15 biggest disappointments of NFL Week 16
The penultimate week of the 2018 NFL regular season offered no shortage of thrills and memorable moments. That includes a dramatic game in New Orleans and massive playoff implications across the league that is setting up an even more intriguing Week 17.
For now, though, we’re still focused on this week and some of the teams and players that had big letdowns. Here are 15 big disappointments from NFL Week 16.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ ball control
If Pittsburgh does not make the playoffs this season, Stevan Ridley and JuJu Smith-Schuster will relive their final touches in New Orleans in their nightmares for an entire offseason. Ridley came first, fumbling at the New Orleans 34 and potentially costing the Steelers three points at a minimum in a game they lost by that margin. With 41 seconds left and the Steelers driving to stay alive — and nearing field goal range — Smith-Schuster lost the football, leading to a Saints recovery and the end of the game. Would the Steelers have tied or won the game? It’s entirely possible. They definitely left points on the board all because of two horribly-timed fumbles, and it probably cost them a playoff berth.
Kansas City Chiefs’ defense
The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense has been a weakness all season long, and their inability to stop Seattle on Sunday night cost them a chance to clinch the top seed in the AFC. KC, which entered the game 28th in the NFL in points allowed per game (27.1), got totally thrashed by the Seahawks. They allowed 271 passing yards and three touchdowns to Russell Wilson. They gave up 213 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and had no answer for the punishing Chris Carson. The Seahawks moved the ball at will and put up their second-highest point total of the season (38). Their offense may be excellent, but their defense is a liability.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
Tannehill very much did not get the big game that he would have hoped for with questions about his future hanging over his head. Against a Jacksonville defense that has been very hit-or-miss all season, Tannehill offered little, throwing for just 146 yards and a touchdown to go with one interception. It was a flat performance, and the interception was a pick six that Tannehill could only blame himself for. Those questions about his future only intensified after a game like this.
Green Bay Packers’ special teams
The Packers were exceptionally fortunate that their special teams unit didn’t cost them Sunday’s game. The list of failures was long, including allowing a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown, losing a fumble on a kickoff, failing to stop a fake punt, and capping it off by allowing a 51-yard return to give the Jets an easy path to field goal range with a minute left. There were other penalties and mistakes, and it was such a comedy of errors that a rather common activity was calling for special teams coordinator Ron Zook’s job. It’s safe to say after a performance like that they might get their wish.
Mike Tomlin, coach, Steelers
There are certain moments when a coach has to know when to be aggressive and when to dial it down. On Sunday, Tomlin chose wrong. On 4th and five from the Steelers’ own 42 with 4:11 left, Tomlin curiously chose to run a fake punt which failed just shy of the marker in somewhat hilarious fashion. New Orleans took full advantage of the short field to score a go-ahead touchdown and regain a lead that they did not lose. At that point, Tomlin has to punt it and trust his defense instead of being overly aggressive and ultimately causing a self-inflicted wound. If not, then maybe go for it using your best offensive players rather than a fake punt. This was an ugly one for him.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
It was the run game that carried the Patriots against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, as Brady simply didn’t do much through the air. He was limited to a miserable 126 yards and threw two interceptions to just one touchdown. In fact, the iconic quarterback had just ten more passing yards than leading rusher Sony Michel had rushing yards, and he got outthrown by nearly 100 yards by Bills counterpart Josh Allen. New England’s offense remains a point of concern, even as they clinch the two seed in the AFC.
Houston Texans’ pass defense
The one big issue the Texans still deal with is the fact that teams can effectively pass the ball against them. That was demonstrated over and over by Nick Foles and the Eagles on Sunday, as he threw for 471 yards and four touchdowns against the Houston defense. That included the game-ending drive that saw Philadelphia take advantage of a couple big plays despite starting at their own 11, aided by a controversial roughing the passer call. A good passing offense could prove to be Houston’s undoing.
Something about the Lions and Hail Marys simply do not mix. They were playing pretty well against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday until a Hail Mary at the half was hideously defended and ended with seven points. Instead of being up 9-7, the Lions went to the locker room down 14-9, and they never led again — nor did they come particularly close. It’s a microcosm of their season — promising, but not good enough, thanks largely to entirely preventable errors.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Gronkowski looks like a total shell of himself, and never more than he did on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. He was targeted three times but caught none of them, leaving him with an empty stat line. The last time he played well was against the Miami Dolphins, so this is an alarming decline in production. The New England passing game in general was a dud on Sunday, so Gronk was a victim of that, but it’s definitely a worrying trend.
New York Jets’ second half play
The Packers were behind by 15 points at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Jets simply gave it away. It happened as the Packers strung together drives of 94 and 83 yards within the last ten minutes to erase that deficit, and the Jets were lucky just to push it to overtime thanks to Green Bay’s special teams failures. Ultimately, the Jets have a long way to go, but even they should be winning games like this, where they held a comfortable lead as late as they did.
New York Giants’ defense
It turns out that the Jets weren’t the only New York team unable to hold a two-score lead on Sunday. The Giants jumped out to a 14-0 advantage on the road over the Indianapolis Colts, still had it at 17-7 at halftime, and had once again made it 24-14 with 3:42 left in the third. Then the Colts came storming back and the Giants stopped answering. They lost the field position battle in the fourth, leading to the Colts having a short field of just 53 yards on their go-ahead scoring drive. The entire city of New York is probably eager for NFL season to end at this point.
Hue Jackson, assistant, Bengals
It may be in Jackson’s best interests to leave the Cincinnati coaching staff after the season just to avoid playing Cleveland twice next year, because it keeps proving embarrassing for him. On Sunday the defense he helps surrendered 493 yards to the team he used to coach and he was humiliated by Cleveland’s new franchise quarterback who pretty clearly hates him. Jackson won just three games in two and a half seasons as Cleveland’s head coach. He has now been beaten by them twice this season alone as a member of Cincinnati’s staff.
Nick Mullens, QB, 49ers
Mullens clearly has some work to do in terms of his decision-making. The quarterback had the opportunity to lead his team to an upset win over the Chicago Bears, set up at the Chicago 45 yard line with a key fourth down and four in the final minute. Mullens couldn’t find an open receiver, but with no defenders anywhere near him, he launched an incompletion instead of tucking and running for what would have been an easy first down. The decision didn’t make any sense, and he has to do better than that going forward.
Taylor Heinicke, QB, Panthers
The week was disappointing from more than one perspective for Heinicke, making his first career NFL start. There was some hope that he’d look like a pretty competent NFL quarterback, but he relied heavily on checkdowns and was picked off three times by the Atlanta Falcons. It was disappointing personally as he wasn’t able to play much of the game at full strength. He sustained an elbow injury late in the first half that nagged at him during the second. He’ll hope that his only chance to impress in an NFL start isn’t derailed by injury and he gets a second, healthier chance next week.
Los Angeles Chargers’ offense
Full credit should go to the Baltimore defense for the work they did in this one, but considering how well they’ve been performing, this was simply a flat performance from the Chargers. Philip Rivers didn’t find the end zone, was picked off twice, and was held below 200 yards for the first time all season. The run game, even with Melvin Gordon back, offered little. It’s certainly a credit to the Ravens, but it’s also concerning for a Chargers team that looked like it might just run the table after a successful few weeks.