By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
The holiday week brought some strange results, and that goes beyond just pigeons on the field in Cleveland or sprinklers going off in Miami.
We have our “Effort Play of the Year” courtesy of Ray Rice in San Diego. Young quarterbacks, you do not want to repeat what Joe Flacco did there. It was one in a million, and figures it came against Norv Turner and San Diego.
Since 2000, teams are 6/35 (17.1 percent) when it is 4th and 20 or longer, in the fourth quarter or overtime, and the game is either tied or they are trailing by 1-8 points.
Also, for the first time in seven years, all three road teams won on Thanksgiving.
It started with the Houston Texans registering fourth-quarter comebacks in consecutive games for the first time in team history, and it took nearly 10 quarters of play to do it.
But if you were expecting some great games in prime time, you were once again disappointed. The two biggest routs of the week took place in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
On Thanksgiving, the Patriots took care of the Jets before halftime, including what perhaps was the funniest play in NFL history. The Packers shockingly were dismantled by the Giants on Sunday; never trailing by fewer than 28 points in the fourth quarter.
But we will have more on the Packers’ epic streak of competitiveness coming to an end later this week. Onto the teams who did keep it close as we had nine games with a comeback opportunity in Week 12.
Comeback droughts ended for Carolina and also in Miami, which came fittingly after the sprinklers soaked the field in the third quarter. Meanwhile the late-game wins continued for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in Tampa Bay.
Ryan is now 15-12 (.556) at fourth quarter comebacks, and 22-12 (.647) overall at fourth quarter/overtime wins. Those are both the best records in NFL history (min. 25 games).
Fourth quarter comebacks: 51
Game-winning drives: 59
Games with 4QC opportunity: 101/176 (57.4 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 30
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
Winner: Baltimore (16-13 OT)
Largest Deficit: 10 (13-3)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (9-17 at 4QC, 14-18 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Fourth and 29. Dump Mary.
It is a play any defense should be capable of stopping. It should be even easier to stop when the quarterback dumps a pass barely a yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
Yet somehow, the San Diego Chargers blew the tackle, and Ray Rice gave us one of the most incredible plays in NFL history. It was a play that essentially saved the game for Baltimore, and officially ended San Diego’s season, and likely Norv Turner’s career (come on already).
The Captain does not want to hear about your improbable math. The Chargers blew it.
San Diego had a great chance to go to 5-6, and could then beat two teams they are directly competing with – Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – head-to-head the next two weeks to gain leverage in the AFC Wild Card battle. At 7-6, all they have to finish is Carolina, at the Jets, and Oakland. Not too bad at all. And we know the Chargers like to finish strong, or supposedly do so in December.
How do you recover from this? It seemed as if San Diego would never recover from the 35-0 implosion suffered against Denver in Week 6, but this was the opportunity to do so, and they failed.
Hard to blame Philip Rivers much this week. He actually did not have a turnover. Shockingly, this entire game did not feature a single turnover. That’s only the seventh time this season it happened. We did have 11 sacks.
The narrative on this one was simple. Joe Flacco is usually terrible on the road. True to form, Flacco was 8 of 16 for 59 yards at halftime. Baltimore trailed 10-0. They would get a field goal to start the second half, but a very long drive by San Diego, which protected Rivers with few drop backs, led to a field goal.
At this point, Baltimore trailed 13-3 with just 7:51 left. Game over? Not quite.
Flacco went into the shotgun and started dealing. He was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to Dennis Pitta with 4:19 left. San Diego went three and out after three unsuccessful passes by Rivers.
With 3:09 left, Flacco started moving the offense again, but holding forced a 1st and 20. Flacco was nearly intercepted by Eric Weddle, then well overthrew Pitta. After taking a sack, it was 4th and 29 at the BAL 37 at the two-minute warning.
Even with the two timeouts, you still have to go for it in this situation, and the Ravens did. Expecting another bomb, Flacco just checks down to Rice at about the BAL 38, which should get any Baltimore fan already cursing at the screen.
But alas, once Rice gets to the 50, three Chargers take bad angles and are beaten on the play.
Anquan Boldin then delivered a brutal block, and Rice somehow dives forward right at the mark for the first down. Unbelievable.
In live action it looked like Rice got it by inches at best, but the initial spot was generous. It was the longest review of a spot in NFL history, and they did move the spot back, but Rice still had enough. The play was so good, you almost just give it to him on principle here.
The long review also reminded us Dan Fouts should not be calling San Diego games anymore for CBS. Brutal stuff throughout.
The Ravens seemed content for overtime, and gained 14 more yards before Justin Tucker kicked the 38-yard field goal with no time left. San Diego would win the coin toss and receive.
Rivers dropped back on six of the eight plays on the first overtime drive, but came up empty on a 3rd-and-4 slant at the 50. San Diego punted.
Sudden death in play, Flacco had a big conversion on 3rd and 10 to Boldin for 23 yards, but only hit Pitta for two yards on the next 3rd and 10. Baltimore also punted.
Rivers went for another slant on 3rd and 3, but Baltimore was once again waiting on the pass to defend it away. San Diego went three and out.
Torrey Smith drew 11 yards for pass interference on Quentin Jammer. The big play of overtime came on 3rd and 10 at the SD 47. Flacco went deep to Smith, who made the great catch for 31 yards. That put the ball at the SD 16, and Baltimore just had Flacco kneel down and center three times to burn clock.
Tucker came on and drilled the 38-yard field goal with 1:07 left to end it. Baltimore escapes 16-13.
This is the third fourth-quarter comeback win in 2012 for Flacco, which sets a career high for a season. He turned that awful first half around into a final line of 30/51 for 355 yards and a touchdown.
But this game will always be remembered for Ray Rice’s signature play on 4th and 29, and who knows what ramifications that one will have in the AFC.
The 4th and 29 was the longest fourth-down conversion since Buffalo’s Rob Johnson converted 4th and 34 with a 40-yard touchdown to Peerless Price against the Colts on 9/23/2001.
But that was in garbage time. Buffalo trailed 42-20 with 1:34 left in the game. This was for all the marbles.
The last time a team converted something this long in the clutch was also a famed Baltimore play from 2003. It was Anthony Wright’s 44-yard completion to Frank Sanders on 4th and 28 in the Ravens’ amazing comeback over Seattle. But even that only led to making it a 3-point game.
This was more like Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell on 4th and 26 in the 2003 playoffs against Green Bay. This was more like Josh McCown to Nate Poole for 28 yards on 4th and 25 to knock Minnesota out of the playoffs in 2003.
Damn, what was it about that 2003 season and excitement? More facts on these plays:
- Since 2000, teams are 6/35 (17.1 percent) when it is 4th and 20 or longer, in the fourth quarter or overtime, and the game is either tied or they are trailing by 1-8 points.
- Quarterbacks are 10/35 for 198 yards, TD, 7 INT, 20.6 passer rating, and only six first downs.
Here are the only six successes (“TL” is time left at start of play):
NFL 4th-and-20+ Clutch Conversions (Since 2000)
4th and 21
4th and 20
W 20-17 OT
4th and 25
4th and 26
W 20-17 OT
4th and 20
4th and 29
W 16-13 OT
Always love to work a Chad Hutchinson reference in there.
But this Ray Rice play was most unique, because when do you ever see a player catch such a short pass on 4th and forever, and convert it almost exclusively by yards after catch? Simply incredible.
Do you like round numbers? This game was the 30th time in 2012 a team rallied from a deficit of at least 10 points for a win. It was the 50th fourth-quarter comeback of the season, and it was the 100th game with a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity of 2012 as well.
It was also the 120th regular season loss of Norv Turner’s career, but few have ever been this painful to endure. It is unlikely Turner will have to continue suffering humiliating defeats after this season is over.
The 4th and 29 should be the final nail in the coffin.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winner: Atlanta (24-23)
Largest Deficit: 6 (23-17)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (15-12 at 4QC, 22-12 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
With a home game against the Falcons, this was a huge opportunity for Tampa Bay (6-4) to make a statement in the NFC.
But as we have seen so often in recent years, the Falcons just close better than the Buccaneers, which makes moving past them or joining them in the playoffs so difficult.
This was one of the closest games of the week, with no team leading by more than six points at any time. After Tampa Bay had taken a 13-10 lead in the third quarter, it only took one play for Matt Ryan to go deep for Julio Jones, completing an 80-yard touchdown.
Atlanta led 17-13, but Josh Freeman had Tampa Bay driving to start the fourth quarter. In fact, they were sitting at the 1-yard line with 15:00 to play. Doug Martin ran in for the touchdown, and Tampa Bay was back up 20-17.
Matt Ryan converted a 3rd and 7 to Tony Gonzalez, but three plays later had a rare mistake with a sack/fumble after he was oblivious to the coming pressure. Tampa Bay failed to capitalize, not gaining a first down, but Connor Barth did add the 48-yard field goal for a 23-17 lead.
Ryan started with a simple dump off to Jacquizz Rodgers, who made a man miss and went 32 yards. Ryan completed his next three passes for 27 more yards.
On 2nd and goal at the TB 5, Ryan used the sprint-left option, but Jones failed to complete the catch. Tampa Bay was penalized for defensive holding on third down. Now with a first down at the TB 3, Michael Turner got the carry and scored a 3-yard touchdown with 7:55 left. Atlanta led 24-23.
Freeman would keep his drive alive with a 22-yard pass to Dallas Clark on 3rd and 9. But on 3rd and 7, his pass was high and nearly intercepted by Asante Samuel. With 3:32 and all their timeouts left, Tampa Bay decided to kick the 56-yard field goal.
Barth was short on the difficult attempt, and Atlanta could close them out in the four-minute offense. Rodgers started the drive with a 12-yard run. Ryan converted to Roddy White for eight yards on 3rd and 5.
After two runs by Turner, who had another awful day with 17 yards on 13 carries, Ryan went to Gonzalez for a 7-yard gain on 3rd and 18. Atlanta ran the clock down to 0:13, but Matt Bryant was wide right on his 48-yard field goal.
Freeman had 0:08 left at his own 38. Clark gained nine yards before getting out of bounds with 0:03 left. There was only time for a Hail Mary, and Freeman got it into the crowd in the end zone. It took some time to sort out, but the pass was finally ruled incomplete.
Freeman falls to 1-6 against the Falcons, and is 0-5 in his comeback opportunities against them. A big reason for that is Ryan, who was 26 of 32 passing this week, and he led his sixth game-winning drive in 2012.
It set a few milestones for Ryan.
- Ryan joins Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with multiple seasons of at least six game-winning drives.
- Ryan ties Ben Roethlisberger for the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (15) in a player’s first five seasons.
- Ryan did it at age 27 years, 192 days in his 76th game. Roethlisberger’s 15th was in Super Bowl XLIII, when he was age 26 years, 336 days in his 82nd game.
If he can close his fifth season out with a Super Bowl like Roethlisberger, then Ryan will get all the respect for his fourth-quarter accolades.
Houston Texans at Detroit Lions
Winner: Houston (34-31 OT)
Largest Deficit: 7 (31-24)
Quarterback: Matt Schaub (9-21 at 4QC, 12-21 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
May fate have it that the Lions were playing the team with the best record in football for the fourth time in the last five Thanksgiving games. No wonder they have not won a game on the holiday since 2003.
They came their closest this year, even taking a 24-14 lead in the third quarter on a Houston defense that has now been very suspect against the pass in three of their last six games.
But that’s when Walt Coleman once again introduced us to one of the worst obscure rules in NFL history. First it was the Tuck Rule in 2001, and now we have the ludicrous Challenge Rule.
Justin Forsett was clearly down on a run, but got back up and went 81 yards for a touchdown. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag even though all scoring plays are reviewed, and most fans probably are aware that is a 15-yard flag. That part is fine.
Little did most of us know that by throwing the challenge flag, the coach also forfeits the right to have the booth review it, so the rule is a double whammy against the coach and should be changed as soon as possible. The 15 yards are actually enforced on the kickoff, so it could even be viewed as a triple-whammy. This is ridiculous to not get the play right.
People still have the nerve to talk about replacement referees making bad calls? How do you blow this one so bad? Good thing a national audience was able to see it.
Adding to the fervor was Coleman’s Führer-like explanation that the play was not going to be reviewed.
At this point it seemed like a given Detroit would fold, and sure enough Houston tied the game on their next possession. But the Lions had a whole quarter left to win, and we have seen them come up short the last two games in the final quarter.
Driving to start the fourth quarter, Joique Bell went 23 yards right up the middle for a touchdown with 13:31 left. Detroit led 31-24.
The next four series included Houston going three and out twice, and Matthew Stafford taking really bad sacks to knock the Lions out of field goal range as J.J. Watt had a huge day with three sacks (some game-savers).
With 7:38 left, Houston started at their own 3. They put together an excellent 15-play drive, which included conversions from Schaub to Andre Johnson on 3rd and 8, 4th and 7, and 3rd and 10. Arian Foster scored the 1-yard run with 1:55 left to tie the game.
Stafford started his winning-drive opportunity with an 18-yard pass to Calvin Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew could not hold onto a big pass that would have put them in field goal range. Stafford was good on third down in the game, and converted 3rd and 10 with a 13-yard pass to Tony Scheffler.
But at the HOU 45, Stafford threw three incompletions. His side-arm delivery under pressure was not working, and on third down, the deep ball to Johnson was nearly intercepted. Detroit punted and Houston took a knee for overtime.
Detroit won the toss and received. Stafford went to rookie Ryan Broyles with a 40-yard gain. But two plays later Pettigrew fumbled at the HOU 32. The Texans drove to the DET 27, but a false start and very conservative running plays forced Shayne Graham into a 51-yard field goal, which he unsurprisingly missed.
Detroit moved it to the HOU 45 – they were living in this territory late in the game – but failed to close once again. Detroit had to punt. Schaub nearly had a pick six backed up in his own end, and then did throw an interception to Chris Houston. That is three interceptions in the clutch for Schaub the last two games.
After a 14-yard pass from Stafford to Scheffler on 3rd and 11 put the ball at the HOU 28, it looked like the ballgame. But just like Gary Kubiak, Schwartz did his team one worse and ran the ball twice before trying to kick a 47-yard field goal on 3rd and 11.
That’s right. A long field goal on third down, because god forbid one of those bad snaps or holds that happen on well less than 1.0 percent of kicks should happen, which likely would take you out of field goal range anyway.
At this point you basically rooted for the tie, because neither coach was playing to win. Jason Hanson missed, hitting the right upright. Could we have a tie with 4:32 left.
No. Schaub had completions of 15 and 23 yards, then with the ball at the DET 25, another pass (smart) for 11 yards to give Graham an easy 32-yard field goal. He made it. Game over. Houston wins 34-31 after playing nearly 10 quarters of football from Sunday to Thursday.
Houston is the 10th team to win two consecutive games in overtime, and the first to ever do it with a Thursday game. They are the sixth team that needed to rally back in the fourth quarter in both games as well.
Team with consecutive overtime wins in NFL history
Type of Win
10 & 11
at WAS, ATL
4QC (1), GWD (2)
12 & 13
4QC (1), GWD (2)
5 & 6
NYG, at MIA
4QC (2), GWD (2)
11 & 12
at SD, HOU
4QC (1), GWD (2)
2 & 3
4QC (2), GWD (1)
10 & 11
DAL, at PIT
4QC (2), GWD (2)
6 & 7
4QC (2), GWD (2)
14 & 15
4QC (2), GWD (2)
8 & 9
at DET, at CLE
4QC (1), GWD (2)
10 & 11
JAX, at DET
4QC (2), GWD (2)
Only the 2010 Jets did it on the road in both games. No one had a more improbable pair of wins than the 2001 Bears (Mike Brown games).
Stafford attempted 61 passes. Tony Romo would attempt 62 in the second Thanksgiving game, marking this the second day (and week) in NFL history where multiple quarterbacks attempted 60+ passes. Jon Kitna (68) and Chris Weinke (63) were the first unholy pair to do it on December 30, 2001.
No surprise quarterbacks with 60+ attempts are 7-39 (.152). However, the Lions probably would have won this game if Stafford had another pass or two to get Hanson closer.
Shame on Schwartz for screwing up by throwing his challenge flag, shame on the NFL for sneaking in a bad rule, and shame on Schwartz again for being so conservative in overtime.
Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks
Winner: Miami (24-21)
Largest Deficit: 7 (21-14)
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (1-4 at 4QC, 1-4 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The Seahawks have struggled to close on the road, while Miami has struggled to close for many years now.
Something had to give in this one, which was scoreless until Miami broke through with a 94-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Seattle would answer before halftime, and took a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson had 16 consecutive completions, but his 3rd-and-4 pass was just off the fingertips of Doug Baldwin.
Just a week ago we looked at the graphic from NFL Network noting how the Dolphins have lost 48 straight games when trailing by 7+ points in the fourth quarter. Here was their chance to get that first win since 12/18/2005.
Ryan Tannehill got things started with a 19-yard pass to Charles Clay. The Seahawks have been praised for their pass defense, but some piss-poor defense resulted in Davone Bess being completely wide open for a 39-yard gain.
Four plays later Tannehill was intercepted in the end zone, but a roughing the passer penalty on Earl Thomas wiped that out. Daniel Thomas finished the 82-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Seattle quickly regained the lead after Leon Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, badly faking out kicker Dan Carpenter in the process. Seattle led 21-14 with 7:54 left.
Reggie Bush came back with a 22-yard run. On 3rd and 7, Tannehill checked down to Thomas, who made a good run for 18 yards. After an 8-yard run by Bush, Tannehill went deep to an open Clay for the 29-yard touchdown with 5:13 left.
Now with a chance to close on the road, Wilson threw low of Marshawn Lynch. On 3rd and 5 Wilson was on target, checking down to Robert Turbin for nine yards. Three plays later on 3rd and 4, Wilson pump faked and Anthony McCoy was wide open for a 20-yard gain.
With the ball at the MIA 40, Turbin lost a yard on the ground. On 2nd and 11, Seattle went screen, and Lynch lost six yards on a pass that would have been better if it was thrown into the ground or dropped on purpose.
Needing about 10 yards for a realistic field goal, Wilson was sacked and the Seahawks had to punt.
Tannehill could now lead his first game-winning drive after going 0-4 to start his career in this situation. He had 1:32 and a timeout left, starting at his own 10.
Bess started the drive with a catch over the middle for 19 yards, followed by a 15-yard scramble from Tannehill. Miami tried to spike it, but was penalized for an illegal motion. Even though they trailed and the clock was running, the refs never even mentioned a 10-second runoff for some reason.
Tannehill went back to Bess for a big 25-yard catch down the middle. Now the spike came, and Tannehill went to Clay for seven yards; getting out of bounds.
Thomas ran for four yards, and Miami called timeout with four seconds left. Dan Carpenter made the 43-yard field goal to win the game as time expired, and Miami had a 24-21 win. Finally a comeback win for Tannehill, and finally one for the Dolphins after trailing by seven points.
Wilson may have had the prettier stats, but Tannehill’s big fourth quarter with 17 points covering 227 yards gave Miami the edge.
Wilson is now 0-5 on the road at game-winning drive opportunities (2-0 at home), and this loss could be devastating for Seattle’s playoff hopes, especially in light of possible four-game suspensions for their starting cornerbacks.
Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles
Winner: Carolina (30-22)
Largest Deficit: 1 (22-21)
Quarterback: Cam Newton (2-13 at 4QC, 2-14 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
How did the third worst Monday Night Football game ever based on team records coming in turn out?
Surprisingly, not that bad, at least relative to the prime time stinkers we have had in recent weeks. Sure, the teams are headed nowhere and both head coaches may be fired, but they played a fairly competitive game.
Early on it was all Carolina with two ridiculous blown coverage’s by the Eagles for touchdowns, taking a 14-3 lead. But Philadelphia came back behind the rushing of rookie Bryce Brown, who had 19 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
But true to Philadelphia form, Brown had two big fumbles in the third quarter.
The second set up Cam Newton with a 22-21 deficit and the ball at the PHI 45 as the third quarter was drawing to a close. Not a bad situation, right?
Newton ran twice, but threw incomplete on third down to Steve Smith, forcing new kicker Graham Gano to kick a 23-yard field goal for a 24-22 lead with 12:40 left.
We have been down this road with Carolina several times. The 2-point lead with this much time is hardly a game-clincher, so more work was to be done. The only question is how they would manage to blow it this week. Fortunately, the Eagles are a team who likes to blow it late as well.
After driving to the CAR 40, it was 4th and 1. Andy Reid made the right decision to go for it, but Brown was stopped in the backfield with no chance of converting. Carolina took over.
The Eagles managed to jump offsides on three consecutive plays. You never see that. The drive ended with Newton’s 2-yard rushing touchdown; his second score on the ground in the game.
That should have done it, but Gano missed the extra point, which is always a shock to see. This one was big, as it kept things to 30-22, a one-possession game.
But the Eagles sucked out all the excitement right away with a fumble on the kick return by Brandon Boykin. For the final nail in the coffin, instead of having a 3rd and 14, the Eagles were flagged for defensive holding, resulting in an automatic first down.
Newton converted two passes on third and short, icing the game this week. He threw for 306 yards with the four total touchdowns on the night. Both teams are 3-8, which still makes them very irrelevant for the playoffs no matter what happy juice Luke Kuechly was drinking after the game in his interview.
The win snaps losing streaks of 11 games (comebacks) and 12 games (overall) in the fourth quarter/overtime for Newton. It wasn’t like he was going to go the rest of his career losing every close game.
It extends a career-worst seven-game losing streak for Reid, who must wonder if the players have really quit on him. Ever since firing Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator and replacing him with Todd Bowles, the Eagles are 0-5 and every quarterback they have played has put up a 122.0 passer rating or better.
That is something that happened (min. 15 attempts) just 17 times for Reid since 1999 (233 games or 7.3 percent of the time).
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
The Steelers drop, fumble, fail to intercept another win without Ben Roethlisberger, which means the Browns have won their personal Super Bowl this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills come up short once again. Tennessee fails to close in Jacksonville, further advancing the notion that we never know what to expect from Mike Munchak’s team. Finally, the Broncos did not make it easy on themselves, but they put away Brady Quinn and the Chiefs.
Steelers play “Hot Potato in Cleveland”
Well that was embarrassing.
Despite the 23-4 (.852) record the Steelers own against Cleveland since 1999, when they have an “off” season like they did in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2009 – years they did not make the playoffs – they tend to lose to Cleveland.
Even though this had been a very competitive 2-8 Cleveland team, the Steelers had no business turning the ball over eight times in a pathetic performance in what amounted to a must-win game if they want to comfortably make the postseason.
Eight turnovers on 15 drives. Four of the last five drives were giveaways; all in the fourth quarter.
The four running backs for Pittsburgh fumbled six times on 31 touches. All four had at least one fumble, and all four lost at least one fumble. Not sure that’s ever been done even if we include preseason games.
Charlie Batch struggled all day to move the offense, showing little consistency or ability to stretch the field. He was worse than an ailing Byron Leftwich from last week.
Teams with 8+ turnovers have lost 60 consecutive games, and are 1-60 (.016) in the Super Bowl era. Only Lombardi’s Packers won a game.
But perhaps in typical Cleveland fashion, this game was still competitive. The last time Pittsburgh had eight turnovers, they were blown out 51-0 in Week 1 to the Browns in 1989.
Somehow the Steelers made the playoffs that year at 9-7, and even won a road playoff game (Houston Oilers) and gave the top-seeded Broncos a scare.
This year’s team is headed nowhere fast without Ben Roethlisberger, as he was deeply missed in another winnable game. The defense played fairly well, even getting a good bounce on a pick six to take a 7-0 lead, but it was their lone takeaway to Cleveland’s eight, and they were forced to defend many short fields.
Teams who are -7 or worse in turnover differential are 2-40 (.048) in the Super Bowl era. Pittsburgh actually won a game in 1983 doing that against Tampa Bay. Teams are 0-19 since.
The Steelers were also the last team to have a -7 turnover differential in a game, doing it Week 1 in Baltimore last season, which is the site of their next game, which Roethlisberger does not appear to be ready for. Uh-oh.
This game literally was right there for the taking. Pittsburgh trailed 20-14 for the entire fourth quarter. Batch did find Emmanuel Sanders for a 15-yard pass, but at the CLE 30, Batch’s pass was a bit behind Mike Wallace, who bobbled it and turned the play into a big interception. Pittsburgh would never get closer than that.
Batch threw well short of Wallace the next time he had the ball on third down, going three and out (wow, not a turnover).
But after possibly finding some rhythm, Batch went deep to a well-covered Wallace, and Joe Haden made the easy interception with 3:00 left. Cleveland could only go three and out again.
Down to 2:36 and no timeouts, Batch was running out of chances. He dumped a short pass to rookie back Chris Rainey, who made a nice spin, but he was moving so recklessly that he too fumbled on a big hit.
Cleveland went three and out after taking advantage of a blown fumble call. Apparently forward progress was stopped. The Steelers would get the ball back with 0:19 left at their own 3, which meant just enough time for an eighth turnover on a lateral play, which they obliged us with.
Pittsburgh fumbled eight times, losing five, so the giveaway numbers possibly could have been worse. Hard to imagine that game could have gone any worse for Pittsburgh than it did.
The Steelers had nine turnovers in nine games with Roethlisberger, and scored at least 16 points in every full start. The offense has 11 turnovers and 17 points in the last two games combined without him.
Fitzpatrick fails even after given second chance
There may have been a time where “no one circled the wagons” like the Buffalo Bills, but that was a long time ago. Buffalo has not made the playoffs since the 1999 season, and that streak is going to continue for another year.
Desperately needing a win in Indianapolis, Buffalo watched another rally come up short. Trailing 20-6, C.J. Spiller had a 41-yard run to give the offense a spark heading into the fourth quarter. The Bills finished the 78-yard drive when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Lee Smith with 11:30 left.
The Colts went three and out on a day where Andrew Luck and the offense only contributed 13 points. Now with a chance to tie, Fitzpatrick needed another score or he would drop to 5-22 (.185) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities.
Fitzpatrick completed his first five passes on the drive, but the fifth was a wide receiver screen to Donald Jones, which lost four yards. With a 2nd and 14 at the IND 36, Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Tom Zbikowski on a woeful pass. Potentially a game-closer, Zbikowski made the forbidden mistake of fumbling the interception right back to Buffalo thanks to the effort from Stevie Johnson.
The rare second chance now gave Fitzpatrick and the Bills new life with the ball at the BUF 47 and 4:31 left. Fitzpatrick scrambled for six yards before throwing another screen pass to Spiller that was high and lost four yards, setting up a big 3rd and 8.
Fitzpatrick went short to Spiller, who dropped the ball after being hit anyway, and Buffalo punted. Now the Colts could close the game in the four-minute offense, taking over with 3:22 left at their own 5.
The Colts came out aggressive as Luck threw a short pass to Reggie Wayne, who did not hold on. Donald Brown made a big play with an 11-yard run to move the chains. Two plays later Luck found Wayne for a 14-yard gain, bringing the game to the two-minute warning.
After two runs by Brown set up a 3rd and 10 with Buffalo out of timeouts, the game came down to rookie Stephon Gilmore being called for pass interference after hooking Wayne. That’s an automatic first down, and Luck had three kneel downs to end the game.
Wayne had eight catches for 102 yards. We looked at quarterback consistency last week, but how about Wayne’s receiving consistency this year?
- Wayne has had at least 71 receiving yards in all 11 games this season.
- No other receiver since 1960 has had at least 61 receiving yards in the first 11 games of a season.
The Colts are getting many contributions by rookies on offense, led by Luck of course, but Wayne is still the star, and he came up big on Sunday for the Colts (7-4) to secure another close win.
Jake Locker is no Jake Plummer yet
Tennessee had a chance to get back into it in the AFC, and they had an impressive 37-3 win in Miami before going on their bye week.
But in typical Mike Munchak fashion, the team came out flat with another head-scratching performance in Jacksonville. The Titans trailed 14-9 in the fourth quarter.
Jake Locker, looking for his first comeback win, completed five straight passes to set up a first down at the JAX 15. That’s where things would stall, as Damian Williams could not get his feet in for a touchdown in the end zone. Locker’s screen attempt was batted down. On third down, Locker scrambled and threw incomplete into a crowd in the end zone.
Rob Bironas kicked a 33-yard field goal. But Jacksonville came back with an 80-yard drive, highlighted by Chad Henne’s completions to Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Blackmon caught a 7-yard touchdown with 6:50 left to put Jacksonville ahead 21-12.
With help from a Chris Johnson 31-yard run along the way, Locker quickly moved the offense, completing all five of his passes for 47 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Kenny Britt with 4:52 left.
Jacksonville went three and out after Henne was sacked on third down. But with 2:53 left and just a 21-19 deficit, Locker’s pass was tipped by Jacksonville’s Russell Allen and Dwight Lowery made his first interception of the season.
Jacksonville kept it on the ground for five plays, and Josh Scobee added the 41-yard field goal to go up 24-19 with 0:24 left.
Locker, now 0-2 at fourth-quarter comebacks, would get one more chance, but only had 0:19 left at his own 13. A play filled with laterals ended with Locker himself running out of bounds, netting the Titans a 3-yard loss.
Locker’s Hail Mary attempt was intercepted at the JAX 42 to end the game.
Despite seven sacks, Henne had another solid outing for the Jaguars, going 17 of 26 for 261 yards, 2 TD, INT and a 108.0 passer rating.
But they may want to wait to extend him five more years, or name him the 2013 starter at this point. Enough teams have fallen into this trap before.
The win by Jacksonville puts them at 2-9 with the rest of the league 3-8 or better, which bodes well for the Chiefs (1-10) to cruise to that No. 1 pick.
Denver suffers scare until Brady Quinn remembers he is Brady Quinn
If Romeo Crennel learned anything from Bill Belichick about coaching when he was in New England, it was how to slow down Peyton Manning’s offense.
While coaching in Cleveland and Kansas City, Crennel held Manning to zero touchdowns and four interceptions in his last three matchups. However, Manning was able to win all three games, even though the Colts scored a total of 42 points.
The key was shortening the game by limiting Manning’s possessions, and playing tight coverage on the receivers. Get away with as much contact as you can. Throw in some good fortune, and the upset was at play all three times.
This time with Manning a member of the Broncos, the script started out the same. Denver was scoreless in the first half until Manning found Jacob Tamme for a 7-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.
Matt Prater missed his second field goal of the day in the third quarter, but Manning put Denver ahead with a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Denver took a 14-9 lead into the fourth quarter.
Brady Quinn had played a solid game up to this point, though the offense mostly revolved around Jamaal Charles (23 carries for 107 yards) and could only manage three field goals.
Quinn threw two incompletions to end their first drive of the quarter. Denver went three and out, but Quinn threw a screen into the dirt on 3rd and 13 to Dwayne Bowe. The Broncos were pinned to their own two, and again went three and out after two dropped passes and a hurry-up play that did not connect. The drive used just 21 seconds of clock.
Now with the ball at the 50, Quinn threw too low to Bowe. After a false start made it 3rd and 6, Quinn was unable to connect deep to Bowe and the Chiefs punted again.
With 6:24 left, Manning looked to put the game away after the three previous drives stalled. Knowshon Moreno helped with a 17-yard run, which was Denver’s longest gain of the day on the ground. In Willis McGahee’s absence, the running game produced 23 carries for 94 yards (4.09 YPC).
On 3rd and 3, Manning went to Thomas for a 10-yard gain. After the two-minute warning, Manning hit the dagger with a 27-yard pass to Thomas on 3rd and 7. The only problem was Thomas had to go out of bounds on the play. Moreno carried three times as the Chiefs called their final timeout, and Prater made the 34-yard field goal with 0:14 left.
Quinn had just 0:11 left at his own 28, and threw three incompletions to end the game. His last pass was a deep ball intercepted at the DEN 28 with no time left.
After Denver had taken a 14-9 lead, Quinn finished the game just 2/12 for 22 yards and that Hail Mary interception.
Look on the bright side, Chiefs fans. Crennel may have returned in 2013 if they pulled off this upset, because the reason he probably was promoted in the first place was the upset win over Green Bay last year.
It is time to blow it up and start over (again), Kansas City.
Wait, are we actually going to have a quality Thursday night game this season? It could be this week when the Saints go to Atlanta. The Saints are one of the few teams able to crack the Falcons in the Georgia Dome over the years, and the only team to beat Atlanta this season.
Colts at Lions sounds like a good candidate for showing up in next week’s Captain Comeback. Buccaneers at Broncos has some potential too. Steelers at Ravens will only be interesting this time if Ben Roethlisberger plays. The week will end with the Giants in Washington, which is now an important game after the Redskins’ two straight wins.
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.