The game-winning drive in Sunday's game at Nissan Stadium didn't necessarily feel like it would be the game-winning drive at the moment. And what proved to be the final turning point in the game, midway through that march by the Tennessee Titans, came less than two minutes after the game seemed to have turned sharply in favor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Titans beat the Buccaneers' 27-23, and they took the game's final lead on an eight-yard, third-down touchdown catch by rookie wideout A.J. Brown at the end of 12-play, 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter. The Titans took the lead in the estimation of the "Win Probability chart" even before Ryan Tannehill threw that pass to Brown. The key play was another, shorter pass close to midfield, one that doesn't jump off the game's play-by-play but was essential to keeping the fateful drive alive.
This season, we're looking for the final Turning Point in every game. After each Buccaneers contest we're going to find the moment when things swung in favor of the eventual winner and never swung back. We're going to do so using the aforementioned "Win Probability" charts on ESPN.com. At any given point in the game, that chart displays the percentage that each team could be expected to win, based on data from similar situations in thousands of historical games. Unless one team gets above 50% at the very beginning of the game and never dips below that mark, there is going to be a single point where the team that eventually wins goes from underdog to favorite for the final time.
Week Three Turning Point: Ryan Tannehill Converts a Third-and-Four on Fourth-Quarter TD Drive
Outcome: Tennessee 27, Tampa Bay 23
· Buccaneers kick a field goal (Matt Gay) at 11:28 of the first quarter for a 3-0 lead
· Titans score a touchdown (Jonnu Smith reception) at 8:55 of the first quarter for a 7-3 lead
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Mike Evans catch) at 11:11 of the third quarter for a 23-17 lead
· Titans score a touchdown (A.J. Brown catch) at 6:55 of the fourth quarter for a 27-23 lead
The line on the win probability chart acts like you would expect it to for much of the game, briefly heading in the Bucs' direction after their opening-drive field goal but never getting higher than 60.8% in Tampa Bay's favor. It crossed to Tennessee's side and stayed there for most of the rest of the half. It did briefly spike back into Tampa Bay territory when Mike Evans caught the first of his two touchdown passes right before halftime, even though the Bucs remained behind, 17-15, after failing on a two-point conversion try.
The Bucs hold on that edge only lasted a few plays into the second half, until Tannehill completed a 23-yard pass to tight end Anthony Firkser to convert a third-and-11 on the opening drive. However, it then abruptly swung back when Vernon Hargreaves recovered a Derrick Henry fumble caused by Andrew Adams. The Bucs were considered 60.8% favorites even before punching it into the end zone on the drive resulting from that turnover, as Evans made a big play to get 43 yards down to the Tennessee 13 on the next play. Tampa Bay's win probability finally peaked at 77.1% after Evans capped the drive with a two-yard score.
The Bucs essentially held steady through the rest of the third quarter and a pair of punts, though their win probability began to drop again when the Titans drove into their side of the field. It was still holding strong at 68.5% after a failed third down at the Bucs' 24 and was even at 63.1% after a Cody Parkey field goal made it a three-point game.
Earl Watford drew a holding penalty on the first play of the ensuing drive to briefly make the Titans 57.4% favorites, a strange little anomaly because that penalty did effectively kill that possession but the Bucs still regained favorite status moments later on an eight-yard catch by Evans. They nearly got back to their highest peak in win probability when tight end MyCole Pruitt committed a holding penalty with 12 minutes left to erase a 42-yard run by Derrick Henry. At that point, the chart favored the Buccaneers by 75.8%.
And then it began to fall. Tannehill pulled out of that first-and-20 situation with an eight-yard pass to Adam Humphries and another eight-yard pass to Corey Davis. It was here that the game hit its pivotal moment. The Titans faced a third-and-four at the Buccaneers' 47; failure on that third down would leave Tennessee choosing between the unappealing options of going for it on fourth-and-four and eventually giving up great field position to the leading team or punting it away and possibly not getting another great shot to score. There was 10:29 left on the clock.
The Titans did not fail, however, with Tannehill getting the ball into the hands of Tajae Sharpe for a five-yard gain despite tight coverage from Hargreaves. That play swung the chart into Tennessee's favor, at 52.4%, and it would never swing back again. The Titans got their win probability all the way up to 84.3% after scoring to take the lead and then getting the ball back on a strip-sack by Harold Landry in Bucs territory. The line edged back in the direction of 50-50 when the Titans ran an unsuccessful fake field goal, and it dropped to 64.7% in Tennessee's favor when Dare Ogunbowale earned a first down at the Tennessee 41 on a three-yard catch with three minutes left. However, it plummeted back to 95.4% when the Titans' defense stopped Peyton Barber on a fourth-and-one run four plays later.