Biggest Scapegoat in Every NFL Franchise's History

Gordon BlockContributor IIIApril 19, 2012

Biggest Scapegoat in Every NFL Franchise's History

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    Failure doesn't happen alone, but when it comes to placing the blame, it's easy to point to one person to be fired or cut instead of a wide variety of people or issues that contribute to the problem.

    Though these figures can become scapegoats for their team's failures, their selection and berating can be just as important to fans as cheering the team to victory on Sunday.

    In addition to identifying each team's biggest bogeyman, this list will also identify some reasoning on why it may not be entirely their fault.

    Here's every NFL franchise's biggest scapegoat.

Arizona Cardinals: Dennis Green

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    Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green may be a ridiculed figure for the franchise's fans, especially after this wild postgame press conference. The rant underlined a three-year period in which the team had high hopes but no playoff wins to show for it.

    However, Green's best attribute, and one cited by team officials, was his development of the roster with stars like Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett (mixed with misfires like the drafting of Matt Leinart), which would be helpful to their next coach.

    "I think he's done a very good job as far as building the talent on this team," said Michael Bidwill, team vice president and general counsel. "We've got a lot of young players that are under contract for a long, long time. I think that's part of what makes the Cardinals very attractive to many of the coaches we've talked to."

    The Cardinals would build on their talent to appear in Super Bowl XLIII.

Atlanta Falcons: Bobby Petrino

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    Atlanta Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino's exit was nothing short of shameful, as he left the team midway through the 2007 season and informed the players of his exit via letters left in the locker room.

    However, it would be unfair to place all of the blame for the lost season on his shoulders. The team's prospects were also heavily damaged by the arrest and imprisonment of star quarterback Michael Vick on charges of interstate gambling and dog fighting.

    "Anytime you're without one of the best athletes in the National Football League, it's going to be tough," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said earlier in the season. "Take Peyton Manning from the Colts, and they'll go through a little slump."

    Regardless of blame for the team's poor season, there's no doubt many Falcons fans may find some solace in finding his coaching stint at Arkansas ending following allegations of improper activities such as the hiring of his mistress and lying to school officials about it.

Baltimore Ravens: Billy Cundiff

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    Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff didn't have his best game in last season's AFC Championship game, failing to convert a makeable 32-yard field goal that would have tied the game.

    "It's a kick I've kicked probably a thousand times in my career," Cundiff said. "I went out there and didn't convert. That's the way things go."

    While Cundiff should have made the kick, some questions have come about on whether the Ravens should have called a timeout. Cundiff's kick may have been rushed in order to beat a dwindling play clock.

Buffalo Bills: Scott Norwood

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    When it's not your day, it's not your day. That was the case for Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood, whose game-winning 47-yard field goal sailed right by about a foot, costing the Bills a chance to win Super Bowl XXV.

    He would only play one more season in Buffalo after the crushing miss.

    The miss was a tough break for the man who made 72 percent of his field goals during his career and is currently third on the team's all-time scoring list.

Carolina Panthers: John Kasay

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    Carolina Panthers John Kasay didn't do his team any favors in Super Bowl XXXVIII after they made a drive to tie the game at 29 with only a minute left.

    On the following kickoff, he blasted the ball out of bounds, giving the New England Patriots prime field position.

    Moving the ball down 37 yards in five plays, the Patriots were able to kick the winning field goal with only four seconds left in the game.

    It was a tough break for Kasay, who, up to that point, had put together an impressive playoff run (including five field goals in the Panthers' opening-round win against the Dallas Cowboys).

Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler

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    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler faced allegations of being soft after leaving the team's NFC Championship Game in 2010. While backup Caleb Hanie played admirably in a tight spot, the Bears would fall to the Green Bay Packers, 21-14.

    Several current and former players spoke out against Cutler for his perceived lack of toughness and team spirit.

    However, it was later revealed Cutler sustained a torn knee ligament during the game, which would have made any kind of return nearly impossible.

Cincinnati Bengals: Kimo Von Oelhoffen

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was never the same after this low hit from Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Kimo Von Oelhoffen on the first play of their 2005 wild-card game.

    Palmer would never get back to full form, and this past season he was shipped off to the Oakland Raiders.

    In response to the hit, the league would alter its rules about hitting quarterbacks low.

Cleveland Browns: Earnest Byner

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    Cleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner became the scapegoat for all time after he lost control of the ball in a play that would later be known as "The Fumble."

    Had Byner held the ball for about another step, the Browns would have been able to tie the game with about a minute left. Instead, the Broncos were able to run out the clock for the win.

    Years later, Byner said the game was a learning experience.

    "I think back to The Fumble," he said. "You go through something like that, you learn to keep moving forward. You can't stay angry or bitter."

    Since his playing days, he has become a successful running back coach, teaching players like Chris Johnson (when he had his 2,059-yard season) and Maurice Jones-Drew.

Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may never live down this play from the 2007 playoffs, where a botched snap cost the team a chance at a win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    “I don’t know that I’ve ever felt this low,” Romo said after the game.

    Despite the loss, Romo has performed well in the past few seasons, putting up solid numbers and being one of the league's better quarterbacks.

    However, he'll still be seen by many fans as the one responsible for blowing a prime opportunity to make a deep playoff run.

Denver Broncos: David Treadwell

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    Denver Broncos kicker David Treadwell was not on his A-game when the team faced the Buffalo Bills in the 1991 AFC Championship game.

    He would miss three field-goal attempts, including two that would bounce off of the posts. 

    The Broncos would end up falling by a final score 10-7.

Detroit Lions: Matt Millen

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    Detroit Lions general manager and human wrecking ball Matt Millen might not exactly be a scapegoat for the team, as many of the problems were a direct result of his leadership and abysmal drafting.

    The Millen era hit its low when the Lions became the first team to go 0-16 in the 2008 season.

    If there's any positives to take from this, it's that Lions fans now have some quality material to laugh (and maybe cry) about.

Green Bay Packers: Freddie Mitchell

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    Fans of the Green Bay Packers may not be a big fan of Philadelphia Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell, who played a big role in their loss in the 2003 NFC Divisional Round playoff game with this catch on 4th-and-26 late in the game to set up a tying field goal.

    However, Packers fans may want to vent frustration at their own team. Entering the overtime period, the Packers had a shot with the ball after the Eagles were forced to punt.

    However, Packers quarterback Brett Favre was intercepted during their drive by Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. With the good field position picked up in the turnover, the Eagles barely had to move the ball before kicking the winning points.

Houston Texans: David Carr

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    Houston Texans quarterback David Carr may have been seen as the quarterback of the future after his selection as the expansion team's first overall pick.

    However, he failed to live up to expectations, as the team never established itself as a contender (it had its first playoff game ever just this past season). 

    While it's easy to point to Carr as a reason for the team's failure, more of the blame could be given to the team's offensive line, which allowed Carr to be sacked at a record pace (including a record 76 sacks his rookie season).

Indianapolis Colts: Mike Vanderjagt

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    Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed this kick to tie the team's 2005 divisional-round playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he missed it badly. 

    However, acknowledging only this kick would be a real shame, given his success during the regular season. In 2005, he made 23 of his 25 field-goal attempts and made all 52 extra-point attempts.

    Needless to say, Vanderjagt overshadowed his immense kicking talent with trash talk to the media, which led to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning calling him an "idiot kicker" and accusing of him being "liquored up" when he was interviewed.

    "The sad thing is, he's a good kicker. He's a good kicker. But he's an idiot," Manning said.

Jacksonville Jaguars: 1999 Tennessee Titans

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars would gotten away with a major playoff run in 1999, if not for those meddling Tennessee Titans.

    The Jaguars went 15-2 in the regular season, losing only to the Titans. Entering the playoffs, they were rewarded for their great season...with another matchup with the Jaguars.

    It's pretty clear the scheduling gods were not in the Jaguars favor.

Kansas City Chiefs: Lin Elliott

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    Kansas City Chiefs kicker Lin Elliott was a main portion of the team's 1995 AFC Divisional Round loss, as he missed three field goals (of 35, 39 and 42 yards) during the course of the game.

    The Chiefs would not score after the first quarter and would fall by a painfully close 10-7 margin.

    The game would serve as the last of his pro career (although news of his re-signing with the Chiefs was used as an April Fool's joke in 2008).

Miami Dolphins: Daunte Culpepper

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    Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper is considered by many to be the face of the team's many problems in the 2006 season.

    While his play showed signs of problems, it was clear that he had not fully recovered from knee injuries sustained as a Minnesota Viking.

    Perhaps the reason he is more reviled by Dolphins fans was his selection cleared the way for the New Orleans Saints to sign quarterback Drew Brees (who also entered that offseason with health questions).

    Of the two, one is a franchise quarterback with a Super Bowl to his name. The other is Daunte Culpepper. 

    While Culpepper's time in Miami was underwhelming, he did manage to put in a few more decent years of play before leaving the NFL. As a member of the Oakland Raiders, he was able to beat the Dolphins in 2007.

Minnesota Vikings: Gary Anderson

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    The Minnesota Vikings were on track for a Super Bowl appearance, but ran out of gas after a missed field goal from kicker Gary Anderson in the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

    The missed field goal was a nightmare for Anderson, who had up to that point kicked a perfect season.

    Their opponents, the Atlanta Falcons, were able to capitalize on the mistake and win in overtime with a field goal from similarly-aged and -named kicker Morten Andersen.

New England Patriots: David Tyree

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    New England Patriots will forever have a disdain for New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, whose miracle catch allowed for the Giants to win Super Bowl XLII. The Giants would score the go-ahead touchdown only a few plays later.

    If there's any consolation for Patriots fans, Tyree's career in the league ended very soon after the following season, as injuries left him unable to contribute to the team.

    Off the football field, he caught a large amount of controversy for his opinions regarding gay marriage.

New Orleans Saints: Gregg Williams

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    The news of a bounty program run by the New Orleans Saints has become a big part of discussion around the league, so in a rare future scapegoat prediction, I'm speculating former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams will be a target for frustrations of fans should the team's record slip in the 2012 season.

    In addition to long suspensions for team general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton, several players will likely be suspended by the league.

    Should this season end with anything less than a Super Bowl, look for Saints fans to be marching in to the Superdome burning effigies of Williams.

New York Giants: Matt Dodge

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    The value of directional punting was never higher than when New York Giants punter Matt Dodge decided to kick to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

    As a result of the returned touchdown, the Giants blew their shot at the playoffs (losing a tiebreaker after both teams ended the season at 10-6).

    Dodge didn't spend much time with the team after the gaffe, as he was cut before the following season.

New York Jets: Doug Brien

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    The winds were not on the side of New York Jets kicker Doug Brien, as he missed two kicks (of 43 and 47 yards) that would have given the team the victory in the 2004 AFC Divisional Round playoffs.

    "I thought it was in," Brien said of his first miss, which banged off the crossbar. "I was really surprised when it didn't go through. I don't know if the wind picked up or I hit the ball a little fat. I thought I hit it pretty well, but maybe it was just a little cold out there and the ball didn't carry very well. But I thought I was going to make it."

    Entering overtime, the opposing Pittsburgh Steelers would get the win after their own kicker Jeff Reed put in a 33-yard attempt.

    Brien would be released by the Jets a few months after the loss, and would play briefly with the Chicago Bears before going into retirement.

Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell

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    Oakland Raiders fans have a lot to pin on quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the first overall draft pick in 2007.

    In addition to poor play and lackluster work habits, he turned off fans by holding out for all of his rookie training camp. When he did play, he didn't win and his numbers were lackluster.

    However, Russell was not the only reason for the team's struggles. Team management was in complete disarray, the roster was a mess and the team's coaching system was far from resolved. Needless to say, it was not a conducive environment for any player to be a part of. 

    Again, there's a lot of responsibility on Russell's part when it comes to the Raiders' struggles. Just not all of it. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb After Super Bowl XXXIX

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    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb may not have been fully embraced by the team faithful, but sentiment against him was at its highest following the team's loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.

    Many commentators critiqued McNabb for his slow pace during the team's fourth-quarter scoring drive, while teammate Terrell Owens has ripped on McNabb's endurance years after the game.

    The Patriots, getting the ball back, were able to run out the final two minutes of clock time, punting deep into Eagles territory with only seconds remaining in the game. They would go on to win 24-21.

    McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2010 after 11 seasons with the Eagles. When news came of the trade, he apologized in a radio interview for "not bringing that Super Bowl to them (Philadelphia)."

Pittsburgh Steelers: Bill Cowher

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    Despite being a brilliant coach and leader, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Bill Cowher found himself for large portions of his tenure in Pittsburgh as a scapegoat for many fans upset that they hadn't won more championships.

    "If something is wrong, it's Cowher's fault," one columnist joked.

    However, Cowher's record in the black and gold is more than deserving of praise. In addition to his Super Bowl victory (the same year as that column was written), he was able to carry the Steelers to several AFC Championships. He also was a great assessor and developer of talent.

    Even more importantly, he set up his successor, Mike Tomlin, with an excellent squad that has remained a contender long after his exit.

San Diego Chargers: Marlon McCree

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    San Diego Chargers cornerback Marlon McCree turned a huge play into a huge disappointment during the team's 2006 divisional-round playoff game against the New England Patriots.

    Securing a much-needed interception, McCree proceeded to have the ball stripped away by Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown instead of going to the ground and effectively ending the game.

    The Patriots would go on to score (and add a two-point conversion) a few plays later to tie the game, which they would eventually win on a late field goal.

    While McCree may receive a large portion of blame for the loss, there were several others who played directly into the loss (including head coach Marty Schottenheimer for blowing a timeout in his challenge of the play and Nate Kaeding for missing a field goal that would have tied it).

San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Williams

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    San Francisco 49ers fans took the high road as they vented their frustration in wide receiver/special teams contributor Kyle Williams, whose pair of muffed punts turned the tide of their NFC Championship Game last season against the New York Giants.

    Taking to Twitter, several fans were found making death threats to Williams, and his wife and children. Williams is single and has no kids.

    Despite the tough turnovers, 49ers fans may be more interested in talking about the play of their offense, which failed to get a first down for large portions of the game's second half.

Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl XL Refs

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    Seattle Seahawks have plenty of reason to be upset with the job done by the referees in Super Bowl XL.

    Several questionable calls went against the Seahawks during the game, including a holding call on a play near the Pittsburgh Steelers goal line and a low block call on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made while he was making a tackle on an interception he threw.

    Perhaps as some form of closure, referee Bill Leavy admitted mistakes were made during the officiating of the game.

    "It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that," Leavy said. "It left me with a lot of sleepless nights, and I think about it constantly. I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better."

St. Louis Rams: Adam Vinatieri

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    The St. Louis Rams' chances of repeating as champions were dashed thanks to the leg of New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, who booted a 48-yard field goal with time expiring to give the Patriots the win in Super Bowl XXXVI.

    While the Rams had the clear advantage statistically, they lost big in the turnover battle, with three turnovers compared to none by the Patriots.

    Kurt Warner, who set several Super Bowl passing records the previous year, gave up two costly interceptions, which allowed the Patriots to sneak back into the game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Creamsicle Uniforms

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    There's no mistaking it...the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been awful for most of their history. As one example, the franchise had one winning season in the stretch between 1980 and 1995.

    Rather than a delve into deep thinking about the team's leadership and culture, the Bucs found a much simpler solution: banning the much-loathed orange creamsicle jerseys, starting in 1998. 

    The team's play improved dramatically with the addition of the red-and-pewter jerseys (although I'm sure that may have something to do with the addition of coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden).

Tennessee Titans: Mike Jones

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    Fans of the Tennessee Titans may never like St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones. His last-second tackle of Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson near the goal line as time expired proved to be the difference in Super Bowl XXXIV.

    However, Titans fans may look at the team's offense if they'd like to find the real culprit in the loss. While the Rams offense was known as the "Greatest Show on Turf," they played like defensive juggernauts, limiting the Titans to a mere 89 yards in the first half.

    With that lackluster start, it's amazing the Titans were only down 9-0 by the time the second half kicked off.

Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder

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    The Washington Redskins may have their future franchise quarterback in either Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, but most fans will still probably have reasons for some major pessimism about the team's prospects.

    The reason: Team owner Dan Snyder, who has become a punching bag for fans of the team who have become turned off by both Snyder and the team's faults since his purchase of the team in 1999 and rising costs for fans.

    While some of the criticism can be considered unfair, Snyder in many ways is far from a scapegoat. As this feature from the Washington City Paper proves, many of the team's problems point directly to Snyder and his decision making.