o one can say that the Atlanta Falcons haven’t established an identity for themselves, it’s just not an identity that they want. As far as all-time disasters go, Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t quite on par with capitulating to the New England Patriots after leading 28-3 in the Super Bowl, but it felt even more avoidable. Their most recent late-game loss came down to the Falcons’ special teamers simply forgetting (or not knowing in the first place) the rules of the NFL.
It all went down to two kicks. After scoring a touchdown to get within two points of the Falcons with 1:49 left on the clock, Dallas made the obvious move of going for an onside kick. What happened next was baffling. While the rules state that the Cowboys couldn’t recover their own onside kick until it went at least 10 yards, the Falcons’ receivers could have recovered the ball at any point. Yet, the Falcons stared at the ball as it trundled 10 yards and Dallas’s CJ Goodwin grabbed it.
Let’s now watch the video of the onside kick so we can all appreciate just how insanely bad this was by the Falcons. Cowboys recovered and won on a 46-yard field goal #Falcons #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/CMQ1VE8KaZ
Shortly afterwards, Greg Zuerlein made the 46-yard field goal that sealed an improbable 40-39 Dallas victory. For context, ESPN reported that teams leading by 15 points or more in the final five minutes – as the Falcons were – over the last 20 seasons won 99.2% of those games.
While the Falcons made plenty of other errors to hand the Cowboys victory, all they had to do to hold on to the W was recover that onside kick. They couldn’t and it looked, at least from a distance, like their players forgot the rules at the most inopportune time. For NFL fans, it brought up memories of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb admitting that he had no idea that NFL games could even end in ties after his team played the Cincinnati Bengals to a 13-13 draw in 2008.
There are examples of similar gaffs in other sports. There’s the example of golfer Nick Gillespie, who was so excited about being ahead at the Victorian Open Championship that he accidentally disqualified himself by forgetting to sign his scorecard. In the other sport called football, there are players who have gotten themselves sent off by picking up a second yellow card for the offense of not keeping their shirts on (the Right Said Fred Penalty, as I like to call it). While it’s not quite an example of a player forgetting a particular rule, basketball fans will always remember Chris Webber dooming Michigan’s chances in the 1993 NCAA Championship Game when he forgot how many timeouts his team had.
It’s painful to lose games late in any situation, but it’s especially brutal to let a golden opportunity slip by thanks to what was – by all appearances – a simple mental mistake. What was most remarkable about the Falcons’ slip up was that it wasn’t just one player forgetting the rules. At least Falcons stopped and stared when they should have been pouncing on the ball. What’s more, special teams practice recovering onside kicks for hours and hours every season. Did Ben Kotwica, who has been a NFL special teams coordinator since 2013, fail to tell the players how onside kicks work? Wouldn’t professional players, whose are paid to recover onside kicks, know anyway?
“They definitely know the rule,” said Falcons head coach Dan Quinn after the game, adding: “To lose one today when we do spend a good bit of time on [onside kicks], that certainly hurt,” he said.
Next week’s game against the Chicago Bears could very well end up being a must-win for the Falcons, at least from a psychological standpoint.
Stat of the week
13-for-14. That’s kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s all-time career record on go-ahead field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. He converted his most recent one in the Tennessee Titans’ 33-30 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. That should make him feel a bit better after missing yet another extra-point attempt in the game, his second of the season.
Until the end of regulation, it looked like the storyline in the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs was going to be the impressive NFL debut of Justin Herbert, filling in for injured LA starter Tyrod Taylor. Instead, Herbert was overshadowed by the other team’s kicker. Yes, it’s Harrison Butker who ended up having the game of his life on Sunday, making a 30-yard field goal to tie the game and then a 58-yarder to win it 23-20 in overtime. To make the outing more impressive, it was the second 58-yard field goal he made in the contest, he hit one from the same distance back in the third quarter.
Video of the week
Nah the Eagles didn’t just play the boo track for Wentz 💀💀 pic.twitter.com/FRIyOO6lPM
This one requires you to listen with the sound turned on. Yes, that’s the Philadelphia Eagles pumping in fake boos after quarterback Carson Wentz threw a bad pass against the Los Angeles Rams. Apparently, they wanted to go above and beyond to recreate realistic game-conditions in Philadelphia, where supporters are notoriously harsh on the hometown heroes. The Eagles staff went back to the well after Wentz threw an interception later on in the game, which was played in front of empty seats due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fictional fans ended up being right to voice their displeasure, as the Eagles lost 37-19.
Quote of the week
“I do continue to think he is a brilliant offensive mind, especially. He has my every confidence” – New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson on head coach Adam Gase.
Well, that makes one person then. OK, this one was from Wednesday, so technically it’s quote of last week, but Johnson’s words only got more ridiculous after Sunday’s game. The Jets dropped to 0-2, losing 31-13 to a San Francisco 49ers team that lost Jimmy Garoppolo to an ankle injury as well as key defensive end Nick Bosa, who may well have a torn ACL. As for that “brilliant offensive mind”, the Jets managed exactly one touchdown on Sunday, and that came in garbage time thanks to some improvisation from Sam Darnold rather than any innovation from Gase. Darnold, who Gase was supposed to nurture, has failed to impress on a consistent basis.
Elsewhere around the league
* Last week Cam Newton showed he can still run, on Sunday the New England Patriots quarterback proved he can still throw. He had one touchdown and one interception through the air (to add to his two rushing TDs) and delivered some beautiful throws as he racked up 397 yards passing. Unfortunately for Newton, he was up against the almost flawless Russell Wilson, who threw five touchdowns in the Seattle Seahawks’ victory 35-30. Newton had a chance to win it at the death but was stopped at the goalline.
* Terrible news for the New York Giants, who saw running back Saquon Barkley carted off the field with what they fear could be a season-ending ACL injury. It was a blow that the Giants couldn’t recover from, as the Chicago Bears ended up beating them 17-13. Despite a brutal start from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky last week, Chicago have found ways to win their first two games, meaning that backup Nick Foles, for the time being, will remain on the bench.
BrutalS. Barkley, ACLN. Bosa, ACLS. Thomas, ACLM. Hooker, heelR. Mostert, kneeP. Campbell, kneeB. Linder, kneeJ. Garoppolo, ankleB. Perriman, ankleC. McCaffrey, ankleD. Lock, shoulderA. Barr, shoulderS. Shepard, toeC. Akers, ribD. Adams, hamstringB. Jones, groin
* Sadly, Sunday’s cavalcade of injuries didn’t end with Garoppolo, Bosa and Barkley. Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was also ruled out with a shoulder injury during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which they lost 26-21. Lock will undergo an MRI on Monday. Given all of this bleak news, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the pandemic-shortened preseason may be a factor in the unusual number of injuries in Week 2.
* After facing tough questions after his Tampa Bay debut, Tom Brady looked sharper during the Buccaneers’ 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers, his first professional win on a team other than the New England Patriots. Of course, that may be related to the fact that the 0-2 Panthers didn’t put up much of a fight. Teddy Bridgewater, who many had tabbed as Brady’s replacement in New England, threw for two interceptions and zero touchdowns. Brady wasn’t exactly in MVP form – he threw for just a single touchdown to go along with a pick – but his team benefitted from two rushing TDs from recently acquired RB Leonard Fournette.
* Green Bay Packers’ running back Aaron Jones was a huge part of their 42-21 win over the Detroit Lions. Jones had two rushing touchdowns, and 168 yards on the ground, while also catching one of Aaron Rodgers’s two passing touchdowns. His most impressive run, by far, was a 75-yard scamper right through a Detroit defense that looked completely unprepared for him.
* Meanwhile, second-year Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who many had tagged as a potential offensive MVP candidate before the start of the season, put up 189 passing yards on 16-of-20 passing against the wonderfully named Washington Football Team in just the first half of action. The Cardinals ended up winning 30-15.