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Ranking the 10 dumbest mistakes from a playoff-deciding Sunday in NFL Week 15

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George Kittle fumbled away the 49ers’ top seed, while the Raiders screwed up their final home game in SO MANY WAYS.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There isn’t as much mystery now about which teams will be in the postseason. Five more teams secured their place in the playoffs over the weekend, leaving just four spots up for grabs. There’s still a lot to be determined about which teams will be playing when in January, though.

Sunday was an important day for the postseason, not just for the teams that clinched but also for seeding. And when the final playoff picture is settled, we can likely point to Week 15 as the deciding factor for some teams.

The Texans used a fortuitous interception as the turning point in their pivotal AFC South win over the Titans. The 49ers blew a late lead to the Falcons that probably gave Kyle Shanahan Super Bowl flashbacks. The Cowboys were nearly hurt by a coin toss controversy (which was eventually sorted out and probably wouldn’t have mattered because the Rams no-showed in Dallas). The Steelers’ ill-advised wildcat changed the flow of the game, and might have been the play that sent the Bills to the playoffs, while potentially keeping Pittsburgh out.

Luckily for this week’s losers, there are still two more weeks left to try to make up for those self-inflicted wounds.

But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Let’s focus on Week 15’s dumbest mistakes, by teams both in the playoff race and those in the race for the top of the 2020 draft order.

10. The Browns, as is tradition, were their own worst enemy

Cleveland’s postseason hopes were mostly theoretical heading into Week 15. Now even the team’s wildest playoff dreams are on life support.

The Browns needed a win, then lost to the formerly 3-9-1 Cardinals Sunday after allowing Kenyan Drake to burn them for four touchdowns. And, somehow, that wasn’t the most embarrassing thing to happen to them in Arizona.

That’s Damiere Byrd, uh, spinning slightly and taking out three Browns defensive backs in the process. He’d eventually be shoved out of bounds, but not before gaining 51 yards and setting up a touchdown in a 38-24 win for the Cardinals — their first victory in nearly two months.

9. Ryan Fitzpatrick forgot linebackers can lay the wood

The Dolphins’ leading rusher of the 2019 season is their quarterback, Fitzpatrick. The 37-year-old journeyman starter isn’t exactly Lamar Jackson, though. He only needed to top 201 rushing yards on the year to take the rushing lead for Miami.

Maybe Fitzpatrick was starting to think he was Jackson. On a scramble against the Giants, Fitzpatrick opted against sliding or heading for the sideline and cut toward the middle of the field. All that did was earn him a shoulder from linebacker Alec Ogletree that jarred the ball free.

The fumble set up the Giants in Dolphins territory, but Eli Manning threw an interception three plays later. There’s a reason both teams will probably be picking in the top five in the draft.

8. The Titans telegraphed an obvious fake punt that the Texans sniffed out

Fans in Nashville were frustrated when the Titans sent out their punt team late in the second quarter. Tennessee was in a 14-0 hole and drove to Houston’s 37-yard line, so finishing the drive and getting points before halftime felt like a must.

That’s probably why the Texans were well prepared to shut down a fake punt try. After sending a player in motion to the right side of the field, Titans punter Brett Kern tried to complete a deep pass down the sideline. It didn’t work out.

A 54-yard field goal was an option. Keeping Ryan Tannehill and the offense on the field was also an option. Even punting to make sure the Texans didn’t have a short field would’ve made sense. Kern trying to complete a pass against a defense that had every reason to believe a fake could be coming was not the move to make.

Fortunately for Tennessee, the Texans couldn’t take advantage of the field position. Still, the Titans went to halftime with a zero on the scoreboard.

7. Drew Lock threw awful back-to-back picks (one of which didn’t count)

The magic Lock had last week against the Texans didn’t carry over into Denver’s Week 15 game against the Chiefs. The rookie quarterback finished with just 208 yards (on 40 attempts!) and an interception.

On the play before the pick, Lock threw a ball off his back foot that was easily intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu. However, it was wiped out for defensive holding. On the very next snap, Lock threw an even worse interception to Juan Thornhill in the end zone:

Sure, the snowy conditions aren’t exactly ideal throwing conditions, but Lock really screwed up the second chance he was given.

6. Kyle Allen threw awful back-to-back picks (and almost a third)

The Panthers have to be confident at this point that Allen is not their quarterback of the future. In his first four starts of 2019, he threw seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, and won all four games. In his last eight, he has 10 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and Carolina has lost six straight.

His suddenly disastrous season hit a new low in the third quarter of a 30-24 loss to the Seahawks. First, he threw an interception to Seattle linebacker K.J. WrightAllen’s second of the game — with this wobbler:

The Seahawks spoiled the opportunity by immediately throwing a pick of their own. But Allen couldn’t take advantage and threw an even less excusable interception, again to Wright, on his very next pass attempt.

His next throw also found its way into the hands of a Seahawks defender and was returned for a touchdown. Officials overturned that one, though, after determining on replay that Ugo Amadi didn’t complete the catch.

Allen finished the game with one touchdown and three interceptions. It’s safe to say the Panthers won’t want to keep him in place as the starter heading into the 2020 season.

5. LeShaun Sims’ punt return hurt the Titans’ chances at a last-second comeback

There were plenty of dumb mistakes by both teams in the final minutes of the Texans’ 24-21 win Sunday.

Deshaun Watson opened the door for the Titans to have a final possession by throwing a pass away instead of sliding down to keep the clock running. Ryan Tannehill and the Titans blew that extra chance by giving up a sack and not getting set in time for a spike to stop the clock. Officials screwed up by saying there was no time left when there should’ve been one second.

But the silliest error was LeShaun Sims fielding a punt on the 1-yard line just before it bounced into the end zone for a touchback. Not only did he cost the Titans field position, but Sims also ticked valuable seconds off the clock. Even one more second would’ve given the Titans another play at the end.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel was quick to defend Sims, though.

Vrabel is right: The game wasn’t decided by that play. But it certainly wasn’t the smartest move.

4. The refs called a facemask on Tremaine Edmunds for a chest tackle

It wasn’t a good week for NFL officiating (again). Earlier in the day, Texans linebacker Brennan Scarlett was penalized 15 yards for a clean tackle, as was Cordarrelle Patterson for having perfect timing.

The worst call came during Sunday Night Football, however.

Pittsburgh had driven into the Bills’ red zone when the officials decided to give the Steelers a little gift: 10 free yards and a first down.

Edmunds drew a personal foul despite never touching Kerrith Whyte’s facemask, effectively getting penalized for having the gall to tackle an opposing running back. Fortunately for the Bills, the ball don’t lie. The Steelers fumbled the ball back to Buffalo one play later.

3. The Bears could’ve force OT if they had pitched the ball to Allen Robinson

The Bears’ 21-13 loss to the Packers on Sunday came down to the last play. In the final seconds, Chicago tried lateraling the ball upfield. Tight end Jesper Horsted got tackled to end the game near the goal line, but if he had managed to pitch this ball to Allen Robinson, that’s a Bears touchdown:

Plays like this very rarely work in the NFL, but that one came soooo close. The Bears still would’ve needed the two-point conversion to force overtime, but instead, they found themselves eliminated from playoff contention.

2. The Raiders couldn’t even close out the Oakland era with a win

Sunday was the Raiders’ final home game in Oakland before they relocate to Las Vegas. The Raiders led the Jaguars all game and looked they were going to send the fans home with a win one last time. All they needed to do was run out the clock up 16-13.

Just before the two-minute warning, Derek Carr ran for a first down and slid before going out of bounds:

Even though he gave himself up in bounds, the refs ruled him out of bounds, stopping the clock (much to Carr’s and Jon Gruden’s anger — and the league later apologized for the mistake).

A few plays later, and with the Jaguars out of timeouts, the Raiders faced a third-and-11 and decided to throw the ball. Tyrell Williams dropped Carr’s pass, which also stopped the clock and set up a field-goal attempt. Daniel Carlson missed the 50-yard try, but a penalty on the Jaguars gave him another shot. He then missed the 45-yarder.

The Jaguars got the ball back with 1:44 left in the game and promptly went 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Raiders had 27 seconds left and got to attempt two Hail Marys, both of which failed

The fans were not happy, but you have to admit, leaving Oakland with a loss is very Raiders.

1. The 49ers’ best player fumbled away the game

Tight end George Kittle had a monster game against the Falcons on Sunday. He caught 13 passes for 134 yards, and made some key run blocks that allowed the 49ers to put points on the board. He also is taking some blame for being the reason they wound up losing.

That’s because Kittle fumbled the ball on a potential game-sealing catch-and-run that was destined for a first down. Instead, Kittle’s fumble (caused by the air) went out of bounds at the two-minute warning. The 49ers opted to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1, giving the Falcons the ball back trailing by five.

Atlanta took over with 1:48 on the clock and scored a touchdown with two seconds left to take the win.

The implications of this loss are simple: the 49ers went from the top seed to the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture and need to win out to get homefield advantage in the postseason.

Kittle is regarded as one of the most reliable players on the 49ers’ roster. He’s helped them win a lot more than they’ve lost this year, but this one stings.