Four Prime-Time Games, Four Last Minute Wins: Another NFL Conspiracy?

Brian Tuohy@@thefixisintuohyCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers rolls out to find a receiver against the Chicago Bears on September 13, 2009 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-15. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The NFL trotted out four Week One games in prime time, realizing the fan feeding frenzy that occurs when each season kicks off. The league forced two teams into the unenviable position of playing on Thursday night, then shoe-horned a second Monday night game into the schedule.

Why? Ratings and attention. Something the league doesn't need as the NFL's only competition lies in late season baseball games, most of which are completely meaningless even to strident fans.

Yet NFL fans got more than they bargained for in these first four prime time games. 

The season opening Thursday night game—Tennessee v. Pittsburgh—went into overtime. NBC's Sunday night game between Chicago and Green Bay was won with less than two minutes remaining. Both Monday night games also saw the game winning points put on the scoreboard well after the two minute warning.

Was this simply an amazing coincidence? Or were these games manipulated to keep fans glued to their TV screens?

On paper, the PIT-TN match-up Thursday seemed destined to be a slugfest. That was exactly how it played out.  A low scoring, hard hitting, defensive orientated game. 

Yet had the Titans normally reliable kicker Rod Bironas connected on two easy first half field goals, the game would have never seen overtime. And if Hines Ward had shown an ounce of his usual veteran know-how, he would have never put himself in the position in which he fumbled away the game winning score late in the fourth quarter. 

Sunday night's CHI-GB game also set itself up to be a tight fought game. Jay Cutler's errand throws kept it so throughout, even though a Bears' defense lacking Brian Urlacher stymied the Packers' offense that was unstoppable in the preseason. Only a late fourth quarter bomb on 3rd-and-1 gave the Packers the game, after Aaron Rogers seemed incapable of hitting open receivers downfield all game long.

Come Monday night's doubled header, two teams that many football pundits thought were overmatched—the Bills and the Raiders—came extremely close to outright winning their respective games.

The Bills all but had their game against the Patriots won, despite their offense rarely seeing the field. Tom Brady's triumphant return had been muted. But as the pigskin mysteriously always seemed to bounce the Patriots' way, Brady was not held completely in check. Had the Bills kickoff returnman McKelvin been properly coached, it would have been Buffalo emerging from Foxboro in first place.

Having held viewers firmly in place for 3 hours, ESPN and the NFL transitioned seemlessly to game two on Monday. Once again fans were treated to a nailbiter rather than the expected blowout. 

A vaunted Changers' offense was mesmerized by what even the annoucing team labeled a "vanilla" Raiders' defense. Oakland was poised to treat Raider Nation to a rare win until Philip Rivers woke up, and without Tomlinson in the backfield, marched down the field to score the winning touchdown with twenty seconds remaining. 

All four games were ridiculously close throughout. They were back-and-forth affairs, even when logic dictated they should not have been. Then, at the end of each, the favored team still won in the end.

Is it that prime time games, especially those of the opening day sort, bring out the best in teams? Did the Titans, Bears, Bills, and Raiders simply "play their hearts out" only to lose when their will ultimately gave out? Or did the favorites just not come out swinging as they should have, only to "find their groove" when crunch time was upon them?

Or were all four games fixed by a league that seems more than willing to play fast and loose with a gullible fan base that is already eating out of their hand?

Let the conspiracy theories begin.