Captain Comeback Week 15: Perfect Imperfection

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 20, 2011



Was Upset Sunday not a huge reason fans love the NFL so much? A forgettable slate of 1 p.m. paper snoozers actually played out into one of the most memorable Sunday afternoon’s of action in a long time.
 
“You think you know, but you don’t know. And you never will.”
 
Jim Mora once uttered those words as coach of the New Orleans Saints, and they’re a perfect fit to describe the drama of this league. Just when you think a team is headed for greatness (Green Bay) or infamy (Indianapolis), along comes a day like Sunday that reminds you that you never really know what’s going to happen from week to week.
 
After Mora ripped through his “playoffs?!” quote, he finished by saying “I just hope we can win a game!” A decade later and with Christmas around the corner, Colts fans just hoped for one win this season. It finally came, 27-13 over enigma Tennessee, ending a 14-game losing streak that extends back to last season’s playoff loss. Just like in 1986, the Colts started 0-13, but won the 14th game of the season. They would finish 3-13. Dan Orlovsky finally got off the schneid with a win for the first time in his 19th career appearance (10th start).
 
Meanwhile, the Packers suffered their first loss, and in an almost predictable fashion (minus the whole “Kansas City/fired head coach/Kyle Orton starting first game for them” part). A few of the bugaboos that have haunted Mike McCarthy teams showed up Sunday for the first time since a full calendar year ago, marking Green Bay’s first loss.
 
The Packers weren’t the only team failing to come through in the fourth quarter. Upset week didn’t mean comeback week, which made the results all that more shocking. Only two teams successfully had a comeback win this week, and just a season-low five games featured a fourth quarter comeback opportunity. We didn’t even get to step foot into The Tebow Zone thanks to three fumbles in the second quarter by Denver.
 
With two wins, that makes it an easy choice for this week’s…
 

Drive of the Week

Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders
Winner: Detroit (28-27)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 13 (27-14)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (5 4QC, 6 GWD – table)
 
Has a wide receiver ever single-handedly willed his team to victory? Sunday’s game in Oakland is a worthy nominee. Calvin Johnson had 9 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the way he took over in the fourth quarter after Detroit fell behind two touchdowns that really stood out.
 
The Lions have now come back from a 13+ point deficit in four games this season, which is a NFL record. This was as good as any of them, especially when it looked like Detroit was going to squander the losses by Chicago and the Giants earlier in the day.
 
A competitive three quarters led to a 17-14 lead by Oakland to start the fourth. After a Detroit punt, the Raiders were able to tack on a 51-yard field goal for a 20-14 lead.
 
That’s when Oakland’s defense made the play that looked like it was going to lead to an 8th victory and tie for first place in the AFC West. Matthew Stafford held onto the ball too long, and Tommy Kelly knocked it out. Aaron Curry recovered and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown with 7:47 left.
 
Mathematically, the Raiders should have known to go for the two-point conversion given the 26-14 lead and time remaining in the game. They decided to just kick the extra point to go up 27-14, and that would haunt them in the end.
 
Stafford needed 71 yards on his first drive. He started with an incompletion to Johnson, but Stanford Routt was flagged for pass interference, gaining 14 yards. Five plays later, it was Johnson making a 24-yard catch to the OAK 16.
 
After Stafford scrambled to convert a 4th and 2, he found rookie Titus Young with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 4:59 left.
 
Michael Bush picked up two first downs for the Raiders, but Carson Palmer’s third down pass at midfield was incomplete and Oakland had to punt. The great Shane Lechler perfectly pinned the Lions at their own 2 with a 46-yard punt.
 
Stafford had just 2:14 left and 98 yards to go for the winning touchdown. This is the kind of drive you would expect most teams to fail at, especially when it’s a team like Detroit. But this year has been different, and this offense is dangerous.
 
Johnson made his first big play with a 21-yard catch near the sideline that was worthy of a review from upstairs, but was upheld. Stafford went right back to ‘Megatron’, and this time he somehow got beyond the two deepest defenders, and made the adjustment for a 48-yard catch down to the OAK 13.
 
Working the clock to perfection, the Lions were called for holding on first down. That’s often a drive killer, but on 1st and 20 it was Johnson drawing another pass interference flag on Routt, this time for 17 yards. After one incompletion, Stafford found Johnson in the back middle of the end zone for the 6-yard touchdown with 0:39 left.
 
Two drives that went a combined 169 yards, and Johnson advanced the ball 130 yards for Detroit. It was the most dominant game of his career.
 
The Raiders still had two timeouts and 0:35 to set up a game-winning field goal. Two passes for 34 yards to Kevin Boss gave them a chance, but Palmer took a killer sack at midfield with 0:13 left. A 6-yard gain set Sebastian Janikowski up with a long shot 65-yard field goal, and it was blocked by none other than Ndamukong Suh.
 

Stafford Super-Sizes the Win

The Lions are now 9-5, and guaranteed to have their first winning season since 2000. The biggest reason has been Matthew Stafford progressing from “if only he could stay healthy” potential into a young, franchise quarterback.
 
This was Stafford’s fourth game-winning drive of the season, which is one less than the franchise-record five by Charlie Batch in 2000. It was the third time this season he’s led a fourth quarter comeback after trailing by 10+ points in the final quarter (twice from a 13-point deficit), and all three games were on the road.
 
The 98-yard drive was as difficult and impressive as any of Stafford’s drives, and it capped off a strong performance that ended with 391 yards, 4 TD and no interceptions. It’s been common of Stafford in his brief career to have huge stat lines in games he leads a game-winning drive.
 
Most GWD w/4+ TD Passes (Since 1960)
QB Total GWD GWD w/4+ TD
Dan Marino 51 8
Dan Fouts 26 5
Johnny Unitas 40 5
Brett Favre 45 4
Tommy Kramer 20 4
Matthew Stafford 6 4
 
He hasn’t played nearly as many games (just 27) or made as many game-winning drives as these quarterbacks, but he’s already had four games where he’s thrown at least 4 TD passes and led a game-winning drive. Only three Hall of Fame players rank ahead of him.
 
Stafford’s looking to be more than a guy that will erase Scott Mitchell’s name in the Detroit record books (though that is very important for Lions’ fans to experience). He’s aiming for that elusive playoff berth, and has proven to be a quarterback that can lead the Lions back in a game even when they fall behind by a big margin.
 
It’s what you want out of the first overall pick in the draft.
 
For Detroit fans, it’s in their nature to be skeptical and anticipate the impending doom or illusion that will come from Stafford’s career. That’s why you have to enjoy such a season, because you never know when a Billy Sims-type injury can occur, or if this is another Scott Mitchell mirage for one season.
 
Right now it’s just pretty damn good quarterback play by a guy that’s 23 years old and getting better.
 

The Other Path to Victory

It’s just “Path” this week, seeing as how we only had two teams reign victorious late in the game.
 

Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns
Winner: Arizona (20-17)

 
Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 10 (17-7)
Quarterback: John Skelton (5 4QC, 5 GWD – table)
 
With the money the Cardinals are set to pay Kevin Kolb, maybe they can work something out where Kolb starts the game, but John Skelton comes in for the fourth quarter. Ken Whisenhunt has experimented with two-quarterback systems before (Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner).
 
Right now there’s no one (not even Tebow) hotter at making fourth quarter comebacks than Skelton and these Arizona Cardinals. They’ve won 6 of their past 7 games to get to 7-7, and every win this season has been a fourth quarter comeback and/or game-winning drive. Three wins have come in overtime.
 
In a manner like Tebow, Skelton sees a big jump in his performance in the fourth quarter after struggling in the first three. Struggling might be putting it lightly for some of these games.
 
Against Cleveland, the Cardinals had five punts, an interception, and one touchdown on their first 7 drives before the fourth quarter started. They trailed 17-7, but that’s another way of saying the Cardiac Cardinals had them just where they wanted them.
 
Skelton passed for 89 yards to lead a drive that ended with Beanie Wells’ 1-yard touchdown run with 8:33 left.
 
Seneca Wallace started for the concussed Colt McCoy, and landed awkwardly on a third down sack. He lost the ball in the process, and with such an awkward landing, his knee didn’t even touch the ground, resulting in a fumble and giving Arizona the ball at the CLE 5.
 
The Cardinals lost 10 yards on the three plays, but Jay Feely came on for the 33-yard game-tying field goal. Cleveland would punt again, and Arizona had a good opportunity in their territory. But an incompletion on third down led to Whisenhunt calling on the punt team for a 4th and 2 at the CLE 42.
 
Each team managed another three and out, and this game was headed for overtime. Cleveland won the toss, but had to punt after picking up just one first down. The dangerous rookie Patrick Peterson had a big 32-yard punt return to give Skelton great field position at the CLE 40.
 
Whisenhunt did not get conservative as he let Skelton throw on a 3rd and 6. Larry Fitzgerald managed to get wide open and hauled in a 32-yard pass down to the CLE 4.
 
Arizona called timeout and then brought in the field goal unit. Feely nailed the 22-yard kick and another overtime win was in the books for the Cardinals.
 
Since he became the coach in 2007, no team has played in more overtime games (8) or won more (6) than Ken Whisenhunt’s Cardinals. Only Denver (of course) can match the 6-2 record.
 
For the Browns, they’re 4-10 and have the Ravens and Steelers left on the schedule. Even with two miraculous upsets, the Browns will lose double-digit games for the 10th time in the 13 seasons since returning to the league in 1999.
 

The John Skelton Show

We have The Tebow Zone, but what about The John Skelton Show? Don’t ask the Captain to reference anything from Red Skelton’s variety hour, because he just doesn’t know anything about it.
 
But what really separates Skelton from being the NFC equivalent of Tebow this year? He’s not a religious man, but he counters Tebow’s Christian with a lot of Country, likes Jeopardy, Con-Air (a little too much), sleeping, and most importantly, he has a knack for improbable comebacks in the fourth quarter.
 
Unlike Tebow, Skelton has never lost a fourth quarter comeback opportunity. He’s 5-0.
 
And yet, Skelton gets nowhere near the media attention for the turnaround he’s helped orchestrate in Arizona this season. The Cardinals were 1-6 to start the season, and now sit at 7-7 with a slim chance for the postseason. Skelton directly contributed to five of the wins, throwing for over 300 yards in two of them, and had a 282 yard, 3 TD performance against San Francisco and their #1 defense in Week 14.
 
Is it pretty? Not usually, but neither is Tebow, and Skelton is a more conventional quarterback.
 
The Captain’s spent the last two weeks trying to figure out where Tebow fits on his record pace of fourth quarter wins. Some further clarification did come from the NFL on that matter.
 
“Upon further review by Elias, only Tebow (6) and Delhomme (5) belong on that list of quarterbacks with most game-winning fourth-quarter/OT drives in first 11 NFL starts since 1970.”
 
That’s in reference to Marc Wilson and Scott Brunner not belonging with Tebow on that list, which we were certain of from the start.
 
But now John Skelton comes along, and there’s another wrinkle in trying to figure out who’s had the fastest pace to these fourth quarter wins.
 
Skelton doesn’t have six comebacks or six game-winning drives, but he does have five of each. When you add them together, he does have six wins that were decided in the fourth quarter/overtime.
 
How did that happen? Wins over the Rams. One game was a comeback, not a game-winning drive (punt return TD in overtime). The other was a game-winning drive, not a comeback (never trailed in fourth quarter).
 
Skelton has played in just 11 games, and with 9 starts. One of fourth quarter wins was in a non-start, as he came off the bench early for an injured Kevin Kolb to lead the comeback over the 49ers.
 
By comparison:
Tim Tebow’s 6th 4Q/OT win came in his 20th game (11th start).
Jay Schroeder’s 6th 4Q/OT win came in his 18th game (14th start)
Jake Delhomme’s 6th 4Q/OT win came in his 15th game (10th start)
 
How does one clear up the confusion with starts vs. non-starts, comebacks vs. game-winning drives? We’ll state it in the one way we know it to be true.
 
John Skelton is the first quarterback in NFL history to have 6 wins decided with fourth quarter/overtime scores in their first 11 games.
 
Is Skelton going to turn into a Stafford or even Andy Dalton type of franchise quarterback? That might be a pipe dream, but there have been crazier success stories.
 
What Skelton has done is provided fans of the Cardinals a spark of historic proportions to turn a terrible season into a very exciting one that could last until the final game.
 
Ask the fans of Cleveland, Skelton’s latest victory, how nice that would be to enjoy for a change.
 

Comeback Failures of the Week

This week the Packers return to the list of teams that failed to come back in the fourth quarter, while two other games featured a flurry of Bush and some short shorts from cheerleaders. Or was that the same game? Giggity. Either way, there were more interesting visuals from the sideline and weather rather than the players on the field.
 
Hell, the Captain’s not reaching his 5,000 word minimum for the week on that, and it is Christmas, so we’ll touch on all 32 teams by briefly looking at why so many teams couldn’t keep it close enough to come back in Week 15.
 

The Anti-Comeback Kings from Green Bay Fall

It was December 19, 2010, and Green Bay played at New England with Matt Flynn making his first career start in place of Aaron Rodgers. It was a much more competitive game than anyone imagined, with the Packers holding a 27-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
 
But Tom Brady threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez, and the Packers came up short on their comeback attempt on the last play of the game. They weren’t able to get a single takeaway from the Patriots in the loss.
 
Flash forward to December 18, 2011 and the Packers had gone a whole calendar year without losing another game. They reeled off 19 straight victories, good for the second longest streak ever. They didn’t trail once in the fourth quarter of any game, besting the previous record by 6 games (13; 1942-43 Washington Redskins).
 
It was one of the greatest winning streaks in NFL history, and it ended in an all-too familiar fashion for Mike McCarthy’s bunch on Sunday in Kansas City.
 
There was no Brady or Bill Belichick, but there was Belichick-disciple Romeo Crennel in his first game as interim head coach for the fired Todd Haley, and he has a history of stymieing high-powered passing offenses. Then there was Kyle Orton, making his first start with the team. He started against the Packers already this season as a member of the Broncos, and threw three interceptions in that game, including a pick six. Things would be different this time.
 
After some early success on offense, the Chiefs took a 6-0 lead after bogging down in the red zone, a trademark of Green Bay’s bend but don’t break defense this season.
 
Things got interesting in the second quarter, after the Chiefs failed to get any points on a drive that took 9:20 off the clock. Their 4th-and-1 rush attempt from the GB 3 was stopped.
 
Still, the Chiefs defense was forcing an off-day by Rodgers, and the Packers went into halftime scoreless. They finally found the end zone on their second possession in the third quarter, taking a 7 -6 lead. At this point you expected the usual: an oncoming avalanche of points by Green Bay, blowing the doors off Kansas City in the end.
 
Not this time. Orton immediately answered that score with a 39-yard pass to Leonard Pope. They once again had to settle for a field goal, but maintained the 9-7 lead.
 
The lead was significant, in that it carried over to the fourth quarter, breaking Green Bay’s incredible streak of 19 straight wins without trailing in the fourth quarter.
 
As the Packers moved to the KC 39, it seemed inevitable they would at least get a go-ahead field goal. But Rodgers threw incomplete on third and fourth down, and the Chiefs took over.
 
Once again Orton found open receivers down the field, but once again the Chiefs could not score a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation. The field goal made it 12-7. That 5-point deficit is the sum of deficits Rodgers has faced in his three career comeback wins.
 
Two plays after OT Derek Sherrod suffered a season-ending injury, Rodgers was sacked on third down. The Chiefs finally broke through in the red zone and took a 19-7 lead with 4:53 left.
 
Green Bay went 80 yards for a touchdown to cut it to 19-14, but their onside kick attempt went out of bounds. The Chiefs ran Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle four times to gain two first downs, and that was it for the Packers’ win streak.
 
Kyle Orton had similar stats (23/31 for 299 yards) to how he played against Green Bay with Denver (22/32 for 273 yards), but the key difference was zero interceptions this time and three in the loss. Orton’s lack of turnovers has been a main factor in him getting starting opportunities in this league, and he improved to 4-0 at home as a starter against the Packers.
 
The loss ended several impressive streaks for the Packers:
 
  • 19-game winning streak (2nd longest in NFL history)
  • 19 straight wins without trailing in the fourth quarter (NFL record)
  • 43 straight games holding at least a fourth quarter tie (closest margin vs. KC: trailed by 2)
  • 13 straight games with 2+ TD passes by Aaron Rodgers (tied NFL record)
  • 17 straight games scoring 21+ points (scored 24+ in first 13 games this season)
 
The loss also added to the eyesore records McCarthy’s Packers have had in games like this one:
 
  • The Packers are 3-20 (.130) in their last 23 fourth quarter comeback opportunities, dating back to Aaron Rodgers’ significant debut in Dallas (11/29/2007)
  • Aaron Rodgers is 3-17 (.150) in career fourth quarter comeback opportunities
  • Green Bay’s lost their last 8 fourth quarter comeback opportunities (last win: 12/13/2009 at Chicago)
  • Since 2006, the Packers are 0-9 when they have 0 takeaways (only other winless team is St. Louis; 0-20)
  • The 9 games with 0 takeaways are tied with Chicago for the fewest such games in the league
 
If the Packers have to come back from a one score deficit in the fourth quarter, they almost always lose. If they don’t get a takeaway, they lose. That’s just the way things have been in Green Bay.
 
The Chiefs made both things happen on Sunday. No one’s been able to do either since the Patriots last year, and sure enough that was the last time the Packers lost a game.
 

More Interest on the Sideline in St. Louis

It was a day where Marshall Faulk was honored by St. Louis, apparently via a group of cheerleaders wearing his jersey and white shorts (the rest of the league seemed to go with a Santa outfit).
 
On the field, there was little going on offensively. Kellen Clemens started at quarterback for the Rams, but the results were about the same: uninspiring, ineffective. Neither team converted a third down in the first half. One bright spot was Cincinnati’s rookie receiver A.J. Green having 115 yards receiving and going over 1,000 yards for the season.
 
The Rams had the ball and were down 13-6 to start the fourth quarter. They finally converted their first third down of the game with Clemens finding Austin Pettis for a short gain. That’s when the drive quickly self-destructed, as the Rams were called for holding and then unsportsmanlike conduct, forcing a 1st-and-30 situation. Listen here for why the unsportsmanlike conduct was called (note: major f-bomb). They would gain only 17 of those yards and have to punt.
 
Two more personal fouls on the Rams helped the Bengals move the ball down the field to set up Cedric Benson’s 4-yard touchdown run with 9:14 left. A 14-point deficit is too much for a St. Louis team that’s scored fewer than 14 points in 11 games this season.
 
It was too much, as after the Rams reached the end zone, their lackluster, faux-onside kick attempt with just over a minute left was recovered by Cincinnati. Andy Dalton took two knees and mercifully the game was over. The Bengals remain alive for a 6th seed in the AFC playoffs, while the Rams now have a shot at the #1 pick in the draft. Too bad Sam Bradford has that huge contract on the books.
 

A Flurry of Bush Spotted in Buffalo

It only took 15 weeks, but we had our first real wintry mix of weather on display this season when Buffalo hosted Miami. Much to their dismay, the Dan Marino/Don Shula-era Dolphins would often have to play in Buffalo in the Jim Kelly/Marv Levy-era late in the season, and sometimes in bad weather.
 
But these are two franchises that are still trying to rekindle that era of success from the 90’s, and neither has figured out how to do it. Buffalo gave Ryan Fitzpatrick a large contract extension, but he’s responded with a lot of interceptions and a 7-game losing streak. Miami just fired Tony Sparano and will be looking for another head coach, and possibly a quarterback.
 
The weather advantage used to help Buffalo, but this game was all Miami as they took a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Even after a long touchdown drive by Buffalo to answer, the Dolphins gave the ball to Reggie Bush and he ripped off a 76-yard touchdown run. It only took 718 carries and 74 games, but Bush finally made the kind of homerun play from scrimmage that he was famous for at USC.
 
Bush finished with 203 rushing yards. If you added the 22 worst rushing performances of Bush’s career together, they would add up to 204 yards. Bush just about matched 29.7% of his career games in rushing in this one game. Don’t look now but he’s sitting on 973 yards at 5.02 YPC this season.
 
Back to Buffalo, they trailed 30-13 with 5:34 left after Bush’s run. Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass, and Buffalo recovered an onside kick. They would add a field goal (30-23), but couldn’t recover another onside kick. Miami went three and out, and Buffalo had just 0:16 left and no timeouts left to go 80 yards. Just shows how anti-comeback this week was as this impossible situation was one of our five opportunities.
 
The Bills tried the lateral play, but it lost 7 yards and that was the game.
 
Remember when Miami was 0-7 and Buffalo was 5-2? They’re both 5-9 now, and fans can only suffer through the remnants of another mediocre season that offers little hope in the way of finding that next coach and/or quarterback that will restore the glory in Buffalo and Miami.
 

The Ones That Couldn’t Keep It Close

Jacksonville at Atlanta – The week got off to a miserable start with the Jaguars falling behind 41-0 in Atlanta (27-0 at halftime). The home team improved to 24-12 (.667) on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football since 2006, but it wouldn’t have mattered in this one. They could have played the game in the sands of Pakistan with Mike Smith coaching via Skype and the result would have been the same. Blaine Gabbert still couldn’t count to three-Mississippi or throw the ball more than five yards, and Shahid Khan’s mustache would have still been the most entertaining moment Jacksonville had to offer. Jacksonville beat Tampa Bay 41-14 last week, and that’s the score they lost by this week.
 
Tampa Bay vs. Dallas – A double dip of primetime action before Sunday didn’t help, as the Cowboys scored four touchdowns on their first five drives to take a 28-0 lead at halftime. The Buccaneers had a first down on the third play of the game, but no more until the third quarter. They would never get closer than a 31-15 final. Tony Romo had his 7th straight quality start in December going back to 2009. It helps when the opponent is on an 8-game losing streak and fields the second worst scoring defense in football.
 
Chicago vs. Seattle – Either we underappreciated how good Jay Cutler was, or underestimated how bad Caleb Hanie would be, and has been. The Bears scored one defensive touchdown after Tarvaris Jackson’s mental clock went haywire again as he was standing in the end zone and fumbled the ball. But in the second half, Hanie threw two pick 6’s as Seattle romped to a 38-14 final. Add up the defensive scores both ways, and the Chicago offense contributed a net of -7 points. Believe it or not, Seattle (7-7) has the same record as Chicago and the head-to-head tie-breaker.
 
Houston vs. Carolina – Another of the week’s upsets, the Carolina Panthers went into playoff-clinched Houston and took a 21-0 lead. T.J. Yates finally showed signs of rookie inexperience, but did try to mount a comeback, cutting it to 21-13 in the fourth quarter. Carolina’s blown plenty of leads this season, but answered right back on offense with a touchdown by DeAngelo Williams to push it out to 28-13. Yates threw a red zone interception and Carolina ran out the final 7:25 on the clock. The loss snapped a franchise-record 7-game winning streak for the Texans.
 
Tennessee at Indianapolis – The Titans have been one of the hardest teams to figure out this season, and they did nothing to change that by losing to the winless Colts. The Colts took a 3-0 lead, which was their first lead of any kind in the last 9 games. Matt Hasselbeck threw a pick six, and the Colts actually led 20-6 in the fourth quarter. Jake Locker would come in to lead a touchdown drive, but it was quickly answered by Donald Brown’s 80-yard touchdown run to put things away at 27-13. It was the longest touchdown run of the Peyton Manning era (since 1998), and just the fifth of more than 50 yards. The Colts were able to minimize the quarterback for the win, with Dan Orlovsky passing for just 48 yards on the scoring drives (82 total yards in the game).
 
New Orleans at Minnesota – This was one of the greatest passing disparities in recent NFL history. If not for the statistical power of garbage time, it would have ranked even higher. At one point in the early fourth quarter, Drew Brees was 32/40 for 412 yards and 5 TD to build a 42-13 lead. The Vikings were just 4/14 for 18 yards, lost 12 yards on sacks, and 10 more on an intentional grounding penalty for a net of -4 yards on 17 pass plays. 412 to -4.
 
NY Giants vs. Washington – Every time you want to move Eli Manning a step forward, he delivers a performance like this and takes a step back. The Redskins led 23-3 in the fourth quarter, and only a meaningless touchdown in the last minute made the score closer. It was the third time all season Eli didn’t throw a touchdown pass, and two games were against the Redskins, who completed the season sweep. The Giants still control their destiny for the NFC East, but this was a head scratching defeat after last week’s virtuoso performance.
 
Denver vs. New England – The most hyped game of the week started with three touchdown drives by the teams, and the Broncos scoring 16 points on their first three drives to take a 16-7 lead. But things turned around in a hurry after Denver fumbled three times in the second quarter. New England led 27-16 at halftime before going up 34-16 late in the third quarter. The 18-point deficit only briefly shrunk to 11 in the fourth quarter before the Patriots went 80 yards for another touchdown (41-23). No chance for Tebow, who played alright, to work his magic this week, and another of the league’s top winning streaks bit the dust on Sunday. The quarterback that may have had the toughest day was Phil Simms in the broadcasting booth. The comparison of mechanics between Tebow and Brady was awkward at best.
 
NY Jets at Philadelphia – The Eagles are the Freddy Krueger of the NFL: a dream-world team that just doesn’t want to die, and continues to torture us with playoff scenarios. In a battle of two inconsistent teams, the Eagles jumped out to a 28-0 lead thanks to the turnover-happy Jets. The Eagles wanted to get in on the action and turned it over a few times themselves so the Jets can get back in it at 28-13. Philadelphia finished with 45 points, which ties the most the Jets have allowed under Rex Ryan. They are 0-10 when allowing 30+ points since 2009. Somehow, in reality it is still possible for Philadelphia to win the NFC East this season.
 
Baltimore at San Diego – With much to play for, those confusing Ravens dropped another road game in embarrassing fashion. Ray Lewis’ return was completely unremarkable after the Chargers scored 31 points on their first five drives. They would then miss a field goal before driving 89 more yards for another field goal. 34 points on 7 drives against the “best” defense in football was quite the accomplishment. The Baltimore offense, to no real surprise, struggled. Joe Flacco threw two ugly interceptions in the third quarter. Baltimore is now just 3-4 on the road this season, while San Diego remains alive in the playoff race.
 
Pittsburgh at San Francisco – Like the Ravens, the Steelers don’t travel well this year. Like Candlestick Park, they lacked electricity and sputtered to the tune of one field goal and four turnovers. They’re now -11 in turnover differential this season, and are tied with the Colts with 6 games without a takeaway. San Francisco has a lot of “Super” looking stats, but they lack the big-time passing game, which keeps them near the bottom in third down conversions and red zone touchdown percentage. They’re the #1 scoring defense and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. They lead the league with a +25 turnover differential, and they have just 10 turnovers with two games left (record is 10 by the 2010 Patriots). The 49ers also dominate the league in starting field position on both offense and defense, and this game was no different. The Steelers’ average drive started at just their own 15.4, the third worst mark a team has had in 15 years, according to Elias.
 
NEXT WEEK: The mighty Fourth Quarter Wins database at pro-football-reference.com looks to add the 4000th game to the list on Christmas Eve. Who will it involve? How many gifts will Caleb Hanie come bearing for the Packers on Sunday night? Finally, we challenge Scott Hanson to host Saturday’s RedZone after consuming five glasses of eggnog. It’s a premium channel, so a little drunken swearing from the host is permitted, right? “Who the **** is watching Vikings/Redskins?”
 
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 cracked open a can of Coke Zero to celebrate another season without a team going 19-0. 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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