The NFL’s divisional round was wild, unpredictable, and featured three incredible finishes — including one that will go down in NFL history. With that much drama, there was no doubt that there were going to be some glaring, high-profile errors and mistakes from players and coaches alike during crunch time.
That is exactly what happened. From curious coaching decisions to bad plays that will haunt certain players for a long time to come, the weekend really had everything.
Here are the 10 biggest disappointments from the divisional round.
1) Marcus Williams, safety, Saints
Williams will probably have nightmares about the final play of this game for the rest of his life. He had the opportunity to wrap up Stefon Diggs — or, at the bare minimum, shove him out of bounds and force a field goal attempt. Instead, he completely whiffed on his tackle attempt. Had Williams been able to wrap up Diggs in bounds, the Vikings wouldn’t have had a chance to set and spike the ball, which would have ended the game and won it for New Orleans. For whatever reason, he ducked the tackle, and there was no one behind him to stop Diggs in what instantly became one of the greatest plays in NFL history. Perhaps he was scared of committing a penalty, but at least that wouldn’t have been an instant loss. For every hero, there’s a goat — and on Sunday, that goat was Williams.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers’ mentality
The Tennessee Titans pulled off an impressive comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday to advance to the second round of the NFL playoffs, and the victory was enough to make the team rule out a coaching change in 2018.
On Sunday, Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk announced that head coach Mike Mularkey’s job is safe.
“Our mantra all season has been to take things week by week and not get ahead of ourselves and it obviously has served us well. I regret that outside rumors gained a life of their own. No one has been a bigger supporter of Mike Mularkey than I have over the last two plus seasons,” Strunk said in a statement. “Mike and Jon have changed the culture of our team and organization and I am so happy we have been able to bring success on the field to our fans – winning 19 games over the last two seasons, including our first playoff win in nine years. Just to eliminate any distractions moving forward, Mike Mularkey is our head coach and will be our head coach moving forward. We still have work to be done, including this week, but I am looking forward to the journey.”
The Titans sputtered down the stretch in the regular season, but they ultimately did enough to make the playoffs and managed to get the job done in a tough environment in Kansas City. There had been talk that Mularkey may lose his job and that the Titans should bring in a coach who can get more out of Marcus Mariota, but that isn’t happening this offseason.
As NFL Wild Card weekend looms, eight teams will begin what they hope is their journey to the Super Bowl. There’s an interesting mix of usual suspects and new characters entering this year’s playoffs, from the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons to a Buffalo Bills team that will be playing their first playoff game in 18 years.
What should you be watching for in these four games? Here’s a look at some important factors that could determine who moves on and who goes home.
1. Andy Reid’s postseason game management
Andy Reid’s clock management is the stuff of legend. Two years ago, many argued it was a factor as the Chiefs were eliminated from the playoffs by the New England Patriots. Clock management has long been a criticism of Reid. He’ll lead his team up against the Tennessee Titans in the wild card game, and all eyes will be on Reid. He has something of a reputation as a good coach who is simply unable to win the big one, with questionable tactical and management decisions magnified during the playoffs. If Reid is at all a factor in this one and the Chiefs don’t win, those criticisms will get very, very loud.
Marcus Mariota is not having a very good season with the Titans, but the person who runs the team’s official Twitter account is not just going to sit back and let fans criticize the quarterback.
On Tuesday, the Titans tweeted an announcement showing their home and away opponents for the 2018 season. When one salty follower replied that the team is going to go 0-16 if Mariota is still its QB, the Titans fired back.
0-16 if Mariota is QB
— Chandler McKinney (@CDM_15) December 26, 2017
0-16 if you're our QB.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 26, 2017
Considering the way Mariota and the Titans have played lately, we’re going to give the edge to the fan in this social media spat. Tennessee has lost three straight games and is in danger of missing the playoffs, though a mistake from the officials proved extremely costly for them in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Mariota has thrown 11 interceptions in his last eight games, and he has a passer rating of 78.6 on the season. He has battled through some injuries, but the Titans expected much more from him in his third season as a pro.
The Tennessee Titans lost their third consecutive game on Sunday and are in danger of playing their way out of the postseason, but the officiating crew is at least partially responsible for their latest disappointing effort.
On Tuesday, NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora confirmed that an error made by Walt Anderson’s crew cost the Titans what would have been a successful onside kick recovery. The play occurred after DeMarco Murray scored a touchdown to tie the score at 20-20 with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter. Tennessee caught the Los Angeles Rams out of position on a surprise onside kick, but a penalty flag was thrown.
The Titans recovered the kick, but Anderson announced that the Rams had called a timeout. He then said they hadn’t and ruled that the ball was never put into play. Signora admitted that was a mistake in an email to Jason Wolf of The Tennesseean.
“The officials inadvertently miscommunicated to the Los Angeles sideline that it was a full timeout instead of a 30-second timeout” Signora explained. “When L.A. was not ready for the kickoff due to the miscommunication, the officials decided to shut it down and allow for a re-kick.”
The Titans then chose to kick the ball deep. They went on to lose 27-23, so the onside kick recovery could have been huge. Kicker Ryan Succop said the ball had been put in play and an official gave the signal indicating that was the case. Titans coach Mike Mularkey was furious after the game.
“I don’t even want to try and explain what they said,” Mularkey told reporters.
Officials make mistakes like anyone else, and it appears that’s what happened in this situation. The play didn’t get quite as much attention as a controversial ruling in New England, but it could prove to be one of the most costly officiating flubs of the season.
- Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have offered far too little on offense for some time now, and some players are getting fed up.
One, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, even went on the record to say that he believes it’s time to give quarterback Marcus Mariota more control over an offense that has been inexplicably slow and stagnant despite the quarterback’s skillset. In particular, the Titans’ reluctance to use a no-huddle offense that Mariota has excelled in has been particularly confusing to players.
“I’d rather have Marcus calling the shots,” Matthews said, via Cameron Wolfe of ESPN. “There’s proof in the success when that happens. I’d like to do no-huddle more. I know we’d all like to do it more. We definitely talk about it a lot. Sometimes we go into it a lot. Sometimes we don’t. This game we stayed in it, and I feel like we were pretty good when were in it.”
Wolfe reports that several Titans are in agreement with this, with a feeling that the Titans have occasionally grown too conservative in their playcalling.
There is definitely some frustration about the Tennessee offense. Perhaps Mariota’s status could have something to do with some of it.
We’re running out of weeks in the NFL season, and it’s put up or shut up time for many teams and players. Jobs are on the line now on lesser teams, while playoff spots are the obvious reward for those who still have things to play for. The big wins and heartbreaking losses only get more pronounced from here.
Here’s a glance at 15 big disappointments from Week 15 of the NFL season.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ late-game execution
At minimum, the Steelers looked like they had pretty much wrapped up a shot at a game-tying field goal against the Patriots. Even after Jesse James’s go-ahead touchdown was overturned on replay — controversial in itself — the Steelers had second and goal from the ten. A three-yard catch and a lack of timeouts saw the Steelers forced to run hurry-up, and they seemed to be in two minds as to whether they should spike it and take the field goal or try to force the issue. Ben Roethlisberger went with the latter and threw a backbreaking interception. The call will get all the attention, but Roethlisberger made a terrible decision to throw, and didn’t seem fully committed to the decision anyway, which he blamed on his coaches. Costly mistakes like that can’t happen.
There was nothing good to say about this Seattle performance in any way. The offense totaled just 149 yards. Russell Wilson was sacked seven times. The team was penalized nine times for 60 yards. They lost two fumbles. Then on defense, they gave up 352 yards and 19 first downs. Even special teams was found wanting, as the Seahawks allowed several lengthy punt returns and 128 yards total on punt returns. This should all but end Seattle’s playoff hopes, and it’s the worst performance this team has put together in a long while.