NFL Review: Week 18
What a year. It does feel like a bit of recency bias to say “have we ever seen a season as crazy as that one!?” But… at the same time… HAVE we ever seen a season as crazy as that one!? I’m not one who enjoys unnecessary hyperbole, but this year has had twists and turns and nonsense results the likes of which I can’t remember in previous years. The Lions beat the Cardinals. The Texans beat the Chargers. The AFC’s number 1 seed Titans were beaten by the Jets… It’s been madness out here.
And, of course, we had a suitably ridiculous conclusion to the regular season that kept giving us craziness until after midnight on the East coast of America. Sunday Night Football finished on Monday. We’ll get to the rest of the headlines, including Black Monday starting early today, but the ONLY place to start is in Las Vegas.
#TheTie That Never Was
We were two seconds away. Two seconds, a tick and a tock, from the most ridiculous, befuddling, mind-blowingly amazing ending to a game ever… and we were robbed. #TheTie was an idea that should never have had legs. It took a miraculous performance from the Jacksonville Jaguars (we’ll get to that) to even make this a possibility, but I will go to my grave saying “in Week 18 of the 2021/2022 NFL season, the Chargers and Raiders SHOULD have agreed pre-game to play for a tie and made the entire world watch 60 minutes of consecutive kneel downs.”
If you’re Brandon Staley, surely this morning you’re kicking yourself for not proposing the truce to Rich Bisaccia pre-game? I know I’m rambling on like a conspiracy theorist, but the dream of the most decisive end of season game ever ending in a tie to screw another team who had clawed their way back into the playoffs was so… hilarious… that I couldn’t help but cheer vociferously for it last night. Nothing against you Steeler Nation, nothing at all; It just would have been perfect.
But, okay, aside from the potential of #TheTie… This was – genuinely – the best NFL game I’ve ever seen. Was it quite as high-scoring as the Rams vs Chiefs on MNF in 2018? No, but the stakes in this one made it all the more special. It had eeeeeeeverything. Turnovers, Touchdowns, stupid coaching decisions, Justin Herbert being an absolute wizard, conesuctive 4th and long conversions with the entire game on the line, a TD with no time left on the clock, overtime, even more stupid coaching decisions, and all along the threat of impending stalemate.
I am so gutted we’ll never get to see the meltdown online from the Steelers fan base had this ended all square. It would have been poetic for Daniel Carlson to have missed that Field Goal for the win. A true shame that he’s an absolute sniper of a kicker, who in two full regular seasons is still yet to miss a kick inside Allegiant Stadium.
From early on the Raiders were in control, jumping out to an early 10-0 lead before Herbert and the Chargers had really woken up. LA fought back though, with Austin Ekeler (maybe my favourite player in the whole league) scoring once through the air and once on the ground to give the Bolts the lead approaching half time. But Derek Carr unveiled his secret weapon… he played HIS card… the “give me a huge pass interference call on an inaccurately thrown ball” card. It worked for the Raiders on thanksgiving in Dallas (and without it, they would not be in the playoffs), and it worked here again, as Zay Jones was nowhere near catching the deep shot, but the Chargers inexplicably grabbed him, enabling the Carr to find Renfrow and the Raiders to take a lead into the break.
From there, the Chargers were scrambling at all times. Brandon Staley was trying to force it, going for it on 4th and 1 from his own 18 yard line. Suffice to say, they didn’t get it, but the Chargers defense bailed them out and kept the game within reach. Eventually, with about 8 minutes left, the Chargers got the ball back down 15, knowing they needed two TDs to keep their season (and everyone’s hope of a tie) alive. They got the first TD – and the 2pt conversion – with a little over 4 mins to play, needing a defensive stop, which they also got.
So the stage was set: Justin Herbert needed to drive 78 yards in about 2 and a half minutes, with all 3 timeouts, and score a TD, to keep the Chargers season alive. Is Herbert for real? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. The Chargers covered those 78 yards in NINETEEN PLAYS, including multiple 4th and long conversions, to set up the Touchdown to Mike Williams with no time left on the clock. At this point, with the score tied, you really felt like the Tie was a likelihood, especially when both teams kicked a Field Goal on their opening possession of OT… but it wasn’t to be.
I’m absolutely heartbroken for the Chargers’ players, especially Ekeler and Herbert, both of whom were seen discussing the tie on the sidelines. Herbert said “I’ve never wanted a tie so much in my life.” You and me both, mate. All of this left Pittsburgh fans sweating. NBC repeatedly showing fans in Steelers jerseys inside Allegiant Stadium looking more and more distressed by the moment was a level of cruel humour that I really appreciate. But they need not have worried…
Brandon Staley took one of the most baffling timeouts in the history of the universe, and shot himself in the foot. The Raiders were running the ball, letting the clock run, and it looked like it was destined to end at 32-32 at 00:00. Staley said afterwards they wanted to get their best run stop personnel in. It didn’t work. Josh Jacobs got 10 yards, and they were done.
The Raiders – to be fair to them – have had an incredible turnaround following the horrible John Gruden and Henry Ruggs incidents earlier this year. Rich Bisaccia is the first coach in 60 years to take a team into the postseason following being appointed midway through the year. Give him great credit. And by winning the game, they avoid facing the Chiefs (who they would have faced with the tie). So I can’t blame them for kicking the Field Goal when given the chance… but I will absolutely blame Brandon Staley for calling that timeout. Justin Herbert deserved better.
Jaguars Ruin Colts' Year
Well, that was the fear all along wasn’t it? That when they really couldn’t afford to stumble… the Colts would have bad Carson Wentz show up. Somehow, the team with more Pro-Bowlers than any other in the league… is NOT in the Playoffs. What an absolute nightmare for GM Chris Ballard and HC Frank Reich. The Colts deserved a chance to make a run at the Lombardi.
That sound you can hear, the whooping and cheering, is all the AFC’s linebackers knowing they don’t have to try and tackle Jonathan Taylor in January weather. What a relief. And so… sitting warmly in Philadelphia, with a playoff spot in hand, Eagles fans are rubbing their hands together with glee at the fact that they own the Colts 1st round draft pick, and ended up in a better position having traded their former franchise guy. What a world.
Wentz was bad bad yesterday, in a spot where the Jaguars had nothing to lose and played like it. Nice to see Trevor Lawrence re-discover a bit of who he actually is… But I feel for Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, DeForest Buckner and the other pieces of that Colts defense. They deserved a playoff spot for the run they went on, beating New England, Arizona, and Buffalo. But… Losing to the Raiders last week was even more impactful than we thought it was. Can’t wait to see how this plays out on Hard Knocks, though I am sad we won’t actually get Hard Knocks in the playoffs… Maybe next year? But THANK YOU to the Jaguars for winning this game and creating the possibility of #TheTie. It kept me entertained all night. Good job Jags. Play like this more next year, it’ll help.
Steelers Sneak By Ravens For Big Ben
Just a quick aside on the AFC North scrap between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It wouldn’t have been right of me to not properly acknowledge the job done by both Head Coaches in this matchup this season. John Harbaugh almost dragged a Ravens team ravaged by injuries since before the season even started to a playoff berth. They lost countless running backs to injury, Lamar Jackson missed numerous games, and the Ravens were still there scrapping until the very end. How different would things have been if the Ravens had made those two 2pt conversions to win games? They’d be in the playoffs. A season of inches.
But conversely, Mike Tomlin continues his record of never having had a losing season, and gives Big Ben Roethlisberger ONE MORE shot at a playoff run. Sure, it’s going to be incredibly difficult (they have Kansas City at Arrowhead up first…), but you have to be in the dance to have a chance of winning it. I adored the video of Tomlin dancing in the locker room post game. That’s special. Sure, he’s had run ins with some of his players (Chase Claypool springs to mind first and foremost), but he’s an authoritarian and that will happen.
What you can’t question, is his methods get results, and he continues to build a legacy in Pittsburgh that should go on for a long time to come. My money is on the Steelers’ exiting in Kansas City, but Tomlin will attract a big name Free Agent QB and get right back on the horse next year. One last ride for Big Ben, then the future is now.
Jimmy G's Redemption Takes 49ers Into Playoffs
Let me give huge credit where it’s due: Jimmy G. Well done, son. A truly remarkable comeback from the Niners to force their way into the Playoffs, at the expense of the Saints. I have long been a “Jimmy G denier”: I firmly believe he’s a million dollar smile in a Primark suit, BUT yesterday he delivered. Fighting through a hand injury, to lead a 17 point comeback, and be the first team to ever defeat Sean McVay when he had a half time lead. McVay was 45-0 until yesterday. Unbelievable.
Garoppolo showed grit and poise the likes of which I haven’t seen before. He was a passenger on that 49ers run to the SuperBowl a few years back, but this performance showed he’s grown somewhat. He was assertive, decisive and precise, all words I never thought I’d be able to use about him. Credit to Kyle Shanahan for sticking by him. He repaid the faith big time. Deebo Samuel again was instrumental in the comeback and victory, and he has truly vaulted himself into the “elite Playmaker” category this season. The 49ers reward for their heroics? A trip to Dallas, in what promises to be arguably the best game of Super Wildcard Weekend.
- The Cowboys put a beating on the Eagles’ second stringers. Special mention for Dak Prescott throwing 5 TDs to break Tony Romo’s single-season record for the Cowboys.
- Sidenote: only 1 rookie Head Coach led his team to the playoffs this season. Nick Sirianni. Congratulations to him and the Eagles organisation. A job well done.
- The Browns got a nice win over the Bengals’ benchmen. Good for Cleveland. I firmly believe that that fanbase deserves some happiness. Will Stefanski keep Baker as the QB in 2022? He should. The Browns have been struck with awful luck this year.
- Great win for Dan Campbell’s Detroit Lions. Credit to the lot of them, they stuck with it this year, and deserved that win over the Packers yesterday. I maintain… the future is bright in Detroit if they can continue to draft as well as they did last season.
- If that was the last game of the Russell Wilson era in Seattle… that’s one hell of a performance to go out on…
- Sadly… the Cardinals are limping into the postseason following a run of 4 defeats in their last 5. Kliff Kingsbury is going to hear some loud criticism if they fall at the first hurdle next weekend.
- Tough way for the Saints to fail to make the Playoffs, but Sean Payton still did an incredible job coaching this team this year. With Taysom Hill seemingly out for a while, it’s not a bad thing we don’t have to watch Trevor Siemian next weekend in PrimeTime. Nobody wants Ian Book again either… The Saints will come back stronger next year, probably with Jameis Winston back at the helm.
- The Buccaneers win 13 regular season games for the first time ever by dispatching the Panthers. Rob Gronkowski (again) was on fire, and Mike Evans showed that the Bucs will be okay without AB. They need Fournette back asap, with Godwin done for the year, but the Bucs won’t be an easy out for anybody in the post-season.
- And… Coaches are being fired EVERYWHERE.
- Vic Fangio is gone in Denver. No surprise there. Very telling that the Team’s official statement referenced a much-needed improvement on offense. With Jeudy, Patrick, & Sutton, plus Fant, and Javonte Williams, the Broncos actually have some good pieces which will draw a lot of attention from available coaches. That defense is legit, and young and explosive, meaning there’s a lot to be excited about for the Broncos in the near future. The key pieces they need? A good coach, and a QB more explosive than Teddy Bridgewater. With those, Denver could seriously compete in the AFC West again as early as next season. They have a ton of cap space, young stars tied to good deals, and a bunch of picks… Then add… Matt Ryan? Russell Wilson? … dare I say, Aaron Rodgers?! Or Deshaun Watson!? Who knows… but this off-season will be intriguing in the Mile High City for sure. It’s arguably the best Head Coach opening right now.
- Mike Zimmer is gone in Minnesota. Many Vikings fans will rejoice. This is another intriguing opening, with Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson being one of the best trios of offensive weapons in the league, but does a new Head Coach trust and believe in Kirk Cousins? I don’t…
- Matt Nagy is (finally) gone in Chicago, and is GM Ryan Pace. They’ve both been dead men walking for a while now, and you just hope for Justin Fields’ career that the Bears ownership put someone in place who can help their talented young QB succeed.
- Joe Judge has… kept his job!? Wow. After running a QB sneak on 3rd and 9 yesterday, it felt like the writing might be on the wall in New York, but instead it’s GM Dave Gettleman who is “retiring.” Is Daniel Jones the guy going forward? Giants fans deserve better than what they’ve had over the last 5 years.
- And so… after 19 wins the last two years… my beloved Miami Dolphins… have fired Brian Flores. WHAT ARE WE DOINGGGGGGGGG? That was a horrible newsflash to wake up to this morning. It makes no sense. Sure, am I disappointed to miss the playoffs by one win for the second season running? YES. But Flores was building a culture, players on our team and on other teams around the league seem to love and respect him in a way that makes Miami an attractive destination for free agents. I’m shocked, upset, and confused.
Wild Card Preview & Predictions:
So after all the dust settled… it was Green Bay and Tennessee who earned the right to have a weekend off next week. Good for Mike Vrabel. The wins they’ve had, coupled with the injuries and covid issues… what a job he’s done. Derrick Henry will be back for this post season run and… fresh!? The Titans will be dangerous.
There’s not much I can say about Green Bay that I haven’t already said. They’re much better than they were last year, by virtue of a vastly improved defense and the addition of AJ Dillon into their gameplan. Rodgers now has 3 seasons of 35+ TDs and less than 5 INTs. Every other player in NFL history has combined for ONE such season. Wild. Shoutout Field Yates for that insane stat.
Anyway, onto business: Super Wildcard Weekend.
Saturday: Raiders @ Bengals, & Patriots @ Bills
Give me the Bengals & the Bills. They’re both the better teams.
Sunday: Eagles @ Buccaneers, 49ers @ Cowboys, & Steelers @ Chiefs
The Chiefs and Cowboys will be too strong, but give me the Eagles! That’s my big upset of the week. Jalen Hurts’ coming out party in Tampa next sunday Lunchtime. We’re all invited.
Monday: Cardinals @ Rams
This is probably dumb, but you know I have to ride with the team I am hoping and praying and WILLING to be good. Cardinals all day. Also, there’s nothing better than a team going “all-in” a-la the Rams and losing early. Come on Kyler. Do the magic.
And that’s it. We made it through 18 weeks and here we are. Playoffs! The most exciting time of the year. If you’ve read any of these all year, thank you for taking the time to do so. I’m humbled that you choose to spend any amount of minutes reading my thoughts and theories. Have a great week, enjoy the Saturday and Sunday games, see you here next week to chat again. I’m @CallumJDSquires on Twitter and Instagram. Cheers. Stay safe.
CALLUM IS FROM LONDON, BUT PLAYED COLLEGE SOCCER AT TRINITY UNIVERSITY IN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, WHERE HE LEARNED NEVER TO CHEER FOR THE COWBOYS. CALLUM IS A LONG-SUFFERING DOLPHINS FAN WHO BELIEVES THE TUA HYPE. FIND HIM ON TWITTER @CALLUMJDSQUIRES