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Close Calls - Week 4

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NFL games often go down to the wire, especially relative to the spread. Here are close calls from week 4 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.

Minnesota Vikings (+3) 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 27: The London game closed with the Steelers as a field goal favorite but Minnesota actually opened -1 at some outlets before quickly flipping. The Vikings would hit some big plays behind back-up QB Matt Cassel and led 34-17 entering the final frame, seemingly ready to get a win after a three tough losses. Minnesota has had plenty of late game drama this season and this game would be no exception as the Steelers scored early in the fourth to cut the margin to 10. Blair Walsh then missed a 44-yard field goal for the Vikings and the Steelers got a successful kick to cut the lead to seven with about four minutes to go. Pittsburgh burned its remaining timeouts and forced a punt and they were quickly deep into Minnesota territory, sitting with first and goal from the six-yard line with a great chance to force overtime. On third down Ben Roehlisberger was sacked and the ball was forced out as Minnesota held on while the Steelers fell to 0-4.

Buffalo Bills (+4) 23, Baltimore Ravens 20: Buffalo led 20-7 at the half and 23-14 entering the fourth but the Ravens would make a late threat. After a long drive the Ravens settled for a field goal to get within six and forced a 3-and-out to get the ball right back. Baltimore quickly drove deep into Buffalo territory but again settled for a short field goal, cutting the margin to just three points and putting the spread result at risk if they could get a touchdown. Buffalo went 3-and-out again and Baltimore had plenty of time, quickly moving to midfield before Joe Flacco was intercepted for a fifth time to seal the win for the Bills.

Seattle Seahawks (-2) 23, Houston Texan 20: The Texans were in command 20-3 at the half and it could have been much worse as the statistics were quite lopsided. Seattle managed a field goal in the third quarter but it was still a 14-point lead for the home underdog several minutes into the fourth quarter. On their first drive of the fourth Seattle successfully challenged an incompletion ruling on a third down play to extend the drive but then had a touchdown pass nullified with a penalty. The Seahawks were eventually deep in Houston territory but faced a fourth down play and Russell Wilson was able to scramble for the conversion. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on the next play to cut the deficit to seven. Houston was forced to punt quickly but Wilson was intercepted past midfield on the next Seattle possession. On the next Houston drive the Texans were trying to run out the clock with four straight rushes but then after a Seattle timeout the Texans passed on 3rd and four in a play that will live in infamy. Matt Schaub faced pressure and flung a pass up towards Owen Daniels but Richard Sherman had the play read and took the interception to the house, even without a shoe. Houston actually got to the 43-yard line in an attempt at setting up a game winning field goal but overtime proved necessary. Both teams had some success moving the ball in an overtime that featured both teams punting on their first possession but three key penalties cost Houston field position with a 15-yard horse collar penalty with Seattle pinned deep, a player out of bounds penalty that forced a re-punt and a big change in field position, and most critically a unnecessary roughness penalty that pushed Seattle into field goal range. At the time of the last penalty a tie and a Houston cover looked like a real possibility but Kareem Jackson was flagged for slamming Doug Baldwin to the ground. While the tackle was a bit excessive, the whistle had not blown and Baldwin was still fighting to get free so it was definitely a borderline call that handed the Seahawks a win and a very tough loss for those on Houston. Those on the total also saw the result flip with the field goal in overtime.

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Arizona Cardinals (+2½) 13, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10:
The Buccaneers led 10-0 behind rookie Mike Glennon in a game void of offense. Arizona had six punts and three turnovers in its first nine possessions, finally breaking the streak with a field goal early in the fourth quarter after a fumble. Down seven Arizona had to punt with just over four minutes to go and they pinned the Buccaneers deep. In a very questionable play call Glennon was intercepted throwing down the middle of the field on a 2nd down play, setting up Arizona on the 13-yard line. The Cardinals tied the game one play later and after a Tampa Bay 3-and-out the Cardinals were able to climb into field goal range for the winning score after a key penalty on Dashon Goldson. A late effort by the Buccaneers was thwarted with another interception as the Cardinals scored 10 points in the final 3:06 and had three scores on drives of 26, 13, and 29 yards.

Kansas City Chiefs (-4½) 31, New York Giants 7: The final score was certainly a bit deceptive in this game as the Chiefs led just 10-7 late into the third quarter before Dexter McCluster returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. The 10-point lead would hold most of the fourth quarter but the Chiefs eventually scored two more touchdowns in the final six minutes with a fumble setting up the second score.

San Diego Chargers (+1½) 30, Dallas Cowboys 21: The Chargers have made a habit of blowing leads but this week they turned the tables. The Cowboys led 21-10 late in the second quarter after a 52-yard interception return touchdown but San Diego was able to get a field goal as the half expired to trim the margin to eight points. San Diego would do the only scoring in the third quarter but Dallas still held a one-point lead, short of the spread for most but the line was -1 at times during the week and with the short number many were on the moneyline. San Diego took the lead early in the fourth with a field goal and Dallas came up empty, forced to punt just inside San Diego territory with a holding penalty being very costly in negating a first down. The Chargers quickly moved towards midfield and then hit on what would be a game sealing 56-yard pass play to Antonio Gates with about seven minutes to go. While Dallas would need two scores to win or cover with the margin at nine they looked poised to at least get the first score with a 1st and goal from the San Diego seven-yard line but a fumble at the one ended the threat and San Diego escaped with a big comeback win.

Washington Redskins (-4) 24, Oakland Raiders 14: This line jumped with Matt Flynn named the starter but it looked the like the Redskins were headed to 0-4 after the Raiders took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. With an interception return touchdown the Redskins were within four by halftime and they had a three-point lead late in the third quarter, getting a touchdown drive following a missed field goal for the Raiders. After punting on their first two possessions of the fourth, the Redskins were still short of the spread but a sack and fumble set them up in great field position. Two plays later, Roy Helu scampered for a touchdown to put Washington past the spread for the first time in the game, up 10 with seven minutes to go. Oakland had a great opportunity to steal the cover back late as they were on the Washington 17-yard line but they failed on a fourth down play and Washington was able to burn most of the clock.

New England Patriots (+3½) 30, Atlanta Falcons 23: The Patriots led 13-10 entering the fourth and that lead was pushed all the way to 30-13 in the fourth quarter before a dramatic finish. With a successful onside kick the Falcons posted 10 points in less than four minutes to get within seven. New England failed going for it on fourth and short just past midfield with about two minutes to go and the Falcons were back in business with a chance to take the game to overtime. Atlanta was quickly down to the New England 13-yard line after a big Julio Jones pass play but they failed to get the first down or a score in four attempts in the red zone, the second time this season Atlanta has failed in that situation late in a game.

  
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