There are so many ingredients that go into creating the final outcome of classic NFL games, leaving fans, media and former players and coaches alike stewing for a long, long time.
Who came up with these silly overtime rules? Why did the Buffalo Bills kick the ball deep with 13 seconds left in regulation? Why did Mike Vrabel go for two in a 6-6 game in the second quarter?
And as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were frantically driving for the game-tying score with less than a minute to play in their Divisional Round game on Sunday, why did Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay throw Tampa Bay a lifeline by calling timeout just as the discombobulated Bucs were going to snap it on 4th-and-1?
But all of those curious decisions are playing for second place after a wild weekend of four walk-off winners. Because when you thought you’d seen all the head-scratching decisions in NFL games after the Rams timeout and the subsequent game-tying touchdown, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles told the world, hold my headset.
About the only way the Buccaneers could possibly lose in the final 40 seconds after Leonard Fournette tied it at 27-27 was to somehow allow someone like, oh, I don’t know, the Triple Crown-winning receiver and league MVP candidate Cooper Kupp get behind the defense to set up a game-winning field goal.
And sure enough, Bowles and Arians called for an all-out blitz they never needed to call, Kupp got open and the Rams are playing the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Within seconds of Kupp’s 44-yard reception, the second-guessers were out in full force. And they were led by two men that hit the Buccaneers awfully close to home.
Tony Dungy and Shaun King let their old team have it for making a bonehead decision
Tony Dungy knows a little something about coaching and how to call defensive plays. When he coached the Buccaneers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his defense was one of the elite units in the NFL.
In 1999, the last time the Buccaneers and Rams played each other in the playoffs, Dungy came within one of the worst official’s calls in NFL history – the Bert Emanuel catch ruled non-catch – of derailing Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” in the NFC Championship Game.
So, imagine what was going through Dungy’s mind when Kupp was suddenly wide open and the Rams had survived. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Dungy tweeted it pretty much immediately:
Dungy was far from alone in asking that question. Literally three minutes after Dungy’s tweet, his former quarterback from that 1999 Championship Game, Shaun King, basically said the same thing.
If anyone was hoping Arians was going to provide a decent answer to those questions after the game, they were sadly disappointed.
Arians, as only he can, made a bad situation worse by throwing his players under the bus
On Saturday, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel could have hung quarterback Ryan Tannehill out to dry for his three crippling interceptions in the 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but he took the high road instead.
Arians, on the other hand, has all the tact of a wrecking ball, and when asked what happened on the play, instead of acknowledging that they never should have called for a blitz in the first place, he threw his defense under the bus, blaming the failure on the play’s execution.
“Some guys didn’t blitz,” Arians said. “It was an all-out blitz. We should have gotten a ton of pressure.”
It should be noted that the original question to Arians was, “How was Kupp able to get so open? Did you have a blitz on?”
That question was not answered, beyond affirming that a blitz was called. So instead of taking responsibility for what happened, Arians punted, then backed the bus over his players.
It did appear there was a miscommunication on the field, and at least one player who should have blitzed instead dropped back into a no-man’s land, leaving safety Antoine Winfield alone to cover Kupp alone.
But that doesn’t change the fact that calling an all-out blitz in a situation where you can only lose by getting beat on an all-out blitz was a colossal blunder. And it was made worse when Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford offered his take on the play.
Stafford got the last laugh by reading the blitz, then beating it with a perfect strike
Even if everyone on the Buccaneers side of the ball got the message and carried out the blitz as called, the result was likely going to be the same. That’s because Stafford read the blitz from the get-go.
“I felt it after the snap,” Stafford said after the game. “Kind of recognized it was going to be an all-out pressure and was able to put it to a good spot. And Coop made a great catch.”
Once Stafford recognized that a blitz was on, he immediately knew that Kupp was going to have single-coverage. In fact, the blitz turned Kupp from a decoy on the play into the main receiver, making the decision to blitz look even worse.
“You’re really never getting the ball,” Stafford said of Kupp’s original role on the play, pre-snap. “You’re just clearing out some area, working for some other routes. They decided to bring everybody and that’s really the best option at that point.”
Best option for the Rams, that is.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference