GameChangers Week 9 (11/04/13)

By John Ewing
GameChangers, a look at plays that impacted the outcomes of games around the league. If you have a suggestion for a GameChanger please direct all ideas via twitter to @johnewing.

To highlight the Live ScoreCaster, we will take our in-game technology, Live ScoreCaster, to the next level to review three of the game-changing plays from the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently. 

Seahawks vs. Buccaneers
Seattle overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Tampa Bay and tie their franchise record with twelve straight home victories. One of the key plays for Seattle in their comeback bid was a punt return by Golden Tate.
Trailing 24-14 with 0:58 left in 3rd quarter, Golden Tate returned a punt 71 yards to give Seattle excellent field position, 1st and 10 at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line. Prior to the punt Seattle had a 24.0% chance of winning trailing by two scores. After Tate’s return the Seahawks expected win probability jumped to 43.3%.
Note: Even when the Seahawks were trailing 21-0 they still had a 15.7% chance of winning the game.
Saints vs. Jets
Coming into the matchup Sunday the Saints had a plus-8 turnover margin, third in the NFL, while the Jets were tied with the Giants for the worst margin in the league at minus-12. However, the Jets would win the turnover battle by intercepting Drew Brees twice. Brees had only thrown one interception in the last four games.
Of the two turnovers, it was the second interception late in the first half that was critical. With 2:12 left in the second quarter, Saints leading 14-13, Antonio Cromartie picks off Brees’ pass. Before the turnover the Saints had a 60.9% chance of winning, after the interception the Jets became 50.1% likely to win. The Saints were never projected to win after that play.
Chiefs vs. Bills
Early in the 3rd quarter, with the Bills threatening to take a 14 point lead, Jeff Tuel threw an interception that was returned 100 yards for a game tying score. When Kansas City scored the touchdown they became a 55.7% favorites to win, prior to the pick-six the Chiefs had a 15.2% chance of winning.
Had Buffalo not thrown an interception and instead scored a touchdown, the Bills would have been 90.1% likely to win leading by two touchdowns.

Chargers vs. Redskins
With three attempts and just under a minute left in the 4th quarter the Chargers failed to score from inside the 1-yard line to win the game. Instead of going for it a fourth time San Diego kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime. Should the Chargers have gone for it on 4th down even though they had been stopped on the previous attempts?
The downside to going for it is that failing to score a touchdown would have ended the game. Opting for overtime gave the Chargers a 50% chance of getting the ball first but when they did not Washington became 61.2% likely to win. According to Brian Burke’s 4th Down Calculator, the Chargers should have gone for it on 4th down if they thought they had better than a 32% chance of converting. Given those odds, regardless of what happened in overtime, it seems like the Chargers should have went for the win instead of playing for overtime.
Note: Had Danny Woodhead’s touchdown been upheld by replay the Chargers would have become 86.6% likely to win. 
Vikings vs. Cowboys
First, let's give the Vikings some credit for going for it on 4th and 1 late in the 4th quarter when many coaches would have kicked a field goal (see Chargers game) to tie the game. As a bonus for going for it, Adrian Peterson rewarded Leslie Frazier by scoring a touchdown. After the touchdown the Vikings were 71.6% likely to win. Had Minnesota kicked a field goal to tie the game the Vikings win percentage drops to 42.5%.
After scoring the touchdown to take the lead, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed the extra point. When the Vikings got the ball back with 0:29 left in the 4th quarter Minnesota had a 29.2% chance of winning trailing by four points. Had Walsh not missed the extra points and Minnesota was trailing by three points their odds increase to 39.3% to win needing only a field goal to tie the game.
Colts vs. Texans
The Colts overcame an 18-point deficit as the Texans collapsed in the second half. Part of Houston’s downfall involved missed field goals by Randy Bullock who converted one of four attempts. Bullock missed a field goal early in the 4th quarter that would have put the Texans up 27-12 and made them 99.6% likely to win. After the miss the Colts scored two play later, dropping Houston's win percentage to 78.7%.