The Buffalo Bills’ long-awaited playoff appearance might not have been so short-lived had their coaching staff played the percentages and not a hunch in their 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On first-and-goal from the Jaguars 1, coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison elected to call a run-pass option instead of asking quarterback Tyrod Taylor to either run it in himself or hand it off to running back LeSean McCoy against one of the most vulnerable run defenses in the playoffs.
“I want a running play,” McCoy said. “It was a play I was lobbying for the whole time and it didn’t work out …”
Instead, Taylor lofted a fade pass toward the left corner of the end zone where Kelvin Benjamin was whistled for offensive pass interference on All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, pushing the Bills back 10 yards.
The drive stalled from there and Stephen Haushka’s 31-yard field goal was all the Bills had to show for their 18-play, 71-yard drive that took 8:06, their only decent drive all game.
McDermott also botched the end of the first half by calling pass plays on second-and-6 at his 14 (incomplete) and the next down (5-yard completion to Zay Jones in which he was pushed out of bounds).
Instead of taking a knee and heading to the locker room with a 3-0 lead, the Bills gave the Jaguars the ball back with enough time to get into field goal range and score and gain some momentum heading into the locker room.
The Bills’ curious play call, however, paled in contrast to the series of odd calls by referee Jeff Triplette’s playoff crew in Kansas City, where the Tennessee Titans overcame an 18-point halftime deficit to shock the Chiefs 22-21.
“Horrible way to start the playoffs,” tweeted Mike Pereira , the former NFL officiating chief turned Fox sports analyst. “I hate to say it, but this was not a good performance by the crew. Teams and fans deserve better.”
A day later, Pereira praised both Tony Corrente’s crew in New Orleans and John Hussey’s crew in Jacksonville, adding, “Yesterday is a memory. I feel bad for Jeff Triplette. He is a great man who was part of a crew that did not have a good game. I feel bad that he is retiring under this cloud.”
After Marcus Mariota caught his own deflected pass for a touchdown Saturday, Triplette explained that the Titans quarterback was an eligible receiver because he had lined up in the shotgun formation rather than under center.
There is no such rule in the NFL.
Whenever a defensive player deflects a pass, every offensive player is allowed to catch the ricochet, including the quarterback and it matters not where he lined up when the play began.
Then, there was the very quick whistle that negated a fumble recovery by Justin Houston after fellow linebacker Derrick Johnson sacked Mariota in the second quarter.
Mariota fumbled a split-second after contact, but Triplette said the QB’s forward progress had been stopped before the fumble.
Forward progress is usually called when a running back is stopped and defenders are piling on him or several defenders drape a quarterback.
Hardly ever is it applied when a QB is going to the ground on initial contact by a single defender.
As a judgment call, Chiefs coach Andy Reid was helpless to throw his red challenge flag, and Ryan Succop kicked a field goal on the next play.
“The defender hit him and he was driving him back,” Triplette said after the game.
The officials had one more gaffe in them, one that was corrected on replay review.
The crew initially called a fumble on Titans running back Derrick Henry late in the fourth quarter, signaling touchdown when Johnson scooped up the ball and rumbled into the end zone as fireworks lit up the sky.
The replays showed he was down before the ball came loose.
Before wild-card weekend began, there were several notable calls concerning the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bills fans giddy over Buffalo ending the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports made a surge in donations to Andy Dalton’s foundation , their way of thanking the Bengals QB for his role in the Bills’ first invitation to the postseason party in 17 years.
Dalton’s foundation received more than $300,000 in donations after the Bengals beat the Ravens 31-27 in the regular-season finale when Dalton threw a 49-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left to eliminate Baltimore and open a spot for Buffalo.
“I think I’m the hottest guy in Buffalo right now,” Dalton said.
While the Bills’ long streak of playoff futility is over, the Bengals’ streak continues. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history. They’ve lost all seven of their playoff games since that season, including an NFL-record five straight first-round defeats from 2011-15.
The Bengals missed out on the playoffs for a second straight season, going 7-9. They won their last two games, knocking the Lions and Ravens out of the playoff race.
That was enough for owner Mike Brown to give coach Marvin Lewis a two-year extension and two more chances to try to get the Bengals that playoff victory that has eluded him for 15 seasons.
Lewis has the second-longest active coaching tenure in the NFL, behind only Bill Belichick’s 18 seasons with New England.
Unlike Belichick, who has won five Super Bowls and made two other appearances in the title game, Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs, the worst such coaching record in NFL history.
In Denver, John Elway thought long and hard about canning coach Vance Joseph after a 5-11 debut but decided to stick with him.
However, Joseph fired a half dozen assistants, saying it was time to change the culture “so we could get back to pushing our players to be the best that they can be.”
All six of the fired coaches directed rookies who underperformed in 2017, so they’re the ones shouldering the blame for Elway’s so-far dismal draft class.
Elway said at his season-ending news conference he’s not perfect and always striving to learn, but he took a jab at a reporter , suggesting that when he finally has this front office football job perfected, he’ll retire and go into radio because then he’ll be a fellow know-it-all.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
With contributions from AP Sports Writers Mark Long, Dave Skretta and Joe Kay.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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