In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 11, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.
A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates.
Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird that is colored mostly black; metaphorically speaking, it’s an unforeseen event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.
Week 12 Pawns
You can read about Tyreek Hill’s outstanding week in just about every other weekly recap, but you won’t see it here. Instead, I’m giving these overlooked players the recognition they deserve. (I’m also a Broncos fan, so screw Tyreek Hill.)
The Buccaneers’ Lines
I’ll keep this quick because I’ve got a lot more to talk about here. We all know Tampa Bay’s front dominated Seattle’s poor excuse for an offensive line, generating six sacks in a 14-5 win; but did you know that the Bucs’ offensive line did now allow a single sack in spite of facing a team with 31 on the year?
Here’s to you: Donovan Smith, Kevin Pamphile, Joe Hawley, Ali Marpet, and Demar Dotson.
John Harbaugh, Head Coach, Ravens
Some poked fun at Chip Kelly back in Week 9 when he told his defense to commit holding penalties across the board on Saints receivers, with New Orleans in scoring position and the half winding down. But John Harbaugh was clearly not one of them. Instead, the Ravens head coach was taking notes.
In Week 12, the Ravens found themselves up 19-12 over the Bengals with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter. After three running plays, Baltimore was set to punt the ball back to the Bengals with just 11 seconds remaining. Or at least it appeared that way.
Using some Chip Kelly-esque genius, Harbaugh manipulated the rules to avoid giving the Bengals a chance to return the punt and possibly tie the game. Harbaugh instructed his punter, Sam Koch, to take the snap and retreat back to his own endzone, while the rest of the punt team committed holding penalties. Once all the time had run off the game clock, Koch then stepped out the back of the endzone and sacrificed the two points.
The play may have looked like it was straight from an NFL Follies video, but the brilliant tactic resulted in the Bengals not having any opportunity to put some miraculous return/hail mary together to tie the game. It should also be noted that Harbaugh’s players knew they could not continue holding their opponent when they reached the endzone. Thanks to this move, the Ravens remain atop the NFC North and all but ended the Bengals’ season. (Justin Tucker was pretty good, too.)
Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Dolphins
When you take a look at the box score from the Dolphins win over the 49ers on Sunday, Ndamukong Suh’s three tackles are easy to overlook. But his effort on the last tackle he recorded, and the significance of it, should be promulgated.
The situation was such: Miami was up 31-24; the 49ers had the ball on the Dolphins’ six-yard line; two seconds were left in regulation.
Here’s how it played out: Colin Kaepernick took the shotgun snap and looked for a receiver in the endzone. Pressure from the two outside pass rushers (Andre Branch and Cameron Wake) forced him to step-up in the pocket, but there was Suh, who had easily beaten guard Joshua Garnett. Kaepernick pulled the ball down, opened a lane in front of him with a nice ball fake to the corner, and tried to slash through it. But he was tackled from behind by the same man who flushed him from the pocket.
If not for Suh’s effort on this play, Kaepernick would have scored and the 49ers would have forced overtime. With more plays like this, the defender may finally begin living up to that massive contract. But we can discuss that another time; hell of a job for now, Suh!
Malcolm Butler, Corner, Patriots
No, the Patriots corner didn’t shut down Brandon Marshall or Quincy Enunwa; but he did make the play that changed the game.
The Jets had the ball at their own 25-yard line, up 10-3 with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half. Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass but was quickly scrambling from the pocket to escape the pass rush. Rolling to his right, Fitzpatrick found receiver Robby Anderson 17 yards downfield. Anderson hauled in the pass and stopped on a dime to shake his defender, Malcolm Butler, yet again. As he turned upfield, however, Butler gave chase. The corner realized that teammate Devin McCourty had Anderson wrapped up, and went hunting for the ball. With one swift punch, Butler knocked the ball loose, then had the awareness to jump on it as well.
The Pats took over at midfield and capitalized on the turnover, tying the game at ten. New England’s offense didn’t have much of a pulse through the entire first half, but seized the momentum created by Butler. Without Butler’s takeaway, the Jets would have likely put more points on the board with that drive, which may have been too much for a banged-up Tom Brady to overcome.
Week 12 Black Swans
Sean Payton proved it’s easy to pick on Gregg Williams’ defense in Week 12, but let’s not forget about these guys who made costly errors this past week.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver, Vikings
Yes, we all remember Sam Bradford throwing that interception to Darius Slay with 30 seconds left and the game tied. But do you remember what happened right before the interception?
The Vikes were facing a third-and-two from their own 33-yard line with 43 seconds left. Bradford completed a pass to Jerick McKinnon that went for seven yards. Minnesota appeared to be in great shape with only about 25 yards to go and a timeout remaining. Then we realized there was a flag on the play. Cordarrelle Patterson did not cover up the tackle inside of him, which caused an illegal formation. The Vikings were sent back five yards and forced to do it all over again, but this time needing seven yards instead of two.
This was a massive mental error that led to the Vikings giving the game away. I’m not scooping blame from Bradford, just adding some to Patterson’s plate.
Trai Turner, Offensive Lineman, Panthers
The Carolina Panthers desperately needed a win in Week 12 over the Oakland Raiders to keep their slim playoff chances at just that: slim. Down by three with 1:15 left to play, the Panthers had the ball at the Oakland 44-yard line and were driving.
Three incomplete passes later, the Panthers were facing fourth-and-ten just outside of Graham Gano’s range. So Ron Rivera elected to go for it. Cam Newton took the snap from shotgun and scanned the field, assuming his six protectors would afford him some time against the four Oakland rushers. But that was not the case, as Khalil Mack beat right tackle Trai Turner and stripped the ball from Newton.
I’m not calling Turner out here for getting beat by one of the best pass-rushers in the league, but I am putting him on blast for the way he got beat. Turner, who was forced into the right tackle position due to injury (he normally plays right guard), had help on the outside from running back Fozzy Whittaker. He had one job: don’t get beat inside. (If Mack used speed to the outside, Whitaker would be there to chip him back towards Turner.) Yet, there he was, getting beat inside.
Whitaker was not in a position to afford any help to the inside, and the right guard was occupied with the defensive tackle. Mack found his way to Newton and put another nail in Carolina’s coffin. See kids, this is why it’s important to know the entire concept, not just your role on each play.
There was no doubt that the Bears receiving corps would not be the same without Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Zach Miller. But I didn’t see it being this bad.
In their 27-21 loss to the Titans, Chicago receivers dropped ten passes, five in the fourth quarter alone. The worst of them all came in the most critical moment of the game, too.
With just under two minutes remaining and the Bears trailing by six, Matt Barkley drove his team 58 yards to the Tennessee seven-yard line. Facing first-and-goal with 47 seconds on the clock, Barkley threw a strike to a wide open Josh Bellamy in the endzone. Bellamy let it to bounce off his chest and fall to the turf.
They still had three more opportunities to score, of course. Second and third down resulted in two more incompletions on well-defended plays. On fourth, a bad blitz pickup saw Barkley under immediate pressure. The pivot displayed great poise, though, holding in the pocket knowing he was going to take a hit. Barkley delivered a pass to the back of the endzone that was right on the numbers of a sliding Deonte Thompson, but he too watched the ball clunk off his shoulder pads and fall to the ground.
These are only two of the ten drops, but they were the most costly of the bunch. Jordan Howard needs to join the rest of the Bears receivers in putting the Jugs machine to use this week. It must be tough for Bears fans to swallow this one after getting a performance like that from Barkley.
Broncos Special Teams
While Gary Kubiak is getting roasted like a chestnut on an open fire for his decision to attempt a 62-yard field goal, I’m going to point elsewhere as the cause for Denver’s loss in their overtime thriller against KC: the special teams. And no, I’m not just pointing the finger at Brandon McManus for missing the field goal.
If you just looked at the total yards both sides accumulated in this one, you’d come to the conclusion that Denver won handily. The Broncos amassed 464 total yards compared to the Chiefs’ 273. So how did they lose? Special teams blunders.
Although they didn’t all hurt them, we’re going to address them all, because I’m pissed off at my team and they need to hear about it. So sit back and listen to a pissed off Broncos fan let it all out.
The first one came on the Broncos’ very first drive. Riley Dixon came out to punt on fourth-and-11 and pounded a 54-yarder that Tyreek Hill took backwards five yards before being tackled at his own seven-yard line. The play grabbed some momentum back after the offense went three-and-out. However, the Broncos were forced to do it all over again, as Kapri Bibbs didn’t move his feet when blocking for Dixon and was forced to drag his man to the ground. Now punting again from ten yards further back, Dixon boomed a 59-yarder; but Hill would not go for negative yards on this return. Instead, Hill took this one forward for 17 yards, and the Broncos gave away 27 yards of field position.
Following another three-and-out on their next drive, the Broncos would once again punt the ball away. Denver was in need of another big boot from Riley Dixon, as they were punting from their own 15. That’s not the way it went, though. Dixon shanked the punt and the Chiefs took over at midfield, a net punt of 35 yards.
Another punting gaffe came in the second quarter; Dixon originally pinned the Chiefs inside their own ten-yard line, only to have it negated by another holding penalty. This time it was long-snapper Thomas Gafford who allowed a Chief to walk right by him, then proceeded to tackle him before he could block the punt. After doing it again, the Broncos gave up another 24 yards in field position.
Next up, illegal formation on Denver when Kansas City lined up to attempt a 35-yard field goal. The Broncos loaded up too many guys to one side, and the five yards resulted in a first down for the Chiefs. Tyreek Hill would make the Broncos pay again, and this time it was points that Denver was giving away (four of them).
The punt return team had its time to shine in the fourth quarter. With the Chiefs punting from their own four-yard line, Jordan Norwood muffed the catch and the Chiefs recovered the fumble. The Broncos’ defense would hold again, but it doesn’t take away the fact that they sacrificed 40 yards in field position.
Finally, the last flub came in overtime after the Broncos kicked a field goal on the opening drive of the extra period. All of McManus’ five other kickoffs in the game had gone for touchbacks, and this one was even six yards deep in the Chiefs endzone. The Chiefs obviously realized that the Broncos kickoff team was getting lazy, though, and brought this one out. De’Anthony Thomas had his wedge in front of him, and he turned it into a 41-yard return. There isn’t one player to point to on this play, as the entire unit was blocked far too easily. The great return set the Chiefs up with a short field and they would answer the Broncos’ three points.
That’s a lot of special teams slip-ups in one game. If I had more time I’d get into the Broncos’ offense in the first half and their defense on Kansas City’s final three possessions; but I probably lost all non-Broncos fans after the third paragraph, and fellow fans are losing more hair with each paragraph. So I’ll stop there.