Faster, more competitive games have the NFL feeling proud through the first half of the season.

While the league is constantly dealing with off-field issues, including Dan Snyder’s legal troubles, Brian Flores’ lawsuit and Deshaun Watson’s suspension, the NFL points out the product and viewing experience have improved.

Through Week 9, game time is down to 3:01:55. That would be the fastest for a full season in nearly 30 years. Games averaged 3:00:01 in 1993.

The average margin of victory is 9.43 points this season, the lowest at this stage since 1970.

There have been 104 games within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter. That’s the highest percentage (76.5) through nine weeks.

There have been 79 games decided by eight points or fewer, 72 decided by seven or fewer and 62 decided by six or fewer, the most such games at this stage of the season.

Also, many games are coming down to the final minutes, and fourth-quarter comebacks are on the rise.

There have been 42 games in which a team came back to win or tie after trailing in the fourth quarter, the most through nine weeks. There have been 27 games in which a team overcame a deficit of at least 10 points to win or tie, the third-most, trailing only 1987 (31) and 2020 (26). There have been 12 games in which a team has overcome a deficit of at least 14 points to win or tie, the third-most, trailing only 1987 (15) and 2011 (13).

There have been 31 games decided by a winning score within the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime this season, tied with 2012 (31) for the third-most such games through the first nine weeks, trailing only 2021 (35) and 2015 (33). Eleven games have been decided by the winning score on the final play.

”All of these different things allows for good fan experience, whether you’re in the stadium or watching on television,” league executive Troy Vincent told The Associated Press.

Entering the second half of the season, 159 million people have watched NFL games. The average number of viewers per game is 16.2 million on television and digital platforms. NFL games rank as the top 38, and 47 of the top 50, shows on television since the start of the season.

”Here’s what our game looks like due to great coaching, great strategy and, frankly, good administration of officiating,” said Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. ”Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but all of these things have to work to produce what we’re seeing.”

Roughing-the-passer penalties became a hot topic in Week 5 when two questionable calls caused outrage among players, coaches and fans. However, the overall number of roughing-the-passer penalties is down this season. There were 55 called in nine weeks out of 20,698 plays. Last year, it was 79 at this point compared to 65 in 2020 and 86 in 2019.

The frustration with the two controversial penalties last month led many people to call for making roughing the passer a reviewable play.

”The data doesn’t even support it,” Vincent said. ”And when you look at the volume number of plays, what’s being called and what’s not being called, that’s all part of the ebb and flow of a season. Keeping the quarterback healthy allows us to have these historical numbers after nine weeks of play.”

Tickets sold are up 3.5% for games played in the United States, and league executive Peter O’Reilly said ticket sales among fans 34 or younger are increasing.

”It’s a real positive for us and for clubs as we continue to focus on engaging younger fans,” O’Reilly said.

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL