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Close Calls - Week 1

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NFL games often go down to the wire, especially relative to the spread. Here are close calls from Week 1 of the NFL season, recapping the spread-changing plays from the fourth quarters around the league. Each week there are several key plays late in games that can change the result or create a misleading final score, get the details in this weekly column.

New Orleans Saints (-3.5) 23, Atlanta Falcons 17: The two NFC South favorites opened up with a closely contested game though it was much lower scoring than most expected. The Saints led by three at the half and that margin held through three quarters with the Saints up, 20-17. There was no scoring in the fourth quarter until just over three minutes to go as the Saints had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to go up by six, leaving a window for the Falcons to win with a touchdown. But getting past the spread that was steady at -3 most of the week before adding a late hook. Atlanta drove the length of the field, eventually set up at the New Orleans seven with 1st and goal, but the Falcons could not get in with four straight pass plays, the last of which was tipped and intercepted.

Chicago Bears (-3) 24, Cincinnati Bengals 21: Cincinnati led 21-10 deep into the third quarter in Chicago before the Bears punched in a touchdown to get within four late in the third. Early in the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged interceptions but Andy Dalton's pick proved more costly, deep in scoring territory. The Bears followed with a long drive, eventually converting a big 4th and 1 play and then connecting with Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown to take the lead. Cincinnati still had almost eight minutes to play, but quickly went backwards on a 3-and-out and Chicago was able to burn the final six minutes, mainly with Michael Bush rushing, leaving a push for most involved. The game ended with the Bears on the edge of field goal range with a personal foul on an unsuccessful 3rd down conversion, costing the Bengals a shot to get the ball back.

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Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) 12, Carolina Panthers 7:
Carolina led 7-3 at halftime in what turned out to be a defensive showcase in the NFC. After a productive third quarter drive, the Seahawks had to settle for a field goal to only trail by one entering the fourth. Seattle finally was able to break a big play as the Seahawks connected for a 43-yard pass play with just over 10 minutes to go. Up by five, the Seahawks went for two but failed, leaving Carolina able to cover as an underdog with any type of scoring play. The Panthers seemed to have the immediate answer blazing into Seattle territory with eight plays netting 56 yards. On 2nd and short with just over five minutes to go, DeAngelo Williams broke a few tackles and turned the first down gain into a big play, stretching for 16 yards down inside the Seattle 10, but he was caught from behind and a fumble was forced, recovered by the Seahawks with just over five minutes to go. Seattle was able to convert four first downs on the next possession to run out the clock and leave those on the Panthers with a very tough loss.

Detroit Lions (-4.5) 34, Minnesota Vikings 24: Detroit dominated the box score on Sunday, but this game stayed close on the scoreboard with Minnesota able to create a few big plays to take advantage of missed opportunities from the Lions. Entering the fourth quarter, the Lions only led 27-24 after a high-scoring third quarter. Christian Ponder fumbled near mid-field on Minnesota's first possession of the fourth after the Vikings had forced a punt and the Lions responded with a touchdown drive to go up by 10 with less than seven minutes to go. Ponder threw three straight incomplete passes as Minnesota would quickly punt on the next drive, but the Vikings stepped up to force another punt on defense. Minnesota's last chance came with just over four minutes to go, but they were pinned on the one-yard line. Minnesota converted a 4th and 4 at its own seven-yard line, but on the subsequent 4th down with the game on the line, Minnesota produced another turnover with an interception near mid-field to end the threat.

St. Louis Rams (-4.5) 27, Arizona Cardinals 24: Arizona led 24-13 entering the fourth quarter and while the Cardinals did hold on for the underdog cover, it certainly got dicey late in the game. St. Louis did not take long to score in the fourth, getting a touchdown with 13 minutes to go with a couple of big plays and the Rams were able to add the 2-point conversion to get within three. Arizona's next possession resulted in a fumble to give the Rams great field position and the game was tied with just over nine minutes to go after a field goal. Arizona picked up two first downs, but had to punt near mid-field and the Rams were pinned deep. On a third down play deep in their own zone, Sam Bradford fumbled, but the Rams held on and were able to punt. Arizona was held to a 3-and-out and the Rams had the ball back with less than two minutes to go. A 25-yard pass play to Jared Cook was the key play on a drive into field goal range and the Rams took the lead with less than a minute to go after a 48-yard kick. Arizona's three desperation plays did not get close enough for a shot to tie the game with no timeouts.

San Francisco 49ers (-5) 34, Green Bay Packers 28: These NFC powerhouses were tied 21-21 entering the fourth quarter as the Packers kept coming back, despite the 49ers seeming to be in control much of the way. The 49ers hit a short field goal early in the fourth and then the teams exchanged punts. Mainly led by rookie Eddie Lacy and a big catch from Jordy Nelson, the Packers were able to take the lead with less than nine minutes to go, up 28-24, making the underdog cover look quite promising. San Francisco answered in just five plays with a Frank Gore touchdown putting San Francisco up by three with just over six minutes to go. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were backed up deep after a poor decision on the kickoff return and the Packers had to punt after a quick 3-and-out. San Francisco was able to burn most of the clock, but the 49ers did not put the game away with a touchdown, getting another short field goal to inch past the spread with less than 30 seconds to go. Green Bay had no timeouts and while they did get a 38-yard connection to get to mid-field, Rodgers was not able to get a downfield pass off for the Hail Mary.

  
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