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Close Calls - Week 16
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NFL games often go down to the wire, especially relative to the spread. Here are close calls from week 16 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.
Carolina Panthers (-3) 17, New Orleans Saints 13 (44½): The Panthers led by four entering the fourth quarter with a 10-6 edge but with just over six minutes to go the Saints, with a massive yardage edge for the game, found the end zone to lead by three. Over the next five minutes both teams punted twice each, leaving Carolina with the ball back with 55 seconds to go at their own 35-yard line. It only took five plays including a spike to stop the clock for the Panthers to find the end zone as Cam Newton delivered a great final drive. With 23 seconds left the Saints did cross midfield before running out of time as Carolina escaped with a narrow win and cover.
St. Louis Rams (-3) 23, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 (43): St. Louis led by just one late in the third quarter and by just four heading into the fourth quarter. The spread on this game dropped over the weekend as The Buccaneers were as high as a 5½-point underdog earlier in the week with timing looking important with the four-point margin. The Rams added two field goals in the fourth quarter to pull away with a 10-point victory as Tampa Bay had a terrible offensive game with only two sustained drives longer than 36 yards.
New York Jets (-2½) 24, Cleveland Browns 13 (41½):
These teams were tied 10-10 entering the fourth quarter in a game of missed opportunities for both offenses. Both teams failed on fourth down attempts in the first half including the Browns coming up empty on a 74-yard drive. Early in the third quarter Cleveland had a pass intercepted deep in New York territory and the Jets had a missed field goal. New York scored a touchdown early in the fourth and it appeared the Browns had answered minutes later but it was called back with a penalty and Cleveland had to settle for a 21-yard field goal. The Jets would put the game away with another touchdown with just over three minutes to go and another Browns drive into Jets territory finished with an interception as the game stayed just ‘under’ despite over 700 yards of offense and 44 first downs.
Denver Broncos (-9½) 37, Houston Texans 13 (53): The Texans have been a regular in this column with late game failures and they did not disappoint as a heavy home underdog in week 16. With Matt Schaub back at quarterback and digging deep for running backs the Texans trailed by only three heading into the fourth quarter. In a nine minute span in the fourth Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes to set the single-season record as the Broncos pulled away with the scoring surge initially set up by a Houston interception. Despite the late scoring the total stayed just ‘under’ with the Texans failing to go more than 20 yards in the any of their final seven possessions.
Tennessee Titans (-4) 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 16 (44): The spread on this game was as high as 5½ early in the week before dropping though it did not appear to matter with the underdog Jaguars leading 16-6 well into the third quarter. The Titans got back within three before the start of the fourth quarter and the Titans had the lead just seconds into the fourth with a big pass play, putting the margin right on the spread. The Jaguars had a great scoring opportunity late in the fourth quarter but on 4th and short from the Tennessee 20 Maurice Jones-Drew was stopped short as the Titans held on and many pushed on the game.
San Diego Chargers (-10) 26, Oakland Raiders 13 (50): This AFC West clash was tied 10-10 at the half after the Raiders could not punch into the end zone and had to settle for a 20-yard field goal right before halftime. San Diego scored the next 10 points and on the kickoff after the field goal late in the third quarter the Raiders fumbled to hand San Diego the ball again deep in the red zone. Early in the fourth quarter the Chargers connected on a field goal to get by the spread for the first time in the game but Oakland answered to put the margin right back on the spread at 10. San Diego would connect on another field goal to go back up by 13 and getting the ball back with six minutes to go the Raiders marched down the field. Despite having an apparent touchdown fail to survive the replay challenge system and eventually getting to the San Diego two-yard line, the Raiders failed to score on the 17 play drive as the Chargers held on as a heavy favorite with a miraculous cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-1) 38, Green Bay Packers 31 (44): The Packers took a 21-17 lead midway through the third quarter after a blocked field goal wound up giving the Packers first down with even better field position in a bizarre play that was a blown call from the officials. On the blocked kick Pittsburgh was penalized for attempting to shovel the ball forward but the officials ruled that Pittsburgh never actually had possession, something that would not have withstood review but it was not a reviewable play. The Steelers bounced back from that bad break with back-to-back touchdowns including an interception return score to take a 10 point lead into the fourth quarter. Green Bay eventually tied the game but with a touchdown run with just over a minute to go the Steelers prevailed and kept slim playoff hopes alive.
New England Patriots (-1½) 41, Baltimore Ravens 7 (45): While the Patriots had limited yardage production in this game they were in control the whole way, leading 20-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Baltimore eventually scored a touchdown with nine minutes to go to get on the board. The Patriots had the game in hand as an early week underdog and late week slight favorite but those on the total saw a big shift late as the Patriots would score 21 points in the final 125 seconds with two defensive touchdowns, pushing the game just ‘over’ in improbable fashion. 

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