That’s all there is to it, guys. When Scott Hanson signs off and the final RedZone touchdown montage plays, it’s the saddest moment of the year. You’re fascinated by the day’s best receptions, throws, and runs, and suddenly the Miami Dolphins are in a dogpile in the end zone one second, and Nicki Minaj’s Chun-Li is playing in an Amazon Prime commercial the next, and it’s all gone. Until autumn 2022, there will be no more eating 10-plus football games every Sunday – it’s back to reality for the time being.
In 2021, NFL football has been erratic, to say the least, but Week 18 delivered big time. This wasn’t one of those seasons where the only game that mattered was the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, who were both 8-7 and in a do-or-die game for a watered-down NFC East.
There were several games with significant playoff implications, with the best of them taking place in the AFC. The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders were scheduled to face off in a win-or-go-home primetime matchup, but turmoil erupted in the eight-plus hours between the initial kickoffs and the 5:20 p.m. EST kickoff.
The Jaguars’ fans came dressed as clowns to the game. For the second year in a row, they were in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and when a lucky fan was broadcast on the jumbotron answering a multiple-choice trivia question, she made up her own response — D. fire [general manager Trent] Baalke.
The Colts, on the other hand, have been hyped as one of the most dangerous potential postseason teams, thanks to their healthy offensive line, strong defence, and likely first-team All-Pro running back, Jonathan Taylor. All the Colts needed to do in Jacksonville was win one game to advance to the playoffs and send the Jaguars back to the top of the draft.
But there’s a catch: the Colts haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014. Yes, a team that has only had four losing seasons since 1999 — three of which were quarterbacked by career backups — has been confounded on the road for more than half a decade by a team that has had 16 losing seasons in the same time period.
Nonetheless, the Jaguars had an exceptionally humiliating season in 2021, which featured allegations of a sacked coach kicking a player during the summer. This 14.5-point underdog, wheezing to the end of a dreadful season, has no chance of sabotaging the Colts’ darkhorse Super Bowl run before it even begins. Right?
Wrong! *In the voice of Dana Carvey*
The Jaguars dominated the Colts from beginning to end. Until there were less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, their only points were a solitary field goal. Carson Wentz’s turnover problem raised its ugly head in Week 18, handing the ball to the Jaguars twice in the third quarter while the team was already down. Meanwhile, youngster Trevor Lawrence had one of his better games of the season, completing 71.9 per cent of his passes for two touchdowns and no picks for the Jaguars.
The Colts were as threatening as one of those dollar store water guns in a game that the «team nobody wants to see in the playoffs» had to win. The Jaguars, on the other hand, were able to wipe a little blemish off their season with a win while maintaining control of the No. 1 overall pick.
«You realize the Colts haven’t won a game in Jacksonville since Najee [Harris] was in high school, right?» I doubt they were motivating each other at practice coming up to the Steelers regular-season finale against the Ravens. We’ve got a shot here.»
Even if the 8-7-1 Steelers beat the Ravens on the road, if the Colts — who are 14.5-point favourites again — win, it will be their final game. They must have had an extra burst of energy when they learned the Jaguars were up 13-3 at halftime. Those watching the game would appreciate any energy that may help liven up the tempo in a contest that was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.
On Sunday, the Steelers’ top two running backs combined for 50 yards on 22 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger averaged only 5.5 yards per pass attempt, yet they were able to keep the game close against the Ravens and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. The Steelers stayed in the game long enough to force overtime and meander their way down the field for the game-winning field goal.
Despite the fact that the game was drab, dismal, and dull until the closing minutes, they pulled it off and made it to the playoffs.
The repercussions of the Colts’ loss could be felt all the way across the desert. Suddenly, winning football games wasn’t the best way for the Chargers and Raiders to make the playoffs. The amusing scenario that had been discussed throughout the week actually occurred. With the Colts falling to the Jaguars, the Chargers and Raiders would both go to the playoffs if they concluded Sunday Night Football in a tie, putting the Steelers out. Coaches Brandon Staley and Rich Bisaccia would have been best to meet in the desert where Sam and Nicky met in Casino and negotiate a deal.
Instead, they elected to uphold the game’s integrity by competing for the two remaining playoff slots. When the Raiders were up 15 points with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter and the Chargers faced 4th-and-21 from the Raiders’ 22-yard line, it looked like the Raiders would win.
Herbert then put on a show that may have landed him a Vegas residency. He fired a 22-yard touchdown ball to Joshua Palmer between five Raiders defenders. The Chargers then converted a two-point conversion while another head-shaking «analytics» conversation took place in the broadcast booth. On the last drive, Herbert marched them down the field again, this time to a double-covered Mike Williams. Then Staley demonstrated the opposite side of analytics: when a tie score takes your team into the playoffs, you should kick the extra point.
Now it’s over time in a game that neither of them has to win, but they both have to avoid losing. After trading field goals, the Raiders didn’t appear to be pushing as hard as they could to get into field-goal range after the two-minute warning. They used standard running plays and didn’t use any timeouts.
It was right there. No one could blame the Raiders or Chargers for coasting into the playoffs with two fatigued teams after a charade of an intense overtime game that certainly drew high ratings.
Staley then requested a timeout on 3rd-and-4.
With 38 seconds between him and the playoffs, he calls a timeout. Make the Raiders make that decision. They’ve moved the ball on you, but the clock hasn’t stopped yet, and they’re still out of field goal range. The Raiders had already allowed 15 seconds to elapse on the play clock and did not appear to be in any hurry to run a play. If they had converted the first down, there was a chance they would have called a timeout, but don’t allow them time to recover, think of a better play, and perhaps give them an extra 31 seconds to end your season.
It was a blunder to call it a day, but what a day it had been. Unless you work or root for the Steelers and watched all of Sunday Night Football, Week 18 Sunday was like the NFL’s own version of 24, but without the agony.
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