Leodis McKelvin of the Bills Fumbles Kickoff

New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather (31) strips the ball from Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin, center, for a fumble as New England Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods (58) helps with the tackle in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots recovered the ball and went on to win 25-24.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Monday Night Football game on ESPN wound up going down to the wire and ended at 10:12pm on the east coast.   That’s millions of fans watching the game at the very end, some of them who might have flipped over to The Jay Leno Show at 10pm had the game ended sooner or if the game wasn’t as close.

With less than six minutes in the game (and still well before 10pm ET), the Buffalo Bills had led 24-13 after scoring a touchdown.

But the Patriots came back.  Tom Brady drove  the Patriots to a score with two minutes and six seconds.  A missed two point conversion made the score 24-19.

Then the Bills’ Leodis McKelvin lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff that was recovered by the Patriots deep in the Bills territory.  Brady tossed another touchdown pass with 50 seconds remaining and the Patriots took the lead, this time for good, 25-24.

It all adds up to something that makes Disney smile just because.  Just because the game could’ve been a blowout with people tuning out in spades in the fourth quarter.  That didn’t happen.  And as a bonus, in the process, the Mouse got to stick it to the Peacocks a little bit when it came to Leno’s debut.

I’m guessing the MNF game will average somewhere in the 15-18 million range.  It’s hard to compare numbers to last year, because last year the similar game was The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers which averaged 12.5 million.  Neither team was the national draw that a Tom Brady led New England Patriots is.   Brett Favre was already gone from the Packers, and while hard core sports enthusiasts tuned in to see how Aaron Rodgers would perform,  it lacked Tom Brady style appeal, and tonight’s game also marked Terrell Owen’s regular season debut as a Buffalo Bill.

But even if tonight’s game only averaged 12.5 million like last year’s first Monday Night Football contest there still could’ve been as many as 25 million to 30 million watching the tail end of the game.  I’d guess closer to 20 million, but even then, that’s 20 million who weren’t flipping over to Jay Leno at 10pm.   Sure, not all of them were going to flip over, and some, like me, were on the west coast where it wasn’t an issue anyway.  But some who might otherwise have tuned  to Leno…didn’t.

If 6 million people who might have tuned to Leno just to catch the first ten minutes, that alone would lower The Jay Leno Show’s hourly average by a million viewers.  I’m not suggesting the game cost Leno that many viewers, that’s just an easy example of the math.  I will see if I can get some stats on the ESPN numbers from 10p-10:12pm (or at least 10p-10:15) to see if we can get a better idea of the potential impact.

Sadly we never see 15 minute detail for the preliminary overnight reports, so we will have to get a feel for how many people tuned in for the first ten minutes of The Jay Leno show and then tuned out from the 30 minute detail.   Whatever the number who tuned in for the first 10 minutes or so, it’s lower than it might have been had the Monday Night Football game gone differently.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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