Each week there are a handful of NFL games that go down to the wire not only on the scoreboard but also relative to the pointspread. Here is a look at the outcome-impacting late game plays from Week 15 of the NFL season with several games nearly featuring a different result.
New York Jets (-3) 19, Dallas Cowboys 16 (41): On Saturday night the Jets took an early 9-3 lead but by halftime Dallas was in front and the Cowboys took a 13-9 lead into the fourth quarter. The Jets completed a 70-yard touchdown drive with about nine minutes to go to go up by three, even with the closing spread though the road favorite did hit -3½ at times during the week. Dallas burned over seven minutes of clock to go 51 yards, even picking up a big 4th down conversion but the Cowboys led by Kellen Moore still had to settle for a field goal with Dan Bailey good from 50 yards to tie the game. In one of the key plays of the game on 3rd and short Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sneaked for the first down with the play standing up on review. On the next play Fitzpatrick hit Kenbrell Thompkins for 43 yards and the Jets were in field goal range, running out much of the clock before Randy Bullock connected from 40 yards to put New York up by three for the narrow win.
Atlanta Falcons (+2) 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 17 (48): Riding a six-game losing streak and basically out of playoff contention the Falcons saw a 17-3 halftime lead disappear with two Jacksonville touchdowns in the third quarter with the second coming on a short field after another Matt Ryan interception. In the fourth quarter a 31-yard pass interference call was the biggest play for the Falcons setting up a go-ahead field goal, which Atlanta did again to double the lead in the final two minutes. Jacksonville approached midfield on its final possession but came up short, although both teams still are not eliminated from the postseason officially just yet.
Kansas City Chiefs (-6½) 34, Baltimore Ravens 14 (41): Despite Jimmy Clausen starting for the Ravens the line on the red hot Chiefs as a road favorite slipped from -7½ to -6½ during the week. With an early fumble return touchdown the Chiefs quickly moved in position to cover the road favorite spread but the Ravens wound up hitting a 48-yard pass play just before the half to cut the margin to 10 points and keep all outcomes in play. After no scoring in the third quarter the ‘under’ looked like it might hold despite 38 points in the first half and a short Chiefs field goal with under seven minutes to go put most right on the number. The Ravens down by 13 threatened to score late but Marcus Peters returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown to deliver the ‘over’ and make sure there was no backdoor cover potential for a Ravens offense that was actually fairly productive.
New England Patriots (-14½) 33, Tennessee Titans 16 (48): With a fumble return touchdown and Marcus Mariota injured the Patriots looked like they would cruise to a dominant victory up 14-0 early and 24-3 at the half. With a heavy favorite spread it would only take a modest comeback for the Titans however and the Tennessee closed to within 17 by the end of the third quarter, holding New England to another field goal with the ‘under’ on the game looking promising. Early in the fourth quarter the Titans had a drive going but on 1st down in field goal range Zach Mettenberger was intercepted in the end zone. On Tennessee’s next possession a short pass to Delanie Walker broke free for 57 yards to put the Titans in the end zone within 11 but Ryan Succop missed the extra point, a point that looked important with the spread right at -14 most of the week. New England got a big play on a critical 3rd down play to break into scoring range and a few plays later New England converted a field goal to go up 30-16, sitting just below the total. The Titans looked like a threat to score again to get back within the spread moving into New England territory but Mettenbeger was again intercepted and Jason Collins returned the pick 51 yards to the Tennessee 16-yard line. With just over two minutes to go the Titans had the two-minute warning and one timeout to extend the game with the Patriots content to run the ball. Had New England gotten a first down the game would have ended, the total would have stayed ‘under’ and most on the spread would have pushed but they fell short and kicked a short field goal to go up by 17 and put the total ‘over’. Tennessee had over a minute to go on its last possession but showed no real urgency gaining 23 yards but running just three plays with no attempt to stop the clock.
Carolina Panthers (-5) 38, New York Giants 35 (46½): The perfect season for the Panthers did not look in jeopardy as the Panthers turned a 7-7 game into a 35-7 rout by the middle of the third quarter. The Giants added a touchdown late in the third quarter and then broke a long run to score early in the fourth quarter to climb within 14 points with the total already well ‘over’. It looked like Carolina would put the game away lining up a field goal to make it a three-score game but that kick was blocked. The momentum for the Giants appeared to end with an interception in the end zone just over a minute later but incredibly Cam Newton fumbled two plays later to give the Giants the ball back. Eli Manning hit Shane Vereen with just over five minutes to go to put the Giants within seven. New York’s defense held and the Giants were back in scoring position. On the first play after the two-minute warning Manning was sacked and appeared to have fumbled but on review it was ruled an incomplete pass. On 4th down Manning found Odell Beckham for the tying score. While Carolina’s offense had stalled in the second half the Panthers had no real resistance in the final minute picking up four first downs and lining up the game winning field goal but the Giants did enough to cover despite being down 28 in the second half.
Seattle Seahawks (-14½) 30, Cleveland Browns 13 (45): While Cleveland scored first in this game Seattle took control with a 20-10 lead at the half, settling for two field goals in the final minute of the half. With 30 points in the half the ‘over’ looked promising but a scoreless third quarter changed that outlook. As the fourth quarter started the Seahawks hit a 27-yard pass play to complete a 96-yard drive, putting Seattle past the heavy favorite spread for the first time. Cleveland answered with a field goal to make it a 14-point game but Seattle did the same to go back up by 17 with just over three minutes to go. Johnny Manziel was intercepted a minute later and the Seahawks were eventually able to just take a knee to hold on to the cover and keep the total just ‘under’.
Green Bay Packers (-4) 30, Oakland Raiders 20 (47): With a defensive touchdown the Packers took an early 14-0 lead with two touchdowns in 15 seconds of game clock. The Raiders took over the third quarter with two field goals and a touchdown to make it a one-point game. After a Green Bay field goal Oakland took its first lead in the game with an Amari Cooper touchdown to lead 20-17 with less than seven minutes to go in the third quarter. Green Bay needed just three plays and just over a minute to get back in front with a 30 yard touchdown strike as the margin was equal to the closing spread entering the fourth quarter. The Packers had a great 19-play 92-yard drive completed early in the fourth quarter but despite getting to 1st-and-goal at the Oakland one-yard line the Raiders forced Green Bay to settle for three. Oakland went backwards on its next possession and it looked like Green Bay was in the end zone a few plays later but a penalty wiped away the score. Oakland’s defense held again as Mason Crosby made it a 30-20 Green Bay lead. The Raiders went for it on 4th-and-14 from its own 16-yard line on the next possession and failed but the Raiders got a break with an interception from Aaron Rodgers to get the ball back. Oakland again failed on a 4th down try in its own territory but the opportunity for a Raiders cover remained live with a blocked field goal. For a third straight possession the Raiders were stopped on 4th down in their own territory with time running out as the Packers escaped with the win and cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-7½) 34, Denver Broncos 27 (45): The spread on this game climbed from as low -5½ up to -7½ by Sunday and the move certainly looked wrong early with Denver taking a commanding lead at 27-10 late in the second quarter. Pittsburgh managed to chip away with a field goal before halftime and halfway through the third quarter the Steelers found the end zone to get within seven. Early in the fourth quarter the Steelers tied the game as the Broncos were not able to get anything going on offense. After four straight punts Brock Osweiler was intercepted with just over four minutes to go and on the short field the Steelers connected to go up by seven. Osweiler had the Broncos in Pittsburgh territory on the next possession hoping to stage another great finish but back-to-back incomplete passes ended the threat. Incredibly the Broncos got another chance as an aggressive play call had the Steelers passing ahead of the two-minute warning and Ben Roethlisberger was picked off. Four more incomplete passes followed with an egregious pass interference penalty missed in a game where the calls were lopsided against Denver with 12 flags for 127 yards as Pittsburgh completed the comeback win and the spread results were varied depending on the timing.
Cincinnati Bengals (-7) 24, San Francisco 49ers 14 (40½): The first start for A.J. McCarron featured nearly 25 minutes of scoreless football to start the game before the Bengals scored three touchdowns in five minutes just before halftime on drives of 11, 36, and 20 yards with two of the scores off turnovers. Cincinnati added a field goal to start the second half and even after a 49ers touchdown it was still a 17-point lead for the Bengals entering the fourth quarter. San Francisco missed a field goal in the fourth quarter but on the next possession Blaine Gabbert completed a 72-yard drive to put San Francisco within 10 and forcing those on the favorite and the ‘under’ to feel much less comfortable. The 49ers went for the on-side kick and got it and then Gabbert hit a 27-yard pass play on 1st down to make things really interesting. On 1st down from the Cincinnati 28 Gabbert was intercepted near the end zone however to end the threat and while the 49ers reached midfield in the final seconds a sack eventually ended the game as the Bengals won with the help of four San Francisco turnovers despite totaling only 242 yards.