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Close Calls - Week 2

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NFL games often go down to the wire, especially relative to the spread. Here are close calls from week 2 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.
 
Baltimore Ravens (-6½) 14, Cleveland Browns 6: In a game that saw several key players leave with injuries, Cleveland led 6-0 at the half as the Super Bowl champions were staring at a 0-2 start to the season. Baltimore went seven consecutive drives without a point including two missed field goals but on the first possession for the Ravens in the second half they went 80-yards for a touchdown to take a slim lead. After being torched against Denver in week 1, the Baltimore defense stood tall as the Browns did not score in the second half, even on a possession starting in Baltimore territory after a fumble. After more punting Baltimore took advantage of a solid return to start inside Cleveland territory and the Ravens were able to add another touchdown with about nine minutes to go in the game to get past the spread and the Browns did not threaten that lead with two late possessions.
 
Miami Dolphins (+3) 24, Indianapolis Colts 20: While there was no scoring in the fourth quarter of this game Miami’s four-point lead left bettors in a delicate position as an Indianapolis touchdown would flip the result with at least a push and a complete reversal for many as many outlets dipped the line to 2½ at various points in the week. Andrew Luck and the comeback Colts had two drives deep into Miami territory in the fourth quarter with an interception in the end zone on the first attempt and the Colts failing on 4th down on the second attempt with a Miami sack effectively ending the game with just over a minute to go.
 
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Buffalo Bills (+3½) 24, Carolina Panthers 23:
The Panthers continue to be poison for bettors with another close game loss. This game was tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter but Carolina settled for three relatively short field goals in the final frame, off-set by a long kick for the Bills putting Carolina eventually up six with just over a minute to go, ahead of the road favorite spread. E. J. Manuel had a chance to deliver his first win but it looked for not when Carolina intercepted a pass with just seconds on the clock at the Carolina 7-yard line. Pass interference was called however and the Bills got another shot. After a quick nine-yard gain the Bills were at the Carolina 2-yard line and Manuel hit Steve Johnson in the corner of the end zone for the win with the successful extra point. 
 
Atlanta Falcons (-5½) 31, St. Louis Rams 24: The Falcons were in complete control of this game up 24-3 at the half but St. Louis was within seven early in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns within the span of about five minutes of game clock. Atlanta wound answer, abandoning the running game with a 9-play drive featuring only passing plays to go back up 14 and ending the comeback threat. St. Louis scored again to get back within seven but the Atlanta defense made the Rams work hard for it, needing two separate 4th down conversions and there was not enough time for St. Louis to get the ball back after Atlanta was able to get one first down. The spread on this game opened at -7 but slipped throughout the week so most on the Falcons still wound up winners but some playing the game early in the week might have been left with a push.
 
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) 17, Dallas Cowboys 16: Kansas City trailed by six late in the third quarter but took a one-point lead going into the fourth and they had the ball back in Dallas territory after a fumble. Kansas City was able to add a field goal with still 14 minutes to go, getting just by the field goal spread for the first time in the game. Another fumble killed the next Dallas drive and a later opportunity ended in a punt with Dallas pinned back deep. The Chiefs were not able to extend the lead however and Dallas moved the ball well on a later drive starting with just over six minutes to go. A penalty wiped out an interception for the Chiefs along the way and the Cowboys eventually opted for a long field goal try with less than four minutes to go. The kick was good and it was enough for the underdog cover but Dallas did not get another chance until getting the ball back on their own 4-yard line with just 16 seconds to go.
 
New Orleans Saints (-4) 16, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14: This game proved to be much more of a defensive clash than most expected as the Saints led 13-7 entering the fourth quarter, just past the road favorite spread. New Orleans appeared to be on its way to another score with the ball at the Tampa Bay 22 but a Drew Brees pass was intercepted and returned 85-yards for a Tampa Bay touchdown on a slow developing return with several missed tackles. With a one-point deficit the Saints had to punt on consecutive possessions but the defense held, forcing a punt and then seeing Tampa Bay miss a 47-yard field goal that would have made a Saints cover impossible. That kick came with just over a minute to go and left New Orleans plenty of time. It only took three play for the Saints to get down to the Tampa Bay 9-yard line and rather than taking its final timeout and a shot at the end zone the Saints spiked the ball with seconds left and the short kick was put through for the win, leaving Tampa Bay backers took the cash.

Arizona Cardinals (+2) 25, Detroit Lions 21: Detroit led at halftime and after a 66-yard interception return about halfway through the third quarter it appeared that the Lions were in control, up 21-13. Arizona’s defense held strong however and the Cardinals chipped away with two field goals to cut the margin to just two points by the early fourth quarter, a number that would have left many different results on both sides as the line jumped between 1½ and 2½ and most outlets before closing right at 2. Detroit’s next possession stalled in field goal range but the kick was blocked giving Arizona some momentum. On the next drive the Cardinals were in Detroit territory but came up short on third down even with a challenge used and eventually had to punt. Detroit was pinned deep and stayed there, setting up the Cardinals in good field position after the Lions punted back, getting the ball with over four minutes to go. The big play on the drive was a 31-yard pass interference play that set the Cardinals on the one and Arizona was able to convert two plays later taking a four-point lead with a missed 2-point conversion. That 2-point conversion attempt could have loomed large as a successful conversion would have allowed Arizona backers to survive a game winning touchdown drive from the Lions who had almost two minutes to work with. Arizona’s defense delivered however with the Lions coming up a yard shy on 4th down and the Cardinals got the win after losing a late lead in week 1.

Cincinnati Bengals (-6½) 20, Pittsburgh Steelers 10: This AFC North battle was tied 10-10 at the half before Bengals rookie Giovani Bernard broke free for a 27-yard touchdown after a short pass, getting Cincinnati to a 7-point margin at or just past the spread. The Bengals were deep into Pittsburgh territory early in the fourth quarter but settled for a 25-yard field goal, leaving the spread result in doubt. Pittsburgh responded with one of its best drives of the game on the next possession, getting a first down at the Cincinnati 35-yard line, just about in field goal range even in Cincinnati. On a third down play within field goal range a Ben Roethlisberger pass was tipped and intercepted to end the threat however. The Steelers got the ball back again with just under two minutes to go and moved quickly into Cincinnati territory. They were out of timeouts however and if there was a bit more time they probably would have kicked a long field goal and then gone for the onside kick to spoil the cover for some as the line was right at seven most of the week. 

  
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