The whole first quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans seemed like one giant turning point, a wave really, one that threatened to wash the Bucs away before they could even get into the game. Jameis Winston was intercepted on two of his first three passes, the first one going back the other direction for a touchdown, and the Bucs' one scoring chance ended in a blocked field goal. Then the second quarter began with another interception just 45 seconds in.
The Texans took control of the win probability chart during that span. Two minutes into the game they were already considered to have a 75.4% chance of victory. It got as high as 93.8% in the second quarter.
But the Buccaneers battled back, even briefly regaining favorite status before halftime. As such, the final turning point of Saturday's 23-20 loss came much later, near the beginning of what would prove to be the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
This season, we're looking for that 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 "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 16 Turning Point: Carlos Hyde's First Down Kick-Starts Game-Winning Drive
Outcome: Houston 23, Tampa Bay 20
· Texans score a touchdown (Bradley Roby interception return) at 14:12 of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Justin Watson reception) at 0:13 of the second quarter for a 17-17 tie
· Texans kick a field goal (Ka'imi Fairbairn) at 9:30 of the third quarter for a 20-17 lead
· Buccaneers kick a field goal (Matt Gay) at 1:13 of the third quarter for a 20-20 tie
· Texans kick a field goal (Ka'imi Fairbairn) at 7:11 of the fourth quarter for a 23-20 win
The first play that started to chip away at the Texans' overwhelming odds of victory was Codey McElroy's 30-yard reception down to the Houston four-yard line right before the two-minute warning. That play, the first reception of McElroy's NFL career, dropped the Texans' figure from 90.8% to 78.6%. After Ronald Jones punched it in to make it 17-10 and Jamel Dean picked off a deep pass and returned it to the Houston 31 moments later, the Texans were only considered 66.5% favorites. And when Jameis Winston scrambled on third-down and fired a laser to Justin Watson for the game-tying touchdown with 13 seconds left before halftime, the home team was suddenly considered the favorites by 50.4%.
That didn't last long, but there was plenty more drama ahead. The Texans got the line on the win probability chart back on their side on the very first play of the second half, a 12-yard catch by Kenny Stills. That started a go-ahead field goal drive and the Texans odds steadily climbed back over 60% as they continued a methodical drive that took five and a half minutes and ended in a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal to make it 20-17.
The Buccaneers dragged those odds back towards 50-50 when they countered with their own very long field goal drive, this one chewing up more than eight minutes. The Texans' odds strangely jumped back up to 67.2% during that drive when Ronald Jones was stopped for a one-yard gain at the Houston 38 on second-and-four, but the Bucs converted the resulting third down and when Matt Gay tied the game with a 41-yard field goal the home team was suddenly in a comfortable position according to the win probability chart. In fact, Tampa Bay's odds of winning jumped all the way to 70.3% when the Texans started the ensuing drive with a holding penalty to put them into a first-and-20 back at their own 15.
Houston couldn't overcome that field position but did manage to get the odds back to nearly even when its defense countered with a stop near midfield on Tampa Bay's next possession. With the game tied at 20-20 and almost exactly 12 minutes left on the clock, the Texans took the field as very slight underdogs on the win probability chart. Hyde started the drive with a four-yard run from the Houston 12 and at that point the Buccaneers were still favored by a 52.4% edge. On the next play, Watson threw a short pass to Hyde for 10 yards and a new set of downs.
And that was the moment the tide turned for good in Houston's favor. The Texans had a 53.0% chance to win the game at that point, with roughly 11 minutes to play, and in this case the win probability chart had it right. Houston continued that drive into Buccaneers territory and the line on the chart climbed with it. After what would prove to be a game-winning 37-yard field goal by Fairbairn, the Texans had improved their odds of winning to 69.7%.
Those adds would dip just under 60% when the Buccaneers got across midfield on the next drive on a 23-yard catch-and-run by Jones, but a few plays later Jones was stopped for a loss of two on a third-and-one run from the Houston 38 and the chart again considered Houston favorites by 80.1%. The Bucs would go for it on fourth down and fail to convert when the sure-handed Cam Brate couldn't hold onto a short pass, and that began the inexorable climb to 100% win chance for the visiting squad.