Around the NFL: Comeback Kids and Super Bowl Winners

There is no way around it. Week Three in the NFL was all the about the comeback victory.

Shame on those boring teams who win without drama, like the Baltimore Ravens, who knifed the St. Louis Rams 37-7. Three TD catches for Torrey Smith in the first quarter? Game over.

No room in ESPN’s top plays for the silly Tampa Bay Buccaneers either, who won simply by getting an idiot defender to jump offside on fourth-and-one (thanks for beating the Atlanta Falcons by the way, who at 1-2 are making that first round pick the Browns own look better and better).

The real drama was here — NFL Red Zone subscribers and gamblers were treated to ten games, out of 16 total, where the winning team scored their go-ahead points in the fourth quarter. Just look at all the awful fun we had Sunday:

  • The Buffalo Bills scored 17 fourth-quarter points, and overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat the New England Patriots for the first time since World War II.
  • Another surprise 3-0 team, the Detroit Lions, overcame a 20-point halftime deficit and scored 13 fourth-quarter points to defeat Donovan McNabb’s corpse.
  • The New Orleans Saints scored 23 fourth-quarter points and survived five second-half lead changes against the Houston Texans.
  • The Tennessee Titans scored a touchdown with seven minutes left to erase a four-point deficit in their fourth-quarter win over Denver.
  • Cam Newton nailed down his first comeback win after engineering a go-ahead touchdown drive with six minutes left against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • The New York Giants poured on 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points to come from behind and defeat the Nightmare Eagles.
  • The San Francisco 49ers dumped the Cincinnati Bengals with a ten-point, come-from-behind fourth quarter.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers escaped the Indianapolis Colts with a 13-point, come-from-behind fourth quarter.
  • The Dallas Cowboys hit two fourth-quarter field goals to come back and eclipse the Washington Redskins 18-16 on Monday night.
  • And of course, the mother of them all (well after the Bills, Lions, and Saints), your Cleveland Browns scored the go-ahead touchdown with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the Miami Dolphins home winless.

“Awful fun” refers to any situation where your teams wins, and it’s awesome, but you are so close to getting sick you have your path to the bathroom or sink plotted out in advance. For the game to be amazing like the ones above, heartbreak must be hovering around you at all times.

So what do we make of these 2-1 Browns and their sparky quarterback who can play like crap for 88% of the game and still win — 88% being the actual scientific length of his crapiness, considering the final drive against Miami lasted 2:40 of the Browns’ total 22:09 time of possession.

I got to thinking about this after I heard a great call on Cleveland sports radio the day after the win.

The host asked the typical imposing question meant to back down the inferior caller, “What do you want?! Do you want Colt McCoy to throw for 300 yards and lose, or do you want the win?!”

The caller responded with the kind of measured and smart-alecky answer that will always earn you points in my book, “Well Colt’s never thrown for 300 yards, so there is no way for me to weigh your question, but obviously I would take the win.”

Would it make you feel better to see Colt break 300 yards at least once? If the Browns do decide to move forward with him, can they really win with defense, and only mediocre statistical quarterback play?

Haven’t we been told the NFL of today is about scoring tons of points?

I know there are excuses to be made for Colt at this point, with the lockout, the new offensive system, the lack of receivers, etc. We’ve had these excuses in our pocket forever and I totally agree, Colt will get better over time. He’s a work in progress.

But let’s not kid ourselves, he’s not going to grow five inches next offseason either. We are, to a degree, seeing what Colt brings to the table.

He’s not going to stand tall and commanding in the pocket like Tom Brady and whip the ball 60 yards down the field. He’ll have some passes batted down at the line, he’ll struggle to stretch the field, and he’ll always be an injury risk.

But in just 11 career starts, we’ve also seen him direct two touchdown-scoring drives to tie or take the lead on his team’s last possession (against the Jets last year, and now the Dolphins). That isn’t nothing. It might make us uncomfortable because a 300-yard game is easier to quantify than moxie, or winner’s DNA, but look at what happened in the NFL last week. This is actually pretty important.

So let’s quantify what we can…

You are going to need a good defense to win the Super Bowl, there’s no getting around that. Since 1999, every Super Bowl winner has finished the season ranked in the league’s top six in points allowed, except three: the 2006 Colts (23rd), the 2007 Giants (17th), and the 2009 Saints (20th) — Points allowed rank in parenthesis.

The other winners and their rank in points allowed are: the 1999 Rams (4th), 2000 Ravens (1st), 2001 Patriots (6th), 2002 Buccaneers (1st), 2003 Patriots (1st), 2004 Patriots (2nd), 2005 Steelers (4th), 2008 Steelers (1st), and the 2010 Packers (2nd).

McCoy’s development is important. He won’t survive forever playing like crap for 88% of his games. But he doesn’t necessarily have to become the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees either. Game managers with moxie do win Super Bowls.

When the real Tom Brady was winning Super Bowls in the early part of the decade, his statistical numbers were actually pretty pedestrian. His best regular season stats from a championship year came in 2004, when he finished with 28 TD against 14 INT, for 3,692 yards and a rating of 92.6. That line is not too rich for McCoy’s blood.

Brady’s play obviously improves in the playoffs. His first Super Bowl win will be remembered for a nine-play, 53-yard drive, with 1:21 left which led to the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Now, during the second act of Brady’s career, when he’s broken all these offensive records and become this super sexy model, the Patriots haven’t won anything. In fact, they lost the 2007 Super Bowl to the New York Giants, and game manager Eli Manning, on a final-drive touchdown scored with 32 seconds left.

Eli’s line that year? Try 23 TD against 20 INT, for 3,336 yards and rating of 73.9.

After New England, the Pittsburgh Steelers have played in the second-most Super Bowls since 1999, with three appearances. During the regular seasons of those three appearances they ranked fourth, first, and first overall in the NFL in points allowed on defense. Ben Roethlisberger has made a living on what appears to be McCoy’s best trait. He’s a game manager the majority of the season, but has that late game DNA that makes him special.

Case in point: His most memorable performance was leading a come-from-behind touchdown drive in the 2008 Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals. He moved his team 78 yards in 2:02, throwing the game-winning score with 35 seconds left. But that year in the regular season his stats weren’t that good: 17 TDs against 15 INT, for 3,301 yards and a rating of 80.1.

What about Big Ben’s other Super Bowl win in 2005? His defense (and the refs) won it for him; he was putrid. Ben’s line from that game: 9-21 for 123 yards, zero TD against 2 INT. He rushed for a one-yard TD, was aided by Willie Parker’s 75-yard TD run (the longest in Super Bowl history), and got a TD throw from receiver Antwaan Randle El.

With that, the Steelers have failed to make the playoffs just twice in Big Ben’s seven full seasons (2006 and 2009). Those were the only seasons in his career when the Steelers were not ranked in the NFL’s top ten or better in points allowed. They also just happened to be Ben’s two highest passing yardage years. In 2006, he threw for 3,513 yards, and in 2009 for 4,328 (the only time he’s been over 4K in his career).

Sure they made it to the Super Bowl last year when he missed four games towards his yardage total, but that’s his fault. Unlike Colt McCoy, he’s a sinner. Point is, when the Steelers win rings they do it with less passing from Ben, yet he’s still one of the top five players at his position.

Anyway, in a year solely about discovering what we have in Colt McCoy, Sunday gave us a glimpse of the “it” factor that can be so important. A few more of those and I’ll start to become a believer too, if the awful fun doesn’t kill me first.

Go Browns.

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Tags: Ben Roethlisberger Cleveland Browns Colt McCoy Comeback Super Bowl Tom Brady