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Hail Mary pass nearly provides cruel twist ending in Cincinnati-Baltimore game


Some point-spread decisions lack drama. A bet on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints was easy money, and there’s nothing better than cashing in without breaking a sweat. But it’s rarely that easy.

Betting on the NFL and walking away a winner is hard work more often than not. Each Sunday is a soap opera, and the dramatic decisions are the ones we remember most on Mondays.

In the latest episode of “As the Wagering World Turns,” A.J. Green was dancing in the end zone with zeroes on the clock, and bettors on the Baltimore Ravens were sweating.

“It looked like a game the Ravens were going to win fairly easily,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “You just don’t see that many Hail Marys. It was fun to watch the emotional swing in the room.”

It’s one to laugh about now, but it wasn’t fun at the time. A ticket on Baltimore was in my pocket and waiting to be cashed with a 17-0 halftime lead. The next thing you see is Andy Dalton lofting a bomb that dropped near the goal line, was batted into the air and landed in the hands of Green.

No, you don’t see many Hail Marys, but the Cincinnati Bengals tied the game on a 51-yarder.

The Sunset Station holds NFL viewing parties in a room adjacent to the book. It’s a good spot to watch the soap opera unfold, and I was there with host Brian Blessing. As some in the room erupted in celebration, Blessing and I shouted a few words unfit for print and unsuitable to be said around women and children.

Suddenly, Dalton was driving the Bengals into scoring position in overtime. Two text messages from angry Ravens bettors popped into my phone. And then, suddenly, the Bengals imploded.

On fourth-and-2 at the Baltimore 33-yard line, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis opted to roll the dice and forget a field goal. The Bengals lost 11 yards on the play, and eight plays later, Justin Tucker kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 20-17 Ravens victory.

After an emotional swing and a lot of sweat, Baltimore tickets were good to be cashed. The Ravens opened as 1½-point underdogs and closed as 1-point favorites, so it was a good result for a majority of bettors.

“A lot of action came in on the Ravens,” Esposito said. “Lewis will be second-guessed for not trying that field goal.”

The Chicago Bears’ decision to start Jay Cutler at quarterback is another one to be second-guessed. Cutler, returning from a groin injury and hurting an ankle during the game, completed 21 of 40 passes and threw a crucial interception late in the first half.

The Bears had a shot to force overtime only because Josh McCown replaced a limping Cutler on the last drive. McCown drove Chicago to a score with 40 seconds to go, but a 2-point conversion run was stuffed, and the Detroit Lions escaped 21-19.

“That was an interesting game because when the number was initially posted it was with McCown,” Esposito said.

The Lions opened as 2½-point favorites. The line shifted to Bears minus-1 after it was announced Cutler would make a comeback. The game closed pick-’em at most Las Vegas books, and it’s now obvious Cutler should not have played.

In the day’s other 11 games, favorites covered six, and Carolina, Jacksonville and St. Louis pulled off outright upsets. The wins by the Jaguars and Rams were stunners.

St. Louis, a 7½-point ’dog and plus-330 on the money line, ambushed the Indianapolis Colts 38-8. Andrew Luck and the Colts are known for their fourth-quarter comebacks, but there was no chance of drama when they fell in a 28-0 halftime hole.

Jacksonville, getting 11 to 12 points and plus-500 on the money line, jumped ahead 10-0 and held on for its first win, 29-27 over Tennessee.

Someone asked what a Jaguars-Rams money-line parlay would have paid, so Dave Tuley (ViewfromVegas.com) answered on Twitter — $100 would have paid $2,580 (24.8-1 on Jacksonville plus-500 and St. Louis plus-330).

Carolina, a 6-point underdog and plus-225 on the money line, got the cash in a 10-9 upset of San Francisco.

Oakland, a 7-point road ’dog, covered in a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants. Houston, which opened as a 2½-point underdog but went to plus-4, covered the closing line in a 27-24 loss at Arizona.

“Some of the good games that went our way were the Raiders, Rams and Panthers,” Esposito said. “There were still some nonbelievers with Carolina.”

It’s hard to believe how bad the Atlanta Falcons have become in 10 months, from the NFC title game to bottom of the barrel. The Falcons drew heavy betting, opening at plus-6½ and closing at 3½, but were crushed 33-10 by Seattle.

The bettors were wise to back favorites Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Denver, which covered the 7-point line in a 28-20 win at San Diego. New coach or Norv Turner, the Chargers still can look clueless at times.

“Who do you ranks as the best team in the NFC?” Esposito asked, and we both decided on San Francisco.

But then the 49ers fell apart, and Brees passed for 392 yards and four touchdowns to take apart the Dallas Cowboys 49-17.

So who knows? Each Sunday, this soap opera sees emotional swings.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.