With three weeks to go in the regular season, we have a good idea of the teams that won’t be playing January. More than a third of the league — 12 teams, to be exact — has been eliminated from playoff contention. Six of those teams were knocked out of the race on Sunday.
For anyone hoping for a little clarity on who will be in the postseason, you’ll have to wait a little longer. So far, only three teams are in (Saints, Ravens, Chiefs), with the last two joining the party this week.
That leaves 17 teams vying for just nine playoff spots. And for some, there’s little margin for error. The difference between making the postseason and packing up your locker room on Dec. 30 can sometimes come down to the little things.
With that in mind, let’s get to this week’s dumbest mistakes. Well, most of them anyway. Honestly, this whole list could’ve been devoted to the officiating in the Patriots-Chiefs game, but they gave us enough material to work with that we decided to keep it separate.
So below, we’re going to concentrate on the biggest other blunders in Week 14, many of which either came courtesy of rookies or players who reverted back to their rookie form.
8. David Blough blew it on a big third down for the Lions
Blough wasn’t supposed to be starting games for the Lions this season. But after injuries to Matthew Stafford and Jeff Driskel, the undrafted free agent got his second start Sunday against the Vikings.
His inexperience was most notable late in the second quarter with the Lions facing a third-and-2 from Minnesota’s 15-yard line. Not only did Blough take a costly sack for a loss of 12 yards, but he also didn’t see that Marvin Jones was wiiiiide open:
On the critical 3rd-and-short sack, Blough missed a wide-open Marvin Jones for an easy first down.
10-point swing. pic.twitter.com/XYOIftCU1k
— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 8, 2019
The Lions were only down 10-0 at that point, so this could have given Detroit some much-needed momentum early in the game. Instead of scoring a touchdown on this drive, or even getting to attempt an easier field goal, the Lions missed a 45-yard kick. The Vikings countered with a touchdown drive to make it 17-0 at halftime and Detroit ended up losing 20-7. It’s safe to say Blough would want this one back.
7. A referee had to tell the Rams cheerleaders to get off the field
It’s our first appearance by a cheerleading squad in 2019! Los Angeles jumped out to a 21-3 lead over the Seahawks in the first half on Sunday Night Football, but the third touchdown of the half was slightly delayed because the Rams’ cheerleaders, as well as the mascot, were dancing in the opposite end zone.
they had to call timeout on the field to throw the cheerleaders out of the end zone pic.twitter.com/Ma4y8Gttg2
— Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 9, 2019
If we were to guess, they probably won’t be bothered at all by making this list. Look how carefree and happy they were immediately after the referee told them to get off the field.
Even the mascot Rampage looks like he’s smiling. Don’t mind us, Rams cheerleaders. Keep living your best life.
6. The Steelers picked a terrible time to try a fake punt
Pittsburgh escaped Arizona with a 23-17 win over the Cardinals. But the game was much closer than it needed to be, especially after the Steelers ran a disastrous fake punt from their own side of the field on a fourth-and-6.
Up 20-10 with just over eight minutes to go, Pittsburgh elected to go with a fake punt from its 40-yard line, and it was the ugliest fake you’ll find.
Our fake punt > Their fake punt pic.twitter.com/yY0gxkFGHN
— Arizona Cardinals ⋈ (@AZCardinals) December 8, 2019
First, it was a bad snap. Then, the Steelers decided to run it directly into three free Cardinals players. A pass would have made a lot more sense. Instead, it was a fumble, the Cardinals got the ball, and three plays later, scored a touchdown to make it a three-point game.
P Jordan Berry: “The guys up front called it off and nobody told me. I just tried to make a run for it and I ran straight into some guys. I was planning on getting ready to run up there and they all shot off to go cover and I was like, Aw (expletive).”
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) December 9, 2019
No matter what, it was the kind of miscue that could have cost Pittsburgh a spot in the playoffs — just like a bad fake punt did a year ago. This time, the Steelers were lucky.
5. The refs flagged Earl Thomas for getting pushed by his own teammate
Buffalo struggled to establish any kind of offensive consistency against the Ravens. The Bills finished their 24-17 loss to the AFC’s top team with just 209 yards of total offense and an inefficient 3.1 yards per play.
That meant any gain was a big deal for Buffalo — even if it was completely unearned. Like when Earl Thomas received a 15-yard penalty for standing too close to the strip sack he created:
Earl Thomas got a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty because his teammate shoved him over Josh Allen’s back pic.twitter.com/SU2Sjc0xiE
— Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 8, 2019
Thomas got dinged for unnecessary roughness just for being the third man in a chain reaction. While he had no malicious intent in the play whatsoever, the officials’ ruling wiped out what should have been an 8-yard loss yard and turned it into a free first down for the Bills. That helped lead to a field goal that made the score 17-9 six plays later.
4. Kyler Murray threw a pick instead of running for a first down (or more)
Murray is having a pretty decent rookie season, despite the lack of help around him in Arizona. He could even end up as Offensive Rookie of the Year, even if it’s a little bit by default.
He’s still prone to rookie mistakes, however. Never was that more apparent Sunday than early in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals were knocking on the Steelers’ door on fourth-and-2 from Pittsburgh’s 6-yard line. A touchdown would have cut the Cardinals’ deficit to three points, but they also could’ve just picked up a first down and gotten four more chances to punch the ball in.
Murray had room to run for the first down — and maybe even get into the end zone, Rather than take the yards, though, Murray threw the ball directly into the hands of T.J. Watt:
— NFL (@NFL) December 8, 2019
The Cardinals lost 23-17 to the Steelers, their sixth loss in a row. Had Murray not thrown this interception, there’s a chance Arizona could have pulled off an upset. Just another lesson Murray is learning during his rookie season.
3. Dawson Knox’s olé block gave the Ravens their best field position
Knox has been a solid contributor to the Bills’ ascendant passing game. The former Ole Miss star has 26 catches and a pair of touchdowns through his first 13 games as a pro. His ability to stretch the field vertically from the tight end position has helped open passing lanes through which other Buffalo targets could thrive.
His blocking, however, could use some work.
Dawson Knox, your edge blocking, woof pic.twitter.com/uTQ8tCKCei
— Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 8, 2019
Knox’s complete inability to contain Matthew Judon led to an inevitable strip sack that handed Baltimore possession at the Buffalo 24-yard line. That turnover led to a Ravens touchdown five plays later in a game Baltimore went on to win by seven points.
2. The Saints didn’t even really try to score before halftime
New Orleans didn’t have much time to score after the 49ers got a touchdown with 42 seconds left in the first half. But hey, the Saints already had four first-half touchdowns in a shootout. It at least seemed like enough time to set up a field goal.
Instead, the Saints looked confused and out of sorts in the final seconds of the second quarter.
After setting up in shotgun on their own 28-yard line, here’s what the Saints did:
- Alvin Kamara run for 6 yards
- Ater 20 seconds ticked off the clock, a screen play with 13 seconds left to Latavius Murray that lost 5 yards
- Then, with six seconds left in the half, the Saints used their final timeout
- The Saints handed the ball to Murray one more time
New Orleans would’ve needed about 30 yards to give Wil Lutz a chance at a field goal. That was very doable, but the Saints let that opportunity slip through their fingers and trailed 28-27 at halftime. Three more points would’ve been useful in a game they lost by two.
1. Derek Carr threw the ball away on fourth down … again
The Raiders were already just about toast in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Even if Oakland’s nine-play drive in the fourth quarter ended with a touchdown, the team still would’ve needed two more touchdowns in less than four minutes to catch up to the Titans.
So while it wasn’t exactly devastating when Derek Carr’s pass on fourth down sailed out of bounds, he still should’ve given his receivers a chance to come down it it:
— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) December 9, 2019
An interception wouldn’t have mattered — the Titans were getting the ball back either way.
It ended up being Oakland’s last offensive play too. Tennessee picked up two first downs and milked the remaining time off the clock.
What makes the throwaway from Carr more of a head scratcher is that he’s done this before. He intentionally dumped a pass at his running back’s feet on fourth down late in a loss to the Chargers during the 2018 season. Raiders coach Jon Gruden defended him then, and defended him again for his wasted play Sunday:
#Raiders coach Jon Gruden, when asked about QB Derek Carr throwing the ball away on 4th and goal from the two, trailing by 21. “He exhausted that play for what it was. I’m not going to be one to stand here and say that a turning point in the game…(more)”
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) December 9, 2019
Gruden’s right that it wasn’t even close to a turning point. The problem is that Carr’s in his sixth year starting in the league, and he still keeps making the same mistakes over and over.