On paper, this Sunday seemed like it’d be a letdown for those of us who enjoy a little Monday morning schadenfreude. Our most reliably undisciplined teams — the Bills, Browns, and Jets — were all on a bye. And before the weekend even started, Mike McCarthy had already sewn up the top three spots on the worst coaching decisions list in the Packers’ loss to the Seahawks on Thursday Night Football.
But whaddaya know, Sunday was perhaps the dumbest slate of games we’ve seen yet this season. Here are the 11 biggest blunders from Week 11, ranked from “uh, what is that play call?” to “why even throw that, Kirk Cousins, whyyyy”:
11. The Steelers gave up to end the first half against the Jaguars
Pittsburgh eventually came back to beat the Jaguars after an improbable rally, but things looked grim through the first 43 minutes of Sunday’s game. The Steelers’ offense best drives saw the team stall out and its worst bore witness to Ben Roethlisberger getting stopped cold by the Jacksonville secondary. Pittsburgh’s offense was downright demoralized early in Florida, and all the evidence needed to prove that came as the second quarter came to a close.
Behold, Mike Tomlin’s big play with three seconds left in the first half, trailing 9-0 and throwing the ball from the Jaguars’ 46-yard line.
hell yeah Mike Tomlin's got a special Hail Mary play dialed up with 3 seconds left in the first half— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) November 18, 2018
Roethlisberger later found his stride, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and rushing for the game-winner with five seconds left on the clock. But for a while, it looked as though he was putting together an oddly faithful tribute to Nathan Peterman’s NFL career.
rt if your gpa was higher than big ben’s passer rating https://t.co/rs0yZrLy2S— Harry Lyles Jr. (@harrylylesjr) November 18, 2018
10. The Buccaneers forgot about Saquon Barkley, one of the two guys they actually had to cover
The Giants don’t have a ton of offensive options. Pat Shurmur’s search for playmakers has led him to insert the All-Pro wideout as a quarterback, tailback, and punt returner. But one guy who’s stepped up to bolster New York’s scoring bonafides is Saquon Barkley. The No. 2 overall pick has been a dual-threat powerhouse as a rookie, averaging 127 yards from scrimmage per game and scoring 10 touchdowns in 10 appearances so far.
For most teams, that would make him the kind of player who is a defensive focus on every single down of the afternoon and doubly-so near the end zone. Not Tampa Bay.
#NYGiants Strike First! Eli to @Saquon and its seven-zip.#TBvsNYG | #GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/n4MokzXiAg— New York Giants (@Giants) November 18, 2018
Barkley earned one of the easiest touchdown catches he’ll ever have to open the scoring in Sunday’s 38-35 win over the Buccaneers. He’d finish his day with 152 total yards and three scores. That’s an unforgettable performance from a player Tampa completed blanked early on.
9. The Bengals tasked Hue Jackson with trying to fix their defense
Last week, the Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. They had given up 500-plus yards in three straight games, an (ignominious) NFL record. Marvin Lewis didn’t hire a new defensive coordinator, either. Instead, he took over the defense and brought back a familiar face — and another guy who had recently been on the unemployment line — to help him run it: their former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
This week, the Bengals had a rematch with the Ravens, a team they beat in Week 2 by double digits. This time, though, Joe Flacco was injured and Baltimore was starting rookie Lamar Jackson. Aaaaaand:
November 18, 2018
The good news for the Bengals is they did NOT give up 500 yards. But the Ravens did rush for a season-high 265 yards. They had not just their first 100-yard rusher this season (Lamar Jackson), but two 100-yard rushers in the same game (Gus Edwards being the other).
Maybe just don’t let Hue touch anything.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick killed FitzMagic once and for all with this “screw it” interception
You’ve heard this before. Not that long ago, either. But FitzMagic, sadly, is dead. Truly dead. Dead, murdered, stabbed.
This time, we really mean it. Just LOOK at this throw that he rainbow arced to the end zone so that Curtis Riley just had to stand there, wait a few seconds, and gently pluck it out of the air like he was catching a butterfly:
I'll Take That!!! @curtis35riley snags the end zone INT and runs it out 46 yards!#TBvsNYG | #GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/0z2cwdA2Yy— New York Giants (@Giants) November 18, 2018
That came one drive after Alec Ogletree scored the most miraculous (and most teamwork-y) pick-six we’e seen this year:
This Pick 6 by Ogletree is wild pic.twitter.com/8euclLZJw7— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 18, 2018
Maybe that was enough for Fitzpatrick. Maybe that was the play that just broke him. That was the 10th time he had been picked off in eight games, and it was almost unfair the way physics and gravity worked against him on that Ogletree, with the Janoris Jenkins assist, interception.
So maybe he said to hell with it, and decided to retire FitzMagic on his own terms. Then it makes a little more sense.
If so, it worked. After Riley’s pick — Fitzpatrick’s 11th of the season and third in the game — the Bucs went back to Jameis Winston.
7. Lance Lenoir made the Falcons’ comeback a little easier by playing dirty
The final four-plus minutes of Cowboys-Falcons were stupid in several ways. But before Jason Garrett and Dan Quinn would slap-fight to see who would walk away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a win, Lance Lenoir did what he could to help the Falcons’ game-tying efforts.
With his Cowboys leading 19-12, Lenoir played gunner on a punt that trapped Justin Hardy at his own 17-yard line. And then, as Hardy turned to take his third step out of bounds, the Dallas receiver flew into frame to level the Atlanta returner and give Matt Ryan an extra 15 yards on his path to tie this game.
Six plays later, Ryan found Julio Jones to knot this game at 19-all. Fortunately for Lenoir, the Cowboys would come back to win it.
6. Blaine Gabbert delivered an absolute dart to Darius Leonard (Darius Leonard does not play for the Titans)
Blaine Gabbert was thrown into a tough situation Sunday. His Titans were already trailing 24-0 when he was tabbed to replace an injured Marcus Mariota. But his first drive ended in a shutout-ending field goal (with copious help from an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Colts). And his second drive had moved Tennessee nearly 30 yards to start the second half, sparking hope of an unlikely comeback Sunday afternoon.
And then Gabbert threw a pass directly into the chest of inside linebacker Darius Leonard, and Titans fans across the world were forced to bring their hands to their foreheads and sigh “oh, Blaine Gabbert, riiiiiight.”
This Blaine Gabbert interception is truly incredible pic.twitter.com/zZJfdzhohE— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) November 18, 2018
Indianapolis turned that into a touchdown three plays later. And then another on their following drive. And then it was 38-3 and we were all left wondering, once again, what the hell the Titans even are in 2018.
5. Vance Joseph refused to use his challenges because the refs screwed up
Twice, calls on the field went against the Broncos. Twice, their head coach declined to throw out his challenge flag.
In the second quarter against the Chargers, the Broncos were up 7-6 and decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the LA 16-yard line. Phillip Lindsay ran it up the middle and the refs signaled he was short of the first-down marker. The CBS announcers noted that Vance Joseph was clearly upset with the spot they gave Lindsay, and the coach even pointed at the officials when they placed the ball down — and yet, he didn’t challenge it.
The Chargers got the ball back and put together nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos reclaimed the lead when a Lindsay two-yard touchdown run put them up 20-19. They decided to go for two and this time, Case Keenum ran it up the middle. He too was ruled short. But as CBS rules expert Gene Steratore said on the broadcast, the nose of the ball looked like it crossed the plane before Keenum’s knee hit the ground:
Joseph did not challenge it and if he had, Steratore believes the refs would’ve overturned the call. His reason for NOT challenging it, though, is even worse:
Vance Joseph on not challenging the 2-point conversion:— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensBSN) November 19, 2018
“Get the call right. How about that? Don’t put it on us"
Hey, Joseph: THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR!
The Chargers got a field goal on the next drive to once again take the lead. The only reason the Broncos pulled out the 23-22 win was because the Chargers reverted back to their old form and crapped the game away. Their coach certainly didn’t do them any favors.
4. Nothing helped the Steelers’ comeback more than the Jaguars’ penalties
Jacksonville’s primary problem Sunday was the fact Blake Bortles remains their starting quarterback (18 passes, 104 yards, six sacks taken, and entirely too many throws like this):
Alexa, please sum up Blake Bortles' career for me with a single GIF pic.twitter.com/C03YaAyWrr— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) November 18, 2018
But the Jaguars’ defense showed some major fissures as Pittsburgh roared back to turn a disheartening loss into a tough-to-explain win. D.J. Hayden negated his own game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter with a facemask. One play later, he’d get flagged again on a hold to set the Steelers up with first down from the Jacksonville half-yard line, where Ben Roethlisberger was able to bulldoze his way to the game-winning score.
But none of the team’s defensive penalties was as bad as the one where one Jaguars defensive back interfered with James Washington on a deep ball to Antonio Brown, making the ensuing 78-yard touchdown just a bit more embarrassing in the process:
the Jaguars can't even pass interference right pic.twitter.com/6YWLSxYctJ— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) November 18, 2018
Everything had been going swimmingly on defense to that point, but that play sparked the 20-0 run that carried the Steelers to a win Sunday.
3. Dan Quinn let himself get outcoached by Jason Garrett
If there’s one coach who becomes an Informercial Fail come to life when the game is on the line, it’s ... well, Mike McCarthy. But it’s also Jason Garrett, who gets more conservative than Alex P. Keaton and more timeout-incompetent than Andy Reid.
And Dan Quinn somehow one-upped him in the Falcons’ loss to the Cowboys.
The game was tied with two minutes to go and Garrett was, of course, content to set up a field goal. The Cowboys got in range and could have run the clock down to let Brett Maher — who had already missed an extra point Sunday and had missed three of his last five field goals coming into the game — attempt about a 48-yard field goal. But Quinn kept taking timeouts that let the Cowboys keep feeding Ezekiel Elliott and getting them just a little closer for their first-year kicker.
So Maher, who had only missed two field goals shorter than 45 this season, faced a 42-yard try instead. He nailed it, preserving the Cowboys’ playoff hopes — and pretty much putting a nail in the coffin of the Falcons’.
2. Philip Rivers had a rookie brain fart in his 215th game as a pro
The Chargers led the Broncos, 22-20, when Rivers dropped back to pass on third-and-7 at the Denver 48-yard line. It was a strange decision; the Broncos had no timeouts left, and even a stuffed run would allow Los Angeles to run the clock down to about 1:20 before punting the ball away and daring Case Keenum to beat them with a game-winning drive.
But the call also made some sense. Rivers could scan the field for a wide-open target downfield. If he didn’t have anyone, taking a sack wouldn’t penalize the Chargers much; it would keep the clock running and with the ball near midfield, any loss would have a negligible effect on the punt to follow.
Rivers didn’t throw the ball downfield. He didn’t take a sack, either. Instead, he scuttled a slow-developing screen pass at the feet of his running back, stopping the clock and gifting the Broncos an extra 40 seconds of clock for a game-winning drive.
The Chargers are going to lose because with 1:58 left, Denver out of timeouts, Philip Rivers threw it into the turf on a 3rd & 7 screen pass in Broncos territory.— Dan Molloy (@DanMolloyTV) November 19, 2018
1:55 later, Denver kicked a game-winning field goal to drop the Chargers to 7-3 on the season.
1. Kirk Cousins picked the most deflating moments to get picked off
The Vikings needed something. Down 14-0 to the Bears, and getting outplayed even more than that score would suggest, they had the ball with about a minute to go before halftime Sunday night. Kirk Cousins, who has an earned reputation as not being ready for primetime, hadn’t been able to get the Minnesota offense going at all. Their drives had consisted of three three-and-outs and another that ended in a Dalvin Cook fumble.
Then they finally had a little life. Cousins found Adam Thielen for 11 yards and then Stefon Diggs for 25 yards to get the Vikings to the Chicago 32-yard line. That’s where any momentum they had was wiped out with a classic Cousins gaffe.
According to the box score, this pass was meant for Kyle Rudolph, but good luck trying to spot him anywhere in the frame. Because there is only Bears safety Adrian Amos, who was gifted with the easiest interception of his life:
Kirk, there is never anyone you want in that right corner pic.twitter.com/GotVQ8tFSv— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) November 19, 2018
You think that’s bad? Let’s fast forward a little bit.
It’s midway through the fourth quarter. The Vikings are now down 14-6 and they had just forced the Bears to punt. A touchdown drive, plus a two-point conversion, could tie things up.
Then Cousins decides “nah, lemme throw it into triple coverage instead”:
welp pic.twitter.com/AeiUAtsfiL— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) November 19, 2018
Cousins eventually led the Vikings to the end zone twice, but he turned back into a capable quarterback too late and they lost 25-20.
Now, the Bears have a 1.5-game lead in the NFC North. And Cousins? Well, his record fell to 4-12 in primetime games.