Bad blunders at the worst time
Wild Card Weekend had a lot to offer NFL fans. Unfortunately for many of the players, that included some notable blunders.
A bad interception from Deshaun Watson helped the Indianapolis Colts down the Houston Texans in the postseason opener. Victories by the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers left similar feelings for the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens, their vanquished opponents. The Wild Card Weekend finale saw the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Chicago Bears despite a horrible day from a key defender. An even worse day from Cody Parkey contributed to that. And in a theme that we hope doesn’t (but fear will) continue, the referees look baffled a little too often over the weekend.
The blunders have a tendency to really stick out in the playoffs. These were the eight most embarrassing blunders from NFL Wild Card Weekend.
Interception dooms Houston’s chances early
The Texans got off to an abysmal start against the Colts, falling behind 14-0. But Houston appeared poised to get back in the game when it drove into Indianapolis territory. The Texans soon faced a fourth-and-four. That’s when things went awry. Houston had a chance to get back in the game for one of the few times in the game, Deshaun Watson was given time. He needed to make a play. It didn’t happen. Watson threw to Ryan Griffin, who was blanketed. Kenny Moore intercepted it. If he wasn’t there, Anthony Walker would have at least broken it up.
On fourth down, the quarterback has to throw a catchable ball. Watson didn’t. While the Colts didn’t score on that possession, they did flip the field position. Soon enough, the Colts were in the end zone again and up 21-0. For all intents and purposes, that ended Houston’s game, and season.
Seattle‘s offensive strategy was impossibly bad
Make no mistake; Russell Wilson is not a bad pocket passer. But Wilson is at his best when he’s scrambling and keeping defenses on their heels. The defenses that do the best against him are the ones that limit his movement by taking his potential running lanes away. With that in mind, it’s baffling that the Seahawks drew up a gameplan which called for the offense to be bunched together — not spread out. The Cowboys had no choice but to keep Wilson contained. This strategy also shut the running attack down. Even with a 28-yard run from Rashaad Penny, Seattle ran for only 73 yards on 24 carries.
This looked like the kind of thing we’d expect to see in a meaningless Week 17 game, or even in the preseason. It’s hard to imagine anyone on the Seahawks thinking this would be a good strategy in a must-win game. It wasn’t.
Seattle offensive line goes out in grand style
As bad as the offensive strategy was, a crazy interception from K.J. Wright (watch here) kept the Seahawks in the game well into the fourth quarter. Then, as has happened so much over the last few seasons, the Seahawks were done in by an abysmal offensive line. On first down, a six-yard completion was nullified by a Justin Britt hold. On the next play, a five-yard gain turned into a loss when D.J. Fluker committed a blatant late hit on Jaylon Smith. This all led to a three-and-out. The Cowboys took advantage of good field position, scoring the touchdown to go up 24-14 and effectively ending the game.
If the Seahawks have real designs on getting back to the Super Bowl, the offensive line can’t be neglected. They also can’t overreact to every minor victory one of the scrap-heap linemen produces. A massive overhaul is needed. That means big money and/or early draft picks. The fact that this line imploded so miserably at such a key time was one of the least surprising parts of Wild Card Weekend.
Lamar Jackson looks completely lost in playoff debut
Sunday was memorable for Jackson. It just wasn’t for many good reasons. The Baltimore quarterback finished the day 14-for-29 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. And most of the positive stuff amounted to little more than garbage time production. Before the Chargers took a 23-3 lead, Jackson was 3-for-10 for only 25 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. He also had two fumbles to that point, though both were recovered by the Ravens. Jackson was also sacked seven times, including his third fumble, which was recovered by Los Angeles to clinch the game.
Of course, Jackson’s teammates could have helped him out more. But based purely on the eye test, he looked overwhelmed. By and large, Jackson’s rookie season was a smashing success. But Sunday taught us that he’s got some work to do in the offseason.
Ravens had no counter for Chargers defense
We saw a defense from the Chargers on Sunday that utilized seven defensive backs almost exclusively. And this wasn’t just in passing situations, either. It seemed like a gimme for the Ravens, a power team, to run between the tackles and attack the smaller defenders. They didn’t. Instead, Baltimore ran east to west, which played right into the hands of the faster Los Angeles defense.
Jackson was bad. That obviously had a lot to do with the end result. But the same can be said for the game plan drawn up by John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg. It was equally atrocious.
Referees bungle their way through Sunday
If anyone was hoping that the officiating situation would get better in the playoffs, those hopes have been dashed. The Chargers’ win over the Ravens gave us a two-play sequence in which both teams could have genuinely felt cheated. Derek Watt appeared to score a touchdown or, at worst, be stopped inches short of the goal line. But after a review, he was officially ruled down nearly a full yard short. On the next play, a Melvin Gordon fumble was scooped by Marlon Humphrey, who returned it for a score. Only, Gordon was ruled down, which was upheld by replay. One play later, he was in the end zone.
In the Eagles’ win over the Bears, we learned that a non-recovered fumble is actually an incomplete pass. Even if that is technically the correct call, it was awfully confusing. The confusion stemmed from the referees initially ruling the pass incomplete and picking the ball up (watch here).
While the NFL had a strong 2018 season, the goal should be to always improve. If this league wants to make that happen, a really hard look at the officiating is necessary in the offseason.
Avonte Maddox wins, but gets roasted all day
The rookie defensive back was beaten like a drum on Sunday. Once Mitchell Trubisky got rolling, he repeatedly went after Maddox with Allen Robinson. The two even connected on a touchdown pass. Maddox just had no answer to Robinson’s double move and looked significantly overwhelmed.
The good news for Maddox is that the Eagles advanced. In the postseason, that’s the name of the game. But now he’s moving on to a better opponent in an even tougher location. That’s also the name of the game in the playoffs. And if Trubisky did that against Maddox, imagine what Drew Brees is going to do in the Superdome — especially if he gets matched up with Michael Thomas. Maddox has to get better over the next week, and not by a small amount.
Cody Parkey becomes postman again
Parkey missed two field goals and had two more missed extra-points in Week 10, with all four misses hitting off of the post. He seemed to have things fixed. But that changed on Sunday evening.
Despite late-game heroics from Nick Foles, Parkey had a chance to send the Bears into the divisional round with a 43-yard kick. He missed, which tells only part of the story. Parkey’s kick was tipped, hit off of the left upright, and finally, the crossbar before falling harmlessly into the end zone. Prior to Sunday, it would have been nearly impossible to even imagine that happening.
The life of the kicker can be rough. Making a big kick will only get you remembered for a long time if it’s from some absurd distance or in bad weather. Missing one that should be made, though, will not soon be forgotten. Especially in the way that Parkey missed.