When the game is close and every second counts, that's when smart NFL teams pull their best tricks. Those time wasting plays that eat the clock and destroy the other team's chances at a comeback can be all the difference between a .500 team and a playoff contender.
Here are just some of the best examples of how the more clever coaches and players in the league kill any chance of the other team mounting a last minute comeback, by eating away those precious last seconds of game clock.
1. Let's start with the easiest and most widely used tactic - Staying in bounds to keep the clock running.
Even though this is by far the most used trick, I am routinely amazed at just how many professional players in the NFL do not have their head the game enough to execute it. How many times have you seen a player catch a pass with just a few seconds left to play, but go out of bounds and stop the clock, when your team is up in a very close, one score game? And how many times has that poor decision cost your team the win? I see it happen all the time. The smart player forgoes the extra yardage, in exchange to keep that clock moving. Force the other team to burn timeouts. Or even better, if they are out, win the game by running out the clock.
(Full disclosure, I'm a Cowboys fan. And the loss they had to the Giants Week 1 in the 2016 season infuriated me. Terence Williams did NOT run out of bounds after he completed a pass that put them into field goal range, down by 1 point with only a few seconds to go in the 4th quarter. What ended up happening? They lost that game of course. That's an example of not utilizing this time waster, in reverse!)
2. Running the play clock all the way down, every play.
A tactic used just as much as #1, and honestly with much more intelligence than the former. Up in the 4th (or the 2nd quarter even) and need to burn clock? Use the play clock to your advantage. The clock resets to 40 seconds after every play that finished in bounds. Or 25 seconds after the ball is declared ready to play after certain admin stoppages and/or game delays. So just don't snap the ball until the last possible second of the play clock to maximize burning time.
Both #1 and #2 are easy tricks, that every single player knows about (hopefully). But only the smart, observant players routinely use them, much to my amazement at times. Also, these tricks fall to the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers to use best they can. These final 4 examples are much more clever, seldom seem, and usually come from either the coach directly, or only the most savvy of players.
3. Quarterback or kicker running around with the ball behind the line of scrimmage to kill the clock.
Let's say there are 10 seconds left in a game. Your team is only up by a score or less. It's 4th down, and you can't dare go for it, nor kick a field goal. The only option you have is to punt, right? Well maybe not. That's exactly what the other team wants you to do, of course. They want nothing more than a possible punt return chance. Or a hail mary attempt. Or a few throws to get into field goal range.
But you can dash all those hopes by having the quarterback hike the ball and run around in the back field, daring you to tackle him before time runs out. And then he can get tackled in bounds or even throw a lateral, and kill those 10 seconds and all hope is lost. Or, if that's not realistic, the kicker can do the same thing. Bonus there, the kicker will have more room to start off with between him and the tacklers. So it will take a few seconds longer to get to him.
It's been done. And it's awesome to see, when pulled off correctly.
4. Laying on the receiver or running back after he has been tackled, just longer than you should.
I honestly can't think of a more annoying, yet effective, tactic for clock killing. If the opponent is marching down the field, trying for that game winning drive with very little time remaining, every second counts. So just lay on the running back or receiver after tackling them for a second, or two, (or three) more than you normally would. It pisses the player off and eats up clock. And there's little the refs or anyone else can do about it. Obviously same goes for sacks. Though qb's are too protected in this league now. I don't think that's done anymore.
5. Have the kicker retreat to the end zone, for a safety, instead of kicking the ball to make sure they have no chance of a blocked kick or punt return.
Sound ridiculous? It works. Just ask the Ravens.
Ravens secure win by holding, taking safety on final play vs. Bengals
Of course you need to be winning by more than 2 points in the game for this to be viable. And it would only make sense to use this trick deep into the 4th quarter of the game, when there is only a few seconds left to go. But what a trick indeed. Hell, if you are up by 5 points or more, what's to keep you from doing it TWICE!
6. NOT running the ball in for a touchdown, but kneeling inside the 5-yard line instead.
My absolute favorite trick in the book. And what makes it even better is that only the smartest play makers ever do this. The trick is simple enough. Here's a likely scenario: You're tied with the other team. You're running back breaks a long run and could easily make a touchdown. But there is still, let's say, a full minute left in the game. Maybe much more.
If he runs it in, the other team will get the ball back. But, if he kneels inside the 5 yard line instead, you keep the ball. And then just run out the rest of the clock, assuring a win by at least a field goal, or at worst, you go to overtime if your kicker fails you that close in.
If your team is up by a point or two, then no need. The kneel down wins the game. This is my favorite trick because it goes completely against the instincts of the playmaker. Almost no one can resist the feeling of success that comes from scoring a touchdown. But for the running back, receiver or quarterback that puts his team first, they will fall down instead, and secure the win over padding their stats.
I racked my brain for more, but came up short. Comment below for all the ones I missed. If you can find vids, bonus points for the effort.