Captain Comeback: Seattle’s Russell Wilson Last Rookie QB Standing

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 07, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar

Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

 

When you match up some of the more “fringe” playoff teams and the last teams into the tournament, the ones riding a wave of late-season momentum, you expect the unexpected on the aptly named Wild Card weekend.

This year’s slate actually played out similar to last year, with the home teams dominating, and no real exciting fourth-quarter finish until that last game in the late Sunday afternoon slot. You remember it. Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas in overtime, shattering the possibilities of what the new overtime system can bring.

But where this year really differed from practically any other is that the big stories were happening before the games even started, and frankly it ruined the competitive nature of the weekend.

  • Minnesota’s Christian Ponder was a surprise inactive just before the game in Green Bay, forcing the rusty-but-green Joe Webb into the starting role.
  • Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, the potential Coach of the Year winner, suffered an “episode” Sunday morning that sent him to the hospital, and he would miss the game.
  • The field in Washington looked terrible, but not as bad as the health of Robert Griffin III as the game wore on.
  • Cincinnati and Houston had no such drama. The game just kind of stunk.

While all four favorites won, the games did not deliver what they were capable of with these rather unforeseen events holding them back. We had three comeback opportunities, but only one team came through in crunch time.

On a weekend when rookie quarterbacks were the big story, it is the little guy out of the third round, Russell Wilson, left standing in the postseason. Even that was probably expected, but it concluded a weekend that was more awkward than wild.

Season Report
Fourth quarter comebacks: 67
Game-winning drives: 82
Games with 4QC opportunity: 144/260 (55.4 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 39

 

DRIVE OF THE WEEK

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins

Winner: Seattle (24-14)
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 1 (14-13)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (4-4 at 4QC, 5-5 overall 4Q/OT record - table)

The much-hyped second playoff game ever between rookie quarterbacks provided the weekend’s closest game, even if it was unevenly played. Seattle, a team that has rarely trailed by two scores this season with the No. 1 scoring defense, quickly fell behind 14-0 for their largest deficit of the season.

Isn’t it something how the playoffs can bring out the worst in a team?

Robert Griffin III had two touchdown passes while Russell Wilson was sacked twice. At this point things were getting way out of hand, and the Seahawks faced a 3rd and 12. But that’s when the game’s unsung hero, tight end Zach Miller, made his first crucial play with an amazing catch on a ball that was destined to hit the ground. Not only was the catch great, but he made the effort to convert for the first down as well.

That gave Seattle life, as did a 27-yard gain on another fantastic catch by Sidney Rice. Safety Reed Doughty nearly had an interception of Wilson in the end zone, but did not make the play. That would cost the Redskins three points as Seattle got on the board.

After a bad snap (more to come here), Griffin looked like he could barely move on a poorly thrown pass on 3rd and 2. Griffin would go on to gain one first down in the game’s final three quarters.

After a Seattle touchdown to a wide open Michael Robinson, Griffin went deep, but the pass was badly underthrown and Earl Thomas made a great interception. Seattle used the rest of the clock to kick a field goal, trailing 14-13 at the half.

Seattle started the second half with Marshawn Lynch cutting a run back and Wilson doing some blocking for him (more of this to come as well). The play gained 26 yards. Bt after driving to the 1-yard line, Lynch fumbled the ball for a costly error.

Griffin converted the 3rd and 4 with a 5-yard pass to Santana Moss, which would serve as Griffin’s last first down in the game. The teams exchanged punts as the game moved into the fourth quarter.

Still down 14-13, the Seahawks went three and out after Doughty sacked Wilson on a 3rd and 2 that was not a good play design. This is when Griffin started Washington’s drive with a 9-yard run in which he was limping the whole way. Common sense would tell anyone that this player does not belong in the game, but Mike Shanahan did not have the guts to bench Griffin for Kirk Cousins. He should have. This hobbled run said it all. It’s not fair to the Redskins to keep him in there like that.

Leonard Hankerson dropped a pass on 3rd and 7, which was about the only good pass Griffin delivered in the final three quarters. He finished the game just 10 of 19 for 84 yards.

With 10:53 left, Wilson took over. Lynch gained 18 on another big run, but the Seahawks then faced a critical 3rd and 10. Washington rushed five, but it was blocked, Miller delayed out of the backfield and was wide open for a huge 22-yard gain to the WAS 32.

After a 5-yard run by Lynch, he got the carry on 3rd and 5, Wilson again raced out as a blocker, and Lynch powered his way down the right sideline for a 27-yard touchdown run with 7:08 left. “Beast Mode” hit the playoffs once again. Seattle emptied the backfield and converted their first two-point conversion attempt of the year with Wilson’s slant pass to none other than Miller. These are critical plays, and it gave Seattle the 21-14 lead.

Needing a comeback, Griffin went to the play-action pass. After initially looking like he had all day to throw, Griffin was buried for a 12-yard loss by rookie Bruce Irvin on the sack. One play later, more disaster struck as a poor, low snap went past Griffin, and as he tried to recover the ball, his knee bent in a way it’s not meant to. Griffin crumbled to the ground, and Seattle recovered the ball at the WAS 5.

In that moment, you can tell the Redskins’ season was over with 6:19 to play. Griffin was down for a while before walking off the field. The strategy for Seattle should have been simple. Three runs, kill clock and kick the field goal to go up 10. Instead they throw the ball twice, both incomplete, and only use 0:47 to take a 24-14 lead.

Still, the game was well in their hand as Cousins entered the game for Griffin. He did have quick completions of 15 and 12 yards to Hankerson, but another bad snap set things back. On 4th and 14, Seattle brought the pressure and Cousins barely got the short pass off incomplete to end the drive.

Wilson would convert a 4th and 1 with a 6-yard pass to Miller, who was just money on the day. The 4th-and-4 pass to Robinson was not as successful, but only 1:08 remained. Washington went four and out, and Wilson took a knee to secure his first playoff win and the only road win of the weekend. It is the biggest playoff comeback in Seattle history, though they received plenty of help from this wounded Washington offense.

Besides, teams who trail 14-0 after the first quarter but pitch a shutout in the final three are 20-8-1 (.707) since 1940. You expect a team good enough to go up 14-0 to score again, but this was an odd game with a badly hobbled quarterback.

Seattle rushed for 225 yards (excluding kneel down) and dominated the final three quarters. Shanahan is going to rightfully hear questions all offseason for how he handled Griffin down the stretch this year. It does not help when the respected Dr. James Andrews is not on Shanahan’s side in clearing Griffin to play.

Would the season have ended differently if Griffin was allowed to rest before the playoffs? Cousins could have guided wins over the Eagles and Cowboys. We will never know, but it is clear Seattle has a heck of a team in their own right, and they took care of business this week on the road.

 

COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK

Normally we try to avert our eyes from the comeback failures of the week, but there was an entire game that was tough to watch in Green Bay on Saturday night. Fortunately that was the only non-close game of the weekend, but that does not mean the AFC games were instant classics themselves.

 

Colts at Ravens: Luck runs out in Baltimore

After a season full of improbable wins on their way to an 11-5 record, the Indianapolis Colts could not overcome their roster flaws and another coaching hurdle in a 24-9 loss in Baltimore.

Offensive coordinator and successful interim coach (9-3) Bruce Arians was shockingly absent from the game following a trip to the hospital Sunday morning for flu-like symptoms. While he is fine, this is not the kind of unexpected change any team wants to see on the morning of a playoff game.

With one team missing a key member of the coaching staff, the Baltimore Ravens welcomed back their team leader in Ray Lewis, who played what should be his final home game after announcing he will retire following the season.

Early on, the game had all the makings of a slugfest, as Ray Rice and Andrew Luck each fumbled in opponent territory in a scoreless first quarter. Baltimore got on the board first with a field goal, which was answered by a 47-yard field goal from all-time postseason scoring leader Adam Vinatieri.

But that’s when Rice made up for his mistake with a 47-yard gain on a screen pass to set up Vonta Leach for a 2-yard touchdown. As he’s done all season, Luck led the offense down the field in the hurry-up. A brilliant play from Luck to T.Y. Hilton on 3rd and 26 gained 25 yards with 0:03 left in the half, allowing Vinatieri to make the 52-yard field goal. The Colts trailed 10-6 at halftime.

Baltimore’s passing game exploded in the second half led by Anquan Boldin’s 145 yards (all in the half). The Ravens led 17-6 after a 20-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta, but the Colts had plenty of time for another comeback.

Luck converted three different third downs, but the drive once again stalled in the red zone, and Vinatieri kicked the 26-yard field goal. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Rice broke off an 18-yard run, but once again fumbled.

Now Luck had his chance for a comeback, down 17-9. He again led the offense into the red zone, but the third false start penalty of the half moved them back. On 3rd and 9, Donnie Avery dropped a pass, and Vinatieri came back on. Shockingly, he missed the 40-yard kick wide right with 11:44 to play.

Bernard Pierce, arguably outplaying Rice as of late, ripped the defense for a 43-yard run on 3rd and 1. Two plays after that game changer, it was Boldin in the end zone for the 18-yard touchdown. Ravens led 24-9 with 9:14 left.

The Colts again marched into the red zone, but after Dwayne Allen slipped on a 3rd and 1, the Colts stayed with an empty backfield and Luck’s pass was tipped by Corey Graham and intercepted by Cary Williams. Looking like a pick six, Luck actually made the tackle to prevent a score with 5:24 left.

That pick was Luck’s 45th pass attempt of the game; the longest any rookie quarterback has gone without an interception in the playoffs. Before Russell Wilson later finished pick-free (with some luck) on 26 attempts, all 14 rookie quarterback with 24+ attempts threw at least one interception.

NFL Rookie Quarterbacks - 24+ Pass Attempts in Playoff Game

QB

Team

Game

Date

Opp.

Result

Att

Cmp

Pct.

Yds

TD

INT

PR

Andrew Luck

IND

AFC-WC

1/6/2013

at BAL

L 24-9

54

28

51.9

288

0

1

59.8

Andy Dalton

CIN

AFC-WC

1/7/2012

at HOU

L 31-10

42

27

64.3

257

0

3

51.4

Matt Ryan

ATL

NFC-WC

1/3/2009

at CRD

L 30-24

40

26

65.0

199

2

2

72.8

T.J. Yates

HOU

AFC-D

1/15/2012

at BAL

L 20-13

35

17

48.6

184

0

3

28.8

Sammy Baugh

WAS

NFL-C

12/12/1937

at CHI

W 28-21

33

18

54.5

335

3

1

107.5

Shaun King

TB

NFC-D

1/15/2000

WAS

W 14-13

32

15

46.9

157

1

1

59.0

Joe Flacco

BAL

AFC-C

1/18/2009

at PIT

L 23-14

30

13

43.3

141

0

3

18.2

Ben Roethlisberger

PIT

AFC-D

1/15/2005

NYJ

W 20-17

30

17

56.7

181

1

2

57.8

Mark Sanchez

NYJ

AFC-C

1/24/2010

at IND

L 30-17

30

17

56.7

257

2

1

93.3

Shaun King

TB

NFC-C

1/23/2000

at RAM

L 11-6

29

13

44.8

163

0

2

34.1

Bob Waterfield

CLE

NFL-C

12/16/1945

WAS

W 15-14

27

14

51.9

192

2

2

68.8

Russell Wilson

SEA

NFC-WC

1/6/2013

at WAS

W 24-14

26

15

57.7

187

1

0

92.9

Dan Marino

MIA

AFC-D

12/31/1983

SEA

L 27-20

25

15

60.0

193

2

2

77.6

Daryle Lamonica

BUF

AFL-D

12/28/1963

BOS

L 26-8

24

9

37.5

168

1

3

36.8

Ben Roethlisberger

PIT

AFC-C

1/23/2005

NE

L 41-27

24

14

58.3

226

2

3

78.1

After the pick, Baltimore went three and out, but the Colts receivers were dropping passes left and right in the quarter, and on a 4th and 5 at the BAL 37, Vick Ballard dropped Luck’s 54th pass of the game. The Ravens put it away on the ground to end the game.

Flacco had 282 yards on 12 completions. The 23.5 yards per completion ranks as the second highest ever in a playoff game after Tim Tebow’s 31.6 against the Steelers a year ago. We just had this table in last season’s Wild Card recap.

Highest Yards per Completion - Postseason (Min. 10 Completions)

Rk

QB

Team

Date

Opp.

Result

Att.

Comp.

Yards

YPC

1

Tim Tebow

DEN

1/8/2012

PIT

W 29-23 OT

21

10

316

31.60

2

Joe Flacco

BAL

1/6/2013

CLT

W 24-9

23

12

282

23.50

3

Tobin Rote

DET

12/29/1957

CLE

W 59-14

19

12

280

23.33

4

Jeff Hostetler

RAI

1/9/1994

DEN

W 42-24

19

13

294

22.62

5

Craig Morton

DEN

1/1/1978

RAI

W 20-17

20

10

224

22.40

6

Johnny Unitas

CLT

1/3/1971

RAI

W 27-17

30

11

245

22.27

7

Terry Bradshaw

PIT

1/20/1980

RAM

W 31-19

21

14

309

22.07

Luck’s 54 attempts are a rookie playoff record, and one fewer than Robert Griffin III, Wilson and Kirk Cousins would combine for in the later game. The 28 completions are another rookie record, breaking Andy Dalton’s 27 in Houston last year.

Most Passing Yards by NFL Rookie QB in Playoffs

QB

Team

Game

Date

Opp.

Result

Att

Cmp

Pct.

Yds

TD

INT

PR

Sammy Baugh

WAS

NFL-C

12/12/1937

at CHI

W 28-21

33

18

54.5

335

3

1

107.5

Andrew Luck

IND

AFC-WC

1/6/2013

at BAL

L 24-9

54

28

51.9

288

0

1

59.8

Andy Dalton

CIN

AFC-WC

1/7/2012

at HOU

L 31-10

42

27

64.3

257

0

3

51.4

Mark Sanchez

NYJ

AFC-C

1/24/2010

at IND

L 30-17

30

17

56.7

257

2

1

93.3

Ben Roethlisberger

PIT

AFC-C

1/23/2005

NE

L 41-27

24

14

58.3

226

2

3

78.1

Harry Newman

NYG

NFL-C

12/17/1933

at CHI

L 23-21

19

13

68.4

209

2

1

118.1

Luck passed for 288 yards, which is the second most ever by a rookie quarterback, but no comeback magic this week after too many blown opportunities, and just not enough pass protection.

With 486 playoff games in the books, the Colts are the first team ever to go over 400 yards of offense and score fewer than 10 points. Settling for field goals and missing one will do it. The previous high was 384 yards by the 1952 Cleveland Browns, who lost 17-7 to the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship game.

Indianapolis’ 419 yards of offense ties them for the 11th most by a team since 1940 that only scored single-digit points. The offense ran 87 plays, which are the second most ever in a non-overtime playoff game. Only the 1982 Cowboys (92 plays) against Tampa Bay had more.

Outside of Rice’s fumbles, the Ravens looked rather good on offense, and they were just too much for these Colts to handle. But it was still a great season for Indianapolis, and they are on the right path back to competing for a championship.

The 2008-2012 Ravens are now only the sixth team in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in five consecutive seasons. The previous five reached at least one Super Bowl, and four of them won at least one. Baltimore hopes to bring Lewis one more ring in his going-out party, but will need a huge win in Denver first.

 

Bengals at Texans: Cincinnati gets the pick six this year, but wastes it

Last year it was the Bengals as the No. 6 seed heading into Houston for the first game of the playoffs on Wild Card weekend. This year it was an exact replica of that game, except the Texans started Matt Schaub instead of T.J. Yates, and the expectations were much higher this season.

But after losing out on the No. 1 seed, Houston was right back in the same position they started last postseason. Last year’s game swung on a crucial pick six created by J.J. Watt off Andy Dalton before halftime.

This time it was Cincinnati making the pick six, as Leon Hall got Schaub on a 21-yard return in the second quarter. Cincinnati led 7-6. Historically, playoff teams getting a pick six are 75-16 (.824) all time.

Well make that 75-17 after Cincinnati bungled their way through this game, scoring six points on offense. In terms of net points, the offense was three points ahead of last year’s performance, but it might have even looked worse. Dalton was hardly a factor, and A.J. Green did not even have a catch until the third quarter.

The Bengals went 7-1 in the second half of the season, only losing on a last-second comeback by Dallas, and they did it with a defense allowing 12.8 points per game. The defense did what they could, but the offense never showed up.

Houston led 9-7 at halftime, and their time of possession (22:53) was greater than what the Bengals finished the entire game with (21:11).

The pick six is one of the few reasons this was not a Houston blowout. Schaub finished 29 of 38 for 262 yards, but had two spikes and at least two dropped passes on third down plays by Owen Daniels and Andre Johnson. That means he only missed no more than five passes, though he did have nine failed completions on a dink and dunk type of day.

Arian Foster was a monster again, rushing 32 times for 140 yards. He is the first running back ever to have three consecutive 100-yard rushing games to start his playoff career.

But with the pick six and crucial drops, Houston kept settling for field goals, keeping the score within striking distance. Another field goal gave Houston a 19-10 lead two plays into the fourth quarter. The Bengals answered with Josh Brown’s 47-yard field goal.

After the Houston punt, the Bengals faced their first fourth-quarter comeback opportunity in the playoffs since 1/13/1991. Yeah, it has been a long time. Dalton had to go 80 yards, but had 6:15 to work on the 19-13 deficit.

A pass interference penalty put the ball at midfield before Dalton’s 15-yard completion gained another first down. But then things stalled. The running game lost a yard, Jermaine Gresham could not make a catch in tight coverage, then the big one.

On 3rd and 11, Dalton had the young stud Green open in the end zone, but he badly overshot him from the HOU 36. Fitting that the Bengals would go 0/9 on third down in the game, and none were bigger than this failure. Having to go for it, the Bengals thought they could try a pick play, and the experiment failed on just an 8-yard gain that turned the ball over on downs. Do you really want to throw a six-yard pass on 4th and 11 with the season on the line?

After two runs by Foster, the Texans went play action, Schaub had plenty of time, and he delivered the winning strike to Garrett Graham over the middle for seven yards. Schaub knew he had his first playoff win.

However, something shady did happen here. With 2:23 left, normally the clock would have ticked down to the two-minute warning, and with the Bengals out of timeouts, that means three kneel downs for victory. But since the Bengals were flagged 15 yards for hitting a defenseless receiver, the clock stopped.

It’s basically another timeout, albeit you have to give up 15 yards. But in such a desperate situation, every defense should commit a personal foul penalty before the two-minute warning to stop the clock. It is another flawed rule.

This meant without another first down, the Bengals were going to get the ball back for one more miracle shot. The NFL needs to look into changing this to where the team can choose to decline the penalty and/or decline the clock stopping. The game should have been over on the completion.

Instead, Foster’s 10-yard run on 2nd and 8 clinched it for good. Still, it should have not even come to that. Texans fans can probably say it should not have even come to this drive being important, as they basically dominated the Bengals for the second straight season.

 

Vikings at Packers: Pondering what a real QB may have done for Minnesota

Close another case for why quarterbacks are the most valuable players in football. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, one of the more marginal starters in the 2012 season, was sorely missed Saturday night when he was surprisingly ruled inactive for the game with a triceps injury. Adrian Peterson was merely a spectator in his absence.

Insert third-year player Joe Webb, who did not throw a single pass in the regular season. This would only be his third start in the NFL, and Webb is the first quarterback ever to start a playoff game without any regular season pass attempts that season.

The only other players to log a playoff start without a regular season start were Roger Staubach (1972 Cowboys), Gary Danielson (1983 Lions) and Frank Reich (1992 Bills). It took the greatest comeback in NFL history for Reich to get the lone win here.

NFL Network had a good list of the players with the fewest pass attempts that started in the playoffs that season. All seven lost. At least Staubach came off the bench the week before for an incredible comeback win in San Francisco.

Fewest Pass Attempts in Regular Season for Playoff Starter

Rk

Quarterback

Year

Team

Pass Attempts (RS)

Playoff Result

1

Joe Webb

2012

MIN

0

Lost NFC-WC

2

Tom Matte

1965

CLT

7

Lost NFL-DIV

3

Roger Staubach

1972

DAL

20

Lost NFC-C

4

Rob Johnson

1999

BUF

34

Lost AFC-WC

5

Rex Grossman

2005

CHI

39

Lost NFC-DIV

6

Todd Marinovich

1991

RAI

40

Lost AFC-WC

7

Doug Flutie

1986

CHI

46

Lost NFC-DIV

As you might have expected, the results for Webb were disastrous. He completed 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards, TD, INT and was sacked three times. He did run seven times for 68 yards, but lost a fumble on a fourth-down sack. Even his passing was misleading, as 119 yards and the touchdown came in the final 4:10 when the Vikings trailed 24-3 and then 24-10 on the meaningless last drive.

Now ignoring team strength, this had to be the toughest situation for any starting quarterback in playoff history. Webb did not have the reps this season, he probably did not find out he was going to start until hours before the game, and the Vikings have some of the worst receiving talent ever for a playoff team ever since Percy Harvin went on injured reserve.

Oh, and he was trying to outscore Aaron Rodgers at frigid Lambeau Field. This just was not going to work, and a crap game like this is exactly why the NFL tries to limit hits on the quarterback, as no one wants to pay to watch this. It also should destroy the argument that we need to expand the playoff field.

The game was 24-10, but it was not even that close, and it was not very entertaining to watch as well. Green Bay practically mailed it in during the second half after taking a 24-3 lead. The offense went three and out on five straight drives, but it did not even matter as Webb never gave any threat of offense, and Peterson’s 99 rushing yards were a complete nonfactor.

Most expected a Green Bay win anyway, but it probably would have been a more competitive game with Ponder starting. This game was lousy even when using the Thursday Night Football standard to judge it.

We thought the Packers missed a first-round bye on Sunday when they lost to the Vikings, putting that team into the postseason. But in the end, that loss ended up giving the Packers the closest thing to a bye.

On to San Francisco now, as expected anyway.

 

Next week

It is unlikely the Captain can repeat his success from Wild Card weekend, so might as well revel in the week that was.

 

  • Pick: Texans 19, Bengals 16
  • Actual: Texans 19, Bengals 13
  • Pick: Packers 24, Vikings 13
  • Actual: Packers 24, Vikings 10
  • Pick: Colts 20, Ravens 17
  • Actual: Colts 9, Ravens 24
  • Pick: Seahawks 24, Redskins 20
  • Actual: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14

 

Though picking the Colts was a blunder, nailing the other three winners with the right amount of points they would score is a real achievement, and no formula necessary. Just a whole lot of luck (but not enough Luck).

Now we will just be waiting to see if Baltimore and Houston can keep things closer than last time against Denver and New England, and if the Packers can flip the script on the 49ers from Week 1. Also, Seattle/Atlanta could be the best fourth quarter of the playoffs so far if things play out right.

 

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 smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


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