Glaring blunders from good and bad teams alike
The 2018 NFL regular season came to an end on Sunday. On a day that gave us so much relevant action, plenty of blunders stood out.
There were many meaningful games throughout Week 17. One exception was the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants. But while the game was meaningless, neither coach seemed to realize it. Kirk Cousins had a rough first year with the Minnesota Vikings. Week 17’s finish was no exception. The same is true for the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
In the final week of the NFL season, we saw some glaring blunders from good and bad teams, alike.
These were the most embarrassing among them.
Jason Garrett and Cowboys take meaningless game quite seriously
The Cowboys entered Sunday as one of only two teams locked into a playoff spot (the New Orleans Saints were the other). Win, lose, or draw, Dallas was going to be the No. 4 seed in the NFC. So, why in the world did Garrett decide to leave his many of his starters — including quarterback Dak Prescott — in for the entire game? To an extent, we get wanting to avoid rust. But that could be achieved by leaving the starters in for a quarter, or even a half.
That decision was nearly costly. First of all, while Prescott was playing, some of the best Cowboys’ linemen were not. On top of that, star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually hurt in the second half. While the injury didn’t appear to be serious, the fact that he was hurt at all shows why leaving the starters in was so negligent.
Pat Shurmur and Giants pass on chance to see young QB
A season ago, Ben McAdoo, made the controversial decision to not start Eli Manning in a game. That ended a lengthy consecutive starts streak. Not much positive came out of that decision. But McAdoo did give Pat Shurmur — the man who eventually took his job — something of a get out of jail free card. With the streak off the table, there was no longer any harm in benching Manning in favor of a young quarterback in a meaningless games, like Sunday’s.
We understand that the Cowboys and Giants are old rivals. And if a New York win would have hurt Dallas in literally any way, we’d get it. But that wasn’t the case. This was an opportunity to get Kyle Lauletta reps against real NFL players, many of them starters, in what amounted to a glorified preseason game. Shurmur didn’t take it.
Kirk Cousins lays one final egg in must-win game
Cousins’ first season under center in Minnesota was, by and large, a huge disappointment. Fittingly enough, Week 17 didn’t break that trend. Cousins didn’t turn the ball over. But he was 20-of-32 for only 132 yards. That’s only four yards per attempt and only 6.6 per completion. In the same game, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had a fairly mediocre passing effort. Even still, he was at 6.3 yards per attempt and 9.1 per completion.
Cousins being so far below that performance is just embarrassing. Yes, the Bears defense is phenomenal. But Cousins was paid like a franchise quarterback. The Vikings, who were one game away from the Super Bowl a season ago, brought him in to get over the hump against teams like this. Cousins failed to do that all year. He still had a chance to get Minnesota into the playoffs, which would have been something of a reset button. Instead, Cousins was as bland as ever.
Raiders start 2018 how they finished it…completely clueless
To say that Derek Carr and Jared Cook weren’t on the same page on this pick-six would be a vast understatement. They were reading two different books in very different languages. With the Raiders already trailing 7-0 to the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr threw a pass to Cook. It was intercepted by Daniel Sorenson and returned for a touchdown.
Two things were especially notable about this play. One, Cook had completely stopped on the play. Almost as if he thought it was a dead ball. Two, even if Cook hadn’t stopped running, we’re not sure the play would have been any different. Sorenson was between Carr and Cook, anyway. The 2018 season has been one long blunder for Raiders. It was only fitting that the season ended with a beauty like this.
Seahawks win but are still hopeless in protecting Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-24, making the winning field goal as time expired. Given that Seattle is heading to the playoffs, needing that much of an effort to beat the team that landed the No. 1 draft pick is troubling enough. What’s really problematic for the Seahawks is that, yet again, the offensive line was badly exposed. Russell Wilson was sacked six times and hit eight. That’s bad. Imagine how much worse it would have been if he wasn’t so mobile.
The problem here is that Seattle is now getting ready for the playoffs. It’s going to play the best teams that the NFL has to offer. And if the worst team in the NFL can get to Wilson like that, imagine what Demarcus Lawrence and the rest of the Dallas pass rush will do on Wild Card Weekend.
49ers look completely lost in regular season finale
Realistically, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t need a lot of help to beat San Francisco on Sunday. But the 49ers were more than happy to assist, anyway. San Francisco’s first two possessions ended in turnovers. As a result, the Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead on touchdown drives that went a combined 20 yards. Another turnover (an interception) ended the 49ers’ third drive, as well. That didn’t lead to a Rams score but San Francisco was in the red zone and in position to score at least three. Mind you, that awful start doesn’t even include a pick-six. One of those came early in the second quarter.
In the final game of the season, the 49ers came out completely unprepared and were demolished. We weren’t expecting to see San Francisco win. But finishing the year on that kind of effort was just dismal.
Chargers left Melvin Gordon in during meaningless minutes
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon seems to have avoided a serious injury. That’s the good news. The bad news is that since Los Angeles is playing next week (in a playoff game, no less), even a minor injury is potentially significant. The timing of Gordon’s injury only makes things worse.
In order for Los Angeles’ game against the Denver Broncos to mean anything, the Raiders had to upset the Chiefs. Gordon’s injury actually came after the game in Kansas City went final. Even if it was earlier, it was clear early and often that the Raiders weren’t winning. So, Gordon’s injury came at a time when there was absolutely no reason for him to be in the game. Given his recent injury history, playing Gordon at that time was a risk that Anthony Lynn never should have considered taking.
Titans and Colts combined for some doozies
Sunday’s finale between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans was filled with blunders. The one that had the biggest impact on the game’s end result came from Blaine Gabbert. While the Titans were generally outplayed, they had a chance to tie the Colts in the fourth quarter. But Tennessee’s drive (and for all intents and purposes, it’s chances) were halted by a completely baffling pick from Gabbert. Kenny Moore II’s interception led to a field goal and a 10-point lead.
Now, it’s not fair to expect Gabbert to be Andrew Luck or even Marcus Mariota. But we just can’t see what he was trying to do with this pass. This gaffe ended the game and, for all intents and purposes, the Titans’ season.