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Close Calls - Week 11

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Glancing at the scoreboard won't tell you the whole story in most games. Here are the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter in the Week 11 NFL games. Each week there are several games where the money changes hands late based on a few critical late plays, whether the outcome of the game is in doubt or not. Get the details of those close calls in this weekly column.

Buffalo Bills (-2½) 19, Miami Dolphins 14 (46): After Miami missed a field goal late in the third quarter, the lead for the Bills appeared safe up 19-7 entering the fourth quarter as a slight favorite. In a very poor day for the Miami offense, the Dolphins finally put together a complete drive going 81 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown about halfway through the final quarter to trim the margin to just five points. Buffalo would eventually punt five consecutive times as the Miami defense held late and two Miami drives resulted in interceptions in the final minutes, including a drive that was just on the edge of field goal range.

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Green Bay Packers (-3) 24, Detroit Lions 20 (53½):
The Lions took a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter and for a while it looked like that lead might hold after Mason Crosby missed his second field goal of the game. Detroit was able to put together a long drive to melt much of the clock, but they had to settle for a field goal, leaving the lead at just six points and handing the ball back to the Packers with just over four minutes to go. It took Aaron Rodgers and the Packers just six plays to find the end zone, taking a 21-20 lead with less than two minutes left in the game. Green Bay was favored by 3 ½ most of the week, so the underdog cover still looked promising, but the Lions were forced to go for it on fourth and 15 from their own 20. Green Bay got the ball back and the Lions still had two timeouts, leaving Green Bay to kick a field goal with just 19 seconds left on the clock rather than being able to run out the game as the Packers stole the game and the cover in Detroit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1½) 27, Carolina Panthers 21 (47): The Buccaneers led 10-0 early, but Carolina took advantage of turnovers to pull ahead 21-10 with just six minutes left in the game after a long Brandon LaFell touchdown ended a scoring drought of more than 30 minutes of game clock for both teams. Tampa Bay was able to cash in a field goal with four minutes to go, trimming the margin to just eight points and still having a shot. Carolina picked up two first downs to sustain a drive, but could not come up with the final first down to ice the game near midfield, having to punt on fourth and one with just over a minute to go. Tampa Bay immediately caught a huge break with a pass to Tiquan Underwood that resulted in a 33-yard gain after a borderline unnecessary roughness penalty, a catch that stood up through replay review. The drive continued and on a great pass, Josh Freeman hit Vincent Jackson for a touchdown with just 12 seconds to go. Tampa Bay still needed the two-point conversion to force overtime and they converted on a nice play-fake pass again to Jackson. Tampa Bay won the toss in overtime and went down the field with relative ease against a deflated and exhausted Carolina defense, eventually cashing in with the touchdown after converting on a huge third and one play that would have forced a field goal kick and given Carolina a possession. The overtime touchdown instead of a field goal also pushed the total to a push commonly at 48 or even gave those that played the 'over' a win on the late number that dropped.

Dallas Cowboys (-7) 23, Cleveland Browns 20 (43½): Those on Dallas had to immediately realize trouble as the hefty underdog Browns were in control early, leading 13-0 at halftime. The Cowboys clawed back into the game and took a 17-13 lead with less than seven minutes to go in the game. The favorite still had hope as on the next possession Brandon Weeden fumbled on a sack, handing Dallas the ball on the Cleveland 18-yard line. Not surprisingly, Dallas committed a holding penalty on first down to get pushed back 10 yards and then on the next play, Tony Romo fumbled to give the Browns the ball right back. Cleveland drove all the way down to the Dallas one-yard line, but came up empty as Dallas simply tried to run out the clock and forced the Browns to use all three timeouts. The Browns got the ball in great field position after a strong return from Joshua Cribbs boosted by a horse-collar penalty and Cleveland took the lead on one play with a touchdown pass, effectively locking up the cover for the underdog Browns. Dallas still had over a minute and they settled for overtime, despite having time for several plays deep in Browns territory. In overtime, both teams punted and the Cowboys eventually won on another field goal.

Denver Broncos (-7½) 30, San Diego Chargers 23 (48): The Broncos didn't wait until the second half this time around as they stormed back in the second quarter to lead 17-7 at the half. The Chargers got a safety to push the margin to eight points early in the third quarter, a key play considering this line bounced around from 7½ to 8½ on Sunday, eventually closing back down at 7½. Denver would still lead by eight entering the fourth quarter and after successful drives, the Broncos settled for a pair of short field goals to go up 30-16 with just over four minutes to go. Whether you were on the side or the total, everything hinged on a fourth down play where Philip Rivers hit Danario Alexander just short of the end zone. Alexander made the catch in bounds and then quickly dove to the end zone, crossing the plane with the ball stretched out. The ball certainly moved when the reached out ball hit the ground, however, calling the catch into question. The on-field ruling was a catch and a touchdown and that eventually held despite the erroneous comments from the TV announcing crew invoking the 'Calvin Johnson rule'. Alexander was ruled to have made the catch in-bounds short of the end zone and when he pierced the end zone, the play is dead there, so he did not need to hold on to the ball going to the ground as players would in an instance of catching the ball while already in the end zone.

  
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