Analysis: Thrilling NFL weekend defined by curious decisions

Jan 16, 2023, 12:59 PM | Updated: Jan 17, 2023, 5:15 am
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard celebrates following an NFL wild-card playoff football...

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard celebrates following an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Bengals won 24-17. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

              Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, right, greets Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel after an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
            
              Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard celebrates following an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Bengals won 24-17. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
            
              Dallas Cowboys place kicker Brett Maher (19) watches his extra point miss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL wild-card football game, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
            
              Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley (2) fumbles the ball as it is knocked away by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, left, in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Bengals' Sam Hubbard recovered the fumble and ran it back for a touchdown. ( (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
            
              Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, right, fumbles the ball as it is knocked away by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (55) in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. The Bengals' Sam Hubbard recovered the fumble and ran it back for a touchdown. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

Curious decisions defined the NFL’s wacky wild-card weekend, and none more so than Tyler Huntley going high when he should have gone low.

Lamar Jackson’s fill-in had the Baltimore Ravens in position for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati but with several teammates behind him to help him burrow through the line on a quarterback sneak, Huntley extended the ball toward the goal line over the top on third-and-goal from the 1.

Logan Wilson knocked the ball out of Huntley’s hands and directly to defensive end Sam Hubbard, who got enough of a head start to beat the chasing tight end Mark Andrews to the end zone for a 98-yard touchdown that was the pivotal play in the Bengals’ 24-17 win.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the play was designed for Huntley to go low, but the quarterback had a different idea.

“Just thought I could go over the top,” Huntley said. “I thought I cleared the line.”

Not quite.

In Buffalo, all Miami’s rookie head coach Mike McDaniel had to do was call a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-a-foot at midfield with 2 1/2 minutes left and the Dolphins driving for the game-tying field goal.

There was confusion, he didn’t get the call in on time and a delay of game flag pushed the Dolphins back 5 yards. They failed to covert and the Bills chewed up the rest of the clock to eke out the closer-than-expected 34-31 win.

One game turned on a mishandled sneak, another on a shunned sneak.

Other decisions backfired during wild-card weekend, some more costly than others.

–Star pass rusher Joey Bosa lost his cool in crunch time in the Los Angeles Chargers’ 31-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

–Kirk Cousins didn’t throw the ball past the sticks with the Vikings’ season on the line in Minnesota’s 31-24 loss to the New York Giants

–Johnathan Abram’s dirty play cratered the Seattle Seahawks in their 41-23 loss at San Francisco.

–And the Cowboys kept going for the extra point, which was the only thing not working for them in their 31-14 blowout of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Monday night as Brett Maher became the first kicker in NFL history to miss four extra points in a single game.

SAFETY’S SLIP-UP

The surprising Seahawks came out of halftime with a 17-16 lead at San Francisco following a gift field goal drive in the final 13 seconds thanks to a personal foul on Jimmie Ward.

Abram grabbed and twisted Deebo Samuel’s previously injured left ankle after tackling him on a 21-yard gain on the 49ers’ opening drive of the second half.

“I don’t know what he was trying to achieve by doing that, but it wasn’t smart,” Niners linebacker Fred Warner said.

The fired up 49ers responded to the dirty play by scoring the next 25 points to cruise to a 41-23 win.

CHARGERS CHARGERING

The Chargers blew a 27-0 lead at Jacksonville by allowing Trevor Lawrence to atone for a four-interception first half with a four-touchdown second half, and he got a huge assist from Bosa, who threw his helmet after arguing that two flags should have been thrown on Lawrence’s last TD pass.

That resulted in his second unsportsmanlike penalty and it moved what turned out to be the decisive 2-point conversion from the 2 to the 1. Lawrence reached across the goal line to pull Jacksonville to 30-28.

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said he probably would have called for the extra point had it not been for Bosa’s penalty.

After the Chargers went three-and-out, Lawrence drove the Jaguars to the winning field goal as time expired, completing the third-biggest comeback in playoff history.

COUSINS’ CHECKDOWN

Minnesota’s defense couldn’t stop playoff newbie Daniel Jones, who passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards to lead the Giants’ suddenly productive offense. But it was Cousins’ one gaffe that will be long lamented in Minneapolis.

Down seven in the two-minute mode, Cousins took the snap on fourth-and-8 and dumped the ball to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was smothered after a 3-yard reception, turning the ball over on downs with 1:44 to go and no timeouts left.

Cousins said he felt he was about to get sacked and had to get rid of the ball.

The Vikings, the rare 13-win team that had a negative point differential during the season, had gone an NFL-best 11-0 in one-score games.

Make that 11-1.

KICKING HIMSELF

So thorough was the Cowboys’ beatdown of the Bucs it hardly mattered that kicker Maher missed his first four extra points, becoming the first player in NFL history to miss that many in a game.

Maher, who only missed three of 53 PATs during the regular season, finally converted on his fifth attempt after coach Mike McCarthy decided against sending him out to try a field goal from roughly the same distance as a PAT.

Dak Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for the touchdown from 18 yards out on fourth-and-4 and Maher trotted out and nailed the extra point.

After one of his misses, an angry Prescott was seen on the sideline yelling about just going for 2.

Other than Maher’s confounding kicks, the Cowboys dominated the Bucs in what may turn out to be Brady’s last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

Dallas beat Brady for the first time in the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s career and won in the postseason on the road for the first time in 30 years to earn a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers in the NFC divisional round next Sunday.

The Cowboys had dropped eight straight playoff games on the road since winning the NFC championship game in San Francisco on Jan. 17, 1993.

___

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