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NFL: Second Half Comebacks Stole The Week 1 Show

While the final scores of each game will depict which team eventually prevailed, the real story exists in the unmistakable shifts that occurred throughout the league at halftime.

andrew luck

No matter what was expected for each team coming into Sunday’s action, there was nothing more surprising in the NFL’s opening slate of games than the Jaguars 17-0 halftime lead over the Eagles.

As Jacksonville pummeled Philadelphia in the first one and a half quarters of play, there were only two explanations for what was unfolding on the television screen: the Jaguars are better than we think; the Eagles are much worse.

The final score of the game does little to accurately depict what occurred at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. For a large majority of the game, the Eagles not only trailed, but looked inept through a combination of turnovers, lackluster play, and the inability to match Jacksonville’s intensity. By the time the two teams shook hands in the postgame ceremony, the Eagles had run away with a three-score victory, giving the impression of on-field dominance.

The Eagles’ 34 unanswered points in the second-half became the story of note mainly because it reversed a first-half of misery. It was, however, only the beginning of a week filled with games featuring a drastic reversal at halftime. Outside of Philadelphia, teams around the league rallied after halftime with feverish comebacks – some, unsuccessful – to provide must-watch football to the end.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Dubbed as the week’s big upset in the making, the Dolphins trailed 20-10 going into halftime. Miami had capitalized on a blocked punt in New England’s first drive to give the Dolphins a quick 7-0 lead, but shortly thereafter fell behind for the remainder of the first two quarters. New England looked poised to remain in control as the first half featured four of their ‘textbook’ long scoring drives.

Miami wasted little time turning their ten point deficit into a 23-20 lead with their first three drives of the second half. With a combination of a stout defense and a punishing running game led by Knowshon Moreno, the Dolphins eventually ground out five second-half scoring drives for 23 unanswered points.

To emphasize the shift in dominance, Miami’s second half included only two punts to New England’s four (three of which were three-and-outs). The Patriots’ other three drives? Two fumbles and a turnover on downs to seal the loss.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Despite the records of either team, AFC North division opponents have a long history of physical battles often times settled in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. For the first 30 minutes, the Browns and Steelers seemed to be consistently heading in opposite directions. Cleveland had managed more three-and-outs (four) than points (three), while Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were pouring on scores in all but two of their possessions.

With a 27-3 lead at halftime, sources listed Pittsburgh’s statistical win probability at 99.8 percent. While Ben Tate sat on the sidelines nursing a knee injury, rookie running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for 132 rushing yards (123 in the second half) and two touchdowns as Cleveland marched back into the game on four straight scoring drives. After the Browns tied the game in the fourth quarter on a Brian Hoyer touchdown pass, their late push reversed their chances of winning from 0.2 percent to 71.4 percent.

Ultimately, Cleveland’s Jekyll and Hyde act was cut short with a last-minute game-winning field goal by Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, but the Browns pulled off the most impressive second-half turnaround of the week in a losing effort.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: Ugly. Even if ‘defense’ was the belle of the ball for the matchup, everything that unfolded at M&T Bank Stadium reeked of poor play. Even if the Bengals were credited with unflappable defense early on, they were aided further by the inexplicably rookie-like mistake of Joe Flacco as time expired in the first half.

Shutout 15-0 to start the third quarter, Baltimore had shown no signs of life until they blocked Mike Nugent‘s sixth field goal attempt of the game. Finally, in a display that highlights how much more valuable touchdowns are than field goals, the Ravens three consecutive scoring drives (touchdown, field goal, touchdown), capped off by the highlight reel catch-and-run by Steve Smith Sr., put the once dead Ravens ahead by one point with minutes left in the game.

As quickly as the Ravens came to life, however, the Bengals responded, as A.J. Green matched Smith’s touchdown catch with his own a minute later. The difference? Green’s catch won the otherwise hideous game, ending hopes for what would have been the week’s most undeserving comeback.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: The Saints and Falcons share equally high expectations for the 2014 season. Understandably left out from the predictions for the two NFC South rivals? Defense.

The shootout of Matt Ryan and Drew Brees eventually came to fruition, but seemingly at different times. The Saints scored four times for 20 points on their first four drives and led 20-10 at halftime. Drew Brees connected for 333 yards and one touchdown, but it was the Falcons’ Matt Ryan who stole the show.

With a new team record of 448 passing yards, Ryan led five scoring drives after halftime, including three when trailing. As the teams scored an improbable 17 points in the final three minutes of regulation, the Falcons continued to counter each jab from the Saints with one of their own.

Finally, after taking the reins of the game in the second half, the Falcons knocked out the Saints with a game-winning field goal, capping off one of the best heavyweight matchups of the week.

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: When news broke that Cam Newton would officially be inactive for Sunday’s divisional game with the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay was poised to make an early statement against the NFC South’s defending champion. With a suffocating defensive attack, the Panthers held the Buccaneers to 84 yards of offense on four possessions in the first half.

Trailing 10-0 at halftime and 17-0 with ten minutes to play in regulation, Tampa Bay had looked incapable of scoring, let alone mounting a comeback. Inexplicably, the Buccaneers were revived from the dead and, somehow, struck for two touchdowns in less than eight minutes. After forcing a Carolina three-and-out, Tampa Bay had two timeouts, 96 seconds of game clock, and approximately 40 yards to reach field goal range and tie the game.

What do the Buccaneers do with their newly discovered life? Five yard penalty for a false start. Fumble. Game over.

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos: Aside from the Saints and Falcons game earlier in the day, the Colts and Broncos featured arguably the best duo of passers from Sunday’s matchups. Early on, however, it appeared as if only Peyton Manning was invited to the dance.

Scoring on all four of their first half drives (three touchdowns), the Broncos led the Colts 24-7 at halftime. By the time Indianapolis put their first points on the scoreboard, Manning had thrown three touchdowns while Andrew Luck managed a mere 56 passing yards and an interception.

As the trend of the day continued, the Colts and Broncos reversed roles in the second half of the Sunday Night primetime game. Denver scored what appeared to be a meaningless touchdown to increase their lead to 31-10 with ten minutes left in the game.

Immediately following the score, Indianapolis began to mount an epic comeback, including a successful onside kick recovery and two touchdowns to pull to within seven points. Aided by a second consecutive three-and-out by Denver, the Colts had the ball with two minutes left to tie the game. Indianapolis fell short, in the end, failing to convert on fourth down in Denver territory and turning the ball over on downs.

Officially, Indianapolis’ comeback was never completed, but, like many other teams on Sunday, they found a way to reverse their first-half fate.

While the final scores of each game will depict which team eventually prevailed, the real story exists in the unmistakable shifts that occurred throughout the league at halftime. What started off as a few routine games with one team running away from the other turned into a wild Opening Sunday of NFL action.

Perhaps, locker room speeches have a bigger impact than we think.

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