Captain Comeback Week 11: The Old College Try

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 22, 2011



By Scott Kacsmar
Captain Comeback


It was an exciting week of football that started on Thursday night, and wrapped up with a dud of a second half on Monday as New England took care of the Chiefs, 34-3, in Tyler Palko’s first NFL start.
 
The bye weeks are finally over, and every team has played 10 games this season. Everyone in the AFC is in the 3-7 win range, while the Colts still cling to imperfection at 0-10. The Packers became the 9th team to win at least 16 straight games, and San Francisco won their eighth straight game. This sets up what should be a great Thanksgiving for football.
 
Eight of the 14 games featured a fourth quarter comeback opportunity this week, with only two teams pulling out the victory (hint: they both have a very polarizing figure at quarterback).
 
It was a successful week for three of the NCAA’s most decorated quarterbacks: Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Vince Young. They each led game-winning drives (two in primetime), but only one was good enough to earn…
 

Drive of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Winner: Philadelphia (17-10)

 
Type: GWD
Quarterback: Vince Young (7 4QC, 13 GWD – table)
 
Just like clockwork, the Eagles led 10-3 to start the fourth quarter. And just like clockwork, Eli Manning threw a game-tying touchdown to Victor Cruz.
 
That has been the story of Philadelphia’s season: blown fourth quarter leads. They already have five of them, and a record sixth looked to be on the way.
 
The difference this week was Vince Young started at quarterback instead of the injured Michael Vick. If there’s one thing Vince Young’s good for, it is game-winning drives. Even though he had thrown three interceptions earlier in the game, Young took over with a chance to put the Eagles ahead again.
 
And there it was: an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was perfectly executed offense and took 8:51 off the clock. They converted six straight third downs. With no penalties, that means they used all three downs to gain a first down on six consecutive attempts. That’s the kind of clock-killing efficiency that any offense should strive for.
 
Young was 7/9 for 67 yards and the touchdown on the drive, while also rushing twice for 4 yards. He saved his best conversion for the last play: an 8-yard touchdown to Riley Cooper in the back of the end zone just when you thought the Eagles would have to settle for the field goal.
 
The long drive left Eli Manning with probably jsut one final chance to answer, and he had to go 91 yards in the last 2:39. After overcoming an intentional grounding penalty, Eli completed a pass to Cruz for a 47-yard gain to the Eagles’ 21. With plenty of time left, this looked like another NFC East battle headed for overtime.
 
That’s when Eli scrambled to his right and didn’t sense Jason Babin coming from behind. Babin forced the fumble, and the Eagles recovered. Finally, a defensive stand to protect the fourth quarter lead.
 
The Giants surrendered a game-winning drive for the second straight week while Eli was unable to deliver one of his own. That leaves the Giants tied with Dallas at 6-4 in the NFC East, and the Eagles still kicking somewhat at 4-6.
 
The forced fumble was huge, but it was another long Vince Young drive that did the trick for the Eagles this week.
 

Vince Just Wins

It feels wrong to even type, but like a certain other quarterback (he’s up next), Vince Young just finds a way to put everything that went wrong behind him and delivers the necessary plays to win the game late. It happened so often at Texas, in Tennessee, and now in his first real opportunity with the Eagles, a team that couldn’t buy a fourth quarter win as of late.
 
Cris Collinsworth was even citing the stats during the game. He got a little tongue-twisted with comebacks and game-winning drives, but the point stands.
 
Out of Vince Young’s 31 wins as a starter, 13 of them have been the result of a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s 41.9%, one of the highest numbers in league history.
 
Young has a 13-10 record in game-winning drive/comeback situations. If you can sniff .500, then you have an elite record. He’s managed to go 13-10.
 
Young’s first great comeback came almost five years ago to the date, against…the New York Giants. Trailing 21-0 in the fourth quarter, he led three touchdown drives to tie the game at 21, then an Eli Manning interception set up the game-winning field goal. It was the largest comeback by a rookie in NFL history. Young passed for 249 yards and 2 TD on 24/35.
 
Simiarily, he went 23/36 for 258 yards and 2 TD this time against the Giants. The difference was the 3 interceptions, It was only the second time Young had a game-winning drive in a game with multiple interceptions. The 258 yards were the second most he has thrown for in a GWD game.
 
As for the drive itself, it was easily one of Young’s best from a passing standpoint. The only successful drive he threw for more yards on was the 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive against Arizona in 2009. Young was 9/16 for 94 yards and the winning touchdown that day. This wasn’t that good, but it ranks up there with the rest of Young’s wins in the NFL.
 
Makes you wonder what record the Eagles would have if Young had been the starter instead of Vick earlier on this season.
 

The Other Paths to Victory

Denver Broncos vs. New York Jets
Winner: Denver (17-13)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (13-10)
Quarterback: Tim Tebow (3 4QC, 3 GWD – table)
 
Do you still remember Thursday night? Think past the Eagles/Giants game, the Sunday afternoon action, Robert Griffin III’s game-winning touchdown pass Saturday night, Oregon’s kicker’s choke job, the Oklahoma State loss in double overtime on Friday, and back to Thursday.
 
It only needs one word: Tebow.
 
Tebow Night Football got under way with the thought that Darrelle Revis would be bored stiff defending the run-heavy Broncos’ attack. Of course the first play of the game would be a 28-yard pass by Tebow. Of course there’d be little passing the rest of the way from him.
 
On the first 11 drives of the game, Tebow completed just 6 passes and rushed for 11 yards. Despite a lot of great field position, the Broncos had managed only 3 points. Mark Sanchez threw a pick 6 in the third quarter to tie the game at 10.
 
Sanchez led the Jets on a go-ahead field goal drive, taking the lead with 9:14 left. After each team went three and out, the stage was set for Tebow to do his thing.
 
He had 5:54 left and 95 yards to go. In the most unconventional manner, Tebow moved the ball down the field. He completed 3 passes for 35 yards. He ran for 57 yards on 6 carries. His last run beat an all-out blitz by Rex Ryan and went 20 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 0:58 left. Once Sanchez’s Hail Mary was incomplete, the Broncos improved to 4-1 since Tebow took over for Kyle Orton as the starter.
 
How do you even describe watching a quarterback go to an empty backfield and just run the ball all over a defense for a 95-yard drive to win the game?
 
Inconceivable!
 
Tebow’s drive was the most run-heavy for a quarterback for any fourth quarter game-tying or go-ahead drive we’ve seen in the last 30 years.
 
Most QB Run-Heavy 4th QT Drives Since 1981
QB Date Opp. Down Stats DL
Tim Tebow 11/17/2011 NYJ 3 6 carries, 57 yards, 3/5 for 35 yards 95
Michael Vick 12/19/2010 at NYG 7 2 carries, 55 yards, 3/6 for 33 yards, TD 88
Steve Young 10/30/1988 MIN 4 2 carries, 55 yards, 1/1 for 2 yards 57
Donovan McNabb 11/26/2000 at WAS 0 1 carry, 54 yards, 1/3 for 1 yard 49
Michael Vick 12/7/2003 CAR 7 3 carries, 53 yards, TD, 1/1 for 4 yards 56
 
Those are the only five fourth quarter drives where a quarterback has rushed for 50+ yards. Both of Vick’s drives tied the game. McNabb’s was a game-winning field goal. Young’s run is one of the most famous touchdown runs by a quarterback in NFL history. Then you have Tebow.
 
Comparisons to John Elway are always going to be there as long as Tebow is in Denver, and this drive features many.
 
Longest Game-Winning Drives, Denver Broncos (Since 1981)
QB Date Opp. Down Stats DL
Tim Tebow 11/17/2011 NYJ 3 3/5 for 35 yards, 6 carries, 57 yards 95
Jay Cutler 12/7/2008 KC 0 8/10 for 59 yards, TD 95
Kyle Orton 9/13/2009 at CIN 1 1/2 for 87 yards, TD 87
Jake Plummer 10/10/2004 CAR 4 4/4 for 70 yards, TD 87
John Elway 1/4/1992 HOU 1 3/9 for 70 yards, 1 carry, 7 yards 87
 
That’s right. The longest drive Elway ever had to win a game was 87 yards against the Houston Oilers in the 1991 AFC Divisional playoffs. That drive started at the 2, and Elway drove 87 yards to set up the winning field goal. Note that the 98 yards covered in “The Drive” only tied the game and forced overtime, where Denver would win on a field goal.
 
Elway was known to use his legs, but he usually used them to escape and throw the ball. Despite 49 fourth quarter wins, Elway never had a drive where he used his feet the way Tebow did.
 
Most QB Run-Heavy 4th QT Drives, Broncos (Since 1981)
QB Date Opp. Down Stats DL
Tim Tebow 11/17/2011 NYJ 3 6 carries, 57 yards, 3/5 for 35 yards 95
Tim Tebow 12/26/2010 HOU 6 3 carries, 23 yards, TD, 3/7 for 45 yards 76
Jake Plummer 12/14/2003 CLE 0 1 carry, 23 yards 46
Hugh Millen 12/4/1994 at KC 0 1 carry, 21 yards, 2/3 for 10 yards 41
John Elway 1/11/1987 at CLE 7 2 carries, 20 yards, 6/9 for 78 yards, TD 98
Jay Cutler 11/6/2008 at CLE 3 2 carries, 20 yards, 4/8 for 42 yards, TD 80
 
That’s right. Tebow already has the two Denver fourth quarter drives that were the most run-heavy by a quarterback in the last 30 years. The only time Elway ever rushed for 20 yards on such a drive was “The Drive” itself.
 
It was only the fourth comeback the Jets have allowed under Rex Ryan, and the first since 12/20/2009. Safe to say they haven’t seen anything like this before.
 
Take us out, Rod Serling.
 
Incident from a Mile High, to be believed or disbelieved. The very explicit and very specific differences in points of view. To the Denver fans, it’s a marvelous adventure, a voyage to another dimension, where running is the norm and passing deviates from that norm. An exciting sojourn to another section of the playbook. But to the very large group of the non-believing populace, it’s nothing more than a gimmick, a running (not passing) fad that won’t sustain against better teams. Like we said, it’s all in the point of view. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 
Lesson to be learned…in the Tebow Zone.
 

Cleveland Browns vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Winner: Cleveland (14-10)

 
Type: GWD
Quarterback: Colt McCoy (1 4QC, 3 GWD – table)
 
You see a 14-10 game between these offenses and the expectations are “another brutal offensive display in the dog pound.” But don’t judge it by the score, as both offenses actually were very effective at moving the ball. They just struggled to finish them with more points. All three touchdowns in the game were the result of 85+ yard drives. Cleveland only had 7 possessions, while Jacksonville had 8, which makes for interesting drive stats.
 
The Jaguars averaged 37.88 yards/drive (season: 20.09, ranked 32nd), while the Browns averaged 47.9 yards/drive (season: 25.96, ranked 26th).
 
Cleveland’s last four drives all went at least 60 yards, and ended in an 87-yard touchdown drive, a 69-yard drive that ended with a bad interception by Colt McCoy in the red zone, the 85-yard game-winning touchdown drive, and a 60-yard drive that controversially ended with Phil Dawson’s 38-yard field goal ruled as no good despite looking like it may have been good.
 
With the game tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter, McCoy found Josh Cribbs, making up for last week’s costly fumble, with the 3-yard touchdown on third down to take a 14-7 lead.
 
The Jaguars would settle for a field goal (14-10) only after rookie Blaine Gabbert went all Aaron Brooks on us and threw a backwards pass that went out of bounds. The play prevented Jacksonville from possibly going for it on fourth down.
 
After Dawson’s missed field goal, Gabbert had 2:49 left to drive 71 yards for the win. The drive was moving along successfully until Jacksonville reached the 2-yard line. Maurice Jones-Drew could only gain one yard on first down. Jason Hill dropped what looked like the game-winning touchdown on the next play, and the Jaguars were down to one more play. Gabbert pumped, but his pass was incomplete over the middle, intended for Mike Thomas. Cleveland hung on for the win.
 
Colt McCoy said he prayed on the sideline for his team to win at the end, which raises the week’s count to 3 former college greats that love God and game-winning drives.
 

DetroitLions vs. Carolina Panthers
Winner: Detroit (49-35)

 
Type: GWD
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (4 4QC, 5 GWD – table)
 
Behind Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions have become historically great at starting slow and finishing strong. They are now the first team in NFL history to win three games in a season after trailing by at least 17 points.
 
Each of Detroit’s first three possessions ended with a turnover, including two interceptions by Matthew Stafford. Carolina went ahead 24-7 in the second quarter, but the Lions answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive. Carolina would take a 27-14 lead into halftime, but Detroit would explode in the second half.
 
The Lions didn’t even wait until the fourth quarter to complete the comeback, taking a 28-27 lead with Stafford’s touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler.
 
After falling behind 35-27 in the fourth quarter, Cam Newton did manage a touchdown drive, which ended with his 6-yard run. It was his second rushing touchdown of the game (9th of the season). A two-point conversion pass to Steve Smith tied the game at 35.
 
Stafford’s 5th touchdown pass of the day went to Brandon Pettigrew (Calvin Johnson actually had none in the game). Newton was intercepted on his first play of the drive, and Detroit only had to go 23 yards for the insurance touchdown. Kevin Smith finished with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Newton threw for 280 yards, but 4 interceptions.
 
Matthew Stafford has only started 23 games in the NFL, yet he already has 4 wins when trailing by at least 17 points. He has thrown 14 TD passes in those games. For reference, Peyton Manning holds the record with 6 comeback wins from a 17+ point deficit, and he has started 227 games. Granted, the four Detroit wins are against teams that are a combined 15-31 (.326), but coming back from that deficit is still impressive in this league.
 
Stafford has managed a record of 4-6 in games when trailing by 17+ points (4-2 since 11/22/2009).
 
Just let that one marinate for a little. It’s unprecedented. It’s a style that, believe it or not, could serve them well when Green Bay comes to town on Thanksgiving. Falling behind big early will not phase the Lions, because they know they can come back. They’ve done it as well as any team ever has this season.
 

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Winner: Dallas (27-24 OT)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 7 (17-10)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (12 4QC, 13 GWD – table)
 
It took some time, but we are right back to the Tony Romo Saga, where every close loss is a restitution of Romo as the biggest choker in the league, while every close win is the pride of all Dallas fans, but largely forgotten by the media unless it came in a primetime game.
 
This was a 1 p.m. game on Fox against the reeling Redskins, the same team Romo came back to beat on Monday Night Football in Week 3. Dallas jumped out 10-0, but Rex Grossman and the Redskins played their best game in weeks, taking a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
 
Romo was able to find Laurent Robinson in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 14:43 left. His next drive ended with the longest touchdown catch of Jason Witten’s career: a 59-yard romp to the end zone in which he did not look back to get caught this time like he did in New York on opening night.
 
Grossman was intercepted, but Dallas was unable to add to the lead. That’s when Grossman put together a stellar 89-yard drive, finding Donte Stallworth in the corner of the end zone for the 4-yard touchdown to tie the game with 0:14 left.
 
After winning the overtime coin toss, Washington drove into field goal range for Graham Gano. He missed several big kicks last season, and he would again miss in overtime, this time from 52 yards out.
 
Facing a 3rd and 15 at the WAS 49, Romo was able to buy time and find Dez Bryant for a huge 26-yard gain. It was similar to the 3rd and 21 Romo converted (also to Bryant) in the first meeting in Dallas to set up the winning field goal. That’s what happened again, as Dan Bailey came on, with Romo holding, and made the 39-yard game-winning field goal.
 
Coupled with the Giants’ loss, the Cowboys are 6-4 and tied for first place in the NFC East. Washington has lost six straight games after starting 3-1.
 
Since the Detroit debacle, Romo has thrown 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. “Mr. November” is now 18-2 in his career in that month. He looked prepared for a return to his annual “watch Romo pad his stats against a patsy defense on Thanksgiving” game against Miami, but the Dolphins have won three straight games, and only allowed 20 points in the process. That should make for an interesting game that may fall somewhere between this meeting and of course this one.
 

Comeback Failures of the Week

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it was a pick parade for the rookie quarterbacks on Sunday. Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder each threw three, while Cam Newton had four in close losses. Tampa Bay challenged the Packers, but came up short, while Philip Rivers did some more damage to his season in Chicago.
 

Ravens Regain Control of AFC North

Non-believers of the Bengals will be pleased to see the two-game losing streak to AFC North powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But the Bengals did not go away easily to either team, and they were playing without rookie stud A.J. Green this time.
 
Andy Dalton rushed for 32 yards and threw for a career-high 373 yards, but that was largely the effect of a career-high 3 interceptions. Dalton’s two interceptions in the late third quarter and early fourth quarter led to one-play touchdown drives by the Ravens on short fields (just 2 and 38 yards).
 
Down 31-14 in the fourth, Dalton did find Andre Caldwell for a 49-yard touchdown pass. After a reversed touchdown, the Bengals settled for a field goal to draw within 31-24. The defense held, and Dalton had 2:27 left to drive 86 yards and further cement his rookie season legacy.
 
After a 43-yard play to Jerome Simpson (8 catches, 152 yards) moved the ball to the 7-yard line, it looked like he was going to do it. That’s when the Baltimore defense, missing Ray Lewis for the first time since 2007, stepped up and forced an intentional grounding call on second down. More pressure forced a third down throwaway, and Dalton was down to just a 4th-and-goal from the 17. He was called in the grasp and taken down for the sack, not able to get the ball away for a chance in the end zone.
 
Baltimore regained control of the AFC North, but the Bengals have been very competitive with their main competition the last two weeks and will get a rematch with both teams in the coming weeks.
 

Ponder Looks Like Tarkenton…and 2010 Brett Favre

Want a needlessly detailed and obscure stat? For a rookie quarterback since 1960 with a minimum of 10 pass attempts and 5 rush attempts, Christian Ponder had the single-game highest yards/carry (14.20) against Oakland. He ran 5 times for 71 yards (that includes a kneel down play), leading the team in rushing after Adrian Peterson left with an ankle injury. You’ll see Fran Tarkenton on that list twice, with his 11 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Rams as a highlight.
 
Remember when the 2011 Vikings kept jumping out to large halftime leads and losing them in the second half? Yeah, Minnesota fans probably enjoyed that part of the season better than the recent first half beatdowns their team has had, falling to 2-8.
 
Oakland led 27-7 to start the fourth quarter. After a Ponder touchdown to Percy Harvin and a blocked Sebastian Janikowski field goal, the Vikings were deep in the red zone with a chance to make it a one score game. Ponder threw his worst (and the third) interception of the day, which could also be looked at as a great play by Stanford Routt.
 
However, the Raiders would fumble the ball right back to Minnesota, and two passes to the tight ends resulted in another touchdown, and Oakland led 27-21. Ponder had a chance to go 71 yards in the last 3:01 for a winning touchdown, but his drive stalled around midfield and the Vikings turned the ball over on downs. The Raiders held on for their second win in Carson Palmer’s third start.
 
Despite “new” head coach Leslie Frazier, the Vikings still have that old look, smell (and taste?) of Chilly. The team that was one play away from a Super Bowl two years ago is just 8-18 since.
 
The Raiders (6-4) have a winning record through 10 games for the first time since 2002, when they were also 6-4 and would reach the Super Bowl.
 

Packers Bend But Don’t Break

To end one of the longest winning streaks in NFL history, it will likely take a team that can just get ahead of the Packers late enough for the win. No one’s going to dominate this team. Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers have usually fit that bill. His first career win was an 11-point comeback against the Packers. However, Tampa had lost four of five heading in and ranked near the bottom on both offense and defense.
 
They did give Green Bay a battle, even after falling behind 14-0 (almost seems like the norm for the Packers at this point). Trailing 21-13 in the fourth quarter, Freeman found Mike Williams for a 9-yard touchdown pass. That broke a shutout streak of 16 drives by the Green Bay defense when protecting a one-score lead in the fourth quarter during their win streak.
 
The Packers would have faced only their second fourth quarter tie in the last 16 games if it were not for Kellen Winslow Jr. dropping the two-point conversion in the end zone. Tampa Bay was never able to get their offense back on the field with a one score deficit, and the Packers kept their streaks intact. Well, Mason Crosby did break his perfect field goal mark, missing a 29-yard kick late in the game. Better now than later (right Gary?).
 

What Philip Rivers Should Buy Norv Turner for Christmas

Tom Landry rocked the fedora. Bum Phillips loved his cowboy hats. Bill Belichick cuts the sleeves off gray, hooded sweatshirts. It is surprising Norv Turner hasn’t fashioned the turtleneck in his coaching career. Philip Rivers should buy him one for Christmas, assuming he’s still the coach of the Chargers, losers of five straight.
 
For three quarters, Rivers was not the problem at all for San Diego. He also did not do any damage to his fourth quarter comeback record on Sunday, because he threw an ill-advised interception in the end zone with the Chargers down 31-20 and plenty of time left. His last pass of the game was just as ugly. In an attempt to throw the ball away, Rivers managed to hook another interception directly to the Bears, capping off a 0/4, 2 INT fourth quarter.
 
It remains to be seen whether this is just an off-year for Rivers, or if it’s, shockingly, the beginning of the end. That would prompt future trivia questions that will read “was a Pro Bowl quarterback that suddenly fell apart just as he was turning 30.” Answer: Bernie Kosar (for now).
 

What Mike Smith is Thankful for This Week

Leading 23-17, Mike Smith’s Falcons had a 3rd and 6 at the opponent’s 49. Matt Ryan completed a 6-yard pass to Harry Douglas for the conversion, and the Falcons were able to take three knees to end the game. Mike Smith must be thankful the Falcons converted, because if they came up a yard short, Smith would have been faced with a 4th and 1 at the TEN 44 and two minutes remaining. Do you go for the yard to win the game, or punt and trust your defense not to give up the long touchdown? His passing offense had his back this week and avoided another decision.
 
Next week: can Detroit and Baltimore end the two longest winning streaks in the league on Thanksgiving? Will Tony Romo revert back to the goat just as the Captain is putting away some pumpkin pie and watching the game on his uncle’s 19-inch standard-definition television? Can the Colts buy a (comeback?) win over the gift-giving Carolina Panthers?
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer 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. He looks forward to watching Detroit on Thanksgiving for the first time…ever.  And yes, those were real finishes to The Twilight Zone episodes, mixed up and edited of course. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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