Week 18 Takeaways: This one day in the NFL in which every second truly mattered

Week 18 Takeaways: This one day in the NFL in which every second truly mattered

On this final day of the 2021 regular season the NFL playoff picture is now in focus

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That’s all folks. The sad moment of the year when Scott Hanson signs off and the final RedZone touchdown montage plays. You’re momentarily hypnotized by the best catches, throws, and runs of the day, and then one moment the Miami Dolphins are in a dogpile in the end zone, and the next Nicki Minaj’s Chun-Li is playing in an Amazon Prime commercial and it’s all over. No more devouring 10-plus football games every Sunday until autumn 2022 returns — it’s back to reality for now.

NFL football has been uneven to say the least in 2021, but goodness did Week 18 deliver. This was not one of those seasons where the only game that mattered was the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles both at 8-7 ending the day on Sunday Night Football in a do or die game for a watered down NFC East.

There were several games with serious playoff implications, and the best were in the AFC. The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders were set to play the win-or-go-home primetime clash, but in the eight-plus hours between the first kickoffs and that 5:20 P.M. EST showdown, chaos entered the room.

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2 / 5

Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

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The Jaguars fans were wearing clown masks to the game. They were in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft for the second consecutive season, and when a lucky fan was broadcast on the jumbotron answering a multiple choice trivia question she made up her own selection — D. fire [general manager Trent] Baalke.

On the other hand, the Colts have been propped up in the media as one of the most dangerous potential postseason teams with their healthy offensive line, strong defense, and likely first-team All-Pro running back, Jonathan Taylor. All the Colts had to do was win one game in Jacksonville to send themselves to the playoffs and the Jaguars back to the top of the draft.

One problem though, the Colts have not won a game in Jacksonville since 2014. Yes, a franchise that has suffered only four losing seasons since 1999 — three of those seasons quarterbacked by career-backups — has been befuddled for more than half a decade on the road by a franchise that has suffered 16 losing seasons during that same timespan.

Still, 2021 was an especially embarrassing season for the Jaguars that included accusations of a fired coach kicking a player during the summer. There’s no way this 14.5-point underdog, wheezing to the end of a ghastly season, could ruin the Colts’ darkhorse Super Bowl run before it gets started. Right?

Wrong! *Dana Carvey voice*

The Colts were dominated by the Jaguars from start to finish. Their only points were a single field goal until there were less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Turnover Carson Wentz reared his ugly head at the worst possible time in Week 18, giving the ball to the Jaguars twice in the third quarter when they were already losing. While for the Jaguars, rookie Trevor Lawrence played one of his best games of the season, completing 71.9 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions.

In a game the “team nobody wants to see in the playoffs” Colts had to win, they were as dangerous as one of those dollar store water pistols. The Jaguars, on the other hand, got to brush a small corner of shame off of their season with a victory, and still held onto the No. 1 overall pick.

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3 / 5

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

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I highly doubt in practice leading up to the Steelers regular-season finale against the Ravens they were motivating each other by saying, “You know the Colts haven’t won a game in Jacksonville since Najee [Harris] was in high school right. We got a chance here.”

However, even if the 8-7-1 Steelers did knock off the Ravens on the road, it would be their last game if the Colts —again as 14.5-point favorites — won. Surely, when they found out the Jaguars were up 13-3 at halftime, it gave them a little extra energy. Any energy that could pick the pace in a game that was tied 3-3 at half would be most certainly appreciated by those watching it.

The Steelers’ top two running backs rushed for 50 yards on 22 attempts, and Ben Roethlisberger averaged a paltry 5.5 yards per pass attempt on Sunday, but they hung in the game against the Ravens and their quarterback, backup Tyler Huntley. The Steelers hung around long enough to force the game into overtime, and mosey their way down the field to a game-winning field goal.

This game was ugly, dreary, and boring — until the final minutes — but they pulled it out and managed to crawl to the playoffs.

Or did they?

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4 / 5

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders

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The reverberations from that Colts loss were felt all the way in the desert. All of a sudden, playing good football wasn’t the best choice for the Chargers and Raiders to get into the playoffs. The hilarious scenario that had been discussed all week actually happened. With the Colts losing to the Jaguars, if the Chargers and Raiders finished Sunday Night Football in a tie they would both advance to the playoffs — leaving the Steelers out. Their best bet would’ve been for coaches Brandon Staley and Rich Bisaccia to meet in the desert where Sam and Nicky met at in Casino, and cut a deal.

Instead, they chose to respect the integrity of the game, and actually compete for those two open playoff spots. It was quite a battle that looked like the Raiders would win when they were up 15 points with 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Chargers facing 4th-and-21 from the Raiders’ 22-yard-line.

Herbert then put on a show worthy of a Vegas residency. He zipped a 22-yard rocket between five Raiders defenders for a touchdown pass to Joshua Palmer. Then, as another head-shaking “analytics” discussion took place in the broadcast booth, the Chargers were successful on a two-point conversion. Herbert led them down the field again on a final drive with a beautiful ball to a double-covered Mike Williams. Then Staley showed the other side of analytics — there are times to play it safe, like when a tie score gets your team to the playoffs so kick the extra point.

Now it’s overtime in a game that neither one of these have to win, but they must not lose. They traded field goals, and then after the two-minute warning, the Raiders didn’t appear to be trying as hard as possible to get into field-goal range. They went with vanilla running plays and… called no timeouts.

It was there. Both teams went through the charade of an exhilarating overtime game that likely pulled in great ratings and no one could be mad at the Raiders or Chargers for just coasting that final 38 seconds into the playoffs with two exhausted teams.

Then, on 3rd-and-4, Staley called a timeout.

A timeout, with 38 seconds between him and the playoffs. Force the Raiders to make that call. They’re moving the ball on you but haven’t yet stopped the clock, and they’re still out of field goal range. The Raiders had already let 15 seconds run off the play clock and did not look in any type of rush to run a play. There was a possibility they still might have called a timeout if they converted the first down, but don’t give them time to rest, think on a better play, and potentially leave an extra 31 seconds on the clock for them to end your season.

It was a boneheaded decision to end the day, but what a day it was. Week 18 Sunday, was like the NFL’s own reboot of 24, except without the torture — unless you work or root for the Steelers and watched all of Sunday Night Football.

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5 / 5