Like the Arizona Cardinals, who watched their lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers crumble away in the final seconds of Sunday's Super Bowl, the game's TV ratings fell just short of a history-making performance.
An average of 95.4 million viewers tuned in to NBC's telecast, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.
That represented a drop of only 2% from last year's record-breaking game on Fox, when the New York Giants pulled off an upset of the New England Patriots.
Still, Sunday's penalty-filled game was the third most-watched telecast in TV history, behind only last year's Super Bowl and the February 1983 finale of the sitcom "MASH" (106 million).
It also helped Sunday that the Steelers, who won their sixth Super Bowl title, have a large national following; the Cardinals had never played in the Super Bowl and the franchise has not won an NFL title since 1947.
"The Super Bowl once again proved its ability to captivate America," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said in a statement.
NBC estimated that 147 million viewers watched at least six minutes of the game. However, TV analysts and advertisers typically use average viewership as a more reliable yardstick of a program's true popularity.
After the game, NBC aired an hourlong episode of "The Office," which delivered its biggest audience ever with an average of 22 million viewers. Even so, it was the least-watched post-Super Bowl entertainment program since 2003, when an episode of ABC's "Alias" drew 17.4 million viewers.
Last year, Fox's "House" got a post-Bowl bump to 29.1 million. And in 1996, a post-Bowl showing of NBC's "Friends" drew a record 52.9 million viewers.