The 2022 NFL playoffs have provided NFL fans with plenty of excitement so far. All four games in the divisional round were decided by a score on the final play of the contest, and the quarterback play from Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady was strong.
However, there have also been plenty of critical mistakes that have proven costly to teams that are both alive and eliminated.
There are always on-field mistakes and coaching errors in NFL games. It’s just part of the sport. That said, when the games get close, those blunders often decide the contests. There simply isn’t room for error.
You could make a case for dozens of slip-ups being among the worst of the playoffs so far, but to date, these eight are the worst mistakes that have been made.
8. Cam Akers’ second fumble vs. Buccaneers
Look, I’m in no mood to pick on a guy who came back from an Achilles tear to play in an NFL game in less than six months, but Akers had some rough moments against the Buccaneers. He averaged just 2.0 yards per carry and had a crucial fumble that very nearly cost Los Angeles a game that they once led 27-3.
The Rams were leading 27-20 and needed just one first down to clinch a win over the Bucs when Akers took a second-and-7 carry up the middle for about four yards. However, he had the ball stripped and the Bucs were able to pounce on it.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were easily able to mount a short scoring drive to get the game-tying touchdown. Akers is lucky that the Rams responded with under a minute left in regulation to earn the win. This mistake could have ended the team’s playoff run, so he’s that an even worse mistake by the Bucs defense prevented him from being a scapegoat.
7. Ryan Tannehill gifts Bengals a victory
Think the Titans are regretting their decision to sign Tannehill long-term? He threw three interceptions in the Titans’ divisional-round playoff loss to the Bengals, but the final one was the worst of all.
There were just under 30 seconds on the clock when Tannehill tried to force the ball downfield in a tie game on third down. His receiver was well-covered and four Cincinnati players were in the area, so when the ball popped into the air, the Bengals were ready to pounce on it.
Thanks to that play, the Bengals were on the cusp of field-goal range. They managed to get there and rookie Evan McPherson nailed the game-winner.
Tannehill needed to throw that ball away and play for overtime. The one thing he couldn’t do was turn it over. He did, and that’s one of the reasons why the top-seeded Titans went home early.
6. Kyler Murray’s back-breaking pick-six
The Cardinals were down 14 when Kyler Murray tried to throw the ball away to avoid a safety. This is what happened instead.
Yeah, a safety sounds really nice after seeing that play. Instead, the Cardinals fell down 21-0 thanks to the shortest pick-six in NFL postseason history.
5. Referee’s inadvertent whistle in Bengals-Raiders
Hey, the players and coaches aren’t the only ones who make mistakes. The referees do too! And this one was their most egregious one of the playoffs to date.
The Bengals were facing a third-down against the Raiders with just under two minutes left in the first half when Joe Burrow scrambled out to his right under pressure. He was about to go out of. bounds when he launched the ball back over the field and hit Tyler Boyd in the end-zone for the score.
The play was amazing, but should it have counted? Listen closely to the play and you’ll hear an inadvertent whistle from a referee while the ball was in the air. The Raiders thought the play was over and took their feet off the gas in that split second.
Did it impact the play? It’s impossible to tell whether Boyd would have scored without the whistle. But it was no matter. The referees upheld the touchdown, ruling that the whistle had come after the play was over. That gave the Bengals a 14-point that they wouldn’t relinquish.
However, former official turned rules analyst Gene Steratore tweeted that the down should have been replayed because of the whistle.
“This is every official’s nightmare, but while Joe Burrow’s pass was in the air, there was an inadvertent whistle,” Steratore wrote. “The correct ruling in #LVvsCIN would have been to replay the down. By rule, the play is not reviewable and the TD should have been nullified.”
So, the Bengals caught a big-time break in a game that they won by a touchdown. Certainly, that’s not a good look for Jerome Boger’s crew, and that’s probably part of the reason we aren’t going to see them again this postseason.
4. Buccaneers’ failed all-out blitz in final seconds vs. Rams
The Buccaneers rallied from a 24-point deficit to nearly force overtime against the Rams. However, they gave up a massive completion to Cooper Kupp to negate that on one of the most head-scratching plays of the playoffs.
Yes, the Rams had all of 26 seconds and no timeouts to get into field-goal range when Todd Bowles dialed up an all-out blitz to get pressure on Matthew Stafford. The pressure never came, and that left Cooper Kupp one-on-one with a safety down the field and set up the game-winning Rams field goal.
Ouch. That hurts. What went wrong? Well, according to Bruce Arians, not every Bucs player executed the play as it was called.
“Some guys didn’t blitz. I don’t know if they didn’t get the call but it was an all-out blitz,” Arians said. “We should have gotten a ton of pressure.”
Well, they didn’t, and that was partly because of their poor communication. But seriously, why run an all-out blitz there anyway and risk getting burned? They could have just played a prevent defense. . . though that comes with some risks and strategic pitfalls as well.
3. All of the Packers’ special teams gaffes
The Packers went 13-4 during the 2021 NFL season, but they had a glaring weakness on their roster that showed in their playoff loss to the 49ers. The team was terrible on special teams.
The Packers made so many special teams mistakes against the 49ers that it’s hard to count. However, three stand out above all else: the two blocked kicks and the game-winning kick by the 49ers.
The first kick blocked was a field goal at the end of the first half. Green Bay could have gone up 10 with a make, but instead, they allowed Jimmie Ward to jump through the line unblocked. It was a nice move by Ward, but the Packers had no answer for it at all.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the 49ers allowed another blocked kick later in the game. The 49ers had all of three points in a 10-3 contest when backup defensive end Jordan Willis got his hands on a Corey Bojorquez punt from inside his own end-zone. Talanoa Hufanga picked the ball up — after the Packers stood around looking for it — and returned it for a game-tying touchdown with just 4:41 left to play.
Mind you, the 49ers hadn’t scored a touchdown before that, and they didn’t get an offensive touchdown in their win.
The last one was, perhaps, the least impactful error but the most inexcusable of them all. Robbie Gould came onto the field to attempt a game-winning field goal. The Packers were always unlikely to block it, but they were even less likely than usual on Saturday night. Why? Because they had just 10 men on the field for Gould’s attempt.
Of course. Matt LaFleur spoke about the problem after the Packers’ upset loss and blamed himself for the failed execution.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “That’s on me.”
Those special teams plays at least directly cost the Packers 10 points via the blocks, and having 10 men on the field robbed them of a chance for a block of their own. Safe to say that the Packers’ special teams units will want to throw out this tape the minute they get it.
2. Cowboys’ scramble, umpire dilemma
The final sequence of the Cowboys’ loss to the 49ers was one of the strangest things NFL fans saw during the 2021 NFL season and 2022 NFL playoffs.
Dak Prescott ran a quarterback draw with 14 seconds left on the clock and slid to the ground. The Cowboys were out of timeouts, so they tried to spike it. However, they failed to get the ball to the umpire, who came crashing into the back of the play and prevented Prescott from spiking it before the clock hit zero.
As odd as it looked, the play was officiated correctly, as the official in question — this time, the umpire — had to touch the ball in order to officially spot it, per the NFL rulebook. However, the Cowboys didn’t like how the play unfolded, and coach Mike McCarthy said in his postseason news conference that players are allowed to spot the ball and that an umpire just has to touch it.
McCarthy is right that the official need only touch the ball to make it playable. However, the official also must ensure the ball is spotted correctly. The umpire had to move the ball back to where it was supposed to be spotted, and that cost the Cowboys dearly.
Maybe the umpire should have been closer to the play to prevent time from running off the clock. Even still, the execution on that final sequence was poor from the Cowboys. So too was the call to run a quarterback draw with no timeouts.
1. The Bills’ final 13 seconds — No squib kick, prevent defense
The Bills had to prevent Patrick Mahomes from getting into field-goal range for 13 seconds to earn another trip to the AFC Championship Game. They couldn’t do it. Mahomes mounted a two-play, 44-yard drive that culminated in a game-tying field goal for Harrison Butker. The Chiefs would go on to win in overtime after winning the coin toss and driving for a touchdown.
Buffalo was left wondering what went wrong in the final 13 seconds, but two things stand out above all else.
First of all, the Bills probably should have squib-kicked the ball to the Chiefs to force Kansas City to eat up time on the clock. Had the Bills squibbed it, at least a couple of seconds likely would have come off the clock. That may not seem like much, but provided that the Bills didn’t allow a big return, they would have been better positioned to stop the Chiefs’ offense. The Chiefs wouldn’t have had as much time to position themselves for a field goal and may have had to settle for a Hail Mary.
Instead, kicker Tyler Bass blasted the ball out of the end-zone for a touchback, and that gave Patrick Mahomes ample time to run two plays. The Bills defense didn’t help the cause, as they played an extremely soft prevent defense despite the Chiefs having all of their timeouts remaining. That allowed Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to get open easily and make the big plays needed to get into field-goal range.
Bills coach Sean McDermott blamed himself for the team’s late-game collapse.
“I don’t really want to get into specifics,” McDermott said. “Overall, there were things we talked about and we can just execute better. That starts with me and goes all of the way down. I don’t want to get into specifics now. I am really proud of the guys and their effort. Obviously, they made a couple of plays down the stretch, so I will just leave it at that.”
Had the Bills either squibbed it or played more aggressive coverage, they probably would have won. Instead, they ended up losing, and that makes their 13-second collapse the worst mistake of the playoffs so far.
And it certainly will be hard to top.