Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Saturday

Washington Football Team Taylor Heinicke
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Indianapolis Colts 24 at Buffalo Bills 27

Bryan Knowles: Indy's defensive strategy has to be "rush four, have DeForest Buckner and company win up the middle, play Cover-2 behind it, and hope." Pinning Josh Allen inside the 5 probably doesn't hurt, either!

Scott Spratt: That was a really weird offsides from Bills linebacker Matt Milano. He looked like he was trying to time the snap with his blitz, but then he stopped as soon as he landed in the neutral zone. I guess he was faking? But if so, why even flirt with the neutral zone, especially right near the center where the ball is easily visible?

Philip Rivers capitalized on the free play with a long completion to T.Y. Hilton, and a few plays later, the Colts have a 3-0 lead.

Bryan Knowles: I have to think that settling for a field goal after the Bills punted from their own end zone has to be disappointing for the Colts. Not arguing against the field goal call or anything, but going conservative with two runs and a screen once they got into the red zone does not strike me as the best way to beat the Bills.

Aaron Schatz: The Colts are getting Allen out of the pocket so far in the first quarter but he has still been firing the ball to his receivers on this second drive.

Vince Verhei: After the field goal, Rodrigo Blankenship's kickoff hits the turf near the sidelines and just dies. Bills have no chance to advance it, and they just fall on it to prevent the long onsides recovery. If Blankenship can get the ball to do that regularly, it's worth doing all the time. Even if it goes out of bounds, say, one-third of the time, I'd still take those results.

Aaron Schatz: The Bills marched down the field and Josh Allen ran QB power near the goal line and when the Colts defense had it stopped, he looked up and somehow flipped the ball over the defenders to Dawson Knox wide open in the end zone. Quite a play. 7-3 Bills.

Bryan Knowles: Allen's arm strength has always been crazy-nuts; he's flicking the ball around effortlessly. And this year, he's actually throwing in the same general galaxy as his receivers, so it's a beautiful thing to watch -- that 40-yard throw to Stefon Diggs was effortless. I also have to give Allen and his offensive line a ton of credit on the touchdown. Allen was running a quarterback draw, it was not there, and he had the presence of mind to find Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone for a score. I was sure someone would have been illegally downfield, but nope. Legal play, 7-3 Bills lead. That was a hell of a thing.

Scott Spratt:

Carl Yedor: One underrated piece of this matchup that I admittedly wasn't super familiar with was how good the Bills have been on third downs this season. They have been at nearly 50% on the season, so of course they went three-and-out on their first drive. In their response to the Colts' field goal, they don't even bother with third down, going down the field in eight plays and punching it in with an improvised flip from Allen to Dawson Knox. It looked like Buffalo was trying to run QB sweep/power (didn't see the blocking) at the goal line, but Allen was about to be taken down behind the line of scrimmage when he flung it in Knox's general direction. Knox was all alone on the play because it was pretty clearly a run up until the moment Allen chucked it, and he was able to haul in the score.

Vince Verhei: Well, that Buffalo touchdown was weird. Allen tries to run, but doesn't get anywhere, so it looks like he ad-libs a pass to a wide-open Dawson Knox in the end zone. But if that was really a designed run, as the announcers think it was, there's no way the Bills don't get a lineman downfield. So was it a "play-action" pass where Allen was faking a run to fool the defense? Was it a case where Allen would run if a seam opened up but always had the pass option? I'm sure it was NOT a designed run, but what it actually was, I have no idea.

Bryan Knowles: Vince, either the Bills' offensive line was pass-blocking, or they were getting beaten badly off the line of scrimmage. With the Colts' interior defenders, take your poison -- but I doubt Knox is running into the end zone if the pass wasn't at least a designed option!

Cale Clinton: If you're going to be settling for field goals and punting, Indianapolis has one of the few units you'd like to be doing it with. The Colts special teams unit has been impeccable early in this game. Rigoberto Sanchez' first punt of the afternoon pinned Buffalo at their own 3-yard-line. Roderigo Blankenship also took a rare kickoff, which stopped on a dime and died inside Buffalo's 10.

... but pin a team back all you want, it might not matter with this Bills offense. Buffalo marched 85 yards down the field in eight plays. Josh Allen missed his first throw of the drive, then went 5-for-5 with 67 yards and a touchdown. Not sure which was the more impressive pass of the drive, Allen's 36-yard strike to Stefon Diggs in the middle of the field or his touchdown-scoring shotput to Dawson Knox.

Dave Bernreuther: I disagree, Bryan. I paused and both 76 and 65 were 2 yards downfield at the time of the throw.

That was awfully close, though, and inconsequential. What was interesting to me was that the three linemen that did advance all turned to their right and started coming back (one had fallen), even though by that point Allen had really committed to running. Maybe he just sold it REALLY well but that did not feel like an RPO; more of just a really smart improvisation.

Pretty terrible outcome after the Colts had been playing really well through 20 (or so) plays; two great special teams plays, moving the ball well despite stalling in the red zone again, and definitely getting a good pass rush on most plays. That's not too far off from the best you could have asked for them, and yet after one quarter now they're facing a four-point deficit.

Vince Verhei: Just rewatched that touchdown. Knox is obviously running a route. All the linemen are past the line of scrimmage, but they have got a yard or 2 of forgiveness, right? And they're careful not to go any farther. Definitely some kind of RPO where the quarterback's first read is the run.

Carl Yedor: Even on designed runs teams will have receivers running routes from time to time to keep defenders out of the run fit, so it's hard to say for sure from my perspective. I don't know if I would explicitly call them RPOs because reads on those can be predetermined by a pre-snap look too. At the goal line, everything happens so quickly that linemen going downfield aren't quite as much of a concern.

That said, this is from coaching Twitter so it looks like it was a designed pass.

Scott Spratt: That second-down Jonathan Taylor drop could prove back-breaking for the Colts. There was no one near him, so he would have had an easy first down if he had made the catch. When Rivers threw deep on third down, I assumed Frank Reich would go for it on fourth down on the Bills side of the field. Instead, they punted, and now the Bills have the ball with a chance to build a multi-score lead.

Scott Spratt: Taylor had just one drop on 37 catchable targets this regular season based on Sportradar charting. His 2.7% drop rate was fourth-best of the 33 running backs with 30 or more catchable targets.

Dave Bernreuther: I hated that punt, especially after teasing us with the offense.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to argue that a flag should have been thrown; just that I would have understood if they had. That's one of those cases where I'm OK with some leeway unless it's a guy that could actually throw a block that affects the pass (like on a screen).

Darius Leonard just form-tackled Allen on a play that I think is huge for the outcome of this game; if Allen had converted that and that drive got rolling, the Colts were going to be in trouble, I think, because Allen has looked great so far.

Did they say Leonard weighed 215 pounds, as in fif-teen, not fif-ty? That's a full 15 pounds lighter than either Cato June or Gary Brackett, two famously undersized former Colts that were often exposed against the run. And he was just named All-Pro! Wow. I had no idea he was that light.

Aaron Schatz: I don't know where 215 comes from, NFL.com lists Leonard at 230.

Carl Yedor: The broadcasters said that based on talking to him, so it's entirely possible that after a long season he's playing at a lighter weight than what he's officially listed at.

Scott Spratt: I found this article from 2019 with some Leonard quotes that seem to support that he lost weight after his rookie year and could definitely be 215.

Scott Spratt: CBS announcer Ian Eagle just relayed that Colts head coach Frank Reich motivated his team by showing them statistics that had them as top 10 on offense, defense, and special teams and said they were the only team that was. Those stats weren't DVOA rankings because the Colts are just 12th on offense in DVOA. However, they are one of just three teams in the top 12 in all three phases in DVOA -- and Buffalo is another.

I'm just curious which metric didn't see the Saints in the top 10 in all three phases. They're no worse than seventh in any phase in DVOA.

Carl Yedor: It isn't ESPN's FPI either; the Colts are 12th on both offense and defense there.

Bryan Knowles: Dave, that Leonard tackle was massive. If the Bills keep driving and get up multiple scores, I'm not sure the Colts are built to come back from that. Instead, a healthy dose of Jonathan Taylor and a nice pass to a wide-open Michael Pittman leads to a Taylor touchdown and a 10-7 Colts lead.

Sean McDermott was livid on the sideline -- the Colts ran one of those "bring Jacoby Brissett in to run the sneak" plays, and he didn't think the Bills had time to match personnel. Didn't matter, as Buffalo stuffed Brissett there, but that might be something to watch going forward.

Scott Spratt: The Bills' first four drives have started on their own 3-, 15-, 11-, and 6-yard lines.

Vince Verhei: Brian Daboll has had a great season, but that last drive was an old-school Brian Schottenheimer special: a three-and-out with three straight handoffs. They only had two or three handoffs in the game up to that point, so it's not like Allen hasn't had his opportunities today. But I don't get how you can waste a possession without giving him a single play.

Dave Bernreuther: They're not built to come back from it, Bryan, and in fact I was fully prepared to say how glad I was to have bet the Bills to cover and suggest that we were already in the "Colts will need a big takeaway and possibly defensive score to win" territory if they had gone down 14-3.

Instead, they finish the ensuing drive - their fourth in Bills territory already -- and capitalize on as huge a field position advantage as I can ever remember this franchise having in a playoff game, and my pessimism/jinx has been set aside. For now. And I'll be more than happy to lose my spread bet. (I've also already won my Pittman receiving yards prop, so I'm in the money either way.)

The Colts defense looks really solid so far. Even on the touchdown drive, they were getting pressure and closing well on guys (well, except Knox in the end zone), but Allen just made great plays. But they have gotten the ball back quickly in the two drives since, and now the Colts begin yet another drive with excellent field position.

Carl Yedor: Michael Pittman Jr. is having a day for this Colts offense. So far, he has amassed 91 receiving yards on four catches (five targets) and picked up an 11-yard rush along the way. His 102 total yards of offense would be his second-highest game total this season, and he has picked that all up in just a half.

Bryan Knowles: Pittman is also gaining a ton of those yards via YAC and broken tackles -- and the Bills had 127 missed tackles during the season, sixth-most in the league.

Dave Bernreuther: I was typing during that drive and missed that, Vince, but I had earlier said out loud that if not for the slight value in play-action, the Bills would probably be better off without any designed running back runs.

It ended up not mattering, because Rivers hit Mo Alie-Cox on the next play to convert, but it looked to me like the officials shorted Jack Doyle about a half-yard on a reception to make it third-and-2. Not egregious, but had they thrown incomplete, that half-yard would have influenced the fourth-down call from the 20 by quite a lot. I was very nervous that that might've led them to maybe take the field goal attempt there, and three points would have felt like a huge missed opportunity.

Instead, we have a third-and-goal at the two-minute warning, which is a great place to be with a three-point lead.

Scott Spratt: I believe the only regular-season game the Bills had three three-and-outs this season was Week 14 against the Steelers. They have already had three in the first half today.

Bryan Knowles: The announcers are BEGGING the Colts to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4, and I'm having trouble not throwing a brick through the screen.

Rivers slightly overthrows Michael Pittman, but it hits him in the hands in the end zone, and he can't haul it in while diving. Big fourth-down stop there.

Andrew Potter: As a Buffalo defense staff fantasy manager but a fan of Michael Pittman's game, I'm simultaneously relieved and disappointed that Pittman didn't haul in that fourth-down pass. We're getting the Pittman today that I thought we'd see more of during the regular season. Philip Rivers loves his big receivers.

Scott Spratt: This may not change the answer, but kicking makes more sense in the final two minutes of the half since you can't benefit as easily from the field position on a failed touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: Our model had it as a go for the Colts but only by 0.5% GWC. Ben Baldwin's model said kicking the field goal was better. Probably fine either way.

Dave Bernreuther: I think I've mentioned this before, but as a Colts fan that still follows the Bills (my hometown team) closely, it has been really interesting to see how both teams have ended up improving on defense since the Colts let go of both Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, who now play prominent roles on the Bills front seven. It was Addison who threw off the third-down pitch to Taylor (which I didn't love; they didn't ever look like it was even possible to have that one blocked, and while Jared Veldheer is a great story, he's still not exactly a dominant left tackle), and Hughes was part of the gang that brought him down for a loss.

No complaints whatsoever about Reich still going for it there, even with the outcome. Not a huge fan of Rivers backpedaling so damn far, but the play was ultimately inches from succeeding. Ten points in five drives into Buffalo territory in the half is a really bad outcome, though. But heck, there's still a chance they'll get the ball back again.

Scott Spratt: I was going to call Kemoko Turay the Colts' goat (the bad kind) after he went offsides when the Bills were obviously hard-counting to try to get a free first down. But then Josh Allen may have thrown an end zone interception ... review will have to decide this one.

Bryan Knowles: Hell of an effort by the rookie Isaiah Rodgers, with Xavier Rhodes on the sideline and Rock Ya-Sin not playing today, but that hit the ground. No interception.

Bryan Knowles: And on the next play, the Colts leave the middle of the field wide open; Allen's QB draw picks up 16 yards. And then he pulls it down the next play, too, and scores the touchdown -- deadly with his legs.

That's 96 yards in 1:32 for the go-ahead score, and I think that makes me feel more comfortable about calling for the Colts to go for it on fourth down near the goal line. If the Bills can march down the field in 90 seconds, I'm not sure "three extra points and kicking off" is all that much of a better situation.

Dave Bernreuther: Lots of very close calls in the last few minutes, but I agree, no catch on that one. Shame, since he had caught one on the free play earlier.

As a Colts fan, I definitely let the expletives fly when Turay jumped off. That was a BIG mistake. Allen goes in and the Bills get to double dip on possessions. There's very little chance that the Colts will maintain their field position advantage in the second half, and now they're behind.

Aaron Schatz: The Colts played the first half they wanted to play and they're going to be behind at halftime anyway 14-10, because they just missed Michael Pittman in the end zone by inches and then Gabriel Davis got his feet in-bounds barely, twice.

Scott Spratt: I agree, Aaron. It wasn't about coaching. The Bills just had a bunch of close and critical plays go their way that half.

Vince Verhei: I hate to say this, but this feels like a classic Philip Rivers gut-punch playoff loss. That last Buffalo drive made the yardage and first down totals close to even. but it still feels like the Colts dominated the half and should have a comfortable lead. Instead, they're behind. Still 30 minutes to go, and I'm sure they would have been happy with a 14-10 halftime score coming into the game, but it feels like they have missed their best shot to win.

Bryan Knowles: The worst thing here for Indianapolis is that the Bills get to start the second half with the ball. It's entirely feasible they're down 21-10 before they ever get the ball back again, and I don't like their odds of coming back from two scores down. Getting a stop out of the half is going to be critical.

All in all, a lot of the stuff we looked at in the pregame preview is coming to pass -- Bills tackling issues, Colts getting pressure up the middle, so on and so forth. But a couple of close plays going against the Colts and a terrible penalty, and the Bills are back in control of this one.

Dave Bernreuther: Rivers once actually WON a gut-punch playoff game (Robo-Punter, 2008), so there's an extra frustrating element here for Colts fans to have that kind of edge for a half and still come out behind ... and other than Turay jumping there, it's hard to point to anything they really did wrong. Josh Allen has just been great.

(I still can't believe how normal it is to type that sentence now.)

Tom Gower: The last year he was playing, the Jaguars finally stopped lying and started listing Telvin Smith at 215, so Leonard being 215 wouldn't be unheard of.

I thought their bad field position in the first half might have led the Bills to be a little conservative in how they approached the game. They knew they're better than the Colts, and are favorites for a reason. Further, we know the Colts are a game script-dependent team and will probably struggle if forced to play from behind. That makes it important to not make a mistake when you're backed up and force them to execute rather than giving them easy scores. But when that leads you to go three-and-out a couple times like Buffalo did, and the Colts even after a good punt (say, Cody Bojorquez's 54-yarder with no return) have much better field position than you do, it's not a great exchange. They were able to drive the field once to get a touchdown. I thought the Colts did a better job of stringing plays and drives together than I thought they might, always useful for an underdog because increasing the variance plays in their favor, but you've pointed out their critical failures and some places where Reich could have been more aggressive.

Building on that, I think the key play of the first half was Reich's decision to eschew the field goal and go for it up 10-7. Normally, I'd be in favor of that move, largely for the +3 vs. +6 reason. But it's the first half -- late in the first half, so the benefit of field position isn't as large as expected -- and, building on what I was just saying, it had an important influence on what the Bills did. With their earlier three-and-outs, they knew they had the risk of giving up a cheap score, so instead of, say, running the ball three times and punting, they actually tried. And Allen made some fantastic second-reaction plays to get yards in great chunks and they finished off the drive. The first 28 minutes went probably 75% as good as a Colts fan had any right to expect and they STILL go into halftime trailing.

Dave Bernreuther: Colts running backs are getting less than 3 yards a carry while Rivers has nearly 9 yards per attempt, the Colts are trailing, and Phil Simms suggests at halftime that the Colts need to just keep running the ball. Phil Simms is a cretin. So glad we don't have to listen to him call entire games anymore.

I'm going to go back to my "Colts need a big turnover here to have a chance" call. At least we can take comfort in knowing that if anyone knows how to engineer a January comeback in Rich Stadium (it will always be Rich Stadium to me, dammit!), it's Frank Reich.

I should probably stop comparing a four-point deficit to a 32-point deficit though. Might be just a *bit* alarmist.

Dave Bernreuther: Our friend Bill Barnwell made a good point about that failed fourth-down series from the first half; what was the point of the Brissett package they were showing all year if not to bring it out in that situation? Especially when the Bills had to know that Reich considered that four-down territory. Actually, the Wildcat snap to Nyheim Hines that preceded it was just as puzzling in that context.

With the way Allen is playing and the strengths of the Colts defense, it really feels like the Bills are doing the Colts a favor every time they hand the ball off to Zack Moss or Devin Singletary. When they leave the ball in Allen's hands, they're moving down the field easily. It's only the designed runs that are slowing them down.

(Of course, as I type that, they call a designed run for Allen and Al-Quadin Muhammad drops Allen for a 5-yard loss on third down to stall the drive and force a field goal. That's a HUGE stop.)

Scott Spratt: Normally I would lament that Frank Reich is starting every new set of downs for a run and getting little out of it. But at this point, the Colts have possessed the ball for more than 10 more minutes than the Bills have. I think this delaying strategy makes sense for the undermatched team.

Scott Spratt: Oof, and there's Taylor's second drop of the game. Again, he had just one all regular season.

Bryan Knowles: And we have the return of Blankendoink, as he bounces the 33-yard field goal attempt off the upright. That's a killer.

Vince Verhei: The Colts have crossed midfield six times, have driven to the red zone four times, and have 10 points to show for it.

Dave Bernreuther: Was it Malcolm Gladwell's Blink that mentioned a guy who could reliably predict when a kicker missed field goals, over a large sample size, without any actual explanation as to why?

Because I've been doing that a lot lately, including on that one. And if this is some kind of power that I hold, I'd like to kindly ask the football gods to take it away from me, please.

I still view field goals as failures, and to me the real issue on that drive was Rivers just throwing a bit behind Pittman on third down when he was open, but ouch. Those points would still have been useful. Really just feels like this is not the Colts' day.

Aaron Schatz: Allen just had Stefon Diggs deep one-on-one against T.J. Carrie and that's a mismatch. 24-10 Bills.

Bryan Knowles: Not only that, Aaron, but the Colts are down to one timeout and one challenge, after they tried to turn a Zack Moss run into a fumble. Moss was carted off; I didn't quite see what happened to him, but that's rarely a good sign. But he held on to the ball, and it was never really close to a fumble, on the replays -- that was a desperation challenge.

And with 14 minutes left, down two scores with just one timeout, I just don't think the Colts are built to make a comeback here. That Diggs touchdown might well have ended this.

Scott Spratt: Oh yeahhh. After a neutral zone infraction, Frank Reich is going for a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line down two scores.

Bryan Knowles: Or perhaps I spoke too soon. I was waiting all day for some of those huge runs, and the Colts start off their drive with runs of 29 and 20 yards. They finished the regular season with the most big-play opportunities for running backs, per the NFL's own Next Gen Stats, but we hadn't really seen any of that yet. I don't know if there's enough time left for them to really get a lot of value out of that down multiple scores, but this was something we were waiting for. Impressive, impressive drive, capped with a Zach Pascal touchdown.

And then when the Bills jump offsides on the extra point, it entices the Colts to go for two -- and they're stuffed. THAT'S an interesting call, turning down a likely seven-point deficit for the chance to pull within six.

Bryan Knowles: And again -- why wasn't Brissett in the game on the two-point conversion?

Aaron Schatz: Good call by the Colts to go for it from the 1 but they forgot to block Matt Milano.

Dave Bernreuther: That's two big plays for Milano, and I won't lie: I've never even heard of him before today. Loved the decision to go for that two-pointer, but again, it just doesn't work out. Really just not the Colts' day. That one could be huge for gamblers.

We are very much in that "Colts need a turnover" territory now.

I'll add to the chorus about what a bad challenge that was; I don't know if the analytics/booth guys were in the bathroom or what, but that was a very un-Reich-like desperation challenge, when the timeout could be very valuable. After wasting one earlier on a late snap, that's just a terrible mistake.

Bryan Knowles: Another big rushing play, another big hole to run through, another missed tackle by Bills linebackers. I was expecting this all throughout the game; it just waited until the fourth quarter.

Scott Spratt: If the Colts had known their offense was this good, they could have just run hurry-up all game.

Aaron Schatz: Milano's actually a huge part of the Bills defense. One of the reasons the defense struggled early this year is that Milano was hurt with a pec injury. But he just got stuck in coverage thinking he had deep help when he had no deep help and the Colts find Jack Doyle wide open in the end zone. They went for two again this time they get it to Doyle and it is 27-24 Bills.

Andrew Potter: And that, Charles Davis, is why you go for two the first time. Because even if you miss, you can get it back on the second.

Bryan Knowles: And that's a postseason octopus, as Jack Doyle catches the touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion!

Vince Verhei: Patrick Mahomes: pro-going for two.

Scott Spratt: The Colts can't buy a 50/50 ball! Josh Allen fumbled on that massive sack, but the Colts couldn't jump on it!

Vince Verhei: I just mentioned on Twitter what an epic loss this would be for Buffalo when virtually every close play was going their way ... and then rookie Josh Allen rears his ugly head with a terrible fumble. Bills do recover the ball, but it's a second-and-33 now. That leads to a punt, and the Colts have the ball at their own 14, down 27-24, no timeouts, 2:30 to go.

And I remind you that every single Philip Rivers game ever ends with him having the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.

Carl Yedor: Ohhhhhh no, Josh Allen. As he's in the midst of taking a sack, Allen gets the ball ripped out of his hands for a fumble. Buffalo manages to hop back on it, but not before it has skittered around and bounced back towards their own territory for a 23-yard loss. Allen then short hops a throw to Diggs on second down and his third-down attempt comes up well short of even getting back into field goal range for Tyler Bass. Indy uses their final timeout after that play, and the ensuing punt gives them the ball at their 14 with 2:30 to play, needing a field goal to tie it. In other words, Philip Rivers is now in his natural habitat: down one score late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take his team down the field. By the two-minute warning Indy has a third-and-medium at about the 30, but it's four-down territory from here on out until they hit field goal range.

Bryan Knowles: You joke, Vince, but according to Stathead's database, going back to 1994, Rivers has attempted 765 passes in the fourth quarter, down one score. Only Tom Brady has more.

Vince Verhei: Yup, Bryan. Think I'll be updating this piece in Quick Reads on Monday.

Scott Spratt: And there's a Nyheim Hines drop! Brutal, Colts.

Bryan Knowles: I am surprised it took the refs so long to review this Zach Pascal fumble. Pascal got back up and tried to run again; I think that's a fumble and ballgame.

Oh, Chargers. I mean, uh, Colts. Whoever.

Scott Spratt: That was Dave's guy Matt Milano that forced the fumble.

Dave Bernreuther: Ruling stands. Well that's a surprise. And a bit of a gift.

Bryan Knowles: Woah, ruling on the field STANDS? I don't see that at all.

Scott Spratt: It took me forever to find a video of the play.

Carl Yedor: I know we're an analytical website, but I think Rivers is just cursed. After the questionable "call stands" ruling, the Colts' drive immediately stalls out, forcing a Rivers Hail Mary attempt as time expires. The throw doesn't even make it to the end zone. Game over.

Dave Bernreuther: Another play in which I wonder why it wasn't Brissett on the field, not that it matters.

Losing by three points is not going to do wonders for my irrational dislike for Blankenship.

Bryan Knowles: That game had no right to be as close as it was down the stretch. Full credit to the Colts for not wilting when the Bills went up 24-10, and hell of an overall game from them. They just ran into a better football team.

Aaron Schatz: It's a little embarrassing that the Colts got the ball back with 2:30 left and couldn't get into field goal range. That should be enough time.

Vince Verhei: Agree with Aaron's last point. The Colts had SO many chances to win this game, but they played so poorly in so many critical opportunities that it's hard to argue they Buffalo wasn't the better team today.

Scott Spratt: I'm not sure that game was great evidence the Bills were the better team, Bryan. The Colts missed a touchdown that hit fingertips, missed a field goal, failed on a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line, and couldn't recover a Josh Allen fumble that they had surrounded by defenders. I feel like the Colts could have scored 35.

Vince Verhei: Well, now I'm seeing Scott's point. If the Colts hit their 30-some-yard field goal and the Bills miss theirs from 50-plus, the Colts win.

Dave Bernreuther: As a Colts fan, hard to be too upset about that one. They missed a ton of opportunities, but other than the offsides, which for all we know wouldn't have mattered anyway, it's hard to be TOO upset by any of them individually. Allen played great and the Bills are better, and they got a tad unlucky (until that last non-fumble, I guess), and in the end, the result seems fair. I suppose it helps that the Bills are likable and exciting and not too many Colts fans had super-high hopes about this year, so the sting of this loss is pretty non-existent. To be honest, I'm more upset that I lost my bet. I'd be more sad for Rivers if not for the fact that he taunted us on his way off the field in 2007 during the Billy Volek game, but I'm still generally bummed for him. He greatly exceeded my expectations this year, and he played well enough to win today too. I guess his luck is sort of the opposite of Tom Brady's. Sorry, (Philip) Rivers.

Tom Gower: After starting the game conservatively, the Bills actually tried for almost the entire second half. The one exception came when they got into field goal range at the start of the half, calling three straight runs. That included a couple of Allen carries. Now, Allen was an effective runner on times, but it seemed to me those were on QB draws where there was an initial threat to pass, not the obvious runs like those plays where. Next drive, heavy passing, touchdown. Next drive, heavy pass, then the field goal. Next drive, also heavy pass, but Bad Josh Allen turned a bad play into an even worse one and mostly buried that drive.

Speaking of throwbacks, the other side of the ball in the second half looked like the Bills defense we saw the first half of the season. Blankenship doinked the field goal, but they got a couple of big chunks in the run game, and they finished off plays in the pass game. That included what sure looked like a bust in zone coverage by one of the best zone corners in the game, Tre'Davious White, on the big score to Jack Doyle. The pass rush was similarly not much of an issue for Rivers for most of the game. No sacks, only one credited QB hit (by Vernon Butler), and it's not like he got the ball out incredibly quickly (average time to throw per NFL Next Gen Stats of 2.54 seconds, just a tick above his season average of 2.52).

That sure didn't look like the best team in the league to me. I do think there's more to the offense than we saw today. A playoff win is always something to be savored, especially after a long absence. But next week will probably have to be better.

Los Angeles Rams 30 at Seattle Seahawks 20

Scott Spratt: If John Wolford is his listed 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, then Darius Leonard is at least 240.

Carl Yedor: It's Wolford starting at quarterback for the Rams. In the game between these two teams a couple weeks ago, there were several instances where Jared Goff had running room but either chose to throw it away or only picked up a minimal gain. While I don't know what to expect with Wolford as a passer, his mobility could pose a different sort of threat if Seattle tries to defend the bootleg component of the Rams' play-action passing game similarly. On the first drive, the Rams pick up one first down with three straight runs before going nowhere with three straight passes.

Bryan Knowles: Well, Wolford was starting, but he just took a shot to the head, and Jared Goff, bad thumb or no bad thumb, is warming up on the sideline. That's just a wee bit of a story, yeah?

Scott Spratt: Well that Wolford start was fun for a series and a half. On a designed run, Wolford just took a Jamal Adams shoulder to the crown of his helmet, and he may be forced to exit the game. I guess it's good Jared Goff is active. But hopefully Wolford is OK.

Aaron Schatz: That hit to Wolford's head -- legal, by the way, it was shoulder-to-helmet -- came from Jamal Adams. The Rams are actually picking on Adams in coverage so far, four of their first six passes. Adams has been unexpectedly singled-up on Cooper Kupp.

Vince Verhei: John Wolford in an empty backfield is a sure sign of a QB draw. No surprise the Seahawks were prepared for that one. And that can't be a flag -- Wolford was running and dived forward. If that's a penalty, that means you're never allowed to touch the quarterback on a sneak.

Bryan Knowles: As a note, Blake Bortles is inactive today. I'm assuming Wolford's going into concussion protocol, and Goff has the bad thumb. This could be an issue.

Carl Yedor: I wouldn't have been surprised if they ruled that a foul on Adams there. In that position his only real option is to completely pull up given that the quarterback is diving like that, but it's a really tough instinct to combat if you think he might keep running. Neck injuries are always scary, so the fact that they sent Wolford straight to the locker room is definitely concerning.

Scott Spratt: Is it wrong that I want Goff to exit so punter Johnny Hekker can play quarterback?

Dave Bernreuther: This is the first time all year the Rams have gone with the blue pants and dishwater jersey combo, and man ... it really just highlights how awful that off-white/bone/dishwater color is even more than usual. They look terrible.

John Wolford was lucky that he sailed a pass to Cooper Kupp on the sideline early, because if he had actually thrown it to him more directly, it could have been a pick-six since he was staring Kupp down the whole way. I'm no Goff fan, and he's not exactly good at throwing to anyone besides his first read either, but he's a better thrower than that. I wouldn't call him quite as bad a playoff starter as, say, Matt McGloin or Ryan Lindley, but so far, from what I've seen, he's up there, and frankly I'm shocked that the line on this one was only three points.

And now Goff in the game anyway, because Wolford took a shoulder to the head on a designed run ... which looked to me like he chose to go right when he should have gone left, in one of those slow-developing "why are you calling this?" Taysom Hill-type plays.

The Rams still have Aaron Donald, though, so really anything is possible.

Scott Spratt: Slightly more seriously, I believe Cam Akers was a quarterback in high school.

Bryan Knowles: Scott, earlier this week, McVay suggested that Cam Akers or Cooper Kupp would be the emergency quarterback should things come to that.

Aaron Schatz: The Seahawks have apparently decided to single-up Aaron Donald all game. This does not seem to be a good strategy. He has overwhelmed both Mike Iupati and Damien Lewis as he moves around the defensive line. Wilson just got sacked twice in one series.

Bryan Knowles: Seattle ... DOES know that Aaron Donald is pretty good, right? Up to 1.5 sacks already.

Dave Bernreuther: That's one heck of an endorsement of Blake Bortles.

While I'd certainly enjoy seeing Hekker put his exceptional passer rating on the line here, I think I might enjoy seeing McVay win with Bortles even more, if only because it would improve his legacy/aura even more.

Vince Verhei: Tyler Lockett beats Darious Williams for the big play on the last play of the first quarter. As noted in the preview, Williams had the highest depth of target of any qualifying cornerback. Teams like to pick on him deep -- not ideal against Seattle.

Carl Yedor: The Rams have essentially had each of the Seahawks' shot plays covered up perfectly so far this game. Wilson hit the big one to Lockett on that last drive, but Williams was really in perfect position. Some degree of quick passing on early downs might help them move the ball a bit better, but it's hard to draw any sweeping conclusions off of 10 plays. Seattle's guards are totally overmatched against Aaron Donald in the passing game when they have to hold up for any length of time (for obvious reasons), which makes taking deep shots very difficult. Combine that with the fact that Seattle's first down runs have gone for gains of 2, -10 (holding), and 6, and it's not surprising that they haven't moved the ball well in the early going.

Vince Verhei: Pete Carroll opts for a 50-yard field goal try on fourth-and-1. Do a shot.

At least Jason Myers hit the kick and we're tied 3-3.

Scott Spratt: I doubt the Rams feel great about this big completion since Goff underthrew it rather dramatically. But it was pretty cool to see slot receiver Cooper Kupp win the jump ball over Jamal Adams.

Bryan Knowles: I was just digging up stats on playoff games without a touchdown, when Russell Wilson tries to throw a quick screen to DK Metcalf. Darious Williams was ALL over it, however, jumping the route and taking it back to the house for six. Freddie Swain tried to interfere, but his block didn't move Williams off his line at all.

Carl Yedor: Freddie Swain can't make a block on a wide receiver screen, allowing Darious Williams to jump the route for a pick-six. Aikman and Buck are saying Seattle is trying to "force it" to Metcalf, but that's pretty lazy analysis. It's a wide receiver screen. That should never happen, regardless of who the quarterback, receiver, or defenders are.

Vince Verhei: Seattle's stars are killing them. Per Next Gen Stats, 78 of L.A.'s 79 passing yards have come with Jamal Adams in coverage. Now the offense tries to force a screen to DK Metcalf and Darious Williams knifes in for the pick-six. The expected completion percentage on that play was 0.0%.

Vince Verhei: Carl, they *are* trying to force it to Metcalf, and have been for a while now. He hasn't hit 11 yards per catch in any of his last four games. He can't get open downfield anymore so they're forcing short passes to him, but he's not a YAC guy -- remember how dreadful his shuttle and three-cone times were at the combine?

Scott Spratt: According to Sportradar charting, only two interceptions this season came on wide receiver screens. Jared Goff threw one. That checks out. The other? Patrick Mahomes, apparently, in Week 14 against the Dolphins.

Bryan Knowles: Would that count as forcing the ball to DK Metcalf?

Wilson pulls one of his patented Houdini acts, and slings the ball, on the run, to Metcalf -- who had outdistanced the entire Rams secondary. THAT'LL work.

Dave Bernreuther: Williams' pick was amazing.

That throw from Wilson running to his left might have been even better. THAT is what I was betting on with my preseason and staff fantasy picks.

How do you drop that in there as a right-handed quarterback running for your life to your left?

Vince Verhei: Here's the Wilson touchdown to Metcalf. Note the direction of Wilson's feet, the direction of the pass, and how perfectly he drops this in the bucket. This is basically impossible.

Bryan Knowles: Cam Akers picked up 44 yards on third-and-9 -- big play.

And Pete Carroll challenges that Jared Goff was beyond the line of scrimmage. He was easily 2 yards behind it. THAT'S a waste of a timeout.

Scott Spratt: I think the blue line on TV was a yard in front of the actual line of scrimmage, but that still wasn't enough to make a difference. The call stands.

Aaron Schatz: Rebound of the Rams offensive line was a big part of the offensive success they had this year. Great blocking on that Akers touchdown, especially by right tackle Rob Havenstein and right guard Austin Corbett who made the big cutback hole. 20-10 Rams.

Bryan Knowles: John Wolford has been taken away from the stadium in an ambulance, per the AP. Fingers crossed he'll be alright.

Scott Spratt: Bobby Wagner is limping into the locker room a play before the half. It looked like he may have knocked knees with a Rams player. The Seahawks cannot afford to lose him for the second half.

Carl Yedor: Wagner seems to have returned to the sideline to watch the last play of the half, so the apparent injury may not be as bad as it looked initially.

Bryan Knowles: Wagner being able to back in will be huge, because the Seahawks have not shown any ability to slow Cam Akers down to this point.

The Seahawks look less like the defense that ranked third in DVOA over the last five weeks and more like the one that was lost through the first three months of the season. The offense isn't doing much better; 0-for-5 on third downs and kicking on a pair of fourth-and-1s in the second quarter. They're averaging more yards per play than the Rams are, but that's due to the broken play to Metcalf; take away both team's biggest play, and they're both averaging 4.5 yards today.

I don't know. I don't have much to say other than neither team has looked great offensively. You expect that for a team playing an injured quarterback, not so much for one led by Russell Wilson.

Vince Verhei: (I'm just going to ignore whatever the hell that officiating clusterfuck at the end of the first half was since it didn't end up mattering.)

So, in the preview, I wrote that turnovers would probably decide the game, and that L.A. needed to get big plays to build a lead. Well, we all saw the pick-six, and the deep ball to Kupp and catch-and-run by Akers have made up 123 of their 216 total yards, and L.A. is up 20-10. Wilson's Seahawks have just one win against the Rams when losing the turnover battle, and that was back in Goff's miserable rookie year in 2016. Gonna need to get more big plays of their own and probably force a turnover of their own to get back in this.

That said, Goff is just 4-for-10, so they're probably going to get their chances. They just showed Wolford going into an ambulance to go to the hospital, which is very scary. Best wishes for a quick recovery for him.

Carl Yedor: I think Wagner may have actually been on the field for the final Rams throwaway too.

It's 20-10 at halftime with Seattle getting the ball to start the second half. The Rams' defense has been all over most of what Seattle has been running today, with three sacks, three tackles for loss, and the pick-six. Cam Akers and Cooper Kupp have made up almost the entirety of the Los Angeles offense, with 220 total yards between the two. Part of that stems from Akers accounting for most of the Rams' skill player touches, but he's still having a heck of a game.

Seattle has had trouble moving the ball consistently, with Wilson being consistently under duress when the Seahawks try to take their patented deep shots using play-action. When the Seahawks have tried to throw quick, like on the screen to Metcalf and some short throws to Jacob Hollister, the Rams have had those covered up. I'm not sure exactly what the explanation for that is beyond the Rams having a lot of talented, well-coached defenders and a scheme that prioritizes having more guys available in coverage. Seattle might try to move the pocket around more in the second half, but it will likely still be tough to move the ball. The Los Angeles defense is no joke, especially when they know that you need to throw trailing by 10 points.

Vince Verhei: Well, I also wrote that Seattle had a big special teams edge. Second half opens with a big D.J. Reed kickoff return, Jason Myers hits from 52, and the Seahawks get three points on a three-and-out drive.

Carl Yedor: Seattle continues to be conversion-less on third down. Aaron Donald beat Mike Iupati immediately on his pass rush and hit Wilson as he threw. It's a good thing for L.A. too, because Metcalf was open deep, and if Wilson had time to set up and throw, we could be looking at a tie ballgame. In not-as-good news, Donald appeared to pick up some sort of injury on the play, though it didn't look super serious at first glance.

Bryan Knowles: It may well be super-serious; Carl -- the Rams have announced Donald is doubtful to return with a rib injury of some description.

Carl Yedor: I'm wishing I'd held my last message until the broadcast came back from commercial. Donald's absence didn't really diminish the Rams defense on the last possession as they forced another three-and-out from Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Vikings earlier this season without converting a third down, but they only faced seven of them during the entire game. At this point, they're 0-for-8.

Vince Verhei: But then the Rams punt the ball right back. Seattle blitzed on third down, but used a three-man rush earlier, which they don't often do. Looks like they have realized Goff is 4-of-14, he can barely throw at all, and they can sit back and let him struggle on his own.

Blake Bortles being inactive looking like a really questionable decision right now.

Vince Verhei: Still 20-13 at the end of the third quarter, but the Rams just got a first down on the edge of field goal range.

Russell Wilson has thrown for three first downs. That's only one more than Wolford had in his two drives.

Carl Yedor: Brandon Staley may not be a serious head coaching candidate yet, but another season with defensive play like today's showing will definitely get him some looks this time next year. Wilson has had absolutely nowhere to go with the ball for most of the afternoon. Most of the times where there has been an open receiver have come from Wilson scrambling around, and he hasn't had many opportunities to do that either. Wilson has missed some throws and nearly thrown another pick or two, but the offense is completely out of sorts. The only somewhat positive piece of it has been Chris Carson, but just running the ball decently won't result in many points.

Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-1 from the 18, the Rams kick the field goal to go up 23-13. I'm sure our model calls that a must-go situation, but I can understand wanting to go up two scores against a Seahawks team which has not shown the ability to move the ball forwards.

Scott Spratt: Haha, Next Gen Stats disagrees with Sportradar because the broadcast just showed there hadn't been any interceptions thrown on wide receiver screens this year.

Bryan Knowles: How on earth do you get a false start on a fourth-and-possibly-game situation when you had two minutes to get ready for things due to an injury? What on Earth are the Seahawks doing?

Vince Verhei: Seahawks have a fourth-and-1 at their own 34. Down 10 in the fourth quarter, you have to go for this ... and they do. Or, they're going to, but there's a false start, and they were up against the clock anyway, and now they will punt. The ball just barely goes into the end zone for a touchback. Rams have the ball up 10, 9:21 to go.

Carl Yedor: Regardless of how this game ends, Seattle needs to seriously reflect on what happened to the offense over the second half of the season. I don't think there is one simple explanation for what happened. Part of it has been Wilson playing poorly at times. Part of it has been strength of schedule. Part of it has been a lack of open receivers for Wilson to find. Obviously those things can be related, but when the offense took such a major nosedive even when healthy over the latter part of the year, something is clearly broken with the system.

Scott Spratt: Part of the problem was the Seahawks had to play the Rams three times in the second half of the year, Carl. Judging by today's game, that isn't fun.

Bryan Knowles: Seahawks force a quick three-and-out after the punt -- just what they needed.

But then, on the punt return, Samson Ebukam punches the ball out of D.J. Reed's hands, and the Rams recover the fumble in Seattle territory. That might well be the final nail in the coffin, at least if the Rams can add anything on to their lead. Either way, that's another couple of minutes running off the clock...

Carl Yedor: And there's your ballgame. Robert Woods gets left wide open on a deep crossing route for a walk-in touchdown, and this one's done with 4:40 to play. 30-13 now, and that seems unlikely to change.

Vince Verhei: And Goff hits Woods on play-action for the touchdown and a 30-13 lead with less than five minutes to go and this one's done.

Usually at this point in the season I talk about a team's biggest needs going into the year, but this is different -- Seattle lost today because their best players played badly, and they were bad at the things they're usually good at. They need a psychotherapist as much as they need anything else. What a disappointment this performance was.

Bryan Knowles: Vince, you're absolutely right in that Seattle didn't really play well enough to win, but they might have had more of a chance if Pete Carroll hadn't turned in an uber-conservative performance. So many fourth downs passed up on throughout the game.

Bryan Knowles: Ah hell, did Cooper Kupp just go down with a non-contact injury in mop-up time? That's the last thing the Rams need going forward -- his health, along with Donald's and the Myriad Quarterbacks', are going to be the story for them this week.

Dave Bernreuther: I can't even imagine how frustrating this must be, Vince. I'm VERY salty, but mainly in the immature "my preseason picks and Scramble team get screwed because naturally they revert to their mid-decade form so now I don't look as smart" bratty way, not because they're actually my team.

So much talent, so much potential, improving defense, plus a golden opportunity with Goff having a broken thumb and Donald being out ... and they just lay an egg. It's not even because the defense reverted to early-season wet napkin form either. Goff only threw for 155 yards. Ugh.

I've mentioned them once today already, but in a few ways this is similar to the 2007 Colts, who also managed to blow a home game (against Philip Rivers' Chargers) by just collectively laying an egg and failing to capitalize on the opposing quarterback getting hurt.

I do like McVay, though, so I guess with all the nonsense selfish reasons out of the way, I can at least appreciate that I get to watch him be clever and this defense -- hopefully with a healthy Aaron Donald -- for an extra game or so. Even if it's just running into a meat grinder at Lambeau.

(Speaking of which, can we talk about how lucky it is for Tom Brady that before he even takes the field for his first game ever as a wild card, the quarterback of the losing team he's facing is ruled out AND now they don't have to play at Lambeau next week? He really is the anti-Philip Rivers...)

Dave Bernreuther: On the less childish side: kudos to the Rams and Brandon Staley. That was an awesome effort. They looked great even after Donald went off, and made that halftime lead feel very secure the whole way. It wasn't just their stars playing well; everyone did. It's not a surprise, given our numbers, but we've seen Wilson do some amazing things against great teams and players before, so I'll definitely admit to expecting Seattle to come back fairly easily once Donald got hurt.

Carl Yedor: I am looking forward to a potential matchup between this Rams defense and Aaron Rodgers, so I guess I can take solace in that as the other Seahawks fan in the group. The Rams have always been a tough defensive matchup for Seattle in the Wilson era just based on personnel due in large part to Donald and now Ramsey, and they absolutely deserved the win today. This is a bit of a different feeling than what happened during the playoffs last year when Seattle lost to the Packers. In both 2018 and 2019, there was the feeling that a team that should be oriented around its offense was trying to play a style that worked from 2012 to 2016 when the defense was awesome. This year, the defense finally got back to being actually above average in the second half of the year, but the offense completely fell apart outside of a blowout against the Jets.

There was a much clearer explanation for what went wrong last year, but this one seems a bit messier. Was it scheme? Did Wilson's brain just break after his midseason turnover binge? Why did they not have better answers for the coverage looks they were getting late in the year? The degree of difficulty was obviously higher later on, but the explosive plays almost completely dried up. The defense as currently constructed is not good enough to be a Rams-like unit that can win games by itself, so by the end of the season, I wouldn't put losses on the defense at all. I'm sure the offensive issues are partially exacerbated by playing six of their final nine games against teams in the top 10 by defensive DVOA, but they struggled against the Giants too in that stretch.

Carroll publicly said "everything is fine" with regard to the offense for much of the latter part of the season, but it was clear to anyone watching that things were not nearly as easy as they had been early on. Wilson was never going to throw over 10% of his passes for touchdowns for the entire season, but even with some regression in that department, something clearly had to have changed. Converting third downs was a struggle even when things were going well, which may improve just by better variance but could also be a scheme problem if no one is getting open. Carroll isn't going anywhere, and Schottenheimer will be less likely to get a head coaching gig if recency bias plays an effect in any of the upcoming hiring decisions. So philosophy-wise, there isn't much reason to expect differences. They started the year going more pass-happy, but after that turnover-prone stretch in Weeks 7 to 10, they reduced their early-down pass frequency slightly (from 63% to 59%), which doesn't seem like a massive drop-off, per rbsdm.com.

Seattle managed to finish fifth overall in DVOA (and fifth in weighted DVOA) with a 12-4 record and a good (but not great) point differential. A lot of teams would happily take that. But expectations are higher in Seattle because of the success they had early in Carroll's tenure, and that Super Bowl XLVIII blowout against the Broncos seven years ago gets further and further away every year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team

Bryan Knowles: It's disappointing that Alex Smith can't play tonight, still bothered by his busted calf.

That DOES mean we get a start from Taylor Heinicke, so if you were sorry that you couldn't support former Arizona Hotshots passer John Wolford earlier, you at least get to support ex-St. Louis BattleHawks signal-caller Taylor Heinicke. XFL 1, AAF 0.

Aaron Schatz: Tom Brady laughs at your Cover-2 zones. Antonio Brown in the space between the safety and the cornerback, 36 yards for a touchdown. Extra point blocked, now 9-0 Tampa Bay.

Bryan Knowles: Brady averaged 8 yards per attempt against zone defenses this year, compared to 7.2 against man-to-man coverage, though he was slightly more interception-prone. And if the holes in your zone are going to be that big, I have a slight hunch that Tom Brady will be able to find them.

Aaron Schatz: Taylor Heinicke looks ... good? He's finding open guys. His interception was tipped by a pass-rusher. The Washington running game is getting absolutely nothing against the No. 1 Bucs run defense though.

Vince Verhei:After 15 minutes, I think Heinicke would have been the second-best quarterback in the two early games today.

Bryan Knowles: I don't know if I'd go that far, Vince, but that was an impressive drive by someone who was unemployed at the beginning of December. Some nice passing -- nothing mega-dramatic or anything, but he hasn't been overly phased by pressure, he's got some zip ... it's certainly not a give-up start, and Washington marches right down the field to make the score 9-7.

Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure I get Washington's ensuing kickoff. I assume it was supposed to be a surprise onside kick that just failed, rather than just a mis-kick, but it gave Tampa Bay great field position, and they were able to convert that into a fairly easy touchdown.

Chris Godwin's score made it 15-7, an eight-point lead. But, because they missed the extra point after the first touchdown, Tampa Bay decided to go for two here. Leonard Fournette slips, and so it's still a one-score game. Why not kick the extra point there and go up nine?

Dave Bernreuther: I loved the David Strategy surprise onside kick from Riverboat Ron ... looked like he got too much of it, but that's the kind of thing you need to do against a much better team when you're behind.

The ease of the ensuing Bucs drive shows exactly why that was a good risk and the lost field position not so big a deal ... a bit of misdirection seemed like it slowed the rush a bit and Brady hit Godwin for an easy score. It's early still, but gamblers nationwide had to be upset that Fournette was stopped short on that two-point conversion. Looked like he may have slipped.

I'll join the chorus of folks impressed by Heinicke. He looks like a far more experienced quarterback, and while he may be staring his first read down just a bit (maybe it was just the last two I noticed), he's throwing accurately and with confidence. Even his incompletions -- including a deep-ish ball just now off the hands of Isaiah Wright and a third-down pass where Carlton Davis got away with one -- are on the money.

That's a bad call not to get, trailing on third-and-9, though. That really should have been flagged.

Bryan Knowles: The 7-9 team is still competitive in a playoff game against the 11-5 team at halftime. I don't really know if Washington could have asked for much more.

If the Football Team is going to win the football game, they need that defensive line to do more. They have one sack in the first half; they'll need quite a few more to slow Tom Brady and company down in the second half. Full credit to the Tampa Bay line for holding up so far; I would not have had "Washington has only one sack" and "Washington is still competitive" as things that could happen simultaneously.

Vince Verhei: So, uh, not as much excitement so far in the night game, huh? The backup quarterback has played well but has been hurt by drops by his receivers; the Hall of Fame quarterback has played great, but his team has struggled a bit in the red zone. So it's 18-7 instead of 24-7 or something like that.

Scott Spratt: It did seem weird to me that this game and the Steelers-Browns game landed in prime time. I've been the most excited about the Ravens-Titans rematch.

Carl Yedor: I agree, Scott. From a neutral perspective, I felt that the best two games of the weekend ended up in the early slots for both days.

Dave Bernreuther: I like Jack Del Rio, and he definitely got a raw deal in Oakland and has done good work this year, but man does he seem to struggle with Tom Brady. I believe his defenses are 1-9 against him coming in -- of course, many coaches have similarly putrid records in 10-game samples against juggernauts -- and even with the pass rush talent this team has, Brady has mostly had time to pick them apart calmly. The sack, which came just before halftime, looked to be a coverage sack, as Brady was caught from behind, but even that one wasn't some dominant collapsing of the pocket; in fact I'm surprised he didn't throw it away. (Curious what he got so angry at when he popped up after; my sound is off so I didn't get to hear what the broadcast said on the replay.)

This isn't like Jags-Pats playoff game level bad or anything, and we've all seen what a difference Ali Marpet makes on the Bucs' line and surely he deserves some credit, but it's not nearly as ferocious a pass rush as some of us were expecting. Certainly not good enough to slow this offense down or win this game by themselves.

But ... maybe they don't have to. Heinicke continues to impress me. He looks every bit as good as several recent first-round picks, and the Football Team got him off the scrap heap. He was lucky to avoid a second pick just now, but even that one wasn't too bad a throw. Just a tad off target and still perfectly catchable. Settling for a field goal there is a bit of a downer, but it's a one-score game again. Not bad at all.

Scott Spratt: Woah, that was crazy. A Washington punt nearly hit a couple of Bucs returners, and so Troy Apke grabbed the ball (still in the field of play) and ran it into the end zone for a possible touchdown. It turns out it didn't hit a Bucs player, which fine. But the refs ruled that a touchback? That's ridiculous. They should have had that downed inside the 5-yard line!

Scott Spratt: OK, karma struck in the form of Daron Payne, who Peanut-punched the ball out of the hands of running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Washington recovered the fumble and starts their next drive in Bucs territory.

Bryan Knowles: A somewhat phantom horsecollar tackle moves the Football Team into the red zone, but it's the legs of Tyler Heinicke that is the story of the drive -- he had a 13-yard run where Kevin Minter whiffed on him in open space, and now an 8-yard touchdown to bring Washington within two points, pending the ensuing two-point conversion...

Bryan Knowles: Conversion is no good, but at 18-16, we have a ballgame!

Aaron Schatz: Heinicke is playing so well, I have no idea how this guy didn't have an NFL job until a few weeks ago. His pocket movement is fantastic.

Vince Verhei:The pocket movement, the processing, the arm strength, the mobility. Heinicke has been fantastic. In all seriousness, is this the best game an NFC East quarterback has played since Dak Prescott got hurt?

The two-point play was awful -- looked like a wide receiver tunnel screen with no tunnel -- but I won't mention that.

Dave Bernreuther: The afternoon game makes a lot more sense now that it's clear that Russell Wilson switched bodies with Taylor Heinicke somehow.

I kid, but everything about that escape and score looked like Wilson, right down to his posture as he rolled left. Incredible series for him. Shame the conversion got stuffed, but even without it, we've got a ballgame.

I'm also impressed with Payne's forced fumble ... he was at a really awkward angle without much leverage, and Vaughn was falling. I'm surprised he was able to punch so accurately and effectively.

Vince Verhei: Per Next Gen Stats, Heinicke has been the fastest ballcarrier in the game so far.

Bryan Knowles: To save you some work for Audibles, Vince, the highest passing DYAR for a non-Prescott NFC East quarterback this season belongs to Andy Dalton against the Eagles in Week 16 -- 135 DYAR. 22-for-30 for 377 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.

That's the only non-Prescott game to pass 100 passing DYAR in the NFC East this year, though rushing value might have pushed a few people over the top.

Rivers McCown: I feel like every time I've looked up at this game I've seen Chris Godwin drop a ball.

Scott Spratt: Godwin had three drops on 68 catchable targets during the regular season. He may have dropped three tonight.

Vince Verhei: Funny you should mention that, Rivers:

Bryan, we've got the top 50 quarterback games of the year compiled, and there's only one NFC East game on there -- Dak Prescott had 169 DYAR against Atlanta in Week 2.

Rivers McCown: :siren: STEVEN MONTEZ ALERT :siren:

Vince Verhei: Oh god, now Heinicke's going to the locker room and Steven Montez -- an undrafted rookie out of Colorado -- may be quarterback number FIVE for Washington this season.

Dave Bernreuther: The Bucs defensive line just dominated that series. Usually when a young quarterback has a chance at an upset against a good team, I wait for the opposing defensive coordinator to foil him with some exotic looks or just send the house at him and force a bit of panic ... Todd Bowles hasn't had to. They're getting great pressure with four.

Looked like it was the second-down play where they got to Heinicke and he landed oddly on his left arm/shoulder. It would be really awful if he couldn't continue.

Meanwhile, they're back to getting nowhere near Brady, and he just sliced them apart after the punt. Funny how much easier things get when your receivers don't drop passes.

Bryan Knowles: I think the Heinicke injury, coupled with Tampa Bay's recent touchdown, probably is all she wrote for Washington. I just can't imagine the backup backup backup backup quarterback putting together two scores in 9:11.

I suppose crazier things have happened.

Aaron Schatz: Crazier things like Heinicke coming back hurt and marching down the field for a touchdown to Steven Sims?

Bryan Knowles: Except Heinicke ISN'T hurt! Or, well, he is, but not enough to keep him out, so add "toughness" to your list of accolades for the day.

Scott Spratt: Daron Payne has been outstanding tonight. He just had his second sack of Tom Brady on a drive that Washington has to hold to a field goal or nothing. He also forced that fumble of Vaughn earlier.

Dave Bernreuther: Two-minute warning entertainment:

(Just found this extremely funny.)

And THERE is the big blitz I was expecting earlier. Loss of 11 to make it fourth-and-21. That is not a good spot to be in with the season on the line.

Bryan Knowles: A hell of an effort, and Heinicke has got himself a backup quarterback job somewhere in 2021, but fourth-and-21 was just too much of a miracle to ask for. The desperation shot falls incomplete, and Tampa Bay will come out on top.

Fun while it lasted, though!

Comments

57 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2021, 6:23pm

2 Quick thoughts

Buf/Ind: Good, clean game, between two good teams. The Colts missed some opportunities, but can’t claim bad luck. Buffalo averaged 9.3 yards per pass, and 6.8 yards per play overall (compared to 6.2 for the Colts). That won’t win many football games for the defense. Josh Allen continues to ball.

Buffalo’s pass defense did very little to slow the Colts themselves, which is worrying with significantly more explosive offences on the horizon. 

Sea/Lar: The Rams defense is fierce, no doubt. But that was an utterly inept offensive performance. I don’t know what has gone on through the course of the season in Seattle, but they have somehow managed to neuter what looked like a devastating offence in the first few weeks. 

If Seattle isn’t searching for new offensive coaching staff this off-season, I despair.

Was/Tam: Brady looks really good. Still so elusive in the pocket, and no obvious issues with his arm. Remarkable. Antonio Brown beginning to look like his old self. Credit to Heinicke for a gutsy performance to make an entertaining game of it. 

Tampa’s pass defense looks like it can still be attacked, but this is a strong team no doubt. Great game in New Orleans next week in prospect, close to a coin toss. 

General: Football is more fun to watch when refs aren’t tossing flags for any suggestion of pass interference/defensive holding. 

20 "If Seattle isn’t searching…

In reply to by BJR

"If Seattle isn’t searching for new offensive coaching staff this off-season, I despair."

I hear Darrell Bevell is available!

In all seriousness, I get some of the issues Seahawks fans had with Bevell, but I'm mystified why Carroll though Brian Schottenheimer would be an upgrade.  I mean, Schottenheimer was OC with the 7-9 BS Rams.  Carroll played against them twice a year!

3 What struck me

Is that Chase Young was teeing off play after play after play, and never got close to Brady. 

9 Wirfs is really good, and…

In reply to by Jackson87

Wirfs is really good, and probably could be a left tackle.  That game may make the Jets decide to take Sewell so they have bookend tackles (although their pass protections issues were mostly inside).

4 Game comments

The Colts were better yesterday except with in game decisions.  The play calling in the red zone was poor multiple times and timidity on 4th down.    And then Rivers basically collapsing on the last drive.  His passing was dreadful not even giving his guys a chance.  Did he just run out of gas?   It was weird.  But Colts players were ON this game.  Reich and turnover luck screwed their chance Kelce is going to go for 200 yards against this Buffalo D  Doyle should have been featured   Bills have no idea on how to cover a TE

The Rams kicked the sh8t out of Seattle.  Think Seahawks fans should accept that their team played poorly yesterday because the other team played stronger, faster and smarter.  The Seattle o line was overwhelmed.  The center looked like he didn’t belong in the NFL he was so manhandled at times and both guard were not much better. Wilson had an awful game because he had to keep eyes open for the pass rush being in his lap within a beat of the snap.  Nothing worse than consistent interior rush.  From the edge you have a beat and ability to move away.  Interior you just end up running into edge rushers.  LA o line being able to move defenders when everyone knew that the Rams didn’t want to pass also telling. Very much awed by LA D and very much unimpressed by Seattle lack of toughness. Seattle has played LA enough plus enough playoffs to know you have to BRING IT.  Instead they got whipped on both sides.  
 

side note:  having watched Favre after he hurt his thumb the inexplicable passes won’t go away soon.  Guy cannot grip the ball properly.  So there will be passes that just, we’ll sail isn’t the right word, but just come out in a weird way.  Either going in a direction that makes no sense at fluttering big time.  Rams just have to hope these suckers fall incomplete 

 

good work by Tampa o line.  But Chase Young needs to get is hand down.  The stand up start did nothing.  And he kept getting steered past Brady by the tackle.  Watched him in college regularly and know he can play smarter.  Washington o line also hunkered down and got stuff done. If The WFT can find another competent receiver then this offense can do things assuming the mystery qb can replicate this game semi regularly.  
 

Mostly fun watching.  Feel for the Colts players.  Hope the Rams guy is ok.  Stunned really at a Carroll team getting trashed in a big game.  Glad Washington put up a scrap.  

17 As I mentioned above, I don…

In reply to by big10freak

As I mentioned above, I don't believe the Colts were better yesterday. It gave that illusion because the Colts sustained longer drives, and often pinned Buffalo deep. But Buffalo were significantly more efficient with their plays. The Colts defense tackled solidly, and didn't noticeably screw up, but at no point did I have confidence in them stopping the Bills. 

 

5 Punting

Some incredible punts all day.  The one guy with the 59 yard no rerun out inside the 10 yard line.  Wow 

Also some wonderfully reckless returns.  Love the effort.  

6 Coverage Sack

“Curious what he got so angry at when he popped up after; my sound is off so I didn't get to hear what the broadcast said on the replay”

One of the commenters said he was yelling at his receivers for not continuing to try and get open.  I guess it makes more sense to practice the scramble drill for Wilson than for Brady.

7 Made me laugh

When they introduced the players on Washington offense my wife said, “who’s the meth dealer?” when the qb photo on screen 

19 I think that would be a good…

I think that would be a good fit.  And I think it would be smart move by the Colts as long as the Lions don't try to go for their eyeteeth in a trade.  He's not quite as good as his proponents think he is, but he's also a lot better than his critics give him credit for.  

The Lions won't be decent again anytime soon, so I'd love for him to go somewhere that he has a chance to win.  He's never had an offensive line and run support anywhere near the quality of the Colts, and he's only had defense as good as them once (2014).  Despite Stafford having a relative down season that year, they still finished 11-5.

23 As a not-a-Lions fan, I…

As a not-a-Lions fan, I haven’t subjected myself to many Lions games, other than Thanksgiving. 
My impression of Stafford is that he can still “make all the throws”, usually makes good decisions, and is mobile enough to extend plays if the pocket breaks down. While every team would love to have a Mahomes or Watson at QB, the way the Colts are currently constructed, I think Stafford would be a good fit. 

13 Wentz is a negative asset at…

Wentz is a negative asset at this point. He's on a big contract and played like the worst qb in football. Sure that may not happen again, but even betting on a solid turnaround still makes him overpaid. I would be livid if the Colts traded for him.

21 I'll push back on that a little.

He'd be under contract for <$30m a year for 4 years when traded with guarantees sorta like Jimmy G. His 2017 was always a mirage but he's probably not the "worst" QB in the league. And if (older) Foles garners a 4th I'm not sure the contract difference warrants a "high draft pick" a la Brock O. 

Brock had a .024 EPA+CPOE composite on 1030 plays, in the 5 year span before the infamous trade. Wentz career 5 year span is .076 on 3043 plays.

If I was the Colts I'd think about kicking them a day 3 pick if Reich thinks it's a good idea and they miss out on Dak, etc. The Jags only got Shaquille Quarterman (1 AV in 12 games, 0 starts) with the pick they got from Foles so I don't think it'd be that bad. 

33 Stafford, Prescott, maybe…

Stafford, Prescott, maybe even somehow Watson given news from there will be available and the Colts have cap. But I hope they stay away from Wentz. Only makes sense if they get money and draft picks that they can maybe package to draft someone. 

35 Trading for Wentz?

Let's get together and make a statement for Colts management, because I am pretty sure my head will explode if they trade for Wentz.  If both our heads explode in unison right outside their offices, maybe they'll rescind the trade.  I guess we'd be sacrificing ourselves for the team... but it's better than watching a colossal and expensive Wentz failure show and screaming I TOLD YOU SO into our pillows every Sunday night.

37 I'll participate as well. If…

I'll participate as well. If there was some way they could get him for nothing and pay him peanuts with no guarantee of being the starter? Sure. But there's no way that's gonna happen. 

11 Bucs O looked great…

Bucs O looked great yesterday, made a very good defense look average. Glad the Packers won't have to play them next round. Bucs D looked discombobulated by Heinicke. People running wide open for a lot of the game, especially second half.

Rams D looked very good, took away everything that Seattle tried to do. Mostly because Seattle offensive line played really poorly. Even accounting for Donald's presence, they just did not look up to the task.

Buffalo and Indy was a great game. Two good teams going at it. Buffalo beats Pittsburgh and Tennessee I think. Baltimore would give them a tough game but its unlikely they'll face them (Cleveland would have to win).

36 The Cleveland comment

I'm sure we'd all have agreed with you when you typed this, but up 28-0 in the first quarter against Pittsburgh, this really made me chuckle.

No idea how Cleveland won, or put another way, why didn't THIS Pittsburgh team show up against the Colts?  They played about two good quarters in the past six weeks, and it had to happen during one of Indy's 2nd half naps.

14 Tampa Bay might be the only…

Tampa Bay might be the only team with a strong offense across every unit. Their line might be the best in football. Their receivers are both deep and star studded and Brady is still looking great despite being 100 years old. 

They are absolutely a contender and have a real shot at winning it all.

15 People tend to overreact to…

People tend to overreact to disappointing playoff losses. Anyone can have a bad day.

That said, this Seahawks loss you could see coming and yet it felt like a total gut punch that results in some sobering discussions.

I'm not sure what you can do to "fix" this offense. The receivers are great ( maybe could use an upgrade at tight end) and the line needs work, but I don't think this offensive line will ever look good with Wilson as the quarterback. 

That means going all in on defense and hoping you get a good Wilson game. But this season I think showed the limits of the Seahawks trying to be the Chiefs or the Packers.

22 As I said above, I'd like to…

As I said above, I'd like to see a change in coaching personnel before I make sweeping roster changes. Even if we accept Wilson is not an MVP caliber QB capable of consistently great week to week efficiency, there is no excuse for a display as inept as last night.  

26 Well

Top 10: 1 time

11th-22nd: 5 times

23rd-32nd: 6 times

Half the time he's in the bottom 10. Yikes.

27 Thanks.  Man, that's some…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Thanks.  Man, that's some crazy Jedi-stuff to stay employed with that track record.

28 No wonder he's never been a HC

Only other OC that has been employed that long is Peter Carmichael of the Saints (that I can think of) who goes as follows:

Top 10: 11 times

11th-22nd: 1 time (this year, 12th)

Poor Pete, always gonna be seen as some puppet while the Adam Gases keep getting more chances. Hmm, actually the Seahawks should lure him with the opportunity to call plays. Seems to do well with short QBs with a wonderlic of 28!

38 I wo9nder how Tom Moore would fare in that ranking?

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

It's a little unfair when you have 3.5 HOFers on offense (Manning, James, Harrison, and Wayne as a finalist), but I really liked Moore's play calling and it was noticeable when he retired (I THINK he retired for weird pension reasons, and then was signed by another team...?  That was peculiar, come to think of it).

43 I’m in the Tom Moore fan…

I’m in the Tom Moore fan club too.  Look up the offensive rankings of the 1995 Detroit Lions.  Moore constructed a top 5 passing offense with Scott freakin’ Mitchell!  Letting him go with the rest of the coaching staff in 1996 was a huge mistake.  
 

He was really ahead of this time, using the 11 as his base offensive formation, and realizing that running out of it really works (yes, having Barry Sanders helps), and allows you to be successful passing when the defense  refuses to go into nickel.

18 Rams winning probably helps…

Rams winning probably helps GB more than Brady. Now they get a road game with a NO team who has torn them apart twice.

29 Ridiculous? But the refs…

Ridiculous?

But the refs ruled that a touchback? That's ridiculous.

It’s exactly the same as the coverage team touching the ball at the seven, but knocking it into the end zone. The ball got into the end zone as the result of the coverage team touching it before the receiving team. What else could the call be?

45 Here’s a chance for you to…

Here’s a chance for you to learn something new. From the rule book:

First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no live-ball penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. 

And shortly after that, this clarification:

If a player of the kicking team touches the goal line with any part of his body while touching the ball, the ball is dead, and the result of the play is a touchback.

Of course this was all obvious to anyone who knows even a little football. If a coverage player is guilty of first touching and the ball goes into the end zone by his efforts, it’s a touchback. We’ve all seen it dozens of times. Every single one of those “almost a great play by the coverage guy” plays.

46 et tu, nat: 9.1.4.d After…

et tu, nat:

9.1.4.d

After the ball has been kicked and goes beyond the line of scrimmage, and until the kick ends (either team secures possession of the ball, or the ball is dead by rule), the penalty yardage for holding and illegal use of hands fouls by either team shall be 10 yards.

If the ball had not touched the receiving team, the play is dead at the point the kicking team secures possession. Any subsequent running is immaterial; the play is already done.

49 The rule you quote is about…

The rule you quote is about blocking during the kick, and defines the end of the kick for purposes of penalties, not the end of the play. Possession by the coverage team does not end the play. Usually, they just give themselves up to end the play. But if they don’t, the play goes on, like any other play would.

You worked really hard to find an unrelated rule to misinterpret. Do you really want to die on the hill called “it doesn’t matter what happens after the coverage team touches the ball”? It’s a lonely place to die.

Better to learn a rule you had misunderstood, don’t you think?

50 I'll explain this for the…

I'll explain this for the rest:

A bunch of NFL rules really lean on other rules to be defined properly. A fumble is basically defined as something that's not a carry and isn't a pass. You need to read what a pass is to get to where the border is, and even then it's a little gray.

This works similarly. The punt rules don't define what the difference is between touching and possession (but touching is not possession, because it's pointed out you can touch more than once).

However, the live-ball penalty rules indicate possession triggers a dead ball and ends a play -- you can't get a live ball penalty when the ball is dead, and a dead ball stops a play. But regardless, this is clarified by the kicking definition:

SECTION 18 KICKS ARTICLE 1. KICK. A Kick is intentionally striking the ball with the knee, lower leg, or foot. A kick ends when a player of either team possesses the ball, or when the ball is dead.

ARTICLE 4. SCRIMMAGE KICK PLAY. A Scrimmage Kick Play begins with the snap. It ends when a player of either team establishes possession of a kicked ball, or when the ball is dead by rule.

Dead ball definition: (j) when any legal or illegal kick is caught or recovered by the kickers, except a scrimmage kick that is kicked from behind the line and is recovered behind the line (not a Try kick). See 9-3-2-Item 3 for exception. (It was ahead of the line, so this exception does not apply)

Or 9.3.2

ARTICLE 2. KICKERS CATCH OR RECOVER BEYOND LINE. When the kickers catch or recover a kick beyond the line of scrimmage, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery, even if a member of the receiving team has first touched the ball.

 

You are sure to argue:

Item 3. Touchback. If a player of the kicking team illegally catches or recovers a scrimmage kick, other than a field-goal attempt from beyond the 20-yard line, and touches the goal line with any part of his body while in possession of the ball, the ball is dead, and the result of the play is a touchback. For a missed field goal from beyond the 20-yard line, see 11-4-2.

 

Note 9.3.2. The ball is dead wherever they establish possession. Item 3 covers what happens when possession begins at or across the goal line, because the ball is dead the instant it begins. How the ball moves after dying is immaterial; it's not live again until the next snap.

ARTICLE 1. DEAD BALL. A Dead Ball is one that is not in play. The time period during which the ball is dead is Between Downs. This includes the interval during all timeouts, including intermission, and from the time the ball becomes dead until it is legally put in play. ARTICLE 2. BALL READY FOR PLAY. A Dead Ball is Ready for Play while the 40-second Play Clock is running when the ball is placed down by an official at the spot where the ball will next be put in play, or when the Referee signals for the 25-second Play Clock to start. ARTICLE 3. LIVE BALL. A Live Ball is a ball that is in play. A Dead Ball becomes a live ball when it is: (a) legally kicked on a Free Kick Down (6-1-1; 6-1–3); (b) legally snapped on a Scrimmage Down (7-1-1; 7-3–6); or (c) legally kicked on a Fair Catch Kick Down. It continues in play until the down ends (3-9-1)

Once the kicking team establishes possession (by catching or holding the ball), the kick is dead. It cannot be advanced in either direction. This is not true for mere touching (as should be obvious), but possession by rule ends the play. This call was not made correctly by the officials.

55 You can stop highlighting…

You can stop highlighting this:

A kick ends when a player of either team possesses the ball

That has nothing to do with the end of the play. It has to do with when the kick play rules switch over to the run play rules. Surely the down does not end when the receiving team possesses the ball, right? So stop pushing that. It’s irrelevant.

But you are right about this: the NFL rules describe a specific case for a touchback that could ONLY happen if the kicking team illegally gained possession of the kick in the field of play.

Should referees simply ignore that rule? Should they write their own rule on the fly, such as adding an exception for if the player thought the ball had been touched? Or should they interpret it as one of those (dozens of) exception cases that litter the NFL rule book?

I’d argue that they should do the third. Why? Because the rule exists to grant a touchback precisely when a coverage guy illegally catches a punt and does not manage to stop himself before entering the end zone.  But also because ignoring or rewriting rules on the fly is much, much worse than some schmuck getting screwed for 13 yards of field position because he thought the ball had been touched.

One last point: the two rules involved are not symmetrical. It only makes sense to interpret one as the rule and the other as the exception to the rule. The ball is dead because he gained possession (the rule) but a touchback is awarded because he carried the ball into the end zone after gaining possession (the exception). Try it the other way: A touchback is awarded because he gained possession and then carried the ball into the end zone, but the touchback is revoked because he gained possession of the ball before he carried it into the end zone. Huh?

One thing I think we can agree on: the NFL rule book is something of a shambles.

 

52 Curiouser and curiouser…

Curiouser and curiouser...

From rule 11-6-2 Touchback Situations

(f) if a player of the kicking team illegally catches or recovers a scrimmage kick in the field of play, and carries the ball across the goal line, or touches the goal line with any part of his body while in possession of the ball. 

But oddly, there is this in 7-2-1 Dead Ball Declared

(j) when any legal or illegal kick is caught or recovered by the kickers, except a scrimmage kick that is kicked from behind the line and is recovered behind the line...

Neither rule mentions momentum, so it’s not a question of why he ran into the end zone. If he goes into the end zone, it’s a touchback. If not, the dead ball spot is where he gained possession. It’s certainly not the only case where the spot is determined by something that happened later in the play.

11-6-2 is clear: it was a touchback. This rule describes exactly what happened in this game. 

If 11-6-2 had been written to require momentum to force the player to enter the end zone, this call would have gone the other way. But the assumption is that the kicking team knows it needs to stay out of the end zone to avoid a touchback, and so their getting into the end zone must have been accidental. It’s unfortunate that the “accident” in this case was not seeing that the ball was untouched.

So, seeing that 11-6-2 and 7-2-1 are both rules, I can understand the frustration with the call. As written 11-6-2 only makes sense if it applies in cases like this. But I could imagine adding a momentum clause to 11-6-2-f. That might improve the rule. Or it might just stir up a lot of time wasting challenges and complaints. 

54 I think the difference in…

I think the difference in wording is meaningful. Recovers is used in 11-6-2 and possesses is used in 3-25-4, etc.

Probably the easiest way to suss out what is meant is by the game situations that trigger these rules.

11-6-2 handles when a kick coverage guy snags the ball at the one, but falls into the end zone before stopping. That's a touch back under 11-6-2.

3-25-4 is when the play ends when the kicking team picks up a stopped ball and ends the play, or when the coverage guy gets it on the bounce or on the fly.

3-25-4 and its ilk are consistent with grabbing a potentially live muffed ball and attempting to return it.

This discusses the difference:
https://www.steelers.com/news/asked-and-answered-dec-5

In short, "recovers" seems to be mean "in your hands." "Possession" seems to mean "in your hands, two feet on the ground, in-bounds."

ESPN's write-up refers to this as a blown call.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30656411/questionable-nfl-playoff-officiating-decisions-happened-which-were-right

There was another game where something like this happened. I seem to recall it involved the Chargers, because of course it did. The refs initially called it a touchback before deciding not to be assholes. I can't find the recap or the video of it, though, and because it didn't involve replay it's not documented in play-by-play as an overturn.

30 My observations

IND-BUF: I thought the game was basically decided on the Bills' 2nd TD drive, when every close referee call went their way:

  * two very close inbounds calls in favor of Diggs. One maybe, but two in a row?

  * an incomplete pass by Allen as he was being tackled that might have been called grounding, though I didn't see if there was a potential receiver in the area.

  * the offides call on 4th down against the Colts. The play clock was at zero when he started. I thought it should have been delay of game against BUF.

TB - anyone: It's disgusting to me that Antonio Brown is back in the NFL, let alone in the playoffs. Shame on Brady, and shame on the Bucs. I'm rooting that they go down in flames before they get to the Super Bowl. Geaux Saints!

39 Play clock

In reply to by LionInAZ

I won't argue your points, but I will add that I have never seen the play clock hit zero so many times and not get a flag.  I assume it was part of Indy's bleed the clock strategy and is surely illegal technically, but in the practical sense of how the refs do their job, makes perfect sense.  They look to see zero, and then turn to look for the snap.  That half second is where Rivers lived all day.  Maddening for this Colts fan--snap the damn ball already!

So I have no complaint about that on the Turay jump.  That was a giant brain fart by him that they can still smell lingering over Buffalo.  As I sit in my family room pontificating to my wife who is knitting and one son who is probably surfing on his phone, "Hah! A classic attempt to draw Indy offsides.  They don't plan to run a play. All the Colts have to do it--CRAP!  YOU IDIOT!"

34 Thank you for calling out…

Thank you for calling out the Brissett thing in the IND-BUF game. I was livid. They were back to early season can't convert short yardage can't get it in the end zone mode. How did they get out of that then? Brissett in short yardage. And they'd been setting up the fake sneak pass too by always running in his package. Worst coaching decision of the season by Reich I think unless there's something we don't know like he was hurt on that first attempt or something. To create that package was brilliant. To not use it when it matters most is hard to explain. You gotta run with what got you there and they never would have been playing in that game if they'd kept Rivers at qb in 3rd and 1 all season. 

40 sad but true

+1

Also, why not use Brissett on the hail Mary? They have before, even with Luck (who had a better arm than Rivers).  And we know Phil's arm is linguini beyond about 30 yards.  

Okay, also on the final HM pass, why target 5'-10" TY Hilton solo (ringed by Bills) rather than a cluster of taller Colts like Pascal, Doyle, and Pittman?  What, were Darren Sproles and Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb not available? Maybe Peter DInklage didn't pass COVID protocols....

I'm not bitter because I really believe BUF is the better team, but Indy really could have won that game with just a couple 50/50 plays going the other way (take your pick--Turay, Allen's fumble, the doinked kicks, Allen's fantastic Houdini acts ALL working out) (having a WR make the key outside seal block on a DL on a sweep at the 3 yard line?).  I was not expecting a win, but wouldn't have been particularly surprised by one either.  On Friday I figured BUF would win 6.5 out of every ten games against IND.  After that game, I'd say it's more like 5.1 out of every 10.

Last week, I think it came down to IND facing BAL (if TEN lost to HOU) or BUF as the 7th seed.  I know BUF was super hot, but Lamar Jackson's running really scares me, so I figured BUF was a better bet.  Not sure if it would have mattered anyway... but MAN, is Allen impressive with the improv and fun to watch.  I hope he keeps tearing up the post-season like this.

42 Yeah not using him on the…

In reply to by Bobman

Yeah not using him on the Hail Mary either is why I gave the caveat he could be injured, although I saw absolutely no indication of that. 

Yeah up until that last drive it felt like every close play had gone BUFs way. I was begging Allen to try to do too much after that weird almost sack push TD. He almost did something crazy on his first sack of the last drive but thought better of it. Then he did try on the next sack and fumbled but they got fortunate again.

But the last IND drive. Just...unexplainably bad. Took so much time and didn't seem like they were really hurrying at all and they got an incredibly lucky break and still just didn't do anything with it. For that alone they definitely deserved to lose the game. I don't really wanna blame Rivers specifically, but it is certainly the kind of stuff that always seemed to happen to the Chargers. 

44 That was the worst game I've…

In reply to by Bobman

That was the worst game I've seen Buffalo play since the 18 point yeah-we-won-but-we-would-have-lost-if-it-was-anyone-else Jets game. The Colts D played well and Daboll was WAY too conservative when they were pinned deep, something Indy must have seen and used to their advantage. Only a couple of Josh Allen super-plays (and Gabriel Davis' seemingly inhuman toe-dragging skills) bailed them out.

They would have lost this game last year. Really, they would have lost this game in the first half of the year, since it was remarkably similar to the Titans game in many ways.

48 I have the opposite reaction…

I have the opposite reaction here. The Brissett package clearly wore out its welcome over the course of the season, and really there were too many short-yardage failures for a team with such a stellar offensive line throughout the entire season (not just w/Brissett). The first and goal Brissett sneak attempt was a totally wasted play; they've done virtually nothing with that package all year besides sneaks and runs up the middle, so Buffalo was prepared. (I thought throughout the game too they were wasting all sorts of pre-snap motion and orbits and etc on more runs up the middle that didn't gain a ton.) And all year, too many runs up the gut with Hines on 3rd/4th and short--where was Taylor?

Not sure if there is a broader red zone problem with Rivers? I'd have lined up in spread shotgun and either run or get a receiver matchup I liked. The Brissett failed sneak and the toss left on 3rd and goal (another play that has generally failed all season) were two wasted plays in a critical spot. 

53 I mean I definitely wanted…

I mean I definitely wanted to see a fake sneak pass at some point or an option run or whatever. The one sneak they ran did get a yard but they ran it with 2 to gain for some reason. I just felt like they struggled like hell in the red zone early in the season and short yardage and the Brissett package just felt like it gave them more options since Rivers isn't a threat to run it (even on a sneak). It could be a mirage based on who they were playing, but that's what it felt like. I did think they would throw in wrinkles, but I thought oh maybe they are saving the wrinkles for the playoffs, and then...nothing.

It felt all season like Rivers didn't really have the zip to convert on a pass from inside the 5 where there just isn't any space. I'd guess most of his short TD passes were screens or other passes short of the end zone that were sort of like runs. I tried to find some stats on this to confirm my feeling, but have been unable to. 

I agree with you on being a bit confused about usage patterns between Hines and Taylor. I wonder if Taylor's 2 drops played a role in that in this game specifically. There's definitely some "hot hand" mentality there. 

56 It felt all season like…

It felt all season like Rivers didn't really have the zip to convert on a pass from inside the 5 where there just isn't any space.

I think arm strength is a huge factor inside the 5.  One of the biggest improvements in KC from the Smith to Mahomes era is precisely this.  From 2013 to now, Smith had 62 passes inside the 5, completing 58.1% for 27 TDs vs. Mahomes 68.4% comp on 57 attempts and 31 TDs.