The 2022 Vikings Are Young, Dumb, and Full of Comebacks

It’s only fitting for a blog I named “Captain Comeback” that I would give proper respect to the largest comeback in NFL history. For a league that has been around since 1920, this is only the second time ever that a team trailed by more than 28 points and came back to win the game. That’s it. Twice in over 100 years.

Growing up in the 90s, I only heard about Frank Reich, Buffalo’s backup quarterback, leading a 32-point rally in a playoff game for the biggest comeback in NFL history. I got to watch it years later thanks to NFL Films. Then you read about how Reich also once held the NCAA record for a 31-point comeback with Maryland against Miami in 1984.

Truthfully, Reich may have been what piqued my interest in comebacks as a research project. This backup quarterback being the only person to lead a 31-point comeback in college and 32-point comeback in the NFL can’t just be a coincidence, right? There has to be something more to this stuff.

Speaking of eerie coincidences…

Oddly enough, Reich was fired this year as the head coach of the team (Colts) who ended up blowing the 33-0 lead to beat his old record. That 33-0 lead was also on the heels of a game in Dallas where the Colts were outscored 33-0 in the fourth quarter, the first team to do that since 1925. Oh, and the Colts had Matt Ryan at quarterback on Saturday, the only quarterback to blow a 25-point lead in a championship game in NFL history. Now he has the all-time blown lead in an NFL game. Unbelievable.

Am I little annoyed that the biggest comeback ever now belongs to a Kirk Cousins-led team I have called the worst 11-3 team in NFL history instead of it being a playoff game with a backup QB? Yeah, I am. But I got to watch this one live, and it was quite the experience.

As a holiday treat, and the nicest things I’ll probably say about the 2022 Vikings all year, here is my definitive recap of what happened on Saturday in Minnesota.

Colts at Vikings: The Biggest Comeback/Collapse in NFL History

It is not surprising to see the Colts and Vikings involved in an all-time comeback. They are two franchises who have been involved in several of the biggest comebacks ever, including famous and not so famous ones. I even wrote in 2014 about a preseason game where the Colts blew a 26-0 fourth-quarter lead to the Giants, which would be an NFL record for biggest blown lead in the fourth quarter.

Last December, I did a timely Twitter thread about big comeback attempts when these Vikings nearly blew a 29-0 lead in the second half against the Steelers. Pittsburgh got it to 36-28 (same score as Saturday at one point), but Pat Freiermuth was unable to hold onto Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the end zone to end it.

Only a few teams have been able to come close to erasing a 30+ point deficit. Other than the 1992 Bills coming back from 35-3 down to beat the Oilers in overtime, the only other 30+ point comeback attempt before Saturday that didn’t end in a loss was when the 1960 Broncos were able to tie the Bills at 38 after trailing 38-7 in the third quarter. There was no overtime then.

Here is the updated chart for all comeback wins of at least 23 points in NFL history. Colts-Vikings is fittingly the 33rd game on this list, which highlights road games in yellow and playoff games in blue.

Minnesota’s comeback and Indy’s collapse puts each team in a tie for the most such wins or losses in franchise history:

  • The Vikings (3) join the Broncos, Eagles, and Patriots as the only franchises with three such comeback wins in their history.
  • The Colts (3) join the Patriots and Buccaneers as the only franchises with three such blown leads in their history.

The game also makes for some interesting history for Cousins and Ryan:

  • The last two teams to come back from at least 24 points down and win a regular-season game were both quarterbacked by Kirk Cousins, including a 2015 win over Tampa with Washington (the “You like that?” game).
  • Kirk Cousins joins Dan Pastorini, Neil Lomax, and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks with multiple wins when trailing by at least 23 points.  
  • Cousins and Brady are the only quarterbacks in NFL history with multiple 24-point comeback wins in their careers.
  • This is only the eighth comeback from 25-plus points in NFL history, and Matt Ryan has been the losing quarterback for the last two instances (only quarterback with multiple losses).
  • Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Jim Plunkett are the only quarterbacks to lose multiple games with at least a 23-point lead.

With the Vikings down 33-0 at halftime, this is also a historic comeback for halftime deficits:

  • Minnesota has the largest comeback win from a halftime deficit (33 points) in NFL history.
  • The only other team with a comeback win from a halftime deficit of greater than 25 points was when the 1980 49ers came back from 28 down to beat the Saints.
  • Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are the only team on this list of 33 games that led at halftime despite trailing by at least 23 points in the game. They were down 24-0 in the 2019 playoffs to Houston before storming back for a 51-31 win.

Down 33-0, the Vikings got their comeback going with a drive that started with 11:16 left in the third quarter. This was less time than the 1992 Bills, who trailed 35-3 when they got the ball with 13:15 left in the third quarter before they scored their first touchdown.

The Colts added a field goal to make it 36-7 with 4:53 left in the third. That means the Vikings made a 29-point comeback, which by itself would be the second largest in history, with just under 20 minutes left to play in regulation – a new gold standard. Near the 5:00 mark of the third in Bills-Oilers, the Bills were already driving at midfield down 35-17. They made it a very doable 35-24 game with 4:21 left in the third. By the 2:00 mark of the third quarter, Buffalo made it 35-32, so their record comeback happened very fast with four touchdowns scored in just over 11 minutes of action in the third.

The Vikings still had plenty of work to do at the start of the fourth quarter, trailing 36-14 after Cousins took a sack to end the third.

By my records, the Vikings are the fifth team to come back to win from a fourth-quarter deficit of 22-plus points, joining these teams:

  • 1952 Rams vs. Packers (22 points, trailed 28-6, won 30-28)
  • 1985 Vikings vs. Eagles (23 points, trailed 23-0, won 28-23)
  • 1987 Cardinals vs. Buccaneers (25 points, trailed 28-3, won 31-28)
  • 2000 Jets vs. Dolphins (23 points, trailed 30-7, won 40-37 OT)
  • 2022 Vikings vs. Colts (22 points, trailed 36-14, won 39-36 OT)

No matter how you slice it, this was a historic comeback and collapse. If you’ve been following the Vikings and Colts this year, you could start to see it coming too around the time Justin Jefferson caught a touchdown with 12:53 left and the Vikings now down 36-21.

Colts-Vikings: Perfect Storm for a Record-Setting Comeback

In many ways, the ingredients for a record-setting comeback were present in this one:

  • The 2022 Vikings already had six fourth-quarter comeback wins (three from double digits) to lead the NFL as they have been living on the edge all season.
  • Colts were coming off a 33-0 fourth quarter in Dallas and we know they turn the ball over often.
  • Colts lost star running back Jonathan Taylor after his first touch, and his presence was missed on a few critical plays.
  • Colts have an interim coach (Jeff Saturday) who just doesn’t have much experience at this job.
  • Vikings were at home.
  • Matt Ryan is cursed.

On that last point, part of why I wanted to do a deeper dive on this game is to contrast it with Ryan’s other big blown lead with Atlanta against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

The truth is Super Bowl LI and 33-0 couldn’t be any more different as games.

In that Super Bowl, Ryan was playing an incredible game with the offense moving up and down the field, the defense jumped a Tom Brady pass for a pick-six, and the Falcons were rolling along at 28-3 in the third quarter. Then time after time, the Falcons failed to make the one last play they needed to put the game away.

When I wrote my 2017 NFL predictions, I highlighted eight breaking points where the Falcons just needed to do one good thing and the game was over. They were 0-for-8.

Obviously, you can take every play in a game like this and say “well, they should have forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.” But that is just silly talk ignoring the physics and reality of all these snaps. I’m just talking about things like don’t try to throw the ball on third-and-1 deep in your own end where your RB is going to miss the pass rusher and your quarterback fumbles. Or don’t drop a game-ending interception and help keep the ball alive in the air for Julian Edelman to catch it for a 23-yard gain. Stuff like that.

What breaking points did the Colts have that failed? We’ll get to that list soon, but the other important distinction I want to make for this game compared to Super Bowl LI is that the Colts didn’t actually play that well to earn such a big lead here.

Atlanta went from a dominant performance to playing dumb football with the lead and helping the Patriots get back into it. By the end of the game, the defense was tired, the Patriots won the coin toss, and the end was inevitable.

In this game, it’s not like Ryan had a great day with 19-of-33 for 182 yards and a touchdown. He took three sacks. The Colts averaged 4.0 yards per carry without Jonathan Taylor. They were 6-of-19 (31.6%) on third down, which is lousy. The Vikings ended up outgaining them 518-341 in yards.

While SB LI was Atlanta going from a beatdown to a meltdown, this game was more about the Colts trying to hang on to something they didn’t really deserve in the first place:

  • Minnesota started the game with a three-and-out, which led to a blocked punt return touchdown and 10-0 lead for the Colts. There’s always a lot of randomness to a blocked punt return TD (unless you’re the 2021 Packers).
  • On the next two drives, Dalvin Cook fumbled after a 40-yard run and was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 with horrible spacing and design at his own 31. The Colts settled for a FG and 20-0 lead on a 21-yard drive.
  • After another three-and-out, the Vikings ran the most expected fake punt ever and botched it at their own 31. The Colts again failed to move the sticks (or even gain a yard) and kicked a field goal for a 23-0 lead.
  • (7:03 left in 2Q) The officials hosed Minnesota by calling forward progress for Michael Pittman on a third-down catch when he was still fighting to get upfield, had the ball knocked out, and there was a clear scoop and score for the Vikings. But it didn’t count and the Colts got to punt.
  • (5:57 left in 2Q) On the very next drive, Cousins threw a pick-six intended for Jalen Reagor, who came in to replace an injured Justin Jefferson, who would return later. That made it 30-0 in a sequence where the Vikings defense should have made it 23-7.
  • (4:55 left in 2Q) K.J. Osborn appeared to make a 40-yard catch downfield, but only when you slow the replay down to a snail pace can you see the ball move out of his one hand, making it incomplete. The call was correct, but it’s just another example of how the Vikings were shooting themselves in the foot far more than anything Indy was doing to them.

After the Osborn drop, the Colts would have their last offensive drive of the game that gained more than 31 yards and two first downs. It led to a field goal and 33-0 lead at halftime, an incredible coincidence for a team that was outscored 33-0 in the last quarter we watched them play.

Into the second half, now I’m going to look at the breaking points for the Colts. The moments where if they just did one thing better that was in their control, they likely win the game. I had eight for Atlanta in SB 51, but that was just going by memory of a game that ended seven months before I wrote that. This one is a bit fresher in mind.

  • 10:41 left, 3Q (IND leads 33-0): Every comeback needs a starting point and Minnesota’s was when Dayo Odeyingbo was penalized 15 yards for taunting after he tackled Reagor on a run that lost 5 yards. Not only did it give the Vikings a first down, but it negated a 2nd-and-15 situation. It looked like a lame call, but just make the tackle and don’t stare down the opponent, and maybe that drive ends in another three-and-out. Two plays later, Osborn burned them for a 63-yard gain and finished the drive with a touchdown. Game on.
  • 0:25 left, 3Q (IND leads 36-14): This is at least the third time I’m criticizing Matt Ryan for throwing incompletions in a game with a big lead he went on to lose. Just burn some clock, my guy. Ryan threw an incompletion on second-and-7 with 25 seconds left. Run the ball there, get a couple yards, and take this thing into the fourth quarter. Ryan then threw another incompletion on third down, so the Vikings got the ball back and ran a play in the third quarter. It’s bad clock management, though this is probably more on Saturday’s inexperience than Ryan.
  • 8:09 left, 4Q (IND leads 36-21): After another minor injury knocks Jefferson out of the game, Cousins goes deep for Reagor, who stopped on the route and it was intercepted, though the Colts went out of bounds at their own 2 to give them poor field position. This is another case of the Vikings (namely Reagor) shooting themselves in the foot and the Colts catching a break with a Jefferson injury. But after the pick, Ryan again throws two incompletions on first and third down. The drive burns 56 seconds and the Vikings are already back at the 50 with the ball. This is probably where not having Taylor at RB hurt, but again, I hate the way Ryan continuously throws multiple interceptions on drives like this. He did it against the 2020 Bears too for another blown 16-point 4Q lead.
  • 3:28 left, 4Q (IND leads 36-28): Here is where the Colts definitely missed JT in a one-score game where you need first downs to end it. Deon Jackson got a first-down carry and he fumbled, which should have been returned for yet another Minnesota touchdown, but for the second time (and this was more egregious) the refs blew it and whistled the play dead. So, the Colts actually got lucky here that it wasn’t a fumble return touchdown, but just hang onto the ball and put this game away. Awful job by Jackson.
  • 2:52 left, 4Q (IND leads 36-28): After the Colts tackled Cousins on a 4th-and-15 scramble (ha), they needed to make the Vikings burn their four clock stoppages. But on the very first play, they run a toss which is more likely to get the runner out of bounds, which is bad. Zack Moss tried to slide down after picking up 11 yards and a first, but they ruled him out of bounds. He got a meaningless first down and only burned 7 seconds. Bad play.
  • 2:31 left, 4Q (IND leads 36-28): You knew it was coming, the biggest breaking point in the game. After three more Moss runs, it was 4th-and-1 at the Minnesota 36. One yard and the game is over with the Vikings out of timeouts. Do you go for a 54-yard field goal with a suspect kicker to make it 39-28 and likely wrap it up? Do you just go for the 1 yard on a QB sneak? Again, not having Taylor here didn’t help, but I can’t argue with the call for a QB sneak. Unfortunately, Ryan just couldn’t get any push and he failed to convert it, the most unstoppable play in the book.
  • 2:15 left, 4Q (IND leads 36-34): After Dalvin Cook embarrassed the defense on a screen that went 64 yards for a touchdown on a one-play drive, the Colts could essentially end it by stopping the two-point conversion. But Cousins remained calm in the pocket and found tight end T.J. Hockenson with a mismatch in the end zone to tie the game.

So, those are seven breaking points, but several are just me complaining that the Colts didn’t burn clock more efficiently, and they even got lucky with another Reagor-aided pick and the refs hosing the Vikings on a fumble touchdown.

Minnesota was the better team, and we saw it the rest of the way as Ryan took a sack on the very next play after the tie, and that short-circuited that drive. The Colts were so shook they even looked like they were going to go for a fourth-and-1 at their own 34 with 1:22 left, but a false start killed that idea. I feel like that was a game saver because I don’t see them converting there. That would have been super ballsy.

You would think the Vikings would march right down the field in overtime, but Cousins took a sack inside the Indy 40 and that killed that idea. More pressure on Ryan nearly led him into a devastating fumble, but the Colts were able to recover the ball as the clock moved under 3:00. The Colts were unable to get the ball deeper than their own 44 before punting.

Cousins had 1:41 left, and after already leading six game-winning drives this season, a seventh was not an issue. All three wide receivers had a big catch as Osborn completed his career day (157 yards), Adam Thielen had a good game (earlier touchdown), and of course Jefferson came up with the dagger for 13 yards to get into field goal range. The Colts were so blatant and aggressive at keeping Jefferson on the ground after his catch that they were penalized for delay of game, making the kick 5 yards easier. Thanks, guys. Minnesota kickers need all the help they can get.

But kicker Greg Joseph has been almost perfect from 40 yards and under in his career, and he was good from 40 here to put the official bow on the largest comeback in NFL history. That concluded a Saturday afternoon game that took four hours to play.

Almost took me four hours to recap as my ass has been slacking with some of the comeback data, but I got it all together for this rarest of games.

Love them or hate them, these 2022 Vikings are already a memorable, historic team. Their scoring differential may only be +2, but they have already given us the modern day equivalent to The Miracle at the Meadowlands by turning Josh Allen on a QB sneak into Joe Pisarcik. Now they have given us the largest comeback in any NFL game ever played. We still have at least four more games (playoffs included) to watch what this team does next.

Cousins only needs one more game-winning drive to tie 2016 Matthew Stafford for the single-season record:

Monty Python voice: And now for something completely different (the following is mostly satire and fiction. Mostly).

Did Kevin O’Connell Pull Tom Brady’s Lucky Horseshoe Out of His Ass?

Don’t blame Gisele taking her witch powers with her in the divorce for Tom Brady struggling with a 6-8 record and the worst offense of his career.

I think I know what’s really going on here.

When I wrote my Buccaneers-Bengals recap, I mentioned Joe Burrow pulled the remaining piece of lucky horseshoe out of Brady’s anal cavity at halftime. But without writing about this Vikings-Colts game first, that may not have made sense.

My new working theory is that Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell is actually the person who got to Brady last January and stole the LOAT’s source of incredible luck. But O’Connell has been trying to get to Brady’s luck for almost 15 years now.

For those who do not know, O’Connell was a quarterback and third-round pick by the Patriots in the 2008 draft. You know what happened in 2008, right? O’Connell shows up, and suddenly Brady tears his ACL in Week 1 for the only major injury of his 23-year career. Suspicious to say the least.

But the Patriots bypassed O’Connell and went with high school QB Matt Cassel to replace Brady and earn a huge contract from Kansas City. After struggling in a preseason game in 2009, the Patriots unexpectedly cut O’Connell and his quarterback career fizzled from there.

But as the Rams’ offensive coordinator, O’Connell had success in Tampa Bay’s building in 2020 and returned there in 2021 for the divisional round game this past January. If O’Connell stole Brady’s lucky horseshoe that day, he must have only gotten the offensive half of it, explaining this pathetic offense we have seen for 15 games now from the Buccaneers.

We still see Brady with a top 10 defense and one that forced four Rams turnovers to almost steal back in that game.

But going back to that divisional round game, O’Connell as the Rams coordinator and Vikings head coach has done this:

  • 13-0 in close games
  • 10-0 at game-winning drive opportunities
  • 9 fourth-quarter comebacks (five when trailing by 10+ points)
  • First team in NFL history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points
  • The most improbable fumble return TD since Joe Pisarcik and the Miracle at the Meadowlands
  • Largest comeback in NFL history (33 points)

The NFL hasn’t seen a run of luck like this in close games since, well since the 2003-04 Patriots won 21 straight games with a 17-0 record in close games.

Meanwhile, since that January playoff loss, Brady has botched a 40-day retirement, lost his marriage, has been outscored 35-0 and 34-0 in the last two weeks, and he’s stuck at 6-8 in the worst division in the NFL with the worst offensive performance of his career.

Yeah, O’Connell stole that shit, and we’ll see if Burrow grabbed the D/ST piece at halftime on Sunday, because that Gio Bernard fake punt got everything rolling for the Bengals.

Kevin O’Connell: LOAT Slayer.

Conclusion: Pouring One Out for Matt Ryan

Guess we’ll end on the sad note, but I really do feel bad that Matt Ryan has secured this legacy of being the guy who blew the biggest lead in NFL history and the biggest lead in Super Bowl history.

When people talk about Warren Moon the last three decades, they talk about him being a prolific passer and a pioneer for the Black quarterback. No one really talks about him blowing a 32-point lead, which wasn’t the only lead those Oilers blew in the postseason during that run. But when it comes to Ryan, that is going to be the focus barring a miracle.

As I led off with Frank Reich, Ryan holding this distinction may not be a coincidence, but it is hard for me to say he was ever the leading cause of either loss. He was barely a supporting actor in Saturday’s game, and he should have been a hero in LI if Kyle Shanahan had any common sense and ran the ball. Or Robert Alford wins Super Bowl MVP with his second pick. Fuck Edelman.

But if Ryan’s career only bombs from here or if he retires after this season, I think this season may have seriously damaged his chances at the Hall of Fame. We’ll see how things go with Eli Manning and Philip Rivers in the upcoming years, but it’s going to be hard for people to overlook these blown leads and a quarterback who hasn’t been to the postseason or had a winning record in any season since 2017.

To paraphrase my football friend Vinny Lospinuso, Ryan may go down as the Ken Anderson of his era.

Someone who won an MVP and took an unsuccessful franchise to a Super Bowl only to lose to a dynasty, but he isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and only stat nerds really appreciate him.

Ever since the Falcons blew that 2012 NFC Championship Game lead, Ryan has spent the last decade as Sisyphus, the character in Greek mythology whose punishment was to roll a heavy boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down every time he got near the top.

After Saturday’s game, I’m not sure how Sisyphus still finds the joy to continue working towards inevitable failure. Ryan is too old to be like these Vikings. Look at them. Young, dumb, and full of comebacks.

But their day is coming soon too. That inevitable playoff loss where the boulder flattens their run of close-game success. Enjoy it while it lasts, Minnesota. You already got a few for the lifetime highlight reels and record books this year.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 2

We still have a pretty good doubleheader to go on Monday night for Week 2, but this has already been one of the wildest weeks in NFL history. Sure, you probably hear that about 21 times a season, but this time it really does check out.

There was a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter by the Dolphins in Baltimore, making the Ravens the first team in NFL history to score 38 points with zero turnovers at home and lose in regulation.

There was a 13-point comeback in Cleveland completely manufactured by the Jets (!) after the two-minute warning.

There was a 16-point comeback in Las Vegas with Arizona pulling off the rare 8+8 to force overtime where it won a defensive fumble return for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the Cardinals were also down 20-0 at halftime, becoming the 15th team in NFL history to win after being shut out by at least 20 points at halftime.

The world may have ended if the Atlanta Falcons completed their comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Rams, but Marcus Mariota was intercepted in the end zone while trailing 31-25 with 1:07 left.

The week started goofy with the Chiefs kicking a game-tying field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, then winning on a pick-six against the Chargers because tight end Gerald Everett got tired, the team left him out there anyway, and they got properly burned for it.

It also was the saddest day in the history of the AFC North with all four teams losing for the eighth time since 2002. So, while it has happened more often than all but one division, it is hard to imagine any group of losses were more heartbreaking than the ones on Sunday. Here is the total of 0-4 weeks for each division since 2002:

  • NFC West (10)
  • AFC North (8)
  • NFC East (6)
  • AFC South (5)
  • NFC North (5)
  • NFC South (3)
  • AFC West (2)
  • AFC East (0)

With two games to go, we have already had 10 close games this week. Let’s look at some of them as well as quicker views of the embarrassing blowouts (Colts?)

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Ravens: Game of the Week (Month? Year?)

Did we witness the creation of a new power in the AFC, or will this game just be a fun footnote on the way to a Chiefs vs. Bills playoff rematch? A lot of weeks to go before that, but this fourth quarter was bananas.

After Lamar Jackson’s 79-yard touchdown run gave the Ravens a 35-14 lead going into the fourth quarter, this game reminded me of when Baltimore blew out the Chargers 34-6 last year. That really threw some cold water on the hype for the 4-1 Chargers under rookie coach Brandon Staley.

New Miami coach Mike McDaniel was not getting that hype just yet after one win over New England where the offense scored 13 points, but there were some high expectations for this year. I picked him for Coach of the Year. After this game, I think the bandwagon is about to grow, especially with Buffalo coming next week.

You win a game with Tua Tagovailoa throwing 50 times for 469 yards and six touchdowns in Baltimore? I know the defense is not anywhere close to what it used to be in Baltimore, but 469/6? Tua? Him?

But when Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill embarrass the defense with over 170 yards and two touchdowns each, that’s the scary potential of this offense. It was enough to spoil a special day by Lamar, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games with 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in his career (318/119). He did not take a sack and the Ravens had no turnovers.

He did get stopped on four consecutive plays while the Dolphins were quickly making their comeback, but he rebounded to lead a go-ahead field goal drive with 2:18 left. That’s an eternity given the way Miami was hitting chunk plays. Sure enough, Tua delivered to Waddle again for a 7-yard touchdown to take a 42-38 lead with 14 seconds left.

Jackson’s Hail Mary came up short to end it. By my count, this is the 10th fourth-quarter comeback win from a deficit of 21+ points in NFL history. The last was when the Eagles did it to the Giants in 2010, winning 38-31 on DeSean Jackson’s punt return touchdown.

Tagovailoa joins the odd company of Neil Lomax and Wade Wilson as the only three quarterbacks to cap off a 21+ point 4QC with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Troy Aikman threw one for Dallas in overtime against the 1999 Redskins in Week 1.

So, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tua is going to turn into Joe Montana, but this is really encouraging stuff from the quarterback position. One could say the kind of game that a Dan Marino fan would appreciate. Quick, someone come up with a good nickname for Waddle & Hill.

But when I said Hill is worth a couple wins to the Chiefs because of his rare talent, this is exactly the kind of game I’m talking about. This comeback probably does not take place with any other wide receiver. Now do the Chiefs still have that ability to pull out a tough game? We’ll see. They didn’t look great against the Chargers on Thursday. But if the Dolphins can keep this up and start games better, this is going to set up a very intriguing race in the AFC that goes beyond just the Bills and Chiefs.

God knows we need it with the way the Broncos, Colts, Bengals, and Raiders are shitting the bed so far this season.

Jets at Browns: Only in Cleveland

The Jets were my upset special this week, but even I was shocked to find out that they had won this game given the 30-17 deficit so late. I saw the Jets recover an onside kick, but I was still lost in the ending to Dolphins-Ravens and didn’t find out what Cleveland did until several minutes after the game ended.

It was a colossal choke that took all three phases of the team, but it’s also such a Cleveland thing to do. Since 2001, just three NFL teams have lost a game while leading by more than 10 points and the other team getting the ball back in the final three minutes.

All three of those losses belong to Cleveland (click pic to enlarge).

You can’t blame just one person, so let’s blame a few. Let’s start with Kareem Hunt, who twice ran out of bounds to stop the clock when he should have been trying to slide down in bounds. The second time was the most egregious because there was a hole to slide down for the first down that would have ended the game. The Jets were out of timeouts and the clock would have went to the two-minute warning. Game over. But Hunt didn’t do what he needed to and the clock stopped at 2:02.

On the very next play, Nick Chubb decided to run for his third touchdown, and if the Jets really just “allowed” him to do it, then they are geniuses. This was the only hope they had left. This is something else I’ll bitch about once or twice a season, and the Browns proved with the worst-case scenario possible exactly why I’m right and you shouldn’t risk this.

By scoring with 1:55 left, Chubb extended the game instead of ending it. I still think what Hunt did was equally bad if not worse, and Chubb does not deserve the brunt of the criticism. But he had no business scoring that touchdown, which set up an extra point that was missed to keep it a 30-17 game. Another reason you don’t score the touchdown as now you’re open to losing by a point. So now the special teams are in on the mess to come.

Next, it was the defense’s turn. The last thing you could do was give up a quick one, and we know Joe Flacco has some experience at throwing up a bomb in these spots. He hadn’t been able to get big plays in eight quarters, but somehow with the game still alive he caught corner Denzel Ward looking in the backfield and corked a wide-open 66-yard touchdown bomb to Corey Davis on a drive that took 33 seconds. Inexcusable.

You know the onside kick was coming next, and that’s where many of these comebacks stall since they are so hard to get. But the Jets got this one and suddenly Flacco had 80 seconds from midfield to win this game. He did exactly that with a good drive and a 15-yard strike to rookie Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds left.

The Jets led 31-30 after the extra point. The Cleveland offense had such a nice day with Jacoby Brissett showing better precision, Amari Cooper getting his first 100-yard game and touchdown, and the running game putting up big numbers for the second week in a row. And none of it mattered because they got greedy and botched their previous drive that should have ended the game. Then the special teams and defense screwed up multiple plays. Finally, Brissett’s desperate pass while out of timeouts was intercepted to end the game.

What can you say about Flacco? He had himself a day with 307 yards and four touchdown passes, and in the process, he picked up his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win. He is the 34th quarterback to do so, and it’s taken him the second-most games (195) to get there ahead of only Brett Favre.

But I will say Flacco has been involved in three really incredible comebacks from the 2012 AFC divisional win in Denver to the 2013 explosive ending in the snow against Minnesota to this one.

The fact that the two most incredible wins of the Zach Wilson era were started by Mike White (Bengals’ comeback last year) and Flacco here are not encouraging signs for him. But we have to see him this season. We know this team isn’t going anywhere with Flacco.

This was the type of absurd comeback you see maybe once every decade in the NFL.

But only against Cleveland. That’s the key.

Cardinals at Raiders: 8 + 8 + Too Much Grit

After the Cardinals failed to show up for the first half and trailed 20-0, I had no expectations for the second half. I figured Josh McDaniels would run Josh Jacobs a lot and the team would just cruise to a win to get to 1-1.

But this was in some ways the most shocking comeback of the day because of how little trust we’ve had in Arizona, and how many plays they had to string together to pull this off. When Kyler Murray threw incomplete on a 4th-and-1 at the Raiders 11 with 12:31 left in a 23-7 game, I decided to take out the trash. This didn’t look competitive anymore.

But McDaniels’ play-calling has been so suspect through two games, and the next drive that saw Derek Carr throw three incompletions and burn nine seconds should be getting crucified here. Do coaches not understand how important it is to burn clock anymore? Sometimes, even that three runs and a punt drive that takes two minutes is more valuable than whatever that was by the Raiders.

Maybe it wasn’t 28-9, but 23-7 is hard because few teams ever pull off 8+8 in this league. At least one of those two-point conversions usually fail, so they end up needing three possessions.

But to Murray’s credit, he hung in there on the first touchdown drive and capped it off with a scramble for the two-point conversion that maybe only he could do right now. The Raiders burned a little more time, but Murray had 4:43 to answer a 23-15 deficit.

As I seem to write a long rant about a couple times a season, the Cardinals were not in a super hurry to get the touchdown given the “information” that they were down eight points. It ended up being an insanely tough drive that had to overcome three fourth-down situations, and on the final play at the 3-yard line, Murray scrambled for another touchdown with no time left.

But even then, a secondo two-point conversion was needed just to go to overtime. Murray found A.J. Green in the end zone and the veteran held on for a great catch to tie the game. By my count, the Cardinals are just the fourth team in NFL history to win a game after erasing a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions:

  • 2004 49ers vs. Cardinals (trailed 28-12, won 31-28 in overtime)
  • 2016 Patriots vs. Falcons (first cut 28-9 to 28-12, then won 34-28 in overtime)
  • 2021 Ravens vs. Colts (trailed 25-9, won 31-25 in overtime)
  • 2022 Cardinals at Raiders (trailed 23-7, won 29-23 in overtime)

But even in overtime the Cardinals looked dead in the water after Murray threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 at the Las Vegas 37. Carr just needed a couple first downs for field-goal range, and Hunter Renfrow picked up a third down before fumbling. The team recovered it though. However, just two plays later, Renfrow fumbled again, and this time it was scooped up and returned 59 yards for a game-deciding touchdown. Unbelievable.

This was just the sixth time in NFL overtime history that a team won by returning a fumble for a touchdown. That includes the playoffs, as Arizona fans should enjoy (2009 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay).

Just a miraculous win from one of the teams you’d least expect to pick things up after a 20-0 first half. But both teams are guilty of bad coaching to start this season.

Falcons at Rams: The Most Dangerous Lead in the NFL

The Rams kept Matthew Stafford clean (one sack), got Allen Robinson much more involved with a touchdown, and kept rolling with Cooper Kupp on the way to a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

And yet, they almost blew what was once a 28-3 lead to the team that will take that score to their graves. Having a bet on Rams -10, I just knew bad things were coming once the Rams failed at the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter with a 28-10 lead. They settled for a field goal to make it 31-10, but no lead was truly safe on Sunday.

The Falcons got one touchdown drive, then blocked a punt in devastating fashion – that punter got crushed – and returned that for a touchdown. I liked the call to go for two, and Drake London really is showing why he was the first wideout off the board in the draft. His catch made it a 31-25 game, Kupp actually made a mistake and fumbled, and this shit was really going to happen a week after the Falcons blew a 26-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Two 21-point fourth-quarter leads blown by home teams expected to make the playoffs in the same day? Insane.

It is hard to say the Falcons hit us with a “they are who we thought they were!” since we thought this team was going to get crushed like it often did in 2021. But this team has been fighting the first two weeks and may eventually get some wins to show for it. It just wasn’t happening this time as Marcus Mariota threw an interception in the end zone to Jalen Ramsey with 1:07 left. D’oh.

The Rams still had to take an intentional safety after they wouldn’t dare punt again after the way the Falcons attacked the last one. That’s how it got to 31-27, but Mariota was sacked on the final play before he could try a Hail Mary, and Aaron Donald was there for a cheap fumble recovery.

We may be talking about the defense being the most unreliable part of this Los Angeles team, but it’d be nice to see them play a normal game that isn’t 31-10 in the fourth quarter first.

Buccaneers at Saints: I Hope Jameis’ Cousin in The Afghanistan Didn’t Watch This

No recent defense makes Tom Brady look so bad like Dennis Allen’s Saints since 2020, but too bad the offense always seems to be injured for these games. Beyond Alvin Kamara missing the game, Jameis Winston played with a bad back and it showed. While no stranger to mistakes, he really let it all hang out in the fourth quarter after a tight battle that saw the Saints shut out Brady for another half on the heels of last year’s 9-0 win in Tampa Bay.

But in a 3-3 game in the fourth quarter, things just started to crumble for Winston, who took six sacks and ended three straight drives with an interception, gift-wrapping the last 10 points to Tampa Bay in a 20-10 loss.

Had it not been for that last New Orleans touchdown, Todd Bowles’ defense would be sitting on two games of allowing six points and scoring seven with a pick-six in this one. Still, a net 6 points allowed in two games is really strong work. Now we’ll see if they can do that to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which would be a repeat of what they did to a far better Green Bay machine in 2020.

Also, I know it looks impossible for Brady to smile these days, but the amount of bitching he did on Sunday was worse than usual. I am getting a 2019 Patriots vibe already with this team. Once the defense stops playing at a historic level, expect mediocrity. We’ll see how long they can hold out with the Packers and Chiefs coming up next. But frankly, all three of those teams look weaker this season.

Patriots at Steelers: The Meh Bowl

Well, the good news is the Steelers had the most respectable loss in the AFC North on Sunday. But for as long as I have watched the NFL (mid-90s), Patriots vs. Steelers has always meant something in the AFC. You have to go back to 1991 to find the last meeting between the two where neither made the playoffs or had a winning record. Could these teams be headed that way this year? They are no longer the favorite or even second favorite in their divisions.

The game itself reflected a lot of that “meh” rebranding for these teams in the wake of recent departures of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks. But I will take Mac Jones over Mitch Trubisky in a heartbeat. Jones at least found his receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, down the field on multiple occasions. Agholor made a fantastic 44-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Trubisky was picked and could not move the ball well, leading the offense to 30 points in two games so far.

The Pittsburgh defense basically has to play perfect for this team to win, and that is asking for too much without T.J. Watt. But the sequence of the game was in the third quarter. The defense dropped a second Jones interception at midfield. That led to a punt, which was muffed by the Steelers, which led to a 10-yard touchdown drive for the Patriots and 17-6 lead.

Despite Trubisky leading the offense’s only touchdown drive of the game, he had no follow-up act in a 17-14 game. On a couple of third downs, he seemed determined to go to Najee Harris. Neither play worked. Neither play made much sense with the other weapons the Steelers have. The Patriots were able to run out the final six minutes on the clock and win the game.

I really think Mike Tomlin has to look at this Week 3 game in Cleveland on Thursday night as a final audition for Trubisky. He is not the future for this team. He is not shining to help them turn him for a draft pick if some other team’s starter is injured. Maybe Kenny Pickett won’t be any better. Maybe he’ll be worse. But I’d just like to see something happen there because Trubisky isn’t making it happen on the field. People wanted Ben Roethlisberger benched after last year’s slow start, but this is the same chickenshit offense being run by offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

We can make jokes about the Patriots using Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to run the offense with Josh McDaniels gone, but based on the way these units performed on Sunday, the real joke is that the Steelers won’t fix this broken offense.

Bengals at Cowboys: Another Backup Beats Cincinnati

I said all week Cooper Rush and the Cowboys would surprise people and the Bengals are overrated, but even I didn’t expect this upset, wire-to-wire win for Dallas. Hell, I thought Brett Maher missed that 50-yard field goal at the buzzer, but apparently it did sneak in there for the win. Bengals are now 0-2 after watching teams execute long field goals against them while they couldn’t get an extra point or 29-yard field goal to work. What a bummer.

But once again, Mike McCarthy deserves some credit for getting a backup quarterback ready to play. The Cowboys still have offensive talent despite the injuries, and we should just admit that Dak Prescott played poorly in Week 1. I am not surprised the offense gutted out 20 points at home against a defense that couldn’t stop Mitch Trubisky in overtime. Not to mention this team lost to Mike White last year. Why not get an adequate game from Cooper Rush with CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, and Noah Brown on his side?

Micah Parsons can do his best T.J. Watt impersonation and lead that defense to a good day to keep the score down and the game winnable. They did exactly that with six sacks of Joe Burrow, who became the 11th quarterback to start a season by taking at least six sacks in consecutive games. Russell Wilson was the last to do it in 2018, so it’s not something exclusive to bums, but it is not a good sign for the new offensive line or Burrow’s development. He is going to see plenty of good pass rushers this season and will need to do a better job of cutting down those sacks.

But hats off to the Cowboys for not giving up a single 20-yard play to the Bengals. They were good against Tampa Bay last week too. Now if they can just get Dak healthy and get someone like Michael Gallup back, then maybe we have something here. But the good news is Rush was able to lead a game-winning drive, his second in two NFL starts. He might be able to hold the fort until Prescott can return.

Texans at Broncos: Can Hackett Hack It in the NFL?

If the Texans had just a little more punch to their offense, they would be 2-0 right now with wins over what are apparently two slow starters in the Colts and Broncos. Maybe these teams just aren’t going to be as good as we thought they’d be with the quarterback changes.

But one thing I warned for both the Colts and Broncos is that Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are not taking over teams with as much elite talent like the 2009 Vikings (Brett Favre), 2012 Broncos (Peyton Manning), 2020 Buccaneers (Tom Brady), and 2021 Rams (Matthew Stafford). They would be improvements over the quarterbacks that were there, hopefully get good defensive support, and give them an edge in close games as they are two of the most prolific ever at accumulating comebacks and game-winning drives.

Well, Wilson got his first Denver comeback win, but he played one of his shittiest first three quarters to end up in that situation. But I will not blast him for this section. He threw the game-winning touchdown and got that done. Speaking of elite talent, the team lost wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and corner Patrick Surtain II during the game, which certainly hurts.

But it’s the coaching. Jesus Christ, Nathaniel Hackett has had a coaching start so uninspiring that I think I had more faith in Urban Meyer this time a year ago. The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team on record to have at least a dozen penalties in their first two games. It’s the procedure of getting the play in on time that is so jacked right now as the Broncos had two more delay of game penalties on kicks. It’s the horseshit calls on 3rd-and-1, like giving the ball to tight end Andrew Beck on an end around, or all the terrible passes and decisions inside the 2-yard line.

Like the Colts, the Broncos are doing this against Seattle and Houston, two teams projected to be among the worst in the NFL this year. We saw how well Seattle handled the 49ers on Sunday, a team they owned with Wilson.

Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We’ll see what happens. All I know is if you see someone bring up Peyton starting 1-2 in Denver in 2012, just shut them up quickly. That team lost to a 13-3 Atlanta team that was the No. 1 seed, and they lost to a 12-4 Houston team that started 11-1 and was leading the AFC into December. The Broncos also scored 46 points in those two games with rallies that came up a score short. It’s not the same.

It was never going to be that good. But this has been embarrassing so far for Hackett and frankly for Wilson too.

Panthers at Giants: Updating the Rhules

Oh, don’t mind me, just updating the pathetic Matt Rhule records in Carolina after another game was lost at the end. This time it was a 19-16 defeat against the 2-0 Giants:

  • 0-15 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-25 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-22 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-25 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I could be wrong on this, but I think this is the first time the Giants have won consecutive games after trailing by at least seven points in the second half since 1970 (Weeks 8-9). Imagine how many decades it would take Rhule to do that.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I would like to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other four games that were not close.

Colts at Jaguars: If the Colts aren’t going to bother showing up in Jacksonville, then I’m not going to bother giving them a deeper recap. I knew this game was trouble, and I may have changed my pick if I knew earlier that Michael Pittman was out. He’s the only reliable receiver for Matt Ryan at this moment. The Colts have started poorly under Frank Reich in the past, but I would be really alarmed that they were pushed around for all but one quarter so far by the Texans and Jaguars. What’s a team like the Colts going to do to them? Oh yeah, we’ll find out next week. Something tells me it won’t be 19-13 this time. As for Trevor Lawrence, apparently hosting the Colts is him in his element in the NFL. His two best games are arguably both Indy games at home.

Commanders at Lions: Maybe Amon-Ra St. Brown has some Antonio Brown in him. Hopefully just the good parts like how he racks up catches week after week.

He did it for an eighth game in a row with his best NFL game yet. Jared Goff threw four touchdowns against Jack Del Rio’s overrated defense filled with first-round picks. Carson Wentz made some plays after it was 22-0, but I feel like this one encapsulates Washington’s day the best:

Seahawks at 49ers: It was sad to see Trey Lance break his ankle just five quarters into his first season as the starting quarterback. When I wrote in my 49ers preview that him getting injured in September was on the table for how his season could go, I certainly did not want to see that happen. Hopefully he can come back strong without complications. It puts Jimmy Garoppolo right back in the QB1 role. He was the best backup in the league, but let’s see if he can make the third time the charm should this team get to the playoffs. As for Seattle, well shit. That’s the kind of pathetic performance – their only score was a blocked field goal for a touchdown – that I expected in these matchups when I said 5-12 at best. My confidence in Seattle keeping it close like usual against San Francisco was not rewarded. It’s the first time the Seahawks lost by double digits to the 49ers since the 2011 opener.

Bears at Packers: For the second year in a row, the Packers followed a brutal Week 1 loss with an easy Week 2 win at home against one of their NFC North stooges. As long as they can do that, then you can’t count them out from a high playoff seed. But a real test for this offense comes in Tampa Bay next week. As for Chicago, do they really trust Justin Fields if he has nine pass attempts (plus three sacks) almost 58 minutes into a game they were trailing 27-10? That was not a good look for him.

We survived another Bears-Packers game in prime time. Bring on Titans-Bills and Vikings-Eagles, because they should be much better than the Week 3 island game slate (Steelers-Browns, Broncos-49ers, Cowboys-Giants).

Where Did the NFL’s Close Playoff Games Go?

Losing is one thing, but when you don’t even make it competitive, it’s another thing.

That was Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray after his team’s embarrassing 34-11 playoff loss to the Rams on Monday night, concluding a not-so-competitive Super Wild Card weekend with four routs and two close finishes.

None of the six games saw a second-half lead change, let alone a fourth-quarter lead change. We have gone 19 straight playoff games without a fourth-quarter lead change. The last was Kansas City, thanks to a third-and-15 conversion, in Super Bowl LIV against the 49ers. The last second-half lead change was in the 2020 NFC divisional between the Saints and Buccaneers after Jared Cook fumbled at midfield in the third quarter with the Saints up 20-13.

But this past weekend and all last postseason have sucked a lot of the usual drama and breaking point moments we are accustomed to seeing out of the NFL playoffs. You want to know who wins these games ahead of time? Pick the team leading after the third quarter. Hell, pound the live moneyline for the team leading at halftime.

Excluding ties, the team leading at halftime has won 25 straight playoff games. The last loss was the 2019 Bills in Houston in the wild card round. Teams leading at halftime win 79.4% of all playoff games since the 1970 merger, so it’s not that surprising these teams usually win the game. But 25 in a row? We haven’t seen a streak like that in the Super Bowl era.

I did the research, and learned some annoying things along the way about how Excel treats times copied from Stathead, and I compiled a chronological database of all 589 playoff games in NFL history. If the Bengals-Titans game on Saturday afternoon does not deliver a fourth-quarter lead change (AKA comeback), this streak of 20 straight playoff games without one would tie the NFL record. We just surpassed an 18-game streak from 2004-06 as the second longest in NFL history.

A total of 129 of the 589 NFL playoff games have been won by a team trailing in the fourth quarter (21.9%).

Interestingly enough, the first two playoff games in NFL history both saw fourth-quarter comebacks. The Bears exchanged touchdowns with the Giants in a 23-21 finish in 1933, and the Giants paid them back a year later with a 27-0 fourth quarter run that turned a 13-3 deficit into a 30-13 win. Can you believe that record for points in a fourth quarter of a playoff game (27) still stands today? Something that was set in 1934 in the second playoff game ever.

But after those two thrillers to start the postseason, fans were treated to 20 straight playoff games without a fourth-quarter lead change, which spanned a time from 1935 to 1950. That means the pre-TV era where you’d have to listen to the game on the radio at best, or read about it in the newspaper the next day, and that’s if you weren’t worried about bigger things like World War II.

Finally, in 1950 things changed when a few AAFC teams integrated into the NFL and the Cleveland Browns were the best of the bunch. In their first season against the prolific Rams, the Browns played one of the best championship games ever, a 30-28 comeback win. The rest is history.

 But we are definitely in a drought for playoff excitement. I’ve already mentioned Super Bowl 54, famous for Kansas City’s “Wasp” call on third-and-15, and that Texans-Bills overtime game that started the 2019 postseason. Those are the only two fourth-quarter comebacks in the last three postseasons. That means 28 of the last 29 playoff games have not had a fourth-quarter lead change.

To find something comparable, you have to go back to a stretch in 1983-86 when 24 out of 25 playoff games did not have a 4QC. That’s as close as it gets, so we are really in uncharted territory.

While I am not a fan of it, I do not believe the expansion to a 14-team playoff field is causing this drought. I’ve said repeatedly since last year ended that the most competitive and best played playoff game by both teams was the inaugural No. 7 vs. No. 2 seed when the Colts and Bills opened the playoffs in Philip Rivers’ last game.

The 2021 Raiders had a minus-65 point differential and still came the closest to pulling out a clutch win this weekend. Yes, technically they would have gone to overtime with a touchdown and extra point, but going for two and the win was an option, and at least they threw near the goal line instead of having Derek Carr run without timeouts like some slapdick team this weekend.

If you like decisive wins, then these recent postseasons should keep you happy. But as a fan of drama, a connoisseur of comebacks, a bettor who hates what blowouts do to prop bets, I am not having a good time with the pandemic playoffs.

I’ll have previews on the divisional round games, my favorite week of the NFL year, on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully we’ll get some much needed drama from these games, because this is often a round where many teams that go on to win the Super Bowl experience a real breaking point during their run. It’s especially common for lower seeds who had to fight off a tougher road opponent coming off a bye in this round. I have highlighted 14 of those Super Bowl winners since 1978 when the 16-game season and expanded wild card playoff era began where the divisional round gave them a major test, if not their biggest on the way to a championship.

  • 1980 Raiders at Browns: Red-Right 88 in Cleveland. Tom Flores is never sniffing the Hall of Fame if Brian Sipe didn’t foolishly throw a red-zone pick in a 14-12 game in bad weather.
  • 1987 Redskins at Bears: An obscure one, but Chicago’s Jim McMahon threw a red-zone interception down 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, a scoreless quarter that saw the Redskins pull off the upset.
  • 1997 Broncos at Chiefs: Steve Atwater tips away a fourth-down pass from Elvis Grbac at the goal line in Kansas City as the Broncos hang on for a 14-10 win over the No. 1 seed.
  • 2000 Ravens at Titans: Tied 10-10, the Ravens block Al Del Greco’s field goal and return it 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Ray Lewis also adds a pick-six off Steve McNair.
  • 2001 Patriots vs. Raiders: The Tuck Rule, followed by the greatest field goal in NFL history. Enough said.
  • 2003 Patriots vs. Titans: On a frigid night, the Patriots broke a tie with a 46-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The Titans had a chance to answer late, but Drew Bennett dropped a fourth-and-12 pass from co-MVP Steve McNair in a 17-14 loss.
  • 2005 Steelers at Colts: One of the most dramatic fourth quarters in NFL history, the Steelers nearly blow a 21-3 lead in Indianapolis. Jerome Bettis’ late fumble could have been returned for a touchdown by Nick Harper, who was stabbed by his wife the previous night, but Ben Roethlisberger made the all-time tackle by an offensive player, and Mike Vanderjagt cemented his legacy as an all-time choker at kicker. The Steelers went on to become the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl after going 3-0 on the road.
  • 2007 Giants at Cowboys: Tony Romo was intercepted at the end of a 21-17 upset by the Giants, who were swept by Dallas in the regular season.
  • 2012 Ravens at Broncos: Down 35-28 with 40 seconds left, Joe Flacco’s deep ball is misplayed by safety Rahim Moore and caught for a 70-yard touchdown by Jacoby Jones. The Ravens would go on to win in overtime.
  • 2014 Patriots vs. Ravens: New England trailed by 14 twice in the game but led 35-31 late when Joe Flacco forced a deep ball (in a situation he didn’t have to) and was intercepted, because He willed it.
  • 2015 Broncos vs. Steelers: Fitzgerald Toussaint, a third-string RB for Pittsburgh, fumbles in Denver territory with the Steelers up 13-12 in the fourth quarter. Not pressed for time or relying on a liquored-up kicker, Manning makes the Steelers pay for their RB fumble this time with a game-winning touchdown drive.
  • 2017 Eagles vs. Falcons: Up 15-10, the Eagles had to hang on with a red-zone stop against Matt Ryan’s offense at the end of the game. Final play: incomplete on fourth down from the 2-yard line. 
  • 2019 Chiefs vs. Texans: A drama-free second half believe it or not, but the Chiefs were down 24-0 to start their Super Bowl run before rallying for a 51-31 rout. We might never see one like that again.
  • 2020 Buccaneers at Saints: Really the turning point of the whole postseason a year ago, Jared Cook fumbled at midfield with the Saints up 20-13 in the third quarter. It was one of three turnovers the Buccaneers used to get touchdown drives that started inside the New Orleans 40 in the final game of Drew Brees’ career – his worst game in a Saints uniform.

Do we add something from this year’s slate? Maybe Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase pull off an upset or give the surprising No. 1 seed Titans a real scare before what would be a shocking Super Bowl appearance for either team. The 49ers could move to 4-0 in the playoffs against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bills are looking for revenge from last year’s AFC Championship Game and have already handed Patrick Mahomes the worst home loss of his career (38-20) earlier this season. If any second-round matchup has ever had a “winner wins the Super Bowl” vibe to it, it’s this one.

That all sounds good on paper until the young Bengals get exposed on the road, the 49ers get rocked with Jimmy Garoppolo playing injured, Matthew Stafford turns into a pick machine in Tampa Bay, and someone wins by two touchdowns in Kansas City.

But we can still dream it will be great.

NFL 2021: Close Game Summary

With three overtime games on Sunday, the NFL had 21 overtime games this season, tied with 1995 and 2015 for the fourth most in NFL history. With so many walk-off scores in those games – Detroit-Pittsburgh tie aside – it beefed up the total for a stat that NFL media adopted this year that became a pet peeve of mine.

Between that stat and the lack of dominant teams quickly locking up playoff spots, it gave the impression that the 2021 NFL season was historically competitive and games were closer than ever.

Having studied this stuff for a living, I can say that this was not the case. There were 136 games that saw at least one team have a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity, which is a possession by the team tied or down 1-to-8 points in the fourth quarter or overtime. While a lower number, that is in line with recent years: 143 in 2020, 142 in 2019, 147 in 2018, and 139 in 2017.

But this season introduced a 17th game for the first time, so we had 272 games instead of the usual 256. So, when it’s 136 out of 272, that means exactly half of the games this season had a comeback opportunity. That rate is usually in the 55-60% range.

We also had 48 games in 2021 where a team was favored by at least 10 points. Only the 2009 season (62) has had more games with a double-digit favorite out of all the seasons since the salary cap in 1994.

The spread is about expectations. What about results? There were 137 wins by double digits this season, second to only the 2014 season (141). The 78 wins by 17-plus points are the most since 2014 had the same amount. There were 62 wins by 1-3 points, but that’s a number that was hit five other times since 2001.

This season had 35 comeback wins from a double-digit deficit at any point in the game. That is more in line with the totals from 2019 (33) and 2018 (34) than 2020’s outlier of 43 such wins.

The 2021 season featured 63 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 81 game-winning drives (GWD). In 2020, those numbers were 58 4QC wins and 76 GWD. Through Week 17 this year, there were 58 4QC wins, which tied the numbers for 2019 and 2020 (including playoffs those years).

In the game Ben Roethlisberger missed with COVID, Mason Rudolph got credit for a 4QC tie against the Lions. There were also two games won with a non-offensive score. The Patriots came back to beat the Chargers (of course) after a Justin Herbert pick-six. Then on Saturday, the Chiefs came back to beat the Broncos with a fumble return touchdown.

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 32.4%, or just about average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 37.7% (2020 was 35.0% and 2019 was 35.9%).

The following table shows a summary of each team’s success in close games this season. First, the offense’s record in games with a 4QC opportunity is shown. Next is the overall 4QC/GWD record, which also includes the games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. For the defense, holds are games where the defense was successful in defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The number of games lost in which the team had a fourth-quarter lead is also shown. The last section shows the team’s overall record in close games, which are defined as games involving a 4QC/GWD opportunity on either side of the ball. Playoff teams are highlighted in gray. The table is in descending order of close game win percentage.

This information can be very useful for previewing the playoffs (which teams haven’t blown a lead and which struggle to hold them) or thinking about regression in 2022 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

Oddly enough, the last Sunday of the regular season saw the Rams lose their first close game of the year to the 49ers, and the Bills technically won their first “close game” of the year against the Jets. For starters, both teams are in these positions because of how one-sided their outcomes have been this season. The Rams didn’t have close losses before Sunday because they were too busy getting their ass kicked in the other losses this year. The Bills never had a close win because all of their wins this year have been by double digits and they couldn’t buy a win in an actual one-score game where they had to come from behind.

But even Sunday’s win over the Jets was a 27-10 final. However, the Jets had the ball down 13-10 to start the fourth quarter. That’s why the game qualifies. The Bills stopped them cold the rest of the way and added two touchdowns for good measure.

If you’re thinking about the postseason, it’s quite possible the Rams shit their pants in any game. They’ve already lost 37-20 at home to the Cardinals, their Monday night playoff opponent. That is not much of a home-field advantage in Los Angeles yet, and the Cardinals have played better on the road this year.

As for the Bills, I’d love to see them play another close game in Tennessee to see if they can avenge that MNF loss earlier this year. But it’s looking like we won’t see that matchup until the AFC Championship Game. Up first, the Bills get New England, the only other playoff team this year with a losing record in close games.

Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and even the Chargers all had winning records in close games despite still missing the playoffs. The Falcons and Chargers won more close games than they lost? Sounds like a miracle.

Last year, I spent a whole paragraph on Baltimore, which had only played a league-low five close games in both 2019 and 2020. Well, you can say (thanks to injury) regression hit, because the Ravens played an NFL-high 13 close games this year and went 6-7 in them on their way to missing the playoffs at 8-9. The six-game losing streak to end the year was a masterclass in losing (five) close games, but I don’t think people acknowledged enough how fortunate this team was to ever get to 8-3 in the first place. The Ravens needed a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble (first of his career) against the Chiefs in field goal range, a record 66-yard field goal (via bounce) in Detroit, and a missed 47-yard field goal by the Colts to get those three wins. Never mind Lamar Jackson beating the Browns despite throwing four picks. It was a wild season for the Ravens.

The Steelers, Chargers, and Vikings all played 12 close games as well, including two of the games against each other. Incredibly enough, the Chargers and Vikings were the only two close games the Steelers lost this year, producing a 9-2-1 record in such games. Ben Roethlisberger led some incredible comeback attempts in those games, including from 29-0 in Minnesota, before the Steelers came up short at the end. Yet, it took a close Chargers loss (and not a tie) in the final game of the season to send the Steelers to the playoffs while the Chargers missed out and the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer on Monday. Roethlisberger finished with a career-high six 4QC and seven GWD to lead the league and help the Steelers play at least one more game.

Arizona was the lone team to not blow a fourth quarter/overtime lead this season. In 2020, the Chiefs, Saints, and Titans were the only teams to not blow a lead, but they all had multiple losses this season. A third one by the Chiefs in Cincinnati in Week 16 helped the Titans get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. We’ll see how costly that might turn out to be.

We have a six-way tie for the most blown leads at four each by the Bears, Lions, Ravens, Colts, Vikings, and Browns. Naturally, they all missed the playoffs. The Colts especially had some daggers in there with the Ravens and Titans games. Carson Wentz was unable to lead a single game-winning drive or comeback for the Colts, but what did you expect?

With the Steelers winning so many close games, it is no surprise they led the league with seven defensive holds of a one-score lead. Sunday’s win in Baltimore does not count as one given the overtime drive, but the first Baltimore matchup was a classic example of a stop of a game-deciding two-point conversion play. T.J. Watt got just enough pressure on Lamar Jackson to force an errant pass to Mark Andrews. The Rams, Dolphins, and Chargers all had six holds.

Seattle was a team I cautioned about close-game regression with after the Seahawks were 16-4 in close games in 2019-20. Well, it hit hard in 2021. Seattle finished 3-7 in close games, 0-6 at 4QC opportunities, and 1-7 at GWD opportunities. The only GWD came Sunday in Arizona on a 10-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. The first Russell Wilson injury led way to the first losing season in the Wilson era, but these close-game failures obviously contributed too.

The Eagles (9-8) have had an odd playoff season. One year after playing the most close games (15) in the league, Philadelphia played in a league-low four close games and are 0-6 against playoff teams. One of their close wins was against Carolina, a game I’m still regretting on betting on Sam Darnold.

How are Matt Rhule’s Panthers so bad in close games? In 2020, the Panthers were 0-9 at GWD opportunities. Throw in 0-4 this year and that’s 0-13 under Rhule.

The Bills (0-5), Colts (0-5), and Texans (0-5) were also winless at GWDs, but the worst team this year was Cleveland at 0-7. Not every loss was Baker Mayfield’s fault, but he needs to start coming through as 2022 should be his last chance in Cleveland. Maybe with some better close-game fortune, health, and desperation to hold onto a job, Cleveland could be a sleeper playoff pick in 2022.

Let’s hope we get a legitimately close playoff game this year. Last season, there was not a single fourth-quarter lead change in any of the 13 playoff games. The only game-winning drive went to the LOAT in New Orleans. Throw in a sorry ass Super Bowl and it was the worst postseason I’ve ever experienced.

But if the season trends tell us anything, it’s to not expect a lot of close finishes.

Quarterbacks: Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives by NFL Team

Lost even on me in Sunday afternoon’s chaos was the fact that Tony Romo moved past Roger Staubach for the most game-winning drives in Dallas Cowboys history. He has 24 now. Last season Romo took the lead in fourth-quarter comeback wins (21 now) in Cowboys history as well.

That’s newsworthy by itself, but what about the other 31 NFL teams? Who are their all-time leaders in fourth-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives? I compiled the table, which will be added to the NFL STAT TABLES section I plan to do much more with in the near future.

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As usual, playoffs are included. How typical of the Jets to feature three different quarterbacks here. Not much else surprised me, but I’ve been working with this data for years so that’s to be expected. Let’s just say the bar is really low in Tampa Bay, but I doubt Mike Glennon will ever step his big ass over it.

Matt Ryan needs two more 4QC wins to move past Bartkowski for the outright Atlanta lead. He would be the 9th active quarterback to hold the lead in 4QC and GWD for his team, which just goes to show how impressive this current crop of quarterbacks really is.

All nine of the active leaders have been with their team since at least 2009. That’s when Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago and Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft.  If we think about that season some more, Marc Bulger (STL), Jake Delhomme (CAR), Donovan McNabb (PHI) and David Garrard (JAC) were still on their teams, so that’s 13 quarterbacks who went on to become their team’s GWD leader all active in 2009. Peyton Manning (IND) and Matt Schaub (HOU) were still on their teams too, so that’s 15. Brett Favre was in Minnesota, but he was already Green Bay’s all-time leader, so that kind of makes it 16, which is half the league.

So in 2009, there were 16 active starting quarterbacks who have eventually led an NFL franchise in career game-winning drives.

Some people disagree that this is a really special era of quarterbacks, but I keep finding evidence to support that it is. When teams like Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis keep going through quarterbacks, I gain more respect for the players who keep starting year after year.

Even Flacco and Eli.

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NFL: Elite QB 4th Quarter Comeback Records

After writing the Green Bay Packers equivalent of “You Can’t Handle The Truth” yesterday, there is nothing else to say now about the topic. That was my definitive take on that team until the season starts. (Note: even 300 kind words towards Joe Flacco made it into that lengthy piece).

Here is an exclusive table of career data on 4th quarter comeback opportunities broken down by season for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Peyton Manning.

The 1’s at the end of the record for Brees and the Manning brothers are not ties. They are “no decisions”, or games where the QB had a 4QC opportunity, but the team still won the game on a return touchdown. It’s not a comeback win, not a game they lost, so it’s a no decision. They were not included in calculating the win percentage.

  • Rodgers has a losing record in each season.
  • Everyone else has multiple winning seasons except for Brees, who has one.
  • Only the Manning brothers have had consecutive winning seasons; Eli in 2007-08; Peyton in MVP years of 2008-09.

This was only for comebacks. Adding game-winning drives would help boost everyone, but Rodgers would still be well behind.

QB SUCCESSION PLANS

Finally, here is today’s article on the draft failure the Denver Broncos exhibited in taking Brock Osweiler with the No. 57 pick. Lots of history of franchise quarterbacks and their often failed successors in this one.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1262751-nfl-draft-futility-brock-osweiler-and-qb-succession-plans

Rest of week: Enough Rodgers, time to put Brett Favre on blast. It wouldn’t be July without Favre.