The key to a comeback 

October, 19, 2011

This story appears in the Oct. 31 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK about all these crazy comebacks we're seeing this season, but let me tell you: It's harder than you'd think to hold on to a big lead, and most of it is mental. As soon as the other team begins making a comeback, you start doing the math about what it takes to lose instead of what it takes to win. When a team does blow a huge lead, people always blame the D, but guess what: The best defense is an offense that's on the field.

Football is a possession game. You have to hold on to the ball. A typical defense is on the field for almost 65 plays per game, but if you take a look at some of the best D's in the history of the league -- the '72 Dolphins, the '73 Rams, the '91 Eagles -- they all averaged closer to 55 snaps per game. Getting off the field in three downs helps, but having a good ball-control offense that keeps you on the sideline is just as important.

Look at the Texans-Steelers game from Week 4. Houston's opening drive lasted almost 11 minutes.

If you're a defensive player and your offense holds the ball that long, you're just chilling. Defensive players like chilling. When your offense doesn't keep the ball, that's when crazy comebacks happen. The Dallas-Detroit game from Week 4 is a perfect example. The Cowboys were up by 24 in the second half. All they had to do was keep the ball and run out the clock. And what does Tony Romo do? He throws two pick sixes.