Around the NFL: Comeback Kids and Super Bowl Winners


There is no way around it. Week 3 in the NFL was all the about the comeback victory.

Shame on those boring teams who won without drama, like the Ravens, who knifed the 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 Buccaneers either, who won simply by getting an idiot defender to jump off-sides on fourth and one (hey, thanks for beating the 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 10 games out of 16 total, where the winning team scored their go ahead points in the fourth quarter. Just look at all this awful fun:

  • The Bills scored 17 fourth quarter points, and overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat the Patriots for the first time since World War II.
  • Another surprise 3-0 team, the Lions, overcame a 20-point halftime deficit, and scored 13 fourth quarter points to defeat Donovan McNabb’s corpse.
  • The Saints scored 23 fourth quarter points and survived five second-half lead changes against the Texans.
  • The Titans scored a touchdown with seven minutes left to erase a four point deficit in their fourth quarter win over Denver.
  • Cam Newton (like Colt) nailed down his first comeback win after engineering a go-ahead touchdown drive with six minutes left against the Jaguars.
  • The Giants poured on 14 unanswered fourth quarter points to come from behind and defeat the Nightmare Eagles.
  • The 49ers scored 10 fourth quarter points to come from behind and dump the Bengals.
  • The Steelers scored 13 fourth quarter points to escape the Colts.
  • The Cowboys kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to eclipse the Redskins by just two points 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 Dolphins home winless.

“Awful fun,” refers to any situation where your team wins, and its 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 a game and still win — 88% being the actual scientific length of  the crapiness, considering the final drive of the comeback 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 the inferior caller down, “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.”

Wouldn’t 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?

Isn’t the modern NFL about scoring tons of points?

I know there are excuses to be made for Colt at this point, with the lockout, new offensive system, the lack of receivers, etc. We’ve all had these excuses in our pocket 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 winners DNA, but look at what happened all over the NFL week 3, 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 regular season ranked in the league’s top six in fewest points allowed, with three exceptions: the 2006 Colts (23rd), the 2007 Giants (17th), and the 2009 Saints (20th) – points allowed rank in parentheses.

The other winners and their points allowed ranking 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 2010 Packers (2nd).

Colt’s development is important. He won’t survive forever playing like crap for 88% of a game. But he doesn’t necessarily have to become the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees either. Game managers with moxie on good defensive teams 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’s line isn’t too rich for Colt’s blood.

Of course, Brady’s play tends to improve during the playoffs.  His first Super Bowl win is remembered for a nine play, 53-yard drive with 1:21 left that 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, in 2007 they lost to the New York Giants and game manager Eli Manning, on a final drive TD scored with 32 seconds left.

Eli’s regular season 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 next 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 Colt’s best trait. He manages the game the majority of the season, but has that late game DNA that makes him special.

Case in point: His most memorable performance is 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.

With that, the Steelers have failed to make the playoffs just twice in Big Ben’s seven full seasons (2006 and 2009). Those are the only seasons in his career when the Steelers were not ranked in the top-10 in points allowed. They are also Ben’s two best years in terms of passing yardage. In 2006, he passed 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, stats aren’t everything. 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 the Browns are using to discover what they have in Colt McCoy, last Sunday we got a glimpse of the “it” factor proven to 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.