NFL Momentum Plays, Week 11

published 11/17/14 8:25 AM PST
By Brian Umbaugh

Some people don’t believe in momentum, especially in sports. While that may be true to an extent, anyone who plays any sport can feel when the tide is turning. Sometimes, you can turn it back. There are other times when the game has turned to the point where it seems over.

A game is usually not a 50-50 proposition. Usually, one team holds the upper hand right from the beginning, whether it’s superior skill, some location advantage, or injuries. This is where bookmakers get their line from.

It stands to reason, then, that the favored team will have an increased chance to win from the kickoff. However, these probabilities begin with the assumption that at the opening kickoff, both teams have an equal chance of winning. I call it the Any Given Sunday principle.

This list includes the play that increases the probability of winning above 50% for the last time. In other words, this play led to a sequence of events that settled the game. The touchdown that won the game may have been preceded by an unheralded completed pass that made the drive easier and the odds of winning resolute.

On to the list for Week 11.


Atlanta 19, Carolina 17

4-6-ATL 28 (4th Q, 1:26) 9-G.Gano 46 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Left, Center-44-J.Jansen, Holder-8-B.Nortman

Carolina missing this field goal inside of 2:00 brought the probability of Atlanta winning from 49% to 96%. While Carolina got the ball back with 0:22, there wasn’t enough time to do anything. That was their shot, and Gano should’ve made it.


Chicago 21, Minnesota 13

1-10-MIN 44 (2nd Q, 2:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 6-J.Cutler pass deep right to 15-B.Marshall for 44 yards, TOUCHDOWN [55-A.Barr].

This TD pass from Cutler to Marshall gave the Bears a 14-10 lead before halftime, which increased their chances from 48% to 62%. The Vikings could never mount a serious attack after the break; however, in their defense, they brought their chance back to 49% with a short drive in the 3rd quarter that resulted in a missed field goal. Game, set, match.


Houston 23, Cleveland 7

1-10-HOU 19 (2nd Q, 3:11) (No Huddle) 34-I.Crowell left guard to HOU 20 for -1 yards (56-B.Cushing). FUMBLES (56-B.Cushing), RECOVERED by HOU-99-J.Watt at HOU 22. 99-J.Watt to HOU 22 for no gain (6-B.Hoyer).

The Browns had tied the game at 7 and forced a quick punt, taking the ball deep into Houston territory. Then Cushing got a piece of Crowell and knocked the ball free for Watt (who else?).

This pushed Houston’s chances from 36% to 52%. Houston took the ball down and Mallett threw his 2nd TD, giving Houston a 73% and Cleveland never challenged again. It was interesting how the video graphic showed Cleveland’s tendency to hang onto the football in the red zone. Thanks, guys.


Kansas City 24, Seattle 20

3-4-KC 4 (4th Q, 7:50) (Shotgun) 24-M.Lynch up the middle to KC 2 for 2 yards (90-J.Mauga; 39-H.Abdullah).

For all the talk of Seattle’s strong defense, it was Kansas City who held strong when it mattered. With the Chiefs ahead 24-20, Seattle was inside the red zone and about to take the lead. On 3rd down from the 4 yard line, the Chiefs swarmed Lynch and forced a 4th down.

At this point, the chances of the Red Men winning jumped from 45% to 60%, and on to 75% when the 4th down pass fell incomplete. The Seahawks got the ball into Chiefs territory again later, but their best bet was pushing the ball in earlier and it didn’t happen.


Cincinnati 27, New Orleans 10

2-3-CIN 3 (2nd Q, 11:23) (Shotgun) 22-M.Ingram left guard to CIN 1 for 2 yards (94-D.Peko).

The Saints were in a similar situation as the Seahawks, albeit with less on the line at this point. As the Saints tried to push the ball into the end zone to take a 10-7 lead, they had an advantage in the game.

However, Ingram not reaching the end zone on this play increased the Bengals chance of winning from 44% to 54%. The best opportunity to score was before 3rd and 4th down, which also were unsuccessful. This put the Bengals in position, although it took a consistent defensive effort to maintain it afterwards.


San Francisco 16, New York Giants 10

3-7-SF 17 (2nd Q, 4:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 10-E.Manning pass short right intended for 82-R.Randle INTERCEPTED by 57-M.Wilhoite at SF 14. 57-M.Wilhoite to SF 15 for 1 yard (77-J.Jerry). Penalty on NYG-71-C.Brown, Illegal Formation, declined.

Manning INT

It’s not surprising that the game changed for good on one of Manning’s plethora of interceptions. This terrible throw after an apparent misunderstanding with Randle brought the 49ers from the brink of giving up the lead and a 44% chance of winning to a 57% chance.

The scored stayed at 9-7 for a while until the Giants caved. They edged closer in the 4th, but even that was washed away after … you guessed it. Another interception.


St. Louis 22, Denver 7

Tampa Bay 27, Washington 7

San Diego 13, Oakland 6

These three games all featured the same spectacle. The losing team never had the odds in their favor.

The only thing crazier than the Rams dominating the Broncos was the fact that they did so from the opening kickoff. The Broncos seemed to hang around for a while, but their closest shot after the Rams’ first drive was a turnover on downs near the end of the 1st quarter. No, you can’t place bets in retrospect.

The Bucs game was similar, although not nearly as shocking. The Redskins’ 1st play from scrimmage resulted in this:

Griffin INT

Terrifying to watch. The chances of a Tampa Bay victory went from 50% to 60% immediately. The Bucs got an early field goal, and the Redskins never made a game of it.

If you were forced to watch the San Diego-Oakland game as a punishment for bailing on the Sunday family outing to watch football, you deserve it. If you watched it of your own accord, you need to re-evaluate your masochistic nature.

Oakland’s 1st play from scrimmage reminds you of Washington’s.  Carr fumbles and then you know the drill. San Diego got a TD a never looked back.  The odd part, I suppose, is that the game was 13-6. Shouldn’t a team down 7 points have created an opportunity where perhaps they had a chance to win? This is 0-9 Oakland, here. Nope — no opportunity like that, sorry.

Thanks for playing.


Arizona 14, Detroit 6

3-11-ARI 19 (1st Q, 14:20) (Shotgun) 5-D.Stanton pass short left to 12-Jo. Brown to ARI 31 for 12 yards (32-J.Ihedigbo).

The Lions have the pleasure of maintaining their advantage for 2 plays from scrimmage. Their chance of winning was at 52%, as they seemed on the verge of creating a 3-and-out early. Then a seemingly innocuous short pass gave the Cardinals new life, bringing the Lions’ chances down to 46%.

Soon, a defensive penalty negating an interception, a long run, and a longer TD pass from Stanton to Floyd created the opportunity for the Cardinals to increase their chances to 71%. The Lions were only down 7-0, but as you see from the score, that was enough.


Green Bay 53, Philadelphia 20

2-6-GB 36 (11:13) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 3-M.Sanchez sacked at GB 43 for -7 yards (98-L.Guion).

The maligned Green Bay defense usually plays second fiddle to Aaron Rodgers and his Flying Band of Sticky Fingered Studs, and rightfully so. Although this game featured a couple of defensive/special teams TD’s, it was a sack in the beginning that started it.

After the Pack went up 3-0, the Sanchise had the Eagles driving.  On 2nd down, Letroy Guion got to Sanchez and killed the drive, resulting in a punt. Green Bay answered with a TD pass on the next drive and the rout was on.


New England 42, Indianapolis 20

3-7-NE 14 (12:01) (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short right to 11-J.Edelman to NE 23 for 9 yards (28-G.Toler).

Obviously, this game displayed a little more offensive firepower than the Cardinals-Lions game, but it had one thing in common. An early 3rd down conversion changed what was a slight advantage for the eventual losing team into vapor.

For the Patriots, a penalty during the punt return after the first Colts drive backed them up to their own 11. On 3rd down, a short pass gave them a new set of downs and some breathing room regarding field position.

No, this doesn’t ensure victory, but it did increase their chances from 48% to 52%. That drive resulted in the first of Jonas Gray’s TD’s, and this rout was on. There were a lot of routs going on around the NFL today.


Pittsburgh at Tennessee, Monday night (pending)

Will it be a blow out or a tight game? Based on this week’s trend, it will be either a defensive struggle or Roethlisberger will throw 6 more TD’s. Regardless, when you’re watching that first drive and there’s a momentum killer or a shot of new life, recognize it as what it could be … the beginning of the end for the eventual losing team.

Have a good Monday.