Selected Game Recaps: Week Two

In this edition of selected game recaps, we take an objective look at the subjective best of week two, including:

  • Oakland at Buffalo, in which Ryan Fitzpatrick dinks and dunks to victory.
  • Philadelphia at Atlanta, in which Matt Ryan can't lose the game and Mike Kafka can't win it.
  • Dallas at San Francisco, in which Tony Romo delivers an inspirational performance under adversity. No, really.

Buffalo 38, Oakland 35

When a game has a comeback factor of 100, it's probably the game of the week. The drive Ryan Fitzpatrick led to win the game will surely be what lingers in the minds of those who were lucky enough to watch this game, and deservedly so: the Harvard grad completed 9-of-15 passes for 68 yards and converted on two fourth downs, including the touchdown pass to David Nelson which all but iced the game with two ticks left on the clock. 

But Fitzpatrick deserves credit for what he did the entire game, not just for a fantastic final drive. Fitzpatrick's week-high +1.16 WPA comes mainly from the final drive, but his +19.3 EPA (behind only  Tom Brady's +22.6 and Tony Romo's +20.4) comes from an entire game of successful passing.

To be more specific, it comes from a successful final three quarters. Observe, a chart of the Buffalo passing game:

Click to embiggen

This chart shows success by play (a success shows a blue square on 1, a failure shows a blue square on 0), success rate through each play (the red line) and yards per play (the blue line, on the secondary axis). The black lines denote the start of a new quarter.

The game started dreadfully for Fitzpatrick and the Bills, as Buffalo only managed one successful pass (on three completions) out of eight attempts in the first quarter. Fitzpatrick really hit a groove in the last 45 minutes, though, and even though the Bills couldn't cash in with a touchdown in the second quarter, the groundwork was laid for a passing attack to bring the Bills back from a 21-3 deficit.

Although the big plays of the prototypical passing game were lacking -- the Bills had no passing plays over 20 yards -- Fitzpatrick's accuracy was on point (66% completions beyond the second quarter). Even on passing plays considered to be "short," we often see five or more yards picked up , and this was the case with every single completion for Fitzpatrick outside of a third-down dumpoff in the first quarter. The Bills had a phenomenal 62% success rate through the air in the final three quarters, including a run of five straight which jump-started the Bills' final scoring drive.

Atlanta 35, Philadelphia 31

"By imposing too great a responsibility, or rather, all responsibility, on yourself, you crush yourself. "
 -- Franz Kafka
In the third quarter of week two's Sunday Night spectacle at the Georgia Dome, it looked like we were going to see another Matt Ryan special amid the return of Michael Vick. Despite a performance devoid of efficiency -- 52 adjusted yards on 17 attempts -- Ryan had his team up 21-10 on the back of three touchdown passes in the third quarter.

The Eagles responded, with Vick and LeSean McCoy leading a surgical scoring drive, gashing the Falcons defense for 70 yards on four plays. And then things went cold for Matty Ice. Over Ryan's next five action plays (three drives), Ryan threw a pick, threw three other incomplete passes, and took a sack. By the time the ball was back in Ryan's hands, the Falcons were down 31-21 and their win probability had sunk from 83% to 16% -- essentially, a total reversal of fortunes. Although the Eagles offense did work over their three scoring drives, Ryan's five awful plays account for a whopping -25% in win probability for the Falcons.

But Michael Vick was forced to leave the game on the Eagles' last scoring drive, leaving the keys to the offense in the hands of Mike Kafka. After the Falcons pulled within three on the back of -- what's new -- a clutch touchdown drive orchestrated by Ryan (6-for-8, 65 yards, and the touchdown), it was on Kafka

The philosopher Franz Kafka once said "it is often safer to be in chains than to be free." For Mike Kafka, it may be safer with a clipboard than under center. The Northwestern graduate actually completed seven of his nine passing attempts and averaged a solid eight yards per, but it was on the two critical points in the game which he failed. First, in an attempt to extend what could have been a game-sealing drive, Kafka threw a seven-yard completion on third-and-eight, leading to a punt.

But the most critical point, as it tends to be in one-possession games, came on a fourth down inside two minutes. With the Eagles threatening, Kafka couldn't convert on third-and-three from the Atlanta 21-yard-line nor fourth-and-four from the 22, failing to pick up yards on two straight short passes in the direction of Jeremy Maclin. With the full responsibility on Kafka, the young quarterback, as well as the hopes of the Eagles, were crushed, and these two plays combined for -0.29 WPA of Kafka's total of -0.36, by far a game-low.

The focus on this game will ultimately end up on the Falcons' Ryan-led comeback and Kafka's failure to lead the team to victory with Vick on the sidelines. It's unfortunate, as it misses the truth a bit on both accounts -- Ryan had nearly as much to do with the Falcons almost losing as he did on them barely winning, compiling only +0.13 WPA, and Kafka's comeback attempt was impressive despite its failure, and it showed the Eagles can sustain drives under his direction.

Dallas 27, San Francisco 24 (OT)

Much of what this game has to offer in terms of interesting decision making has already been covered. But there can't be enough ink (or theoretical internet ink) spilled over the accomplishments of Tony Romo in week two's game against San Francisco.

With 13:44 remaining in the third quarter and the Cowboys already down 14-7 and with a win probability of only 26%, Tony Romo was forced to leave the game with a broken rib. Jon Kitna is one of the more accomplished backups in the league and probably one of the more talented ones as well, but the Cowboys' offense is a very different one under Kitna than it is under Romo, and it showed. Kitna did manage to direct a scoring drive from 18 yards out (following an Alex Smith interception), but his next drive ended in an interception of his own. With 37 seconds to go in the quarter, Romo returned on his broken rib (with a punctured lung to boot!), which I'm pretty sure registers right about here on that pain rating scale they hang in all the doctors offices:

Now, I'm not one who believes in an inherent value to playing hurt. There are a plethora of times in which a player comes back and plays hurt when, due to the injury, he is no longer the player who gives his team the best chance to win the game, regardless of the intangible benefits seeing somebody play at 60% or 70% (or whatever) provides the men in the huddle. So no, I don't think Tony Romo deserves credit simply for playing hurt. He deserves credit because he played hurt and he won the game for the Cowboys.

At the point of Romo's return, the Cowboys trailed 14-21 with a mere 17% win probability. Unsurprisingly, his first drive back (with a broken freaking rib) failed, and by the time he'd get another chance, the Cowboys were down by 10, there were 11 minutes remaining, and their win probability was down to 10%.

From here on out, Romo went 11-for-14 for 195 yards and a touchdown, an insane 13.9 yards per attempt. He threw two of the most important passes of the game, a 25-yard touchdown to Miles Austin (+0.08 WPA) and the real game-winner, a 77-yard catch-and-run to Jesse Holley, who killed the hopes of hordes of soulless fantasy owners when he was dragged down at the 1-yard line. But it was enough to kill the hopes of the 49ers as well, as the play was worth a staggering +0.49 WPA, just under half of Romo's fantastic +0.96 total on the game (second of the week to the aforementioned Fitzpatrick).

And he did it on a broken rib.

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1 Responses to “Selected Game Recaps: Week Two”

  1. Ian Simcox says:

    Re: Eagles. Good to the obligatory punt on 4th and 1 on a potentially game-winning drive. And in the words of TMQ, "it took two snaps for the Falcons to move the ball past the point they would have been had the Eagles gone for it and failed".

    Timid coaching is alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love.

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