Let’s pour one out for 2018. Metaphorically, that is. It’s New Year’s Eve — don’t waste any drinks!
It’s hard to be too sad about another NFL regular season ending (well, unless you’re a fan of one of the 20 teams that didn’t make the playoffs). Not because we don’t love camping out in front of our TV/streaming devices all day, every Sunday. But because we’re looking forward to the playoffs THAT much. Given how much this season kept us guessing, we can’t wait to see what the postseason has in store. All 12 teams look capable of losing their first game or going all the way to the Super Bowl.
But before we turn our focus to Wild Card Weekend, let’s take a moment to celebrate the best of the NFL’s dipshitery one last time. With the stakes so high for some teams, and so nonexistent for others, there were a whopping 13 dumb mistakes we picked this week.
Thank you, NFL, for such an entertaining, and often incredibly stupid, season.
13. Matt Patricia punted from the Packers’ 35
History shows Packers-Lions isn’t much of a rivalry, but nothing signaled the complete lack of meaning in a Week 17 showdown between two non-playoff teams than Matt Patricia’s decision to send his punt team out when Detroit faced fourth-and-9 from the Green Bay 35.
Rather than risk a 53-yard field goal attempt in the swirling winds of Lambeau Field, the first-year head coach dialed up a punt that, at best, would net his team 34 yards. At worst, it would bounce into the end zone and swap out a Lions’ scoring opportunity for 15 yards of field position.
A 29-yard punt from the Lions. I mean, really, why not just go for fourth down there? Because you have so much to lose?
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) December 30, 2018
The good news is the 29-yard punt was downed at the Packers’ 6. One three-and-out later, the Lions’ offense received the ball near midfield.
And the punt may have been the right idea, given the abundant kicking weirdness the last time these two teams met.
The Lions got the last laugh, a 31-0 win over the Packers at Lambeau on Sunday.
12. Mike Zimmer cost the Vikings a first down with a hopeless challenge
Offense wasn’t easy to come by for the Vikings in a must-win game against the Bears, so Mike Zimmer wanted officials to take a close look when Dalvin Cook was ruled just short of a first down in the third quarter.
The problem is that every angle showed the officials made a good spot and it was clearly a fourth down for the Vikings. Zimmer had little chance at winning the challenge, and what’s worse is that he managed to call for the review just in time to nullify a sneak for Kirk Cousins that earned a first down.
Minnesota predictably lost the challenge and a timeout. But luckily for Zimmer and the Vikings, they got a first down on the next play and a touchdown on the play after that. The crisis was averted, but it was still some aggressively poor decision-making by Zimmer in a disappointing game, and season, for the Vikings.
11. The Jets were ready to go home before the game started
Todd Bowles came into this game knowing he was going to be fired. EVERYONE knew he was going to be fired. And his four-year tenure as the Jets head coach came to an end with another lifeless loss, a game where it looked like nobody really wanted to be there.
They were down 21-3 early in the second quarter, on their way to a 38-3 loss to the Patriots, a not uncommon occurrence over the years.
But it’s hard to put it all on Bowles. There’s not a lot of talent to work with here. Trumaine Johnson, the cornerback the team signed to a $72 million free agent deal in the offseason got benched for being late to a meeting.
The Jets need to scheme fewer passes where a receiver in front thinks it is for him and leaps for it but it’s actually for a receiver behind him. They’ve done that a couple times today.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) December 30, 2018
#Jets not calling a timeout just shows how much they’ve given up on this game.
— Raul Martinez (@RaulNBCBoston) December 30, 2018
One of their best offensive drives of the day came up short on fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 9-yard line in the third quarter. At least they weren’t settling for field goals at that point, which is something.
They even fumbled on their last possession, just to put a nice little punctuation mark on the Bowles era.
10. What the hell were the Raiders thinking on this interception?
It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to get a big lead on the Raiders (surprise). They didn’t even need Patrick Mahomes to do all the scoring. The Raiders did their best to help the Chiefs defense kick in some points too.
With about six minutes left in the first quarter, the Raiders had the ball at the 50 on second-and-10. Then this happened.
That’s Jared Cook, who apparently didn’t get the message that the ball was coming his way. Who knows what he was thinking there. And why on Earth did Derek Carr go ahead and throw to Cook on that play?
The Chiefs took it to the house for 14-0 lead. The rout was on.
9. The Cowboys played their starters in a game that didn’t matter
The Cowboys had the fourth seed in the NFC locked up before their completely meaningless game with the Giants this week. Naturally, it was a great week to rest the starters, at least for a half, right? No! Jason Garrett wanted momentum, dammit.
“The fact that we fight until the end is what I think is important,” Garrett said prior to the game. “Now, when there’s a victory to be had, we’ve got to go take it, and I think that’s part of learning and part of what we need to do better.”
Well, some games are less important than others, like a Week 17 tilt against the Giants compared to the team’s first playoff game in two years. But, hey, who are we to question a man with a 1-2 postseason record in nine years as a head coach?
Dak Prescott played the entire game. Most of the starters did, except Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, and Tyron Smith. Without two starting offensive linemen, Prescott took four sacks, the most he’s taken in a game all month.
While Prescott escaped relatively unscathed, rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch did not. He left with a leg injury in the fourth quarter, but was apparently OK … OK enough to come back in to try and block an extra point.
The Cowboys won 36-35, in dramatic fashion with a last-minute two-point conversion … in a game that had no effect on their playoff seeding.
They’ll host the Seahawks in a wild card game next weekend. Hopefully, for Cowboys fans, the team’s as well prepared as they were for an absolutely meaningless (but fun!) season finale.
The former Browns second-round pick showed off why a quarterback-needy team like Cleveland was eager to cut bait after just one season. Kizer completed just 16 of his 35 passes on the afternoon, gaining only 132 yards on a depressing 3.8 yards per attempt. He didn’t find the end zone once … but he did do this:
As a result, the Packers were shut out at home for the third time in the past two seasons.
In Sunday night’s de facto play-in game for the final wild card spot in the AFC, the Colts engineered a 12-minute drive to take a 14-0 lead on the Titans in Nashville. Another defensive stop gave Luck the chance to crush Tennessee’s hopes with another plodding touchdown drive.
That is not what Andrew Luck did.
Instead, he struggled with the Titans’ pressure in the shadow of his own end zone and threw a crow-hopping floater that undershot his intended target by at least five yards. That made it an easy interception for linebacker Jayon Brown, who rumbled 22 yards down the sideline and into the end zone to get his team on the board.
6. Adoree’ Jackson’s belated Christmas present to the Colts was this prime field position
Right after the Titans scored to make it 14-7, their defense got the stop it needed and forced the Colts to punt. They could’ve tied it up on their next possession, taking all the momentum into halftime — and then return man Adoree’ Jackson did this:
Just like Cyrus Jones two weeks before, Jackson made the marvelously terrible decision to try to pick up the ball and promptly gift wrapped the ball to the other team.
Luckily for the Titans, the Colts would not accept such charity. Marlon Mack’s touchdown on the next play was nullified due to a hold, and then Mack fumbled the ball two plays after that to give the Titans the ball back.
Unluckily for the Titans, they had Blaine Gabbert at quarterback all game and he was MUCH more generous to the Colts:
5. Blake Bortles’ final game with the Jaguars (probably) ended on a fitting note
Bortles took over for an injured Cody Kessler last week to lead the Jaguars to a 17-7 win over the Dolphins. That earned him the opportunity to start Jacksonville’s season finale Sunday and, uh, it went about as well as you’d expect.
As is tradition, Bortles didn’t just throw a bunch of incompletions — he threw a bunch of passes no where near his intended receivers. His last pass of the day, and what may be the last pass of his Jaguars career, was a completely horrible (and completely on-brand) interception.
Bortles finished his day with 15 completions on 28 attempts, 107 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception. Jacksonville lost 20-3.
4. Chargers S Jahleel Addae took a great play and turned it into a wasted opportunity
The Chargers came close to shutting out the Broncos in the first half. One of Denver’s trips into the red zone appeared to be shut down by the Los Angeles defense when a pass was deflected into the air and into the arms of safety Jahleel Addae.
Then he made the awful decision to try to lateral the ball and gave it right back to the Broncos.
The Broncos didn’t waste their second chance at points — a field goal cut the lead to 7-3 just before halftime. That’s what being greedy will do to you.
3. Kiko Alonso hates quarterbacks who slide late (but loves hitting them)
Last fall, Alonso bludgeoned Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as he slid late in an attempt to earn a first down late in a game against the Dolphins. But that game was a midseason contest between two playoff hopefuls, and Alonso’s efforts to make a key stop could at least somewhat explain a potentially dirty hit.
On Sunday, both the Dolphins and Bills were playing out the string of another disappointing season with absolutely no hope of a postseason berth. And Alonso still put in work to knock another sliding quarterback into another dimension.
Alonso launched himself at a sliding Josh Allen, and while he missed with his head and shoulder, he still managed to whip a wheel kick into the Bills quarterback’s facemask. This earned the ire of the Buffalo offensive line, who proceeded to pile on him in retaliation immediately afterward, and the referees, who ejected Alonso soon after.
The Dolphins trailed 21-14 at the time of Alonso’s ejection. They went on to lose 42-17.
2. The refs took six points off the board for the Browns
Cleveland got torn up by Lamar Jackson throughout the first half, but the Browns got a major momentum-swinging play when Jackson fumbled at the brink of the goal line, leading to a Jabrill Peppers recovery and a clear path to the end zone from 93 yards out.
Except he never got the chance to run it back, because officials ruled Jackson had broken the plane of the goal line, giving the Ravens six points and effectively taking six away from the Browns.
Officials would review the play and correctly award the Browns the ball on the fumble recovery, but Peppers’ surefire touchdown, by rule, could not be corrected. Instead of six points, Cleveland took over on its own 7-yard line.
1. And then Jarvis Landry took six points off the board for the Browns
Landry has proven mostly worthy of the mega-deal he signed this offseason, drawing constant double teams as the only big name receiver on the Cleveland depth chart. While his role had diminished as new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens diversified the Browns’ offense, he’s still been an important field-stretching, home run-hitting threat.
So when Baker Mayfield dialed up a deep ball to seize the momentum of his defense’s goal line turnover, Landry was at the top of his list. And when he uncorked a low-arcing laser downfield, his top wideout found a seam where no Raven defensive back could have caught him. It looked like an easy six points for the Browns.
It was not.
Two plays later, Cleveland punted.
Despite a late rally by the Browns, the Ravens held on for a 26-24 win and the AFC North title. Those six points could’ve come in handy for the Browns — and for the Steelers.