The best of the best almost always play at their best when the spotlight is the brightest. We saw plenty of outstanding performances during the 2016 NFL Playoffs, but none of the ones we’re about to mention can be counted among them.
Instead, we’re going to focus on the performances that disappointed us the most. The players who should have showed up big but failed to make a positive impact for their respective teams in the biggest game of their seasons.
These are the most disappointing performances from the 2016 NFL Playoffs.
1. Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, wide receivers, Oakland Raiders
Heading into the Wild Card Round with rookie quarterback Connor Cook about to make his first NFL start, Oakland Raiders receivers had to be a security blanket for the young signal caller if the team had any chance of advancing past the Houston Texans.
That didn’t happen. While it’s fair to criticize Cook for being inaccurate at times, he was also victimized by a plethora of drops, most notably by the top receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, who caught just 4-of-16 passes thrown their way.
They weren’t the only receivers to fail Cook, either, which is something head coach Jack Del Rio was asked about after the team’s 27-14 loss to the Texans.
“There have been a few drops,” Del Rio said, per the team’s website. “Obviously, a lot goes in to that, and we’ll make sure we take a good look at it and make sure that we’re working on cleaning that up. We want to be friendly for the quarterback and catch as many of those balls as we can. Part of this is the quarterback putting it in a good spot where it’s a little more friendly for the receiver to catch it. We had a few too many drops.”
Oakland likely had little chance to win with Cook behind center, even if his playmakers on offense had played at the top of their games. Unfortunately, they didn’t come close to that, failing him and the Raiders miserably.
2. Detroit Lions’ receivers/tight ends
Like we saw from Oakland, the receiving corps of Detroit failed Matthew Stafford on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) January 10, 2017
Stafford, who was playing with torn ligaments in a finger on his throwing hand, wasn’t spectacularly accurate. But he did enough to give his team a chance in a game that was ultimately blown wide open in the fourth quarter after the Lions finally allowed the dam to burst defensively.
It was very disheartening to see Stafford taking hits, delivering strikes only to witness the ball hitting the turf. He didn’t throw any touchdowns or interceptions, but that very well should have gone differently if not for a Marvin Jones drop in the third quarter that would likely have gone for six.
On top of the drops, veteran receiver Anquan Boldin drew two critical personal foul penalties that killed precious momentum and doomed drives to failure.
3. Jay Ajayi, running back, Miami Dolphins
If the Miami Dolphins were going to have any chance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round, then Jay Ajayi was going to have to have a big game. With backup quarterback Matt Moore manning the offense, we knew the passing game was not going to get the job done by itself.
Due to a poor showing by Miami’s offensive line and some indecisive running by Ajayi, the running game was shut down to a screeching halt in this one.
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) January 9, 2017
A ton of credit is due to the Steelers for their ability to work in unison up front and close up any gaps. At the same time, Miami’s offensive line was thrashed throughout the game, leading to a tremendously disappointing performance for Ajayi. As a result of his inability to get anything going on the ground, poor Matt Moore was victimized by a consistent stream of big hits and should have been properly evaluated for a concussion after one of them (more on that here).
Ajayi’s longest run of the game was eight yards. He either failed to hit a crease or was simply swallowed up completely by Pittsburgh’s front seven on most of his 16 attempts, resulting in a paltry 33 yards on the ground for the former Boise State star.
4. Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants
One of the best receivers in the NFL showed up small in the biggest game of the year for the Giants. Less than a week removed from his ill-conceived and highly publicized all-night party session and yacht party the next day in Miami, Beckham Jr. laid an absolute egg.
He wasn’t the team’s leading receiver, as he has been all year. He wasn’t even the second or third-leading receiver against the Packers — a team that featured one of the worst pass defenses in the league all year long and was annihilated by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Beckham Jr. wasn’t even the fourth-leading receiver for the Giants.
Nope. Guys like Tavarres King, Will Tye and rookie Sterling Shepard vastly outplayed OBJ, who managed just four catches for a measly 28 yards despite being targeted by Eli Manning 12 times.
Then, just to put the cherry on top of his crap sundae, Beckham Jr. punched a hole in a wall at Lambeau Field (allegedly), adding more shame to what was one of the most embarrassing playoff performances for a Giants player in a long, long time.
5. Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks
One week removed from running over, around and through the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card Round, Rawls’ mini-run at impersonating Beast Mode came to a screeching halt.
Partly because the Atlanta Falcons started to burn Seattle’s secondary and got ahead on the scoreboard and partly because Atlanta’s defensive line was stellar, Rawls barely showed up on the stat sheet for the Seahawks. He eneded up rushing for just 34 yards on 11 carries while Russell Wilson led the team in rushing with 49 yards on six carries.
It was exactly the kind of performance the Seahawks couldn’t have from Rawls. Atlanta’s offense has been red hot all year, and the best way to stop an offense that can’t be stopped is to keep it off the field. The best way to do that is to run the ball, and run it well.
None of that happened for the Seahawks, who really have to go back to the drawing board after watching the offensive line fall apart all year long.
Making Rawls’ performance against Atlanta even more frustrating is that he was coming off a franchise record-breaking performance the week before. He couldn’t recapture that magic, and as a result the Seahawks were steamrolled by a Falcons team that will compete for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LI.
6. Brock Osweiler, quarterback, Houston Texans
Perhaps no player disappointed his team and fans more throughout the 2016 NFL season than Brock Osweiler of the Houston Texans. After being paid $37 million guaranteed, he was one of the worst statistical quarterbacks in the NFL and ended up getting benched for Tom Savage until Savage suffered a concussion in Week 17.
Then, after an awful campaign, he showed up and played a mistake-free game against the Raiders in the Wild Card Round. It wasn’t brilliant, but given the way Houston’s defense was going, it surely gave Texans fans a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, just perhaps, the team could knock of the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round.
At the end of one half of play in Foxborough, those hopes were flickering still. Houston trailed by only four points (17-13) and its defense was getting after Tom Brady unlike anything we’d seen all year long.
It looked like the upset special was brewing.
Then, Osweiler erupted. And not in a good way. He threw three second-half interceptions, each one worse than the last (watch here), which facilitated a blowout loss.
Wasting a tremendous defensive effort by Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Co., Osweiler ruined any chance the Texans had of pulling off the upset. And even worse, despite the fact that he’s owed another $25 million next year guaranteed, Houston has to strongly consider keeping him sidelined if it has any chance to developing its offense.
7. Brice Butler, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
It was hard to pick anyone to feature from the tremendous NFC Divisional Round matchup between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. In the end, a few huge plays landed Butler on this list.
First off, he was the victim of an obscure rule that was mind-numbingly enforced when he “entered the huddle” on a play in which he didn’t end up participating in (watch the sequence here).
It cost the Cowboys 15 yards on the penalty and 37 yards of field position because it negated a big play downfield. As a result, rather than ending up in the red zone for an early scoring opportunity, the Cowboys had to punt when they couldn’t overcome the penalty.
Butler also dropped an easy reception deep in the middle of the field during Green Bay’s 21- 3 early run. Then later in the game he dropped a sure touchdown on a pass that Dak Prescott dropped right into his hands.
After the game, Butler lamented his own play but also blamed the officials for the Cowboys’ heartbreaking 34-31 loss. He would have been wise to simply have taken responsibility for his own mistakes and moved on.
8. Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
One of the most dangerous playmakers in the NFL was conspicuously absent during the AFC Divisional matchup between the Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. Tyreek Hill, he who made NFL record books in key games leading up to the playoffs, was almost a non-factor in Kansas City’s 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hill caught just four passes for 27 yards, rushed for 18 yards on three carries and didn’t make an impact in the return game, where he’s been so dangerous all year long. His longest return of the four he received on Pittsburgh kickoffs went for 21 yards, and he averaged just 18 yards per return.
Part of this failure to make a big impact is due to a terrible game plan by Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. All game long, the Chiefs failed to do any real attacking on offense. Alex Smith had just 172 yards on 20-of-34 passing, and there wasn’t much happening down the field. Juxtaposed by the destruction wrought by the New England Patriots against the same secondary not a week later, and it’s clear the Chiefs were out coached in a major way in this game.
Whether it was his fault or not, Hill’s performance against Pittsburgh was terribly disappointing. Especially considering this is a guy who averaged 10.1 yards for every touch he had offensively throughout the season. During the loss to the Steelers, that number plummeted to 6.4 yards per touch.
9. Offensive line, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is a wizard beyond compare in the NFL when it comes to making things happen with his arm and his legs. But even he couldn’t overcome a ghastly performance by his offensive line in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons.
Nobody other quarterback during conference championship weekend was under as much constant fire as Rodgers, who faced pressure on nearly 41 percent of his dropbacks. This intense assault saw him have very little time in the pocket to make decisions, read the defense and make accurate throws.
Rodgers was hit early, and he was hit often.
— Dan Worthington (@danWorthington) January 22, 2017
As a result, even when he did have time to throw he was skittish, something we rarely see from the gunslinger.
Dropbacks with 2.6+ seconds to throw
Matt Ryan: 21, 155.2 Rating
Tom Brady: 18, 150.0
Ben Roethlisberger: 19, 53.5
Aaron Rodgers: 15, 46.8
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 23, 2017
Though he finished with 287 yards and three touchdowns, most of Rodgers’ stats came when the game was already out of hand.
Furthermore, thanks to the efforts of Atlanta’s front seven and a lack of cohesion on Green Bay’s offensive line, the Packers never could establish any semblance of a rushing attack. Rodgers ended up leading the Packers in rushing with 46 yards, while nobody else gained more than 17.
Yes, Atlanta’s defense has been outstanding of late. But Green Bay’s offensive line failed to put up anything akin to proper resistance.
10. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big-time players show up big in big games. Or at least, they’re supposed to, anyway. That certainly didn’t happen when Antonio Brown went missing in action for most of the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
Perhaps it was the distraction that came with the locker-room Facebook video that put head coach Mike Tomlin in the public eye for the wrong reasons. Perhaps he was distracted that news of a six-figure deal with Facebook was reported the morning of the title game (a deal that may or may not have had something to do with said video).
Or perhaps Brown was simply bested by Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.
Whatever the reason for his no-show during the AFC Championship Game, Brown’s inability to make any significant impact until the second half when the game was already out of hand was a huge blow to Pittsburgh’s game plan. Yes, the injury to Le’Veon Bell was big as well, but that’s when a player of Brown’s caliber must step up and carry the load.
With seven catches for 77 yards (most coming, again, when the game was already over), Brown certainly did not do that.