Captain Comeback Week 14: Eli Does Dallas Edition

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 13, 2011



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback King


Now that’s what you call a historic week for comebacks. A record five teams were able to come back from a 12+ point deficit on Sunday, and Denver (of course) made it six teams to have a 10+ point comeback.
 
We just looked at one-minute drills last week, and Tim Tebow wasted no time in putting his name on that list. We’ll give him some more of the Rod Serling/The Twilight Zone treatment, because this Denver winning streak really is from another dimension.
 
The Houston Texans clinched their first ever playoff appearance by winning the AFC South thanks to another game-winning drive led by rookie T.J. Yates in his second career start. Young (and frankly unexpected) quarterbacks producing comebacks has been a strong theme this season with Yates, Tebow, Andy Dalton and John Skelton leading the way.
 
Nine of the week’s 16 games featured a comeback opportunity. If the last-second finishes from the early games and then Denver weren’t enough, NBC had one of the best games of the season Sunday night between the Giants and Cowboys.
 
Of the double-digit comebacks, only one team was able to score two touchdowns in the game’s last six minutes, and that’s where we start.
 

Drive of the Week

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Winner: NY Giants (37-34)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 12 (34-22)
Quarterback: Eli Manning (19 4QC, 23 GWD – table)
 
It was a 29-point shootout in the fourth quarter, and was arguably the best game of the season to this point. Dallas was trying to put their December woes behind them with a big win, while the Giants needed to end a four-game losing streak that started after their impressive comeback in New England.
 
The Giants led 22-20 to start the fourth quarter, but Tony Romo found Laurent Robinson on 3rd and 10 for a huge 74-yard gain down to the NYG 6. Miles Austin was on the receiving end of Romo’s next pass in the end zone and Dallas regained a 27-22 lead.
 
As he’s done so often this year, Eli Manning went back to work and moved the Giants down the field. They faced a 4th and 3 at the DAL 37 and didn’t even hesitate to go for it. Manning converted to Mario Manningham for 15 yards.
 
But when facing a 3rd and 9, Eli’s dump-off attempt was tipped and LB Sean Lee made a great play to intercept the pass and return it for 30 more yards.
 
Romo found Dez Bryant wide open for a 50-yard touchdown to take a 34-22 lead with 5:41 left. This is usually the type of lead one expects to hold, but it’s been that kind of year for both teams.
 
Eli came up with another 80-yard touchdown drive, finding Jake Ballard at the very tip of the end zone with 3:14 left. Dallas went three and out, with Romo missing out on a pass to Austin on 3rd and 6.
 
After a 33-yard punt, the Giants only had to go 58 yards and had 2:12 to do it. Manningham would drop a touchdown from Eli with 1:27 left, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Giants. They were able to run more clock, and Brandon Jacobs scored the 1-yard touchdown run with 0:46 left. D.J. Ware scored on the two-point conversion run, and the Giants led 37-34.
 
Romo had no timeouts left, but he has done this twice before in the final minute of a game. Two big completions of 22 and 23 yards to Austin moved the ball to the NYG 29, and Romo was able to spike it with 0:06 left.
 
Kicker Dan Bailey came on for the game-tying field goal, and in an almost depressing way, he once again made the meaningless kick after being iced by Tom Coughlin’s timeout. When it came time for the real deal, a 47-yard kick, it was blocked by Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Cowboys lost another December game.
 
If only to see how exciting overtime would have been, the ending was disastrous in many ways for non-Giants fans. They now move ahead into first place in the NFC East thanks to the head-to-head win.
 
Eli Manning passed for 400 yards, hitting that mark for a third time this season. That ties him with Dan Marino (3 in 1986) for the second most 400-yard passing games in a season. Marino also holds the record with 4 in 1984. It was the 14th 400-yard passing game of the 2011 season, setting a new regular season record for the league.
 
Eli’s 14th touchdown pass in the fourth quarter this season puts him in very elite company. He ties Johnny Unitas (1959) and his brother Peyton Manning (2002) for the most touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a season.
 
It was such a good night that NBC even nailed their game-winning drives graphic, stating Eli (prior to the game-winner) had 19 game-winning drives in the regular season, and his five this season tie the franchise record (held by Charlie Conerly in 1958). You can now give him that team record. It also marks the 17th time a quarterback has had at least 6 game-winning drives in one regular season.
 
Romo had one of the best games of his career, completing 21/31 passes (two spikes) for 321 yards and 4 TD. It’s the highest passer rating (141.3) Romo’s ever had in a loss, that any quarterback’s had in a 2011 loss, and it’s the highest rated game Romo has ever had in December.
 
Simply put, Romo’s the only quarterback since 1960 to have a rating over 140.0 on 30+ attempts and lose the game. Most of the other 35 players on that list either did not start or did not finish the game.
 
Last word on the Giants: if last week’s game against Green Bay is what they needed to spearhead another Super Bowl run, then look out. That dream rematch of the Giants heading back to Lambeau for the NFC Championship could happen.
 

Déjà vu for Dallas

The loss brought about some bad déjà vu for the Cowboys.
 
1. For the third straight year, Eli Manning and the Giants walked out of Dallas’ new stadium with a high-scoring win: 33-31 in 2009, 41-35 in 2010 and 37-34 in 2011. Consider most teams have an extremely poor record on the road when allowing 31+ points. For example, the Chicago Bears are 3-95 since 1940. The Giants are 3-0 in Dallas since 2009.
 
2. Dan “Iceman” Bailey might have pulled off a first – He’s not the first kicker to miss a crucial, late field goal in consecutive games. In 2009, Houston’s Kris Brown missed field goals from 42 and 49 yards away with no time left when trailing by 3 points for each. He had a bye week in between the games. In Matt Leinart’s first two starts for Arizona in 2006, Neil Rackers missed a 51-yard game-tying field goal with 0:02 left against the Chiefs, then followed it up with a 40-yard game-winning miss with 0:47 left against the Bears when trailing by a point (TBAWWTTW). What might be unique to Bailey is that he made both of his kicks from 49 and 47 yards away, only to miss the ones that counted after being iced both times. Kickers have a fragile mind (see Vanderjagt, Mike), so we might want to keep an eye on this rookie as he could crumble after such devastation.
 
3. No lead is safe for Dallas in 2011 – They led 24-10 in Week 1 at New York, but lost 27-24. They led 27-3 against Detroit, and then 30-17 in the fourth quarter, but lost 34-30. They went ahead 16-13 in New England, but Tom Brady led a long game-winning touchdown drive with seconds remaining for a 20-16 loss. They didn’t close Arizona, and now a 34-22 lead with just under six minutes didn’t stand up against the Giants. Tony Romo has done his share of damage in some of these games, but that hairy clone (appearance-only, apparently) of Rex Ryan has watched his defense give up game-tying or game-losing scores in the fourth quarter/overtime of 7 different games this season, including four straight. Somewhere in Texas, Wade Phillip is laughing.
 

The Other Paths to Victory

Denver Broncos vs. Chicago Bears
Winner: Denver (13-10 OT)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 10 (10-0)
Quarterback: Tim Tebow (6 4QC, 6 GWD – table)
 
A message from the other dimension:
 
“Tim Tebow, in his normal and natural state. A unique quarterback with his biblical eye black, who, one quarter out of the game, takes on the characteristics of a player as accurate and effective as the best in the game.
 
But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Just who is he, that he can make such a drastic change from three quarters to the last? No comment here. No comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special players – little Timmy Tebow, age 24, who has captivated the hearts of football fans, and befuddled every analyst and defensive player in the land. And if by some strange chance you should run across him…you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk. Because if you do meet Timmy…you can be sure of one thing. You have entered…the Tebow Zone.”
 
FADE TO BLACK
 
Last week it was already predicted Tim Tebow would lead another comeback against the Bears. That happened. Caleb Hanie didn’t throw any interceptions this week, let alone three, but somehow, someway, the Broncos still resurrected themselves from the dead and came back to win their sixth straight game. It’s their fourth straight fourth quarter comeback win, which is one shy of the record set by the 2009 Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning.
 
Once again, it was far from your typical comeback by Denver. Tebow threw just his second interception of the season, and the teams went to the locker room at halftime scoreless. The Broncos would not score on their first 12 drives in the game. Chicago would finish 2/15 on third down in the game.
 
The Bears finally broke through with a touchdown in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, kicker Robbie Gould set a Bears’ franchise record with a 57-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
 
At this point, there may have actually been some doubt in Tebow’s ability to pull this one off. If you’re familiar with Tebow’s eye black (featured in our The Tebow Zone photo), you know he’s used one that says “3:16”, referencing the Gospel of John in the Christian Bible.
 
On Sunday, Tebow put a new meaning to 3:16, by completing just 3 of his first 16 passes through three quarters. He had 11 straight incompletions at one point. He didn’t even complete a pass in the second and third quarters. But as we’ve come to learn, Denver finds a way to make it work by keeping the score down.
 
Because in the fourth quarter and overtime, Tebow would manage to complete 18/24 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. That includes a spike. He even led the Broncos in rushing with 49 yards on 12 carries.
 
It wasn’t all pretty in the fourth quarter this time, as Tebow fumbled on a sack in Chicago territory. He would later get the ball back with 4:34 left, but still down 10-0 and out of timeouts.
 
That must have been the breaking point, because Tebow completed all 7 of his passes for 63 yards, with the last going 10 yards to Demaryius Thomas for the touchdown with 2:08 left.
 
Still, Denver needed the ball back, and when the onside kick failed, their chances of winning fell. Fortunately, Marion Barber came bearing gifts. After the two-minute warning, Barber ran out of bounds on second down to stop the clock. Chicago had to punt, and Tebow had 0:56 left at his own 20.
 
That was the perfect opportunity for a classic one-minute drill. Tebow completed three passes for 39 yards before scrambling out of bounds for no gain with 0:08 left. It was fourth down, and Denver had no choice but to send kicker Matt Prater out there.
 
Prater hit a field goal from 70 yards in warm-ups, but this was the real thing, and it was a 59-yard kick. He nailed it; only tying the fourth longest game-winning or game-tying field goal in NFL history. Notice they all happened for the home team.
 
Longest Game-Winning/Tying Field Goals, NFL History
Kicker Team Date Opp. Length Score Final
Tom Dempsey NO 11/8/1970 DET 63 17-16 19-17
Matt Bryant TB 10/22/2006 PHI 62 21-20 23-21
Rob Bironas TEN 12/3/2006 IND 60 17-17 20-17
Josh Scobee JAX 10/3/2010 IND 59 28-28 31-28
Matt Prater DEN 12/11/2011 CHI 59 10-7 13-10 OT
 
The game went to overtime, and Hanie was good enough to complete a few passes and move the Bears into field goal range. Barber got the call on 3rd and 7, and looked like he had a nice hole. The problem was he lost the football, coughing it up and making him the most hated Chicago sports figure since Steve Bartman.
 
Tebow converted a 3rd and 8 to Thomas, and did just enough to get Denver in field goal range. Prater came out and nailed a 51-yard field goal to win the game.
 
A quarterback that can’t be stopped late, a defense that makes huge plays, and a kicker that just doesn’t miss. It doesn’t matter they’ve trailed at the two-minute warning the last four weeks. Tebow threw 40 passes and turned it over twice. Didn’t matter. They were down 10-0 in the final minutes. Didn’t matter.
 
Perhaps the most unlikely 6-game winning streak in NFL history rolls on. Denver’s now won three overtime games this season. The only team to ever win more was the 2003 Carolina Panthers (4). Who coached them? John Fox, the same guy that coaches these Broncos. We’ll be looking at that in detail later this week, and how it compares to the Dan Reeves-era Broncos.
 

This Week’s Tebow Sermon

Last week we mentioned it was only the third time the Broncos had won three straight games with a fourth quarter comeback. Obviously this is the first time they’ve ever won four straight that way, and are one game away from the aforementioned record of 5 by the 2009 Colts.
 
Then much time was spent trying to solve this enigma over which quarterback has been the fastest to five fourth quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. Some of the names involved with Tebow were Scott Brunner, Marc Wilson, Tommy Kramer and Jay Schroeder.
 
It was mentioned that Tebow could come back on the Bears to clean this up a little, and he did just that. But the stats being used by the Elias Sports Bureau still have Wilson and Brunner in the mix with 5 game-winning drives thru 11 starts. They also have John Fox’s former starting quarterback Jake Delhomme in there as well.
 
One thing’s for sure: Tim Tebow is the fastest to 6 fourth quarter comebacks and 6 game-winning drives, doing it in 11 starts.
 
Tracking Their Pace by Games Started
Start # Tim Tebow Marc Wilson Scott Brunner Jake Delhomme Jay Schroeder
1   4QC/GWD (1) 4QC/GWD (1) 4QC (1)  
2 4QC/GWD (1)        
3   4QC/GWD (2)   GWD (1) 4QC/GWD (1)
4 4QC/GWD (2)       4QC/GWD (2)
5     GWD (2)    
6       GWD (2)  
7   4QC/GWD (3) GWD (3)   4QC/GWD (3)
8 4QC/GWD (3) 4QC (4)   4QC (2), GWD (3) 4QC/GWD (4)
9 4QC/GWD (4)   4QC (2), GWD (4)    
10 4QC/GWD (5) 4QC (5), GWD (4)   4QC (3), GWD (4)  
11 4QC/GWD (6)     4QC (4), GWD (5)  
12 -        
13 - 4QC (6), GWD (5)      
14 -   4QC (3), GWD (5)   4QC/GWD (5)
15 -     4QC (5), GWD (6)  
 
The ways things get murky are when the quarterback has either a 4QC or GWD in a non-start, which Wilson, Delhomme and Schroeder all did. Brunner’s entry in his 14th start could be viewed as his 16th start if you include the playoffs.
 
With that design, it makes no sense why Wilson and Brunner would be listed as having 5 GWD’s through 10 or 11 starts. Delhomme makes sense.
 
None of these players managed to string together three such wins, let alone four straight like Tebow and the Broncos.
 
Next week would make more history. Wait, “would?” More like “will” make history. A win over the Patriots would validate Denver as a team that could win the AFC. If the highest scoring team in the conference falls victim to The Tebow Zone, then who is safe?
 

Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals
Winner: Houston (20-19)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 9 (19-10)
Quarterback: T.J. Yates (1 4QC, 2 GWD – table)
 
When the Houston Texans fell behind 16-3 at halftime in Cincinnati, this might have been more along the lines of what you expected from the team after going to their third string quarterback. Could they win on the road against a decent opponent with T.J. Yates at quarterback? Well, he would only deliver the greatest drive in Houston Texans’ history.
 
A sack/fumble on Andy Dalton on the second play of the third quarter kick-started the comeback for Houston, leading to a 17-yard touchdown drive and T.J. Yates’ touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen.
 
The Texans still trailed 19-10 to start the fourth quarter. On 4th & 2 at the CIN 32, the Texans passed on a field goal attempt and went for the first down. Yates was sacked and coughed up the ball.
 
Turnovers were a problem for Houston, as they committed four of them. The wackiest play was their next one. After an Arian Foster fumble, the Bengals kept trying to gain possession of the ball, and looked like they might score with it. However, they fumbled as well, and by the end of the play, Houston tackle Eric Winston recovered the ball at the 2 yard line.
 
Yates led an 83-yard drive to set up Neil Rackers for a 33-yard field goal with 5:31 left (19-13). The Bengals looked to convert a 4th and 1 that may have iced the game, but they were flagged for a false start and had to punt.
 
That set up Yates for a moment that will always go down in Texans’ lore. He had 2:33 left and had to go 80 yards with no timeouts. On a 3rd and 15, Yates scrambled for 17 yards and the first down. Spiking the ball, he now had 0:24 left and 23 yards to go.
 
Perhaps the biggest break of the drive came two plays later when Adam “Pacman” Jones was penalized for pass interference. That put the ball at the CIN 6, with 0:12 left.
 
Yates threw one incompletion to Kevin Walter, but went right back to him, wide open over the middle, on the next play for the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left. The extra point was good and Houston clinched their first AFC South title and playoff spot in 10 years as a franchise.
 
The Texans were -2 in turnover differential, and were just 3-33 (.083) as a franchise in those games. Make that 4-33 now. Yates finished with 300 yards passing.
 

T.J. Yates: Making History

The Houston Texans are not known for a lot of classic comeback wins, and in fact, they’re probably better remembered for their numerous failures in these situations.
 
But of their 23 game-winning drives, none were better or more important than the one engineered by the rookie T.J. Yates. It’s only the 5th time the Texans have scored a fourth quarter touchdown when trailing by 4-8 points in a fourth quarter comeback win. Of those five drives, only one started with less time and only one went longer in distance. The last four comebacks by Houston have all been from a two-score deficit.
 
The 2011 Texans have mastered the long game-winning drive.
 
Longest Game-Winning Drives, Houston Texans
QB Date Opp. Down Score Time Start Time End QB DL
Matt Schaub 12/7/2008 at GB 0 FG 1:49 0:00 4/5 for 70 yards 75
Matt Schaub 10/12/2008 MIA 5 TD 1:40 0:03 4/10 for 81 yards, 3 yard TD run 76
Matt Schaub 10/17/2010 KC 3 TD 2:22 0:28 5/8 for 78 yards, TD 80
T.J. Yates 12/11/2011 at CIN 6 TD 2:33 0:02 5/11 for 51 yards, TD, 17 yard run 80
Matt Schaub 12/20/2009 at RAM 0 FG 8:07 4:36 3/4 for 76 yards 81
Matt Schaub 10/2/2011 PIT 0 TD 14:49 12:02 2/2 for 39 yards 85
T.J. Yates 12/4/2011 ATL 0 TD 16:39 (3rd QT) 6:05 1/4 for 12 yards, 2 carries for 10 yards 85
 
Three of the four longest game-winning drives in Texans’ history have come this season. Yates has two of the five 80+ yard drives, and keep in mind the field goal drive to cut it to 19-13 on Sunday was an 83-yard drive.
 
On Sunday’s winning drive, Yates was 5/11 (with two spikes) for 51 yards, the touchdown, a 17-yard run and lost 5 yards on a sack. Not the greatest statistically, but none have ever been as important, making it the best.
 
It also carves out an interesting spot in NFL history for Yates. He becomes the first rookie quarterback to lead a game-winning drive in each of his first two starts since Virgil Carter did it for the 1968 Chicago Bears.
 
Much like with the Tebow stats, we’re finding out history is filled with some very random quarterbacks that racked up comebacks and game-winning drives at the beginning of their careers.
 
Virgil Carter actually had a game-winning drive in each of his first three starts, so there’s your benchmark for fastest to three game-winning drives.
 
One more historical comparison: on 10/21/1990, Jeff Hostetler came off the bench to replace Phil Simms for the Giants and erased a 19-10 fourth quarter deficit for a 20-19 victory over the Cardinals. It was the first comeback and game-winning drive of Hostetler’s career, and he would eventually be the starting quarterback for the Giants in the playoffs on their way to winning Super Bowl XXV that season.
 
We’ll wait until Yates picks up at least one playoff win before claiming he’s the new Hostetler, but the last two weeks have been encouraging and exciting for Houston fans, which is a rarity in December.
 

New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans
Winner: New Orleans (22-17)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 1 (10-9)
Quarterback: Drew Brees (19 4QC, 29 GWD – table)
 
The New Orleans Saints are known for piling up points in the Superdome, but there’s a belief that if you get them on the road and outdoors late in the season (December or later), they’re a much different offense. The Saints are 4-6 outdoors since 2006 in such games.
 
For three quarters on Sunday, Tennessee seemed to have a good grasp on the Saints’ offense, holding them to three field goals on the first six possessions. Drew Brees was 19/27 in the first half, but for only 149 yards.
 
Jake Locker, filling in for the injured Matt Hasselbeck, led a third quarter touchdown drive to take a 10-9 lead. But that’s when Brees started finding his vertical game.
 
On a 3rd and 6 at the TEN 35, Brees hung in the pocket, and when he has time like that, someone is going to get open. You just don’t expect it to be Marques Colston wide open in the middle of the field for the 35-yard touchdown. The score extended Brees’ streak to 40 straight games with a touchdown pass. Brees went back to Colston for a 28-yard touchdown on the next drive, and the Saints led 22-10 with just over seven minutes left.
 
It barely took the Titans a minute to score a touchdown, as Locker connected with Nate Washington for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Saints went three and out, and the Titans had another chance to take the lead.
 
After having to leave the drive with an injury, Locker returned, but threw incomplete on 3rd and 1 at the NO 24. Then his quarterback sneak on fourth down was stopped for no gain with 2:18 left.
 
The Saints gambled a little by throwing on 3rd and 7, and Brees was almost intercepted. The Saints had to punt, and Locker had 1:34 left, needing to drive 80 yards.
 
A running play for no gain by Chris Johnson ate up a lot of time on the drive, but Locker’s 40-yard pass to Washington to get the ball at the NO 5 gave them two more plays. With 0:07 left, Locker’s quick pass was defended away by Tracy Porter.
 
Now with only 0:05 left, the game would come down to one more snap. Instead of throwing any kind of pass, Locker held onto the ball and eventually went down for the sack, never even giving his team a chance for the winning touchdown.
 
New Orleans survived, though it wasn’t the usually crisp performance like we’ve seen against the Giants and Detroit in recent weeks.
 
Drew Brees tied Rich Gannon (2002) and himself (2008) with his 10th 300-yard passing game of the season. He’s had 33 straight games with at least 20 completions, another NFL record. He’s set a single-season record with 8 games of at least 30 completions. He’s also completing 70.90% of his passes, putting him in position to break his own record of 70.62% (2009). Not to mention he’s well on pace to break Dan Marino’s 5,084 yards passing; already putting up a record 4,368 yards through 13 games.
 
As we hinted at in Week 5, Brees now shares another piece of NFL history with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
 
Most Game-Winning Drives in Three-Year Span, NFL History
 
QB Years GWD
Drew Brees 2009-11 15
Peyton Manning 2008-10 15
Peyton Manning 2007-09 15
Tom Brady 2001-03 15
 
Brees’ season still has 3-7 games left, so he could hold the record by himself before it’s all over.
 

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Winner: Atlanta (31-23)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 6 (23-17)
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (11 4QC, 16 GWD – table)
 
Carolina led 23-7 at halftime, but as has often been the case this season, they could not hold onto the lead for a win. For the fifth time this season, a team had a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against Carolina. The Falcons have completed the season sweep with two of those wins.
 
Atlanta trailed 23-17 to start the fourth quarter. Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for a 17-yard touchdown to take the lead, 24-23. The only other touchdowns Jones has scored in his career both came against the Colts in Week 9.
 
After both offenses went three and out, Cam Newton engineered a 69-yard drive to the ATL 18. After a near sack, a near fumble and a near interception on the same third down play, Olindo Mare came out for the go-ahead field goal. It was a 36-yard attempt.
 
But as Mare has done against Chicago and Minnesota this season, he missed the field goal wide left. Two plays later it was Julio Jones again with a 75-yard touchdown catch for the 31-23 lead.
 
Newton, held without a rushing touchdown for only the fourth time in 13 games, drove the Panthers to the ATL 27. His last four passes were all incomplete. Atlanta took over with 3:31 left and a 3rd-and-6 conversion by Ryan to Roddy White for 16 yards at the two-minute warning iced the game.
 
Ryan tied his career-high with four touchdown passes, which he also had in a Week 2 comeback over the Eagles. It was his 16th game-winning drive, and only the sixth on the road.
 
He may not have a playoff win yet, but Matt Ryan does have the most game-winning drives in the first four seasons in NFL history.
 
Most GWD, First 4 Seasons
QB Years GWD
Matt Ryan 2008-11 16
Tom Brady 2000-03 15
Johnny Unitas 1956-59 13
Dan Marino 1983-86 13
Ben Roethlisberger 2004-07 13
 
It is hard to argue with being in that company. Now it just needs to translate into more success for the Falcons like it did for the other quarterback’s teams.
 

Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers
Winner: Arizona (21-19)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 5 (19-14)
Quarterback: John Skelton (4 4QC, 4 GWD – table)
 
After quickly coming off the bench to replace the injured Kevin Kolb, John Skelton led an upset over the 10-2 49ers and their #1 scoring defense. The result is a stat that defies most logic.
 
John Skelton is 4-0 in career fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
 
Opportunities are, as always, games where the offense had the ball in the fourth quarter with a one score deficit. Of course, in Skelton’s last two losses as a starter (both against San Francisco), Arizona lost 38-7 and 23-7, meaning they were never close enough for such an opportunity.
 
But this time the game was in Arizona, and the Cardinals have been a resilient team, especially as of late, and especially when Skelton is the quarterback.
 
The 49ers took a 19-7 lead in the third quarter after Frank Gore’s 37-yard touchdown run. Skelton found Larry Fitzgerald for a 46-yard touchdown, and Arizona trailed 19-14 to start the fourth quarter.
 
On the first play of the fourth quarter, it was Fitzgerald again making a 53-yard reception to move the ball to the SF 20. Four plays later, Skelton hit Andre Roberts, a hero from last week’s Dallas victory, for the 3-yard touchdown with 11:50 left.
 
San Francisco had the four comebacks earlier in the season on their way to the 8-1 start, but the last four games have played out much differently. This time it was more like the Baltimore game from Thanksgiving, where Alex Smith and the offense were unable to sustain drives.
 
For their three drives in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had zero first downs and netted just 21 yards.  On their last drive, Smith threw incomplete on 3rd and 1, and then scrambled around on 4th and 1 before finally throwing a desperation pass just out of the reach of Kendall Hunter. Skelton took three knees and the Cardinals pulled off the upset.
 
Of Skelton’s 6 career victories, only one was not the result of a fourth quarter/overtime victory (and that’s only because Tebow didn’t play for Denver that day).
 
In fact, all 6 of Arizona’s victories this season have been the result of a scoring drive(s) in the fourth quarter/overtime. The last NFL team to have all of their wins (minimum 6) come in that fashion was the 1990 Dallas Cowboys. Troy Aikman led 6 game-winning drives for a 6-7 start to that season, which is the same record Arizona has now. The Cowboys would win a blowout over the Cardinals for their 7th win, before finishing 7-9.
 
Now it’s highly unlikely Skelton is going to turn things around to lead a dynasty in Arizona next year, but he has been exceptional in his brief career when it comes to leading comebacks. It’s almost been Tebow-esque, just with 2% the amount of coverage. Notice how little is heard of a possible quarterback controversy in Arizona between Skelton and Kolb.
 
But, it’s something the Captain will continue to track each week.
 

Comeback Failures of the Week

Two injured starting quarterbacks provide the drama between division rivals on Thursday night, while a Tom Brady sideline spat overshadows a fortuitous defensive stand by the Patriots, and the refs weren’t feeling Minnesota in Detroit. Wait, why reference a lousy Keanu Reeves/Cameron Diaz RomCom? Referee John Parry looks more like a Fargo guy. Yah, you betcha.
 

Colt McCoy Forgot Which Team He Played For

The week began with a Browns/Steelers mismatch on paper that ended up being as close and dramatic as any game of the season.
 
The Browns kept it close by forcing fumbles in the red zone from Hines Ward and Heath Miller, then making a four-play goal line stand and interception in the fourth quarter.
 
Ben Roethlisberger became the biggest story of the night after he left the game in some serious pain after being sacked in the second quarter. As fans started pondering the demise of their season, the report at halftime was that Roethlisberger suffered no fractures, and was ready to return to the game.
 
He did, and he played well, but the game was still close. Colt McCoy had a chance to be the hero with the Browns down 7-3 late in the fourth quarter. On the third play of the drive, McCoy looked like he was going to run with the ball but got rid of it at the last second. Of course James Harrison was there for another devastating hit, drawing a 15-yard flag and who knows what else will come.
 
Seneca Wallace came in and completed a 13-yard pass to get the ball down to the PIT 5. Perhaps the Browns should have kept him in, as McCoy returned even though he was not quite himself. McCoy took an intentional grounding penalty, then threw up a bad pass in the end zone that was intercepted by the much-maligned William Gay, who now has two critical interceptions this season (last came against the Bengals).
 
Meanwhile McCoy said he had no memory of the hit, and had concussion-like symptoms following the game. What about symptoms during the game? Though we know one thing, there’s no team in the league with a worse logo than the Browns. While everyone else has a fancy graphic, they have an orange helmet. Take away the helmet, and it’s an orange blob. McCoy may have been seeing stars after the hit by Harrison, thinking he was playing for the Cowboys.
 
Two plays after the interception, Roethlisberger went back-shoulder to Antonio Brown, who turned it into the longest reception of his career (79 yards) for a clinching touchdown.
 
Roethlisberger finished 16/21 for 280 yards. The 13.33 YPA is the second highest game of his career, and is the highest he’s ever had in a game with at least 15 pass attempts. Not bad for a quarterback that hobbled around the whole second half on his high-ankle sprain.
 
The home team improved to 23-12 (.657) on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, which debuted in 2006. Not having to travel on a short week likely helps.
 

Santana Moss Hands One to Patriots

The Patriots built up a 34-27 lead thru three quarters thanks to another huge offensive performance by second-year TE Rob Gronkowski (6 catches for 160 yards, 2 TD). When the Patriots moved the ball into the red zone with a chance to take a two-score lead late, it seemed like a given that Gronkowski would get the ball again. He had only been carrying Washington defenders with him all afternoon, and broke the single-season record for most touchdowns by a tight end with his 14th and 15th receiving touchdowns of the year.
 
But Tom Brady forced a third down pass to Tiquan Underwood in the back of the end zone, and the result was an interception, giving Washington one more chance.
 
It also gave offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien the chance to prove his existence by getting into a heated argument with Brady on the sidelines after the play.
 
Meanwhile, Rex Grossman tried to lead an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie, or possibly even win the game. Remember, Mike Shanahan did go for a two-point conversion to beat San Diego in 2008 after Ed Hochuli blew a call on a Jay Cutler fumble.
 
The Redskins worked the clock, and Grossman converted two plays on third down to former New England receivers (Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney). At the 5-yard line, Grossman threw a touchdown to Santana Moss, but Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference.
 
On third and goal from the 9, Grossman’s pass went off Moss’ hands and into the hands of Jerod Mayo, making his second career interception in as many weeks. There were just twenty seconds left on the clock, and that was the ballgame.
 
It would have been interesting to see if Mike Shanahan had it in him to go for the win if they scored the touchdown, but a penalty and drop by Moss clinched another game-ending takeaway by the New England defense instead.
 

Great Ending Botched In Detroit

You can call it the difference between being a good team and a bad team. The Texans, Titans and Vikings all had the ball deep in the red zone with seconds remaining for a chance to score a game-winning touchdown. As already discussed, the Texans flawlessly executed the play, while Jake Locker couldn’t even get a pass off and took the sack for Tennessee.
 
The Vikings, suffering through one of the worst seasons in franchise history, may have had the worst ending. Joe Webb replaced a turnover-prone Christian Ponder and provided a spark, including a 65-yard touchdown run. Webb would finish with 109 yards rushing Detroit led 28-7 in the first half and 31-14 at halftime, but Minnesota rallied back to a 34-28 deficit with 3:32 left.
 
That’s when Webb got the ball and almost delivered a classic, 80-yard game-winning drive. Webb ran for 10 yards on 4th and 6 to get the ball down to the 2-yard line. An offside penalty on Detroit put the ball at the one with nine seconds left. That’s enough time for two plays, but the Vikings would only run one more.
 
Webb rolled to his left, but fumbled the ball, had his facemask pulled by DeAndre Levy in the process, and Detroit eventually recovered near midfield with no time left. It was a disastrous ending to what’s been a disaster of a season for Minnesota.
 
The flag should have been thrown and allowed for another play by the Vikings, but the Lions escaped with the win. Considering recent history, it’s a little odd that a personal foul that Detroit clearly was in violation of didn’t go against them this time.
 
NEXT WEEK: Patriots at Broncos looks like a headliner, especially when it’s one of only three games between teams with winning records (Steelers/49ers and Lions/Raiders being the other two). At this point you have to expect every Denver game to show up in Captain Comeback, but for the first time since the Detroit game (45-10 loss), they will be facing an offense that can put up points. Though with Tom Brady’s history against Denver (1-6 record), this one may be most interesting.
 
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 was ready to write a Fargo-tribute for Vikings/Lions before realizing the game was played in Detroit. Yah, just means more from The Twilight Zone; namely “The After Hours” and “It’s a Good Life.” 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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