Sunday’s Week 15 NFL action featured two late thrillers after a highly anticipated bevy of early matches fizzled with many lopsided results.
The NFL schedulers were looking pretty good when, at this late stage of the season, the Sunday kickoffs featured no less than seven contests between teams with .500 records or better. But some early matchups didn’t pan out, leaving fans hoping for better contests from the late games.
While five of the eight early kickoffs had one team up by two or more touchdowns by the third quarter, the San Francisco–New England and Pittsburgh–Dallas games were as exciting as any thus far this season.
In what was the third-to-last week of the NFL season, there was very little margin for error for many teams and some crumbled under the pressure, while others excelled.
A couple of teams that crumbled were the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants. The Ravens (9–5) lost their third straight as the visiting Denver Broncos (11–3) took a 17–0 lead before winning 34–17. The Giants (8–6) were completely outclassed, losing 34–0 on the road to the Atlanta Falcons (12–2).
A couple of teams that notably excelled were the San Francisco 49ers (10–3–1) and the aforementioned Broncos. The 49ers surprised everybody by taking a 28-point lead, then surviving a late New England Patriots (10–4) comeback in cold and rainy Foxborough.
The Broncos continued their excellent play under Peyton Manning with their ninth straight win.
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The Dallas Cowboys (8–6) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (7–7) in overtime in a very evenly contested game. The two teams got the good news from the earlier games that the Giants and Ravens had both lost.
Therefore, the opportunity was there for the Cowboys and Steelers, but ultimately it was Dallas that created a three-way tie for the lead in the NFC East, while the Steelers missed the chance to get within a game of the Ravens.
Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger were at their elusive bests, evading tacklers, and making terrific plays.
Each team had nine different receivers catch passes. The field goal kickers didn’t miss a kick. Both teams had seven-point leads in the second half. This game was as statistically even as they come.
But, as it happens so often, one crucial turnover makes all the difference.
In overtime, Roethlisberger was picked off by Brandon Carr, who returned it down to the 1-yard line. From there, it was an easy field goal for the win.
In the Sunday night matchup, the Patriots got off to a very bad start and Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers took a 17–3 lead at the half.
Kaepernick, who was drafted as a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs, was not at all overwhelmed about playing Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in December, like Matt Schaub seemed to be in the prior Monday-nighter. The 49ers QB threw four touchdown passes and had a 107.7 quarterback rating.
The Patriots turned the ball over four times as Aldon Smith and the 49ers defensive line rattled Brady all night, something the Houston Texans were unable to do.
But Brady can’t be held down and in a remarkable fourth quarter; he guided his team to three straight touchdowns with nearly seven minutes left to play.
With the game tied 31–31, the 49ers returned the kickoff 62 yards to the Patriots’ 38-yard line, and on the next play, Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree down the sidelines for the catch-and-run touchdown.
That winning touchdown took the wind out of the Patriots’ sails and the 49ers did what few expected them to do.
They now set up a crucial battle against their division rivals Seattle Seahawks (9–5), who are unbeaten at home. It’s literally “out of the frying pan, into the fire” for the 49ers as the Seahawks have scored at least 50 points in their last two games.
It’s that time of the year when teams are fighting for their lives to reach the postseason and to gain home-field advantage for as long as they can. Expect more craziness for the next two Sundays before the NFL playoffs start the following weekend.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports
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