Worst Coaching Decisions of NFL Divisional Games

Lou Rom@louromliveContributor IJanuary 14, 2013

Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) lines up during the fourth quarter of the AFC divisional round playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field.  The Ravens won 38-35 in double overtime.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend's divisional playoff games were some of the most exciting ever, wrought with big plays on offense, key stops on defense, and for good measure, a handful of boneheaded coaching decisions.

Some of those decisions, be it play-calling or clock management, cost their teams a victory (we're talking to you John Fox). Some coaches still survived with a win despite themselves (that's you, Mike Smith).

All in a day's work.

Here are the best—or the worst?—of the boneheaded play calling from divisional weekend.


John Fox passes on Peyton

Before a stunned crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Broncos coach John Fox twice chose to run out the clock despite having the $18 million man, Peyton Manning, on the field. 

Fox's decision to run out the clock with 31 seconds (and two timeouts) left in regulation and the score tied at 35-35 boggles the mind.

You lobbied your owner and your president to bring in one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history to lead your team to the promised land. Then, you abandon him at the alter a few Peyton-like throws from field-goal range and order him to take a knee.

Manning, with 31 seconds on the clock and two timeouts remaining—at least four chances to push the ball downfield—and you order him to take a knee.

"Thirty seconds, it’s hard to go the length of the field, some bad stuff can happen—as you saw at the end of the game,"  Fox told reporters after the game.

Are you serious? 

Fox's conservative play-calling doomed his Broncos to a 38-35 overtime loss to the Ravens. 


Mike Smith's Clock Issues

The Falcons' lack of playoff experience, or at the very least playoff steel, showed in the fourth quarter of Sunday's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

It was obvious when head coach Mike Smith—looking panicked—chased down a referee to call timeout with 13 seconds left on the clock after Matt Ryan completed his second big pass of the series to pull the Falcons within field-goal range.

Smith could have, and should have, let the clock tick down to two or three seconds, but for some inexplicable reason called the timeout too early, giving Seattle a prayer after Matt Bryant converted a 49-yard field goal and Matt Bosher's onside squib.

Smith's offensive play-calling on the next-to-last series, the Falcons' only three-and-out, left some people scratching their heads, too. This was especially true with the reverse and the deep pass into double coverage despite Atlanta's success running up the middle.  

But I'm willing to file that under "coach's discretion." However, not knowing how much time was left on the clock, or simply panicking and calling a timeout too soon, is unforgivable.


Pete Carroll icing Matt Bryant

This one is debatable. Pete Carroll decided to ice Falcons kicker Matt Bryant with 13 seconds remaining, a move that ultimately cost the Seahawks the game.

Bryant missed his first kick wide right.

But given a second chance to deliver his team's first playoff victory under the Smith regime, Bryant split the uprights on his second chance, giving the Falcons the 30-28 lead, and ultimately the victory.

Icing the kicker does not work.

Since 2000, NFL kickers have converted 77.3 percent of field goals in the final two minutes or overtime when no timeout was called before the kick. But when opposing coaches called the timeout and iced the kicker, they made 79.7 percent of their field goals from any distance, according to the Wall Street Journal analysis.

If I were Carroll I would have had more confidence that a hurried Bryant and a scrambling Falcons special teams crew would screw the pooch on their own without the benefit of a timeout to get their act together.

Carroll did a great job this season, but he looked out of his league on Sunday. 

Lou Rom covers the NFL and whatever else gets under his skin for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at louromlive.