- Joined ESPN in 2014
- Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008
Jimmy Graham capped a 99-yard drive with a one-handed touchdown catch as time expired in the Chicago Bears’ 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints in an NFC wild-card game on Sunday.
Graham’s touchdown did not affect the outcome of the game, but did have bettors who took the Bears plus the points wondering why Chicago didn’t attempt either an extra point or two-point conversion after the score that could’ve impacted the spread. The Bears closed as consensus 11-point underdogs.
A 2018 rule change was the reason why no conversion was attempted. Rule 4, Section 8, Article 2, (c) of the NFL Official Rulebook states: “If a touchdown is made on the last play of a period, the Try attempt shall me made (except during a during a sudden-death period, or if a touchdown is scored during a down in which time in the fourth quarter expires, and a successful TRY would not affect the outcome of the game).”
The NFL made the change to the rulebook after the 2018 playoff game between the Saints and Minnesota Vikings, which ended on a 61-yard touchdown reception by Stefon Diggs as time expired. The teams were required to return to the field for the conversion, with Vikings quarterback Case Keenum taking a knee.
This week, the majority of the money at sportsbooks around the nation was on the Saints, who opened as 8-point favorites but were bet up to -11 by Sunday’s kickoff. Jeff Stoneback, director BetMGM sportsbook in Nevada, said the game was the biggest decision of the day for his shops.
“We needed the Bears pretty bad,” Stoneback told ESPN. “(We) gave back what we won yesterday alone on the Saints game.”
It’s impossible to know what the Bears would’ve done if forced to attempt a conversion after Graham’s touchdown. An extra point would have cut the margin of victory to 11, resulting in push for some bettors, while a successful two-point conversion could’ve produced an all-time bad beat story for anyone who backed the Saints and laid double digits.
Stoneback noted that the Saints winning by 12 or 11 wouldn’t have changed much for his books, but, for Bears bettors who waited until Sunday to place their wagers at the optimal point spread, it was the difference between a loss and receiving their money back via a push. And it happened in improbable fashion.
Down 21-3 with 2:19 to play, the Bears took over at their 1-yard line after a Drew Brees’ touchdown run on fourth down was overturned by replay officials. Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky moved the Bears down the field and on the 11th play of the drive threw a pass over the middle to Graham, who reached out and snagged the ball with his right hand for a touchdown as time expired.
Graham’s touchdown did reward some Bears’ bettors at William Hill U.S. sportsbooks, including one customer who placed a $25,000 in-game wager on Chicago +17.5 midway through the fourth quarter with the Saints leading 21-3.
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