Setting the tone for blunders.
With some of the worst teams in the NFL on a bye, it appeared as though Week 11 might not produce many big blunders. Appearances were deceiving.
We should have known it would be a weird week when Aaron Rodgers, of all people, squandered an easy opportunity late in Thursday’s game as his Green Bay Packers fell to the Seattle Seahawks. That set the tone for star quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, and Kirk Cousins to have blunders on Sunday. It was no better for guys like Josh Norman or his old teammate, Graham Gano.
Week 11 was loaded with blunders. These were the most embarrassing and costly among them.
Aaron Rodgers misses wide open target on his final pass
Rodgers was on fire in the first half of Thursday’s game against the Seahawks. It didn’t matter who we was throwing to. He could not miss. That changed in the second half. While he didn’t throw a pick, Rodgers was only 5-for-18 for 118 yards with no touchdowns over the final two quarters. None of those misses were as bad as the last one.
Facing a third-and-two deep in his own territory, Rodgers had a lay-up. Marquez Valdes-Scantling broke free and was wide open beyond the sticks. But Rodgers threw the ball at his feet — he later said the ball stuck to his hand. Trailing 27-24 and with only one time out remaining, Mike McCarthy elected to punt. Green Bay never saw the ball again. The decision to punt can be debated. This can’t. If Aaron Rodgers had done his job on the previous play, McCarthy would not have faced such a decision.
Graham Gano squanders four points with two short misses
Bad kicking has been an epidemic throughout the 2018 season. On Sunday against the Detroit Lions, it struck Gano, who is normally one of the league’s best kickers. Gano missed a chip-shot field goal in the third quarter. While Cam Newton took a sack on the previous play to make the kick much longer than it needed to be, it was still only 34 yards. That shouldn’t be a problem, especially indoors. Then, trailing by six in the fourth quarter, Newton found Curtis Samuel for a touchdown. An extra-point from Gano was all that stood between the Carolina Panthers and the lead. But it wasn’t to be. He missed that, as well.
Much of the second-guessing from this game is going to come from Ron Rivera’s decision to go for two instead of kicking the tying extra-point after scoring a late touchdown. But it should not have come down to that. Gano failed to convert what should have been four relatively easy points. In a game where his team lost by only one, we can’t overlook that.
Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps QB carousel spinning in TB
Fitzpatrick was nothing short of abysmal in Week 11. He threw three interceptions against the New York Giants. One was a pick-six (watch here). The other two came in New York territory with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in field goal range. The return on one of those set the Giants up with a short field, which they took advantage of with a field goal. This all came in a game that saw the Bucs lose by only three points. Though, most of that rally was led by Jameis Winston, who eventually replaced Fitzpatrick.
Here’s a serious question. Do either Fitzpatrick or Jameis Winston really want to start for Tampa? There’s strange pattern here. One of them starts and plays poorly for a few weeks. The other replaces him mid-game, plays relatively well, gets the starting job, and almost immediately goes back in the tank. On Sunday, it was Fitzpatrick’s turn to play the role of overmatched starter. He was quite convincing in that role. Now it’s Winston’s turn.
Josh Norman avoids DeAndre Hopkins, surrenders touchdown
The Washington Redskins just couldn’t get out of their own way in Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans. Prior to sustaining his season-ending injury, Alex Smith threw a ghastly pick-six (watch here) which was, at minimum, a 10-point swing. Josh Norman, meanwhile, looked lost. He committed two defensive holds. The second allowed the Texans to kill more than a minute off of the clock, which certainly could have helped the Redskins at the end. But what really gets our attention is a blown coverage against Hopkins.
Norman essentially ran away from Hopkins, cutting toward the middle of the field when Hopkins was running a sideline route. Norman tried to make up for it, but ended up in a rather hilarious looking face plant. It was the opening Deshaun Watson needed. While it’s frustrating, we can see how someone would forget to guard a third-string tight end or a tackle eligible, even in the red zone. But Hopkins? That’s a tremendous lapse in judgement.
Blake Bortles fails to see clear running lane
On their first nine plays of the fourth quarter, the Jacksonville Jaguars had “gained” negative three yards. Despite that, the Jaguars still would have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers if only Blake Bortles had seen the obvious on the 10th play. On a third-and-five, Jacksonville called a read option. Then, with literally the entire Pittsburgh defense keyed on Leonard Fournette, Bortles elected to just give the ball to his running back. Had he pulled the ball back, Bortles could have walked to a first down.
Really, it was a perfect reflection of the Jaguars’ season in 2018. Even when the opening is there, something always seems to go wrong. As a result, Jacksonville sits at 3-7. While the Jaguars still have six more games to play, they might as well start booking tee times for the first week of January.
Malcolm Butler boasts early, is roasted late
Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts was one that the Tennessee Titans would like to forget. But as bad as things ended up, they started okay. Malcolm Butler broke up a pass on third down and was apparently pretty pleased with himself. His trash talk proved quite premature. Butler was later beaten for two touchdown passes — once by Dontrelle Inman and once, for 68 yards, by T.Y. Hilton.
And unlike so many others who struggled in Week 11, this isn’t a one-game problem for Butler. He has struggled all season and it clearly looks like his best days are behind him. The Titans are still alive in the postseason race. But for that to be realistic, Butler will have to get much better.
Cam Newton misses wide open two-point play
Gano deserves his share of the blame for Sunday’s loss. And after the Panthers scored the late touchdown, the better decision might have been to just attempt the PAT and play for overtime. But Newton — who also threw an awful interception in this game — could have rendered it all moot if he had converted the two-point try. Jarius Wright was wide open. Any NFL quarterback should make that pass, especially one like Newton. In fact, Newton’s touchdown pass to D.J. Moore on the previous play had a much higher degree of difficulty.
Two weeks ago, the Panthers seemed like a virtual lock to make the playoffs and maybe even contend for the NFC South. Heading into Week 12, the New Orleans Saints have all but locked up the division. Worse is that Carolina has now dropped two in a row and finds itself in a battle for even a wild card spot. We’re not blaming that all solely on Newton. Heck, we’re not even blaming this loss only on him. But if Newton had hit Wright, the Panthers would have been up with little more than a minute to play. He didn’t.
Philip Rivers bungles final part of frustrating loss
Rivers made two mistakes down the stretch as his Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Denver Broncos. The first came late in the third quarter. Von Miller intercepted a pass from Rivers and returned it to inside the Los Angeles 20. That set up a touchdown. Had Rivers thrown the ball away, Los Angeles would have punted and Denver would have had, at best, the ball on its own 20. But even with that mistake, the Chargers were in position to win late in the fourth quarter.
The next huge mistake came immediately out of the two-minute warning. Los Angeles was up 22-20 and had the ball at midfield. The Chargers were facing a third-and-seven. Despite the Broncos not having a time out. Los Angeles called for a screen. When the play wasn’t there, Rivers fired the ball into the ground. Even if he took a sack, the Chargers would have punted the ball to Denver, putting the Broncos deep in their own territory, without a time out, and with little more than a minute remaining. Rivers handed Denver 40 seconds. Those proved crucial on the ensuing drive, which ended with a game-winning field goal.
Eagles draw up confounding game plan in Big Easy blowout
When a team is utterly humilated — as the Philadelphia Eagles were at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night — it can seem strange to pick one thing apart in hindsight. But one thing was clear going into the game. Philadelphia was only going to win if it could keep Drew Brees and that mighty New Orleans offense on the bench. The Eagles made virtually no effort. Philadelphia ran only twice on its first three possessions. Those resulted in two three-and-outs and an interception. When the dust settled, the Saints led 17-0 and at that point, the Eagles essentially had to pass.
What’s even worse is that Philadelphia actually ran the ball somewhat well. Josh Adams (who needs to be used more, in general) finished the game with 53 yards on only seven attempts. As a team, the Eagles rushed for a solid 4.8 yards a carry. And no, they were probably never going to win the game. New Orleans is on fire and was obviously in no mood to show any mercy. But Philadelphia took the field with a game plan that wasn’t going to yield anything but a blowout.
Kirk Cousins comes up short in big Sunday night clash
Cousins and his Minnesota Vikings trailed the Chicago Bears by the score of 14-6 when they got the ball with plenty of time remaining in Sunday night’s game. A good drive could have tied things up. That didn’t happen. One play into the drive, a horribly errant Cousins pass was intercepted by Eddie Jackson, who went 26 yards for the score. Cousins did rebound okay, throwing two touchdowns late. But that really amounted to garbage time. For all intents and purposes, this pick-six ended of the game.
And while Cousins played well after the pick-six, he was abysmal before. Through this play, Cousins was 16-for-26 with 129 yards passing, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. After it, he was 14-for-20 for 133 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. While that does show a nice bounce back ability, the overall game is troubling. Cousins was signed to be a franchise quarterback. Franchise quarterbacks are ones that go on the road against good teams and still perform well. For more than three-quarters of Sunday’s game, Cousins simply didn’t do that. It greatly contributed to a loss.