Close Calls - Week 15
December 19, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week in the NFL with several result-changing scores in the final minutes of a favorite-friendly Week 15:
Philadelphia Eagles (-7) 34, New York Giants 29 (41): The Eagles overcame an early 20-7 deficit helped by special teams play while also scoring a touchdown after the game’s only turnover by the Giants. Philadelphia briefly passed the road favorite spread with a 31-23 edge, but the Giants answered, although missing on the two-point conversion trying to tie the game late in the third quarter. On their next possession, the Giants missed a field goal and the Eagles burned more than seven minutes of game clock, eventually reaching 1st-and-goal. The Giants held the Eagles to a 20-yard field goal to stay within the spread even though they were unable to score in the final minute for the upset, reaching the Philadelphia 6-yard line.
Carolina Panthers (-3) 31, Green Bay Packers 24 (46½): The Panthers trailed at halftime, but managed to deliver back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter, leading 24-14 and then eventually 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Packers failed on downs from the Carolina 30-yard-line with fewer than six minutes remaining, but found the end zone just after the three-minute mark to get within seven. The Packers recovered the onside kick and had a new set of downs at the two-minute-warning from the Carolina 38-yard-line. Aaron Rodgers hit Geronimo Allison for a nice gain, but shortly after the catch, he was hit with the ball coming out and recovered by Carolina. The ruling on the field was a catch and fumble and that held up on a very close replay review as the Panthers held on.
Buffalo Bills (-3½) 24, Miami Dolphins 16 (40): The Bills used turnovers to build a 24-6 lead through three quarters, but Miami was a late threat sparked by a big punt return. The Dolphins climbed to within 11 at the eight-minute-mark and reached the Buffalo 8-yard line in the final minute of the game. Had Miami found the end zone, a potential two-point conversion try would loom large on the pointspread result, but the Dolphins opted to kick a field goal with 39 seconds remaining facing 4th-and-3. That kick put the total at 40, even with the common number on the game. The Dolphins had some hope for a miracle late score to force overtime or at least cover the spread as they recovered the onside kick but on first down, Jay Cutler was intercepted to end the threat.
New Orleans Saints (-16) 31, New York Jets 19 (47): The Jets trailed 17-13 through three quarters as the underdog and ‘under’ were in a promising position. The Saints seemingly put the game away with a touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter to lead by 11, but the Jets were able to find the end zone just after the two-minute warning trailing just 24-19 after missing going for two. That touchdown secured the heavy underdog cover, but the ‘under’ had little margin for error remaining. The onside kick failed and the Jets had just one timeout remaining. On second down, Mark Ingram broke loose for a 50-yard touchdown run to send the game ‘over’ with just over a minute remaining with the Saints one first down away from taking a knee.
Washington Redskins (-4½) 20, Arizona Cardinals 15 (40): Offense was limited on both sides of this game as Arizona chipped away at an early 14-3 Washington lead with field goals. By the fourth quarter, Washington led 17-12 but Arizona climbed within the underdog spread with a fifth field goal of the game early in the fourth quarter. After trading punts, Washington managed a field goal of its own to lead again by five with the total in danger of being eclipsed with a touchdown in the final four minutes. After another exchange of punts, Arizona got the ball back near midfield and got a huge pass interference call for a third down conversion in the final minute. The game came down to a fourth down play from the Washington 21-yard line with Blaine Gabbert ending the game with five consecutive incomplete passes as Washington and the ‘under’ held on.
Baltimore Ravens (-6½) 27, Cleveland Browns 10 (42½): The Ravens led just 17-10 at halftime on a spread that dropped from -9 to just -6½ by kickoff. In the third quarter, Baltimore’s defense got a fumble recovery in the end zone after a sack and then added a field goal after the Browns failed going for it on 4th-and-1. The ‘over’ looked promising with 37 points through three quarters on a total that was as low as 40 early in the week. Cleveland looked ready to reach the total with a scoring opportunity with more than 11 minutes remaining but on 3rd-and-5 from the 6-yard line, DeShone Kizer threw an egregious interception in the end zone for a touchback.
Baltimore managed to burn off much of the clock and the Browns punted on their next possession. The Ravens got the ball back with about five minutes to go and picked up three first downs. The Ravens would have likely kicked a field goal just after the two-minute-warning, but an encroachment penalty gave Baltimore a fresh set of downs. Cleveland still had a timeout in its pocket and could have forced the Ravens to either kick a field goal or turn the ball back over to Cleveland, but instead they allowed the Ravens to take a knee without stopping the clock to keep the game just ‘under’ with a scoreless fourth quarter.
New England Patriots (-2½) 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24 (53): The Steelers had an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter with the total still in play with 40 points through three frames. An exchange of punts burned the first half of the fourth quarter with no scoring before the Patriots crossed midfield with about five minutes to play. A pass interference call handed the Patriots 23 yards on a critical third down play, but a sack pushed New England backwards and they settled for a field goal with about four minutes remaining. The Steelers couldn’t put the game away punting on 4th-and-1 just ahead of the two-minute warning with the Patriots still holding two timeouts. It only took five plays for New England to go 77 yards with Pittsburgh burning its second timeout in the process as the Patriots scored to take the lead in the final minute. The two-point conversion that was critical to the pointspread result was also successful with the spread dipping from -3 to -2½ for the road favorite.
The Steelers connected on a wild 69-yard completion with JuJu Smith-Schuster staying in bounds and cutting back across the field as the Steelers had the ball at the New England 10-yard line, but needing to use their final timeout after the big play. On first down, Pittsburgh appeared to connect for the touchdown but in a contentious replay review, the catch was taken away from Jesse James as making the catch he dove to the ground to reach the end zone and the ball moved slightly in his hands upon contacting the ground. Pittsburgh completed a pass to the 3-yard line on the next play, but was tackled in-bounds as the clock ticked down below 10 seconds. Ben Roethlisberger took the next snap for a fake spike, but recklessly threw into traffic in the end zone and the deflection was caught for a game-ending interception with the spread and total results flipping on the overturned James touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers (-2½) 25, Tennessee Titans 23 (44½): The 49ers had a 16-3 edge early, but the Titans managed to score just before halftime to close to within six and cut the deficit to three points in the third quarter. Tennessee kept the momentum with an early fourth quarter touchdown to lead 20-16 as a slight underdog, opening at +2 falling to just +1 or +1½ but eventually closing back at +2 or +2½. Those distinctions would prove critical as the 49ers hit two long field goals to take a 22-20 lead with just over three minutes remaining. The Titans managed to answer with a field goal with just over a minute remaining, clearing the total in the process, but San Francisco responded in kind with a kick as time expired for the two-point win and mixed spread results.
Dallas Cowboys (-3) 20, Oakland Raiders 17 (46): Both offenses struggled most of the way Sunday night with a 10-0 Dallas lead at halftime. With about 10 minutes remaining Oakland connected for a touchdown on third down to tie the game at 17-17. After an exchange of punts, Dallas had the ball back with just over six minutes remaining and after losing a first down on an Oakland challenge, boldly went for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 39-yard-line. With Gene Steratore comically using paper to measure an extremely close first down measurement Dallas was granted a new set of downs. After the two-minute warning, Dallas reached 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, but was stopped twice and opted to kick the short field goal to sit even with the common spread of -3. The Raiders were faced with a 4th-and-10 play from their own 30-yard line and were bailed out with a 55-yard pass interference call. Three plays later, Derek Carr scrambled and dove towards the pylon, only to lose the ball out of the end zone for a touchback as the Cowboys held on for a push for many and those on the ‘under’ weren’t subjected to potential overtime.
Atlanta Falcons (-7) 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21 (47½): The Falcons led just 17-14 through three quarters but scored on a long Devonta Freeman run to lead by 10. Tampa Bay answered to get back within three and put the scoring at 45, a field goal short of the closing total with four minutes remaining. The Falcons had to punt and while the Buccaneers managed to have a reasonable late field goal try, but the kicking woes for the franchise continued with a 54-yard kick as time expired missing right.
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