What a way for Seattle and New England to cap the most exciting and enticing day of the NFL’s largely lackluster season:
Tom Brady floating an end-zone fade for Rob Gronkowski with Kam Chancellor in coverage — three of the league’s best players — on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 11 seconds left to decide the outcome of a Super Bowl rematch from two seasons ago and possible championship preview for this season.
This is the sort of Sunday that draws folks in and doesn’t let them go.
“A really cool night of football,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after his team’s 31-24 victory at the Patriots.
There really was nothing missing, from start to finish and everything in between, including:
• a potential winning extra point blocked and returned for a winning defensive 2-point conversion by the reigning champion Broncos to stun the Saints (with the bonus talking point of whether the guy who ran the ball back should have been ruled out of bounds or was spared that embarrassment because, as the league acknowledged afterward, his white shoes might or might not have blended in with the white sideline);
• a fake-spike TD pass by Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown for the Steelers that was one-upped moments later by Ezekiel Elliott’s 32-yard TD run with 9 seconds left for the Cowboys in a game that somehow included a half-dozen missed 2-point conversions;
• an apparently harmless completion with less than 30 seconds left in a tied game that was meandering toward overtime suddenly transformed into a turnover by Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters, who ripped the ball away from Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin and set up Kansas City’s winning, final-play field goal.
And so much more.
It all ended when Brady’s pass for his elite tight end fell incomplete. Gronkowski and Chancellor, a superb safety, exchanged contact, but there was no flag, seemingly a miracle these days.
“It came down to one yard at the end,” Brady lamented, “and we didn’t get it.”
The game was suspenseful as can be: Not only was the outcome settled in the closing seconds, but there were seven lead changes, the same number as in Dallas’ 35-30 win at Pittsburgh, marking the first time in NFL history there were two such exceedingly back-and-forth games on one day.
It was chock-full of individual excellence from some of the sport’s biggest names (Brady and Russell Wilson each threw for more than 300 yards; Richard Sherman recovered a fumble) as well as lesser-known-but-still-talented players (Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount and Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin each scored three TDs).
And it even offered some water-cooler conversation starters about two of the league’s best coaches.
Was it really best for Bill Belichick to have Brady run the ball more times (twice) from inside the 2 than Blount (once) on the final sequence? (Brings to mind a certain decision not to run the ball at the goal line late in another game between these two teams, doesn’t it?)
Did it really make sense for Pete Carroll to have Seattle try a 2-point conversion (that failed) for what would have been a nine-point lead at the end, instead of taking the extra point for an eight-point edge?
“We wanted to see,” Carroll said, “if we could put it out of reach.”
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL season’s 10th Sunday:
HE DID WHAT?!
Do yourself a favor and check out Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston’s one-of-a-kind play , when he scrambled this way and that for more than 10 seconds, covering more than 20 yards in the wrong direction — all the way back to his own end zone — before completing a 39-yard pass to a leaping Mike Evans that traveled a lot more than that. Then, one play later, Winston tossed a 43-yard TD pass to Freddie Martino in a 36-10 victory over Chicago.
DEMARCO’S NOT DONE
If anyone thought DeMarco Murray was done — and Tennessee, lest anyone forget, used a second-round pick on Derrick Henry this year — the running back sure put on a show in the Titans’ 47-25 win over Aaron Rodgers and the slumping Packers. On his team’s first play from scrimmage, Murray went 75 yards for a touchdown, tying Hall of Famer Earl Campbell’s franchise record of five consecutive games with a TD on the ground. Then, for good measure, Murray threw for a score, too.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich