A game up for grabs came down to an unlikely play. A perfectly thrown ball into the back of the end zone, a great catch and a comeback win. Drew Brees had pulled a rabbit out of his helmet and beat the New England Patriots again.
Brees overcame a 10-point deficit and significant odds. Betting tickets were ready to be cashed or resigned to be trashed. Not even the NFL’s most accomplished quarterback could overturn this decision, right?
“Never count out Tom Brady,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said after almost everyone had counted out Brady and counted money won or lost. “The Patriots are never out of the game.”
For bettors on Brees and the New Orleans Saints, it was ecstasy followed by agony. There are bad beats, and then there are these brutal ones.
Brees’ 34-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on third-and-20 with 3:29 remaining put the Saints on top 24-23. Brady trotted in, set to drive the Patriots to a fantastic finish, only to fizzle by throwing four incompletions.
At that point, I liked coach Bill Belichick’s gamble to go for it from New England’s 24-yard line, because Belichick was holding all three of his timeouts. New Orleans would stay conservative and take the field goal, which is what happened after Belichick burned two timeouts.
Brady took the field again, this time in a 27-23 hole. His first throw went 50 yards and was intercepted. The Saints ran for a short gain, Belichick used his final timeout with 2:10 (and the two-minute warning) remaining, and Fox analyst Troy Aikman jumped the gun by lamenting a “frustrating loss” for the Patriots.
So, if you lost, blame it on Aikman. He jinxed it.
New England got the ball back at its own 30 with 1:13 to go. Brady masterfully worked the clock and the soft spots in the New Orleans defense before lofting a perfectly thrown ball into the back of the end zone. Kenbrell Thompkins made a great 17-yard touchdown catch as the Patriots, 1½-point favorites, pulled out a 30-27 thriller.
“We got a little bit lucky because we needed the Patriots,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “There was an overwhelming amount of parlay money tied into the Saints.”
Brady’s last pass also put the score over the total of 51. Football betting can rip out your heart or it can leave you pumping your fist and wildly celebrating a lucky break.
It was a break-even Sunday for the bettors and books, more or less. Favorites and underdogs were tied 6-6 going into the Washington-Dallas nightcap. The Cowboys, suddenly money at home, covered as 6-point favorites in a 31-16 win, and Tony Romo was no tough-luck story at the end.
“I lost some of my bigger games,” Avello said, referring to road favorites Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the morning. “I saw it coming. I knew those were going to be the plays, but what are you going to do?”
The Eagles, laying 3 points, rolled over Tampa Bay 31-20. It’s hard to back the winless Buccaneers. It also hard to make a living on the Steelers, but they opened the week as 2½-point ’dogs and were laying 1½ at kickoff. The sharps and public bettors both followed Ben Roethlisberger to a 19-6 victory over the New York Jets.
“I’ll tell you one team that’s not dead yet. The Steelers are not dead yet,” Avello said. “That division has issues, and the Steelers are a quality team.”
Cincinnati (4-2) leads the AFC North after escaping Buffalo in overtime. Baltimore, a 2½-point ’dog, was fortunate to cover in a 19-17 loss to Green Bay. Cleveland, another short home ’dog, was blown out by Detroit. The Browns and Ravens are each 3-3, and the Steelers (1-4) are barely breathing.
The Houston Texans are finished as contenders, falling to 0-6 against the spread after getting silenced 38-13 by the St. Louis Lambs.
On the subject of implosions, Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor finally blew up. Pryor threw three interceptions as the Chiefs (6-0) rallied to beat the Raiders 24-7 in Kansas City.
The Texans were heavily supported — for some odd reason — as 9-point favorites against the Rams. The three double-digit favorites — Denver, San Francisco and Seattle — went 1-2 ATS.
The Broncos defined disinterested favorites, and one of the biggest in NFL history, laying 26½ to 27 points. Peyton Manning threw a pick-six, and the Jacksonville Jaguars hung tough in a 35-19 loss. Most bettors stayed away.
“The decision was microscopic,” Vaccaro said. “It really didn’t generate anything. It was good to talk about during the week, but come game time it was really nothing.”
Brady’s comeback is something worth talking about, for better or worse.
“The first time the Patriots got the ball back, I said, ‘This is Tom Brady time.’ I knew they were going to have a good shot at it,” Avello said.
Brady blew the first two shots. The third time he got the ball back, he made Saints bettors pay in the most frustrating way.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.