Captain Comeback Week 13: Colts, Steelers Rally to Build Familiar AFC Race
By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
In the 1998 NFL draft, Detroit’s second-round pick Charlie Batch was the afterthought quarterback compared to No. 1 overall pick Peyton Manning, or No. 2 Ryan Leaf for that matter.
In the 2012 NFL draft, Stanford’s Andrew Luck was all the rage as the No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts, expected to be the savior and replacement for Peyton Manning.
Manning is still around, having just won his seventh game in a row.
But on this Sunday, the focus was on one of the league’s youngest quarterbacks and its very oldest both leading their teams to memorable comeback wins. These unexpected efforts on the road now put the Colts and Steelers back in prime position for yet another return to the AFC playoffs as the two Wild Card teams.
At the three-quarter point of the season, we have seen plenty of memorable close finishes, but Week 13 may have been the best yet with eight teams picking up fourth-quarter comeback wins, and 11 games featuring an opportunity for one.
- Tony Romo tied Troy Aikman for the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (16) in Dallas Cowboys’ history.
- Seattle and Chicago combined for three classic scoring drives in a row.
- The 49ers and Rams flirted with another tie in overtime.
- A few teams – Carolina, Oakland and San Diego – did what they do best in close games (lose).
- The New York Jets got back in the comeback win column with their backup quarterback, and his name is not Tim Tebow.
A great week results in the longest edition of Captain Comeback yet, so let’s get into it.
Fourth quarter comebacks: 59
Game-winning drives: 67
Games with 4QC opportunity: 112/192 (58.3 percent)
10+ point comebacks wins (any point in the game): 33
DRIVE OF THE WEEK
Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions
Winner: Indianapolis (35-33)
Largest Deficit: 12 (33-21)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (3-1 at 4QC, 5-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
What is it with the Colts and dramatic comeback wins?
We said last week this game was a good candidate to show up here, and it certainly lived up to that expectation. But it did not happen right away.
Early on, it looked like another typical road game for the Colts. Some early false hope before the Detroit Lions started picking apart the defense, then Andrew Luck began pressing with turnovers.
The awful defense could not have been summed up better than the 46-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson on 3rd and 12 with two seconds left in the third quarter. That gave the Lions a 30-21 lead into the fourth quarter, and they would add onto it with a field goal following Joique Bell’s 67-yard run.
Luck threw his third interception, and that is when the Lions made a critical mistake that may have cost them the game. Up 33-21 with 6:40 left, you should work on the clock. After three straight runs, the Lions went to the air on 2nd and 10.
Matthew Stafford was having a quality game (313 yards), though he did finish 0-of-5. Johnson was elite with 13 catches for 171 yards, but he dropped the third-down pass.
Stafford threw incomplete to Brandon Pettigrew and Johnson, stopping the clock both times. If the Lions had just run the ball, the Colts either would have had to use their last two timeouts, or else let all that time tick away.
Instead, Luck gets the ball back with 4:02 left at his own 15. Despite all the mistakes leading up to this point, the game was still somewhat in grasp unlike their road blowouts in Chicago, New York and New England. When the game has been just within reach for Luck this year, he has put his team ahead every single time.
But this was impossible, right? The Colts had a 1.0 percent chance of winning.
There was a quick 4th and 2, and there goes Luck scrambling for eight yards and getting 15 more for Nick Fairley’s horse collar tackle. Four plays later, Luck scrambled to his left, had pressure from behind, and still got off the 42-yard touchdown pass to LaVon Brazill in the end zone.
Now 33-28, the Colts went 85 yards in just 1:23. We had a ballgame again.
After the Colts used their second timeout, the Lions went to the air again on second down. Johnson barely had his arm touched, never even located the ball, and it was a 21-yard penalty for pass interference on Cassius Vaughn.
Detroit would keep it on the ground for three straight plays, and had to punt. Luck got the ball back with 1:07, no timeouts, and needing 75 yards. Easy, right?
Luck literally bounced off a tackle near the scrimmage line, and picked up nine yards on the play. He hurried up and spiked the ball. On 3rd and 1, Luck threw a perfect pass to Reggie Wayne for 26 yards and hurried up for another spike. Down to 0:37 at the DET 40.
Luck again escaped the pocket and scrambled for 16 more yards, getting out of bounds. He probably could have stayed in and gained even more yards, but stopped the clock.
After an incompletion, Luck subtly avoided another devastating sack and completed the pass to Dwayne Allen for 10 yards, and he got out of bounds at the DET 14.
Now going for the score, Luck put the ball right on the money to Wayne in the back of the end zone, but he could not hang onto it with Don Carey in coverage. Luck’s next pass was too hard to Wayne, and Detroit called a timeout.
On 3rd and 10, Luck threw too far and out of bounds for Donnie Avery. That set up one more play with 0:03 left on the clock. It was touchdown or bust.
For all the marbles, Avery came across the field as the other receivers ran vertical’s, and Luck flipped it to him while continuing to run towards the end zone himself, almost as if he wanted Avery to lateral the ball back.
But Luck was there to block anyone, and did not have to as Avery raced into the end zone. Detroit’s defenders were too busy staying with their receivers that they could not react to Avery in time, and the Colts had pulled off another miracle of a win.
Was it like Tampa Bay in 2003 or the Rosencopter game in 2008? Maybe not, but it was right up there.
Luck ties the regular-season record for most game-winning drives by a rookie quarterback with five.
Most GWDs, Rookie Season (Playoffs Included)
Ben Roethlisberger (2004) still has one more on him when including the playoffs, which Luck should also be able to extend his season into. Luck is the first rookie quarterback taken No. 1 overall to win at least eight games.
Luck finished with 391 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT, a 70.8 passer rating, and he even rushed for 33 yards. But it was a ridiculous finish. Not even veterans have games like this, let alone a rookie.
This is the third time Luck has thrown for at least 350 yards and led a game-winning drive. The only other quarterback to ever have three games like that in one regular season was Warren Moon in 1991.
Detroit had been great in the fourth quarter this season, but the last four games have been a complete nightmare, and that has turned a 4-4 season into a 4-8 failure.
Meanwhile the Colts are 7-1 in games decided by one score. They may have the stats of a 4-8 team, but they are indeed 8-4, and the biggest reason is a rookie quarterback who finds a way to get it done in practically every big moment he has faced in his brief career.
Pretty sure we can already say it is a season that will be remembered for quite some time.
Captain Comeback History Lesson: Think 35-33 sounds like a unique score? This was actually the fourth NFL game to end with a 35-33 score, and the previous three also were fantastic comeback finishes.
10/7/1951, Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh: The Packers led 28-0 in the second quarter, but the Steelers came back with 33 unanswered to take the lead. The unheralded Tobin Rote threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Bob Mann for a 35-33 win, avoiding the 28-point letdown for the Packers.
11/15/1970, NY Giants vs. Washington: Sonny Jurgensen led the Redskins to a 33-14 lead to start the fourth quarter, but Fran Tarkenton engineered three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter in one of his greatest comeback wins.
12/1/1985, Cleveland at NY Giants: Most similar to the Colts, Marty Schottenheimer’s team trailed 33-21 on the road with 11:32 left. Gary Danielson led the Browns on one touchdown drive, then drove the team down the 9-yard line before Bernie Kosar came in to hand off to Earnest Byner for the game-winning touchdown run with 1:52 left. The Giants had a bad snap and Eric Schubert missed the 34-yard field goal wide left to end it.
You see a 35-33 game and you probably just watched a classic.
THE OTHER PATHS TO VICTORY
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Winner: Pittsburgh (23-20)
Largest Deficit: 7 (20-13)
Quarterback: Charlie Batch (9-16 at 4QC, 11-17 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
When it’s Steelers versus Ravens, you can expect a close game, even with the backup quarterback. But no one expected a 23-20 game, especially one that had the Steelers coming out on top with Charlie Batch starting.
Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh offense had scored 20 points on 33 drives this season, which is half as good as the worst offense in the league coming into the week.
That just goes to tell you how far the Ravens have fallen on defense, as Batch had ample time in the pocket, open receivers, and even though he had some rough plays early, the oldest non-kicker in the league played rather well in the second half. Batch passed for 276 yards, which is the highest total for a starter in place of Roethlisberger.
Even though the Steelers had some more silly turnovers this week, they were right there in the game, down 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
After a 23-yard pass to Heath Miller put the ball at the BAL 20, Batch went back to him in the end zone, but Ed Reed was there like a magnet to the ball, intercepting the pass and returning it to the BAL 27.
But just like two years ago when Troy Polamalu did it, James Harrison came in on Joe Flacco and forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Steelers at the BAL 27. Emmanuel Sanders, making up for a terrible fumble earlier, made a nice catch for 17 yards.
Two plays later it was Miller catching a pass at the 3-yard line and diving for the end zone. He was able to hit the pylon with the ball before his foot touched the ground, and it was confirmed by replay as a touchdown. That tied the game with 7:24 to play.
Flacco had another poor game with a 61.9 passer rating and that lost fumble, but he started the next drive with a 12-yard pass to Vonta Leach. However, his next two passes were off the mark, and he was well off on third down after getting pressured again.
Batch had the ball back with 6:14 left. Like the Steelers did against the Eagles this season, they closed out the game without having to put their defense back on the field.
Mike Wallace did not have a great game again, but he was open on a big 3rd and 7 for 15 yards to keep the drive alive. The returning Antonio Brown had two straight catches for 13 more yards.
Now at the two-minute warning, Batch went back to Wallace for 10 yards, and Baltimore’s Paul Kruger made the dumbest play of the day by hitting Batch in the head, drawing 15 more yards for roughing the passer. The ball was now at the BAL 19, and the Ravens were charged their final timeout because of injury. Only 1:46 remained.
The strategy is simple: three runs, a timeout, and then you kick the game-winning field goal with 0:00 left. The Steelers never like to make things easy, so they had a false start and a run for a loss of a yard, but they eventually set it up for the field goal.
Shaun Suisham came out and made the 42-yard field goal with no time left, and the Steelers just picked up a huge win to help their playoff push. It even keeps some slim chances alive for the AFC North title.
Batch, turning 38 this Wednesday, was very emotional after the kick, sharing a long embrace with Roethlisberger on the sideline. It could be his final start in the NFL, and it was a very important win. It was the first comeback and game-winning drive for Batch since opening night of the 2006 season.
Baltimore had won 16 straight games at home including the playoffs. That streak is bookended by December losses to the Steelers in 2010 and now this week. John Harbaugh is 33-6 at home since 2008, but half of the losses have been to Pittsburgh.
These teams may want a 2012 rubber match in the playoffs, which could definitely happen. Pittsburgh’s big win here makes that much more possible than the grim outlook had they lost.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
Winner: Seattle (23-17 OT)
Largest Deficit: 4 (14-10)
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (3-4 at 4QC, 3-5 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
All season long the knock on Seattle has been their inability to close games on the road. Their only road win was on Carolina, which is more like 0.5 road wins because of how bad the Panthers are late in games.
Trying to stay alive in this playoff race, the Seahawks faced one of their toughest road tests yet in Chicago. The game was low scoring, which was no surprise with these two defenses.
Chicago led 14-10 to start the fourth quarter. The Bears had a drive into Seattle territory, but a false start and sack of Jay Cutler pushed them out of field goal range.
Seattle had 3:40 left and needed to go 97 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Time obviously not a factor, but it was a tough task for rookie Russell Wilson. Three straight positive gains gave Seattle breathing room at their own 32.
After nearly being intercepted by Major Wright on a deep ball, that’s when Wilson started using his feet to scramble for gains of 13 and 6 yards as the clock hit 1:55.
A holding penalty set up a 3rd and 14, but Wilson threw to Doug Baldwin for 11 yards followed by a huge 4th-and-3 conversion to Zach Miller for a 7-yard gain. Wilson then made the big play, a 27-yard gain to Sidney Rice down to the CHI 14. Seattle used their second timeout with 0:32 to play.
Bears fans were likely experiencing that awful, hopeless feeling you get in these situations, but the defense has given them reason to believe.
Since 2004, Lovie Smith’s Chicago defense has only allowed five comebacks/game-winning drives at home. One was in the first game of his career in 2004.
That number has grown to six. Wilson threw a short pass to Golden Tate at the CHI 10, he was contacted at the CHI 5, and did enough to slam the ball down at the goal line to break the plane for the score with 0:24 left.
The Bears were stunned after this epic drive, but Cutler got the ball back with 0:20 left at his own 14 with two timeouts.
A play that would have been instant Bears lore if they won, Cutler bought time and rifled a pass down the field to Brandon Marshall, who made the catch in a crowd, found some yards after the catch, and dove out of bounds for a 56-yard gain with 0:09 left.
Forte gained two yards on the ground, and Chicago used their second timeout. Robbie Gould, the very reliable kicker, came out for a huge 46-yard field goal to force overtime. Thankfully not letting the Captain’s kind words from Saturday get to his head, he was perfect on the kick to tie the game.
Our look at one-minute drills was for winning teams only, but adding Minnesota over Jacksonville from this year, there had been only 12 drives starting in the last 0:20 to tie or win the game since 1981. So what the Bears accomplished here with Cutler to Marshall was big and very rare.
But, the Bears would never touch the ball again, as NFL overtime is still not a perfect finish. Seattle won the coin toss, received, and started at their own 20.
Wilson was again deadly on the ground, rushing three times for 28 yards in overtime. The last run was a 12-yard scramble on 3rd and 5, putting Seattle in field goal range. But who wants a field goal when the touchdown ends it?
On 3rd and 10, Wilson converted through the air with a 12-yard pass to Baldwin. On the very next play, the Seahawks again used the play fake and rolled Wilson to his left, getting Rice open at the goal line, and he just got the ball to break the plane to end the game. He took a big hit and lost the ball, but the touchdown was already good. Game over.
Seattle finally closed on the road, and they bring themselves much deeper into this NFC race. The Bears are left wondering what happened to their defense the last two drives after doing a solid job the rest of the game.
Cutler-to-Marshall could have been a classic, but few will remember it now. Seattle gave their fans plenty to remember in this one.
Washington Redskins vs. New York Giants
Winner: Washington (17-16)
Largest Deficit: 6 (16-10)
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III (2-4 at 4QC, 2-4 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
It was Robert Griffin III’s Monday night debut.
In just over three hours on ESPN he managed to cure cancer, give Jon Gruden a halftime tour of the White House, slay the dragon in The Hobbit, break a Cam Newton record, and make everyone forget about Sammy Baugh or any other quarterback in NFL history for that matter.
Okay, so only a few of those things actually happened as Griffin picked up his second career comeback win.
The first half was similar to the Week 7 meeting between these rivals. Though instead of good offensive execution, Washington’s touchdown was the result of a Griffin fumble in the red zone that bounced right to Josh Morgan, who returned it for a touchdown.
Gruden still thought it was part of that “magic” Griffin has. Yeah, it was that kind of night. Also, apparently there is no better compliment Gruden can give Chase Blackburn other than “football player.”
Eli Manning is a pretty good football player, and despite the Giants dominating the game, it was 13-10 Giants at halftime. The second half would play out much differently, with each team only scoring once.
Difference is the Redskins made their score a touchdown. The drive started with 3:04 left in the third quarter. Alfred Morris ripped off runs of 10 and 16 yards to get things moving.
Into the fourth quarter, the ball was at the NYG 22. Griffin completed a 14-yard pass, followed by an 8-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon with 11:31 left. Washington led 17-16. This would become Griffin’s first game-winning touchdown pass of his career.
Normally you’d expect the Giants to easily make this comeback, but bad field position put them at their own 8, and they tried running the ball twice. Manning was sacked on third down, forcing a three and out.
Washington gained one first down before punting. The Giants were in business, moving to their own 43. But after two incompletions, a 3rd-and-10 conversion was wiped out for holding. Eli threw short on 3rd and 20 to Ahmad Bradshaw for only four yards, and the Giants had to punt. But that came only after a flop attempt by punter Steve Weatherford.
With 3:51 left, the Redskins went into four-minute offense mode, and broke a tendency with Griffin’s pass to Garcon for 17 yards on 2nd and 8. That took it down to the two-minute warning, and three runs by Morris culminating in one more first down ended the game.
Of all the comeback attempts by Tom Coughlin’s Giants over the years, this was one of the most impotent. The whole half was poorly played by the Giants’ offense after converting 8-of-10 third-down attempts in the first half.
ESPN of course went nuts over Griffin’s game. He was 13 of 21 for 163 yards, and two of those completions were for negative yards. He did show his world-class speed with a 46-yard run in the third quarter.
According to ESPN, the Giants had a NFL record with 26 consecutive wins when leading on the road at halftime. That streak is over, and it was started after a 2006 loss to Tennessee when Vince Young led a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter.
Now that was an impressive performance by a rookie quarterback. Monday night was more hype than substance.
But all that matters is the Redskins won and are now 6-6 with a chance to still do something this season. No one expected that after a horrible loss to Carolina put them at 3-6.
Meanwhile, the Giants had another failed comeback. After going 7-5 last season on their way to the Super Bowl, they are just 3-4 this season in comeback opportunities.
Sounds like clutch regression. They are not alone in that department.
St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
Winner: St. Louis (16-13 OT)
Largest Deficit: 8 (10-2)
Quarterback: Sam Bradford (3-9-1 at 4QC, 3-10-1 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Stat fans were cringing at the thought of another overtime tie between these NFC West rivals. No division opponents have played to two ties since the Steelers and Eagles in 1963, and there was no overtime then. We came dangerously close, but finally one kicker decided it this time, giving us a meaningful result between the 49ers and Rams in 2012.
But how did it even come to this? The Rams were not supposed to challenge the mighty 49ers. Especially not with their new favorite toy, quarterback Colin Kaepernick making his third straight start in place of Alex Smith.
That’s where the mystery lies with the 2012 49ers, as they likely do not lose this kind of game last season. The Rams are better, but good enough to play the 49ers so well in both games?
It was just a 7-0 lead for San Francisco late into the third quarter before Kaepernick scrambled back to his end zone and threw the ball away, short of the line of scrimmage. That is intentional grounding, and the Rams got the safety.
Being pinned at their own 1, Kaepernick made amends and led a great drive into the fourth quarter to result in a field goal. The 49ers led 10-2.
The Rams would punt after Sam Bradford’s slant was defended well, and that is when disaster struck again for Kaepernick. On a 3rd and 3, the 49ers went cute and Kaepernick’s pitch back to Ted Ginn Jr. went over his head, and Janoris Jenkins recovered it and scored on a 2-yard return.
This brought up an extremely rare situation. Facing an 8-point deficit, a team gets a return score, and now the offense must tie the game with a two-point conversion.
If they tied it, then later went on to get a game-winning drive, would this still be a fourth-quarter comeback win for the quarterback/offense?
The answer is yes, however it has never happened before. This is only the fourth time a team even had an opportunity to do so.
NFL 4th Quarter Comeback Attempts: Return Score + Two-Point Conv.
D.Meggett 56-yd punt ret.
L 28-25 OT
E.Givins 78-yd punt ret.
B.Tolliver pass fails
G.Brackett 0-yd fumble ret.
J.Addai run fails
J.Jenkins 2-yd fumble ret.
S.Bradford to L.Kendricks pass
W 16-13 OT
The conversion was pushed back five yards because of a false start, so that makes Bradford’s 7-yard pass to Lance Kendricks on the conversion even more impressive.
However, it would become a moot point. Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for 16 yards off play action, then scrambled under pressure down the right sideline for a huge 50-yard gain. Delaine Walker failed to make a touchdown catch on first down, and a holding penalty set the drive back.
David Akers made the 33-yard field goal with 1:34 left. Bradford needed to answer that, trailing 13-10.
Starting at his own 20, Bradford showed off some rare scrambling ability with pickups of 14 and 11 yards. The latter added on 15 more yards for a late hit on the sliding Bradford.
Back to throwing, Bradford would complete a pair of 5-yard passes, and the Rams were content to let rookie Greg Zuerlein come out for the 53-yard field goal. He nailed it, and we had overtime again.
The Rams won the toss and received, but a holding penalty shut them down. The same penalty would short-circuit a drive for the 49ers as well, forcing another punt. Clock ticking.
St. Louis went three and out, and only got off a 14-yard punt, giving Kaepernick the ball at the 50. After converting a 3rd and 4 to Randy Moss, Kaepernick threw the ball away on 3rd and 6. Out came Akers again.
After missing the 41-yard field goal wide left in overtime in Week 10, this was a 51-yard kick in the dome. Akers was wide right this time, and only 4:11 remained.
[Insert crude joke about kissing sisters too much and having babies who look like Sam Bradford].
Bradford made a key throw on a 3rd-and-3 slant to Chris Givens for a 6-yard gain. After that it was three conservative runs by Steven Jackson.
Out came Zuerlein with 0:30 left for a 54-yard field goal. A miss and we likely have a tie. Fortunately, he drilled it home, and the Rams have their big win of the season.
Jim Harbaugh will be questioned any time the team loses with Kaepernick, but while the young quarterback made costly mistakes, he also made some incredible plays again. His 84 rushing yards led all players in the game.
Last year’s San Francisco team likely makes that 51-yard field goal in overtime. They had six comebacks and game-winning drives. This year they have none. Hell, they probably stop Bradford on the last drive so it never even gets to overtime.
Kaepernick has the bizarre record of 0-1-1 in overall clutch opportunities. Two makes by Akers and he is 2-0, but this has not been Akers’ year.
Can 2012 still be the 49ers’ year?
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Winner: Dallas (38-33)
Largest Deficit: 7 (24-17)
Quarterback: Tony Romo (16-23 at 4QC, 17-25 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Much like the Rams and 49ers, it was only three weeks ago when these teams met in Week 10, and the Cowboys won on a punt return touchdown, which was the first of three return touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
That was Nick Foles’ debut game, and this time it was his third start. Things would begin very well for him and the offense, taking a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
But Tony Romo would put together a flawless second half, going 10/10 for 169 yards and 3 TD against a putrid Philadelphia pass defense. How putrid? Take a look at one example of a touchdown from the third quarter.
On the third play of the fourth quarter, Miles Austin was open off the play fake, made some moves after the catch, and was in the end zone for a 27-yard score to tie it.
Philadelphia responded with a solid drive, but settled for Alex Henery’s 43-yard field goal. The Eagles led 27-24 with 9:51 left.
On 3rd and 2, Romo pumped and threw a go-route to Dez Bryant for 35 yards. This time the coverage was there, but the throw was indefensible. Jason Witten gained 36 more yards down the seam.
Two plays later it was back to Bryant, left one-on-one on the outside, and he muscled his way into the end zone for the 6-yard score with 5:35 left.
Foles converted a 3rd and 8 with a 19-yard pass to Jason Avant. Two plays later, rookie Bryce Brown took the carry, but fumbled and it was returned by Dallas rookie Morris Claiborne 50 yards for a touchdown. Dallas led 38-27 with 3:50 to play.
Brown has been extremely productive with 43 carries for 347 yards and 4 TD in the last two games alone, but like most of the Eagles’ problems, he has had three costly fumbles.
Foles threw a 10-yard pass on 4th and 13 to Brent Celek, and Dallas took over. After three runs, the Cowboys punted, and Damaris Johnson surprisingly returned it for a 98-yard touchdown. Foles missed an easy two-point conversion, throwing to the wrong player, but it was 38-33.
Everything came down to the onside kick, which Witten caught with ease to seal the Cowboys’ win.
Romo tied Troy Aikman for the Cowboys’ record with his 16th fourth-quarter comeback win. He finished 22 of 27 for 303 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 150.5 passer rating.
Romo was great, but why wouldn’t he be? The Eagles are on the worst six-game stretch of pass defense in NFL history. Perhaps it is no coincidence it started when the team fired coordinator Juan Castillo and replaced him with Todd Bowles.
The Todd Bowles Movement: 0-6, 32.5 PPG, 116/152 (76.3 percent) for 1,519 yards, 9.99 YPA, 16 TD, 0 INT, 142.4 passer rating.
Those look like either the numbers of the worst pass defense ever, or the numbers for a team who has lost eight straight and quit several weeks ago.
The Cowboys have taken advantage with a Philadelphia sweep for the first time since 2009.
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers
Winner: Cincinnati (20-13)
Largest Deficit: 3 (13-10)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (5-9 at 4QC, 6-9 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
Come on San Diego. This is getting a little too predictable already.
The Chargers made Andy Dalton struggle for three quarters, but only led 13-10 after a scoreless third. Anymore, the Chargers need a significant lead if we are to believe they will win the game.
After three straight drives ended in three and outs, the Bengals took over with 11:53 left at their own 45. Dalton got things started with an 8-yard gain to A.J. Green. He would convert a 3rd and 1 with the quarterback sneak, which was not the last time he called his own number on the drive.
Facing a 2nd and goal from the SD 6, Dalton pumped to his right then took off right up the middle, which he did well at TCU, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:11 left. It was a 14-play, 55-yard drive.
What would Philip Rivers do this week? You probably already know what to expect, and sure enough, after one ground ball, the pressure got to him and Rivers fumbled the ball. He has fumbled the ball 20 times since last year, losing half of them.
Cincinnati took over at the SD 13, but the San Diego defense held, forcing a 24-yard field goal by Mike Nugent after three plays.
At this point, the Ravens had lost to the Steelers, so both teams knew how important this game was to keep pace with Pittsburgh in the Wild Card.
Down 20-13 with 2:47 left, Rivers had 80 yards to go and two timeouts. It was the classic situation, and certainly doable. Rivers started with a check down to Ronnie Brown over the middle for 14 yards.
After two inaccurate passes, Rivers converted 3rd and 10 with a 17-yard gain to Danario Alexander, who would later catch an 11-yard pass. Malcom Floyd made a catch for 16 more yards, getting out of bounds at the CIN 17 with 1:11 left.
But Rivers has struggled in the red zone in these situations the last three years, and here they were again. On first down, Rivers had time, but threw a pass Floyd had to catch way out of bounds. Then Rivers overthrew Alexander on a loft pass in the end zone. He then overthrew Brown in the end zone as well. For some reason, Rivers tried to throw a 17-yard touchdown on all three plays.
At this point, the Captain noticed the numbers that foretold a predictable outcome.
Sure enough, there was Reggie Nelson all alone in the end zone for the game-ending interception on a pass Floyd never had a chance to get to. That was towards the right side. Directly in the middle of the end zone was Antonio Gates wide open.
Dalton, picking up his first comeback win of 2012, took two knees, and the Bengals are still kicking at 7-5.
San Diego is dead at 4-8, going 1-7 in their last eight games. They were within one score of their opponent in the fourth quarter in all seven of those recent losses.
Philip Rivers' 4th Quarter Comeback/Game-Winning Drive Opportunities
If games were 45 minutes long, San Diego would be a pretty good team.
New York Jets vs. Arizona Cardinals
Winner: New York Jets (7-6)
Largest Deficit: 3 (3-0)
Quarterback: Greg McElroy (1-0 at 4QC, 1-0 overall 4Q/OT record - table)
This was the game we had been anticipating all season for the Jets, and incredibly it took them 13 weeks to reach it.
Mark Sanchez was going to play poorly, which was the case. He had three interceptions and a 21.4 passer rating. The Jets were scoreless on his 10 possessions (though did miss two field goals).
In a close game, Sanchez was going to be benched for the backup, who with the help of the defense, would pull out a low-scoring comeback win for the Jets.
That happened too (7-6), except it was not the most overhyped backup of all time, Tim Tebow.
Instead it was Alabama’s Greg McElroy, subbing for the injured Tebow (ribs). Some fans have been calling for him, and the crowd reaction was vigorous when he entered the game late in the third quarter.
Of course, the offense would start moving the ball, but mostly on the ground. McElroy did hit an 8-yard pass to Stephen Hill to convert a 3rd and 6, then two plays later scrambled out of bounds and picked up 15 cheap yards on a late hit.
With a 3rd and goal at the 1-yard line to start the fourth quarter, McElroy had an easy play-action pass to a wide open Jeff Cumberland for a touchdown. McElroy may have been able to run it in if he wanted, and he took so long to throw you wondered if he would blow the play.
How easy was it? Take a look.
When all 11 players on Arizona’s defense are in the box to stop the run, this becomes the easiest touchdown you can have, and it was the first of McElroy’s career.
With a whole quarter to play and just a 7-3 lead, the Jets now may have had the best quarterback in the game on their side, as Arizona rookie Ryan Lindley was awful again.
In fact, Lindley just had one of the worst games by a NFL quarterback in the 21st century.
- Lindley completed 10-of-31 passes for 72 yards, one interception, and that’s after starting the game with a 23-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald.
- He had eight failed completions for 33 yards, which is incredible given just 10 completions overall.
- Add two sacks, and Lindley produced 56 yards on 33 drop backs (1.70 yards per drop back).
When your third best play of the game is throwing a long incomplete pass resulting in a first down via defensive holding penalty, you know you just had an epic stinker.
Arizona did manage another field goal, but only after the Jets fumbled at their own 35. Now a 7-6 game, both teams still went three and out, with Lindley being sacked on 3rd and 8.
The Jets took over with 7:55 left and proceeded to put the game away with a long drive that had five first downs and converted three third downs. Two of those were on Arizona penalties, and McElroy had a 13-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley that was big.
Mercifully, the game ended with McElroy taking knees from the 1-yard line.
Rarely will you find a quarterback with a 4QC/GWD in his first NFL appearance, but McElroy joins that list. Jake Delhomme also had a fourth-quarter comeback (but no game-winning drive) in his debut in 1999.
McElroy did it on his first NFL drive. Was it easy? Sure, but this is the offense who brought us “Buttfumble” a week ago. The Jets will take it any way they can get it now.
The only remaining piece to this predicted puzzle is whether or not the Jets will go back to Sanchez.
For Sanchez’s sake, at least this was not another “Tebowin,” even if it looked similar.
COMEBACK FAILURES OF THE WEEK
Drew Brees watched his birthmark expand with each passing interception in Atlanta, the Panthers continue to search for a heart, and more meaningless statistics in Oakland. Finally, there were more one-score games that kept us entertained, but not enough for a full-fledged comeback opportunity.
Drew Brees: The end of a streak and possibly the Saints’ season
While Matt Ryan’s streak of games with a 60 percent completion is done after a 54.5 percent night against New Orleans, the opposing quarterback had the much more interesting game.
Drew Brees, in a must-win game on prime time against a team he had a 11-2 record against as a member of the Saints, managed to throw a career-high five interceptions and no touchdown passes for the first time in 60 games (including playoffs).
Good bye to the streak, and probably good bye to the Saints in the postseason this year.
The game had the makings of a shootout, and did not disappoint early with Atlanta driving it down their rival’s throat for an opening-drive touchdown. But while Brees was responding, the game turned after his interception, which would happen frequently on the night.
Almost as stunning was Brees botching the drive before halftime, throwing well short of the end zone with no timeouts left, resulting in no points. Those would be big in this surprisingly sluggish offensive showing.
The Falcons added a field goal for a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Brees drove his offense into scoring range, but John Abraham was there for a huge sack on 3rd and 5, knocking the Saints out of field goal range.
While it was not the best night at all for Matt Ryan again, he carefully threw short passes to put together a drive that resulted in Matt Bryant’s clutch 55-yard field goal with 4:25 left.
Down 23-13, Brees was under pressure and just flung the ball away, right into the hands of lineman Jonathan Babineaux for his fourth interception of the night. Michael Turner fumbled, but Brees threw his fifth interception.
Only this one was wiped out by an offside penalty. However, it only took one more play before William Moore made a great defensive play to pick off Brees near the sideline, just getting in bounds with the ball. Two runs later, the Falcons had the first down and three kneel downs by Ryan to seal it.
The Falcons are 11-1, and they have eight interceptions in the Georgia Dome this year off Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. That’s not too shabby.
Cam Newton outplayed by Brady Quinn (seriously)
Hearts were heavy in Kansas City after Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide on Saturday, but the team rallied together to play their best game of the season.
It helps when your opponent is the Carolina Panthers, who trailed 24-14 after Brady Quinn capped off a long drive for a touchdown. Cam Newton has never led a 10-point comeback in the fourth quarter, but there’s a first for everything.
That includes the first lead in the fourth quarter for the Chiefs all season.
But Newton started with an 8-yard touchdown pass on a slant to Louis Murphy with 13:21 left. Getting the ball back, Newton was sacked on a first down by standout defender Justin Houston. On 3rd and 20, Newton had the time, but his pass was batted down at the line.
The Chiefs added a 52-yard field goal from Ryan Succop to take a 27-21 lead.
Newton took a long time to throw a screen to Mike Tolbert, and the play lost a yard. Newton did a great job to avoid a sack and scramble for seven yards, but on 3rd and 4, he was pressured and threw low and incomplete to Tolbert. Three and out for Carolina.
After the Panthers used their final timeout, Kansas City converted a 3rd and 6 after Quinn, who played very well (19/23 for 201 yards, 2 TD and no turnovers) scrambled for six yards. Three runs later, the Chiefs punted, and Carolina only had 0:18 left at their own 14. After the Chiefs purposely allowed two underneath completions for 25 yards, Newton overthrew Greg Olsen.
Down to a Hail Mary, Newton got off the attempt, but it was well short of the end zone, and Steve Smith made the meaningless reception for 53 yards, but was tackled easily at the KC 8 to end the game.
Early-afternoon events such as the rookies getting clutch wins and another close loss by Newton’s Panthers led to sharing this bit of information with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd on Twitter, which successfully spread across that interweb.
Novice readers who have clearly never looked into game-winning drives missed the point. It was especially clear when some people thought the last drive – needing 86 yards in 0:18 – was the reason for the loss.
That was just the final nail in the coffin. It is more about the two drives before that, and the fact that the Panthers never led in the entire second half.
Kansas City may have had something extra inside this time, but the Panthers were supposed to be the better team. Instead, they just failed to close on what was the worst team in 2012, who for one weekend, looked like a team in control of things.
San Diego had “Air Coryell,” Oakland has “Padding Palmer”
In a week filled with great games, many would overlook the Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders, because both teams were 3-8 heading in (though both somehow managed to beat Pittsburgh).
The game basically went according to plan. Oakland fell behind early with Cleveland taking a 13-3 lead in the third quarter. Then Carson Palmer started hitting some passes, and it was a 13-10 game in the fourth quarter.
But after Palmer converted a 3rd and 4 at the CLE 33 to Brandon Myers, who caught 14 of 15 targets on the day, a familiar sight appeared: an interception.
Palmer, looking a little shaky on his feet with no pressure around, floated a pass down the left sideline, but it was badly underthrown and Sheldon Brown had perfect coverage for the interception.
Starting at their own 6, Cleveland put together an impressive drive that went 14 plays, including a gutsy 4th-and-1 call at the OAK 45 with 4:57 left. Brandon Weeden converted with the quarterback sneak. Trent Richardson would finish the 94-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, taking a 20-10 lead with 3:27 left.
Like clockwork, Palmer put together an 84-yard touchdown drive, but it took so long that just one second remained. Sebastian Janikowski kicked the onside kick out of bounds, and Weeden took a knee to end it. Oakland’s offense piled up 429 yards, 25 first downs, and Palmer had 34 completions for 354 yards.
But as we have seen so often this season, none of the empty, hollow stats mattered, as the key drives were not finished off with touchdowns, and the Raiders (3-9) lost yet another game. This table sums up the Palmer experiment in Oakland very well.
Most Losses with 400+ Yards of Offense in NFL History
San Diego Chargers
The loss was Palmer’s 40th failed comeback (13-40) and game-winning drive (20-40).
Maybe the only positive is the strong game from Myers again (14 receptions for 130 yards, TD). But six catches for 73 yards and the score came on the final, irrelevant drive, making Myers similar to Eric Johnson, who once caught 82 passes for 825 yards on the terrible 2004 San Francisco 49ers (2-14).
Good tight end? Not exactly. Just someone who caught a lot of passes after the game was out of reach. Now Johnson is having babies with Jessica Simpson.
Maybe Myers can snatch up Lindsay Lohan some day, moving on from one worthless red head to another in his career.
MVP quarterbacks with close wins
Finally, we had three more games in Week 13 – featuring arguably the three best quarterbacks in football and the MVP race – that ended with a one-score difference, but did not present a comeback or game-winning drive opportunity. Those games are not that uncommon, but three in one week sure is.
Christian Ponder completely wasted Adrian Peterson’s amazing effort of 210 rushing yards by throwing two interceptions in scoring territory in the third quarter; the last ending the quarter. Green Bay embarked on an epic 11:00 drive on 18 plays and 73 yards, highlighted by a 3rd-and-12 conversion from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb for 33 yards. The Packers went up 23-14 on a field goal, and never looked back.
New England led 17-10 to start the fourth quarter, but kept two scores ahead of Miami by scoring twice in the quarter. Miami failed to recover the late onside kick, and it was a 23-16 win for the Patriots. Tom Brady only completed 24 of 40 passes, but he just barely kept his streak of 60.0 percent games alive.
The Denver Broncos had another second-half explosion to take a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter, and a 31-13 lead halfway through it. After Denver’s Matt Prater missed another field goal with 4:37 left, Josh Freeman led the Buccaneers to 10 points to cut it to 31-23. But Denver recovered the onside kick and ran for one first down to ice their seventh straight win.
It will be very hard to top Week 13, but a few games will try.
Cowboys at Bengals is a big game for two playoff hopefuls. Ravens at Redskins will be interesting with the way Baltimore often looks on the road, and their substandard defense having to deal with Washington’s unique offense. Saints at Giants sounds good on paper, but Drew Brees has usually owned the Giants and will be looking to make up for his dud.
The best game of the week will hopefully be the last as Houston goes to New England in a potential preview of a postseason meeting. Both teams have not played many close games, and their last meeting was in 2009 when the Texans erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to notch their first winning season ever.
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.