close, the guy is uncanny at putting the ugliness behind him and delivering scoring drives to win the game.
Tim Tebow's Passing Splits
Situation Att. Comp. Pct. Yards YPA TD INT PR
Down 0-8 points, 4th QT/OT 38 20 52.63 310 8.16 2 0 97.5
Any other time 187 86 45.99 1196 6.40 11 4 77.8
Down 0-16 points, 4th QT/OT 75 37 49.33 588 7.84 4 0 93.6
Any other time 150 69 46.00 918 6.12 9 4 74.8
Everything’s a small sample size with Tebow, but it’s been a consistent trend in his brief career. You can play around with the numbers and take out two spikes, or consider at least 3 of these attempts were last-second Hail Mary attempts. The difference is a solid 20 point jump in passer rating when they’re down in the fourth quarter. That’s also when he’s rushed for several touchdowns.
It’s so unconventional that people just don’t know how to discuss it. Here’s what we know about having 4 comebacks in 9 career starts. In Week 2 we looked at Josh Freeman’s pace to 8 comebacks. That table has been revised and expanded for the fastest to 4 comebacks (playoff games included).
Fastest To 4 Fourth Quarter Comebacks
QB Games Started to 4th 4QC GP Age Date
Jay Schroeder 7 11 25-078 9/14/1986
Marc Wilson 8 13 24-295 12/7/1981
Tim Tebow 9 18 24-105 11/27/2011
Tommy Kramer 9 18 24-228 10/21/1979
Erik Kramer 10 16 27-046 12/22/1991
Jake Delhomme 10 15 28-303 11/9/2003
Tony Eason 10 25 25-020 10/28/1984
Andy Dalton 11 11 24-029 11/27/2011
Ben Roethlisberger 12 13 22-291 12/18/2004
Vince Young 12 14 23-220 12/24/2006
Jack Kemp 12 18 25-158 12/18/1960
Eddie LeBaron 12 21 23-319 11/22/1953
Josh Freeman 13 14 22-270 10/10/2010
Marc Bulger 15 15 26-218 11/9/2003
Tom Brady 15 17 24-169 1/19/2002
Bernie Kosar 16 18 22-314 10/5/1986
Johnny Unitas 16 21 24-201 11/24/1957
Jake Plummer 17 18 23-317 11/1/1998
Joe Ferguson 17 17 24-159 9/29/1974
Matthew Stafford 17 17 23-237 10/2/2011
Byron Leftwich 19 21 24-277 10/17/2004
David Carr 20 20 24-069 9/28/2003
Doug Williams 21 21 24-094 11/11/1979
Shaun King 21 22 23-195 12/10/2000
Daunte Culpepper 21 22 24-245 9/30/2001
Drew Bledsoe 22 23 22-272 11/13/1994
Trent Edwards 22 23 25-052 12/21/2008
Peyton Manning 23 23 23-221 10/31/1999
Troy Aikman 24 24 24-011 12/2/1990
John Elway 28 31 25-086 9/22/1985
Quite some names here. The only players to outpace Tebow in comebacks by starts are Jay Schroeder and Marc Wilson. Remember, Tebow has had some relief duty, so he has played in 18 games despite only 9 starts. That 9/18 split is the same as Tommy Kramer, the guy who replaced Fran Tarkenton in Minnesota and routinely got into crazy comebacks himself (nickname: Two Minute Tommy).
Jay Schroeder is quite an odd name to pop up here, but that’s the kind of career he had. He went 10-1 in his first 11 games of consequence for the Redskins in 1985-86.
It’s probably worth noting that Roethlisberger, Brady, Unitas, Manning, Aikman and Elway are your only HOF-caliber players listed. Record holder Dan Marino doesn’t even crack the list here.
Creating such a table is no easy task. The goal was to focus on starters and not backups that may have picked up 4 career comebacks without starting many games in their career. You’ll see Andy Dalton ties Schroeder with the fewest games played (11) to get to 4 comebacks.
Is Tebow doing something historic? Absolutely, especially when you look at how he’s doing it. Until proven otherwise, he’s probably going to keep doing it. And we’ll be here to document the journey; a journey that can only exist…in the Tebow Zone.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins
Winner: Dallas (20-19)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 6 (16-10)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (13 4QC, 14 GWD – table)
After a disappointing game between the Lions and Packers, it was good to see something more competitive immediately follow. Both teams entered with 3-game winning streaks, and this one would go down to the final play.
Tony Romo’s relatively interception-free play in recent weeks came to an end with two turnovers in the first quarter. The Dolphins took a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter, which put Romo on the national stage again for a fourth quarter comeback.
Romo completed all 7 of his pass attempts for 78 yards and a touchdown, using a variety of scrambles and deliveries to get his receivers the ball. Analyst Phil Simms called it one of the best drives he’s seen from a quarterback all season.
Miami responded with a long field goal drive to retake the lead. Dallas had a sloppy finish to their drive, and was forced to punt. Miami did not go too conservative, calling a second down pass that resulted in a sack. They went three and out, and Romo had to lead another game-winning drive.
After two completions to Jason Witten moved the ball 29 yards, Romo only had to hand the ball off to DeMarco Murray five more times for 27 yards. With Romo holding, Dan Bailey came on to kick the 28-yard game-winning field goal with no time left. Bailey has made 26 straight field goals and is 27/28 (96.4%) on the season.
It was the second time this season Romo followed up one comeback with another, giving him four comebacks in 2011. That ties the record for most by a Dallas quarterback in a season in franchise history. Roger Staubach (1979), Troy Aikman (1990), and Drew Bledsoe (2005) each had four comebacks in one season as well.
Speaking of Staubach, who doesn’t like a good comparison to stir up the masses? In terms of regular season fourth quarter comebacks, Romo (13) is now tied with Staubach. Including playoffs, Staubach (15) still leads by two, thanks to an incredible effort in San Francisco and the original “Hail Mary” (or push off, depending on who you ask) in Minnesota. That’s always going to be the difference until Romo does it in the playoffs (if he ever does).
What about the overall record? It’s not as easy to get a completely accurate read on Staubach’s track record, but we’re confident enough in the number we have to use it.
Career records for fourth quarter comeback opportunities: Staubach was 15-23 (.395); Aikman was 16-34 (.320); Romo is 13-19 (.406).
“It is what it is”, except when it isn’t apparently.

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers
Winner: Baltimore (16-6)

Type: GWD
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (6 4QC, 11 GWD – table)
If you didn’t expect a low-scoring game between these two teams in the first ever HarBowl, then you haven’t been following them this season. There was plenty of hitting going on, and Alex Smith took the worst of it with the Ravens tying a franchise record with 9 sacks.
The game was tied 6-6 to start the fourth quarter, but the Ravens had already been putting together an impressive drive. Like he did against the Steelers a few weeks ago, Joe Flacco started stringing together 3rd-and-medium conversions on a drive that would go 76 yards in 16 plays.
The first play of the fourth quarter was a 3rd and goal from the 8-yard line. Flacco, virtually untouched during the game, found second-year TE Dennis Pitta for the game-winning touchdown. It was Pitta’s first career touchdown reception. It was the fourth conversion on third down on the drive.
San Francisco was trying to join previous Super Bowl-winning 49er teams (1984, 1989) by winning their 5th straight game on the East Coast. The offense was never able to get on track. After Baltimore’s touchdown, the 49ers went three and out on two straight drives, netting 0 yards.
The Ravens would add a field goal (16-6), which all but ended the game on the spot. It was over for sure after Ted Ginn Jr. dropped a 4th-and-12 pass with 1:15 left. The win moved Baltimore back into first place in the division (8-3), while snapping the 49ers’ 8-game winning streak.

New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills
Winner: NY Jets (28-24)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (24-21)
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez (8 4QC, 10 GWD – table)
It’s interesting to see the backlash for Mark Sanchez and the Jets in an important win that all but knocked Buffalo out of it while keeping the Jets’ season alive.
Was it pretty? No, but it rarely is for the Jets. They got through the first quarter without scoring a touchdown once again. After a Sanchez interception in the second quarter, Stevie Johnson beat Darrelle Revis for a rare touchdown, and then Plaxico’d himself in celebration. Maybe the most interesting part of this was how it made Bob Costas all hot and bothered for his weekly diatribe that NBC grants him.
The game was tied at 21 to start the fourth quarter. Bills’ kicker Dave Rayner made a 53-yard field goal to take the lead. Each team would go three and out, and then the stage was set for another New York comeback.
Sanchez passed for 61 yards on the drive, including a great catch by Burress on a 3rd and 11. Two plays later Sanchez would find the reliable Santonio Holmes in the end zone for another game-winning touchdown with 1:01 left.
Fitzpatrick, playing his best game in a month, moved the ball to the Jets’ 24-yard line. His pass over the middle for Stevie Johnson likely would have been the winning touchdown, but Johnson dropped it. He also couldn’t secure another pass that likely would have been the winning touchdown. Fitzpatrick’s fourth down pass was too high and that was the ball game.
It was on 11/28/2010 that Stevie Johnson dropped a wide open touchdown pass in the end zone in overtime against the Steelers. Now it’s on 11/27/2011 that he drops more critical passes at the end of the game that probably would have won it for his team. Does this guy pray too hard on Thanksgiving or what? Just don’t blame God this time.
Seemingly every topic about this game is either related to Johnson’s antics or how “bad” the Jets were. It’s still a much-needed win, but some of the numbers justify the complaints.
Since 1960, we have had 91 quarterbacks win a game with a fourth quarter comeback and throw 4 touchdown passes in the game. Out of those games, Sanchez’s stats are rather pedestrian.
Sanchez's Comeback Stats
Stat Value Rank (out of 91)
Comp. % 48.6 87th
Passing Yards 180 91st
YPA 5.14 89th
Passer Rating 90.2 82nd
AY/A 6.14 84th
There’s one fact we know for sure: winning is still better than losing. If my quarterback wants to throw 4 touchdown passes and lead a comeback in 16 straight games, I’ll take it no matter how painful it might be at times to watch.

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Winner: Arizona (23-20)

Type: GWD
Quarterback: John Skelton (3 4QC, 3 GWD – table)
Arizona scored 17 points in the third quarter to take a 20-10 lead. Rookie Patrick Peterson made history with his record-tying fourth punt return touchdown of the season. All of his returns have been 80+ yards, which already puts him one behind the record (5).
The Rams just recently had their first comeback win in 37 months, and were trying for something a bit more difficult this time. The Rams have not had a fourth quarter comeback from a two-score deficit since Ryan Fitzpatrick’s great NFL debut on 11/27/2005 in Houston.
Josh Brown kicked a 48-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter, and then John Skelton threw an interception. However, Brown would miss the 50-yard field goal this time. A pair of three and out ensued, and then Beanie Wells made his only real mistake of the game with a fumble.
Sam Bradford completed three straight passes for 43 yards; the last being a 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd to tie the game.
Skelton converted a third down to Larry Fitzgerald, and then Wells made up for the fumble with a 53-yard scamper to set up Jay Feely for the 22-yard game-winning field goal.
St. Louis went three and out, and passed on a 4th-and-1 opportunity at their own 36 with 3:22 left. The Cardinals picked up two first downs, and that was the ball game. Wells rushed for 228 yards in the finest game of his young career.
All four of Arizona’s wins have featured a fourth quarter/overtime score.
After throwing 17 touchdown passes in his first 11 starts, Sam Bradford has thrown 7 touchdown passes in his last 14 starts (3-11 record and no game with more than one touchdown pass).

Tennessee Titans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winner: Tennessee (23-17)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 7 (17-10)
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck (14 4QC, 21 GWD – table)
It appears Josh Freeman may have to hand over that title of the league’s youngest “Captain Comeback” after another close loss.
Once 4-2, the Buccaneers have lost four straight games, and their young quarterback is regressing to the tune of a 12 TD/16 INT ratio, and just a 74.6 passer rating. After so many miracle wins early in his career, his last three comeback opportunities have come up empty. Sunday’s may have been the worst, as the chance was there in what turned out to be a sloppy game (9 combined turnovers) in wet conditions.
Tampa Bay led 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a pick six thrown by Matt Hasselbeck. The veteran rebounded to lead an 80-yard touchdown drive, which ended with an unusual looking touchdown.
It was 4th & goal at the 2-yard line. Hasselbeck rolled out to his right, then drifted all the ways back to the 15-yard line. He then very visibly pointed for a receiver to go left, before firing a strike to the middle and back of the end zone to the open Damian Williams. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen, but he made it work.
Freeman had 2:54 left and just a 20-17 deficit, but the second play of the drive ended with a bad interception. Rob Bironas added a field goal (23-17), and now Freeman had to lead an 80-yard touchdown drive in the last 1:44.
A pair of 23-yard completions to Mike Williams gave the Buccaneers much hope. A 9-yard pass on 3rd and 10 set up a tricky situation, seeing as how it appeared the receiver may have had the first down. Tampa Bay’s coaches warned Freeman that he would not be able to spike the ball, since the refs kept it at 4th and 1.
With 0:46 left and the ball at the TEN 26, it was not necessary for Freeman to be in such a hurry on the game’s critical play. He never handled the snap properly, fumbled the ball, and his quarterback sneak never had a chance. Tennessee took a knee to end it. Chris Johnson finally broke out with a 190-yard performance on the ground.
It was surprising not to see the refs blow the play dead for a measurement or review of the spot. Still, Tampa Bay had a chance and did not come through. That’s the story of their season.

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks
Winner: Washington (23-17)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 10 (17-7)
Quarterback: Rex Grossman (7 4QC, 10 GWD – table)
Not known to be any sort of rivalry, this was the 6th straight Seattle/Washington meeting (all since 2003) that came down to the fourth quarter. Seattle is 2-4, winning both playoff contests. Five of the six games have featured a game-winning drive.
As the Seahawks took their 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter, Fox flashed a graphic (uh-oh) about Seattle having won 16 straight games when leading after the third quarter. That was noted as the third best active streak in the NFL.
Using the power of deduction, the only teams ahead of them must be Atlanta (20-0 when leading after the third quarter since 2009), and of course Green Bay (17 straight wins without ever trailing in the fourth quarter). 
After Tarvaris Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown to Golden Tate for a 17-7 lead, it was looking like that streak would continue. But Rex Grossman, as he did last week in an overtime loss to Dallas, did step up this week. Roy Helu scored on a 28-yard touchdown run.
Seattle went three and out. After an intentional grounding penalty on Grossman brought up a 3rd and 19, he delivered a 50-yard bomb to Anthony Armstrong in the end zone for a touchdown. That was Armstrong’s only catch in the game. When it’s 3rd and forever like that, quarterbacks should release the sex cannon more often. Why wouldn’t you?
On the two drives, Grossman was 6/8 for 107 yards and the touchdown. It was the first comeback win of Grossman’s career in which he passed for over 300 yards (314).
Seattle had three chances to answer, but a chop block ruined their first drive before it got started, they went four and out on the second try, and then Jackson threw a game-ending interception deep in his own territory. Three drives, and Seattle had a net of -4 yards. Both teams are 4-7 now.

Comeback Failures of the Week

This week the Vikings and Colts each tie a franchise-worst, backup quarterbacks take over the AFC South battle, Caleb Hanie snags Jay Cutler one pending MVP vote, and Tyler Palko (Scarecrow) meets up with Dwayne Bowe (somewhere between the Cowardly Lion and heartless Tin Man) for a game-ending interception in Kansas City.

Colts: Waiting for Luck?

Including playoffs, the Colts have lost 12 straight games. They have lost their last 14 games when facing a fourth quarter comeback opportunity (0-7 this season). They are 0-11 for just the second time in franchise history (1986). That team started 0-13 before winning their last three games. This year, the Colts get to travel to New England and Baltimore the next two weeks. 0-16 may be inevitable.
The Panthers meanwhile have struggled all season in the fourth quarter themselves, but Cam Newton avoided turnovers this week. He rushed for his 10th touchdown of the season, putting him two behind the all-time quarterback record (Steve Grogan rushed for 12 touchdowns in 1976 for the Patriots).
Carolina did take a 24-13 lead over the Colts. Not going away quietly, Curtis Painter threw his first touchdown pass since Week 6: a great 56-yard effort by Reggie Wayne on 3rd and 9. The two-point conversion pass failed, which kept Indy under 20 points on offense for the 10th time in 11 games this year.
Their next two drives would end in Painter interceptions in Carolina territory. The second came on 2nd & goal at the 3-yard line with 0:40 left. Painter’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Sherrod Martin in the back corner of the end zone. 0-11 was clinched.
How bad is a 14 straight failed comebacks streak for the Colts? Well, it nearly doubles the previous worst streak since the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
Most Consecutive 4QC Losses - Indianapolis History
Cons. 4QC Losses Seasons Overall Record in Span
14 2009-present 12-21
8 2000-2002 13-16
7 1996-1997 0-12
7 1990-1992 4-19
7 1987-1988 15-13
7 1984-1985 3-14
The previous worst in the Peyton Manning-era was an 8-game dry spell that took place in the 2000-2002 seasons. When the Colts started 0-13 in 1986, they were only 0-4 at comebacks. And as you seen earlier, they ended up winning their final three games after trailing by 10+ points at halftime in each. At least you could argue this year’s team has been more competitive on a weekly basis. It may not be until Manning returns or (more likely) Andrew Luck’s rookie season that they break through for a comeback win, or a win of any kind.
It’s stunning to see a team go from a NFL record 7 fourth quarter comebacks in one season (2009) to the coldest comeback streak in Indianapolis history, and possibly in Colts’ history period. That’s about as stunning as a team challenging the perfect record and then two years later staring down the possibility of 0-16.

Vikings: Complete Rebuild?

Heading into the 2011 season, the Vikings needed a new head coach, a new quarterback and a new stadium. It’s as if they were just starting over as they did in 1961, their inaugural NFL season. That year they hired a rookie head coach (Norm Van Brocklin) and drafted a mobile rookie quarterback (Fran Tarkenton).
While fans should hope Leslie Frazier has a better coaching career than Van Brocklin (.398 win percentage and no playoff appearances), it’s unlikely Christian Ponder will ever live up to the lofty standards of Tarkenton.
One thing this Minnesota team has done is matched the 1961 team with a 2-9 start; the worst in franchise history through 11 games.
Once again the Vikings fell behind 17-0 to their opponent, Atlanta, at halftime. In the second half, Ponder led an 80-yard touchdown drive, followed by a muffed punt by Atlanta that led to another touchdown for the Vikings (17-14).
The Falcons went three and out, and we had a game again. However, the Vikings went three and out themselves, with Ponder’s 3rd-and-5 pass falling incomplete. Matt Ryan led a 73-yard touchdown drive to take a 24-14 lead. Mike Smith’s Falcons are 31-1 when leading after three quarters.
Minnesota still wasn’t done, as Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 104 yards for a touch- no, believe it or not he was taken down at the ATL 3. It is the longest return in NFL history that did not result in a touchdown.
Even more puzzling was Minnesota, playing without Adrian Peterson, deciding to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1 when they trailed by 10 points. They didn’t get it, and Atlanta ran out the final 4:16 on the clock.

Backups in Jacksonville

All the attention was for Matt Leinart making his first start for the Texans after the season-ending injury to Matt Schaub. By the end of the game, it was rookie T.J. Yates trying to hold down the fort, and Luke McCown replacing Blaine Gabbert for Jacksonville in an attempt at a comeback.
Such is life in the 2011 AFC South.
Houston led 20-10 at halftime after adding a field goal on Yates’ first drive after replacing Leinart (broken collarbone). They would not score in the second half. McCown entered the game with just over 7:00 left, and got a field goal on the board. Houston went three and out, and the Jaguars had one last chance, trailing 20-13.
McCown moved the ball to the Houston 40, but his 4th-and-2 pass was incomplete, ending the threat, and moving the Texans to 8-3. Jacksonville is the 12th team since 1950 to not score more than 20 points in each of the first 11 games of a season.
Houston has the running game and defense able to muster out enough wins for the division title, but it’s another big blow to a team that’s already had several impact injuries (Mario Williams, Andre Johnson). Yates’ performance in the coming weeks will determine whether or not the Texans need to make another quarterback move (Jeff Garcia?) if they hope to do anything in their first ever playoff appearance.
Assuming they still make the playoffs.

Caleb Hanie: Not a Good Pick

Another team in quarterback trouble is the Chicago Bears. Caleb Hanie made his first career start, and he struggled with three interceptions, which have been a problem in his brief career. Including playoffs, 6 of Hanie’s 70 attempts have been intercepted (8.57%).
Trailing 18-7 in the fourth quarter, Hanie did lead consecutive drives that ended in 50+ yard field goals by Robbie Gould to pull within 18-13. The Raiders extended the lead to 25-13, but Hanie found Johnny Knox for an 81-yard pass to set up a touchdown to Kellen Davis. The Raiders went three and out, and Hanie had 61 seconds to go 96 yards for the winning touchdown.
A very difficult task for anyone, but the attempt for a midfield Hail Mary was botched after Hanie tried to do a fake spike and then spiked the ball, bringing up an intentional grounding penalty that required a 10 second runoff that ended the game.
That can be some sight in Chicago next week when the Chiefs enter with what should be Kyle Orton at quarterback, Palko and Cutler on the sidelines, and Hanie with another chance at redemption.
Speaking of the Chiefs…

Somewhere Over the Rain-Bowe

When Scarecrow Tyler took the field Sunday night, mullet and all, something felt different. After knocking out the hairy Wicked Witch of the AFC North (Troy Polamalu), the Chiefs had taken a 3-0 lead. But after forcing a red zone takeaway, they turned the ball over on three straight possessions. This was big news, given the Steelers’ historic inability to create takeaways (a record-worst 6 through 10 games). Maybe the Chiefs weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Scarecrow Tyler always wanted to join the Steelers, but his lack of a brain led to many bizarre plays. The underhanded toss when going down on a sack is frowned upon and considered a mindless act. On this night, Scarecrow Tyler channeled his inner Neil O’Donnell to deliver two interceptions thrown right into the hands of the defense, almost as if he thought he was playing for the Steelers.
Regardless of all the mistakes, the Chiefs were still alive in the fourth quarter, needing to drive 70 yards in the last 4:12 for the game-winning touchdown. At one point, it looked like the young Scarecrow might pull it off, delivering another crushing defeat in the closing seconds to Dick LeBeau’s vaunted defense.
Dwayne Bowe helped his companion out with a good catch over the middle on a critical 4th-and-7 play. This moved the ball into Pittsburgh territory, and the Chiefs would reach the PIT 37 after a false start penalty.
That’s when the Scarecrow wishes he only had a brain, after delivering a high-risk rainbow pass down the field to Bowe. Making matters worse, Bowe did not even extend his arms to catch the ball. He was the heartless Tin Man and Cowardly Lion rolled up into one. The pass was intercepted, giving the Scarecrow four turnovers on the night, and Pittsburgh the win.
Scarecrow Tyler tapped his cleats three times, and woke up Monday morning to the sight of Kyle Orton trimming Tyler’s mullet to add to the start of a new neckbeard. As the Chiefs head to Chicago, Orton wants to make sure everyone recognizes him as the guy they traded for Jay Cutler.
You see, the Chiefs will be ushering in a new starting quarterback next week, which wouldn’t have been necessary if only Tyler Palko showed more football IQ (brains) the last two weeks.

No-Huddle Offense

Time’s running out, so let’s hit on a few quick ones.
1. From the college game, North Carolina State came back from a 41-14 deficit in the third quarter for a 56-41 win over Maryland. They scored six consecutive touchdowns, including five in the fourth quarter.
For a NFL comparison, only three teams have been able to erase a 27+ point deficit in the second half:
1992: Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Oilers (32 points): Everyone knows the deal. Buffalo trailed 35-3 in the third quarter before rallying behind backup quarterback Frank Reich for a 41-38 overtime victory in the AFC Wild Card round.
1960: Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills (31 points): The Broncos trailed 38-7 in the third quarter before scoring the next 31 points to force a 38-38 tie. It’s the greatest unknown comeback ever.
1980: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints (28 points): It’s the biggest regular season comeback in NFL history. Joe Montana led the 49ers back from a 35-7 halftime deficit for a 38-35 victory in overtime.
2. We recently looked at Fox’s odd choice of graphics for fourth quarter wins. On Sunday, Tarvaris Jackson’s graphic read that he has “3 game-winning drives” in his career. Short and sweet, but also missing this fourth game against the Bears. It’s all about the drive, so that one counts even if Brooks Bollinger took over for the last play of it.
3. Earlier that day, CBS showed a graphic that Ryan Fitzpatrick has 5 game-winning drives. The number should be 6. It would seem the game they are omitting is the 2009 overtime win against the Jets, the only game-winning drive of Fitzpatrick’s career that didn’t also include a comeback. Well it wasn’t a pretty game, but we can assure you a game-winning drive did take place in overtime for Buffalo.
Next week: Colts/Patriots draws fewest viewers since 1992 meeting, and the New York Giants attempt to once again end one of the longest winning streaks in NFL history (see 1933-34 Chicago Bears, 1997-98 Denver Broncos and 2007 Patriots). 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Despite being a fan of classic cinema, he has never been a fan of The Wizard of Oz. It was just too fitting to pass up this week. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.