Every NFL Team's Biggest Scapegoat of the Last DecadeMay 31, 2020
Every NFL Team's Biggest Scapegoat of the Last Decade
If the NFL is the ultimate team sport and football games are never won or lost on a single play, then no one player or coach should ever bear the brunt of a fanbase's ire after a defeat.
If only things were that simple.
It's often difficult for sports fans to take a rational approach to losses—and easier to place blame on a single play or individual than to acknowledge a team deserved to lose. When blaming officials or football deities just won't do, it's time to find a scapegoat on the team.
Fair or not (it's not), players and coaches frequently bear the blame for losses and losing stretches. Few of them carry a Bill Buckner level of disdain, but many a scapegoat will pay double for drinks when they're in town.
Here, we'll examine one such scapegoat from the past decade for each franchise—individuals with a "shining" moment that inspires anything but fond memories.
Arizona Cardinals: James Bettcher
The Arizona Cardinals haven't reached the playoffs since the 2015 season. They made it to the NFC Championship Game that year, but the Carolina Panthers blasted them 49-15.
While it's easy to blame quarterback Carson Palmer for the lopsided loss—he threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles—he also played a huge role in getting Arizona to the NFC title game. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and had helped lead the Cardinals to three straight double-digit-win seasons.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on the other hand, was newly promoted from outside linebackers coach following the departure of Todd Bowles. While Arizona was solid on defense in the regular season—it ranked sixth against the run and eighth against the pass—Bettcher was in over his head against the Panthers.
The Cardinals weren't going to win with seven turnovers, but they might have been able to keep things respectable. Instead, the defense melted down, surrendering 476 yards, 21 first downs and a whopping 7.2 yards per play.
The Cardinals needed Bettcher's unit to keep them in the game. It did not. For that reason, Bettcher—who was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019—bears the blame for blowing Arizona's most recent shot at a Super Bowl berth.
Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Shanahan
It's probably fine to mention the number 28 around an Atlanta Falcons fan. It's probably also OK to say "three."
But do not, under any circumstances, mention 28 and three together.
Late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Falcons held a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots. However, Tom Brady and the Patriots staged a furious comeback and won the game in overtime.
While the Falcons defense certainly deserves its share of responsibility, then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has received plenty of criticism for his late-game management.
Instead of repeatedly dialing up the four-minute offense, Shanahan called only five rushing plays as the Patriots chipped away at the lead. He called three passes in a row after Atlanta reached the New England 23-yard line with under four minutes to play and an eight-point lead.
However, Shanahan doesn't believe his play-calling was to blame for the loss.
"The whole narrative of if I would've just ran it, we would've won—I know that wasn't the case," he said, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While Shanahan did play a large role in getting Atlanta to the Super Bowl, he also left to become the San Francisco 49ers' head coach the next day. Between that and his refusal to take responsibility for his questionable play-calling, he is the Falcons' scapegoat.
Baltimore Ravens: Billy Cundiff
One single play made kicker Billy Cundiff the Baltimore Ravens' scapegoat.
With 15 seconds left in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Cundiff had an opportunity to tie the game at 23. All he needed to do was make a 32-yard field goal—essentially what is now an extra point—and the Ravens would likely be headed into overtime.
It was a "kick I've kicked 1,000 times," Cundiff said, per Mike Wise of the Washington Post.
Now, the miss may not have been entirely Cundiff's fault, as Baltimore snapped the ball just before the play clock expired. There's no guarantee the Ravens would have won in overtime, but they did win the Super Bowl one year later—with new kicker Justin Tucker.
However, kickers have few responsibilities, and Cundiff failed in one of the franchise's biggest moments. As such, he can be blamed for the team's not making back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor had his share of bright moments with the Buffalo Bills. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015, and he helped the Bills end a 17-year playoff drought in 2017.
However, many Bills fans will follow Taylor's accomplishments with a "Yeah, but..."
When the Bills finally did reach the playoffs, Taylor produced an all-time stinker. He completed a mere 17 of 37 pass attempts for 134 yards with an interception. An often dangerous runner, he produced only 27 yards on the ground and was sacked twice. He finished with a passer rating of 44.2.
Was the loss entirely Taylor's fault? No. LeSean McCoy was held to 75 rushing yards, and Buffalo had five penalties for 52 yards. However, it's hard to believe the Bills wouldn't have accomplished more with their 74 plays—compared to the Jacksonville Jaguars' 59—with an even competent passing performance.
Buffalo held Jacksonville to a mere 10 points, but Taylor and Co. produced only three.
"You put up seven [points] and you [would have] changed the whole tone of the game," left guard Richie Incognito said, per ESPN's Mike Rodak.
The Bills traded Taylor to the Cleveland Browns that offseason, kick-starting the Josh Allen era. Thanks to Allen, Taylor is mostly a distant memory in Buffalo—except for his final game in a Bills uniform.
Carolina Panthers: Mike Remmers
The Panthers didn't just lose Super Bowl 50; they were obliterated. The Denver Broncos defense ran roughshod for four quarters, producing a 24-10 final score and the enduring image of Cam Newton's failure to recover a fumble.
Fans can't be too harsh on Newton, though. The regular-season MVP was shocked by DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Co. While the offensive line deserves some blame for that, starting right tackle Mike Remmers was the biggest transgressor.
According to Pro Football Focus (h/t ESPN's David Newton), Remmers was responsible for seven quarterback hurries and three sacks. One of those sacks resulted in a fumble that was recovered for a Broncos touchdown.
"I'll be kicking myself the rest of my life about that game. But it's behind me, and there's nothing I can do about it now except to learn and grow from it," Remmers said, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.
Though Remmers lasted another season in Carolina and has undoubtedly moved on from his mistake-filled evening at Levi's Stadium, fans likely still point to his performance as one of the key reasons Carolina didn't lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2015 season.
Chicago Bears: Cody Parkey
It's amazing just how much a single play can seem to cause things to fall apart. Less than two years ago, the Chicago Bears were NFC North champions, Matt Nagy was Coach of the Year, and Mitchell Trubisky appeared to be on his way to becoming a franchise signal-caller.
Now, Nagy is on the hot seat, Trubisky faces competition from Nick Foles, and the Bears may be a few losses from blowing everything up. Everything changed with Cody Parkey's missed 43-yard field goal in the playoffs.
Parkey's miss came with just 10 seconds remaining in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Wild Card Weekend. It would have given the Bears an 18-16 lead. Instead, the defense got a piece of the kick, and the ball bounced off the left upright. Philadelphia won but then lost to the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.
It was Parkey's 11th missed kick of the season—and sparked a heavily followed offseason kicking competition.
Of course, finding a new kicker didn't solve Chicago's problems, as the team went just 8-8 in 2019. However, Parkey's miss cost the Bears a shot in the divisional round and can be viewed as a defining moment for the current regime. And you can bet Bears fans are quick to blame Parky and his double-doink action.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jeremy Hill
The drafting of Joe Burrow marked the end of the Andy Dalton era for the Cincinnati Bengals. While Cincinnati never won a playoff game with Dalton under center, it did reach the postseason five times after drafting him.
The closest the Bengals came to notching their first playoff win since 1990 came in the 2015 season. AJ McCarron was in at quarterback for an injured Dalton, but the Bengals still should have bested the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card matchup.
With Ben Roethlisberger temporarily sidelined, Landry Jones threw an interception with less than two minutes remaining and the Steelers down a point. Cincinnati took over at the Pittsburgh 26-yard line and should have put the game away. Instead, running back Jeremy Hill coughed up the ball on the very next play, and the Steelers engineered a game-winning drive with Big Ben back behind center.
Now, Bengals fans are likely to lament Pittsburgh's final drive and the unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties—involving linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones—that pushed the Steelers into field-goal range. Pittsburgh was at the Cincinnati 47-yard line with just 22 seconds remaining. Four seconds and two penalties later, the Steelers were at the 17.
Burfict and Jones deserved blame. So did head coach Marvin Lewis, who failed to calm his players in a pressure situation. However, the Bengals wouldn't have even had the opportunity to melt down if Hill simply held on to the ball.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel
When a high draft pick doesn't pan out, it's often not the player's fault. Teams overdraft prospects and pick players who are bad schematic fits all the time, putting the youngsters in tough situations. However, in the case of former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, it was absolutely the player's fault.
Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman, had all the talent needed to be a high-end NFL quarterback. He simply refused to put in the required work, something he's acknowledged.
"I've had a lot of time to sit back and reflect, a lot of things I wish I would've done different, but I had more fun living that famous lifestyle than I did putting in the work. When you look back at it, that's the whole story. You get out what you put in," Manziel told Golf.com's Subpar podcast (h/t Jeff Tarpley of 247Sports).
Not only did Manziel's work ethic make for a wasted pick, but it also birthed two wasted seasons as the Browns tried to make him a functional signal-caller. In Manziel's rookie season of 2014, it might have even kept Cleveland out of the playoffs.
The Browns were 7-6 when they decided to give Manziel his first start. While they were looking for a spark that Brian Hoyer wasn't providing, what they got was a disaster. Cleveland was blown out by the Bengals 30-0 and dropped its next two games to finish the year in an 0-5 skid.
While there's no guarantee the Browns would have reached the postseason with Hoyer, the journeyman had helped Cleveland throttle Cincinnati in their earlier meeting. The Bengals earned a playoff berth with a 10-5-1 record.
After the Browns gave up on Manziel, they endured a two-year span with a 1-31 record under Hue Jackson. Fans may not have suffered through that if Manziel had only shown the drive of a professional.
Dallas Cowboys: Rod Marinelli
The Dallas Cowboys had a remarkable 2014. They finished 12-4, won the NFC East crown, got a career year from quarterback Tony Romo (15 starts, 34 touchdown passes and a rating of 113.2) and notched an opening-round playoff victory over the Detroit Lions. Then they met the Green Bay Packers.
Despite leading 14-10 at halftime and 21-20 at the end of three quarters, Dallas lost the divisional-round matchup—a contest that fans might refer to as the "Dez Caught It" game.
Down five with less than five minutes remaining, Romo found Bryant on a would-be 31-yard strike to the 1-yard line on 4th-and-2. Except the catch was overturned after review, and Green Bay took over on downs.
While fans understandably still blame the officials for what was arguably a bad call, the game didn't end on that play. The Packers still had to grind out the clock, which they did with a nine-play drive.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had no answer for Green Bay's four-minute offense, and he had had no answer for the Packers in the second half. His unit allowed scores on three straight possessions before the final clock-killing one. On the Packers' final touchdown drive, the Cowboys allowed Aaron Rodgers to make seven consecutive completions.
Whether he was outcoached or failed to make proper halftime adjustments, Marinelli is the one individual outside the officiating crew whom Dallas fans can blame for the premature end to their promising season.
Denver Broncos: Rahim Moore
The Broncos won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning at the helm during the 2015 season. However, they had a prime opportunity to do so in his first season with the team in 2012. That year, Denver finished 13-3 and hosted the Ravens in the divisional round.
If you're a Broncos or a Ravens fan, you know where this is going.
The game went into double overtime, but the Broncos should have won it in regulation. Denver was up seven points, and the Ravens were pinned at their 23-yard line with just over a minute to play. Then, on 3rd-and-3, Joe Flacco uncorked a deep pass to wideout Jacoby Jones, which he caught and took for a 70-yard touchdown.
Rahim Moore was the safety valve in a deep zone on the play but made a poor attempt on the ball, allowing Jones and the pass to get behind him.
The Ravens won on a 47-yard Justin Tucker field goal early in the second overtime. They also battered the Patriots in the AFC title game and won Super Bowl XLVII. Denver had lost to New England 31-21 in the regular season, but it's fair to wonder if it would have reached the big game—the Broncos were the No. 1 playoff seed—if not for Moore's lapse in coverage.
Detroit Lions: James Ihedigbo
As previously mentioned, the Cowboys beat the Lions in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs. As was the case in the Cowboys-Packers contest, poor officiating highlighted the wild-card matchup. Detroit fans are most notably upset with a non-call on Dallas safety Anthony Hitchens.
A flag was initially thrown against Hitchens on a play that could have been huge. Up 20-17, the Lions faced a 3rd-and-short from Dallas' 46-yard line. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew got open, but Matthew Stafford's pass hit Hitchens, who never turned around to look for the ball. While Lions fans understandably argue for pass interference, Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard had a different take.
"I didn't see pass interference. I saw Pettigrew push off twice, along with the one push by Hitchens at the end. The officials let them play, which is what you want in that situation," he wrote.
Detroit still had a chance to win after the controversial play, after which it punted. Sam Martin shanked the boot, though, and Dallas got the ball at its 41-yard line. Still, a handful of plays later, Romo and the Cowboys faced 4th-and-6 at the Lions 42.
What happened next is where safety James Ihedigbo takes the blame. He allowed tight end Jason Witten to get wide-open for a 21-yard completion. That's 21 yards for a plodding possession tight end running basically the only route he would run in that situation.
"He's got over 1,100 catches—probably half of them were on Y option," Dallas coach Jason Garret said, per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Six plays later, the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown. While fans can blame the officials for the earlier pivotal play, Ihedigbo—who had been benched against the Packers a week prior—gets the blame for this one.
Green Bay Packers: Brandon Bostick
The 2014 Packers have a special place in the annals of "what if" history. They outlasted the Cowboys in a curious contest only to lose a week later to the Seattle Seahawks in similarly wacky fashion—which some Dallas fans likely chalk up to karma.
The Pack was in control of the NFC Championship Game almost until the very end. They led 16-0 at halftime and held a 19-7 lead with just over two minutes remaining in regulation. Then, Seattle scored on a Russell Wilson touchdown run, and Brandon Bostick became persona non grata in Green Bay.
Following Wilson's score, Seattle lined up for an onside kick. Instead of blocking for receiver and hands-team specialist Jordy Nelson, the tight end went up for the ball and deflected it into the arms of Seahawks wideout Chris Matthews.
"It was a split-second reaction," Bostick said, per Ryan Wood of Packers News. "The ball was in the air. I was so used to getting it. Like, jump and catch it. But in that situation, that wasn't my job."
Seattle scored again, converted a two-point attempt and, after Green Bay forced overtime with a late field goal, went on a six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive in overtime.
Was Bostick the reason the Packers lost the game? Of course not. He didn't surrender 15 points in 34 seconds. He didn't allow a long touchdown drive that ended the game before Rodgers got an overtime possession. They still could have won the game, patted Bostick on the back and moved on—but they didn't.
Bostick's special teams error, however, was the one easy-to-pinpoint mistake of the game. Considering Seattle narrowly lost to New England in Super Bowl XLIX two weeks later, some fans probably believe he cost Green Bay its fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Houston Texans: Brian Hoyer
There's a reason why Patriots fans should be a bit concerned about the prospect of Brian Hoyer as the team's starting quarterback in 2020. While Hoyer is a fine spot starter, he isn't the sort a squad wants to rely on in pressure situations.
The Houston Texans found this out the hard way during the 2015 season.
In the second year of the Bill O'Brien era, the Texans posted a 9-7 record despite having a rotating cast at quarterback—one that included Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden. Hoyer was given the start against the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round. What ensued was difficult to watch.
Hoyer passed for just 136 yards while tossing four interceptions and fumbling once. Houston lost the game 30-0 and looked for alternatives at quarterback in the offseason. That, in turn, led to Brock Osweiler and his infamous $72 million contract—the one Houston gave up a second-round pick just to trade away.
While Houston's quarterback woes eventually led to the drafting of Deshaun Watson, they cost the Texans a couple of prime playoff opportunities and a large sum of cash. Hoyer's poor outing was the root of both issues.
Indianapolis Colts: Greg Manusky
Oh, Deflategate, the gift that keeps on giving fans a reason to distrust the Patriots. The game in question, of course, was the 2014 AFC championship between New England and the Indianapolis Colts. During halftime of the contest, several of New England's footballs were found to be underinflated. While clear evidence never emerged that the balls were intentionally underinflated for a competitive advantage, the incident created a stigma that still defines the game.
Regardless of how the footballs got to be underinflated, it isn't why the Colts failed to reach Super Bowl XLIX. Indianapolis' title hopes died in the title round because its defense collapses in the second half.
Things were relatively close at halftime, with Indianapolis trailing 17-7. However, New England scored 28 unanswered points after the break. It scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, but it didn't take that long for the Colts to go into catch-up mode—thereby giving up any semblance of offensive balance.
Indy didn't run on its next two possessions after New England went up 31-7.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky deserves the blame for failing to devise a functional game plan and even for failing to make necessary halftime adjustments. Manusky lasted another season in Indianapolis, but the 2015 campaign was derailed by the first major injuries of Luck's carer (shoulder and lacerated kidney).
With Luck retiring just before the start of the 2019 season, this marked the closest the Colts came to a Super Bowl with him at the helm. While fans surely want to blame the alleged underinflation shenanigans, Manusky's game plan was the real culprit.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tashaun Gipson
The Jaguars appear to be in a state of flux right now, but less than three short years ago, they were within a few plays of reaching the Super Bowl. Jacksonville went 10-6 in 2017 and advanced to the AFC Championship Game, in which they faced the Patriots—yes, a lot of goats have been scaped against New England.
Jacksonville led New England 20-10 with 10 minutes remaining and the Patriots facing 3rd-and-18 from their 25. Tom Brady found Danny Amendola for a 21-yard gain that extended the drive and led to a touchdown. The Patriots scored again with less than three minutes remaining to take the lead.
The 3rd-and-18 play didn't decide the game, but it was the pivotal point of the contest. Had New England punted, Jacksonville could have milked the clock and really put the pressure on. Instead, the Patriots got the momentum—and the win.
While it's fair to blame defensive coordinator Todd Wash for using a zone defense against Brady—as if zone coverage was going to confuse the then-five-time champion—safety Tashaun Gipson took the blame for lackadaisical coverage.
"That is just one of them things where you got relaxed," Gipson said, per Mark Long of the Associated Press (h/t Boston.com).
Brady fired the ball underneath Gipson to complete the pass. By Gipson's own admission, though, it was his fault for being late on the play. The Jacksonville faithful can, therefore, say that it was Gipson's fault the Jaguars didn't reach Super Bowl LII.
Kansas City Chiefs: Bob Sutton
On this list, it feels like many teams can simply blame the Patriots for not reaching more Super Bowls. New England—along with a key fourth-quarter penalty—also prevented the Chiefs from reaching the big game two years ago.
Late in the fourth quarter, Pro Bowl pass-rusher Dee Ford was called offside on what likely would have been a game-sealing interception. Instead, the Patriots got a do-over, took the lead and entered overtime after Kansas City tied things up with a field goal.
Brady and the Patriots offense scored to win the game without ever giving the ball to Patrick Mahomes.
While many Chiefs fans may want to blame Ford, the call or the overtime rules as a whole, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was really to blame for the loss. His unit allowed a whopping 524 yards and 36 first downs. It also was responsible for allowing the opening-drive touchdown in overtime.
If the Chiefs wanted to get the ball back to Mahomes, they should have stopped the Patriots.
And while slowing Brady and Co. is never easy, it's not impossible. Two weeks later, the Los Angeles Rams held the Patriots to just 13 points in Super Bowl LIII. Sutton was replaced by Steve Spagnuolo, and Kansas City won Super Bowl LIV. Had a change occurred earlier, the Chiefs might be back-to-back champs.
Las Vegas Raiders: Hue Jackson
It's hard to blame an individual for the Las Vegas Raiders' lone playoff loss of the last decade. The Raiders qualified for the postseason in 2016 but were forced to play without quarterback Derek Carr because of his fractured fibula. Raiders fans, however, can point to one man as the architect of several years of irrelevance that preceded the Carr era.
The 2011 season was Hue Jackson's only year as head coach of the Raiders. While Jackson produced a respectable 8-8 record, he also committed one of the most disastrous trades in franchise history.
Jackson took a bigger role in the organization following the death of owner Al Davis. His defining decision was to trade a first-round pick and second-rounder to the Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer. The second-rounder could have become another first-rounder had the Raiders reached the AFC title game within two years—which they did not.
"As far as the draft picks, what we have to give up, I never hesitated because I know exactly what I'm getting," Jackson said, per Robert Klemko of USA Today.
While the Raiders did need a new starting quarterback following Jason Campbell's season-ending injury, Jackson gave up a lot for someone who was traded less than two years later. Jackson himself was fired following the 2011 season, and the Raiders missed out on 2012 draft prospects such as Melvin Ingram III, David DeCastro and Dont'a Hightower because of the trade.
Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McCoy
After some ups, downs and three consecutive seasons without the playoffs, the Los Angeles (then-San Diego) Chargers moved on from Norv Turner as head coach. They replaced him in 2013 with former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who pushed the franchise backward.
Things started off promising enough. McCoy took his inherited team and went 9-7 in his first season. However, he met his former team in the divisional round and failed to deliver. The offensive-minded coach watched his team fall into a 17-0 hole before it rallied in the fourth quarter. Even with a late 17-point surge—the Chargers lost 24-17—it was a lackluster showing for McCoy's offense.
The Chargers gained just 259 yards against Denver. They went 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2014 and then went 9-23 over the next two years.
Los Angeles ranked fifth in total offense in McCoy's first season, 18th in 2014, ninth in 2015 and 14th in his final year. This is not the sort of offensive consistency the Chargers were looking for when they hired McCoy, who arguably wasted some of Philip Rivers' final good years. Worse yet, he was largely responsible for the down note that was the Chargers' final season in San Diego.
Los Angeles Rams: Zac Taylor
As mentioned, the Los Angeles Rams held the Patriots to 13 points in Super Bowl LIII. But L.A. managed a mere field goal—largely the result of an awful outing from quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff completed just 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards and an interception.
However, it's difficult to really blame Goff or head coach Sean McVay for the poor performance. Goff was fantastic during the regular season—he passed for 4,688 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions—and the duo was largely responsible for getting the Rams to the big game.
However, then-quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor can take the blame for failing to prepare Goff for the Patriots' defensive onslaught. At no point during the Super Bowl did Goff appear comfortable or to trust what he was seeing on the field.
Taylor was announced as the Cincinnati Bengals' new head coach one day after the Super Bowl. It's possible he was more focused on his next job during Super Bowl week than on the task at hand, and it's also possible Taylor was ill-suited for the challenge to begin with.
2018 was his lone season as Los Angeles' quarterbacks coach, as Taylor was an assistant wide receivers coach the previous year and was with the University of Cincinnati in 2016.
Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase
Though head coach Adam Gase did help deliver the Miami Dolphins' lone playoff appearance of the last decade, he is also largely responsible for their state of irrelevance—one they may be climbing out of, thanks to the drafting of Tua Tagovailoa and a strong offseason.
Gase's Dolphins went 10-6 in 2016 and reached the postseason. However, they went just 13-19 over the next two years, prompting the trading of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Miami's 2019 tank job.
Did Gase ruin Tannehill? That's debatable—and Tannehill did miss 24 games because of injury during the Gase era. However, Tannehill's rise to stardom last season and the hefty contract he received from the Tennessee Titans do little to suggest that supposed "quarterback guru" Gase got the most out of his signal-caller.
There's no debate about the fact that Gase had the Dolphins trending in the wrong direction, which is why he was fired after the 2018 season. He then joined the rival Jets, giving Miami fans another reason to dislike their former head coach.
While Gase didn't single-handedly tank the Dolphins from 2016 to 2018, he did set the stage for one of the more painful seasons in recent Dolphins history.
Minnesota Vikings: Case Keenum
A journeyman quarterback giveth, a journeyman quarterback taketh away. This is often how things go in the NFL, and it's how Case Keenum's 2017 campaign with the Minnesota Vikings unfolded.
Keenum, then on his third NFL team, was fantastic in the regular season. He passed for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also helped the Vikings get past the New Orleans Saints in an excruciating divisional-round game for Saints fans (which we'll cover shortly).
However, Keenum also flopped in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. While the loss wasn't entirely his fault—he was under constant pressure from the Eagles defense—Keenum failed to keep Minnesota in the game. He completed just 28 of his 48 pass attempts for 271 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble.
The result was a disastrous 38-7 loss and the signing of Kirk Cousins the following offseason.
While Keenum deserves credit for helping to get Minnesota closer to a Super Bowl, he also blew a prime opportunity to reach one for the first time since the 1976 season.
New England Patriots: Matt Patricia
The New England Patriots won six Super Bowls during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, and they easily could have seven Lombardi Trophies in the display case. Thanks to coordinator Matt Patricia and an awful, ineffective defensive game plan, they don't.
New England finished the 2017 season with a 13-3 record. They survived the Jaguars in the AFC title game and should have survived the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Philadelphia, after all, was leaning on backup quarterback Nick Foles instead of injured Pro Bowler Carson Wentz.
However, Patricia simply could not figure out how to slow the Eagles, and New England's poor defense was directly responsible for this loss. As proof, consider that Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns while New England racked up 613 yards of offense and never punted.
That's right, the Patriots didn't punt, and they still lost the Super Bowl.
Yes, Belichick's decision to bench star cornerback Malcolm Butler—a mystery call that may never be solved— deserves blame, but that one call can't outweigh what the greatest coach in league history has done for the franchise. Patricia, who jumped ship right after the big game, is a perfect scapegoat.
New Orleans Saints: Marcus Williams
As mentioned, Keenum was responsible for getting the Vikings to the 2017 NFC title game—and for one of the most painful moments in recent New Orleans Saints history. However, eyes were on Marcus Williams more than the opposing quarterback for that divisional-round loss.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense battled back from a 17-0 halftime deficit, and the Saints took a 24-23 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Then the Minneapolis Miracle unfolded.
Keenum connected with wideout Stefon Diggs 27 yards downfield. Williams, looking to avoid easier field-goal positioning for the Vikings, dove to avoid early contact with the receiver. Doing so allowed Diggs to break free and head to the end zone instead of to the sideline.
The 61-yard touchdown was a walk-off score.
Had Williams hit Diggs early, it would have resulted in a penalty and a makable field-goal attempt—though certainly not a sure thing. Had he played the ball instead of looking to pop the receiver, he likely would have created an interception or an incomplete pass.
Instead, Williams collided with cornerback Ken Crawley, took him out of the play, and gave Diggs an open lane to the end zone.
This one play wasn't everything, of course, but had Williams not erred on the final play, the Saints would have been in the NFC Championship Game.
New York Giants: Ben McAdoo
Following the 2011 season, the New York Giants were Super Bowl champions. Over the past three seasons, they've won a combined 12 games. Former head coach Ben McAdoo played a large role in the franchise's decline.
Was McAdoo entirely responsible? Of course not. The Giants moved on from Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin because he failed to make the playoffs for four straight seasons. New York reached the playoffs in McAdoo's first season but collapsed in his second.
McAdoo coached the Giants to a 2-10 record before being fired in 2017. Along the way, he benched longtime starting quarterback Eli Manning—in a thinly veiled attempt to spark change and save his job.
"At the time, we were 2-9, beat up, and I told Eli we wanted to see the other quarterbacks on the roster—including our promising rookie, Davis Webb," McAdoo wrote in Peter King's inaugural Football Morning in America column.
Instead of Webb, though, McAdoo gave the start to Geno Smith, signaling to fans that the quarterback change wasn't about the future of the position. That decision, by the way, ended Manning's consecutive starts streak at 210.
McAdoo brought the Giants to the lowest depths they've experienced since the beginning of the Manning era in 2004.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez
Quarterback Mark Sanchez had some bright moments for the New York Jets, helping them reach the AFC title game in each of his first two NFL seasons. However, the 2009 first-round pick quickly transformed from promising youngster to leaguewide laughing stock—and in doing so, made the Jets the butt of many jokes.
In his fourth NFL season of 2012—Sanchez's last as the Jets' starter—New York produced a disappointing 6-10 record. Sanchez played poorly, finishing the year with a 54.3 completion percentage and a rating of just 66.9. On Thanksgiving Day against the Patriots, Sanchez gave us the butt fumble.
During the second quarter of the 49-19 loss, Sanchez ran into the back of teammate Brandon Moore. The collision caused Sanchez to cough up the ball, which was returned for a touchdown by New England's Steve Gregory.
"You always teach a quarterback, 'Don't make a bad play worse.' Well, we made it worse,'" former Jets head coach Rex Ryan said, per ESPN's David Fleming.
While the butt fumble in and of itself didn't derail the Jets, it perfectly encapsulates the rapid decline of Sanchez and a once-promising Jets era. Sanchez was replaced by Geno Smith in 2013, Ryan was fired in 2014 and the Jets—who were within plays of reaching the Super Bowl in 2010—were back to mediocrity.
Philadelphia Eagles: Vince Young
This is how backup quarterback Vince Young referred to the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles during his introductory press conference. There was reason for optimism, as the Eagles were defending NFC East champions and had just added a haul of fresh talent.
During the 2011 offseason, Philadelphia brought in Young, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, running back Ronnie Brown, defensive end Jason Babin and others. Yes, the expectations were high for Philadelphia, but Young's remark painted a target on the team's back.
"A couple of the writers there were saying it wasn't that big a deal. I'm like, 'You have no idea how big this is going to be. This is not going to be a one-day sound bite; it's going to be a 365-day-a-year sound bite,'" NFL Network's Scott Hanson told Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei five years later.
The dream-team narrative indeed followed the Eagles through their 8-8 campaign and into their 4-12 season in 2012—the last of Andy Reid's Eagles tenure. That downfall brought about the ill-fated Chip Kelly era and led to a half-decade of subpar football before Doug Pederson finally coached Philadelphia to a Super Bowl victory.
While Young didn't create expectations or cause players like Asomugha and Babin to flop, the term "dream team" is likely to induce painfully hard eye-rolls from Eagles fans to this day.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall
The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off the 2010s going 12-4, besting the rival Ravens in the playoffs and eventually facing the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. From there, things got a little rockier.
The Pittsburgh defense failed to contain Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, while Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense struggled—Pittsburgh had three turnovers, while Green Bay had zero.
The Packers seized a 21-10 halftime lead and took a 21-17 edge into the fourth quarter. However, Pittsburgh opened the frame with a 2nd-and-2 from the Green Bay 33-yard line.
Then, disaster struck. Running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled in the backfield, and the Packers recovered at their 45. Eight plays later, Rodgers found Greg Jennings in the end zone to create an insurmountable lead.
Mendenhall's fumble was a major momentum-shifter that may have altered the course of Steelers history—a win would have given Pittsburgh a historical-best seven Lombardi Trophies.
While Roethlisberger and his two interceptions also led to the loss, Mendenhall was a disappointing 2008 first-round pick, and Big Ben is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, so the rest of his resume saves him here.
San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Williams
San Francisco 49ers fans may still be looking for someone to blame for their loss in Super Bowl LIV. However, that contest largely came down to Patrick Mahomes' greatness and his ability to make plays when it counted late. The Chiefs won that game far more than the 49ers lost it.
But the same sentiment cannot be applied to San Francisco's last game of the 2011 season.
Led by new head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers posted a 13-3 record, earned a first-round bye and hosted the Giants in the NFC Championship Game. That contest went to overtime, when the 49ers lost almost solely because of receiver/returner Kyle Williams.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the extra period, the Giants punted to Williams, who fumbled for the second time in the game. This muff proved fatal, as Devin Thomas recovered the ball at the San Francisco 24-yard line. A few plays later, Lawrence Tynes hit a 31-yard field goal for the win.
Of course, there's no guarantee the 49ers would have scored had Williams held on to the ball—they had already punted once in overtime. However, his fumble directly led to a score. Considering the Giants went on to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, this postseason gaffe yielded another of the great "what ifs" of NFL history.
Seattle Seahawks: Darrell Bevell
Is it fair that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell gets the bulk of the blame for the Seattle Seahawks' loss in Super Bowl XLIX? Probably not, and he deserves more credit for getting Seattle to the pinnacle of the sport less than a decade ago. However, many won't hand out verbal bouquets when remembering one of the most painful moments in recent sports history.
"Bevell's accomplishments were largely overlooked by his most ardent detractors," ESPN's Brady Henderson wrote. "That's the way it often goes for play-callers. For Bevell, there was no avoiding it after what happened at the end of Super Bowl XLIX."
We all know what happened at the end of that game: Seattle was down four points with just 26 seconds left and faced a 2nd-and-goal from the Patriots' 1-yard line (there's New England yet again). Instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch, Bevell called a slant designed to go to wideout Ricardo Lockette. Russell Wilson's pass was just out in front of Lockette, where Patriots corner Malcolm Butler picked it.
New England held on to win, and Seattle's shot at a repeat title and a potential dynasty was all but over.
Bevell's play call will live in infamy. Seattle held a timeout and could have afforded to run again before taking to the air. Yes, passing on second down was unexpected, but trying to fool Bill Belichick's defense failed miserably. Even if head coach Pete Carroll had to clear it, and Wilson and Co. were the ones executing it, Bevell will continue taking the blame for this one long into the future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston
As is the case for Cleveland, it's tough to pick out a single moment or even a season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who haven't reached the playoffs since 2007. However, it's easy to find a scapegoat for their recent stretch of mediocrity.
Tampa used the No. 1 pick in 2015 on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner was expected to develop into the Buccaneers' quarterback of the future, but he struggled with mistakes and turnovers during all five of his seasons in Tampa.
In 2019, Winston tossed a whopping 30 (30!) interceptions to go with 33 touchdowns and 5,109 yards. This prompted Tampa and head coach Bruce Arians to move on and pursue Brady in free agency.
"If we can win with this [quarterback], we can definitely win with another too," Arians said, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
But the Buccaneers haven't done a ton of winning since Winston joined the franchise. They've had just one season above .500 and have gone just 32-48 since drafting him. While Winston has undeniable talent, his mistakes have actively cost the Buccaneers games.
While a quarterback cannot be solely to blame for his stunted development, Winston's poor decision-making and penchant for picks have continued through three head coaches and two offensive schemes. At some point, the player has to bear the criticism.
Tennessee Titans: Derick Roberson
The Tennessee Titans were just over one half away from reaching Super Bowl LIV. They had a three-point lead over the Chiefs with roughly 30 seconds to play in the first half. With Kansas City on the Titans' 27-yard line, Tennessee only needed to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone to go into halftime tied or leading.
On 2nd-and-10, quarterback Patrick Mahomes scampered through the Titans defense 27 yards for a touchdown. The Chiefs went on to win 35-24, overcoming an early 10-point deficit and reaching the Super Bowl.
While Mahomes' run didn't outright win the game for the Chiefs, this was the play that broke the Titans—and it easily could have been prevented.
Rookie linebacker Derick Roberson had a bead on Mahomes in the backfield. Instead of bringing him down or forcing him to the sideline, though, Roberson made a weak diving attempt at Mahomes' ankles and whiffed. This allowed Mahomes to turn upfield, blur past Rashaan Evans and cut through the rest of Tennessee's defense.
Roberson didn't even slow the play.
It's not exactly fair to expect an undrafted rookie out of Sam Houston to get the better of one of the league's most indefensible players. However, he still served as the turning point in the franchise's biggest game of the last decade.
Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan
There was a point when it appeared the Washington Redskins had solved their longstanding quarterback problem. The team traded up to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012, and the Baylor product was spectacular that season. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year over Andrew Luck and, more importantly, carried Washington to the postseason.
Unfortunately, Redskins fans never got to see what Griffin could be thanks to a knee injury and the way head coach Mike Shanahan handled it.
In Week 14 of the 2012 season, Griffin suffered a knee injury, but Shanahan allowed Griffin to return to the game. He then allowed RG3 to play in Week 16 and in the postseason, despite the quarterback's LCL sprain.
Dr. James Andrews expressed concern about Griffin's postseason participation before the playoffs started.
"I've been a nervous wreck letting him come back as quick as he has," Andrews told USA Today (h/t NFL.com).
In the opening-round game against Seattle, Griffin was hobbled, hit often and eventually injured again. This time, it was a torn LCL, ACL and meniscus, and RG3 was never the same dynamic playmaker.
While Shanahan only remained in Washington for one more season, his decision to put Griffin in harm's way created one of the league's biggest "what-if" stories of the last decade.