The Bills — specifically head coach Sean McDermott — came to his senses last week by reversing his previous move and starting Tyrod Taylor at quarterback against the Chiefs. Later Sunday, the Jaguars’ loss at Arizona allowed the Titans to tie them for first place in their division.
It may or may not have been the direct inspiration for the following tweet by studio analyst and former Raiders CEO Amy Trask, but her tweet ended up being an inspiration in itself.
One coaching decision can be the difference in a game, one game can be the difference in a season – if TEN doesn’t make playoffs, on sides kick to open the season is gonna haunt and if BUF doesn’t make playoffs decision to bench Taylor is gonna haunt.
— Amy Trask (@AmyTrask) November 26, 2017
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Trask is right; often, one decision blowing up in a coach’s face can cost a team a playoff berth or seeding, just as much as a player’s mistake or bad referee’s call. They happen in the postseason, too, of course, as Pete Carroll knows — and he’ll be addressed below.
With five weeks to go in the regular season, here are the seven coaching decisions that teams could live to regret at playoff time, especially if they’re sitting at home in January. (Again, thanks to Trask for the idea.)
Titans: Onside kick failure, vs. Raiders, Week 1. An onside kick on the opening kickoff in the season’s first game seemed like a good idea from Mike Mularkey at the time, in a Saints-Super Bowl kind of way. Recovering it would have been better, of course. Instead, the Raiders started the game/season at the 50, scored four plays later, never trailed, and won 26-16. Hindsight tells us that the Raiders are underachievers and that the Titans are AFC South title contenders in a division that lost Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson, among others. If the Titans either fall short in the division to the Jaguars or miss the playoffs, this ploy will be a big reason.
Bills: Benching Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman, at Chargers, Week 11. Hopefully there will be a “30 For 30” on the exact thought process of Bills coach Sean McDermott in deciding that this was the time he needed to get Taylor out and get Peterman, the backup and a raw, untested fifth-round pick, in. The Bills might still have lost with Taylor, but no one will ever know, because Peterman was exactly what everybody except McDermott thought he would be. Everyone in western New York will be kicking themselves if that one game keeps them on the outside looking in.
Cowboys: Chaz Green at left tackle vs. Adrian Clayborn, at Falcons, Week 10. The Cowboys have enough troubles with Ezekiel Elliott missing, and by the time he’s eligible to return, the playoffs could be moot. But Jason Garrett’s mishandling of Tyron Smith’s injury absence did not help. Green can’t be blamed for not being good enough to handle pass rushers the way Smith does; the Cowboys can be blamed for adjusting absolutely nothing to help Green and throwing the door open for Clayborn’s six sacks.
Chargers: YoungHoe Koo as opening-day kicker, at Broncos, Week 1. Koo was such a fascinating story that most couldn’t help but root for him when he won the Chargers job. But he ended up part of a more painful story once the season started: His winning field-goal try on opening night in Denver was blocked, then he missed another game-winner the next week in Miami. He was cut two weeks after that, when they were 0-4. He’s not the reason the Chargers have won five of seven since, but coach Anthony Lynn, who hasn’t done much wrong in his first year, is going to feel the pain of that decision if the AFC West or the playoffs elude them.
Saints: Adrian Peterson sharing the ball, at Vikings, Week 1. The stats from opening night stand out from the Saints’ recent numbers like a sore thumb. Peterson, the addition that seemed so sensible coming into the season, carried six times; Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara totaled 11 touches each. Nobody made an impact, nobody seemed happy, and the Saints lost the first of two straight to start the season. Fast-forward nine weeks, to their game in Buffalo: Ingram and Kamara combined for 38 touches and 269 yards. Peterson was long gone by then, traded to Arizona. Sean Payton corrected his error and recognized what worked. They’d have to fade hard to miss the playoffs, but they’re also tied with the Panthers in their division, and every game counts.
Seahawks: Fake field goal, Falcons, Week 11. It wasn’t quite at the level of that slant from the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl, but Pete Carroll had some tough questions to answer after his team lost 34-31. Blair Walsh missed in the final seconds from 52 yards; at the end of the first half, he never got a chance to try one from 35 yards, when Carroll once again out-thought himself. It might take 11 wins to make the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks might have thrown one away.
Giants: Went for touchdown on fourth-and-goal, at Eagles, Week 3. This one sent two NFC East rivals hurtling in opposite directions. The Giants were 0-2, the Eagles 1-1. Trailing 7-0, still inept on offense, they ground their way to the Eagles’ 1 with 24 seconds left in the half — and Ben McAdoo passed on an almost sure three points on fourth-and-goal. Orleans Darkwa got buried. The Giants woke up suddenly in the second half, actually led late, but gave up two field goals in the final minute, including a 61-yard game-winner at the gun. The Eagles haven’t lost since and are now pulling away for NFC home-field advantage.