LOS ANGELES — The Arizona Cardinals needed a miracle. Last week they were down by four points to the Buffalo Bills with 11 seconds to play. They were 43 yards away from the end zone. Kyler Murray scrambled, avoided pressure, and rolled out. He then threw a ball to the end zone where there were only one receiver and three defenders. By now everyone has seen the video and heard the audio of radio announcers going bananas. Deandre Hopkins caught the ball for the touchdown. This risky but spectacular shocker has become well known to NFL fans as the “Hail Mary play.”
The secret origin of the Hail Mary play
The very first Hail Mary play was born during the 1975 NFC Title Game. The Dallas Cowboys trailed the Minnesota Vikings 14-10 with little time left on the clock. From midfield, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw a bomb and hoped for the best. Receiver Drew Pearson caught the ball for the 17-14 Cowboys victory in front of a shellshocked and simultaneously enraged Minnesota home crowd. From that day, the Hail Mary play became part of NFL and football lore.
In a longstanding American tradition, Minnesota protested the call. The Vikings insisted that there was offensive pass interference on Pearson. But the officials called defensive pass interference on Vikings cornerback Nate Wright instead. Asked after the game what he was thinking when he launched the play, Staubach, a deeply religious Christian, told the truth to reporters. He said a couple of Hail Marys just prior to that fateful play. The name of the play stuck. (But for atheists, it is known as the “Big Ben.”)
The ultimate in football excitement
The Hail Mary play remains one of the most exciting plays in football. Ahmad Rashad caught one after two defenders tipped the ball. A game between the Patriots and Jaguars saw multiple Hail Marys get completed. Aaron Rodgers has become the king of the Hail Mary play, completing Hail Marys against several teams. He even completed a pair on consecutive plays.
Randall Cunningham once completed a 95-yard Hail Mary. But that one receives less attention since it did not occur at the end of the game. Tim Couch completed one to give the reformed Cleveland Browns their first win as a franchise and send Saints coach Mike Ditka into despair. John Elway had a game-winning Hail Mary nullified due to offensive holding.
So, as the holidays come upon us, remember that prayers really do come true. Miracles happen. The impossible is possible. Non-believers can ask Staubach and Hopkins about that.
“Knock it down”
It becomes very difficult for professed atheists when they find their football team down by four either midfield or further away and with only enough time remaining on the clock for one final play. At that moment, agnostics may look at the sky. Jews and Muslims will look to Abraham, father of Isaac and Ishmael. Christians will say a Hail Mary or two.
But whether you believe in God or not, it does help to have a quarterback with a rocket for an arm.
For those trying to defend against the Hail Mary, follow the advice of ESPN’s beloved Tom Jackson. Do not try to intercept the ball. Just “Knock it down!”
With that, here is our own extended Hail Mary play, this week’s CDN NFL 2020 Week 11 Preview and Bettor’s Guide. Point spreads provided by DraftKings and all times Eastern. (Link to last week’s guide here.)
Thursday, November 19, 2020, 8:20 p.m.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-3) —
Several weeks ago the Cardinals defeated the Seahawks in a 37-34 battle for the ages on the final play. This week’s rematch shifts from the Desert to the Pacific Northwest. Both teams are 6-3. The Cardinals needed a miracle, if not a Hail Mary play, to win last week, and the Seahawks have lost three of four since their 5-0 start. The Seahawks’ defense in uncharacteristically porous. The Cardinals have the momentum, but give Russell Wilson the doubt in the rematch. Seahawks cover.
Sunday, November 22, 2020, 1:00 p.m.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Swamp Rats (-1.5) —
The Bengals are slowly improving. The No-Names in the District of Columbia are not. Alex Smith remains a feel good story, but Joe Burrow is showing the poise of a veteran. Cincinnati got destroyed at Pittsburgh, but losing to the best team is forgivable. Losing to one of the worst is not, even on the road. Upset special, Bengals win outright.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-5) —
Drew Brees got rocked last week on a totally legal hit, suffering multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung. Jameis Winston is raw and Taysom Hill is an exciting wild card. But Sean Payton will keep the offense humming. Brees is the best, but this team is also far more balanced than in past years. The Falcons offense is not bad, but the Saints also have a defense. No Brees means a closer game. Saints win, but fail to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-10) at Jacksonville Jaguars —
The unbeaten Steelers take on a Jaguars team that has not won since their opening day. Problem is, the Steelers still play down to the level of their competition, although less so than in past years. They blasted Cincinnati but barely survived Dallas. A garbage touchdown is realistic. Steelers win, but fail to cover.
New England Patriots (-2) at Houston Texans —
The Patriots gutted out a big win over Baltimore in a rainstorm. They can run the football. The Texans are a mess. Counting out Bill Belichick is a fool’s errand. Patriots cover.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns (-3) —
The Eagles are playing bad football. The Browns are starting to believe. They won an ugly 10-7 slugfest in miserable weather last week. The Eagles are out of sync. The Browns can ground and pound their way to another ugly win. Browns cover.
Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers (-1.5) —
Neither team appears playoff-bound. Matthew Stafford and Teddy Bridgewater can both play, but they need help. Stafford has more experience in close games, so give him the edge in the fourth quarter. Upset special, Lions win outright.
Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens (-6.5) —
This was once one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. But Eddie George and Ray Lewis have long since retired. Both of these teams started out very hot, but have cooled off in recent weeks. The Titans still have the better running back in Derrick Henry and the Ravens still have the stronger defense. But in a likely slugfest, go with the best kicker in the game, especially at home. Trust Justin Tucker. Oh, and Lamar Jackson runs wild. Ravens win but fail to cover.
Sunday, November 22, 2020, 4:00 p.m.
New York Jets at Los Angeles Chargers (-8.5) —
The Jets remain winless, witless and worthless. The Chargers lose close games, but have a budding star in quarterback Justin Herbert. If ever there was a week for the Chargers to explode, this would be it. It’s hard to trust a high point spread when the Chargers play close games, but the Jets give new meaning to the term Gang Green. Chargers cover.
Miami Dolphins (-3.5) at Denver Broncos —
The Dolphins are 6-3 and Tua Tagovailoa has settled into the job. The Broncos are injured. However, the defense fights hard for Vic Fangio, and Drew Lock can play. In predictably cold Rocky Mountain weather, give the Broncos one more chance to show they can turn it around. They had five turnovers last week and will not play that way in consecutive weeks. Upset special, Broncos win outright.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings (-7) —
45 years ago witnessed a miracle, that first-ever winning Hail Mary play. But Staubach, Pearson and Wright are long gone. This Cowboys team is bad, and nobody knows who their third or fourth string quarterback even is. The Vikings have won three straight after a 1-5 start. Dalvin Cook has been running all over the place. This could be the biggest mismatch since Randy Moss gained revenge on Jerry Jones for not drafting him. Vikings cover.
Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts (-2) —
True, Green Bay is 7-2. But they barely survived Jacksonville at home. The Colts going on the road and thumping Tennessee was an impressive achievement. Frank Reich is known as an offensive mind, but he also has a very good defense. In a battle between Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, give the nod to Rodgers. Upset special, Packers win outright.
Sunday, November 22, 2020, 8:00 p.m.
Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5) at Las Vegas Raiders —
The Raiders have won three straight, including an emotional win at Kansas City. The 8-1 Chiefs are burning to avenge their only loss. Andy Reid and Jon Gruden know each other very well. The Raiders can run the ball, but their pass defense is not very good. Forget the 4 interceptions the Raiders defense made last week. Patrick Mahomes will not make those mistakes. The Raiders had several members of their defensive team miss practice all week due to COVID restrictions. Mahomes will torch the secondary. The Chiefs have too much speed. Chiefs cover.
Monday, November 23, 2020, 8:20 p.m.
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5) —
Jared Goff and Tom Brady lead NFC teams that have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. The Buccaneers rebounded after the worst loss of Brady’s career. The Rams have the better defense, but Sean McVay and Bruce Arians are all about offense. In a shootout, go with Brady. Buccaneers win but fail to cover.
Good luck to all, and we’ll see you next week.
— Headline image: Roger Staubach, who threw of the game-winning “Hail Mary play” touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson during a December 28, 1975, NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. Image, via Wikipedia entry on “Hail Mary pass,” is in the public domain.