By HCR Staff | Feb. 15, 2019
On Thursday, we presented Head Coach Ranking’s 5 best calls of 2018. As promised, we also compiled the worst calls of the year. Sadly, there were more bad calls to choose from and so it was a little tougher picking just five. It’s worth noting that four of the five calls here came from rookie head coaches. That said, the worst call came from one of the league’s longest-tenured coaches. Here are the 5 worst calls of 2018:
1. Steelers’ ill-timed fake
Ironically, a fake punt by the New Orleans Saints was our second-best call of the year. The Saints also benefitted from an opponent’s fake attempt that turned out to be the worst call of 2018.
In Week 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers roared back from a 24-14 deficit to take a 28-24 lead over the Saints with less than five minutes to play. They faced a fourth-and-5 at their own 42. The defense was playing well; punt the ball here and the Saints have a long field needing to score a touchdown. Instead, Pittsburgh ran a fake but was stopped short of the first down. New Orleans takes possession on Pittsburgh’s side of the field. Just as important, the Saints regain momentum. A few plays later, they score the game-winning touchdown.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin defended the call, saying he wanted to stay aggressive. But the situation absolutely called for the Steelers to punt the ball away. As a result of this call, the Steelers went from controlling their own destiny atop the AFC North to needing help to make the playoffs – help they did not get in Week 17. Especially given the offseason drama with Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown, it would have been fascinating to see what might have happened if the Steelers got to host a playoff game. This ill-timed fake punt attempt is the reason that never happened.
2. Colts’ OT gambit
The Week 4 matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans should have ended in a tie. There were only 27 seconds left in overtime when the Colts faced as fourth-and-4 from their own 43-yard line. Instead of punting it away and almost certainly settling for a tie, Colts head coach Frank Reich opted to go for it. After failing to convert, the Texans gained 24 yards on first down and kicked the game-winning field goal.
It was the Texans’ first win of the season after an 0-3 start, and they turned around their season and went on to win the AFC South. The Colts rebounded from this loss and earned a Wild Card berth – but this game might have been the difference between wild card and division title.
3. Titans go for two in England
Our best call of 2018 went to the Los Angeles Chargers when they opted to go for two at the end of their Week 15 game at the Chiefs. An extra point would have tied the game and forced overtime, but Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn decided he’d rather take a chance with the 2-point try than give the explosive Chiefs offense the ball in OT. Well, the Chargers were on the other side of that equation in their Week 5 game in London.
The Tennessee Titans scored with 31 seconds left to pull within 20-19. Rookie head coach Mike Vrabel went for the win with a 2-point try, but it failed.
The difference between the Chargers’ Week 15 call and this one? While the Chargers have a good offense, it’s not the quick-strike Chiefs attack. And Tennessee’s defense had contained them in this game. Simply put, the Titans should have played for overtime.
4. Cardinals’ onside kick
By Week 10, the Arizona Cardinals’ season was long over. Still, they deserve credit for coming out strong in this game, on the road against the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs. Midway through the first quarter, the Cardinals score to tie the game, 7-7. Fearing that his squad will need to steal possessions from the Chiefs, Arizona head coach Steve Wilks calls for an onside kick. The Chiefs recover, drive for a go-ahead field goal and never trail the rest of the way.
It’s one thing to be aggressive, but this was too early for such a call. If you kick the ball away and the defense can make a stop, it would have given the young Cardinals some momentum.
5. Vrabel’s odd personnel choice
The Tennessee Titans had a chance to make a statement in their Week 12 game on Monday night in Houston. And so Titans head coach Mike Vrabel
got aggressive late in the first half. Trailing 14-10, Tennesse faced a fourth-and-1 at the Texans’ 3. Instead of kicking the chip-shot field goal to make it a one-point game, Vrabel opts to go for it.
The decision to go for it isn’t in question. The play call, however, most certainly is. Quarterback Marcus Mariota handed the ball to tight end Luke Stocker, who had lined up at fullback on the play. It is Stocker’s first career carry, and he is stuffed for no gain. On the next play, Texans RB Lamar Miller breaks off a 97-yard TD run and the Texans never looked back.