This week’s post game Handshakes extends a laurel and hardy handshake to Mike Mularkey for trying to win rather than hoping for a tie on the road at Houston with his 1-8 team. We also go back to the 1980′s for the second week in a row with a Norv Turner and Ron Rivera connection, cover our eyes at what happened in Atlanta, and congratulate the AFC division winners.
Mike Mularkey Played to Win the Game: Jacksonville played their hearts out yesterday trying to pull the massive upset (something we can’t say about the other 1-8 team). Chad Henne’s improbable day almost made it possible. In overtime, the Jaguars faced a 4th and 10 with 2:36 left at the Houston 47. Punt, which is what many coaches might have done, and you most likely get a tie, if you can stop the opponent (still no guarantee on this day). Jacksonville, like they had been all day, was an underdog to win at that point, and the only legitimate chance to win was to go for it.
Mularkey kept the offense on. The only other time that a team went in this situation in the last decade was Cincinnati in 2009 (and Marvin Lewis had to be convinced by Carson Palmer and the players) and the Bengals won after converting a 4th and 11 with just over a minute left in OT. Jacksonville failed, and Houston immediately scored the game winner. Congrats to Mularkey–on a day filled with plenty of negative and head scratching decisions–to actually play to win a NFL game.
Chad Henne approves with the Rocking Movember mustache. (gif via SB Nation)
Congratulations, AFC Division Winners: Remember just a month ago when people were talking about the AFC East being all tied, and Denver trailed San Diego in the West. I’ve been projecting the division winners, except Baltimore, to win comfortably. That then changed with the Roethlisberger injury and the Ravens going into Pittsburgh to win and take a two game plus tiebreaker lead. Denver has a three game lead and the tiebreaker locked up against San Diego, making their magic number three. Houston has a three game lead in the South. New England has a three game lead in the East.
All the drama in the AFC will be how the seeding shakes out, whether Pittsburgh can get just enough while Roethlisberger is out, and/0r get him back for home games against San Diego and Cincinnati, and whether the Colts can do the improbable and go from worst record to the postseason in a weak AFC middle class.
Ron Rivera learned it from watching you, Norv: The Carolina Panthers have held a fourth quarter lead in six of the ten games this year. They have now lost four of those six games, including two inside the final minute. In both late losses, Carolina faced a 4th and 1 at midfield in a situation where a first down wins the game. In both divisional games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay, they punted and watched the opponent go down and score. This week, it was Vincent Jackson doing the deed, as the Buccaneers have rocketed past the Panthers in the division and are now 6-4.
Ron Rivera is often too conservative in these situations, and is now 4-12 over the last two years in close games. The close game mark can be deceiving–San Diego was down by 14 late yesterday and cut it to a touchdown but had a very slim chance, for example–but in many of Carolina’s, they had a very real chance to win. Rivera was the defensive coordinator under Norv Turner, who is 49-70-1 in close games in his long and illustrious career.
I picture the conversation where Norv asks Ron Rivera why his team is so bad in close games going something like this:
Quarterback Play in Arizona-Atlanta Set Game Back Fifty Years: Matt Ryan threw five interceptions, and his team won. How does that happen? John-Ryan Skelton-Lindley, that’s how. The Arizona quarterbacks combined for 11 of 27 for 66 yards, in a game where they had a lead early and were in it throughout because of those turnovers.
Matt Ryan becomes the fourteenth quarterback since 1960 to throw five interceptions in a game his team won. Half of those came by 1970, when interception rates were much higher. The most recent was Tony Romo’s game against Buffalo on Monday Night in 2007. Before that, you have to go back to Mark Rypien in 1990. The only other game where a quarterback threw no touchdown passes, five interceptions, and won was Bart Starr in 1967. In that crazy game, the Packers had a -7 turnover margin and still won 13-10 against the Bears.
Meanwhile, for Arizona, add in the three sacks, and they had 40 net passing yards on 30 pass attempts. That’s almost as bad as Michael Turner’s per play output.
Shawn Jefferson Wanted Titus Young Out: The Detroit Lions wide receiver coach Shawn Jefferson was caught yelling at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, “Take him out, I can’t do it anymore.” This occurred right after a key late series that basically ended the game for the Lions, where Titus Young was targeted twice on incompletions. Young is a talented player physically, but has been a bit of a knucklehead so far, and is getting this opportunity because of the Burleson injury.
Young wasn’t on the field when the Lions came back out for their desperation attempt to score, after the Packers added the field goal to make it 24-20 with very little time remaining.
When asked about the exchange, Jim Schwartz said, “I’d rather not go into it. Everybody was disappointed not to be able to score a touchdown on that last drive.”
A.J. Green, Touchdown Machine: Nine times in a row, A.J. Green has played a game where he scored at least one touchdown. That’s the longest streak since Jerry Rice in 1987. Here’s his latest one-handed grab against Kansas City.
New Orleans Saints, Meet the 1992 Chargers: New Orleans has now climbed back to 5-5 after an 0-4 start. Do you think they would like to have that last improbable quarter and overtime back against the Kansas City Chiefs? As it stands, we can now officially put the Saints in the playoff discussion. Their main problem is the number of teams ahead of them, and not the distance now. Out of Seattle, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, if one of those three wins more than half their games, that puts it at 10, meaning New Orleans would have to go 5 of 6 down the stretch to get in a tiebreaker discussion. Minnesota’s schedule is too tough for that, but the others can get their with close wins like the Bucs got yesterday.
The good news, though, is that it is now directly in front of the Saints. Their next five opponents are either ahead or tied with New Orleans for playoff position. A tough schedule for sure with home games against San Francisco and Tampa Bay, and road games at Atlanta, New York, and Dallas. When you are chasing, you want to have those huge swing games. New Orleans is very much in play, and will have to run that gauntlet.
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, partying like it’s 2009: The Houston Texans don’t throw it like they used to, when the defense was putrid and they needed to outscore people. Andre Johnson had 597 yards in his previous nine games this year. He had 273 yesterday, the seventh most since 1960, and most since Terrell Owens had 283 in 2000. The last 48 came on the game winner in overtime. On a day when the Texans defense was in trouble, Schaub and Johnson showed they still had it, and Andre Johnson looks like he just might be healthy again.
FOURTH AND ONE LOG:
Week after week, I log these results in close game. Almost without fail, the aggressive decisions turn out to be better than the conservative ones. It’s not data and numbers, they are real events every week. Yet, coaches are getting more conservative? Amazing. Here’s this week’s results in close games and reasonable situations where some coaches might go for it, midfield and toward opponent’s goal line (10 points or less).
1. On 4th and 1 at the Atlanta 9 up 10-0, Arizona kicked the field goal to take a 13-0 lead. THEY LOST 23-19. GEE, That 4 points from A-Gamblin’ Might Have Come in Handy!
2. On 4th and 1 at the Miami 16, Buffalo kicked up 10-0 in the first. They eventually held on for a 19-14 victory, in a game they dominated and should not have been close.
3. On 4th and 1 at the Carolina 2 in the fourth quarter, trailing by 4, Tampa Bay went, Doug Martin got the first down, but allegedly fumbled before crossing the end zone, though it looked like a touchdown to these eyes. Still, fortune favors the Bold . . .
4. On 4th and 1 at midfield, Carolina punted to Tampa Bay with 1:02 left up 8. A conversion wins the game outright. It’s not a clear choice, it would have been unconventional, but we’ve seen Carolina blow games again, and again, and again, after having the lead. You are still a heavy favorite to win if you fail, and you clinch. Of course, Tampa Bay scored, made the two point conversion, and won in overtime. Fortune favors the Bold.
5. Cleveland punted at midfield in the first quarter. Dallas didn’t do anything with it, Cleveland got the ball back at midfield after a big Cribbs return and scored on the next drive. One point for the Shurmurs and punting.
6. In the 4th quarter, down 14-10, Dallas went, converted, and took the lead on a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant a few plays later.
7. Down 4 at the two minute warning, Cleveland went, failed on a fade, but forced a punt and got the ball back in great field position, scoring a play later to temporarily take a 20-17 lead.
8. Houston kicked on 4th and 1 at the Jacksonville 9, trailing by 10. This is actually a fairly bad call given the score (trailing by multiple scores in second half), and the fact that Houston is one of the best rushing teams in the league and the Jaguars one of the worst rush defenses. Houston did get to overtime and win, though, so it didn’t cost them.
9. Denver and John Fox have all your fourth and ones. It cost you your cover. Denver kicked a FG on 4th and 1 at SD 1, tied at 7. Fourth and 1 at SD 12 up 8, they kicked.
10. There were actually 8 different fourth and one’s in Denver-San Diego, with the teams kicking on the first seven. San Diego went on the final one down by 14 and scored a touchdown pass on the play, to make it a one score game.
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Related: Doug Martin Was Called for a Fumble on This Play Instead of a Touchdown, Costing Tampa Bay a Late Lead
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Related: Robert Griffin III Throws Touchdown Pass Sixty Yards in the Air
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