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TMF: ‘I’m Trying To Process This Myself.’ Wild Finish Lifts Steelers In, Sinks Chargers. Plus: NFL Coaching Carousel, What’s The Plan In Carolina?
The unimaginable almost became a reality in the final game of the 2021 regular season. Wild would be putting it lightly, too. Plus: NFL Coaching Carousel, What's the plan in Carolina?
The NFL’s first Week 18 in over 20 years was one for the ages. It all began when the Colts, 16.5-point favorites in Jacksonville, fell flat on their faces against an abysmal Jaguars team. The Colts finished the 2021 season having had two opportunities to clinch a playoff berth in both Week 17 and 18. More on that later, by the way.
Due to the Colts loss, the Steelers were a sure bet to make the playoffs. Unless the final game of the 2021 season between the Raiders and Chargers ended in a tie, which would boost both LA and Vegas in, sending Pittsburgh home as the odd man out. A tie in the NFL is exceedingly rare – the 2021-22 season featured just one tie in 272 games.
But it almost happened.
It was the fourth quarter, and the Chargers were down 22-29 with Justin Herbert driving the offense downfield in attempt to tie the game and force overtime. With two seconds remaining on the clock, Herbert finds wide receiver Mike Williams in the endzone for the touchdown. Clock ticks to zero. Dustin Hopkins kicks the extra point. Tie game, 29-29. Off to overtime they go.
Wild would be putting it mildly.
I can only imagine being a Steelers fan in that very moment. Staying up late to watch the final game of the 2021 regular season, one that directly impacts your beloved Steelers’ playoff aspirations. As the country watches on, an unimaginable scenario begins to unravel. Stressful night in Pittsburgh, eh?
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In the 18th and final (21-22 regular season) TMF column, it’s been a fun ride. A productive rookie campaign, as they’d say. Inside this week’s Tuesday Morning Football column, you’ll also discover…
NFL Coaching Carousel: Open Jobs, top candidates, sleeper picks, and much more on the upcoming coaching moves around the league.
Aaron Rodgers will win MVP. Plus: my picks for winners of the rest of the NFL awards.
What’s next in Carolina? Among the many passionate fanbases, Panthers fans seem fed up with Matt Rhule. Sunday’s goal line blunder didn’t help much either.
Colts blow it, again. Philadelphia traded Carson Wentz to Indianapolis for what is now their first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. But it’s the Eagles, not the Colts, who are set to appear in a playoff game this weekend. Less than ideal for Indy, I’d say.
TMF FRONT PAGE: Game #272
Back to this game…
As overtime commenced, both the Raiders and Chargers traded field goals. And then shortly thereafter, the oddest of odd scenarios began to unfold. Would Rich Bisaccia, Raiders interim head coach, and Brandon Staley, first-year Chargers coach, allow the clock to strike zero; forcing a tie that would leave both teams celebrating a playoff berth? Absurdity at its peak.
Less than a minute remained in overtime. Raiders had the ball, third-and-4, on the Chargers’ 39-yard line. A conversation began to take place on the Raiders’ sideline on how and if the scenario surfaced, they would ponder letting the clock drain and take the tie. Particularly, if they were stopped on third down. If that were to occur, would the Raiders be willing to attempt a risky 56-yard (or more) field goal that might get blocked? Allowing the clock to run would be the safest bet to, at the bare minimum, secure a playoff berth, regardless of who the opponent you’d be facing is. Bisaccia assumed that the same conversation and thought process had been taking place on the Chargers’ sideline too, since Staley hadn’t yet used a timeout to stock the clock earlier. A tie isn’t the utmost ideal way to end your season but clinching a playoff berth certainly is.
“We were talking about it. We ran the ball, and they didn’t call timeout. So, I think they were probably thinking the same thing,” Bisaccia said after the game.
But with just 38 seconds lingering on the clock, Staley called a timeout. Most everyone appeared shocked by the decision including NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels on the broadcast.
Michaels: “Hm, hmm…” Humming in disbelief.
Collinsworth: "I think the Raiders were playing to get it down to either a field goal or just let the clock run out and the Chargers took the timeout,"
Michaels: “I’m trying to process this myself,”
After the game, Staley said that the decision to call a timeout there was solely about getting the correct grouping on the field to attempt to stop the Raiders from getting the first down.
“We needed to get in the right grouping,” Staley answered.
“We felt they were going to run the ball, so we wanted to get our best 11-personel run defense in, make that substitution so that we could get a play that would deepen that field goal.”
You could debate whether that decision was in fact, the correct one or not. It didn’t matter a whole lot because the Chargers best run defense failed to make a play when their season depended on it. Vegas came out of the timeout calling a run play, as excepted. Derek Carr handed off to Josh Jacobs, who ran for 10 yards to the Chargers’ 29. Comfortably in Dan Carlson’s range, Carr signaled for the timeout with just two seconds remaining in overtime. Carlson nailed the game winning 47-yard kick. Raiders win, 35-32.
Moments afterward, NBC’s Michele Tafoya asked Derek Carr if Staley’s decision to call a timeout played into the Raiders’ decision on the last drive.
“Yeah, it definitely did. Obviously,”
Again, a healthy debate can be had on the decision by Staley. If you dive a bit deeper into the Chargers allowing Jacobs to pick up the first down, and then some, on the third-and-4, the timeout call doesn’t look as critical as it did in the moment. Nevertheless, the are Raiders in. The Steelers are in. And the Chargers are out.
The drama was at its max on Sunday night. Yet another reminder why we all love the sport of football.
NFL Coaching Carousel
Openings (as of Monday night):
Chicago decided to finally move on from Matt Nagy after four seasons leading the Bears. Nagy finished his tenure in Chicago with a 34-31 record. Since leading the Bears to the NFC North title in his first season while winning Coach of the Year that same season, his first in Chicago, Nagy went 20-27. The Bears also fired GM Ryan Pace, as a complete retooling seems necessary for the Bears. The development of Justin Fields should be priority No. 1 for the new GM/HC combo.
We all know the Urban Meyer story. So, we won’t get into much. But, due to the presence of Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars have an intriguing opportunity that many candidates may pick as their top choice. The presence of the current GM, however, poses a significant problem regarding the overall culture of the franchise.
Brian Flores was surprisingly fired by Miami on Monday. Flores finished the 2021 season with an 8-1 record, but he failed to bring the Dolphins to the playoffs in any of his three seasons. Flores finished his tenure in Miami with a 24-18 record. Deshaun Watson reportedly wanted to play for Flores, which adds an interesting element to this decision by Miami. Jim Harbaugh has long been rumored to have a connection to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, but those rumors have been shot down by multiple outlets as of Monday.
Minnesota fired Mike Zimmer on Monday after eight full seasons leading the Vikings. Zimmer finished his eight seasons with a record of 72-56-1. But the Vikings were just 15-18 over the last two seasons and failed to make the playoffs both seasons. Minnesota may be looking for a coach who wants to come in and work with Kirk Cousins for the 2022 season. But the quarterback position is another thing to monitor in Minnesota.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden was the first head coach to be fired during the 2021 NFL season. Gruden was let go after a series of appalling emails, sent from Gruden, were released related to an investigation into the Washington Football Team. Vegas finished the season with interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, who went 7-5 and now has Vegas in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Vegas is an intriguing opening, yet a complete wildcard as to what the team decides to do.
Denver fired Vic Fangio after seeing him fail to make the playoffs in his three seasons in Denver, amassing a 19-30 record during his tenure. The Broncos continue to search for their next quarterback as the team hasn’t have a lick of success since Peyton Manning retired. Six straight seasons without a playoff berth isn’t something we except out of the franchise in Denver. Wouldn’t rule out Denver making a surprise hire here, particularly due to the critically important quarterback search expected in the upcoming offseason.
Potential Openings (Soon or very early in the 2022 season):
Ask any Panthers fan if they want another year of Matt Rhule or a new head coach, regardless of the names owner David Tepper would go after. Rhule will reportedly be back for the 2022 season. But a lot can change between now and then.
Don’t rule out general manager Nick Caserio making a quick move and letting go for David Culley after just one season. However, patience isn’t something he’s afraid of either, so it could go either way. I still except the next head coach in Houston to have some New England ties; Josh McDaniels, Jerod Mayo, Brian Flores.
New York Giants
With general manager Dave Gettleman retiring/stepping down from his role with the Giants, except the new man in charge to have a strong say in the future of Joe Judge. He’s back for another season as of right now, per reports. But we shouldn’t except a long leash when the 2022 season begins if he’s indeed back for the 2022 season.
Other teams to keep an eye on:
Pete Carroll and Seattle may part ways, but the reporting continues to be all over the map on this story. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carroll was optimistically open to the idea of a fresh start with a new team equipped to incorporate a rapid rebuild. Carroll would be highly sought after if he was to appear available in the coming days/weeks.
(A few names to watch,
not a complete list.)
Doug Pederson, Free Agent
A former Super Bowl winning head coach doesn’t typically become available often in the NFL. Pederson has already interviewed with Jacksonville and is expected to be an intriguing name throughout the interview process. Towards the end of his tenure in Philadelphia, things soured quite a bit. Expect Pederson to be in strong consideration with many teams, possible even being the fire guy hired.
Eric Bieniemy, OC, Kansas City Chiefs
We’ve seen over the last few hiring cycles, Bieniemy’s name will continue to be mentioned among the top of the available candidate lists. Sooner or later too, someone will convince Bieniemy to leave his golden situation in Kansas City to take on a new challenge in his NFL coaching career. The intrigue of his success with both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes is something I don’t see many teams continuing to pass up on.
Byron Leftwich, OC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A former quarterback who’s had his fair share of praise from current and past players, Leftwich is unquestionably a name to watch throughout the hiring cycle. Bruce Arians has publicly praised Leftwich on numerous occasions, which bodes well for his chances this year or next. Oh, and having won a Super Bowl alongside Tom Brady certainly helps too. Leftwich played in Jacksonville during his playing days, so there’s a potential connection there also.
Josh McDaniels, OC, New England Patriots
The word is still out as to how much of a grudge teams around the league still hold towards McDaniels due to him backing out of the Colts job a few years back. But McDaniels’ work this season with rookie quarterback Mac Jones will certainly make a few teams ponder the thought of giving him a shot. It hasn’t always worked out, but let’s not forget how much value there is in bringing in a Bill Belichick/Patriots type coach to run your team.
Jim Harbaugh, HC, Michigan Wolverines
Will Harbaugh finally make the leap back to the NFL? Seems we’re asking that question every season around this time of the year. Recently however, there’s real buzz due to Harbaugh’s reported displeasure with Michigan requesting him to take a pay cut the year prior. The former 49ers head coach has been linked to Denver, Chicago, Las Vegas, and recently Miami (even though Dolphins owner Stephen Ross denied initial reports.) As we’ve seen in the past with the Raiders hiring Jon Gruden, where there’s smoke there is usually some level of fire. Even if it takes awhile to fully ignite.
Jim Caldwell, Free Agent
Jim Caldwell’s tenure in Detroit continues to become more unappreciated as the years go on. Caldwell compiled a 36-28 record as the Lions head coach for four seasons. Today, Lions fans would accept that record with open arms. Caldwell has already interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and his name could continue to be mentioned amongst other teams.
Kevin O’Connell, OC, Los Angeles Rams
The Sean McVay coaching tree might continue to blossom this offseason with O’Connell being the next big name to possibly branch off. This hiring cycle might be a year or so early for O’Connell, who turns just 37 years old this May. Given the success some branches of the McVay tree enjoyed this year however, NFL teams may be willing to jump at O’Connell a year earlier to land their guy.
Brian Flores, Free Agent
In a surprising move, the Miami Dolphins elected to fire Brian Flores on Monday. The Dolphins finished with a 5-11 record in Flores’ first season but have since finished with two straight winning seasons: 10-6 in 2020 and 9-8 this season. Just a gut feeling – I’d be surprised if Flores isn’t quickly given another shot with a new team. A players coach who has proven he can coach up his team to fight until the last whistle is typically a coach who isn’t left unemployed for long. If Houston decides to part ways with David Culley, you could assume Flores would be a name at the top of their list.
Nathaniel Hackett, OC, Green Bay Packers
Before joining Green Bay in his current role as Packers offensive coordinator, Hackett was with the Jaguars as their quarterbacks coach, and later as their offensive coordinator. Jacksonville has already reached out to Green Bay for permission to interview Hackett, so the past connection is certainly in play with Hackett in Jacksonville. As with most teams with a young promising quarterback, the top priority for Jacksonville this offseason needs to be on the development of Trevor Lawrence. If they decide to go the offensive rout, Hackett will absolutely be a contender for the job.
Jerod Mayo, ILB Coach, New England Patriots
Another New England-based option, and one that may surprise a few people, is Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. A jump up to head coach would be a giant leap for Mayo, but it’s not unprecedented. The rumors today are that Mayo is highly respected among players around the league. We’ve seen plenty of surprises over the years, and Mayo could be a sleeper candidate for this coaching cycle.
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TEN THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Hunter Renfrow is the most underrated route runner in the entire league. I mean, look at the ridiculousness here:
After trading a 2022 first-round pick to Philadelphia for Carson Wentz, it’s the eagles who will be playing in a playoff game. Not the Colts. I’m a big believer in Frank Reich, always have been. But the leash in 2022 might be short for both Reich and Wentz. Indianapolis is built to win soon, and not making the playoffs this season is a massive disappointment.
What’s next for Carolina? In what has been a dreadfully disappointing season, the Panthers season ended just as you’d except; bad with a question mark attached to the future of the franchise, again. Outside of Chicago (Nagy) and Jacksonville (Meyer), I’m not sure there’s an NFL fanbase that is more disgruntled with their head coach than that of the Panthers ‘keep pounding’ nation. Fans chanting “Fire Rhule!” at homes games isn’t typically something you see in a team looking to turn the corner. Well, successfully that is.
Rhule’s postgame justification for having Sam Darnold run a goal line quarterback sneak and not Cam Newton was, well, not a great look.Tracy Wolfson says she asked Matt Rhule why no Cam Newton in at the goalline. Rhule told her both Sam Darnold and Cam Newton "can do that" -- sneak, presumably.
Enlightening take, that’s for sure. Brian Flores, the head coach who finished the regular season with a 8-1 run, was fired by the Miami Dolphins. For perspective, Matt Rhule finished the season 1-8. If I’m David Tepper, finding a franchise quarterback isn’t the only top priority heading into the 2022 season. Speaking of Flores, he’d be an excellent fit in Carolina. Just one man’s opinion.
It sure looked like the Bucs deeply missed Antonio Brown on Sunday, eh?
Speaking of being missed, anyone catch the season finale of the new Dexter series? No spoilers, please. I’ll admit that I missed that crazy serial killer. Just a little.
Aaron Rodgers will be taking home his second consecutive MVP award after the season he’s had in Green Bay. Book it now. Also, I like his odds of winning a second trophy at the end of this season.
Ja’Marr Chase will win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Sorry, Patriots fans. Chase has been nothing short of remarkable in Cincinnati. Helping lift them to an AFC North division title and a playoff appearance is the icing on the cake for me.
Micah Parsons will win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Again, easy pick to make. If you’ve watched the Dallas Cowboys this season then you’ve seen for yourself the instant impact that Parsons had on that defense. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft finished his rookie season with 84 tackles (64 solo), 20 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups and 30 quarterback hits.
T.J. Watt will win Defensive Player of the Year. Easy pick to make. Watt tied the single-season sack record (22.5) over the weekend. If that didn’t impress you then I’m not sure you’re truly a fan of football.
Zac Taylor will win NFL Coach of the Year. A tough call given the incredible season Matt LeFleur has had in Green Bay. I give a slight edge to Taylor here due to the expectations of each team as well as some of the coaching decisions he made throughout the Bengals season. You know, bold decisions that actually worked. Truthfully, this one is a coin flip.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
–Who should the Dolphins hire as their next HC?
Brian Flores. Sorry, too soon? The situation in Miami is interesting because I would expect the next head coach to want to know who the starting quarterback will be for 2022 and beyond. Are we rolling with Tua as the future? As we still in on Deshaun Watson? A lot of questions need answers in Miami, if I’m a candidate.
–Could Belichick/Patriots pull the plug early on Mac Jones and make a run at one of the top rumored quarterbacks available?
Maybe. But doubtful. New England has invested a lot of time and money in building a team suited for a quarterback like Mac. So I don’t see Belichick training multiple first round picks for a quarterback to ‘win now’ rather than build for the long haul. I believe it’s Mac for the next few seasons unless he truly fails to develop in 2022/2023.
–Someone asked you this a few weeks ago but who do you think David Tepper wants if he eventually fires Matt Rhule?
A big name. Seems to be the Tepper way as the reporting out of Charlotte has long been around Tepper being unafraid to swing for the fences. Take a look at the contract he handed Rhule in the first place. Many said it was a bold hire and an even bolder contract for a fire-time NFL head coach. Me personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a players coach like Brian Flores or Jim Caldwell in Carolina.
–If Houston hires Flores, could that help them convince Watson to stay?
Your guess is as good as mine but I’d say no. If Watson only wanted to hand pick the head coach in Houston, I’d probably think the situation wouldn’t have escalated to the point that it is today. Off the field issues aside, of course.
–Any bold predictions for this weekends wildcard games?
Sure. 49ers beat the Cowboys.
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