By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
The quarter point of the season – at least for everyone not named Pittsburgh and Indianapolis – was not as wild as last week, but we still had some historic moments. The wins by Atlanta and New England were polar opposites in terms of pressure, but we put them both in great context this week.
Of the 15 games in Week 4, nine featured a comeback opportunity. All five successful comebacks were orchestrated by NFC teams – some potentially being season-savers or season-enders for the losers – and they were all highlighted by one huge play going their way in the end.
A rookie made his first comeback for the Redskins, and apparently did so without communication from his headset, which Santana Moss thinks is a common tactic for the home stadium to pull.
For what it’s worth, there were 88 game-winning drives in the 2011 season: 44 by the home team, 43 by the road team, and one neutral field (Super Bowl XLVI). Interesting.
Also interesting: Kevin Kolb beat out Aaron Rodgers by a few minutes of real time as they both earned their fourth career comeback win. Both players sit ahead of our new low man, Cam Newton (1-10).
The only teams this season yet to have their offense face any comeback and/or game-winning drive opportunity are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Diego, and San Francisco.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 20
Game-winning drives: 23
Games with 4QC opportunity: 36/63 (57.1 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 10
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers
Winner: Atlanta (30-28)
Largest Deficit: 4 (28-24)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (12-11 at 4QC, 17-11 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
What a finish. Atlanta became the first team since 1981 to start a drive in the last 60 seconds of the fourth quarter inside their own 10-yard line and go on a game-winning drive. They were backed up at their own one.
History says Matt Ryan and Mike Smith’s Falcons are almost unbeatable at home, and the Panthers do not beat good teams, but Atlanta had to come back in the fourth quarter twice to beat their division rival last season. This time was no different.
Matt Ryan led the third one-minute drill of his career, and none may have been as impressive. It was another case of Atlanta winning a close one, and Carolina blowing it in the end.
A lot happened to build up to that moment. With Atlanta holding onto a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Ryan was sacked on third down. He was sacked seven times in the game, as Charles Johnson (3.5 sacks) really earned his money this game.
Facing a 3rd and 10, the Panthers had a free play with Atlanta offsides, and they turned it into a 36-yard touchdown with Kealoha Pilares on the wide receiver screen. Carolina led 28-24 with 7:55 left.
Atlanta settled for a 33-yard field goal. They would go three and out on their next drive, and were able to punt with all three timeouts remaining. Carolina had the opportunity to end the game with the four-minute offense.
Cam Newton ran for 10 yards for one first down. After two runs by DeAngelo Williams, the Falcons were out of timeouts. On a 3rd and 2 at the Atlanta 46, the Panthers could win the game with a conversion.
Newton dove forward with the ball for it, but fumbled before he was down. The ball went backwards, losing the yard, and it brought up a 4th and 1 at the ATL 45. Instead of going for it, the Panthers tried to draw Atlanta off again, but it did not work. They took a delay of game penalty instead.
Why no go for it if you have Newton and two highly-paid running backs? One yard will win the game, and since 2011, Carolina is 16 out of 18 (88.9 percent) on running plays needing one yard on third or fourth down.
Ron Rivera wussed out, but did get a punt down to the ATL 1. Ryan was only going to have 0:59 left with a long field ahead of him, but only needing a field goal.
In this position, Atlanta’s win probability was 0.08. Had Carolina gone for it and made it, this game was over. Had Carolina failed to convert, Atlanta’s win probability was still only 0.21, though you probably could raise that a little for a team used to winning these kinds of games.
It would have been viewed as a risky decision by Rivera, but it probably was the best chance Carolina had to win the game.
Atlanta did something very smart to start the drive: they went for all the glory right away. Ryan used play action and threw a pass about 60 yards in the air for Roddy White to come down with it. The safety, Haruki Nakamura, was in position for the interception, but he misplayed the ball, allowing for White to make the 59-yard gain.
The Panthers were then flagged for a pass interference, and Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas made catches to get out of bounds. This was great execution from Atlanta.
Matt Bryant nailed the 40-yard field goal with 0:05 left for the 30-28 win. It is the 17th game-winning drive for Ryan, and one of his best.
The drive was 77 yards, which is the fifth longest one-minute drill since 1981. The longest is 87 yards (crazy touchdown from Kyle Orton to Brandon Stokley for the 2009 Broncos), which of course started at the 13-yard line. This was way back at the one, which makes it as impressive as any.
It was Ryan’s third one-minute drill, tying him with Jake Plummer. Only Dan Marino and Mark Sanchez have had more (4) since 1981.
Meanwhile, Cam Newton drops to 1-10 (.091) at fourth quarter comeback opportunities, which is the worst record in the league (min. 10+ opportunities). When your only win is over a team led by Blaine Gabbert, you might have a problem finding success in this league.
Leadership questions aside, Newton played a good game, but he fumbled at the worst possible moment. Carolina went from a big win, to a devastating loss as they sit buried at 1-3.
The Falcons are 4-0, and while Matt Ryan is gaining more attention for his play this year, he has been on quite a tear since the tough Green Bay loss last season.
- Matt Ryan’s last 15 regular season games: 12-3 record, 329/517 (63.6 percent) for 4,037 yards, 7.81 YPA, 33 TD, 8 INT, 102.5 passer rating.
As we have seen in the past, he can get it done on a game-winning drive with the best of them. This was the first opportunity this season, and it was a great success. Expect more from Ryan and the Falcons this season.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
Winner: Green Bay (28-27)
Largest Deficit: 6 (27-21)
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (4-20 at 4QC, 7-22 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Ever since they destroyed the Detroit Lions’ defense in Week 17 (Green Bay) and the NFC Wild Card game (New Orleans) last season, the Saints and Packers came into this game with a combined record of 1-7 in their last eight games.
Despite the bad records, expectations were for a close game with a playoff atmosphere. We know how Green Bay usually fares in such contests, but this time was different. It had to be, or else the Packers’ season would have been sunk like New Orleans’ now is.
For the first time since December 13, 2009, Aaron Rodgers led a fourth quarter comeback win. It was from a deficit of six points, which is more than his three previous comebacks combined (four points). Most importantly, it ended a streak of nine consecutive losses in such games.
Mike McCarthy (1-11) also finally managed to win a game without getting a takeaway for the first time in his career. He was not pleased with the officiating again either, and these were the real refs.
All the factors add up to the gutsiest Packers’ victory in years. After Drew Brees converted another third and long early in the fourth quarter, you thought the Packers might be losing control of this one. But the defense held them to a field goal, and New Orleans led 27-21.
Rodgers had his chance, but again fell victim to part of what has plagued him in these situations before: trying to throw deep too often. If you study someone with a great fourth quarter record like Joe Montana or Tom Brady, they had incredible patience at taking the short stuff and not trying to score immediately. That is a big reason for their success.
Rodgers did not take a sack, but he did not find any big plays either and the Packers quickly had to punt. Backed up, Brees had a bad drive, throwing three straight incompletions and burning a costly timeout.
Now with 10:25 left, Rodgers wised up and went for shorter passes, making completions of 8, 7, 6, 17 and 11 on the drive. The long gain was a simple shovel pass to Randall Cobb out of the backfield, and Jordy Nelson fought his way into the end zone on the 11-yard touchdown.
But we have seen this a handful of times before with the Packers. They would get the lead, but would not finish the game for a win. Even in this situation, leading 28-27 with 7:00 left, their win probability was only 0.54 according to Advanced NFL Stats.
With Brees on the other end, you expected more scoring would take place. It almost never happened, as Darren Sproles clearly fumbled on the ensuing kick return, but the real refs – led by Jeff “Gomer Pyle” Triplette – botched the call. They also messed up several other calls in the game, but we will let that sleeping dog lie.
Brees was putting together a nice drive in a game where he would finish 35 of 54 for 446 yards and no turnovers, but it was his very last pass that proved fatal for the Saints. Sproles dropped a perfect pass on third down, forcing the field goal unit to come on.
This is why a team starts 0-4. If the drop was not enough, the Saints were penalized 10 yards for holding after Garrett Hartley made the 43-yard field goal. A call you rarely see (will this one shut up the Green Bay fans when it comes to the refs?), it was only slightly lessened by encroachment on the Packers, but still a 48-yard field goal.
Of course, Hartley was wide left on the attempt with 2:49 left. The Saints would then botch the timeout situation. Down to just one, Green Bay ran a play with 2:49 left, and it was stopped at 2:44 with the Saints using their last timeout.
Had they just let the clock run, the Packers’ next play would have came before the two-minute warning, and that would stop the clock. Now you stop them on third down, call your final timeout, and you have nearly the full two minutes to get the field goal.
It was a moot point, as the Packers converted the 3rd-and-3 with a brilliant catch by James Jones, and an absurdly excited “first down!” call by Triplette. Even though he was interfered with and could not even see the ball, Jones caught it to ice the win.
Green Bay finally closed to avoid falling to 1-3 and behind the Saints in the crowded NFC.
Brees never touched the ball again after delivering a perfect pass on third down, so it was a double whammy for him. It also was the seventh time he lost a game in which his kicker failed on a clutch field goal in the fourth quarter or overtime. That is the most of any active quarterback. Remember, it only happened to Tom Brady for the first time in Week 2 this year.
Drew Brees - Career Losses with a Clutch Field Goal Miss (4Q/OT)
L 20-17 OT
L 20-17 OT
L 27-24 OT
It was the fifth time Brees never had another opportunity with the ball after the miss. In the 2008 losses to Denver and Minnesota, he would get the ball back again, but only with 0:08 and 0:12 left respectively.
The comeback appears to have been much appreciated and talked about in the Rodgers’ household.
Well with a record that still sits at 4-20, the smoke reference is unexpectedly spot-on, Luke.
For the Packers, it was only the 8th fourth quarter comeback win in the Mike McCarthy era (8-28 record since 2006), but it might have just saved Green Bay’s season.
Mike McCarthy's Fourth Quarter Comeback Wins (8)
44-yd FG w/1:34 left (D.Rayner)
57-yd TD pass w/2:03 left (G.Jennings)
60-yd TD pass w/3:05 left (G.Jennings)
39-yd FG w/5:17 left (M.Crosby)
50-yd TD pass w/1:11 left (G.Jennings)
1-yd TD run w/12:39 left (R.Grant)
4-yd TD pass w/1:10 left (J.Finley)
11-yd TD pass w/7:00 left (J.Nelson)
Maybe this is the kind of win that will get the Packers going, or maybe the Saints are worse off than anyone expected this season.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Winner: New England (52-28)
Quarterback: Tom Brady (25-20 at 4QC, 37-22 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
You might be wondering how a 52-28 victory even makes its way into Captain Comeback, but believe it or not, this was a 21-21 game to start the fourth quarter.
Buffalo even led 21-7 in the third quarter, which meant for the fourth time in their last six regular season games, the Patriots trailed by at least 11 points. They were able to win last year after trailing by 17 to Miami (Week 16) and 21 to Buffalo (Week 17), but those games were at home.
The running game went to work for the Patriots, and the still very slow Tom Brady even ran in for a touchdown, and had something funny to say about it too.
On the very first play of the fourth quarter, Brady threw a pass to Rob Gronkowski, who was wide open enough down the seam that he could walk into the end zone for the touchdown.
Buffalo responded with three runs, and Fred Jackson coughed the ball up. Six plays later New England was in the end zone again for a 35-21 lead, and the rout was on.
Ryan Fitzpatrick never really had a legit opportunity here, but he threw four interceptions in the game as part of Buffalo’s six turnovers. The Bills’ defensive line, which they spent so much money and resources on, was gashed for 243 yards and three scores on 38 carries by the unheralded duo of Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley. Buffalo has allowed 100 points in losses to the Jets (48) and Patriots (52) this season.
Before crowning the New England running game, keep in mind the Patriots ran the ball 68 times for 400 yards against Buffalo in 2010. Those were two of the very best rushing performances the team has had in the Bill Belichick era, and the Bills are one of the worst run defenses in football in recent years.
The game was such a blowout in the end that it does not even feel right to give Brady the game-winning drive, but rules are rules. Here is a look at the biggest wins that came with a fourth quarter comeback and/or game-winning drive.
Top 10 Largest Margins of Victory in 4QC/GWD (Since 1940)
Norm Van Brocklin
It was the third time this happened to Buffalo, and they last did it in 2009 when the Titans outscored them 24-0 in the fourth quarter.
For New England, the game was similar to their Thanksgiving win in Detroit back in 2010. That day it was tied 24-24 to start the fourth quarter before Brady threw a game-winning touchdown on the third play of the quarter. The Patriots won 45-24.
The Patriots actually have failed to credit Brady in their media guide for the game-winning drive that day, and may end up doing the same for this one. But technically, it still counts, even if it can go down as one of the 10 most irrelevant game-winning scores in NFL history.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Miami Dolphins
Winner: Arizona (24-21 OT)
Largest Deficit: 7 (21-14)
Quarterback: Kevin Kolb (4-8 at 4QC, 4-8 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
The Cardiac Cardinals continue on their path to most improbable perfection. With 12 wins since 2011, Arizona has had a game-winning score in the fourth quarter or overtime in 10 of the games. Chalk up another one Sunday, and a fourth win this season alone with the much-criticized Kevin Kolb at the controls.
It was a wild game with many twists, turns, and unexpected performances.
- Kolb threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns, despite being sacked eight times and getting just 15 carries for 28 yards on the ground.
- Ryan Tannehill threw for 431 yards for the Dolphins. It was one short of Cam Newton’s rookie record of 432 yards.
- Brian Hartline had 12 catches for a Miami record 253 yards. Hartline has two career games with over 100 yards, and both have come since Week 2.
Arizona trailed 13-0 at halftime. They are now 10-197-1 (.050) when trailing by 13+ points at halftime.
Down 13-7 in the fourth quarter, Kolb hit two big passes in a row, including the 46-yard touchdown to an open Andre Roberts with 9:45 left for a 14-13 lead.
The defense responded, getting a fumble from Legedu Naanee, and Patrick Peterson returning it 60 yards to the Miami 3-yard line. Just when you thought Arizona would put the game away, Kolb reminded us of why we are all so skeptical of him, and he threw a horrible red zone interception. It was a nice catch by Sean Smith, but it never should have been thrown.
One play later, Tannehill hooked up with Hartline again for a wide open 80-yard touchdown. He converted on the two-point pass to Jorvorskie Lane for a 21-14 lead.
Arizona started their next drive with a false start and sack, and the magic felt to be slipping away. But the defense came up with a sack/fumble from Tannehill, and Kolb was in business again.
He had 2:51 left at his own 49, so there was plenty of time. But two quick sacks threatened to kill this drive in a hurry, bringing up a 3rd and 18. Kolb made a critical completion to Roberts for 16 yards to bring up a 4th and 2. Roberts caught the pass again for nine yards.
After two completions, Kolb threw three straight incompletions, bringing up a critical 4th and 10 at the Miami 15 with 0:29 left. This was the game, and Kevin freakin’ Kolb delivered the pass of his career to Roberts for the touchdown in the front corner of the end zone with 0:22 left.
In overtime, the Cardinals went three and out. Now with a chance to win, Tannehill was driving Miami, but Arizona rushed six, and under pressure Tannehill was hit and intercepted by Kerry Rhodes on a bad pass.
Kolb had another big third-down conversion to Early Doucet, and after three runs, Jay Feely came out and kicked the 46-yard game-winning field goal. The Cardinals are 4-0, and they did it their way again.
For the rookie Tannehill, we are always looking at how the clutch record can be misleading for a quarterback. In the last two weeks, Tannehill has watched his defense blow two late leads, and Dan Carpenter missed a game-winning field goal last week.
With a made field goal and a fourth-down stop – things really out of Tannehill’s control – he could be easily sitting at 3-1 with a pair of comebacks and game-winning drives (and one fewer interception). Not bad for a rookie, so have some hope, Miami fans.
It remains to be seen if the Arizona Cardinals are just another fraud team like the 2008 Buffalo Bills or 2009 Denver Broncos, but we have seen them live dangerously close late in the game and keep winning since last season.
Last year it was mostly John Skelton, and now it is with their intended starting quarterback – intended from the big money he was given last year that is – in Kolb.
Whether they look good, bad or ugly, the Cardinals are always fun to watch in the fourth quarter (and overtime).
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
Winner: Philadelphia (19-17)
Largest Deficit: 1 (17-16)
Quarterback: Michael Vick (12-23-1 at 4QC, 16-25-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
In 2011 the Philadelphia Eagles were 0-6 at their fourth quarter comeback opportunities, with five blown leads. The New York Giants, on their way to winning the Super Bowl, had a 7-5 record at their comeback opportunities.
So far in 2012, the Eagles are 3-0 while the Giants are now 1-2. Is this the comeback regression we looked at before the season started going to work already?
Close game or not, the Eagles are now 8-1 in their last nine games against the Giants, so maybe this is no surprise, but it sure was surprising to see the Giants fall apart in the fourth quarter.
New York trailed 13-10. After a nice 4th-and-1 conversion to Victor Cruz for 30 yards to end the third quarter, we expected greatness out of Eli Manning again. NBC’s Al Michaels even called him the “master of the comeback” a few times during the broadcast. That’s right. No “game-winning drive” semantics like we usually hear on a NBC broadcast. Michaels brought out the ‘c’ word.
On the very first play of the quarter, Eli threw a terrible pass that was easily intercepted in the end zone. That was a head-scratcher. The Eagles added a field goal to take a 16-10 lead.
This time Manning, seeking his 10th game-winning drive in his last 22 games, came back with big completions of 31 and 41 yards. He threw a 6-yard touchdown to Bear Pascoe with 6:45 left on a drive that looked way too easy.
Michael Vick led the Eagles on a very efficient drive. At least it was efficient until they reached a first-and-goal situation from the NYG 8. LeSean McCoy ran for four yards to get to the two-minute warning. After a two-yard run, the Giants used their second timeout.
At this point, like last season with Vince Young at quarterback, the Eagles really needed to go for the touchdown. A field goal leaves way too much time for Manning to drive his offense into position for their own winning field goal.
Instead, Vick just rolled out to his left and eventually ate the ball on a sack. The Giants used their final timeout, and Alex Henery kicked the 26-yard field goal for a 19-17 lead. It was the type of game management that draws career criticism for coach Andy Reid.
Now with 1:43 left at his own 35, this should be easy for the “master of the comeback” as Michaels pegged the young Manning. However, the drive started very sloppy, and the Giants were soon facing a 4th and 1. They were bailed out by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie committing pass interference as Eli went unusually deep on the play.
That put the ball at the PHI 35; where soon after Ramses Barden would have a terrible drop after being hit. But on third down, Barden drew a questionable pass interference call on Nnamdi Asomugha.
Now the ball at the PHI 27, this one should be in the bank, right? Manning threw deep on second down for some reason, and Barden had a terrible offensive pass interference, pushing the ball back 10 yards.
Manning again went deep when he shouldn’t, and now the Giants were facing a 3rd and 19. They almost had to bring out the field goal unit now, and Lawrence Tynes badly missed the 54-yard attempt. However, Reid called timeout to try and ice the kicker, so he got another shot.
But after seeing how bad Tynes was on the kick, Tom Coughlin should have had the offense try one more pass to the sideline. They did not, and the expected outcome finally came true: Tynes was on target, but a few yards short on the field goal with eight seconds left. The Eagles escaped again.
For a team who usually executes so well in these situations, the Giants’ last drive was a total mess. Rather than Manning rack up another comeback, it was Michael Vick’s third of the season.
Vick becomes the fourth quarterback since 1960 to lead a comeback and game-winning drive in three of his team’s first four games. The others were Terry Bradshaw (1979 Steelers), Brett Favre (1999 Packers) and Vinny Testaverde (2000 Jets).
The Packers and Jets did not make the playoffs those years, but the Steelers did win the Super Bowl, and they even led the league in turnovers (52 of them). Maybe that is the model the 2012 Eagles are hoping to follow.
They can take a look at the 1979 Super Bowl trophy this weekend as they face the Steelers in Pittsburgh. A 3-1 record that could so easily be 0-4, we will see if their magic continues.
Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winner: Washington (24-22)
Largest Deficit: 1 (22-21)
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III (1-2 at 4QC, 1-2 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Nothing has really gone right for Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers since the kneel down incident in New York. Down 21-3 in the first half at home, it looked like a blowout was on for the Redskins.
But after Billy Cundiff missed a 31-yard field goal wide left (sound familiar?) to start the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay was right back in it, trailing 21-13.
Vincent Jackson caught a deep one for 54 yards, and another for 22 yards to set up LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown. A false start moved the conversion back, and Josh Freeman’s pass to Mike Williams was incomplete with 9:41 left.
After a series of punts, Freeman drove the Buccaneers to the Washington 33, but threw incomplete at the two-minute warning and a 5-yard gain on third down. Connor Barth nailed the 47-yard field goal for a 22-21 lead with 1:42 left.
On the verge of allowing a game-winning drive for the third straight week, Robert Griffin III had enough time to answer back this week. Running the hurry-up offense in his fourth NFL game, Griffin completed passes of 15, 20 and four yards before making a big scramble – without sliding even – for 15 more yards. He spiked the ball then completed one more pass for a 7-yard gain.
Cundiff already had three misses in the game and the nightmare kick in last year’s AFC Championship loss, so this was a big moment in his career. He made the 41-yard kick with three seconds to spare, giving the Redskins the 24-22 win. Tampa Bay has dropped three straight close games.
It was the first of what Washington fans hope to be many comebacks and game-winning drives for Griffin.
Rookie QB's: 300+ Yards Passing and a 4QC/GWD (Since 1960)
Robert Griffin III
Billy Joe Tolliver
Griffin is the 17th rookie quarterback since 1960 to pass for over 300 yards and lead a comeback and game-winning drive. Once a rare event, this is the fifth season in a row it has happened, and we likely have not seen the last this season.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
With a lot of successful fourth quarter wins this week, we only have failures from Detroit, Seattle and Cleveland. The Hail Mary was in focus again, but Cleveland couldn’t keep their attempt inbounds, Seattle never went for the end zone, and Detroit couldn’t even buy time for their quarterback to throw one.
Minnesota Special in Detroit
The Vikings and Lions appear to be two teams headed in opposite directions from last year. At the start of this one, Percy Harvin was headed 105 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff.
Since 1940, teams returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown are now 51-37 (.580) in the regular season, which basically means Minnesota negated Detroit’s home-field advantage.
That home crowd turned on the team in the third quarter when Jim Schwartz punted on a 4th and 1 at the MIN 40 with his team trailing 20-6. It was a wimpy call, especially when the Vikings only scored six points on offense in the game (they had a punt return for a touchdown along with Harvin’s return).
Detroit continued to struggle offensively too, and Matthew Stafford was sacked on a 4th and 5 at the MIN 7 with 9:48 remaining in the game.
They got it together to go 75 yards for a touchdown on their next drive, followed by the defense getting a stop. However, Stafford would have 1:42 to go 98 yards without a timeout. He has had some impressive drives before, but this is never easy.
Calvin Johnson even dropped a big pass on the drive, but made up for it with a 4th-and-10 conversion. Following a spike, Stafford was sacked and ruled to have fumbled, but he was clearly down first. The referees blew the call live, but fixed it in replay.
After a 6-yard gain to get a little closer, the Lions were down to one play and 56 yards away from the end zone. Stafford never had time to even set up the Hail Mary as he went down for the sack to end the game.
With Detroit at 1-3 and Minnesota 3-1, this could have been the early dagger in the Lions’ season. Since starting 5-0 last year, the Lions are just 6-10.
No Miracle Finish This Time for Seattle
Forget the fact Seattle was 13-1 against St. Louis from 2005 to 2011. Coming off that emotional – and valid – Monday night win, it probably took the Seahawks an extra day to get over it. Throw in a trip to divisional foe St. Louis with an early start time, and a letdown was predictable.
It was not evident from the start, as Seattle opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown drive, but things cooled off from there.
Down 16-10 in the fourth quarter, Seattle settled for a field goal. The Rams ate up nearly half the quarter with a field goal drive of their own for a 19-13 lead. Seattle would have to punt after Russell Wilson was sacked on third down.
After stuffing Steven Jackson on a 3rd-and-1 run, Seattle had 3:09 left for another last-second touchdown to win the game. Things were moving alone fine to the 35-yard line of the Rams, but it was there when intended receiver Anthony McCoy fell down and Russell threw his third interception of the game, ending this rally.
It was only two years ago – Sam Bradford’s rookie season -- when St. Louis started 2-2 with their wins coming over the Redskins and Seahawks. That is where they sit this year s well, and can make a big statement with a win over the Arizona Cardinals at home on Thursday Night Football.
St. Louis has not been over .500 in almost six years: they were 4-1 after a win over Green Bay on October 8, 2006 before falling to 4-4 (November 5th vs. Kansas City), and never again exceeding .500.
If it’s Brown and Stinks…It Must Be Cleveland
Remember the Thursday night game between Cleveland and Baltimore? The NFL weeks seem to run into each other anymore with the Thursday games, and it felt like eons ago when real referee Gene Steratore was posing for the cameras as the refs made their ballyhooed return.
It did not take long for boo’s to return, and we were also treated to what looked like another subpar Cleveland offense who would only stay in the game if the bad Joe Flacco showed up. Other than a horrid red zone pick, he played well, but the game was still closer than expected.
Cleveland looked to have blown their opportunity even before the fourth quarter, which is another example of how a quarterback can game the system in regards to their clutch record.
Rookie Brandon Weeden faced a 3rd-and-5 play. Had he did something good and converted, the game would have went to the fourth quarter with Cleveland trailing 16-10. Instead, he throws a bad pick six, returned 63 yards by Cary Williams down the left sideline for a 23-10 lead.
At this point it did not look like Cleveland would ever get it back to a one-score game in the fourth quarter, keeping a loss out of Weeden’s column for failed comebacks. But, Cleveland surprised us as Weeden got into a bit of a rhythm and led two drives for Phil Dawson field goals to make it a 23-16 game late.
Baltimore gained two first downs, but Flacco kept it on the ground on third down and they punted. Weeden would have to go 90 yards in 1:05 without a timeout. What seemed hopeless started to come together quickly with completions of 13, 27 and 17 yards.
After a spike and incompletion, Weeden almost had Greg Little for a touchdown, but could not connect. On 4th and 10 from the 33, Weeden went to the deep left a la Russell Wilson, but the pass was incomplete. Instead of game over, Cleveland would get one more chance because Paul Kruger was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for a late push (and Joe Thomas flop).
Now at the 18 and with two seconds left, we had one more play. Instead of more late-game glory, Weeden threw the ball too far and it went out of bounds. What a gyp of an ending.
Baltimore improved to 9-0 versus Cleveland in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, but it was not easy. The NFL is force-feeding us the Ravens this year, as it was their third home prime time game – fourth game overall – in 18 days. Guess it would be understandable for them to suffer a letdown after last week’s emotional win over New England.
Cleveland is 0-4, but they have already had three failed comebacks and also lost 34-27 to Cincinnati. Either the Browns are a work in progress, or it is just more of the same old…stuff from Cleveland.
Next week: Manning vs. Brady, but can Denver do better than the combined 86-33 beat-down suffered in two losses to New England last year? We also have the battle of Pennsylvania, the Colts coming off their bye to host Green Bay, and Drew Brees trying to break a record he’s already owned since Week 1 by logical standards.
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.