Through the first 10 weeks of the season, nearly 70 percent of NFL games (100 of 144, 69.4 percent) have been within one score (eight points or fewer) at some point during the fourth quarter. Additionally, almost 22 percent of games (31 of 144, 21.5 percent) this year have featured a lead change in the fourth quarter.
"This is what the league is all about," says Atlanta Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH, whose team ties the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the most fourth-quarter comeback wins with four. "About 60 percent of games are decided by eight points or fewer and about 30 percent by three points of fewer. That's just the way it is. There are going to be ebbs and flows in games. Sometimes we start fast and jump out to a lead and there are other times where we haven't started fast and had to come back. But one thing I know about this group of guys is that they do not give up. They are resilient."
With games being so close, you need to have a leader at the quarterback position to bring your team back in the fourth quarter.
"You're looking for a quarterback who has poise and awareness," says NFL Network analyst STEVE MARIUCCI. "You want to have a guy who's sharp and intelligent."
In Week 10, quarterback MATT RYAN guided the Falcons to a 26-21 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens by leading a seven-play, 80-yard drive in 45 seconds. He capped the drive with a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver RODDY WHITE with 20 seconds remaining in the game.
"With 65 seconds to go, we got the ball back," says Ryan. "We've been in those situations before so we were confident. We just told one another to do our jobs. Guys just went out there and executed. We stayed patient and poised. And we went out there and made plays. We've done it before and we were able to do it again. We never give up. And when you do that, you always have a chance."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback JOSH FREEMAN has six fourth-quarter comeback wins in just 18 career starts. His play is a big reason the Buccaneers are 6-3 and in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
"He's resilient and wise beyond his years," says TampaBay head coach RAHEEM MORRIS about his young QB. "He comes to the sidelines and knows exactly what he wants to do. I can't say enough about him and how he leads those guys. It's awesome. There's no quarterback other than Josh Freeman who I want when we're coming from behind. He has so much confidence in himself."
Following are Freeman's keys to leading a fourth-quarter comeback :
- The keys to a fourth-quarter comeback and what a quarterback needs to do :
"It really stems from a fundamental level, and just wanting to win, and understanding what it's going to take to win. Early on in my career, back in college, I was trying to force things, trying to get all the plays done and get the big play with a shot early on, and it was resulting in turnovers. Now I understand the situation - how many timeouts, what point in the game we're at and how many points we need to win. You need to take what the defense gives you. As an offense, I think we have the mentality that we're going to go get it. We love the feeling of winning."
- The confidence a fourth-quarterback comeback gives a team :
"Everybody feels that we have a chance in every game. Obviously you want to go out in the first three-and-a-half quarters and find a way to take a commanding lead, but at the same time, it's the NFL and not a lot of games end up in blowouts. So we know that the way our team is built, it's going to come down to the wire almost every week. Just having the confidence that we've done it before, and knowing we can do it again, helps us a lot as a young team."
- The most important trait he attributes to a fourth-quarter comeback :
"My head. I keep a cool head, and know what we're trying to do offensively. I know what kind of defense we're going to be playing against and what coverages we're going to see. It all starts with preparation. The more you're prepared, the better you feel going into that situation, the more likely you are to play calm, cool, collected and find a way to get it done."