By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
There is a great clip of Vince Lombardi yelling “what the hell’s going on out here?” during a game. A slate of games like this weekend’s – and the Packers on Monday night – should draw out that same burst of emotion in many fans after the madness we experienced.
What is it about Week 3? After experiencing a mini-drought of close games last week – only six games had a comeback opportunity in the fourth quarter – we once again watched teams go nuts in Week 3. There were multiple one-minute drills, successful Hail Mary’s and overtime games.
It was not as crazy as last year’s Week 3 when a record 10 teams came back in the fourth quarter to win, including all eight in the 1 p.m. time slot, but it was close. A total of 12 games featured a comeback opportunity, and we had eight game-winning drives.
Amazingly, neither of the matchups between 2-0 teams made the cut, as they were two routs. Also, one of the teams not featured this week are the San Francisco 49ers. After starting his career with 20 straight games in which his team had at least a fourth quarter tie (19 leads), Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers were thoroughly outplayed in Minnesota, and the offense could never get a chance closer than 24-13 in the end.
Perhaps still more amazingly are the teams and quarterbacks who did fail in the clutch.
Stat of the Month Candidate: For the first time ever, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger all lost on the same day (or same NFL week). They have had 58 opportunities since 2004 to do so, and it finally happened.
The last time all four of those teams, regardless of starter, lost on the same day? It happened in 2008…in Week 3 of course. Aaron Rodgers lost the first start of his career that day as well, and lost again this week. But that one might need an asterisk.
The unpredictable week led to Captain Comeback going just 4-12 at picking games; his worst week since keeping track in 2004. At least it provides a lot of great history to cover for a jammed-packed edition this week.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 15
Game-winning drives: 17
Games with 4QC opportunity: 27/48 (56.3 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 8
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers
Winner: Seattle (14-12)
Largest Deficit: 5 (12-7)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (1-1 at 4QC, 1-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
After hearing about this finish for the last seven hours, it is hard to even find the motivation to write more about it. Everyone has seen it by now. Everyone has their own thoughts, which mostly are going to be that Green Bay was hosed by the replacement officials in the 48th game of the season.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts would probably say: what took them so long?
Bad calls, even ones that drastically change the outcome of the game, happen in most seasons. When you have an incompetent work force, you expect these kinds of mistakes to be even more frequent.
It was only two years ago when Detroit fans cried foul in Week 1 over the Calvin Johnson touchdown being overturned in Chicago. Two years earlier it was Week 2 when Ed Hochuli screwed the San Diego Chargers by botching the Jay Cutler fumble that would have ended the game on the spot.
- The Patriots once won a game in the 1960s after a fan jumped onto the field and defended the final pass.
- Teams have been rewarded extra timeouts when they did not have them (ask Seattle fans about the 2003 Ravens).
- Remember when the Raiders had the Holy Roller to beat San Diego? Hello rule change.
- Phil Luckett had his share, most notably botching the coin flip in overtime on Thanksgiving with Jerome Bettis.
There have been controversies in much bigger games, such as the Tuck Rule, the Immaculate Reception, or Super Bowl XL’s overall officiating. The NFL admitted mistakes on the critical drives in Wild Card games between the 2002 49ers/Giants (should have been pass interference on the 49ers) and 2007 Jaguars/Steelers (missed holding on fourth-down play).
Green Bay fans probably still are mad about the 1998 NFC Wild Card in San Francisco when Jerry Rice clearly fumbled on the game-winning drive, and the referees missed it.
But did Green Bay fans want to forfeit the win handed to them in 1989 in the “Instant Replay Game” when Don Majkowski appeared to throw an illegal game-winning touchdown pass over the line of scrimmage. Mike Ditka wanted an asterisk for that one. Instead the league issued a rule change for illegal passes beyond the line of scrimmage.
What will this game produce? Hopefully just a quicker resolution to the ref strikeout. But it is foolish to pretend there was not a good chance we would get the exact same ending with the real referees.
Whining about no flag for offensive pass interference on a Hail Mary? The moment a ref throws a flag for that will be a first (at any level of football).
The real referees make mistakes, and in critical moments at that. Bringing them back only decreases the chances of it happening again. It does not stop the inevitable.
As for the game itself? It was almost typical Green Bay, or the typical bad Green Bay that is. Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half, and Seattle led 7-0 on the strength of one good looking offensive play (41-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate).
Green Bay settled for two long field goal drives, and trailed 7-6 in the fourth quarter. They went on another long drive, and this one should have ended at midfield, but a horrible pass interference call kept the drive alive.
The Packers would go on to score a touchdown, but Rodgers’ pass on the two-point conversion never had a shot. The Captain tweeted that this could be a big miss if Seattle’s offense shows up, as Green Bay now only led 12-7.
Wilson looked to possibly throw the game away with a pick, but was saved by a roughing the passer call that was correct. You simply cannot hit a quarterback low around the knees like that. Carson Palmer or Tom Brady, you pick which one the rule is created for. That one is clear.
Seattle would get 32 more yards on a first down via an atrocious pass interference penalty on Sam Shields. But after facing a 4th and 3 at the GB 7, the Seahawks called a fade pass and Wilson’s pass hit Tate in one hand and fell incomplete.
Cedric Benson nearly choked big time on his first-down carry, fumbling the ball and being fortunate to recover. Green Bay just kept it on the ground, going three and out. Wilson had 0:46 left to go 46 yards for the winning touchdown without a timeout.
He threw a brilliant pass to Sidney Rice for a 22-yard gain, and then did something almost as incredible: he called a play instead of wasting a down with a spike. It was incomplete to Tate in the end zone, but it as still great to see such management skills.
Two more incompletions came, and we were down to one more play on fourth down with 0:08 left. Wilson bought time, he threw it to the end zone, and you know what basically happened from here.
Apparently simultaneous possession cannot be reviewed, and they could only look at whether or not the pass was incomplete. The ball doesn’t hit the ground, Tate is touching just a little bit of it, and the review went with the call on the field of touchdown.
It is the 21st time since 1981 that a team took over in the final minute of a game and scored a game-winning touchdown. The 20th time also happened this week by Jacksonville in Indianapolis.
Seattle wins 14-12, and while it is all the buzz right now, this game should not go down as anything more than a footnote in the NFL’s history, which is filled with worse endings and calls by more professional referees and in more important games.
For Green Bay, it was a lousy performance that they cannot feel good about, regardless of the final play. Since 1990, teams are now 12-86-2 (.130) when allowing at least eight sacks. The way the loss happened continues Green Bay’s list of bad records.
- When trailing by at least seven points in the game, Rodgers is 8-20 (.286) as a starter.
- When the Packers do not lead at halftime, they are 6-20 (.231) since 2008.
- Mike McCarthy is 0-11 when registering zero takeaways since 2006.
- Finally, Aaron Rodgers indeed does fall to 3-20 (.130) in fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
Just when you thought Rodgers might get his fourth real comeback win (from a not-so-daunting one-point deficit again), it ends up as a fifth lost comeback. Is that failed comeback loss fair for Rodgers and Green Bay this time?
Well, if you make the two-point conversion, then at worst you go to overtime. Those are big ones. If you run the four-minute offense better, Wilson never gets a chance for the win. If you don’t play such horribly unbalanced, unproductive offense in the first half, then you are not in this position again.
Moving forward, one bad call is not more alarming than the performance of Green Bay’s offense this season.
Even if they won the game, any Seattle fan can bring up the pass interference that made the Packers’ go-ahead drive possible in the first place. Like it usually goes with officiating, both teams are unhappy in the end, no matter if it was the real referees or the guys that belong in the lingerie leagues.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Winner: Baltimore (31-30)
Largest Deficit: 9 (30-21)
Quarterback: Joe Flacco (7-17 at 4QC, 12-18 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
This probably should have been the Drive of the Week, but duty calls for a wild Monday finish fresh on everyone’s mind. However, just 24 hours earlier we had a more important prime time game between AFC powerhouses which also featured some shady officiating and a real spectacle for a finish.
Baltimore really had to win this game. Not just to avoid the 1-2 start, but to get over that hurdle of not being able to beat the Patriots save for that bizarre playoff rout in 2009 when they jumped out to a 24-0 lead. When the game has been close, the Ravens have lost all four times since 2007, and usually it was by a critical mistake or two in the final moments.
We would get the close game we wanted, but Baltimore had to erase a 13-0 deficit in the second quarter first. They did rather quickly, and from there it was a wildly entertaining, poorly officiated game.
The Patriots kicked a field goal early in the fourth quarter to take a 30-21 lead. Baltimore drove to the NE 33, but passed on a 50-yard field goal despite the 9-point deficit, and went for it on 4th and 1.
Questionable decision, but even more questionable play call with Bernard Pierce blown up in the backfield for a loss. New England would gain two first downs, but had to punt. Joe Flacco started to find a rhythm and threw a 5-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith, who had just lost his young brother in a motorcycle accident the night before, to cap off a 92-yard drive.
Tom Brady had 4:01 left with just a 30-28 lead, so this was going to be a crucial execution of the four-minute offense. We have seen teams like Dallas, Atlanta and Houston really put games away (against the Manning brothers this year, specifically) in this moment.
While the Patriots like to pass in these situations, Brady’s success is not up to par. In the final four minutes of the fourth quarter with a one-score lead, Brady is just 31 of 58 for 328 yards, interception and a 63.0 passer rating. On third downs only, he is 15 of 29 for 176 yards, interception and a 56.1 passer rating.
This drive looked like it was going to work thanks to some terrible calls by the referees. Brady avoided an interception after an illegal contact penalty on Lardarius Webb, and John Harbaugh even was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct from the bench.
But after a 1-yard run, Brady would be sacked and throw incomplete on third down. Baltimore got the ball back at their own 21 with 1:55 left, and Flacco had his chance for redemption after last week’s failure in Philadelphia. This was Baltimore’s redemption for last year’s AFC Championship loss.
After a 24-yard gain to Jacoby Jones to start the drive, Flacco used a few short passes to move the ball into New England territory. He threw deep for yet another near interception on the night, but got away with it again.
Devin McCourty was rightfully called for pass interference, putting the ball at the NE 7. Flacco took a knee, and Baltimore ran the clock down to two seconds. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker could not afford an early-career choke-job in this situation, and he almost did as he barely squeezed the 27-yard field goal through with no time left. Baltimore completed the rally for a 31-30 win.
Since the kick came with no time left, Brady does not get hit with a failed comeback or game-winning drive, but it was a failure in the four-minute offense. More and more we are seeing your best defense late in the game is your offense, as it is almost too easy to get into field goal range late in the game.
The Patriots failed, the kick went against them for the second straight week, and now they are 1-2 and under .500 for the first time in 145 games, snapping that big NFL record.
Baltimore can finally rest easy after a close win over their rivals from New England, and Bernard Pollard did not even have to injure anyone this time.
Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: Oakland (34-31)
Largest Deficit: 10 (31-21)
Quarterback: Carson Palmer (12-37 at 4QC, 19-37 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
If there is any team in the league that likes to play down to the competition, it is the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era. Even if they do not lose a lot of these games, they make them much closer than they have to, such as their 2011 games in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Cleveland.
This time the lack of killer instinct caught up to them. Despite what felt like a dominant half, the Steelers only led 17-14. Even after taking a 31-21 lead into the fourth quarter, things still felt uncomfortable.
Carson Palmer threw a 6-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore. Antonio Brown fumbled on the ensuing drive, and the Raiders drove 50 yards for the game-tying field goal.
After playing a brilliant game, Ben Roethlisberger struggled after the offensive line fell apart. Willie Colon was called for holding to start the drive. Later, Richard Seymour netted the first and only sack of the day for Oakland. Roethlisberger was unable to convert another third down, and Pittsburgh punted.
Palmer had 1:43 left, and looked very confident on the drive. No matter where Dick LeBeau sent pressure, Palmer found it easy to get a completion. The Steelers generated very little pass rush, could not get all but one takeaway, and even struggled with the run on the day.
A 17-yard gain over the middle to Derek Hagan looked like the dagger. Two short runs set up Sebastian Janikowski for the 43-yard game-winning field goal with no time left. Oakland had the shocking upset 34-31, but they are 3-1 against the Steelers in their last four meetings.
All the losses have been excruciating for Pittsburgh, but this one was as bad as any. For just the sixth time in the last 30 seasons, the Steelers blew a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and lost. Carson Palmer has led the last two comebacks.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Blown Double-Digit 4Q Leads (Since 1983)
Blown Lead (PTS)
When Oakland, who looked like one of the very worst offenses in the league the first two weeks, scores on five consecutive drives to end the game, then you have problems defensively.
While it is tough to play without injured stars Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, we have seen LeBeau’s defense let down in big moments for years now. This was the 19th game-winning drive against Pittsburgh’s defense since 2007 (playoffs included).
Most Game-Winning Drives Allowed Since 2007
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
When your running game produces 46 yards on 19 carries against a poor run defense, then you know you have some issues offensively as well.
The Steelers wasted one of Roethlisberger’s very best performances. He was 36 of 49 for 384 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 123.2 passer rating (128.3 without the two spikes). There are many ways to state this one, but plain and simple, quarterbacks who produce that kind of stat line just do not lose.
Roethlisberger (2) joins Tom Brady (3) as the only quarterbacks to have multiple games with a passer rating over 120.0 on at least 45 pass attempts. Roethlisberger is the only quarterback to lose such a game, as those games now have produced a 12-1 record.
With a minimum of 50 attempts, Ben Roethlisberger has the highest career passer rating (106.3) versus the Oakland Raiders. He is 97 of 139 (69.8 percent) for 1,238 yards, 10 TD, and 5 INT.
And yet that has produced a 1-3 record. The Steelers have the unique problem at struggling to win the “small games.” That is exactly the recipe needed to slip to a mediocre record and miss the playoffs. The last two times the Steelers lost to Oakland (2006, 2009), they did exactly that. They also started each season 1-2, just like they have this year. They were also coming off two straight playoff appearances, just like this year.
See the pattern?
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Winner: Jacksonville (22-17)
Largest Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert (1-6 at 4QC, 1-6 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
So close for Andrew Luck experiencing his first winning streak and comeback win. The Colts’ rookie looked good in the first half, building a 14-3 lead and clearly outplaying Blaine Gabbert.
But things turned in the third quarter. Maurice Jones-Drew had a 59-yard touchdown run, and Luck threw a bad interception. It was not long before Jacksonville was kicking a 26-yard field goal to take a 16-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
Luck answered back with a long drive, but stunningly Adam Vinatieri missed the 36-yard field goal with 4:40 left. We just went through the Vinatieri/Stephen Gostkowski comparison last week. At this point the Captain still thought Vinatieri would get the game-winner, and this almost came true.
Even though the Colts had to punt, they would get the ball back after a gutless three-and-out series from Jacksonville. Luck had 1:33 and no timeouts left, but he has thrived in the two-minute drill so far.
This one began with a dump over the middle to Donald Brown, who gained 39 yards. Already in field goal range, the Colts went conservative, calling three runs. Jacksonville was able to use all three timeouts, and this time Vinatieri was true (barely) from 37 yards away with 0:56 left. The Colts led 17-16.
After a touchback, Gabbert had a long field to go for a game-winning field goal. But like in Week 1 at Minnesota, Gabbert went to Cecil Shorts, who went 80 yards for the all-too-easy touchdown after a bad angle by the safety. The Jaguars shockingly went up 22-17 (two-point run by Jones-Drew failed) with 0:45 left.
Luck now needed a miracle with 0:35 left at his own 38. He found T.Y. Hilton for a 36-yard gain to give the Colts a chance, but his final pass fell incomplete in the end zone after trying to get it to Reggie Wayne.
Luck had more completions (22) than Gabbert had attempts (21), but one big 80-yard touchdown in the final minute sunk the Colts in their third straight loss to the Jaguars. In his third career game, Luck experienced his first lost comeback.
This was Gabbert’s first career fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive, snapping a streak of six straight losses in these situations.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Winner: NY Jets (23-20 OT)
Largest Deficit: 7 (17-10)
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez (10-13 at 4QC, 12-14 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
A big question heading into the season: could the Jets get through a fourth quarter comeback without using Tim Tebow?
So far, the answer is yes. They did it this time. Even though Tebow was in the game for more mediocre production and a target that hit him in the head, this was another case of Sanchez finding enough accuracy late and Santonio Holmes doing what he does best to get the win.
Down 17-10 in the fourth quarter, the Jets had to settle for a field goal even after six snaps inside the Miami 6. Dan Carpenter would miss a 47-yard field goal on the ensuing drive for the Dolphins, which would not be his biggest miss of the day.
After a series of punts – this is what Dolphins/Jets largely is in the post-Dan Marino era – the Jets had the ball with 5:34 left. Holmes made two key catches, and Sanchez found Jeremy Kerley for the 7-yard touchdown and 20-17 lead.
Now with rookie Ryan Tannehill in his first comeback opportunity, we would get a good look at what he’s made of. It was a solid drive, with Tannehill converting an early third down to Davone Bess, and later rushing for five yards on a 3rd and 1 at midfield.
A defensive pass interference call on Kyle Wilson bailed the Dolphins out, but Tannehill would throw three more incompletions. Carpenter came on for the 41-yard tying field goal with 0:16 left. We had one of three overtime games on the day.
After the Jets punted, Miami had a chance for the win. Tannehill completed a 41-yard pass to Brian Hartline. But Carpenter would miss the 48-yard field goal wide left. He usually is good from long distance, but not this time.
Sanchez hit Holmes (who else?) for a 38-yard gain to get the ball quickly into the red zone. Three plays later Nick Folk came on and actually missed the 33-yard field goal, but Joe Philbin pulled a Mike Shanahan and iced the kicker. It did not work, just as it did not work against Folk in Buffalo in 2007. He made the kick and the Jets moved to 2-1.
Tebow did take the field in the fourth quarter, but was not apart of any of the Jets’ three scoring drives, so no worry about him getting credit for anything but overexposure. Sanchez was just 21 of 45 for 306 yards, two picks and a 58.2 passer rating, but at least he finished the game doing what he had to for the win.
Even if it just meant Folk was better than Carpenter in the end.
Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints
Winner: Kansas City (27-24 OT)
Largest Deficit: 11 (24-13)
Quarterback: Matt Cassel (6-14 at 4QC, 9-14 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Was this not supposed to be the easy win for New Orleans? You would think so after taking a 24-6 lead with just over twenty minutes left. But Jamaal Charles quickly ripped off a 91-yard touchdown run on his way to a 233-yard rushing day, and that really changed things for the Chiefs who would cash in with the biggest comeback of 2012.
After this point, Drew Brees really struggled the rest of the game. He finished 2/9 for 40 yards, a badly underthrown interception, and two sacks. The second sack was in the end zone for a safety. That would make it 24-21 with 5:33 left.
Kansas City used up most of the clock, with Ryan Succop making his third field goal of the fourth quarter to tie the game 24-24 with three seconds left. In overtime, Kansas City punted. New Orleans, stuck with bad field position, went three and out. Brees misfired on his last seven attempts.
The Chiefs appeared to lose the game on a fumble returned for the touchdown, but review corrected the call and the drive continued. Charles converted the 4th-and-1 run, and Matt Cassel hit a key third-down pass to Dwayne Bowe.
Five plays later Succop kicked the 31-yard game-winning field goal to send the Saints to 0-3, which no one probably seen coming with the schedule the Saints had to start the season.
The 18-point comeback win is the largest in Kansas City history.
For the Saints, this is what happens when you are a bad defensive team relying on your offense and a quarterback who is just not playing up to the standard we are used to. Even without Sean Payton the league’s highest-paid player is quickly turning into one of the biggest disappointments of 2012.
As are the Saints, who have to go to Lambeau next. Just think, either the Saints will be 0-4 or the Packers will be 1-3 this year in the Not-For-Long game.
Tennessee Titans vs. Detroit Lions
Winner: Tennessee (44-41 OT)
Type: 4QC (Team), GWD (QB)
Largest Deficit: 7 (27-20)
Quarterback: Jake Locker (0-1 at 4QC, 1-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
This game could deserve a full week of attention in trying to pick out all the records and history that was made.
Matthew Stafford commented earlier this week that the Lions will be fine as long as he is completing 60 percent of his passes. That stat-foolishness was on display in the first half went Stafford was 14 of 18 (77.8 percent), but only 83 yards (4.61 YPA). Tennessee led 20-9.
Trailing 20-16 in the fourth quarter, Detroit started the wild stanza with a 26-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. Kendall Wright fumbled for Tennessee, and the Lions drove 46 yards for a Stafford-to-Nate Burleson touchdown pass. Burleson also caught the two-point conversion, and Detroit led 27-20.
It did not last long, as the Titans’ Darius Reynaud returned the kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. This is why Jake Locker does not get a comeback, as the Tennessee offense never took the field trailing.
Detroit punted, and Locker found Nate Washington who made an outstanding catch and run for a 71-yard touchdown with 3:11 left. Stafford needed another comeback, and was driving before Brandon Pettigrew was stripped at the TEN 28 and the Titans returned the fumble 72 yards for what looked like a clinching touchdown with 1:16 left and a 41-27 lead. It was the record fifth touchdown of 60+ yards for the Titans on the day.
Enter Shaun Hill into the game for the injured Stafford, and one of the greatest fourth quarter comebacks – loss be damned – you will ever see. Hill did have all three timeouts, but he needed 80 yards. Having five fourth quarter wins himself, Hill has been here before.
After five straight completions, a spike, and a roughing penalty, Hill threw a 3-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson with 0:18 left. Now the Lions needed the onside kick, and shockingly, they got it. Hill had 0:16 left at the TEN 46 with no timeouts left, trailing 41-34.
After one incompletion, Hill had no choice but to try the Hail Mary. Like in 2010 with Houston versus Jacksonville, the pass was tipped, and Titus Young, the trailing receiver, caught the deflection for the touchdown with no time left. We were headed for overtime.
No team in NFL history had ever scored two touchdowns in the last 0:18 to force overtime like Detroit.
Locker’s long drive ended in Rob Bironas kicking a 26-yard field goal, but because of the new rules, the game was not over. Nice. Instead, Detroit would have one last opportunity.
After driving to the TEN 7 and facing a 4th-and-1 situation, the Lions appeared to be trying to draw the Titans off-sides. Still with Hill at quarterback, there apparently was confusion, and the ball was snapped. Delayed, Hill tried to gain the yard, but was stopped short. Game over. Titans win 44-41 in a ridiculous finish.
Should the Lions have been all in at going for it in the first place? This is a call that would have been easier later in the season when the Lions have a better understanding of their playoff chances. By then, a tie may have been more favorable than a win, so you could kick the field goal with 6:41 left and possibly end up with a tie.
If you needed a win, then it is hard to argue with 4th and 1, but the Lions botched the whole situation. It just adds to the mystique that was this finish. It was the third time in NFL history where both teams scored at least 21 points in the fourth quarter.
The 46 combined points are the second most ever in a fourth quarter behind the 48 Detroit was involved in back in 2007 when they scored 34 against Chicago. This was more of a back-and-forth shootout, and it was so unpredictable.
The game was also a potential nightmare for comeback/game-winning drive semantics with three quarterbacks and return scores involved. In the end, Matthew Stafford gets a failed comeback and game-winning drive, though you can look at it as a lost comeback if you want (third of his career). Shaun Hill gets a failed comeback and game-winning drive. Jake Locker just gets a game-winning drive.
Few games ever throw momentum around like a ragdoll much like the Lions and Titans did in this one.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins
Winner: Cincinnati (38-31)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (4-5 at 4QC, 5-5 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Cincinnati could have had complete control of this one early, doing even better than their 24-7 lead. But a bad pick six thrown in the end zone by Andy Dalton kept Washington close enough.
Robert Griffin III led a nice rally in the second half with two long touchdown drives tying the game 24-24. That was the score in the fourth quarter when Washington went three and out.
Dalton went on the attack, completing four of five passes for 73 yards and the 6-yard touchdown to Jermaine Gresham with 11:24 left. This would end up being the game-winning drive, but far from the last scoring threat in the game.
Even after adding a 59-yard touchdown to the emerging Andrew Hawkins, the Redskins still had life, down 38-24 with 7:08 remaining. Griffin led a 90-yard touchdown drive, dropping back on all 12 plays and running for a 2-yard touchdown with 3:35 left.
Cincinnati went conservative, running it on 3rd and 4 at the WAS 38. A first-down completion would have iced the game. Even after gaining two yards, the Bengals took a delay of game penalty and punted.
Griffin had 1:47 and no timeouts to go 98 yards. A very difficult task, but he was making it happen with solid completions and scrambles. Griffin ran for 19 yards to get out of bounds at the CIN 19 with 0:29 left.
But that is when disaster struck, as Griffin took a big sack on the next play from Geno Atkins. Too much time in the pocket without getting rid of the ball. After spiking the ball, the Redskins had a false start with the clock already stopped. The officials ended up penalizing the Redskins 20 yards after a 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct on the bench.
It was similar to Washington’s Josh Morgan having a costly flag last week. This time the Redskins needed a touchdown, so the only remaining option was the Hail Mary from the WAS 41. The target was Morgan, but the pass fell incomplete short of the 10-yard line – remember when Hail Mary’s never worked – and the Bengals had a nice road win.
Interception aside, it was a very nice game for Dalton. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns. After setting a career high in yards per attempt for a single game with his 10.26 mark against Cleveland last week, Dalton broke his personal best again with a 12.15 YPA against Washington.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
Denver tries another difficult 20-point comeback, Tampa Bay tries their kneel-down defense in Dallas, the Rams revert to form in Chicago, and just another forgettable Buffalo/Cleveland matchup.
Houston Denies Peyton Manning More History in Denver
It was déjà vu in the fourth quarter for Manning and the Broncos when you compare the loss in Atlanta on Monday night to this rare loss to the Texans (just the third in Manning’s career).
The paths to getting to the fourth quarter could not have been more different. Manning threw three interceptions on the first three drives in Atlanta, and Denver had four giveaways in the first quarter. They would not turn the ball over once against Houston until the final snap of the game out of desperation.
This time the Broncos were getting worked over on defense by Matt Schaub, who tied a career high with four touchdowns and lost a chunk of his ear in the process.
Like in Atlanta when the Broncos trailed 27-7 in the fourth quarter, they were down by the same margin to Houston. It was a 31-11 game with 10:20 left when Manning took possession. He found old teammate Brandon Stokley for a 38-yard touchdown.
Houston went three and out, almost like clockwork, and the Broncos put together a long drive that ended with Manning’s touchdown, after a deflection, to Jacob Tamme with 3:00 left to make it 31-25.
It was nearly identical to the Atlanta game when two Manning-led touchdown drives made it a 27-21 game, but the defense was unable to stop Matt Ryan in the four-minute offense.
This time, the defense again forced a 3rd and 5 with 2:49 left. Once again, they could not stop a quarterback and his favorite receiver, as Schaub found Andre Johnson for 12 yards. Since Johnson went out of bounds, the Broncos would eventually get a stop and punt.
However, Manning’s opportunity ended up being a hopeless situation: down 31-25, 0:20 left, 86 yards to go, and no timeouts.
The game ended after a 16-yard pass to Eric Decker, a spike, and then a play with multiple laterals that Denver eventually fumbled. The drive put Manning over 300 yards for the record-breaking 64th time (Dan Marino; 63), but there’s another Marino record Manning was hoping to claim solely as his own.
Maybe next time the Broncos could get that stop sooner so Manning actually has a chance for that record-setting comeback. Maybe next time the Broncos can play better earlier in the game and not fall behind by 20 points.
The defense that kept it so close for Tim Tebow last year is getting wore out in a hurry by quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. It did not look like Manning was going to get a chance at all. It would have been the first time he lost consecutive games without a one-score comeback opportunity since November 25, 2001.
But Denver’s defense gave him a chance. It was just a lousy one.
Cowboys Survive Greg Schiano’s Kneel-Down Defense
Things were looking rather shaky for the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, barely clinging onto a 10-7 lead. After a scoreless third quarter, Dallas added a field goal for a 13-7 lead with 11:10 left.
Tampa Bay went three and out on their next two drives on what was a very impotent performance offensively from Josh Freeman. He would finish just 10 of 28 for 110 yards.
Dez Bryant made an impact with his 44-yard punt return to the TB 6, but Dallas had to settle for a field goal. Still, it made for a 16-7 lead with 2:43 left. Tampa Bay would get a 28-yard field goal with 0:40 left, but were unable to recover the onside kick.
Greg Schiano made it clear last week he is playing to the last second, so Dallas had to be careful on their kneel downs. Even though the Cold, Hard Football Facts have been kind to Romo in the last year, if there was a quarterback you would suspect of falling victim to a Pisarcik-like play and fumble the ball in this situation, you might pick Romo. He lost two fumbles after contact in the third quarter.
Romo took three knees, Tampa Bay tried their tactic, but to no avail. Dallas moved to 2-1 even if the win was far from inspiring.
After a lot of close wins early on in his career, Freeman is 0-5 in his most recent comeback opportunities.
The Old Familiar Rams
After a rare comeback win last week over Washington, the St. Louis Rams reverted more to the team we have seen the last five seasons, or at least that was the case offensively.
Jay Cutler did not show much improvement from his Green Bay disaster, and he was marginally better than Sam Bradford, who was coming off a career performance.
The Rams at least played their opponent tough for the third straight week, and trailed 10-6 after three quarters. Chicago added a field goal, setting the stage for Bradford’s comeback attempt.
Two plays after a 19-yard pass to Danny Amendola, Bradford was intercepted by Major Wright, who returned it 45 yards for a touchdown with 9:06 left. Chicago led 20-6. The Rams went three and out twice, Chicago added another field goal, and Bradford tossed a desperation interception to end it.
Bradford’s career record drops to 2-8 at fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
Browns and Bills Actually Put Points on the Board
Meeting for the fifth time since 2007, the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills usually play boring games late in the season in bad weather without a lot of points scored. Cleveland has 8-0 (2007) and 6-3 (2009) wins, while the Bills took the last meeting, 13-6, in 2010.
There was an interesting Monday night game in 2008, in which Buffalo lost 29-27, but other than that, this has been one of the blandest series in the game today.
This game looked to be a blowout early after Buffalo took a 14-0 lead, but after an injury to leading rusher C.J. Spiller, Cleveland fought back. Brandon Weeden played better last week against Cincinnati, but at least it was in a whole different tier than his horrific debut against the Eagles in Week 1.
Trailing 17-14 to start the fourth quarter, the Browns had possession. Weeden threw incomplete to Ben Watson before being sacked. The Browns punted, and Buffalo added an insurance touchdown with 9:08 left.
Weeden would throw two interceptions out of desperation in the final 4:30, and the Bills would get the 24-14 win to move to 2-1. They have a huge test with the Patriots, now on a two-game losing streak, coming to Buffalo on Sunday.
The Browns should likely fall to 0-4 with a Thursday night road game in Baltimore.
Next week: Will the 49ers suffer another letdown on the East Coast with an early 10 a.m. PST start time again? They get the Jets. How does a third straight loss to send the Lions to last in the NFC North sound? They host Minnesota, and Christian Ponder has outplayed Matthew Stafford to this point. Can Peyton lose three in a row? Must-win at home against Oakland.
Drew Brees will be pegged for tying a record he already broke in Week 1, but let’s see if Green Bay has any chance of creating some controversy and keeping Brees’ receivers out of the end zone for what would really be the 53rd straight game including playoffs.
New Orleans (0-3) and St. Louis (1-2) are the only two teams to have an opportunity for a comeback and/or game-winning drive in all three games this season.
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.