Nobody wants to play for the tie. Sometimes, it’s the right move.
When the San Francisco 49ers got the ball back in overtime with 1:50 left at their own 20-yard line, a decision had to be made. The Seattle Seahawks had no timeouts left. The 49ers could have taken a tie, which would have been beneficial given their lead in the NFC West race. An 8-0-1 49ers team would have still led the Seahawks by two games in the loss column.
The odds of going all the way down to set up a field-goal attempt — which would have been attempted by a rookie fill-in kicker who missed badly earlier in overtime — were not good for the 49ers. Even worse considering they were without tight end George Kittle (ankle/knee) and top receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ribs).
But pride matters too. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t want to settle for a tie. He’s the same coach who refused to tone down the aggressiveness when he was offensive coordinator of an Atlanta Falcons team and they had a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl, and we know how that turned out. Shanahan isn’t the type to willingly accept a tie.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw three straight incompletions and took only 14 seconds off the clock. The 49ers punted to Seattle with plenty of time left on the clock, and Russell Wilson did his thing. Wilson’s 18-yard scramble on third down set up a game-winning field goal by Jason Myers. Now the 8-2 Seahawks are right behind the 8-1 49ers in the NFC West. And the Seahawks still get the 49ers in Seattle for a potential division championship game in Week 17.
Speaking just in terms of probabilities and what was best for the 49ers given their standing in the NFC West, taking the tie was the right move. 49ers players presumably wouldn’t have liked it.
In 1966, No. 1 Notre Dame played No. 2 Michigan State in one of the biggest games in college football history. Notre Dame got the ball late in a 10-10 game, and Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian played it safe. He didn’t go for the win, choosing to take a tie and preserve Notre Dame’s No. 1 ranking. Parseghian was criticized endlessly for it. Even if it’s the right thing, nobody in football wants to be known for playing for a tie.
Last season, Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich made the controversial call to go for it in on fourth down late in overtime in his own territory. The Colts didn’t get it and the Houston Texans kicked a field goal to win it. In the standings, it didn’t make sense for Reich to risk the loss. In the Colts locker room, nobody complained.
Was not taking the tie the right call for the 49ers? It depends what angle you take. But remember that decision as the season moves on. The 49ers could have avoided a loss, and that might end up costing them dearly.
What was the point of turning to QB Ryan Finley? I get the Bengals wanted to get a look at him, but they also should want to win a game. It wasn’t necessary to give Finley eight starts; two or three would have been fine. Andy Dalton wasn’t great but he didn’t get much help. Finley was always unlikely to be the long-term answer, which is why mid-round picks on quarterbacks are generally mistakes. So what exactly was the point, other than making a move just to make it?
The Redskins announced Dwayne Haskins will be the starting quarterback the rest of the season, which is the right move. He’s going to have some rough patches, but it won’t do him any good to keep looking over his shoulder.
It was a bad day, but here’s the positive: Rookie Darius Slayton looks really good. He had 10 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and the fifth-round pick has generally played well. There isn’t much else from Sunday’s loss to feel good about.
29. New York Jets (2-7, LW: 31)
It’s a little weird why Robby Anderson hasn’t been more involved. His only catch Sunday came when Sam Darnold was being sacked and threw it out of desperation. The Jets seem more intent on getting Demaryius Thomas and Jamison Crowder involved, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
28. Miami Dolphins (2-7, LW: 30)
Well, so much for that talk of the Dolphins being the worst team ever. Brian Flores deserves a ton of credit. The Dolphins had an all-time bad start to the season, but have been competitive for more than a month. That says something about Flores and his leadership.
27. Atlanta Falcons (2-7, LW: 28)
It’s still a disappointing season, but if you’re going to pick a highlight to have, blowing out the rival Saints in New Orleans would be it. Kudos to Dan Quinn for blocking out the negativity and getting his team ready to play.
26. Denver Broncos (3-6, LW: 25)
Rookie quarterback Drew Lock has been activated off injured reserve and will practice this week. The Brandon Allen story was nice, with him getting a win in his first start, but Lock needs to play as soon as possible. The Broncos need to get him some experience and figure out what they have.
25. Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1, LW: 24)
Christian Kirk had 138 yards and three touchdowns. Kirk hasn’t been consistent this season but he has a lot of potential in this offense. He and Kyler Murray should continue to grow together.
24. Cleveland Browns (3-6, LW: 26)
Last week Myles Garrett wondered why the Browns couldn’t go 10-6. That seems unlikely. But the sixth seed in the AFC might end up being 8-8. The Browns aren’t dead yet after Sunday’s much-needed win over the Bills, though they’ll need to play better.
23. Detroit Lions (3-5-1, LW: 20)
It’s hard to imagine the Lions winning without Matthew Stafford, however long he is out. It’s a shame because Stafford was having a very good season. Maybe Stafford is back soon, though in a tough NFC it’s getting harder to imagine the Lions staying in the wild-card race.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6, LW: 23)
The Buccaneers finally remembered O.J. Howard existed. He had four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. That’s nothing special, but now that Howard is healthy and has resurfaced in the offense, maybe he can salvage a strangely quiet season.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6, LW: 19)
I’m curious to see Melvin Gordon’s workload in the final six games. He had 22 carries and a catch against Oakland, and played well. Still, after failing to secure a new contract with a holdout, is he going to want to keep piling up carries if the Chargers continue to fade from the race? Gordon is set to become a free agent in a few months, and a serious injury would cost him millions. This isn’t an easy situation to navigate.
20. Tennessee Titans (5-5, LW: 22)
Derrick Henry got a bulk of the snaps and all 23 handoffs for the Titans. He rushed for 188 yards, two touchdowns and the Titans won. See? This isn’t that hard to figure out. Give Henry the ball and good things happen.
19. Chicago Bears (4-5, LW: 21)
In the first 25 minutes of the first half Sunday, against a bad Lions defense, the Bears had 20 net yards and no points on four possessions. It’s probably a good thing for Mitchell Trubisky that he started to heat up in the final five minutes of the half and that carried over to the second half.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5, LW: 17)
Ultimately, it makes sense to give Nick Foles the next start. The Jaguars spent a lot of money on him for a reason. Gardner Minshew has been good but will have normal rookie ups and downs. There’s no reason the Jaguars can’t be a wild-card contender, and Foles probably gives them the best chance in that race.
17. Indianapolis Colts (5-4, LW: 15)
That was a crushing loss. It doesn’t matter that Brian Hoyer started. The Colts can’t lose to the Dolphins at home. It’s hard to imagine that won’t end up costing them in some way when the playoff picture is sorted out.
16. Carolina Panthers (5-4, LW: 14)
I like the call to hand it to Christian McCaffrey on the final play. It just didn’t work out. The Packers made a play to keep him out of the end zone. Just imagine if McCaffrey had scored on two key short-yardage plays, back in Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay and then again on Sunday. We might be having a much different conversation about the Panthers.
15. Los Angeles Rams (5-4, LW: 12)
The Rams are in trouble. It’s not just that the math looks bad for L.A. in the playoff race. The Rams simply don’t look like a playoff team. Sean McVay is still a very good coach, but this has not been a good year for him.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4, LW: 18)
T.J. Watt is creeping into the NFL Defensive Player of the Year conversation. He has at least a half-sack in six straight games, and 5.5 sacks in the Steelers’ last three games. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have been the two most important players in the Steelers’ four-game winning streak.
13. Oakland Raiders (5-4, LW: 16)
Josh Jacobs is sixth in the NFL with 811 rushing yards. He has more yards, a better per-carry average and more touchdowns than Ezekiel Elliott. The Raiders are a strong contender for a wild-card spot, and Jacobs has played a huge role in that. He’ll be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year mix.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4, LW: 13)
That cheer you heard on Sunday night? It came from Philadelphia when the Cowboys dropped a home game against the Vikings. Given Dallas’ schedule and the fact that the Cowboys have to come to Philly for the rematch against the Eagles, the road is wide open for the Eagles to rally in the second half and win the NFC East.
11. Buffalo Bills (6-3, LW: 7)
By now we kind of know the deal with the Bills. They’re not bad but not as good as their record. They shouldn’t have lost to the Browns, but it wasn’t a shock. They are 6-3 and in almost no danger of missing the playoffs because their schedule still lines up well. You can practically pencil them in for a game at the No. 4 seed on wild-card weekend, and nobody outside of Buffalo will be too excited to watch.
10. Dallas Cowboys (5-4, LW: 10)
Tavon Austin likely wasn’t going to break a punt return for a touchdown in the final seconds. Still, the fair catch looked weird when he had a ton of room to run. It looked even stranger when Austin said he was doing what he was told, and coach Jason Garrett said Austin wasn’t told to automatically fair catch it and could have used his judgment. Just another day in the Cowboys’ circus.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4, LW: 8)
The Chiefs are 2-4 in their last six games. Some of that is due to the Patrick Mahomes injury, but Kansas City doesn’t look like a Super Bowl team right now, and that was the goal this season. Two special teams mistakes late really hurt them against the Titans, as did a fumble returned for a touchdown in the first half, but the Chiefs have a lot of issues to fix.
8. Houston Texans (6-3, LW: 11)
The Colts’ home loss to the Dolphins was massive for the Texans. If the Texans can beat the Colts in the rematch at home, they should cruise to another AFC South title.
7. Minnesota Vikings (7-3, LW: 9)
Maybe Dalvin Cook needs some MVP consideration. Christian McCaffrey has gotten whatever non-quarterback MVP buzz there is to go around, and that’s fine because McCaffrey is great. But Cook is also having an outstanding season. Cook leads the NFL with 1,415 scrimmage yards and 991 rushing yards, and has 10 touchdowns for an excellent Vikings team. Cook can’t win MVP because non-quarterbacks are forgotten in the voting, but he has a case.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-2, LW: 5)
It sounds strange to say about an 8-2 team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, but this still doesn’t seem like an 8-2 team. They have looked very good at times, and other times they’re skating by. A game on Nov. 24 at San Francisco will be telling.
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-2, LW: 6)
Lost in the overtime thriller was Pete Carroll’s decision to punt with less than two minutes left in overtime instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 45. Perhaps Carroll was gambling that Kyle Shanahan would stay aggressive and a few incompletions would force the 49ers to punt. Carroll couldn’t have known that for sure. By punting, Carroll was practically accepting a tie. The Seahawks, who needed a win in the NFC West race, played for the tie. The 49ers, who would have been fine with a tie, played for the win and ended up with a loss. Funny.
4. New Orleans Saints (7-2, LW: 1)
Teams lose, it happens. But to get worked over at home by a terrible Falcons club? The Saints’ offense was relatively healthy but looked awful. I’m not saying the Saints’ 7-1 start was fraudulent, but that performance was troubling.
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-2, LW: 4)
We’re running out of things to say about Lamar Jackson, but this tweet from Paul Hembekides of ESPN says it all:
First 16 career starts
Lamar Jackson (13)
Patrick Mahomes (12)
Lamar Jackson (1,258)
LaDainian Tomlinson (1,236)
Lamar Jackson (94.4)
Tom Brady (90.1)
Yds per Att
Lamar Jackson (7.6)
Aaron Rodgers (7.5)
Lamar Jackson (63%)
Drew Brees (61%)
— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) November 11, 2019
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-1, LW: 2)
You can’t dock the 49ers too much. They were an overtime field goal away from being 9-0, and a rookie fill-in missed. Had their regular kicker, Robbie Gould, not been out with an injury, they’d probably still be undefeated. These things happen in the NFL.
1. New England Patriots (8-1, LW: 3)
This ranking won’t sit well with many, I assume. But this is about the entire body of work. The Patriots didn’t lose a game at home to a divisional rival. They haven’t been blown out by the Browns, like the Ravens were earlier this season. The Patriots’ only loss was a tough prime-time matchup at Baltimore, and if we’re being honest, you’d probably pick New England to beat the Ravens in a rematch if it happened on a neutral field. I have no problem putting the Patriots back at No. 1. From Week 1 to now, they’ve been the best team in football.
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