Tennessee Titans Advanced Stat of the Week: Fourth-Quarter Comebacks
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Nothing stirs the passion of NFL fans like an expert drive by a quarterback to win a game.
The fourth-quarter comeback may not sound like an advanced stat, but given how difficult it has been for the statistical community to agree on what constitutes a comeback, it's a topic that merits further examination.
Thanks to the work of Scott Kacsmar, football now has a definition of how fourth-quarter comebacks should be awarded. The result is that completely bogus records like John Elway's utterly mythical 47 comebacks have been exposed and debunked as the fraudulent fabrications of team media guides.
The basic rules for a comeback are:
1. The team has to win the game in which it trailed in the fourth quarter.
2. The offense has to contribute points in the fourth quarter. If a team trails 14-10 and returns an interception for a game winning touchdown, the quarterback should get no credit for the comeback. It does not matter if the offense put up all the points in the fourth quarter, as long as the offense put up some of the points.
3. A game-winning drive is not the same as a comeback. A great drive with the score tied 17-17 might result in a win, but it's not a comeback.
These rules clarify that it is Dan Marino, followed closely by Peyton Manning and Elway, who leads the all-time comebacks scoreboard.
The Titans were involved in many close games in 2011. These games help us understand the different ways the rules apply.
Take the season finale in Houston. The Titans squeaked out a 23-22 win over the Texans. The game was tied 16-16 in the fourth quarter before Matt Hasselbeck threw a touchdown to Nate Washington. The Titans held on to win the game after a furious rally by the Texans.
Hasselbeck gets credit for a "game-winning drive," because he put up the go-ahead points in the fourth quarter. However, this is not a "fourth-quarter comeback," because the Titans never trailed in the final quarter.
Hasselbeck also got credit for two fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011. His 14 total comebacks tie him with Trent Dilfer for 58th on the all-time list.
The Titans' win over Tampa Bay was one of those wins. At the start of the fourth quarter, Tennessee trailed 17-10. That fulfills parts one and three of the test. The second part of the test is the offense putting up points.
Hasselbeck led three scoring drives during that fourth quarter. The Titans hit two field goals and Hasselbeck threw a touchdown pass to Damian Williams.
Hasselbeck's other comeback in 2011 was the win over Denver. He threw a four-yard pass to Daniel Graham to turn a 14-10 deficit into a 17-14 win. It's important to note that even if the go-ahead points are the result of a running play, the quarterback would still get credit for the comeback and game-winning drive. Had Hasselbeck handed off to Chris Johnson for the go-ahead touchdown, he'd still have received full credit.
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