Five Wide: 2023 Week Eighteen
By Thomas Willoughby
Well, there it goes. 18 weeks of regular season action ended with a bit of a whimper, really. The big showdown between the Bills and Dolphins proved to not really matter as much as we thought it might thanks to earlier results, and the NFC playoff spots was wrapped up with a Packers victory. All very ho hum, really.
Still, at least it’s over. We can now watch the playoffs in peace, and awe at the actually decent sides doing things our LOSERS can only dream of. Lovely. For one final time this regular season, however, let’s look back at some bits and pieces.
This season has been nothing short of a crushing disappointment for the Jacksonville Jaguars. 2022 was filled with so many positive steps forward, and it looked for all the world one of the NFL’s biggest losers had finally turned it around. A burgeoning QB, a proven success in the NFL as their head coach, and a division in flux. They were ready to make positive steps forward. And, somehow, they managed to finish the year 9-8, 2nd in the division, and not even in the playoffs. Stunning.
How did this even happen? Their slow start didn’t help them, but they came to London for a fortnight and flew home with two wins. They even beat the teams they were supposed to, securing a 24-21 in Houston which was supposed to tie up the division for them. They thought they were done! I mean look at this!
They went 1-3 after putting tickets for their playoff on sale, and let the Texans slip past them. They needed to beat the hapless Titans to win the division, and lost 28-20. So, where do they go from here? I suspect Pederson has enough credit in the bank to survive the season, but there now need to be serious questions over what Trevor Lawrence is. The hottest QB prospect in recent draft history has seldom lived up to reputation. I’m not saying move on, but I am saying 2024 needs to be a season of dominance in order to justify the contract he’ll no doubt demand.
Jameis Winston, YOU are getting cut this offseason. The Saints blew out the Falcons this Sunday in a game that ultimately mattered naught given results elsewhere, but that didn’t stop the Saints running up the score. And, listen, I don’t have an issue with that. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d want the same from the Falcons. The manner in which they went about it, however. Woof. Well, see for yourself.
Dennis Allen has said he explicitly told Winston to kneel, despite repeated requests to hand it off to Williams. Arthur Smith blew up at Allen after the game.
Falcons HC Arthur Smith had some words for Saints HC Dennis Allen in a heated exchange after the game. pic.twitter.com/EXit2gsjDJ— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 7, 2024
The issue isn’t scoring. It’s lining up in victory formation, indicating to the defense you’re not going to run a play, so they don’t really try to do anything. By handing the ball off, you’re putting your opponents in a position where they can get hurt as a result of simply not putting themselves in a position to protect themselves. That’s the issue, here. Not that the Saints scored, it’s how they scored.
Dennis Allen’s future should be under question, given his players are so willing to go against him for a laugh. And Jameis Winston’s time in New Orleans is almost certainly up for facilitating that sequence of events. And it’s absolutely in line with who the Saints are, and what they’re about.
History Making Losers
Big shout out to the Carolina Panthers who made history this weekend. They’ve managed to lose back-to-back games without scoring a single point, the first time a team has achieved that since the 2008 Cleveland Browns. A fitting end to one of the most miserable seasons I can remember.
I genuinely don’t know where the Panthers go from here. I’ve said it several times here, but salvation doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. Scott Fitterer, GM since 2021, has been relieved of his duties, and they’re now on the hunt for a HC/GM combo. Who would take that gig, mind? You’ve plenty of money but very little talent to work with, no first-round draft picks, and will be tasked with getting something out of a young QB that seemingly no one in the building apart from the owner wanted. Good luck to whoever takes those jobs.
The Cannenning: Part II
Speaking of the coaching landscape, Black Monday was a little quieter than I expected. Arthur Smith, despite my reservations, was the first out the door following the Falcons slapping by the Saints. 12.01 am in Atlanta, that press release was published. Absolutely ruthless. Ron Rivera was the next to go, a little later in the day. Mike Vrabel was literally let go the moment I finished writing this (nice one, Tennessee). Bill Belichick, who’s appeared to be out the door for a few weeks, is yet to have left the Patriots.
Will there be more? Possibly. The Saints have retained Dennis Allen, but after a second playoff-less season, it’s not out of the question that they decide to look elsewhere. After their defeat in week 18, some questions have been asked over the future of Nick Sirianni. I could fully see a scenario where the Eagles decide to move on from him if their post-season ends prematurely.
There are more twists incoming. I’m certain of it. I’m even gonna go out on a limb and suggest that a coaching prospect might do what Josh McDaniels did to the Colts in 2018, and ditch a team after verbally accepting a gig with them.
Time Tua Go?
Ending it this week with a premonition: Tua Tagovailoa will not be the Dolphins’ starting QB in 3 years. And I say that as someone who thinks pretty highly of him. I’m not sure his ceiling is quite as high as it needs to be in order for the Dolphins to get to where they get to. This season has confirmed that, for me.
This Sunday’s defeat to the Bills wasn’t his fault entirely. The Bills are hot, and the Dolphins have been stumbling around for a while. But, with the game on the line, knowing his team needs a play, Tua couldn’t make that play. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when he came up clutch when his team needed him to.
There’s a lot to like about him. Don’t get me wrong. But, if this side are to progress how they want to in the coming years, I feel like a change at the QB spot is going to happen, likely in the same manner the Rams moved from the pretty fine Jared Goff. Their season promised so much more than a 6th see finish and a trip to Kansas City. Some soul-searching is likely required fairly soon.
Features Image Credit: Wilfredo Lee-Associated Press