Last week in the NFL was all about shock value. There was a different, if still wildly entertaining, theme in this week’s episode of the NFL. The one where the underdog prevails. Where the rabbit finally gets to eat some damn Trix. Where Charlie Conway’s triple deke beats the Hawks, quack quack quack!
It all started Thursday, when the Chargers rallied in the final seconds to top the Chiefs, ending Kansas City’s nine-game winning streak over its LA rivals. It continued on Saturday, when the Browns took down the Broncos for the first time since Baker Mayfield was negative-5 years old.
On Sunday, the Steelers FINALLY beat the Patriots for the first time since Tom Brady was 34. At almost the same exact time, the 49ers ended their 10-game slump against the Seahawks. Hell, even Josh Johnson got the first win of his career as a starter (oh Jags ...).
None of it was predictable, and in a season that continues to surprise us — mostly in GOOD ways — that’s worth celebrating.
But as always, there’s something on the other end of the spectrum we want to celebrate: Those moments that remind us that even millionaires with preternatural athletic ability we could only dream of possessing can be just as human as we are.
That ball is meant for Cowboys receiver “Clean” Cole Beasley, but Colts linebacker Anthony Walker makes a nice reach to deflect it right into Darius Leonard’s hands. But, BLOOP! Out it pops and hits an unprepared Beasley right smack in the head.
Someone gotta catch this pic.twitter.com/GLMyXvt0Ce— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 16, 2018
We fully acknowledge that this is less of a dumb mistake and more of a blooper, but we can enjoy it just the same.
There’s usually plenty of screwups to point to when a team loses a game by one point. That’s certainly the case for the Lions. The coaches deserve way more of the blame here than linebacker Jarrad Davis. He didn’t call a dumpoff to a husky tight end in the flat on third-and-long late in the game. But we have another venue this week to talk more in depth about the bad coaching STILL plaguing Detroit. For now, we’ve got to flag Davis for a costly offsides penalty and an admirable, colorful effort to take the blame.
"I fucked up. That's it. I fucked up. I messed up and lost it for the team. I have to go out and I have to be better. I have to be better for me and I have to be better for my teammates." -- Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis, who jumped offside on a late third-down stop.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 16, 2018
He jumped offsides on third-and-7 just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, stifling whatever chance the Lions had to get the ball back trailing the Bills 14-13.
10. Tackling is not Seabass’ job, thank you very much
Sebastian Janikowski has a very specific job to do — he kicks. And that’s it. He does not tackle, as he made abundantly clear on Sunday against the 49ers. After Seattle’s touchdown in the first quarter, 49ers return man Richie James got up a full head of steam and was barreling down the field with one man to beat: Seabass.
Of all the half-assed efforts, that might be the most half-assed we’ve ever seen. A true abdication of responsibility and a highlight of self-preservation. San Francisco did not miss the kick after the score, unlike a certain Seahawks kicker whose job description explicitly includes making extra points. That gave the 49ers a 7-6 lead, and they went on to win the game in overtime.
9. Bill O’Brien gave the Jets a perfect chance to challenge a call, and Todd Bowles refused to take it
We’ve got a two-fer here! With 7:06 left in Saturday’s game between the Texans and Jets, it looked like the Jets picked up a first down on a Trenton Cannon run up the middle on third-and-1. The refs called him short, even though he wasn’t. Rather than challenge the spot, the Jets tried to hurry up to get a play off. So Bill O’Brien called a timeout, giving the Jets more time to look at a play they clearly got ... and Todd Bowles doesn’t accept the charity and opts not to throw out his challenge flag. (They picked up a first down anyway on fourth-and-1, but STILL.)
8. The Eagles tried to run directly at Aaron Donald and Co. on fourth down
OK, going for it at midfield on fourth down is not a terrible idea. It all depends on the play call and execution. When you’ve had as many injuries as the Eagles have had at running back, and the defense you’re facing has Aaron Donald and cohorts waiting to blow up whatever smaller being you decided to sacrifice to them, maybe don’t run RIGHT at them.
Doug Pederson did just that at the Rams’ 49-yard line, calling a Josh Adams run up the middle. It didn’t work. It never does.
Josh Adams is a really talented kid, but he's now an NFL-worst 0-for-6 on 3rd- or 4th-and-1.— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) December 17, 2018
7. The Steelers forgot Chris Hogan was a Patriot
New England’s offense has been more of a steady, plodding presence this fall than an explosive, dynamic unit. But while Tom Brady may not be connecting many deep balls in 2018, he’s still more than happy to take advantage if you don’t even bother covering the wideout who led the league in yards per reception in 2016.
The 63-yard touchdown reception was New England’s largest play from scrimmage this season. It also erased a 7-0 lead and all the momentum Pittsburgh gained by taking its opening drive 75 yards to the end zone to put the Patriots’ defense on notice.
6. Gregg Williams called a timeout that wiped out a would-be game-ending penalty
On Saturday night, the Browns faced fourth-and-1 at the Denver 10, leading by one point with just under two minutes to go. They decide to go for it, unlike a certain OTHER team (skip to No. 1 on this list for further details). But first they tried to draw the Broncos offsides — and it worked! BUT, there was no flag because Gregg Williams had called a timeout. You can take the Browns out of Cleveland, but they’re still gonna be the Browns.
After the timeout, Nick Chubb was taken down for a 2-yard loss, giving the Broncos a chance to win ... which they didn’t.
5. Maybe the Bears should avoid trick plays
The Bears eventually held off their arch rivals and locked down the NFC North by beating the Packers 24-17, but they certainly didn’t make things easy on themselves. First-year head coach Matt Nagy’s creative and unpredictable playcalling has powered the team to some highlight-reel wins, but on Sunday his gadget plays nearly cost Chicago dearly.
First came a direct snap fake punt on fourth-and-2 that saw Benny Cunningham lose a yard. Aaron Rodgers quickly turned a possession at midfield into a touchdown and two-point conversion that tied the game at 14-all.
Nagy’s team rallied to push the ball to the brink of the Green Bay red zone on its ensuing drive. With third-and-1 looming at the Packers’ 23, the offensive guru put Tarik Cohen in as his wildcat quarterback, then tasked him with a read-option handoff.
Turns out, that’s the one thing Cohen’s not actually good at.
That gave Green Bay the ball at its own 26. Fortunately for Nagy, the Packers’ offense sputtered. Aaron Rodgers would lose two yards over his next three plays, and one more drive was all the Bears needed to create a Trey Burton touchdown catch that gave the club all the points it needed for its first division title since 2010.
4. Cyrus Jones changed his mind and muffed a punt
It’s a good thing the Ravens defense is as good as it is. In fact, Cyrus Jones owes that group a steak dinner after they bailed him out on what could have been an especially costly mistake.
With just under eight minutes left in the third quarter, the Bucs punted from the Ravens’ 47-yard line on fourth-and-7. Jones, Baltimore’s return man, decided not to fair catch it and slid away from the ball as it hit the ground. But then, the sight of the ball just bouncing around on the ground all by itself proved to be too tempting. Jones tried to pick it up. He didn’t, but he did touch the ball, making it a live one that the Bucs were free to recover. And recover they did, right at the Ravens’ 14-yard line.
The Ravens defense stood strong, holding the Bucs to a field goal that only cut into Baltimore’s lead to 17-12.
Head coach John Harbaugh, literally coaching for his future in Baltimore, couldn’t even comment on it after the game: “It was so bad, I don’t even know what to say about it. You just move on.”
3. Tom Brady picked a bad time to turn into late-stage Brett Favre
New England shot itself in the foot all afternoon with dropped passes and dumb penalties that curtailed any budding momentum the team could churn up in a hostile environment at Heinz Field. But no one screwed up worse than 2017 NFL MVP Tom Brady, who launched a parabola on second-and-goal that turned into the Steelers’ first interception in their last five games.
Joe Haden fielded that arm punt to snuff out what had been a promising scoring drive for the Patriots. This was important; a touchdown on third down would have given the Pats the lead. Assuming the Steelers would have still settled for a field goal on the ensuing drive, Brady’s push into the Pittsburgh red zone could have ended with a game-winning field goal instead of a fourth-down incompletion that delivered the Steelers a much-needed win.
2. GET OUT OF BOUNDS, TODD GURLEY
It took until the fourth quarter for the Rams to look alive against the Eagles, crawling out of a 30-13 hole to make it a one-touchdown game. With just over a minute remaining, they got the ball at their own 43-yard line with a chance to tie (or pull a Chargers and take a lead with a two-point conversion). And oh yeah, they had no timeouts. That part’s important.
Someone might have forgotten to remind Todd Gurley, who could’ve picked up a first down and gotten out of bounds with about 16 seconds left:
WHY DIDN’T TODD GURLEY GO OUT OF BOUNDS??? pic.twitter.com/sNunBKW1sj— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) December 17, 2018
Instead, he tried to pick up a few extra yards, costing the Rams about 12 seconds they couldn’t afford. Jared Goff spiked the ball with four seconds to go and his last-ditch pass to the end zone fell incomplete, giving the Rams a two-game losing streak.
In fairness, Gurley isn’t the only one who screwed up here. Gerald Everett also didn’t get out of bounds two plays before, and Sean McVay hadn’t saved any timeouts.
But for a guy who is usually so smart in these situations, he really beefed it here.
1. Vance Joseph kicked a field goal rather than try to win (and save his job)
On Saturday night, the Broncos were down four, facing fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 6-yard line. There were under five minutes to play and Denver had, like, one healthy cornerback. Vance Joseph — who had just moments before used a CORRECT challenge for once in his damn life — decided to kick a field goal. So then the Broncos trailed 17-16.
Joseph tried to defend the decision after the game.
“I want points there. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning, so I trust our defense to get a stop there. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision to take the points.”
Broncos players told SI’s Robert Klemko that they wanted to go for the win. Browns players were surprised they didn’t.
The Broncos lost by a score of — yup, you guessed it — 17-16. They were also officially eliminated from playoff contention this weekend. That’ll probably do it for the Joseph era in Denver.