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Every Day, The Chiefs Write The Book (On Epic Comebacks)

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 11 of this NFL season was a doozy. We saw yet another quarterback lost to injury, a touchdown catch that truly defied physics and two matches between playoff contenders that each needed overtime.

But let’s start in Sin City, where the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Las Vegas Raiders in a seesaw affair. Patrick Mahomes made another epic comeback look way too easy, while Derek Carr stared us all down from the sideline:

The Chiefs needed just one minute and 15 seconds to drive the field for the game-winning touchdown. That would be stunning for most teams … but for this era of the Chiefs, I think we would have been more surprised if they hadn’t come back and scored. How do they keep doing this?

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): What was weird is that even though we all sorta knew that Mahomes was going to win the game, he had never done that before. How can that be?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah, Mike, I was stunned by that stat as well. Technically, he missed it by 44 seconds in last year’s Super Bowl.

Salfino: I guess he’s so prolific that he doesn’t usually need late comebacks.

neil: And they score too fast! He’s breaking our stat-keeping.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Last postseason, when the Chiefs had all those comebacks, the deficits were large fairly early. I don’t think that makes them any less spectacular though.

Mahomes is incomparable. On Sunday night, 63 percent of the plays the Chiefs ran were a success. It’s unfair.

neil: Agreed. This is the advantage of having the best QB — and best passing attack — on the planet. No lead is ever safe against them.

Although credit to Carr and the Raiders for hanging in there almost punch for punch. They just left too much time for K.C. to work with.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Right. I have heard some pundits say that you can’t win a boat race with Kansas City. That may be true, but it’s still your best shot. And man, it makes for good football.

Salfino: Having both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is unfair.

sara.ziegler: It was fun to see Carr play the Raiders into position to win.

Salfino: Carr was great. I think a big play in the game was the Raiders’ third-and-1 incompletion toward the end of the second quarter that may have had interference in the end zone. Instead of getting the pass interference call, the Raiders got a bench penalty for complaining about the non-call. And then they kicked a field goal: A field goal against the Chiefs definitely gets you 3 points closer to losing.

sara.ziegler: What’s the ceiling for the Raiders? They’ve been so inconsistent all season. Can they make noise in the playoffs?

Salfino: I think Jon Gruden is really coaching them up, but their talent level is just not there, especially on defense. They can’t cover or rush.

neil: We give them a 1 percent Super Bowl shot, haha. But Carr is having a really good season — they’re one of those all-offense/no-defense teams that maybe could get hot. A few teams out there fit that description.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I do these similarity scores each week, and since Week 5, Carr has had the easiest strength of schedule by that metric, meaning the passing defenses he faces allow completions where he tends to throw them. I think that explains some of his success this season, which has been the best in his career according to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating.

neil: That’s really interesting, Josh. He’s literally taking what the defense is giving him.

Salfino: It’s the opposite of the Raiders way, which used to be to “take what we want.”

neil: Just win (heat-mapped areas of the field as defined by advanced metrics), baby.

sara.ziegler: Hahahaha

Let’s turn to the Tennessee Titans, who went to Baltimore and left with an overtime win. The Titans have been another up-and-down team. Did this game play out the way you guys expected it to?

neil: Not at all! I couldn’t believe the Ravens let that slip away, and I wasn’t sure the Titans were a team built for that kind of comeback — at least not against that defense.

Salfino: Just make Derrick Henry the Mayor of Baltimore already. He owns the place.

I was not surprised by this game. The Ravens are not very good now. They have no passing game.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Henry gave the Ravens yet another L, as Seth Walder pointed out:

sara.ziegler: I love that so much. Next up should be players spelling out whole words with their plays.

neil: The player tracking version of this.

joshua.hermsmeyer: LOL

sara.ziegler: Exactly. Make it so!

Salfino: What was going on during the pregame? Is there an unwritten rule about not congregating on the other team’s logo? This has famously caused ruckuses before.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I have no idea what John Harbaugh was up to. He barely acknowledged Titans coach Mike Vrabel after the game.

Salfino: I think the Ravens are just frustrated. They’ve been so close for years and now are not close anymore.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think this one hurt a lot for the Ravens. They spent their entire offseason loading up on the defense instead of getting Lamar Jackson another weapon in the passing game, and then proceeded to give up three long drives, including the game winner in overtime.

neil: What the heck is going on with Lamar this season? (Or maybe the question is: What went on LAST season that they can’t recapture?)

Salfino: Neil, I think that Lamar can’t throw outside the numbers and teams know it and now are clogging the middle, which also hurts his running. I don’t think the Ravens and Lamar have a Plan B.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Lamar’s touchdown to Mark Andrews was a beautiful pass outside the left numbers. It’s not an inability to throw there, it’s his weapons and the passing scheme.

Salfino: Basically, though, our eyes have not been lying. Lamar is a very limited passer.

joshua.hermsmeyer: For some value of limited, I agree. But a good scheme and surrounding talent can emphasize what he does well, which is throw deep and over the middle off of play-action while using the pressure he puts on a defense with his legs to help his receivers get separation.

neil: For what it’s worth, his top three targets from last year are exactly the same as this year — Andrews, Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, in that order. But last year, Lamar had a 9.0 percent TD rate and 5.4 percent sack rate. Those have basically flipped around this year: 5.4 percent TDs, 8.0 percent sacks.

sara.ziegler: I guess it’s hard for me to write off this team just yet. I still think the Ravens can do some damage in the playoffs, if they can put the pieces together like we’ve seen them do in the past.

Salfino: Right now they are out of the playoffs, right? And they face Pittsburgh on Thursday on the road? Yikes.

sara.ziegler: They’re tied for that seventh slot right now. But they still have games against the Cowboys, Browns, Jaguars, Giants and Bengals, so…

Salfino: Good point. They’re behind in tiebreakers now, but they’ll win at least four of those games, I have to believe.

neil: The Steelers being as good as they are is also a problem for Baltimore. The Ravens have almost no chance of winning the division now and must get in via wild card.

sara.ziegler: Would we even be that surprised to see them beat the Steelers this week? The Ravens really should have won their first matchup.

Salfino: I’d be surprised. Not shocked though.

joshua.hermsmeyer: If only they could rely on their defense, smh.

sara.ziegler: Let’s talk about the other great overtime game on Sunday, in which the Indianapolis Colts beat the Green Bay Packers. It wasn’t always pretty: Indy’s last series in regulation was just about a textbook example of how to throw away a game. The Colts were flagged six times in 30 seconds!

But I was impressed by the Colts defense against an obviously very good Aaron Rodgers and company.

neil: Nice comeback win for Old Man Rivers, too.

Salfino: It was a weird game in that the Packers had no business being up by 14 points, but they were — and usually that’s “Murder, She Wrote” for their opponents.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Green Bay’s TD putting them up 28-14 to end the half off a pass interference call had to have them feeling like they had this game in the bag. The Packers scored just 3 points in the second half, but it was also a pretty spectacular collapse by the Green Bay defense.

sara.ziegler: And then Indy had to feel like they had it sewn up with two minutes left, after getting a first down on fourth-and-long. So maybe it’s right that the game went to overtime after all.

Salfino: I feel like I’m underrating the Colts’ chances. They outpass their opponents (according to net yards per attempt) pretty significantly.

neil: They seem to be gaining steam, with that convincing win over Tennessee and now this comeback against Green Bay. Rivers didn’t look great to start the season, but he has been playing better of late as well.

Salfino: They need someone that defenses need to worry about. I think rookie Michael Pittman Jr. could be that guy, but they threw him only three passes on Sunday. (He caught all three, for 66 yards.)

sara.ziegler: I’m still not sure that Rivers can or should be trusted.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think Rivers’s play probably explains it. Even the venerable Nick Saban has admitted that offense beats defense. Heady times.

Salfino: I see no difference now between Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger besides Roethlisberger’s ridiculous receiving talent.

By the way …


sara.ziegler: Ugh

Salfino: How about some Tay?

neil: Smh

Salfino: I love it when all of fantasy Twitter has to eat crow.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think we need to take a *slightly* longer view here, Mike. Happy for Sean Payton and the Saints on their win though.

Salfino: I’m workshopping “The Saints are better with Hill,” Josh.

neil: On the one hand, it’s one game, and the Falcons are nobody’s idea of a dominating defense. But maybe that Payton guy also knows a little about football, idk.

Salfino: Seriously, I’m seeing the 1990 Giants with Drew Brees as Phil Simms and Hill as Jeff Hostetler.

joshua.hermsmeyer: If Taysom had a porn ‘stache, there would be no stopping him.

Salfino: Brees has not been that good anymore, I think we all agree. Hill was hyper-efficient on Sunday and threw the ball great. He provides another dimension with his running. And like Simms in 1990, we have no idea when Brees will be back. (Eleven broken ribs seems bad.)

neil: I love that you are legitimately trying to make this a thing.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Hill skipped a short pass in the flat yesterday. There’s still some work to do.

neil: Yeah. Hill’s QBR in that one revelatory game was 14 points lower than Brees’s mark for the season. But it WAS much higher than Jameis’s!

Salfino: I hated gimmicky Taysom, but this is real now. Michael Thomas also dropped a perfect pass, so we’re even. Hill clearly threw the ball better than anyone had a right to believe. And he passed Walter Payton on the all-time passing list!

neil: Sara and I were stunned to learn that, before Sunday, Walter Payton had nearly twice as many career pass attempts as Taysom Hill.

Salfino: We laughed when Payton compared rookie Alvin Kamara to Marshall Faulk, and we’re laughing at Payton when he compares Hill to Steve Young. But Payton is laughing last.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Payton is a real one.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

Salfino: I said last week that Payton is a bored genius, like when peak Elvis Costello recorded a country-western album of cover songs. It was good! Let Payton have fun.

neil: idk, I think the Saints will be “Almost Blue” with Taysom at some point, and they will “Get Happy” when Brees returns.

We have reached my Elvis Costello reference quota for the day.

Salfino: Neil, you are a god, officially.

neil: I am only the humble Delivery Man.

Salfino: The King of America!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer was a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.