Hue Jackson did it one final time. He sabotaged his own team during his last game as the coach of the Browns, leaving them with a final memory that so perfectly encapsulates how wrong his tenure in Cleveland went.
By Sunday, it had become so normal for Jackson, who got fired by the Browns on Monday, to actively sabotage the Browns’ chances of winning a game that it’d become too easy to overlook his mistakes and simply chalk them up to Hue being Hue. For so many reasons, this weekly column could be called Pulling a Hue. We won’t actually do that, because for all the crap I’ve given Jackson over the years as he stumbled to a 3-36-1 record, it’s important to remember that these are real people with real jobs.
That being said, let’s dive into what Jackson did against the Steelers on Sunday during the Browns’ 33-18 loss. It ended up being his final game in charge in Cleveland.
There was a sequence at the end of the first half that torpedoed the Browns’ chance to counter a Steelers touchdown with a score of their own. With 7:20 remaining in the first half, the Steelers led 7-6 and had the ball at their own 13-yard line. They proceeded to embark upon a 16-play, 87-yard drive that ended with a touchdown with eight seconds remaining in the half. The duration of the Steelers’ drive (7 minutes and 12 seconds) and how little time remained in the half should be blamed on Jackson, who refused to use any of his three timeouts during the drive.
With 1:55 to go, the Steelers had a first-and-10 at the Browns’ 23-yard line. James Conner took a handoff 10 yards to the 13. The Browns didn’t call timeout. The clock ticked. The Steelers didn’t snap the ball until 1:19 remained. On the next play, Conner carried the ball four yards to the 9. Again, the Browns didn’t use one of their three timeouts. The clock ticked down to 41 seconds, which is when the Steelers finally snapped the ball to run the ball again. This time, they saved the Browns by using the first of their three timeouts. After running the ball again on third down and getting to within a yard of the first down, the Steelers called another timeout with 15 seconds left. The play ended with 32 seconds left. So, the Browns let the Steelers burn an additional 17 seconds off the clock. The Steelers would use all three of their timeouts until they scored with eight seconds to go.
Obviously, given how much the Browns’ offense struggled on Sunday — Jarvis Landy led the team in receiving with eight catches and 39 yards — the idea that they would’ve answered the Steelers’ score with one of their own is far from a sure thing. But Jackson didn’t even give his offense the chance. At the very least, a late-half drive would’ve been valuable experience for Baker Mayfield to acquire, but he never got the opportunity to do so. Throw in that fact that the Steelers were scheduled to begin the second half with the ball and Jackson’s refusal to use any of his timeouts is borderline criminal.
Why the Browns weren’t burning their timeouts instead of saving all three of them for the second half (spoiler alert: timeouts don’t carry over after halftime) is beyond explanation. Literally. Hue Jackson couldn’t explain it after the game. Because he couldn’t remember.
Related: Jackson is no longer employed by the Browns.
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Steelers pull a Browns
Make it two straight weeks that the team playing the Browns has made a decision that Jackson would be proud of.
In the third quarter, the Steelers earned a safety. On the ensuing free kick, the Steelers decided not to field the ball entirely. They let the ball hit the ground and bounce around until the Browns pounced on it.
The best part? Nobody on the field appeared to understand that the Browns didn’t down a punt, but actually recovered a free kick, which meant it was their ball to keep. The Browns all looked at each other confused. The Steelers walked off the field laughing like they’d just surrendered a few yards of field position.
Nobody on the field knew!
On the sidelines, Steelers tight end Jesse James knew.
The Browns went on to score a touchdown, which ultimately didn’t matter after the Steelers responded by outscoring the Browns 17-6 the rest of the way. Still, it’s an embarrassing mistake that we’d normally associate with the Browns.
“We screwed it up,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, via NFL Network.
In the words of Tom Brady, “Gotta study the rule book.”
Sean McVay gets conservative and lucky
It’s disappointing that Sean McVay, a coach as smart, as gutsy, and as great as coaches get, went ultra conservative at the end of the Rams’ 29-27 win over the Packers on Sunday.
The final points were scored by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who booted a game-winning field goal with 2:05 remaining in the game. What we’re going to criticize McVay for is his handling of the Rams’ game-winning series, because he settled for a field goal when the Rams could’ve scored a touchdown and he gave Rodgers a chance to go win the game with a mere field goal.
With 3:35 remaining, the Rams trailed by one. They faced a second-and-20 at the Packers’ 23-yard line. They were already well within field goal range. With their unstoppable offense, they had a chance to get a first down inside the 5-yard line, waste more time, and then boot a field goal with barely any time remaining. The Packers only had one timeout (plus the two-minute warning) to stop the clock. Or the Rams could’ve tried to score a touchdown to either a) force Rodgers to score a touchdown to beat them or b) guarantee themselves overtime by going for two and taking a seven-point lead.
The Rams did neither. They played for a field goal. They ran the ball up the middle on second-and-20.
And again on third-and-16, even though they had press man-to-man coverage on all four of their receivers.
At that point in the game, McVay needed to trust Goff to not turn the ball over. And if he had thrown incomplete, it really wouldn’t have changed anything. With more than two minutes to play and a timeout in his back pocket, time wasn’t going to be an issue for Rodgers to move the Packers into field-goal range. By throwing the ball, the best outcome would’ve been the Rams winning with a first down or touchdown. The worst outcome would’ve been Goff turning the ball over, but again, the Rams needed to trust Goff not to do that. The most likely outcome would’ve been an incompletion that wouldn’t have changed anything.
Instead, McVay went conservative. He kicked a field goal. And he got lucky that Ty Montgomery fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and Rodgers never touched the ball again.
I’ve said this before in previous installments of this column, and I’ll say it again: Process matters more than results. There’s no way McVay could’ve planned for a fumble on the kick return. He willingly chose to give the ball back to Rodgers with more than two minutes to go in a two-point game. He was asking to lose in the same way Bears coach Matt Nagy was asking to lose when he settled for a field goal at the end of the Bears’ loss to the Packers back in Week 1.
Heck, even Goff didn’t feel good about their chances.
“It was scary,” Goff told NFL Network’s Mike Silver. “All our work on offense was done, and the ball was gonna be in his hands. I put on my hat and thought, It’s his show now. It wasn’t a very good feeling.”
What’s so disappointing about this particular mistake is that we thought McVay was one of the good guys. After he turned around the Rams’ offense a year ago and then went for a fourth-and-1 to beat the Seahawks earlier this season, we though he represented the way the NFL is slowly changing to be a smarter, more analytical, forward-thinking kind of league. Instead, McVay did something John Fox or, dare I say, Jeff Fisher would’ve done in that same situation.
The Rams won, but they won because they got lucky the Packers fumbled a kick return. If they hadn’t fumbled, the Rams would’ve been forced to stop Aaron Rodgers in a two-minute drill that required a field goal at minimum. Would anyone have taken the Rams’ defense to stop Rodgers in that situation?
So about that kick return. Montgomery made a physical mistake when he fumbled. He also made a mental error by trying to bring the kick out of the end zone when a touchback would’ve worked just fine.
In fact, he was supposed to kneel. That’s coming from his coach.
“The plan was to stay in [the end zone] and give the ball to Aaron Rodgers,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, per Pro Football Talk.
According to one Packers coach who talked to NFL Network’s Mike Silver, Rodgers reacted angrily.
“Aaron was hot,” the coach told Silver. “And he had a right to be. He yelled, ‘Take a f—— knee!’ He was very, very mad.”
Packers players were just as mad.
“They took him out (the previous drive) for a play and he slammed his helmet and threw a fit,” a Packers player told Silver. “Then (before the kickoff) they told him to take a knee, and he ran it out anyway. You know what that was? That was him saying, ‘I’m gonna do me.’ It’s a f—— joke.
“I mean, what the f— are you doing? We’ve got Aaron Rodgers, the best I’ve ever seen, and you’re gonna take that risk? I mean, it’s ’12’! All you gotta do is give him the ball, and you know what’s gonna happen.”
If he had kneeled, Rodgers would’ve had more than two minutes with two clock stoppages (the two-minute warning and a timeout) at his disposal and all he needed to do was to get Mason Crosby into field-goal range. Instead, Rodgers never even got a chance to touch the ball again, all because his teammate went rogue.
Oh no, Jameis
We won’t take long on this one except to say, there’s no way in hell Jameis Winston should be throwing this pass, but he did throw this pass, which resulted in one of his four interceptions on Sunday, which preceded his benching for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Since entering the league as the top overall pick in 2015, Winston has thrown 54 interceptions and fumbled 35 times in 49 games.
Vikings waste time down three scores
The Vikings got slaughtered by the Saints on Sunday night, so I’m not going to get worked up about their late-game clock management because at that point — the Saints led by 17 points in the fourth quarter — the game was already over. With that being said, the Vikings took their damn time moving the ball when they needed three scores to force overtime.
Their scoring drive to trim the deficit to 10 points in the fourth quarter took 13 plays and over five minutes of game time, and included a completion from the 6 to the 1-yard line and a failed quarterback sneak. Not to mention, their final drive of the game — when they needed to score quickly and attempt an onside kick — made it to the Saints’ 38-yard line before time expired because the Vikings refused to spike the ball until six seconds remained.
The Vikings were going to lose anyway. But they didn’t show any urgency in a situation that demanded urgency above everything else.
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