The most exciting time in any football game is late in the fourth quarter when it’s close and one team has a chance to tie or take the lead on what could be the final drive of the game.
The league tracks “quarterback success” in these situations by two stats - game-winning drives (GWD) and fourth quarter comebacks (4QC), but they only track total number of successes in each and not a “batting average.”
I wanted to see a batting average, so I used stathead to run a drive search for all drives that began in the 4th quarter with 5 minutes or less time to play and one team down by 8 or fewer points. I excluded drives that began with 30 seconds or less left on the clock. I focused on 2020, mainly due to the narrative that Drew Lock succeeds on these where Teddy Bridgewater fails.
This narrative is false. They both failed badly in most of these situations in 2020. Read on if you want the details...
There were 116 drives that fit this criteria in 2020. League-wide teams scored on 37.9 percent of these drives. The presumption is that scoring on these drives led to a tie or lead for the team that scored. Most coaches won’t kick a field goal when they are down four late in the fourth quarter. In other words, scoring on these drives meant a tie or a lead change.
Some teams had few opportunities to have this type of drive in 2020. The Rams had zero drives like this in 2020 on offense. The Saints and Dolphins had exactly one drive that fit. The Packers, Bucs and Colts had two. The Bears and the Panthers both had seven, which was most in the league, but the Bears scored on four of theirs while the Teddy Bridgewater-led Panthers failed on all seven of theirs (two were the “fault” of the field goal kicker - more on this later).
There were four teams that scored on all of their late/close drive attempts in 2020 - Las Vegas (3/3), Kansas City (3/3), New Orleans (1/1) and Miami (1/1) - while there were seven teams that failed to score on all of theirs - Panthers (0/7), 49ers (0/4), Patriots (0/4), Jets (0/3), Chargers (0/3), Buccaneers (0/2) and Colts (0/2).
Offensive drive results and outcomes from late/close drives in 2020
|Average Drive||Score||Turnover||TD||Downs||Int||FG||Fumble||EOG||Miss FG||Punt|
|Raiders||3||3||6||69.7||1:29||Own 29||Down by 4||3||100.00%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Chiefs||3||3||9.3||71||2:06||Own 25||Down by 3.3||3||100.00%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Saints||1||1||8||73||2:48||Own 27||Down by 7||1||100.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
|Dolphins||1||1||3||75||0:42||Own 25||Down by 6||1||100.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
|Bills||2||3||8||51||2:27||Own 32||Down by 3.3||2||66.70%||1||33.30%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Seahawks||3||3||9.7||65||1:41||Own 17||Down by 3.7||2||66.70%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Lions||3||3||7||47||1:03||Own 48||Down by 4.3||2||66.70%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Washington||3||3||9.7||48.3||1:55||Own 21||Down by 4.3||2||66.70%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Titans||4||5||9||51||1:56||Own 15||Down by 2.8||3||60.00%||0||0.00%||1||20.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Bears||6||7||6.6||32.7||1:23||Own 38||Down by 3.3||4||57.10%||0||0.00%||2||28.60%||2||28.60%||2||28.60%||1||14.30%|
|Eagles||6||6||7.2||49.2||1:36||Own 24||Down by 6.7||3||50.00%||0||0.00%||3||50.00%||2||33.30%||1||16.70%|
|Steelers||4||4||4.5||36||1:10||Own 26||Down by 4.8||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Jaguars||4||4||6.8||44||1:35||Own 29||Down by 5.8||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Browns||3||4||5||48||1:01||Own 25||Down by 5.3||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Packers||2||2||7.5||58.5||1:04||Own 17||Down by 4.5||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%|
|Cardinals||5||5||6.8||47.2||1:07||Own 24||Down by 5||2||40.00%||0||0.00%||1||20.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Cowboys||5||6||8.3||34.7||1:35||Own 27||Down by 4.5||2||33.30%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%||2||33.30%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%|
|Giants||3||3||9.3||37.3||1:51||Own 32||Down by 4.3||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Ravens||3||3||6.3||36.3||1:19||Own 26||Down by 4.3||1||33.30%||0||0.00%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Falcons||4||4||6.5||42||1:21||Own 22||Down by 3.3||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Broncos||4||4||7||27.5||1:03||Own 22||Down by 5.5||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%|
|Bengals||4||4||8.8||42.5||2:36||Own 30||Down by 3.3||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Texans||5||5||7.4||57.6||1:16||Own 21||Down by 5.4||1||20.00%||3||60.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||3||60.00%|
|Vikings||4||5||5||25.2||0:49||Own 25||Down by 3.8||1||20.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||2||40.00%||2||40.00%|
|Panthers||7||7||5.1||27.3||1:16||Own 18||Down by 5||0||0.00%||2||28.60%||3||42.90%||2||28.60%||2||28.60%|
|49ers||4||4||4.8||18.8||1:10||Own 29||Down by 4.8||0||0.00%||2||50.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Patriots||4||4||11||60.8||2:38||Own 23||Down by 5.3||0||0.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Jets||3||3||5.3||11.7||0:59||Own 32||Down by 6||0||0.00%||1||33.30%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Chargers||3||3||9||51.3||2:13||Own 17||Down by 5.7||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Buccaneers||2||2||4.5||17.5||0:43||Own 22||Down by 2||0||0.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%|
|Colts||2||2||9.5||50.5||1:35||Own 20||Down by 5.5||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||2||100.00%|
It’s also interesting to look at this from a defensive perspective. Every defense faced at least one late-game drive like this where they were trying to defend a one-score lead with five minutes or less to play (excluding drives that started with less than 30 seconds to play).
Eight teams were able to keep their opponents from scoring in these situations (Zeroes here mean that the defense won, i.e. the Steelers defense stopped five drives in late/close situations in 2020). Steelers (0/5), Chiefs (0/3), Packers (0/3), WFT (0/3), Eagles (0/2), Jaguars, 49ers, and Patriots (all 0/1).
Defensive drive results and outcomes from late/close drives in 2020
|Average Drive||Score||Turnover||TD||Downs||Int||FG||Fumble||EOG||Miss FG||Punt|
|Steelers||4||5||8.2||40.2||1:06||Opp 23||Up by 4.2||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||2||40.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%|
|Chiefs||3||3||7||33.7||1:17||Opp 20||Up by 3.7||0||0.00%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||2||66.70%|
|Packers||3||3||5.3||4.7||1:19||Opp 33||Up by 6.3||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Washington||3||3||4||10.7||0:41||Opp 27||Up by 5.7||0||0.00%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Eagles||2||2||5.5||23.5||0:59||Opp 19||Up by 3||0||0.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%|
|Jaguars||1||1||8||49||2:06||Opp 25||Up by 7||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
|49ers||1||1||6||17||0:51||Opp 27||Up by 8||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
|Patriots||1||1||4||4||1:03||Opp 17||Up by 6||0||0.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
|Bears||7||8||5.8||26.1||0:57||Opp 35||Up by 4||1||12.50%||3||37.50%||1||12.50%||2||25.00%||3||37.50%||2||25.00%|
|Seahawks||5||5||8.2||44||1:14||Opp 22||Up by 5||1||20.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Colts||4||4||9.3||67.8||1:53||Opp 19||Up by 5||1||25.00%||3||75.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%|
|Broncos||5||6||7.5||38.2||1:33||Opp 20||Up by 3.7||2||33.30%||0||0.00%||1||16.70%||3||50.00%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%|
|Cardinals||2||3||7.7||41.7||1:32||Opp 31||Up by 4.3||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Rams||3||3||8.3||36.3||2:28||Opp 18||Up by 3.3||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Jets||2||3||5||34.3||0:58||Opp 30||Up by 5||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Bills||3||3||6.3||45||1:38||Opp 24||Up by 5||1||33.30%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%||1||33.30%|
|Giants||5||5||5.4||32.6||1:13||Opp 30||Up by 4.4||2||40.00%||2||40.00%||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Buccaneers||4||5||6.6||24||1:28||Opp 28||Up by 4.6||2||40.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Vikings||8||8||8.6||55.6||1:34||Opp 22||Up by 5||4||50.00%||1||12.50%||3||37.50%||2||25.00%||1||12.50%||1||12.50%||1||12.50%|
|Chargers||6||6||10||55.5||2:05||Opp 27||Up by 5||3||50.00%||1||16.70%||2||33.30%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%|
|Titans||4||4||6||36||1:15||Opp 21||Up by 2.5||2||50.00%||2||50.00%||2||50.00%||2||50.00%|
|Cowboys||4||4||5.5||44.5||1:34||Opp 25||Up by 2||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Bengals||4||4||5.5||40.8||1:08||Opp 25||Up by 5||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Panthers||2||2||8.5||77.5||1:25||Opp 13||Up by 5.5||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%|
|Dolphins||2||2||6||57.5||2:06||Opp 25||Up by 2||1||50.00%||0||0.00%||1||50.00%||1||50.00%|
|Raiders||5||5||7||64||2:16||Opp 26||Up by 4.2||3||60.00%||0||0.00%||3||60.00%||1||20.00%||1||20.00%|
|Falcons||6||6||6.8||47.3||1:39||Opp 30||Up by 5.2||4||66.70%||1||16.70%||3||50.00%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%||1||16.70%|
|Texans||3||3||9||69||2:04||Opp 23||Up by 7.3||2||66.70%||0||0.00%||2||66.70%||1||33.30%|
|Lions||4||4||8.8||58.5||1:40||Opp 31||Up by 3||3||75.00%||0||0.00%||2||50.00%||1||25.00%||1||25.00%|
|Browns||2||2||8.5||70||3:00||Opp 30||Up by 6||2||100.00%||0||0.00%||2||100.00%|
|Ravens||2||2||4||73||1:01||Opp 27||Up by 7.5||2||100.00%||0||0.00%||2||100.00%|
|Saints||1||1||12||35||1:38||Opp 32||Up by 3||1||100.00%||0||0.00%||1||100.00%|
The Broncos defense stopped the opponent on four of six late/close drives in 2020. The two defensive failures included the Titans final drive that lost us the game (Titans kicked a FG) and the Raiders’ final drive touchdown that we allowed in the last game of the regular season.
In-depth look at two offenses that generally failed in these situations in 2020
Since we have Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock it makes sense to see how the Panthers and the Broncos compared in these situations on a drive-by-drive basis. We’ll also look at two other teams in depth - the Chiefs and the Raiders.
The Panthers and the Broncos failed (with one exception) while the Raiders and the Chiefs succeeded every time.
|Team||Date||Home or Away||Opp||Final Score||Start Time||Start LOS||Tm||Opp||End Time||Last LOS||Result|
|CAR||9/13/2020||OAK||L 34-30||4:08||Own 30||30||34||1:11||Opp 46||Downs|
|CAR||10/18/2020||CHI||L 23-16||1:32||Own 20||16||23||1:28||Own 20||Interception|
|CAR||10/29/2020||ATL||L 25-17||2:58||Own 5||17||25||0:57||Opp 30||Interception|
|CAR||11/8/2020||@||KAN||L 33-31||1:26||Own 9||31||33||0:00||Opp 49||Missed FG|
|CAR||11/29/2020||@||MIN||L 28-27||0:46||Own 13||27||28||0:01||Opp 36||Missed FG|
|CAR||12/13/2020||DEN||L 32-27||2:48||Own 27||27||32||1:50||Own 29||Downs|
|CAR||12/19/2020||@||GNB||L 24-16||0:55||Own 20||16||24||0:13||Own 26||Downs|
|DEN||11/1/2020||LAC||W 31-30||2:30||Own 19||24||30||0:00||Opp 1||Touchdown|
|DEN||11/8/2020||@||ATL||L 34-27||0:44||Own 20||27||34||0:23||Own 20||Downs|
|DEN||12/6/2020||@||KAN||L 22-16||1:04||Own 25||16||22||0:24||Own 30||Interception|
|DEN||12/27/2020||@||LAC||L 19-16||0:41||Own 25||16||19||0:00||50||Interception|
|KAN||9/20/2020||@||LAC||W 23-20||2:27||Own 25||17||20||0:00||Opp 12||Field Goal|
|KAN||11/22/2020||@||OAK||W 35-31||1:43||Own 25||28||31||0:28||Opp 22||Touchdown|
|KAN||12/27/2020||ATL||W 17-14||4:33||Own 25||10||14||1:55||Opp 25||Touchdown|
|OAK||12/6/2020||@||NYJ||W 31-28||0:35||Own 39||24||28||0:05||Opp 46||Touchdown|
|OAK||12/26/2020||MIA||L 26-25||2:55||Own 25||22||23||0:19||Opp 4||Field Goal|
|OAK||1/3/2021||@||DEN||W 32-31||1:47||Own 23||24||31||0:24||Opp 1||Touchdown|
While the Carolina Panthers failed on all seven of their drives, that failure was on Bridgewater in only five of those seven (or maybe six). The two interceptions and the three turnovers on downs are his to own. It’s troubling that two of Bridgewater’s 11 picks came with the game on the line, but I want to make sure he was at fault and this was not a case of receiver error or a great play by a defender. Sometimes a QB can make the right throw and it gets picked. Conversely, sometimes a QB can make the wrong throw and it ends as a touchdown.
The pick against the Falcons was into triple coverage where Bridgewater just missed the defender, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who had fallen off of his man. The other pick was also his fault. He tried to throw a pass deep over the middle and didn’t have the arm strength to get it past the CB who undercut the throw (see video by clicking on the links).
The one drive failure that was not Bridgewater’s fault was the final drive against the Vikings. Bridgwater led the Panthers from their own 13 down to the Minnesota 36 in 45 seconds of game time with no timeouts. Carolina kicker Joey Slye missed a 54-yard attempt with six seconds on the clock. The success rate on 54 yard attempts in the history of the NFL is 60%, so Slye failed on a very makeable kick.
There was another drive, this one against the Chiefs, where Bridgewater and the Panthers got the ball back on their own nine, down two with 1:26 left to play and no timeouts. Bridgewater was only able to lead the Panthers to the KC 49 before Slye would attempt a desperation 67-yard FG attempt with two seconds left to play. The success rate on 67-yard attempts in NFL history is zero percent. I guess Matt Rhule thought the Panthers had a better chance of hitting a 67-yard field goal than scoring a TD on a Hail-Mary pass from the 49. FWIW, according to ESPN, one in 12 Hail-Mary passes results in a touchdown. That’s better than zero percent.
The Broncos would only find themselves in four late game, one-score situations in 2020. Note that I have excluded the two times the Broncos got the ball back with less than 30 seconds left (against Tennessee with 17 seconds left, and at home against Las Vegas with 24 seconds left). I should note that against the Raiders, we were able to get in position to try a really long field goal. With no timeouts Lock was able to move the Broncos from their own 25 to the Las Vegas 45, but with no timeouts and nine seconds left to play (on second and five), Vic Fangio made the decision to try the 63-yard FG instead of trying to run one more play to gain five or six more yards. A 57 yard attempt has a much higher chance of success than a 63 yard attempt. The 63-yard attempt in this case was blocked. Nine seconds is enough time to run a play and get out of bounds. I’m not sure why Fangio chose to kick here instead of running one more play.
The four situations where the Broncos got the ball back down one score late in the game with more than 30 seconds left were at the Chiefs, at Falcons and then twice against the Chargers - one in Denver and one in
San Diego Los Angeles.
The three that ended poorly ended with two picks and one turnover on downs. The first of the two picks (at KC) was solely on Lock. This was 4th-and-5 from Denver’s 30 with no timeouts left, down 6 with 33 seconds left to play. The best option, dumping it off to Melvin Gordon in the left flat, likely gains 7-10 yards and he gets out of bounds getting the first down, but that still does not get the Broncos much closer to the end zone, and it uses a fair amount of the remaining time.
I like that Pat Shurmur gave Drew Lock a half-field read here, but the coverage was all over this route combo, leaving Lock with little margin for error.
Lock’s second late game pick was on the Hail-Mary pass at the end of the game against the Chargers in LA. This one should be discounted as eleven of twelve of these throws are either batted down or picked.
The one successful late fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive for the Broncos in 2020 was Lock against the Chargers in Denver. The Broncos got the ball back on their own 19 with 2:30 left, down six, with one timeout. Lock led the team down the field for the go-ahead TD to KJ Hamler as time expired. The drive was aided by two defensive pass interference calls on the Chargers.
I should also note that Brett Rypien led one fourth-quarter comeback (and game winning drive) for the Broncos against the Jets. In that case the Broncos got the ball back in the fourth quarter, down one with 6:23 left to play. So while it was outside of the five-minute mark, it still should be mentioned. Rypien led the Broncos from the Denver 25 to the Jets 35, where Brandon McManus kicked the go-ahead field goal. Rypien had a really nice 31-yard throw to Tim Patrick on 3rd-and-7 in this drive.
I should point out that game-winning drives and fourth quarter comebacks can and do happen outside of this time window that I am analyzing (from five minutes left to play to 30 seconds left to play at the start of the drive). Rypien was credited with a GWD and 4QC for the Jets game.
The two most successful teams, the Chiefs and the Raiders, both got two touchdowns and a field goal on their three drives. So let’s look at those six drives.
The Chiefs first situation was down three with 2:27 left to play and the ball at their own 25 with all three timeouts. They would drive to the Charger 12 and kick a 30 yard field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime as time expired. They would win in overtime.
Their second situation was against the Raiders. The Chiefs would again be down three starting a drive at their 25. This time they would they would only have one timeout. Patrick Mahomes would lead them 75 yards for a touchdown with in sixty six second of games time completing six of seven passes in the process.
Their third situation was against the Falcons. This time they had plenty of time to work with, getting the ball back at their own 22 down four with 4:33 left to play and all three timeouts. This 78 yard touchdown drive would only take 98 seconds of game time to put KC up three. Matt Ryan would get the Falcons in a position to tie, but their field goal kicker, Younghoe Koo, would miss a 39-yard attempt with 14 seconds left.
The first of the Raiders three came in that game-winning 46-yard touchdown to Henry Ruggs with 14 seconds left in the game. The Jets would have a rookie undrafted free agent CB in single coverage on Ruggs with no safety help over the top. Some might look at that and think the Jets were trying to lose the game. You be the judge, but I say there is something rotten in Denmark.
The second drive for the Raiders would be against the Dolphins where the Raiders would get the ball back down one with 2:55 left to play from their own 25 with all three timeouts. The Raiders would drive to the Dolphin four-yard line and kick a field goal with 19 seconds left in the game. This would lead to the Dolphins starting a drive from the 35, because of a penalty. The Dolphins had no timeouts. Ryan Fitzpatrick would complete a 34-yard pass and Arden Key would get hit with a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty to put Miami at the Raider 26, easily in FG range. One incomplete pass later, Jason Sanders would hit the game-winning FG for the Dolphins. This drive by the Dolphins actually did not show up in the table above, because it began with less than 30 seconds.
The last drive for the Raiders came in the final game of the regular season against the Broncos. With 1:47 left to play and no timeouts, the Raiders would get the ball back at their own 23 down seven after a punt. Three straight completions from Derek Carr - two against the scrubs playing CB for the Broncos at that point - would get the Raiders down to the Broncos’ nine with 53 seconds left to play. On 4th-and-1, Josh Jacobs would run it in for a touchdown and then the Raiders would convert on the two-point try to take a one point lead. This would set up the drive for the Broncos that I discussed earlier.
Fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives are rare (see the chart above), but they are becoming more common as the league creeps towards parity. The above graph shows the percentage of games by season that have had a GWD or a 4QC. If someone has an explanation for 1989, I would like to hear it. As these are credited to the quarterback who was in the game on the drive, we can look at the the career leaders for both categories.
In both categories that career leader is Peyton Manning. Manning finished his career with 43 4QC and 54 GWD. Top 25 for both are shown below:
You should note that while the top of both lists have current or future Hall-of-Famers, there are also players on both lists who will most likely never make the Hall. This is a function of one thing - you have to play in close games to have a chance for a 4QC or a GWD. If your team is really good or really bad, you won’t be playing in close games.
One reason Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are on both lists is that they have generally played on mediocre teams. Average teams find themselves in close games much more often than good or bad teams.
It’s also interesting to note that when the league MVP is a QB (which has been almost every year this century), the MVP rarely has many of either. The lone exception is Peyton Manning in 2008 and 2009. This is mainly a function of the MVP coming normally from the best team in the league. Good teams don’t trail in the 4th quarter very often.
Knowing what you know now, with the Broncos down four in the fourth with two minutes left and one timeout which current Bronco QB do you want with the ball in his hands?
This poll is closed