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Week 8 sees drama turned way up
There are obviously the outliers at the front end like the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans, and then there are the outliers at the other end of the spectrum with the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. But most of the teams are hunkered down in the middle, stuck in the parity of the NFL.
As we approach the halfway point of the season, the first-place teams in five of the eight divisions only have a one-game lead. The exceptions: Houston's two-game lead in the AFC South, the Giants' three-game lead in the NFC East and the Falcons' astounding four-game lead in the NFC South.
But it isn’t just the parity in the overall standings, it’s the parity of the actual games themselves that makes the NFL such a spectacle.
Consider this. Heading into Week 8, the NFL had experienced 62 games decided by one possession (eight points) or less, a record number through seven weeks of the season. Similarly, we have seen 30 games decided by three points or less, the fourth highest in league history.
There was no shortage of that excitement this weekend. We had five games that were decided by less than a possession with two of them having a differential of just a single point. One of these close games went into overtime, the 10th game to do so this season, the most in the last five seasons.
The overtime victor? In what could be the ultimate display of parity, the Indianapolis Colts. With a rookie GM, a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback, many folks, myself included, referred to this as a rebuilding season for the Colts. But if the season were to end today, the Colts would make the playoffs as a wild-card team and sit just two games out of the division-leading Texans.
Another game that was decided by less than a possession, five points to be exact, was actually the closest game of all. Even closer than the Colts OT game, even closer than the bore of a game that was the one-point Browns' win, and even closer than the Bears' one-point victory on a game-winning field goal.
After four takeaways, one of which was returned for a touchdown, the Giants jumped out to an early 23-point lead and were cruising to an easy victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But by the end of the third quarter, it was the Cowboys that held a one-point lead with just 15 minutes left to play. The Giants added two field goals to jump back ahead by five, giving the ball back to the Cowboys with 3:31 seconds remaining.
The Cowboys moved the ball 59 yards on their next drive, but the wheels fell off after attempting three straight plays with one yard to go. Tony Romo actually threw an interception on fourth and 1, but the real story was the fact that Jason Garrett elected to go for the big play three times in a row rather than securing the first down, especially given that he had all three timeouts remaining.
Many thought that would be the story of the game, but instead, the Cowboys used those three timeouts to halve the Giants to a three-and-out that elapsed just 12 seconds off the game clock. With 44 seconds remaining, the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 30 and subsequently marched it into Giants territory. Romo dropped back, and hit Dez Bryant on a deep fly pattern near the back of the end zone … touchdown!
The Cowboys were celebrating, but replay showed that Bryant, when attempting to put his hand down to break his fall, touched his finger tips on the backline before his hip or elbow came down in the field of play. Call reversed, game over.
That’s the type of game that makes the NFL the best drama on television, the best reality show. The Cowboys facing a 23-point deficit, clawed all the way back and literally fell just a fingertip’s length shy from pulling out an exhilarating comeback win. You don’t get that type of pure joy and then pure disappointment from any other program on television.