Tua Tagovailoa's Tipping Point
NFL Week 17 - The Tua Tagovailoa Era in Miami ended at approximately 2:25 Eastern time on January 2, 2022.
At that moment, the Dolphins trailed the Titans 17-3 with just under two minutes before halftime. Tagovailoa, who had fumbled Garo Yepremian style to end the first quarter, had just engineered a typical RPO-heavy drive to get the Dolphins to the Titans' 46-yard line. This was his chance to prove he could lead his team back into an important game against a playoff-caliber opponent.
- Threw in the general direction of three defenders on first down; Amani Hooker dropped a would-be interception.
- Threw a short pass to a double-covered DeVante Parker that glanced off defender Elijah Molden's hands on second down.
- Threw behind a well-covered Parker on third down.
The Dolphins punted and were never really in what became a 34-3 loss to the Titans again. They were eliminated from the playoffs when the Chargers won later in the afternoon.
That was the tipping point in the two-year Tagovailoa saga. It's all over except the pointless arguments and Tua Truther movements. So send the lawyers, big negotiating guns, and money to Houston to fetch Deshaun Watson. Fly Ciara into town to show her how much fun it would be to host New Year's Rockin' Eve on South Beach, then take a brief limo ride home to her hubby. Send a text to Aaron Rodgers: "We hear u r happy in Green Bay. But r u 'happy' happy?"
The Dolphins should do any of those things or anything else they can think of to move on from Tagovailoa before they end up like the Cleveland Browns, trapped on an endless wishful-thinking development cycle that never involves any actual development.
Don't take Walkthrough's word for it. Watch the Dolphins themselves and see what they think. Their most successful play of the third quarter was a third-and-1 roughing-the-passer penalty on an incomplete bomb thrown by, you guessed it, short-yardage specialist Jacoby Brissett. That drive ended when Tagovailoa took a sack on third-and-long, setting up a 53-yard field goal attempt that Jason Sanders doinked off the crossbar.
Inserting Brissett as a short-yardage specialist made sense for the Colts when Philip Rivers was their starter. Doing so with the young, fairly mobile Tagovailoa starting is like keeping the ex's number in your contacts.
Still trailing 17-3 thanks to a fine defensive effort (and typical Titans offensive doldrums), the Dolphins called two gadget passes in the span of five plays. Tight end Mike Gesicki threw an incompletion on the first one. Tagovailoa fumbled after taking a Wildcat handoff from Myles Gaskin in the second one.
Nothing really changed during their seven-game winning streak against the Jets, Panthers, Texans, Giants and Ian Book and the Bookmarks except the caliber of the opponent. When the going gets tough, the Dolphins trust gimmicks more than they trust Tagovailoa.
Yes, Tagovailoa made a few "nice throws" on Sunday. Every quarterback except Nathan Peterman makes a few nice throws now and then. Evaluate a quarterback based on a play here and a play there while making excuses (The offensive line! The play callers!) for everything else and you end up with Mitch Trubisky or Daniel Jones. If the Dolphins hope to get past the Pesky Wild-Card Hopeful stage, it's time for them to start seeking creative alternatives at quarterback, not third-year miracles.
To their credit, the Dolphins themselves appear to have realized this weeks ago, when Brian Flores was still tinkering with Brissett and the front office descended into the Texansverse in search of Watson.
On Sunday afternoon by 2:30, it merely became obvious to everyone else.
The Chase is Over
Ja'Marr Chase deserves the Offensive Rookie of the Year award after his spectacular 11-catch, 266-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Bengals' 34-31 win over the Chiefs.
And no, Walkthrough will no longer be entertaining arguments in favor of that kid in the Tom Brady footie pajamas.
Chase delivered one of the greatest performances I have ever seen from a wide receiver in the most important Bengals game since the mid-2010s. The Bengals trailed 14-0 and looked ready to go belly-up when Chase took a short comeback from Joe Burrow and weaved 72 yards for a touchdown. They trailed 21-7 when he adjusted for a back-shoulder 18-yard touchdown while blanketed up the left sideline. His 69-yard touchdown on a Chiefs coverage lapse cut the score to 28-24. Most impressively, he hauled in yet another back-shoulder throw up the left sideline while well covered for 30 yards on third-and-27 to set up Evan McPherson's game-winning field goal. In between, he turned multiple screen passes into productive gains.
Yes, Mac Jones threw three touchdowns in a 50-10 win over the Jaguars. Brian Hoyer could have led the Patriots to a 47-10 win over that opponent. The Bengals just clinched the AFC North because of Chase. The Patriots are a playoff team because they are the Patriots, their schedule was squishy in the middle, and Jones is excitingly adequate.
But quarterbacks are inherently more valuable than anyone else, right? Right. So give Jones all the "Most Valuable Rookie" awards you want. There's nothing about "value" in the name of the award, so there's no reason to revert to analytics orthodoxy. Frankly, selecting Jones over Chase right now sounds less like analytics than QB WINZ in a Scooby-Doo disguise.
Some of you may remain unconvinced, and we know more than a few of you are diehard Patriots fans. So here is one final thought experiment. The Bengals and Patriots may well face off in the playoffs. Imagine for a moment the Bengals win. How, in your imagination, do they do so? Almost certainly due to outstanding play by Chase. Now imagine the Patriots win. What's the storyline after that game? If you are being honest, it would probably be "Bill Belichick found a way to stop Chase." Jones' handoffs and little shallow crosses will merely be a subplot, win or lose.
Now, can Walkthrough interest you in ignoring another big Cooper Kupp game and voting for Jonathan Taylor for Offensive Player of the Year instead?
The Right Kind of Controversy
Trey Lance proved that he's the 49ers quarterback for 2022 with a 16-of-23, 249-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception, 31-rushing yard performance in a 23-7 win over the Texans. The only question now is whether "2022" means the 2022 season or from this moment forward.
Lance was hardly perfect. He threw an ugly interception. Several early drives stalled. Two of his signature highlights were a ball that deflected off a defender's fingertips and into Brandon Aiyuk's hands and an amazing one-handed fourth-quarter catch by George Kittle. Had Jimmy Garoppolo thrown those passes, we would classify them as a near-interception and a Kittle miracle, not signs of a rookie's progress.
But Lance improved as a passer, rusher, and decision-maker as the game went on. And this dispatch from the folks at Next Gen Stats about his Air Yards says it all:
Trey Lance brought a vertical element to the 49ers offense in his second career start.
Lance averaged the most air yards/attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.#HOUvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/EBe38tvrUU
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 3, 2022
Lance's arm strength frees the 49ers from being forced to play dump-and-YAC ball, while his rushing ability opens up a zone-read game. Those two assets will far outweigh whatever Garoppolo offers as a ball-distributor or decision-maker in the long run.
As for the short run: the Texans aren't much of a test compared to the teams the 49ers will face in the playoffs. Walkthrough would still name Lance the starter from now on, but we may see Garoppolo again if his finger heals sufficiently and Kyle Shanahan craves his veteran security blanket. At the very least, Shanahan should assemble a real Lance package for when his offense needs a spark.
And if we see Garoppolo again next season, it will probably be in a Panthers or Broncos uniform.
Antonio Brown Must Go
Antonio Brown threw a tantrum worthy of a two-year-old and abandoned his team while they were trailing in what eventually became a 28-24 Buccaneers victory over the Jets on Sunday.
Brown refused Bruce Arians' repeated instructions to enter the game for some reason. Arians told Brown to leave, Mike Evans' effort to intervene failed, and Brown started throwing his clothes around like a spoiled toddler denied a candy bar in a supermarket checkout line. It was a stunningly pathetic demonstration of adult misbehavior, the kind that would go viral if it happened at a Burger King.
Assuming that no one is naive enough to believe that Brown has somehow changed his ways over the years since his Steelers/Raiders meltdowns or the weeks since his suspension for passing off a phony vaccination card, the logic for keeping him on the Bucs roster and in the NFL boiled down to:
- He won't pull this stuff on Arians and Tom Brady;
- his talent is worth the headaches; and
- that most recent incident simply MUST be the bottom of the barrel, right?
Well, Brown pulled this stuff on Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, so it was silly to think he was ever truly cowed by Brady. The Buccaneers got the most of his talent/headache ratio in 2020 but just discovered what the diminishing returns look like. And Brown keeps telling us over and over again through his actions (and words) that consequences don't matter to him.
Arians said after the game that Brown is "no longer a Buc"—coaches will tolerate just about any behavior on earth except direct, public insubordination. The NFL, meanwhile, keeps playing chicken with Brown's antisocial off-field behavior. The league might not be able to suspend him or place him on the commissioner's exempt list for behaving like a child on the field, but they should throw every book they have at Brown the next time he gets hauled into court for deciding not to pay his barber or something.
Let's hope this is the last we see of Brown in the NFL. Because if he surfaces on some other roster with a half-assed redemption tale, a crayon-scribbled vax card, and zero sense of accountability for his actions, it's just going to be more of the same melodrama until something far worse than a public tantrum takes place.
The Carson-Go-Round Keeps on Spinning
This week, Carson Wentz:
- Popped an unvaccinated COVID positive.
- Benefitted from relaxed CDC and NFL guidelines which allowed him to return for Sunday's game against the Raiders.
- Started the game 2-of-8 passing as the Raiders mounted a 13-3 lead.
- Led a touchdown drive before halftime.
- Did this, which was like a football metaphor for his entire week/season/career:
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2022
- Went back into "stand in the pocket until a sack or act of unlikely heroism occurs" hibernation mode until his defense could no longer continue producing sacks and turnovers.
The Colts ended up losing 23-20 to the Raiders in a game where a win could have clinched a playoff berth. They now need a win against the Jaguars next week to clinch.
During one play after that Three Stooges touchdown, Wentz enjoyed his normal cup of tea in the pocket, somehow Houdini'd out of a sack by escaping stage right, and appeared to have a few yards to scramble, but instead threw across his body into the middle of the field almost directly sideways to Mo Alie-Cox for an incomplete pass. It was one of many horrendous decisions that Wentz has gotten away with lately. Like, you know, not getting vaxxed and hoping that: A) you don't get sick; B) you don't get anyone else sick; and C) the rules suddenly change so you don't miss a crucial game.
Wentz remains a disaster waiting to happen if he reaches the playoffs. But at least it will be an entertaining, fascinating, and potentially hilarious disaster.
Global Warming Could Help the Bills
Speaking of disasters waiting to happen, Josh Allen threw three interceptions in a Bills victory over the Falcons which was much closer than the 29-14 final score would suggest. The Falcons held a 15-14 lead at halftime thanks to Allen's miscues and the usual sampler platter of Bills mistakes (fumbled punt return, goal-line failure, penalties). The first half was a blueprint for the typical Bills loss. Fortunately for them, the second half was a blueprint for the typical Falcons loss.
The temperature at kickoff was 25 degrees, and it snowed throughout the afternoon. The Bills, of course, also looked unprepared for the elements in their wind-blown Monday night loss to the Patriots a few weeks ago. Have they become a fair-weather team? If so: A) that's even more hilarious than a Wentz yolo ball; and B) it will doom them in the playoffs against the Patriots, Chiefs, Bengals, or, you know, at home.
Tune in tomorrow when Bills fans start a GoFundMe to build a dome.
Matthew Stafford Versus the Deep Zone
Matthew Stafford threw a pick-six from his own 16-yard line, his fourth interception from inside his own 20-yard line this season, early in what became a 20-19 Los Angeles Rams victory. Stafford threw interceptions from his own 12- and 13-yard lines against the Vikings last week and from his own 10-yard line in the Rams loss to the Titans. He has also thrown interceptions from his own 20-, 21-, 22-, 24- and 28-yard lines this season. Four of them have been returned for touchdowns.
Stafford entered the game with 21 career interceptions inside the 20 on 901 attempts across 13 seasons. The interceptions in the deep zone (the area behind an offense's 20-yard line) aren't a Stafford problem, but a Stafford-on-the-Rams problem. Sean McVay needs to examine both Stafford's decision-making and his own play calling in and around his own 20-yard line in the first halves of games. Maybe the Rams need to run more often in those situations. Maybe Stafford needs to take shots downfield instead of floating short passes with his back to his own end zone. No matter what they do, the Rams cannot expect to get away with spotting easy points to the Packers or Cowboys in the playoffs the way they did against the Ravens and Vikings over the last two weeks.
News and Notes
Some off-field nuggets from around the NFL:
Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke pushing to interview Bill O'Brien for head coach, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Flounder, recently escaped from the frying pan, is pushing to enter the oven.
Texans expected to retain David Culley, per Jeff Howe of The Athletic.
Disease expected to retain one of its less-debilitating symptoms.
Packers may franchise-tag Davante Adams in 2022, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
The Packers are a projected $40 million over the cap for 2022 without Adams, so they will have to perform some creative accounting and/or make some brutal roster decisions. Luckily, quarterback/epidemiologist/cap guru extraordinaire Aaron Rodgers is on the case!
Panthers owner David Tepper is "unhappy and embarrassed" about the contract he gave head coach Matt Rhule, per Joseph Person of The Athletic.
Wait until Tepper figures out how much his money Rhule spent on Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Cam Newton.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral suffers leg injury in the Sugar Bowl.
For Corral's sake, let's hope the injury is only severe enough to dissuade Matt Rhule from drafting him.
Aaron Rodgers to appear on Monday Night's Manningcast.
It may be Ben Roethlisberger's final home game and a final referendum on Baker Mayfield's status as a franchise quarterback, so it will be interesting to hear Rodgers' thoughts on Aaron Rodgers.
Week 17 Awards
The most prestigious awards in sports. Except for Offensive Player of the Year. Did we mention that Jonathan Taylor really deserves the award, and not just because of the +2000 wager Walkthrough placed on him in November?
Defender of the Week
Cameron Jordan recorded 3.5 sacks, 1.5 of them while his team clung to a one-score fourth-quarter lead, to keep the Saints' playoff hopes alive with an 18-10 win over the Panthers.
Offensive Line of the Week
Duane Brown, Phil Haynes, Ethan Pocic, Gabe Jackson, and undrafted rookie Jake Curhan helped the Seahawks rush for 264 yards and put up 51 points against a depleted Lions defense on a soggy afternoon.
Great effort, fellas! Let's hope it doesn't fool the Seahawks into thinking they are a play here and a play there away from returning to contention using the same offensive/defensive/drafting philosophies in 2022. (Narrator: of course it will.)
Special Teamer of the Week
Andre Roberts' 100-yard kickoff return touchdown not only sealed the Chargers' victory over the Broncos but signaled that the Chargers are no longer the most likely team in the NFL to lose a playoff game due to awful special teams play. Sorry, Packers! And we've got our eyes on you, Bills!
Burn This Play Part I!
Dion Dawkins has two "big-man touchdowns" in his career. But throwing him a back-of-the-end-zone fade in the snow seems to be taking things a little too far.
— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthewCFB) January 2, 2022
Burn This Play Part II!
The Rams ran a slick hook-and-lateral for a two-point conversion against the Packers in the playoffs last January:
This Rams 2-point conversion was too smooth ♨️
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 16, 2021
Well, they tried the same darn play after taking a 20-19 lead over the Ravens on Sunday. And it would have worked! Except that Odell Beckham slipped before taking the initial pass, throwing off the timing. And he pitched to Sony Michel, who is as elusive in the open field as a box turtle. And about four Ravens defenders converged on the play, because despite all of their injuries, you better believe the Ravens still watch a ton of film and show up prepared for every game.
The moral of the story: NEVER try to outthink the Ravens when it comes to a two-point conversion, because they are too busy doing it to themselves.
Burn This Challenge!
Ron Rivera and his staff coached an outstanding game in Washington's loss to the Eagles. Washington committed just one penalty the entire afternoon, they were crisp on offense in the first half, and they shut the Eagles offense down early.
Rivera made one baffling first-half decision, however. Jonathan Williams fumbled in the first quarter, but Brandon Scherff pounced on it for a Washington loss of 2. Oh well, second-and-12, right? Nope: Rivera challenged the play, and Williams was ruled down for no gain. Oh goodie: second-and-10 instead! Way to make the most of that irreplaceable resource, coach!
Burn This Timeout!
Nick Sirianni called an Eagles timeout with Washington facing third-and-1 from their own 28-yard line with two timeouts and 34 seconds left before halftime. A third-and-10 timeout would have made sense, since Washington's chances of conversion would be low. But all Sirianni did on third-and-1 was give Washington a chance to run Jaret Patterson up the middle for a first down, then take one of their own timeouts.
Sure enough, Washington ended up driving into field goal range to take a 16-7 lead before the Eagles woke up on both sides of the ball.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Check out what backup Chiefs guard Nick Allegretti (73) does to Markus Bailey on this Darrel Williams touchdown run:
Bullied his way into the endzone 😤 @darrelwilliams_
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 2, 2022
Honorable mention goes to tight end Blake Bell, who saw that Williams was about to get stuffed and said "Imma just shove him in myself."
Best Actor in His Own Highlight
A special award goes to Aaron Donald for his own highlight during the Ravens' attempt to win on a Stanford Band play:
Aaron Donald has no time for that lateral nonsense pic.twitter.com/hlX3abXr7g
— x - 𝕋𝕠𝕞 (@TL_LARams) January 2, 2022
Donald was clearly frustrated that he didn't get the chance to break up a Ravens two-point conversion and spark another national debate about whether math is good.
Monday Night Sportsbook: Cleveland Browns (-1.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
This line fell from Browns -3.5 to -1.5 when they were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Apparently, the house doesn't love the Browns playing for pride against a Steelers team still mathematically alive for the playoffs, in Pittsburgh, in what may be Ben Roethlisberger's final home game. And yet, the house doesn't hate them enough to make them dogs either, and Walkthrough is guessing this line will settle in around Browns -2 just before kickoff.
Forced to make some wagers on Sunday morning for pre-writing purposes, Walkthrough teased the Browns down to -2.5 and the Over all the way down to 34.5 at +140 for what we anticipated would be something like a 20-17 Browns win. As of Sunday night, the same play was available +165, and we still like it: the Browns are the superior team, and they should remain plenty motivated to beat their rivals and salvage a little dignity.
The Steelers rank 29th in first-quarter offensive DVOA, the Browns ninth, so we also grabbed the Browns -1 for the first quarter at +120. They should at least manage a field goal while the Steelers are sorting through their wide receiver screens and outside runs by Najee Harris.
A first-quarter prop AND a same-game parlay with a tease? We're doing the last Monday Night Sportsbook of the regular season right!
Thank you, Kirk Cousins!
Thanks to you, the Eagles are a playoff team. And all you had to do to make that happen was nothing. Literally nothing. As in: less than the least you could do.
This isn't the old Eagles fan talking. It's the lover of football. Who would readers rather watch in the playoffs: the Eagles, with Jalen Hurts and a dynamic, option-heavy offense? Or the predictably dull Vikings, seat-fillers who would try to upset the Cowboys or Buccaneers by running draw plays on third-and-15? Thought so.
Cousins might have been able to keep the Vikings in the playoff race this weekend. He helped them upset the Packers earlier in the year, and the Packers got off to one of their typically sluggish starts on Sunday night. But Cousins was unavailable due to a positive COVID test. Sean Mannion—the cost-effective veteran clipboard jockey the Vikings are forced to settle for as a backup because they are overpaying Cousins—could not move the offense a lick.
Oh sure, there are lots of breakthrough cases with the Omicron variant, so maybe Cousins would have been unavailable no matter what. But have you noticed that nearly all of the big-name NFL non-vaxxers—Cousins, Wentz, Cole Beasley—popped a positive recently? Vaccination clearly makes a difference, even when it comes to low-symptom positives. Cousins could have improved his odds of not missing a late-season game but didn't. He could have done everything he could to try to ensure his availability to his team with the playoffs on the line, but he's just not that type of leader.
So thanks, Kirk, and get well soon. You will now be gracing us with your absence for the rest of January. The next time you make news will be when the Vikings do something ridiculous to try to manage the damage you are doing to their salary cap. That's appropriate: earning money is what you are best at, and your contract status is your most interesting feature. You may not be worth what the Vikings have paid you, but when it comes to pointing out the folly overvaluing the "reliable veteran leader and decision-maker," you are worth every single penny.