At the end of a wild football weekend, Tom Brady was facing a deficit and a clock that was winding down.
If the first Sunday in February is anywhere near as entertaining as the second Sunday in November, the Super Bowl could be a classic. More days like this might even lift the NFL’s sagging TV ratings.
There was an unimaginable ending in New Orleans, a suspenseful back-and-forth shootout in Pittsburgh and, finally, Brady leading a comeback drive in New England.
“These games are unbelievable,” said South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, who admitted his job behind a sports book counter is not really work.
In a Super Bowl rematch from February 2015, the Patriots and Seahawks were again at the 1-yard line in the final minute. Seattle coach Pete Carroll already had made another bizarre decision. But this time, Brady blew it, falling on a third-down quarterback sneak and throwing an incompletion to end it. The Seahawks, 7½-point underdogs, lived to tell about their scary trip to New England by surviving with a 31-24 win.
Russell Wilson, a goat in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, played hero this time by hitting Doug Baldwin for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 4:24 remaining. Carroll tried to blow it by mysteriously calling for a 2-point conversion attempt that failed, a move that ignited the Twitter second-guessers.
But after some questionable play-calling by the Patriots near the goal line, Brady and Bill Belichick were the losers. Wilson passed for three touchdowns, three more than Brady, who tossed his first interception of the season.
“I certainly will bet this is the highest handle we’ve had on a Sunday this season,” Vaccaro said.
The Seahawks-Patriots game in prime time drew the largest wagering handle of the day. Vaccaro said straight bets were nearly even on each side, but the bookmakers got the win because of more parlays and teasers on New England.
Maybe the Seahawks and Patriots will meet again in February. But the NFC playoff road seems destined to go through Dallas.
The Cowboys made another bold statement by beating the Steelers 35-30 on their home field when Ben Roethlisberger was at his absolute best, passing for 408 yards and three touchdowns, the last a go-ahead strike to Antonio Brown with 42 seconds left.
For no apparent reason, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin called for a 2-point conversion attempt that failed after the game’s first touchdown. The Steelers chased that point all day, ending 0-for-4 on 2-point tries, and their 30-29 lead quickly disappeared.
Dak Prescott won a game that a rookie quarterback is not supposed to win. Under pressure, he played a cool hand and led the deciding drive, capped by Ezekiel Elliott’s 32-yard touchdown sprint with 9 seconds remaining. The Cowboys closed as 3-point underdogs.
“The general public was all over the Cowboys plus-2½ during the week,” Vaccaro said. “I said, ‘Why are they taking 2½? It’s going to go to 3.’ It looked like a great spot for the Steelers. But you’ve got to give the Cowboys credit. It’s impressive.”
Dallas is 8-1 straight up and 8-0-1 against the spread after eight straight wins.
New Orleans appeared set to win its third straight when Drew Brees hit Brandin Cooks for a tying 32-yard touchdown throw with 1:22 to go. But this was remarkable: Denver’s Justin Simmons jumped over the offensive line to block the extra-point kick and Will Parks returned the ball 84 yards while tightroping the sideline for a defensive 2-point conversion that gave the Broncos a 25-23 win.
The Saints closed as 3-point favorites. When the kick was blocked, there were all sorts of possibilities in play, including the chance Denver bettors could lose in overtime.
“That was a monster game for us,” Vaccaro said. “The bettors kept coming on the Saints.”
The betting majority also lost with favorites Carolina and Green Bay. Cam Newton and Panthers melted down late, squandering a 17-0 lead in a 20-17 loss to Kansas City. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were pummeled 47-25 at Tennessee.
“The teasers and parlays were with the Packers again. The wheels are coming off. You can see on almost every play, it’s like Rodgers is trying to blame people,” Vaccaro said.
“When it was 14-0, Cam Newton was bow-and-arrowing everybody. When things went bad, it was like the world was against him. He lost the (bleeping) game. Shut up.”
Underdogs finished the day 9-3 ATS with eight straight-up wins. San Francisco, a 14-point ’dog, lost as time expired at Arizona.
It was a crazy Sunday, following a hectic Saturday highlighted by three of college football’s top four teams (Clemson, Michigan and Washington) going down.
Vaccaro summed up the weekend: “It’s just incredible.”
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 on Twitter: @mattyoumans247